For Faith in Action: Live Action and the Lord of the Rings

Feast of St. Alvarez of Corova

I know. This is a weird title for a post. What does the Lord of the Rings trilogy have to do with Live Action? Maybe nothing, or maybe everything. Bear with me for a moment and I’ll try to explain.

The other day, I wrote a little post that I titled Because All of the Big Questions Have Been Answered. There, I stated simply that, “what is left to do, and one which takes a lifetime to perfect, is the implementation of the answers.”

Actually, it would take an eternity of lifetimes for us to try and perfect the implementation of Christian values, and we simply don’t have that luxury. Because though our souls are immortal, for this go around for us at least, our earthly bodies are finite.

But guess what? God knows all this.

Because the Holy Spirit speaks to us often of our condition as “earthen vessels,” for we are often compared to “clay pots.”  So in our finite bodily existence here on earth, in this test called life, we must act with partial and incomplete knowledge. I wrote of this condition of ours a long time ago.

Our Majesty also knows that we are in “the play” and this ain’t no dress rehearsal. And as Christians, we are not called to just theorize and contemplate. We are also called to act upon this stage called life. And our actions, though imperfect, must seek to glorify God. And they must be in accordance with His will. We believe we will be judged accordingly, do we not? How do we know then that we are acting in compliance to these two demands?

In my mind, we can’t do either on our own, which is why we need the Church as the grounding, or foundation of our actions. And the Church also must be the referee, if you will,  of the drama of life. But even acting on our own, we do have a sense of what is “right conduct” and what is “wrong conduct.” Case in point, the whole Live Action sting on Planned Parenthood controversy that has everyone with an opinion on fire to share it.

I’m no expert on moral theology, or moral philosophy. I will leave that to others with more knowledge and experience, both within the Church, and without. And until the Church hands down a definitive opinion on this matter, where you come down on this incident depends on where you stand.

So where do I stand? I stand with the people who understand the following statement from my ancient Chinese friend,

All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when we are able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must appear inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near. —Sun Tzu

Wormtongue

And this is a war our government doesn’t seem to have the stomach to fight virtuously, or even at all.

Once I wrote on a friend’s Facebook page that there is Spiritual Warfare going on both within us and throughout the world. Spiritual battles that will inevitably spill out into the public square. How could they not? Only if you believe in relativism and that all ideas are equally virtuous, or equally fatuous. But the truth is, this cannot be.

Speaking of drama then, what if we lived in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth and the Live Action vs. Planned Parenthood fracus played itself out among the characters there? Assume then that the role played by Planned Parenthood is that of the character named Grima, also known as Wormtongue, OK? In the movie adaptation, this character was played by actor Brad Dourif, who also played Hazel Motes in John Huston’s adaptation of Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood.

So much for the character supporting the agenda of the Dark Lord of Mordor. What about the good guys? Below are a few links to discussions about what to make of these events. I will share them with you in the order in which they match up with Tolkien’s characters. I think each makes valid points.  As a mere hobbit though, I am inclined to let wiser heads prevail in these debates. But I also seek information from all sides in order to view the full picture. First up is the opinion of a modern day version of Gandalf the Grey,

Peter Kreeft: Why Live Action Did Right, And Why We Should All Know That..

You promised the Jews to hide them from their murderers. To keep that promise, you have to deceive the Nazis. Physical hiding and verbal hiding are two sides of the same coin, whether you call it lying, or deception, or whatever you call it. What it is, is much more obvious than what it is to be called. It’s a good thing to do. If you don’t know that, you’re morally stupid, and moral stupidity comes in two opposite forms: relativism and legalism. Relativism sees no principles, only people; legalism sees no people, only principles.

Hadley Arkes: When Speaking Falsely is Right.

But we remind ourselves that we don’t cast moral judgments solely on the basis of the gross description of the act: “Smith takes the hose from the garage of his neighbor Jones.” Before we’d call it a “theft” we’d ask whether he had permission to take it. He might not have had permission, but he borrowed it for a moment to put out a fire and returned it. He had no permission, but we would be moved to say that his act, given the circumstances, was “justified”—i.e., just, not wrongful.

Guess who plays the character of Arwen?

Lila Rose: Statement on House Defunding of Planned Parenthood.

The case to cease funding is crystal clear. But for any Senator who remains unsure, imagine explaining to your constituents that you voted to keep sending $350 million of their tax dollars to an ‘non-profit’ that puts young girls in harm’s way and made $63 million in profits by aborting 300,000 unborn children last year. It’s time once and for all to stop financing these activities.

And of course, there is the brave and able Aragorn of Gondor.

Francis Beckwith: Live Action and Telling Falsehoods.

Two instances found in Scripture make this clear. The author of Hebrews writes, “By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given friendly welcome to the spies.” (11:31). In James 2:25 we learn that Rahab was “justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way.” What did Rahab do that was so commendable that Scripture presents it as a work of faith that justified her? She intentionally told a falsehood.

And then there is Eowyn.

Elizabeth Scalia, aka “The Anchoress:”Gosnell; Baby Feet Kick the Nation.

After all, Margaret Sanger — the poster girl for pro-choice advocates in America — was all about making sure that certain races and certain classes of people were discouraged from reproducing. But you’re not supposed to know that, or at least you’re not supposed to acknowledge that. To do so would be as rude as forcing people to consider that the only way to prevent a pregnancy from advancing to new life is to “stop” it unnaturally, or to note that “stopping” is just a euphemism for “killing.” Because that’s the only way to stop new life from flourishing: by killing it.

Entering from stage right, we have Legolas.

Tim Muldoon: Imagining a Nation without Abortion.

Imagine a nation that loved all its children so passionately that it built an entire social and economic structure around protecting them, nurturing them, fostering their growth, and supporting their every stage of life. The logic of this care for children would, of course, extend to the conditions by which those children entered the world. The nation would first care about young adults and their sexual choices.

Remember what Faramir said? “I would not snare even an orc with a falsehood.”

Mark Shea: Faustian Bargains.

But these do not exhaust our options. For one can also note that, in our panic about being accused of idiotic callousness toward innocent victims we have failed to notice that the notion that lying will save the Jews from the Nazis is dubious to start with. In other words “Lie or die!” is a false dilemma. Does anybody think that if I lie, the Gestapo will say, “Oh! Okay! Sorry to bother you! Have a nice day!” and not look in the attic anyway? Clearly the *real* trick is not to lie well but to *hide your Jews well*. Then you can say, “Look for yourself”, offer the Nazi a nice cup of tea, and speed him on his way with a “Seig Heil” without rousing suspicion, looking sweaty and guilty, and having to remember what you said. In short, a little forethought about what is morally permissible can actually help you do a better job of protecting your wards than just seat-of-the-pants “Let’s lie!” gut responses. Does this cover every possible situation? I doubt it. But it tends to get overlooked in the rush to create the dilemma for the sake of defending Lying for Jesus.

As for me, I’ll just try to keep my friend on the straight and narrow I reckon. All I know is this—we are at war, and war is hell. Not everyone sees the big picture.  But somehow, by each one of the allies doing their duty,  good can overcome evil. It truly is like the great stories…

Update: Marc @BadCatholic on the virtues of Hobbits.

A Chinese “Spiritual” (A Few Words For Wednesday)

I’ve been reading John C.H. Wu’s The Interior Carmel: The Threefold Way of Love. This morning, I caught the shuttle bus from the parking lot to the bus stop right outside of my office back-door. As I was drinking my coffee during the ride, I dipped into my book bag and flipped open John’s book. Guess what I found?

Before my eyes were the words to a little ditty that John suggests “when spiritually interpreted, will perhaps give an inkling of the joy of the saints.” I think you will agree that they do. And in the spirit of “for God so loved the world,” enjoy this depiction of the rooster/world by graphic artist Kentaro Nagai.

from “an old Chinese love-song,”

Cold is the wind, chill the rain.
The cock crows kikeriki.
Now that I have seen my Love,
Peace has come to me.

The wind whistles, the rain drizzles.
The cock crows kukeriku.

From a newly discovered1500 year
old church in Israel

Now that I have seen my Love,
My sickness is healed too.

The wind and the rain darken the day.
The cock ceases not to crow.
Now that I have seen my Love,
My joy ceases not to grow.

For Faith in Action: Thomas Merton’s Letter to a 6th Grader

I don’t exactly remember where I found what follows, so forgive me for not providing footnotes. I was reading Jesuit Fr. Jim Martin’s, recent blog post reflecting on today’s gospel reading. The reading from Sirach applies as well.

The message is simple, yet paradoxically difficult, like most of the tenets of our faith. As Father Jim notes, it is simply “be kind.” Simple, but my kids (and I) are still working on doing this so it is not easy!

While pondering this message,  the memory of this kind letter written by Fr. Louis (Thomas Merton) to a school child popped into my head. 

I mention this also because someone sent me an e-mail yesterday looking for a book recommendation, and in my haste I must have deleted it, because I can’t find it anywhere. So whoever you are, please e-mail me again because I’m not being unkind in not replying to you. I just blew it, is all. Just another plank in my eye (he thought sheepishly).

And now, Father Louis has the floor,

Thomas Merton’s Letter to a 6th Grader named Susan

In 1967, Susan Chapulis, a sixth grader studying monasticism, wrote to Thomas Merton asking for “any information whatsoever” that she could share with her class. Merton replied:

Thanks for your nice letter. You want “any information whatsoever” to help the sixth grade in the study of monasticism. Well, I’ll see if I can get the brothers down in the store to send you a little book about the monastery here. That ought to help.

The monastic life goes back a long way. Monks are people who seek to devote all their time to knowing God better and loving Him more. For that reason they leave the cities and go out into lonely places where it is quiet and they can think. As they go on in life they want to find lonelier and lonelier places so they can think even more.

In the end people think these monks are really crazy going off by themselves and of course sometimes they are. On the other hand when you are quiet and when you are free from a lot of cares, when you don’t make enough money to pay taxes, and don’t have a wife to fight with, and when your heart is quiet, you suddenly realize that everything is extremely beautiful and that just by being quiet you can almost sense that God is right there not only with you but even in you. Then you realize that it is worth the trouble of going away where you don’t have to talk and mess around and make a darn fool of yourself in the middle of a lot of people who are running around in circles to no purpose.

I suppose that is why monks go off and live in lonely places. Like me now. I live alone in the woods with squirrels and rabbits and deer and foxes and a huge owl that comes down by my cabin and makes a spooky noise in the night, but we are friends and it is all ok. A monk who lives all by himself in the woods is called a hermit. There is a Rock ’n’ Roll outfit called Herman and his Hermits but they are not the same thing.

I do not suppose for a moment that you wish to become a hermit (though now I understand there are some girl hermits in England and they are sort of friends of mine because they are hermits, so I send them stuff about how to be a hermit). But anyway, I suggest that you sometimes be quiet and think about how good a thing it is that you are loved by God who is infinite and who wants you to be supremely happy and who in fact is going to make you supremely happy. Isn’t that something? It is, my dear, and let us keep praying that it will work out like that for everybody.

Good bye now.

Which reminds me of the old Shaker hymn,


For the Psalms and Spring, Family and Sports

It is getting ready to be a very busy time for me and my family. That’s because Spring is just around the corner, and around my house this means our children’s sports teams will begin hitting the ground running.

Not everyone gets involved in such things as sports for their kids. Not every child enjoys organized soccer, or baseball, or softball, volley ball, basketball, horse riding, or any of the other myriad possibilities to turn your child’s attention to.

So why do we even bother in our household? Joy in living is the only real reason that I can think of. That and the realization that though our children’s gifts and abilities are out of our hands, they should still be developed. Besides, everything we spend time doing matters.

It is a tight-rope and certainly there is a fine line between the healthy reasons for involving our children in sports, and the unhealthy turning of sports into an idol. On the positive side, for example, our oldest son has played organized baseball for 8 years, since he was 7 years old. As it turns out, he is pretty good at this game. Honestly, he is ten times better at it than I ever was.

How did this happen? I really have no idea. It is nothing that I expected. And let me assure you, my wife never saw this coming either. But God saw it coming, and of that fact I have no doubt. He has decided that, through our children, He will take my wife and I places that we never intended to go on our own.

And there is the riddle of our son’s gift, for example. Though endowed with excellent hand-eye coordination, and having an arm that can accurately throw thunderbolts, the most important characteristic of all isn’t even a physical one. It is that my son simply loves this game. And this love for it drives him to do things that only love can make him do.

Like get up early for practice, and study hard to keep up his grades. And endure practices that look like something that the Marine Corps would endorse. Sure, it wasn’t like that when he was in little league. That was all fun, and that is also where the seeds of this love were planted. But now that he has made the high school team, the love for the game has been tested by the fires of hard work and sweat. There is a spiritual message in all of this somewhere, I am sure.

As an aside, one of the great things about being Catholic is that we have never missed a Mass because of baseball, or any other sports games of my children either. Blessed to live in a diocese with more than one parish, Our Lord has also seen fit to provide more than one Mass said at each parish during the weekend across our area. The only excuse for missing a Mass is sloth, and thankfully, that hasn’t ever occurred.

One day, my son’s baseball career will come to an end, as all good things generally do. And on that day, my career as a baseball dad will end too. Life will go on. But until that day comes, I’ll keep supporting my children in these endeavors.

Because in the end, unless you measure things crudely in only utilitarian and materialistic terms, the benefits of participation in sports (or other extracurricular activities) far outweigh the negatives. Especially when you acknowledge that these abilities and talents being developed are gifts from God, and not of our own making.

I teach my children, and pray that they will remember, gratitude for these truths sung by the Psalmist,

I praise you, so wonderfully you made me;
wonderful are your works!
My very self you knew;
my bones were not hidden from you,
When I was being made in secret,
fashioned as in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes foresaw my actions;
in your book all are written down;
my days were shaped, before one came to be.
How precious to me are your designs, O God;
how vast the sum of them!
Were I to count, they would outnumber the sands;
to finish, I would need eternity.

And also this Song of Ascents of David, which is well suited to keep the soul of an athlete grounded in humility,

Psalm 131

LORD, my heart is not proud;
nor are my eyes haughty.
I do not busy myself with great matters,
with things too sublime for me.
Rather, I have stilled my soul,
hushed it like a weaned child.
Like a weaned child on its mother’s lap,
so is my soul within me.

Israel, hope in the LORD,
now and forever.

Amen.

For All the Saints: Joseph of Leonissa

Today is the feast day of St. Joseph of Leonissa (Feb. 4, 1612). He was from a small town in Italy that, at the time, lay within the borders of the Papal States. At the age of seventeen, he became a Capuchin friar. I hadn’t planned on posting on this saintly fellow, but I found something that I believe I am supposed to share with you. I can’t explain it really, I just feel drawn to share an account that involves Joseph.

But first, a little background. He is best known for heading to Constantinople to minister to the Christian galley slaves of the Sultan there. He didn’t do that on a lark, either. He studied the Turks, and Islam, before heading on this mission.

Art credit: Getty Images

One day, he got the idea that he would preach to the Sultan himself, was captured, tortured and then miraculously released after hanging from hooks through his foot and his right hand (comfortable, and humane) over a smokey fire for three days. You can read more about that episode from the article on him at the Catholic News Service. Suffice it to say it’s a miracle he survived.

Like I said, I really wasn’t going to post anything about this particular saint. But then I found something about him on the YIMCatholic Bookshelf, you remember, my wacky hobby nowadays? And one thing led to another.

It is an episode in Joseph’s life that I found in a book entitled The Agonizing Heart, by Fr. François René Blot. I added this volume to our shelf promptly because the subtitle of the book is Salvation of the Dying, Consolation of the Afflicted. So, it sounds like a book that has a broad appeal, since all of us are dying, or consoling someone who has lost someone who has died.

This particular story comes from Section II in the book, Meditations For One Day In Each Month. The selection that concerns our saint of the day is the meditation for the month of December, on the Blessed Virgin Mary. It turns out that Joseph of Leonissa is also know for two things that stand out in my mind: he preached while holding a crucifix, and he had a strong devotion to Our Lady.

What could be more agonizing than losing your child in premature death? A horrible accident for example, or to a disease, and heaven forbid, to a homicide. That is the episode that unfolds in the account that involves our Saint of the Day below. Take a look,

from La Vie du B. P. Joseph de Leonissa
by Daniel de Paris

The talent of consoling the afflicted is one of the gratuitous graces which God gives to whom He wills for the benefit of others, but compassion towards the afflicted is the duty of every Christian, according to the words of St. Paul, ‘Weep with them that weep’ (Rom. xii. 15).

The Blessed Father Joseph had this talent to a remarkable degree. He was ever ready to weep with those who wept, and to lead them to adore the secrets of Divine Providence. On one occasion, when he was preaching the Lent at Jane (ed. a nearby town), he heard that a young man had just been killed in a quarrel, and that his mother, a widow, was inconsolable in her grief.

Father Joseph, with true compassion for her affliction, went to visit her, and to share it; but he found her in a state of frenzy, and full of thoughts of revenge. The servant of God did not begin by blaming her anger; on the contrary, he acknowledged that she had good cause for her tears.

“You weep,” said he, “your tears are reasonable, and God does not blame them. But now that you have given all that nature can expect from a mother’s heart, it is time to think of what grace claims from a Christian. You must let yourself be ruled by faith; look at Jesus on the Cross” (he showed her the crucifix), “and consider the tears of the Blessed Virgin His Mother, and her humble submission to the will of God. Will you not follow so beautiful an example? ”

“Your son has fallen a victim to the hatred of his enemies, but the Son of Mary suffered from the cruelty of His own people. The one was, like all Adam’s children, a sinner, the other was the God-Man, the Saint of Saints, and He died only to restore those who were dead in sin. In short, your son died in a personal quarrel, your Savior died for the sins of others. Yet Mary did not yield to such an excess of grief, she did not call upon Heaven to destroy those wicked deicides; she imitated the clemency of her Son, Who even on the Cross prayed for His murderers; every day she still intercedes for sinners. You have acted as an afflicted mother, but is it not now time to behave after her example, as a Christian mother, who conforms herself in all things to the will of God?”

The tears of a too human sorrow were changed into tears of holy compunction, and the poor mother seemed absorbed in the love shown by Jesus on the Cross. The holy man led her to something yet more perfect. As the Blessed Virgin loves those who have crucified her Son so much that she seeks their salvation, she also learned charity towards those who had taken the life of her child. She invited them to her house, even before the funeral, and assured them that she forgave them for the love of Jesus and His holy Mother.

****
I’ve been reading a book written by John C.H. Wu where he writes that,
Some time or other, the Holy Spirit moves you to whisper to Christ, “Lord, what shall I render to You for Your wonderful love of me? He answers you in a whisper, “Do not always say ‘me, me, me…’ Remember there is a big Me in you. Love Me, love My brothers.”

And of course, He also says,

Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

St. Joseph of Leonissa, pray for us.

Our Lady of Sorrows

For Thoughts On Meekness Like These

I mentioned the other day that I had saved up some Christmas gift money and used it to help me buy my friend John C.H.Wu’s book The Interior Carmel: The Threefold Way of Love. The book is John’s reflection on Christianity as The Way of Love. [Read more...]

Matt Maher & More (Music for Mondays)

A while back, I did a music post on Matt Maher, the Catholic Contempory Christian artist. Maher and his band are top notch, and I hope to take my kids to one of his concerts if he ever wanders our way.

Here’s why I like his stuff. As Christians, we should measure the worth of an artist by how well they get “it” right about the human condition, don’t you think? Some of us go searching for “it” in music.

Now think of this as Christians walking around holding a tuning fork in our hands. Sometimes, popular contemporary artists will sing a song that appeals to us for all the right reasons, and the tuning fork will sing too. Most often though, they miss the mark.

Not so in the case of Matt Maher. This dude, and his band, is always on the mark and the tuning fork is constantly humming. At least that has been my experience. So for this weeks set, we start up with a couple of knock-out songs from him that should have you running to the i-Tunes store pronto. Then we’ll wind our way through a few post-related songs and wind up with a violin and a piano.

Matt Maher, Love Comes Down. I’ve been listening to Matt Maher’s Alive Again album for my “commute to work” music lately. I heard this one this morning and I hit the repeat button at least three times. I can’t get the song out of my head, and you know what? I don’t want to either.

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Matt Maher, Flesh and Bone. This is the antidote to P!nk’s current hit called F****** Perfect, which is long on sentimentality, but short on truth. This was shot live at a “Theology on Tap” gig, which I’ve heard of but have never participated in. These lyrics are right on the mark. Great introductory remarks by Matt on our encounter with Jesus.

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Ok, I don’t know if the tuning fork will work with the rest of these, but I like them anyway.

Living Color, Cult of Personality. We had a post related to something similar to this just yesterday. I remember this band because it was burst onto the scene around the year I got married. These guys could get loud! One of the best unknown guitarists you’ll ever hear.

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Culture Club, Miss Me Blind. Remember Indiana Jones yelling “That belongs in a museum!”? Well, a few weeks ago, the news reported that Boy George was returning an icon to the Orthodox Christian Church on the island of Cyprus. It turns out the icon had been looted from a church there in 1974 and BG bought it from an art dealer in London, unawares. He’s returning it but seriously… who knew these guys sounded this good live? Not me. They jam!

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The Bangles, Walk Like An Egyptian. As the situation in Egypt moves towards it’s seventh day of rioting, I am remembering my time there and the songs that we played in the Marine House. By the time this one came out though, I was in Malaysia, but I still liked it. For news on what’s happening in Cairo, look abroad.

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John Cougar Mellencamp, Crumblin’ Down. I remember us playing this one a lot in the Marine House Bar in Cairo. John’s singin’ about me being uneducated and having an opinion that means “nuttin.’” That’s it! Tomorrow I’m wearing white socks with my loafers…that’ll show ‘em.

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Midori, Chopin’s Nocturne in C-sharp. This little lady came to our small town this past Friday. She was the guest of our local symphony orchestra, playing a piece from Strauss. I’ll tell you this…she can make that fiddle sing! My kids said “she moves like a robot” to which I said, “she’s just jammin!” Guess what else? She still uses that little cloth for on her chin rest to this day.

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We’ll see you in February!

For Cults of Personality, Not! (Or My Brush with Fr. Thomas Euteneuer)

 

Late yesterday evening, after I asked for your prayers for Egypt, I clicked over to New Advent to see what was posted there on the situation on the ground. Many of you know that besides being the electronic host of the Catholic Encyclopedia, New Advent also posts links to other Catholic websites and blogs for noteworthy news stories or posts. New Advent has graciously posted our blog posts from time to time as well.

But a different sort of story caught my eye instead. [Read more...]

Because, Believe It Or Not, It’s Easy

How many high school seniors do you know who have a blog? To narrow that list down a bit, how many of them have one dedicated to blogging about the Catholic faith? Well allow me to introduce you to a young man who does just that.

He’s young, smart, edgy, and reverently irreverent. In other words, he’s the kind of Catholic I hope my kids meet up with and hang out with. 

Full Disclosure: I’ve never met Marc personally. But he caught my eye first with a post he wrote on Catholics in the military, and another that he posted which linked to my post on Vlad the Impaler.

If photographs of nuns smoking cigarettes offend you (some people do smoke, you know, and some of these people become nuns and priests too) don’t bother e-mailing me. Just remember this about my friend Marc: He is young, and though inexperienced in many ways, he is inflamed with a love for Christ and His Church, and his writing shows this clearly.

Thirty years ago, when I was Marc’s age, I was just as fired up about being a Marine. I think we share a personality trait, or two. We go all the way, or not at all. There is no “half way.” Why is Marc Catholic? Because, as “the Kid” writes below, it’s easy.

Guest post by Marc Barnes,

I suppose that whenever any honest Catholic is asked this question – be it by the must-save-you-from-hell-for-which-you-are-destined-by-your-goddess-worship Baptist or the mind-boggled agnostic who cannot begin to comprehend our happy willingness to make a few babies -G.K. Chesterton’s answer seems the most appropriate response; that “the difficulty of explaining ‘why I am a Catholic’ is that there are ten thousand reasons all amounting to one reason: that Catholicism is true.”

I want to laugh and yell to the inquisitors that the real question, and indeed the only question worth asking, is why on earth are you not Catholic? An aversion to joy? Or perhaps just an aversion to fish on Fridays? A fear of true community? Or perhaps a deep and abiding fear of nuns? (I have a secret belief that those who do not like Catholicism simply have no sense of humor. However, that’s another story.)

But if I had to undertake the monstrous task of sorting through the various delights and pleasures of Catholicism – which I do, in case you were wondering – to search for one most meaningful to me – to decide between incense, the Communion of Saints, old ladies praying rosaries, our Mother Mary, and all the rest – there is one guilty happiness, one indulgent secret of Catholicism that makes it the Right Religion For Me. Catholicism is easy.

Having made that reckless statement, I would kindly ask those who fast every other day of their novena-filled lives while practicing self-flagellation to put down their pitchforks, stop google mapping my house, have some bread and water, and follow me for a few more paragraphs.

Catholicism is the only religion that is equally accessible to both saints and sinners, and is just as true and available to the murderer in the last pew as it is to the priest facing him. Though I dislike explaining positives through negatives, the same simply cannot be said for popular versions of Evangelical Christianity, for example, where spiritual experience requires emotional or transcendent experience to validate it.

I have many Protestant friends who I’ve honestly questioned, “how do you know you are forgiven for your sins?” The answers are many and varied, but all incredibly deep: “I let God into my heart and He speaks his word of forgiveness there, telling me I’m forgiven” or “I admit my sins and I feel God’s forgiveness wash over me.” There is nothing at all wrong with these holy answers except this: they are too holy.

But answers like these make forgiveness only accessible to saints, to people with hearts finely-tuned to the whispers of the Holy Spirit, to those who hear God in their ears telling them they are forgiven, and thus they make it unavailable to the hungover truck driver or that murderer in the back pew, God bless him. Better is the follower of religion that when asked, “are you forgiven?’ can answer “yes, I went to Reconciliation on Tuesday before the 9 a.m Mass,” for that is an answer that even the worst of us can give.

It gets even holier when I’ve asked them if they have God in their lives. “Yes, he speaks to me through His word, and is constantly inside of me.” or “Yes, ever since I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior he has been holding my hand.” What beautiful answers! Indeed, the holiest saints in heaven are nodding their heads in sage agreement.

But what sadness and tragedy! The hungover trucker is shaking his head and saying “what the hell are you talking about?” Answers such as these are brilliant gems of trust, but the truth of the matter is – when it comes to feeling God’s presence – we aren’t all diamonds in the rough. Most of us appear to be just “the rough,” in fact.

The hand-holding Jesus does not always remain foremost in the mind of those rocked by sorrow or sin, and thus the responses made by our Protestant brothers and sisters are reserved for the peaceful, contemplative saints among us, and not the beserker in the back pew, may he live forever. Better is the religion that when asked, “Is God inside you?” can answer, “Yes, and I ate Him this morning at the 9 o’clock Mass too.” for that is an answer that the most distracted and unsaintly of practicing Catholics can give.

This trend continues throughout every aspect of the faith. “How do you know you’ve received the Holy Spirit?”, “How do you know you are saved?”, “How do you know God loves you?” No matter the question, Catholicism’s answer is always universal, practical and equally applicable to every one of it’s members, while other believers answers are emotional, personal, and apply to seemingly only the holiest of saints among them, whom they consider themselves to be. The irony that Catholics should happily admit is that the problem with every other form of Christianity is not that they have dumbed down religion (though they often do in many aspects), but that they have made it extremely complicated and – dare I say, dare I? Oh, alright then – elitist.

If, as Chesterton says, “religion is the thing that makes the ordinary man feel extraordinary; [and] it is an equally important truth that religion is the thing that makes the extraordinary man feel ordinary,” then it is certainly a point for Catholics that we follow this maxim, and certainly a point against our holy brothers and sisters for whom a man must feel extraordinary to even begin to take part in the faith.

That’s why Catholics are so happy and ridiculous. Because Christ made this whole religion thing easy. He established an infallible Church so that we would not have to seek personal revelation for our every decision, he established the power to forgive sins here on earth so we would not just have emotional consolation after every lustful thought. He established the Eucharist so He would be with us always, not only in Spirit, but physically there for the least of us to cradle in our unworthy hands.

I am Catholic because Catholicism is easy. But the really beautiful thing in this whole matter is this. Just because Catholicism works for the sinner does not mean it is banal, bland, or boring for the saint. The Eucharist, when viewed with proper consideration and taken with proper praise has us weeping, fainting, and caught up in the most intimate, sensual glories of heaven. It is our very life-breath, the greatest most addicting drug ever given to man, that can elevate us beyond the reach of earthly delight.

And all of us, every last one of us, has a duty to become a saint, has a duty to try for this holiness, and for the holiness that Christians of other faith traditions claim as their staple diet. But the reason I am Catholic and the reason I would die for my Church, is that my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ is available to us whether or not we can reach this holiness. He has made it easy, so that the brigand in the back pew might slowly and surely become the saint in the front.

About the author,

Marc is close to failing high school or close to passing, depending on your outlook on life. He plans to go to Franciscan University in Steubenville and become a famous rapper and/or Catholic writer and/or fast-food employee. He loves short walks on the beach. His favorite thing to do of all time is to create clubs, groups and organizations that only ever really have one meeting that never gets followed up on. He currently maintains a blog known as BadCatholic, that focuses on how bad we are at practicing our great religion. And how that’s O.K. He has 5 brothers and sisters, an incredibly attractive girlfriend and no pets. He wishes he were cool enough to be invited into a gang.

Because the Church is Paradoxically Consistent

The other day I wrote about the dictionary meanings for the word “catholic.” I have more thoughts on the matter, but that post was running long. Having already imposed a 3500 word(!) post on you right after the New Year, constant reading of marathon length missives might tucker you out, make you cross-eyed, and compel you never to return to this space. So consider this post as part II in a series of indeterminate length on the meanings of that word.

Though this Marine is no expert on word etymology, today I ask you to consider the meanings of the word “catholic” again, but this time applying them to an organism.

A human being for instance, or perhaps I should say to the ideal of what it means to be fully a human being. I wrote that this is one of my goals while slogging through what remains of the pilgrimage that is my time here on earth.

I happen to agree with the following thoughts I ran across recently on the Catholic Church,

Church and Bible are not to be judged only by what they say, but rather by what, for society and the individual, they have actually achieved; and what has acted for so many ages as a key to so complex a lock as human nature has its testimony in itself.

These words were written back in 1906 by an obscure convert to Catholicism named W.J. Williams. The bold highlights are mine. As my eyes ran across these words, my memory bank lit up remembering similar thoughts written, and more fully elaborated on, by someone who is anything but obscure. G.K. Chesterton in Orthodoxy, which was published in 1909 (long before he was received into the Church) writes the following on page 152,

The complication of our modern world proves the truth of the creed more perfectly than any of the plain problems of the ages of faith. It was in Notting Hill and Battersea that I began to see that Christianity was true. This is why the faith has that elaboration of doctrines and details which so much distresses those who admire Christianity without believing in it. When once one believes in a creed, one is proud of its complexity, as scientists are proud of the complexity of science. It shows how rich it is in discoveries. If it is right at all, it is a compliment to say that it’s elaborately right. A stick might fit a hole or a stone a hollow by accident. But a key and a lock are both complex. And if a key fits a lock, you know it is the right key.

Chesterton then takes the reader through the full development of this idea between pages 148 and 187, in the sixth chapter  which he calls The Paradoxes of Christianity. If you haven’t read Chesterton before, head over to my favorite electronic bookshelf and read this for yourself. Then read our discussion notes on this chapter too.

Perhaps you are perfect, but if you are like me, it’s more likely that you simply judge others by their actions while judging yourself by your intentions. I’m getting better at stopping myself from following that pharisaical path into the pit of unhappiness and oblivion. It must have something to do with how I’m spending my time lately.

Someone shared their opinion on the post on Dracula that I was being inconsistent in my approach in how I considered Vlad, his life, his acts, and his death. To which I say, welcome to the paradox of lived Christianity. I have often quoted Qohelth, the Teacher, from my favorite Old Testament book in this space. As the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews said of the words of the Psalmist, The Holy Spirit says,

All things have their season, and in their times all things pass under heaven.

A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted. A time to kill, and a time to heal. A time to destroy, and a time to build. A time to weep, and a time to laugh. A time to mourn, and a time to dance. A time to scatter stones, and a time to gather. A time to embrace, and a time to be far from embraces. A time to get, and a time to lose. A time to keep, and a time to cast away. A time to rend, and a time to sew. A time to keep silence, and a time to speak. A time of love, and a time of hatred. A time of war, and a time of peace.

What hath man more of his labor? I have seen the trouble, which God hath given the sons of men to be exercised in it. He hath made all things good in their time, and hath delivered the world to their consideration, so that man cannot find out the work which God hath made from the beginning to the end.

Are not these seasons also shared by our human natures in our own life cycle? I can only speak of my personal recognition of my own paradoxical nature, so perhaps you do not see this. Perhaps you are more consistent than I am, but I know that I am consistently paradoxical. But the Church sees this as her thoughts have developed over these past 2000 years of her existence. And again, this viewpoint is not that of one solitary person, but of this earthly house of the world-society of souls, as my new friend Algar Thorold describes the Church, shepherded by the Vicar of Christ for the benefit of all mankind.

Consider the paradoxical nature of the Church herself as a living organism that is growing up in Her mission, and maturing in it as well. This is better explained by Blessed John Henry Newman in his Essay on Development than I ever could. But in essence Newman argues that the Church too has grown and matured through a life cycle of change. And still she develops, guided by the Holy Spirit.

Take a look at this long paragraph Newman writes at the conclusion of section 1 of the first chapter of his  Essay on Development,

But whatever be the risk of corruption from intercourse with the world around, such a risk must be encountered if a great idea is duly to be understood, and much more if it is to be fully exhibited. It is elicited and expanded by trial, and battles into perfection and supremacy. Nor does it escape the collision of opinion even in its earlier years, nor does it remain truer to itself, and with a better claim to be considered one and the same, though externally protected from vicissitude and change. It is indeed sometimes said that the stream is clearest near the spring. Whatever use may fairly be made of this image, it does not apply to the history of a philosophy or belief, which on the contrary is more equable, and purer, and stronger, when its bed has become deep, and broad, and full. It necessarily rises out of an existing state of things, and for a time savours of the soil. Its vital element needs disengaging from what is foreign and temporary, and is employed in efforts after freedom which become more vigorous and hopeful as its years increase. Its beginnings are no measure of its capabilities, nor of its scope.

We’re half-way through the paragraph now but I wanted to alert you that the bold highlights above are mine. The words “deep”, “broad,” and “full” are, to me anyway, synonyms for the word “catholic” too, both in regards to human beings as well as to the institution of the Church. Or maybe you buy into the modern social science idea that man can only be understood as little self-serving widgets directed by their own self-interest like the economists would have you believe. That is the way that governments treat us too. I used to think that way as well, until I met the saints. Their lives are lived for others, at the expense of themselves. This is true humanism. Now back to the beata’s thoughts. He was talking about scope,

At first no one knows what it is, or what it is worth. It remains perhaps for a time quiescent; it tries, as it were, its limbs, and proves the ground under it, and feels its way. From time to time it makes essays which fail, and are in consequence abandoned. It seems in suspense which way to go; it wavers, and at length strikes out in one definite direction. In time it enters upon strange territory; points of controversy alter their bearing; parties rise and around it; dangers and hopes appear in new relations; and old principles reappear under new forms. It changes with them in order to remain the same. In a higher world it is otherwise, but here below to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.

That was me with the bold again (and a link, actually). Recently I’ve had discussions with those who say “I can’t follow the Church because back during the Thirty Years War she advocated the killing of Protestant’s etc. etc.” To which I say, that was then and this is now,

Religious freedom expresses what is unique about the human person, for it allows us to direct our personal and social life to God, in whose light the identity, meaning and purpose of the person are fully understood. To deny or arbitrarily restrict this freedom is to foster a reductive vision of the human person; to eclipse the public role of religion is to create a society which is unjust, inasmuch as it fails to take account of the true nature of the human person; it is to stifle the growth of the authentic and lasting peace of the whole human family.

For this reason, I implore all men and women of good will to renew their commitment to building a world where all are free to profess their religion or faith, and to express their love of God with all their heart, with all their soul and with all their mind (cf. Mt 22:37). This is the sentiment which inspires and directs this “Message for the XLIV World Day of Peace, devoted to the theme: Religious Freedom, the Path to Peace.”

Yes, the Vicar of Christ just said those words recently. Read it all at the not-so-top-secret Vatican website. Again, this is a true form of humanism, the Christian form, because Christ, the Eternal Word is the origin of humanism. God became a human, and the Good News, which has existed from the start, only obscured, arrived in the flesh. The world hasn’t been the same since. But the Word is eternal and as this past weeks reading from the Letter to the Hebrews notes, our ancestors saw the words, but didn’t get the message.

For in fact we have received the Good News just as our ancestors did. But the word that they heard did not profit them, for they were not united in faith with those who listened.

If you are still stuck in the times of the Middle Ages, the Inquisition, the Thirty Years War, etc. etc., are you being profited? Are you even fulfilling the pledge that we pray in the prayer that the Word taught us?

And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

Instead, you may be falling into that logic trap that our human ancestors fell into before the Incarnation as well. Bear with me here.

Because to me, judging the Church only on her failures, while forgetting her successes is like judging the Marine Corps only on her failures while forgetting her prowess in actually fighting battles and winning wars. Stay stuck on the Ribbon Creek incident (where several Marine Recruits  died of drowning by the actions of a sadistic drill instructor), for example, while forgetting all of the Marine Corps’ success on the battle field, like the fighting withdrawal from the Chosin Reservior to Hungnam during the Korean War, and you may understand what I mean.

Those young men who died at Ribbon Creek can never be forgotten, nor can we bring them back to life and restore them to their families. But as a result of that tragedy, the Marine Corps changed the way recruits were handled, and she continues to develop the way recruits are trained to this day. Critics of the Church today who say that she is incapable of allowing freedom of thinking which helps her to develop makes me wonder if they have really considered what she has accomplished in spite of her growing pains. As W.J. Williams writes,

The Church, then, does not regard herself as perfect, but as having found the only possible way in which to make a great religious experiment, to organize and objectify the religious idea; to create and to continue an organism in which the religious process may be carried on. She does not say that she has accomplished her purpose in a manner the most perfect that could be conceived—far from it, she does but say, that she has done what she could; but she adds that if she has failed in her purpose it is not easy to see whom else she should regard as having succeeded, nor is it easy to find in the world an organism which has united experiment, consistency and advance in the religious idea, in an equal degree with herself.

So the critics that keep pounding the table that the Catholic Church never changes, is anathema to change, is the killer of all freedom, both actual and intellectual, are, in my humble and unimportant opinion, missing the boat. Perhaps they can’t see the forest for the trees.

Because the Church is paradoxically consistent and consistently paradoxical.

To be continued...


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