July 16, 2011

Have you noticed how tough life is? It’s hard enough to make it on your own, but try living the Christian life fully and the delusion that doing so is easy should have already crashed down upon you like a Summer thunder storm. That is, if you are giving it your all.


I’m reminded of the sage words of a military genius again. Ever heard of Carl von Clauswitz? Here is something he shared in his classic book on military strategy, On War,

Everything in war is simple, but the simplest thing is difficult. The difficulties accumulate and end by producing a kind of friction that is inconceivable unless one has experienced war.

Sure, you could kid yourself that this doesn’t apply to your life as a Christian. “I’m a civilian,” or so you pretend. But to me, Clauswitz’s thoughts illuminate the truth of the life not only of those “in the world,” but definitely the lives of those of us who struggle mightily to be “not of the world.”

So yesterday morning, for the first time in what seems like ages, I dug into my book bag, pulled out my copy of the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, flipped to the Friday morning prayers and proceeded to regain my sanity. It wasn’t long before I came across this truth of the Christian life,

Your inmost being must be renewed, and you must put on the new man (Ephesians 4:23).

I always knew that it was work to be a Christian, in the back of my mind. Everything I had learned from studying the Bible while growing up warned that this was true. But somewhere between leaving home and entering the world on my own, I had forgotten this fact. Running away from the truth will do that to you.

St. Paul’s inspired words reminded me of this situation again. You see, in order to “put on the new man,” you have to take off the old man first. And Lord knows, early on I had as much interest in being changed as the next person, which if you are anything like me means practically not at all. I went along with the easy care of “the saved,” while never confronting any of the dark shadows of responsibility that followed me along that road.

In other words, I sought the easy path of the Christian who is a Christian in name only. I professed belief in Christ, had been baptized, and I was “good to go” in that department, or so I thought, and I could concentrate on other more important things like fighting World War III, or striking it rich, you know, all while ignoring the plight of the poor or less fortunate. Talking myself out of my sinfulness, and letting my pride get the best of me and run the show.

I came back to the well of my faith only when I needed help. Like when I was sweating probation when I was trying to make it through Marine Security Guard School in Quantico, or when I was getting ready to graduate from college and I would pray, “Lord, help me find a job.” Prayers such as these are not invalid. They are necessary prayers for the soul to cry out with, as long as they are backed up with the diligent search to find work, etc. But all in all, I was a fair weather Christian and my conscience would needle me on that point from time to time.

Distractions helped me keep from listening to these urgings for the longest time. Have you allowed that to happen? Especially when there is some important project that you know you should be working on, but you put it off and put it off some more in the vain hope that the task would go away on its own accord so you won’t have to face it. But it doesn’t go away, and then you burn the midnight oil cobbling something together that barely passes muster, and just in the nick of time. I didn’t want to live my life like that forever.

As they say, denial is not just a river in Egypt, but I drank deeply from her anyway. But increasingly I noticed that her drafts still left me parched. Despite dying from thirst, it took my almost being killed to put me finally on the path to the Catholic Church. The Lord knows that marrying a Catholic didn’t do this, but it didn’t hurt matters either. Nor did the accident provoke me into an instant, “on the spot” conversion either. It took another 6-7 years before I finally cracked open the door that, by this time, my conscience was banging on loudly and relentlessly. As I’ve written before, the injuries I sustained ended my Marine Corps career, providing me the opportunity to change my (and my family’s) life and lead us I knew not where.

I never thought this tortuous path would lead me to the Catholic Church, but every day I rejoice that it has. I can say that I have no idea what is going on in much of the rest of the Church. Perhaps my brush with the Desert Fathers has inured me to answering the siren call of keeping tabs on all that the Bishops do, or don’t do, for instance. For me, the call to conversion is deeper than playing “inside baseball” with what is going on with Rome and all her players. This particular player is in the game, and not sitting on the bench. I am too busy “work(ing) out my salvation with fear and trembling” to have much time to devote to anything that distracts me from helping me, my family, and you dear readers, from that goal.

I’ve heard it said by some to others (bloggers, etc.), “how could you not know about Father X?,” or “problem XYZ?” or some such line regarding another scandal du jour. You all know that I’ve heard about, and commented on, some events like these in the past. And I’m likely to do so again, in the future. But it will be only if it is something glaringly obvious worth talking about, and by that I mean something that is leading others astray, or that has affected me personally in some way.

The real reason that I don’t follow all the latest newsy stuff is that I am too busy doing the work of “renewing my inmost being” to pay attention to the noise that’s going on outside. This work of taking off the old person and putting on the new one is time consuming. Especially considering that I have other work, and family responsibilities, on top of blogging about the Faith here. But my friend Webster Bull said once that “being Catholic is like walking around with a blazing torch in your hand, one that illuminates everything you encounter” and for me that is the reality.

It is as if the scales have dropped from my own eyes, and I’ve discovered the “beauty ever ancient, beauty ever new” of the Church. It is the vision of a person who was blind once and can now see. Or like after the storm is gone and I see what Noah saw. Even so, I’ll freely admit that the sight I have regained is still one “as looking through a glass, and darkly.” But the Beacon calls me clearly.

And thankfully, as I continue to do the work of renewal, the Divine Optician constantly updates the prescription on my individual looking glass. And did I mention he also carries most of the load? He’s got the big stuff, so I can sweat the small stuff.

Photo Credit: Michael Belk
June 30, 2011

Still in my library, I found the following selection on the subject of private property, and of “the state,” in Life of Leo XIII And the History Of His Pontificate. Ayn Rand missed this book as well as Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum Novarum. Perhaps this is just a case of too much writing and too little research. That’s what I think anyway. Of course, she was a novelist, so facts weren’t necessary (head-slap). (more…)

June 19, 2011

I hadn’t intended to write another word about John Corapi. In fact, I even closed off the comments in my recent post and left readers links to follow the story so I could just enjoy my Father’s Day in peace. That was the plan, anyway.

But I received an e-mail this morning from a Catholic priest upset over my “Mr. Corpai Goes. I Stay” post. As you will find in the sidebar, I subscribe to the well known Welborn Protocol when it comes to correspondence. So here is the note in it’s entirety followed by my reply.

Frank,

Your comments regarding Fr. Corapi are remarkably cruel. Once an accusation is made, the priest is automatically suspended period. The suspension is indefinite. It is not the priest’s choice in any way. He may not wear clerical garb, use any honorific titles, preach or engage in any sort of sacramental ministry. The priest is at a disadvantage from the get-go and rarely if ever is vindicated. Thank the good Lord Corapi is a religious in that he can return to his community so he has a place to live and food. Diocesan priests in his situation do not have that to fall back on.

The magnitude of the injustice is hard to fathom. Everyone has a right to his reputation and his good name.

Whether or not Fr. Corapi’s message, style, and ministry appealed to you is beside the point. Yes, life will indeed go on whether or not he is preaching, etc. But to write in such a cavalier fashion about a priest’s life and ministry that is now thoroughly destroyed is really mean spirited.

You do no service to the Faith by writing as you did regarding Fr. Corapi.

In His Name,

Fr. B

Dear Father B,

I appreciate your note, though I am at a loss to see how I was as “cruel” with Corapi as you feel I was. Actually, I didn’t even get warmed up. Indeed, the post that I believe you are referring to is only the second time I have ever even written about the Corapi kurfuffle.

Help a brother out!

In the first instance, I wrote a lay pastoral note, if there is such a thing, to those who followed him, giving them suggestions on how to spend their time strengthening their life of faith. I hope you do not find fault with that. Surely brothers and sisters in the faith must encourage one another when the going get’s rocky.

And in Corapi’s case, he knows who his accuser is. He’s said so repeatedly, and even said in his latest announcement that she is “the one person that I can honestly say I did more to help and support than any human being in my entire life.” Honesty, after all, is the best policy. As for the investigation process, I look to others for guidance. I humbly know my limitations.

I’m just a simple man, Fr. B, and a relatively new Catholic. One of the many things that impresses me about Catholic priests and religious is that they take vows of Chastity, Poverty, and Obedience. They sacrifice much for the reward of leading people in the faith. The priests bring us the Sacraments, so that our travail in this valley of tears through life on earth are made bearable. Thanks be to God for this.

Later on, I learned that not all priests take the vow of poverty. Though most Diocesan priests aren’t exactly wealthy, some are. Either way, the same safety net that is extended to every citizen of this country is extended to priests and religious as well. Unemployment compensation, Social Security, etc. All are covered, including unemployed priests. I’m not sure if Mr. Corapi qualifies for unemployment now that he has resigned from the priesthood though. I think you actually have to lose your job for a different reason than quitting it in order to collect unemployment compensation. I could be wrong on this.

Anyhow, as the Corapi kerfuffle continued to unfold, I ran into other stories about how not only did Corapi not take a vow of poverty, but that he set up a “for-profit” media empire instead. That he lived in a sumptuous mansion and estate out West. Owning multiple homes and, for all I know, maybe he has a private helicopter too. Granted, I don’t know whether these stories are all true or not (I hope the truth all comes to light somehow), but I understand that the order he was affiliated with, the Society of Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity, basically didn’t make a single penny from all of the books, tapes, and speaking engagements that he sold over the course of his career as a Catholic priest.

Feed me $$$, sheep.

As a rookie lay Catholic, I’m not sure why anyone in the Church heirarchy would give any priest carte blanch to make a ton of money off the flock, you know, Elmer Gantry style, that didn’t somehow wind up helping the poor in Mother Teresa’s mission field, or in some other way that helped spread the Good News to the world. This raises serious questions in my mind. Questions that I hope those who are better versed, and who have deeper knowledge in these matters than I, pursue and bring to resolution. I’m just Joe Six-Pack, USMC. At best, all I can do is handle ridiculous pseudo-dramas like this in a cavalier manner.

As the drama continued to spin, frequently from late Friday afternoon Scud missiles launched from Corapi’s lair at Santa Cruz Media, there were other things I heard as time went on. Like when someone in the past had busted Corapi’s chops when he had claimed to have enlisted in the Army with a guarantee for Special Forces training. But, as the Corapi version of the story goes, due to a training accident (an unlikely one involving a helicopter) he wound up as a clerk-typist in Germany instead, making outstanding clerk-typists, who serve in the military with honor the world over, look bad in the bargain. If this episode, claiming Special Forces training and black-belt fighting skills, etc. is true Father, then it is just plain wrong.

News flash: No one enlists with guarantees for Special Forces training. Not in my military experience anyway. No, first you endure all the regular training, spend some time in your specialty, and only then can you apply for, and appear before selection boards for, special duties like I did when I became a Marine Security Guard. Anyone who claims that they were guaranteed the Green Beret in the local Army recruiters office definitely does not pass the “smell test.” That is unless you’re looking for the “Stinky Cheese Man.” I am not.

So now, a short three months later, the world learns that Corapi is giving up his vocation as a Catholic priest, and instead is launching a new, and I reckon “improved,” venture with a new name and a creepy photograph of a (dyed?) black canine eyeing sheep and wolves with equally malevolent stares. So I said what you perceived as a cruel thing:

As for me and my house, we won’t be waiting for salvation via Pirate Radio broadcasts from Mr. John Corapi anytime soon. We’ve better things to do. And better speeches to read.

Happy Fathers Day!

Guess what else we won’t be doing? Buying his books and tapes to hear his side of the story. You know how the Dark Lord monologue will go. On and on about how he has been unjustly treated by the evil bishops who felt threatened by his zeal for all the Truth, Goodness, and Beauty™ (registered trademark by BlackDogUp! Enterprises) that he was bringing to the flock. Time for a reprise of my other cruel remark:

“Yawn.”

Have a listen to this classic by Nick Lowe before moving on to the next segment of my reply, if you please.

Yes indeed, I reckon sometimes we must be cruel to be kind, in the right measure. Get angry a bit, because it is no sin to get angry. Christ was angered when the temple was being used as a marketplace. As the scriptures note, He broke out a whip and scrambled that egg with a wrath that cleaned house rather dramatically. Would have made a big impression on me, if I would have witnessed it. That’s for sure.

Eyes like these

No Father B., I was not cruel. I was not even angered by what John Corapi did. I didn’t sit around expectantly on the edge of my seat for these past three months waiting to see what the “last hope for our Church” would do next. Why? To quote a speech I heard recently,

It’s that dead look in my eyes, from all the horrors that I have seen, so I’m sort of immune to it. Gentlemen to bed! Gentlemen to bed, for we leave at first light. Tomorrow we battle. We may lose our lives, but remember…Death is but a moment; cowardice is a lifetime affliction.

Yeah, that is a made up speech from a silly movie, but rousing nonetheless. But St. Paul’s words from a few days back are the ones that stand us in good stead and last forever. I shared those too, in my alleged cruelty as you may recall,

dangers from Gentiles, dangers in the city,
dangers in the wilderness, dangers at sea,
dangers among false brothers;

Is John Corapi a false brother? I don’t know. He’s not a member of the priesthood any longer, that is for sure. Is he still a Catholic, loyal to the Magisterium? I don’t know that either. He’s kind of vague on that in his announcement. All that is known for sure points to him not being loyal to anyone but himself. Not to his (former) office as a priest (while you soldier on, my brother!), not to his superiors, nor to his order, and not even to his flock of followers, who at last count on his Facebook fan page, stand at 52,800+ souls.

I wear my gray hair proudly

In fact, to my simple mind and simple ways, the cruelest cut of all came from the blow Mr. Corapi’s announcement made to his large and loyal flock of followers. Simple folk, such as myself, who believed in this man. Now what is in store for them Father B? Should they stay loyal to Mother Church? Or follow the Black Sheep Dog, who for all we know will hit them next with a message such as this,

He tasks me! He tasks me, and I shall have him! I’ll chase him round the Moons of Nibia, and round the Antares Maelstrom, and round perdition’s flames before I give him up! Prepare to alter course!
—Khan Noonien Singh, in Star Trek II, riffing off Herman Melville’s Captain Ahab from Moby Dick.

No. I won’t be following any comic book characters anywhere Father. Not Darth Vader, not Dr. Evil, Not Kahn nor Captain Ahab. I follow Jesus Christ and His Church. I’m loyal to Him and to Her. I’ll continue to study His Word, and His message. That way, see, when somebody goes off-message, I’ll be able to recite with clarity and authority, these words of an immortal soldier,

Now, therefore, fear the LORD and serve him completely and sincerely. Cast out the gods your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. If it does not please you to serve the LORD, decide today whom you will serve, the gods your fathers served beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose country you are dwelling.

As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” —Joshua 24:14-15.

Thank you again for your note. Have a happy Fathers Day and a blessed Holy Trinity Sunday. Please pray for me and for all who have been affected by this unfortunate incident. I am,

His Obedient Servant,

Frank

Update:  Following the Black Sheep Dog Down the Rabbit Hole

Breaking News: Corapi’s superior: “We wanted him to come back to the community…

June 8, 2011

I’ve got this hobby of finding electronic versions of great books about the Catholic Faith. I share this pastime with everyone who stops by here too, via the YIMCatholic Bookshelf. At last count, I’ve added 853(!) fully searchable volumes to the shelf so far. There’s no cost to read or download them, and we’re open 24 hours, 7 days a week.

Just the other day I found some books that were digitized from the collection of the Monastic Library of the Abbey of Gethsemani. Yes, the one in Kentucky where Fr. Louis was a monk and priest. They also spent some time on the shelves, and possibly still do, at the University of California in Berkeley. Who knew?

(more…)

May 28, 2011

Last night I had the supreme privilege and pleasure of hearing our eldest son play with his chamber music ensemble a concert of Bach and Vivaldi at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Trenton, New Jersey. (Here they are performing in Florence several years ago. )  What moved me the most was when the children performed Vivaldi’s Gloria, accompanying  the Absalom Jones Inspirational Choir.


As Frank has written on these pages, Vivaldi was a Catholic priest. What I discovered last night by reading the program notes was that for 40 years Father Antonio Vivaldi was part of the 18th century “ospedale” movement, which offered what we would now consider music therapy to orphans and others marginalized by society. You can read more about this movement on the website “Vivaldi’s Girls”. The concert reminded me how God uses music and other forms of beauty to heal our souls.

As Maetro di Violino di Choro of the  girls’ ensembke of Ospedale della Pietà in Venice, Vivaldi was required to compose two masses a year, two Vesper servies and two new motets a year. He composed Gloria for these orphaned and illegitimate girls to perform.  

Our son’s participation in a chamber-music ensemble here in New Jersey is another occasion to marvel at the way God works. Three summers ago, I was working in Trenton, which is about an hour from home.  My husband and I thought we had done a good job figuring out child-care arrangements; Greg works near home and the boys were settled into a recreational activity nearby. Through a very unfortunate turn of events, our eldest was unexpectedly kicked out of the activity. If I were to give you the sorry details of how this unfolded, you likely would agree with our perception that adults in charge were unkind and unfair. He’d done nothing to warrant his rejection. The events angered us. But they also left me and my husband in a pickle. What to do with our 11 year old?

Frantic, I scoured the internet for alternatives and stumbled on a “chamber-music” music camp a few blocks from my workplace. Our son was a new double bass player and attended the camp joyfully. When camp was over, S., the director, approached me and asked me if she could ask him to join her chamber-music orchestra for youth. I balked – he was new to playing bass and these young musicians were so experienced and talented. They have performed in Chicago, Paris, Essen, Düsseldorf, Florence, Prague, Montenegro, Croatia, Baden, Vienna, and as part of the Philadelphia Bach Festival. But S. saw something in him that I could not – raw talent, an agreeable personality and an openness to learning.

Last night, I closed my eyes as the orchestra and choir performed the Gloria. I was transported to another place, and place of peace and joy and beauty.  I forgot the piece was being performed by children; it was that well done. But then I remembered the girls of Venice, for whom this piece was written. (In the painting at left, they are shown performing) Vivaldi hoped his Gloria would help heal them and as a result, all of us can be healed by his music. Here is a clip of the first movement, not from last night’s concert, but from the movie Shine.

May 26, 2011

St. Philip Neri

painted by Fr. Kevin Kelly

-Feast of St. Philip Neri

Did you know the Church has a Patron Saint of Joy? He’s St. Philip Neri. Today is his feast day.

Friends from our parish invited me to attend a Mass tonight at  7 o’clock to celebrate. We joined dozens of worshippers at the New Brunswick Oratory of St. Philip Neri, including five Oratorian priests, one Oratorian brother, and 14 secular Oratorians.

Beautiful and unexpected (and new!) to me was that the community tonight admitted six freshly minted Secular Oratorians. We Catholics are accustomed to praying for vocations; how stunning to see the those prayers come to fruition.

Who are the Oratorians?  “The Oratory believes that heaven is other people. In the spirit of prayer alone, and prayer in community, we come to share and encourage each other in our sacramental lives. As Oratory, we meet all peoples, all experiences and in return our understanding of God is widened and deepened. ” Perhaps the best known Oratorian is Blessed John Henry Newman.

Also by Fr. Kevin

Who was St. Philip Neri? At this late hour, I can’t do justice to the beauty of his life. He was born in Florence in 1515. A devout priest, he refused to take anything too seriously, except for Christ. He was funny and charming and spontaneous. The only rule of his order is “Sola Caritas,” or “Love Alone.”

So much moved me tonight: the sound of the harp and trombones, the chanting, the laughter, the earnest faith of the Oratorians and their secular companions; the celebrant joking before Mass began about having to wear three layers of polyester; the church bells ringing into the night at the Mass’s end.

Tonight was sticky hot and the church had opened the stained glass windows to let a breeze in. All during Mass, as I looked at the altar, I could see commuter trains transporting workers home. These sights and sounds made me realize how our lives are just like this; we take time to worship in the middle of the busyness of our lives.

When I got home, I did a little googling about St. Philip Neri.  I discovered St. Philip Neri had thought something similar. “Right in the middle of the crowd, we can be on the way to perfection.”

Update: Elizabeth Scalia on St. Philip Neri

April 29, 2011

Photo: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

Even Joe Six-Pack, USMC can appreciate a wedding like this one. The pomp, the circumstance, the sacredness of the institution of marriage upheld. I mean, this is the wedding imagery of the Holy Scriptures brought to life for the world! What’s not to like?

And did you hear the wedding homily? No? Given this morning to a world-wide audience by Dr. Richard Chartres, Anglican Bishop of London, it is simply smashing!

Have a look and see if you don’t agree.

Dearly Beloved…

“Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” So said St Catherine of Siena whose festival day it is today. Marriage is intended to be a way in which man and woman help each other to become what God meant each one to be, their deepest and truest selves.

Many are full of fear for the future of the prospects of our world but the message of the celebrations in this country and far beyond its shores is the right one – this is a joyful day! It is good that people in every continent are able to share in these celebrations because this is, as every wedding day should be, a day of hope.

In a sense every wedding is a royal wedding with the bride and the groom as king and queen of creation, making a new life together so that life can flow through them into the future.

William and Catherine, you have chosen to be married in the sight of a generous God who so loved the world that he gave himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ.

And in the Spirit of this generous God, husband and wife are to give themselves to each another.

A spiritual life grows as love finds its centre beyond ourselves. Faithful and committed relationships offer a door into the mystery of spiritual life in which we discover this; the more we give of self, the richer we become in soul; the more we go beyond ourselves in love, the more we become our true selves and our spiritual beauty is more fully revealed. In marriage we are seeking to bring one another into fuller life.

It is of course very hard to wean ourselves away from self-centredness. And people can dream of doing such a thing but the hope should be fulfilled it is necessary a solemn decision that, whatever the difficulties, we are committed to the way of generous love.

You have both made your decision today – “I will” – and by making this new relationship, you have aligned yourselves with what we believe is the way in which life is spiritually evolving, and which will lead to a creative future for the human race.

We stand looking forward to a century which is full of promise and full of peril. Human beings are confronting the question of how to use wisely a power that has been given to us through the discoveries of the last century. We shall not be converted to the promise of the future by more knowledge, but rather by an increase of loving wisdom and reverence, for life, for the earth and for one another.

Marriage should transform, as husband and wife make one another their work of art. It is possible to transform as long as we do not harbour ambitions to reform our partner. There must be no coercion if the Spirit is to flow; each must give the other space and freedom. Chaucer, the London poet, sums it up in a pithy phrase:

“Whan maistrie [mastery] comth, the God of Love anon,

Beteth his wynges, and farewell, he is gon.”

As the reality of God has faded from so many lives in the West, there has been a corresponding inflation of expectations that personal relations alone will supply meaning and happiness in life. This is to load our partner with too great a burden. We are all incomplete: we all need the love which is secure, rather than oppressive, we need mutual forgiveness, to thrive.

As we move towards our partner in love, following the example of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit is quickened within us and can increasingly fill our lives with light. This leads to a family life which offers the best conditions in which the next generation can practise and exchange those gifts which can overcome fear and division and incubate the coming world of the Spirit, whose fruits are love and joy and peace.

I pray that all of us present and the many millions watching this ceremony and sharing in your joy today, will do everything in our power to support and uphold you in your new life. And I pray that God will bless you in the way of life that you have chosen, that way which is expressed in the prayer that you have composed together in preparation for this day:

God our Father, we thank you for our families; for the love that we share and for the joy of our marriage.

In the busyness of each day keep our eyes fixed on what is real and important in life and help us to be generous with our time and love and energy.

Strengthened by our union help us to serve and comfort those who suffer. We ask this in the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Watch the homily here.

Update: Does the Royal Wedding matter?

April 23, 2011

What follows is from Giovanni Papini’s introduction to his Life of Christ. Published in 1921, you would think that these words were written just yesterday. John C.H. Wu tipped me off to this book and I found a used copy of it on Alibris.

It’s 408 pages long and is filled with great passages. Written in his native Italian, it was translated in 1923 by Dorothy Canfield Fisher. Papini had been an ardent atheist, anarchist and was one of the literary giants of Italy.

Have a blast reading this article about him in Time magazine, from March 31, 1923. Was anything “lost in translation?” Nothing whatsoever. Have a look at sections one and two and see for yourself,

from the Introduction of Life of Christ by Giovanni Papini.

For five hundred years those who call themselves free spirits, because they prefer prison life to army service, have been trying desperately to kill Jesus a second time—to kill him in the hearts of men.

The army of His enemies assembled to bury Him as soon as they thought they heard the death-rattle of Christ’s second death. Presumptuous donkeys mistaking libraries for their stables, top-heavy brains pretending to explore the highest heavens in philosophy’s drifting balloon, professors poisoned by the fatal strong drink of philology and metaphysics, armed themselves.

Paraphrasing the rallying cry of Peter the Hermit to the crusaders, they shouted “Man wills it!” as they set out on their crusade against the Cross. Certain of them drew on their boundless imaginations to evolve what they considered proof positive of a fantastic theory that the story of the gospel is no more than a legend from which we reconstruct the natural life of Jesus as a man, one-third prophet, one-third necromancer, one-third demagogue, a man who wrought no miracles except the hypnotic cure of some obsessed devotees, who did not die on the cross, but came to Himself in the chill of the sepulcher and reappeared with mysterious airs to delude men into believing that He had risen from the dead.

Others demonstrated as certainly as two and two make four that Jesus was a myth developed in the time of Augustus and of Tiberius, and that all the Gospels can be reduced to a clumsy mosaic of prophetic texts. Others conceived of Jesus as a good, well-meaning man, but too high-flown and fantastic, who went to school to the Greeks, the Buddhists, and the Essenes and patched together His plagiarisms as best He could to support His claim to be the Messiah of Israel.

Others make Him out to be an unbalanced humanitarian, precursor of Rousseau and of divine democracy; an excellent man for his time, but who today would be put under the care of an alienist. Others, to get rid of the subject (once for all), took up the idea of the myth again, and by dint of puzzlings and comparisons concluded that Jesus never was born anywhere in any spot on the globe.

But who could have taken the place of the man they were trying to dispose of? The grave they dug was deeper every day, and still they could not bury Him from sight.

Then began the manufacture of religions for the irreligious. During the whole of the 19th century, they were turned out in couples and half-dozens at a time: the religion of Truth, of the Spirit, of the Proletariat, of the Hero, of Humanity, of Nationalism, of Imperialism, of Reason, of Beauty, of Peace, of Sorrow, of Pity, of the Ego, of the Future, and so on.

Some were only new arrangements of Christianity, uncrowned, spineless Christianity, Christianity without God. Most of them were political, or philosophic, trying to make themselves out as mystics. But faithful followers of these religions were few and their ardor faint. Such frozen abstractions, although sometimes helped along by social interest or literary passions, did not fill the heart which had renounced Jesus.

Then attempts were made to throw together facsimiles of religion which would make a better job of offering what men looked for in religion. Free-Masons, Spiritualists, Theosophists, Occultists, Scientists, all professed to have found the infallible substitute for Christianity.

But such mixtures of moldy superstition and worm-eaten necromancy, such a hash of musty rationalism and science gone bad, of simian symbolism and humanitarianism turned sour, such unskillful rearrangements of Buddhism, manufactured-for-export, and of betrayed Christianity, contented some thousands of leisure-class women, of condensers of the void…and went no further.

In the meantime, partly in a German parsonage and partly in a professor’s chair in Switzerland, the last Anti-Christ was making ready. “Jesus,” he said, coming down form the alps in the sunshine, “Jesus mortified mankind; sin is beautiful, violence is beautiful. Everything that says ‘yes’ to Life is beautiful.” And Zarathustra, after having thrown into the Mediterranean the Greek texts of Leipzig and the works of Machiavelli, began to gambol at the feet of the statue of Dionysius with the grace that might be expected of a German, born of a Lutheran minister, who had just stepped down from a chair in a Swiss university.

But, although his songs were sweet to the ear, he never succeeded in explaining exactly what he meant when he spoke of this adorable “Life” to which men should sacrifice such a living part of themselves as their need to repress their own animal instincts. Nor could he ever say in what way Christ, the true Christ of the Gospels, opposed Himself to life, He who wanted to make life higher and happy. And the poor syphilitic Anti-Christ, when insanity was close upon him, signed his last letter, “The Crucified One.”

And still Christ is not yet expelled from the earth, either by the ravages of time or by the efforts of men. His memory is everywhere: on the walls of churches and the schools, on the tops of bell-towers and of mountains, in street-shrines, at the heads of beds and over tombs, thousands of crosses bring to mind the death of the Crucified One.

Take away the frescoes from the churches, carry off the pictures from the altars and from the houses, and the life of Christ fills museums and picture galleries. Throw away breviaries and missals, and you find His name and His words in all the books of literature. Even oaths are an involuntary remembrance of His presence.

When all is said and done, Christ is an end and a beginning, an abyss of divine mystery between two divisions of human history. Paganism and Christianity can never be welded together. We can seek out what comes before Christ, we can acquire information about it, but it is no longer ours, it is signed with other signs, limited by other systems, no longer moves our passions. It may be beautiful, but it is dead.

Caesar was more talked about in his time than Jesus, and Plato taught more science than Christ. People still discuss the Roman ruler and the Greek philosopher, but who nowadays is hotly for Caesar or against him? And where are the Platonists and the anti-Platonists?

Christ, on the contrary, is still living among us. There are still people who love Him and who hate Him. There is a passion for the love of Christ and a passion for His destruction. The fury of so many against Him is a proof that He is not dead. The very people who devote themselves to denying His ideas and His existence pass their lives in bringing His name to memory.

This is a great book folks. Too bad it isn’t available on the YIMCatholic Bookshelf. Put you local librarian to work though. Find this book!

Update: Papini writing on the Road to Emmaus and After.

April 6, 2011

You’ve probably never heard of Kenelm Henry Digby. You’ll be hearing more about him from me though. I’m currently reading a biography about him.

A while back, I added a slew of his works to the YIMCatholic Bookshelf. Back on All Souls Day, I shared one of his poems with you. Today I’d like you to read a few of Digby’s lines of verse about Art. I promise a post about Digby himself in the future (a fascinating conversion story!).

But for now, just these few lines from his poem Ouranogaia: Heaven on Earth, from Canto VI, and a bonus video featuring the work of an amazing child prodigy named Akiane Kramarik.

By Admiration (works of Art, Painting, And Music)

Great Nature’s works admired so, we said,
To fields Elysian men have often led.
But works of human art no less provide
A field for admiration truly wide;
Whether they would exactly imitate
Sweet Nature’s present and imperfect state;
Or striving to combine in one all parts
Of beauty, so as to inflame our hearts
By picturing an artificial whole,
Made up of parts, and no part copied sole.

While, on whatever pathway they would wend,
They all must seek this one essential end—
Of making the unseen to mind appear,
Without which nought that’s seen is ever dear.
For so all works design’d of human art
That with success would touch and move the heart
Must still by means that are well known to all,
From things unseen remove the present pall,
That the invisible may clearly be
Brought thus before the mind; that ever we
May see its sheen, and feel its cheering glow;
For nought else moves the heart on earth below.
‘Tis then that art will yield for mankind here
A foretaste of the bliss that will appear
In those fair, happy regions, where it may
Be not intended all to pass away.

The bliss of those who Nature will admire,
Descends no less on those who never tire
Observing Nature in men’s works of art,
Of which a view they equally impart;
So that we argue justly when we hold
That human works can Heav’n itself unfold.

In song, the thought and sentiment come first;
These reign and govern, and still will keep the heights;
In painting, howe’er purely artists thirst.

The workman’s hand will chiefly claim its
rights—
Yes, even when it seeks the pure ideal,
And shuns an imitation of the real.

But if with skill you weigh the mystic bond,
Connecting hands with the presiding soul,
Your thoughts disparaging will then prove fond,
If raising not more wonder at the whole;
Or else, unless the hand rebels, and then
You well may scorn Art’s democratic men,

Who seek but profit with much daily toil,
By eccentricity, or what is worse,
By agency the human mind to soil
And yield a bitter, and a cleaving curse.
Whereas it is Art’s office to supply
A path towards Eden to attract the eye,

Supporting and exalting human life,
As even Plato show’d in days of old,
Suggesting that its noble, endless strife
Should be in making age and youth behold
The inner nature of the good and fair,
To fan their temples with Elysian air.

You can read the rest of Digby’s canto here. And now, the evolution of the artistry of Akiane,

March 2, 2011

In his book The Interior Carmel: The Threefold Way of Love, John C.H. Wu ends the chapter on “fraternal charity” with a short poem he composed. I read elsewhere that he was a poet too, but this is the first time I’ve seen one of his originals. I’ll let him introduce it to you,


Last year I hit upon a poem when I was waiting for the bus. I have outlined these (as) my ideals of life. Although I myself am very far from attaining these ideals, I think you may profit by the poem.

Ideals of Life

To see the cosmos in a flower;
To live Eternity in an hour;
To find the Transcendent in the ordinary,

John C.H. Wu

And the One in the many;

To drink the Tao in the cup of duty;
To realize that goodness is beauty.
To taste peace in activity,
And joy in humility,

To meet Christ in your neighbor,
To feel refreshed in labor.
To be sober and drunk at the same time–
Sublimely human and humanly sublime.

Thanks John! You have a way with words.


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