Friday, June 14, 2019

Just Doing It

Dear B.,

Well, for crying out loud, just do it.

You committed to it.  Just do it.  You know what God wants you to do. 

What good is it to sink all of this time and effort into our Faith - the prayers, the Masses, the theology, the complaining about the Church - if you can't just do what you agreed to do?  Is this a way of life or a huge game of mental masturbation?


Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Ironing Out Irony

Dear Beatrice,

As you know, Karen and I are in the midst of our great adventure on the road, which is why I have not been writing much lately.

But here's something I've observed, being around good people and children as I have on this trip.

Irony and cynicism are a form of sickness, symptoms of alienation, of being surrounded by lies.  Our natural state is straight forward and happy, or straight forward and sad or angry or what have you.  This self-conscious separation from an honest engagement in and enjoyment of anything is a defense mechanism - and it's all around us. 

But kids and dogs and good people have no need to be ironic.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Facebook, the Bishops and Death

Dear Beatrice,

I am sorry to hear about your father.  Karen says he has always seemed to be a man who was afraid of death.  "I noticed that about him the first time I met him," she says, which was years ago. 

Of course we're all afraid of death.  But ours is the only religion that makes sense of it.  The cross is death.  Bilbo gives up the Arkenstone, that which is most precious, for the good of others.  But if you don't believe in anything Good, as your father claims he doesn't, then what is there?  But of course he does indeed believe in what is Good, or he would not have tried to follow his own lights as best he could all these years - despite what he says.  Like all of us, he compromises with what is Not Good, out of fear of death / loss / the cross, in the hopes of controlling life and getting what he wants.  But even when we do the same, we still know that what is Good outshines us all.  Our gimmicks and our tricks do not avail us in such a time as the approaching end of life.  Death comes to the clever and the foolish, the loved and the abandoned.

But how do we deal with this?  That's what we've lost sight of, in our society and especially in our Church. 

Forgive me for bringing up the ongoing Scandal, but it never ends.  And it applies to what I'm saying.

I've been listening to an audio book on Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook's contempt for its users and its never ending abuse of user data, despite consequences such as the Russians and Trump.  Peggy Noonan calls on congressmen to get a spine and not be hoodwinked by Zuck.  She's right, but my point is this is exactly the same as the Catholic Scandal story. 

The Catholic system as it now stands is corrupt, top to bottom.  There are some good priests and maybe one or two good bishops, but it's worse than we can imagine, financially and sexually, as the Bransfield story reaffirms.  And our response? 

In the same way that Peggy Noonan characterizes fawning conservative fools gushing over Zuckerberg, so the best CNA can offer is, "As the bishops begin their meeting, there may be no more important plea on their lips than: 'Come Holy Spirit'!"


As if we haven't learned over the last generation what the bishops really think about the Holy Spirit? 

How addicted are we to living the lie?  How much do we want to avoid the truth that's right before our eyes?

Your father has orchestrated a life that has denied reality for 85 years.  He does not now, nor has he ever, wanted to face pain, death, the ugly truth - or for that matter the beautiful truth.

I know how painful this is and I will pray for you.


Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Is There Anything More Boring than Heaven?

Dear Betty,

No, the problem is not that we are not saints.

The problem is that we do not know what a saint is.

The problem is that we don't know what it means to be holy.  Our image of sanctity is of a eunuch sitting quietly with a smile on his face - Buddha without the despair.

Likewise, we have no idea what heaven is.  George Bernard Shaw said that most people think of heaven as a long classical music concert - and most people don't want to go to heaven because most people don't like classical music.  Have you ever heard a sermon on heaven?

In my 20 years as a Catholic, I have heard perhaps 1,000 homilies. 995 have been on how much God loves us.  Four have mentioned all sexual sins other than fornication.  One mentioned fornication.  I have never heard a homily on

  • Greed
  • Usury
  • Maturity in Christ
  • Heaven (I've even heard hell mentioned maybe twice, but heaven is shied away from)
Yes, it angers me - but I think there's hope.  

Either existence is meaningless or there is such a thing as the Good.  If there is such a thing as the Good, then it's real, tangible, it has edges, it's offensive, you can bump into it.  

Everything else is our own form of make-believe.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Be Real about Reality


Quit pussyfooting about this!

You are a strong woman and you don't need to wring your hands.

What is it about the Catholic wringing of hands?  "Oh, I wish I knew what God wanted me to do!  Oh, I wish I knew what to do in this situation!  Oh, if only I could discern God's will!  I won't do anything until then.  Doing nothing is always holy, after all, isn't it?"  I know, I know, you're not that bad, but this is the tripe that comes out of the mouths of so many Devout Catholics.

And, yes, as you say, the wheat and the tares are mingled together and they will not be separated until the End of Time, and Our Lord will separate and judge them, we won't; our job is to be the wheat, not the tares.  But you don't have to judge this man's soul to know that you have to avoid him.  "Judge not" means "judge not" the soul or eternal fate of another; it means never despise your neighbor.  But it does not mean, "Be a child and don't make any assessments or decisions about people or situations."

When we do just that - when we refuse to admit the truth before our eyes (in this case, the truth that this "problem priest" is indeed a sick and potentially dangerous man) - we build up, not the Body of Christ, but the pit of hell.  We assert and confirm a kind of nihilism.  We testify, by our actions, that reality ain't really real, that the Unreality that we assert is all that matters.  When we fail to call a spade a spade, we affirm implicitly that we cannot even wield the elemental power of a rational creature, which is to see what is and to name it (Adam's job, from the beginning).  When we refuse to admit that the sky is blue, we allow people to claim that it's any cloying color they want it to be.  When we don't say, "Enough is enough.  Things have boundaries and so do I," then we witness, by implication, that life is indeed what the "we create our own meaning crowd" tell us it is - the suffocating bubble of our own imagination.

Be real about reality.  This is called Prudence, and it is a virtue.

That man is a sick human being and not a good priest.  Avoid him.



Friday, May 31, 2019

Adults and Prudential Judgments


I don't know what to tell you.

It's certainly true that Catholics are obligated to go to Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation.  It's one of the few things we are obligated to do.  But if there's a valid reason not to go, then you don't go.  And in your case, there are plenty of other parishes.

I must say it bothered me a while back when I Googled this very issue and found one of those "Catholic authority" websites that's well meaning and orthodox and that a lot of Devout Catholics look to.  They pontificated on the obligation and all the things that might interfere with it and all the things that should not - do you have a cold, is the weather too bad to drive in, do you have a problem that would require you to get out of your pew several times during the Mass (i.e., are you incontinent?) - and I said to myself, "Good God, are we just a bunch of children?  Is there no such thing as making a prudential decision?"

A friend of mine recently wrote ...

I think that Catholic laity like to be infantilized. They don't want to accept adult responsibility. It is not easy to make complex prudential judgments; it is easier to assume that the pope or clergy never err. But f course infallibility is very restricted,and popes' prudential judgments may be spectacularly wrong.

... as may our own.

But that's the thing.  It ain't a system.  The Incarnation doesn't mean that we have a checkbox and as long as we can check everything on the check box, we're holy.  Holiness is an expression of love, and if your spouse (in your case, Malcolm) treated you not with the kind of spontaneous affection that he does (yeah, I know, most of the time), but instead kept a list, imagine how you'd feel.  "Today I talked to Betty.  I kissed her.  I listened to her tell me about her day.  Check, check, check!"  You'd feel cheated and you'd rip that stupid check list to shreds.

But I'm getting off track.

I know the priest you're referring to.  Yes, there certainly seems to be something wrong with him.  I have never been in his presence, heard a homily of his, or taken his bizarre advice in the confessional without feeling somehow icky.  He's insidious.  He mixes actual Catholic content with something putrid and envious.  He's clearly not a well man and is somehow spiritually defective.

And don't think you'll get anywhere with the archdiocese.  Please.  Dozens of people all over the world complained of our deacon's behavior on the internet and not a peep from the archdiocese in all that time.  All they'll say now is that he's "no longer in active ministry".  17 years of the "scandal", and this is what they've learned.  As for the priest in question, the fact that he's been assigned to about six different parishes in ten years is indeed a red flag.

But everything about the man is a red flag!

The answer is obvious.  Avoid him.  I know, the sacraments he confects are valid, but we're adults.  This is a prudential decision.  If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's a duck.  You can't look to a man like this for spiritual guidance of any sort.  He's sick.

If we are not mature enough to believe what we see with our own eyes, something's wrong with us, and we're sick too.


Thursday, May 30, 2019

The Secret of Life - and of Learning

Dear B.,

I'm glad that I'm making Eric Voegelin somewhat accessible to you.  Yes, I agree, he's difficult. 

Speaking of difficult, these past few days have been a bit of a struggle for me, but also profoundly meaningful.  At my worst, I tend to doubt Love itself.  Awful, I know, but true.  Because, I think, it's easier to cut love out of our lives than to live with it - to cut it out rather than to live it out.  We thereby become impervious and invulnerable - though the price we pay is to live a life of hardened despair.  Our friend Jack put it quite well, I think.

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.

And the soul, as I've often written to you, is the Vulnerable Thing.

And nothing is really possible without love, without the Eros that draws us beyond ourselves, without this humble vulnerability that reaches out to what is Beyond.  This is what frustrates me about some of my students; some of them have no clue that this is what learning is.  They think that taking a class with me is gaming the system.  Just parrot what I want to hear, push the right buttons on the online quiz, feed me the party line they've memorized, dutifully represent the "system" that they think I'm trying to uphold and in return I should give them something called "grades".  It's all a game.  But those are the bad students, not the good ones.

For on the contrary, to be a student comes from the Latin word for "to be eager" - to approach something with longing, desire, love.  "As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God."  (Psalm 42:1) This eagerness, this desire, this zeal cannot be taught.  It is the precondition for learning.  It is a form of love.  It is what makes the lover willing to endure ordeals and disciplines.  For it is Eros that engenders Wisdom in the soul, as Plato taught and as Voegelin reiterates.  If Mary had not loved and sought after God, would the Spirit have engendered Jesus in her?  He comes to those who seek Him, whose hearts thirst for him as the hart thirsts for the flowing stream, for the living water.  Without the uncertainty and vulnerability of love, neither wisdom nor life can be engendered.

But we are so dreadfully afraid of this longing, this desire, this love - with good reason, for we know that love for us fallen creatures can easily become lust, greed, addiction.  We also know love can be rebuffed, rejected.  And so some well known Catholic preachers these days (I am told) are busy renouncing all "passion" as evil, and this isn't new.  Even spiritual classics like The Imitation of Christ are largely admonitions to a stoicism bordering on Quietism - as if all that holiness consisted of was not feeling a damn thing.  Just sitting there with a goofy grin on your your face.  In other words, Buddha, not Christ.

But without this love (this "Eros", though the modern world has corrupted that word to mean sexual desire only, whereas it's far more than that) - without this Eros, we cannot see what is Good, and seek after it.  We cannot see God and seek after Him.

I know, I know.  I'm a poet at heart and sometimes I sound hackneyed.  But it's only hackneyed if it becomes a mere system.  To live like this is not a system.

Just Doing It

Dear B., Well, for crying out loud, just do it. You committed to it.  Just do it.  You know what God wants you to do.  What good is it...