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Sentimentalism

We hear of the stark sentimentalist, who talks as if there were no problem at all: as if physical kindness would cure everything: as if one need only pat Nero and stroke Ivan the Terrible. This mere belief in bodily humanitarianism is not sentimental; it is simply snobbish. For if comfort gives men virtue, the comfortable classes ought to be virtuous—which is absurd. Then, again, we do hear of the yet weaker and more watery type of sentimentalists: I mean the sentimentalist who says, with a sort of splutter, “Flog the brutes!” or who tells you with innocent obscenity “what he would do” with a certain man—always supposing the man’s hands were tied. – G.K. Chesterton

‘Tis interesting this beautiful thought of Gilbert.  In one in the same statement, he says violent men and passive sentimentalists come from the same tree, namely ignorance of the human person.  Man is not merely the sentiment connected with human physical contact, not to deny its power, only to mitigate the popular belief in its power.  Nor does man need to be degraded as an ignonmous idiot worth nothing more than torture.

Man is worthy of being contemplated not for his own sake but to see that he is not the root of his existence or the power by which he lives.  He is immediately and brokenly contigent.  He requires both discipline and loving sentiment to become virtuous, insodoing he moves towards being fully human.

Wonderland Un-Eclipsed (Or, the Best Play I’ve Seen in Years)

“‘In vain,’ I cried, ‘though you too touch
The new time’s desecrating hand,
Through all the noises of a town
I hear the heart of fairyland.’”-GK Chesterton

Last night, I was privileged to enter into fairyland in the heart of New Orleans. Indeed, every New Orleanian knows innately that fairyland’s borders lie right around eachcorner. The scent of a nearby crawfish boil or the strains of jazz carried by the winds of our city keep us ever in proximity to that child-like land of milk and honey. Yet, last night, in the middle of City Park, the sheerness of the veil was illuminated and, like a scrim on stage, revealed the heart of the child that lies in each one of us.

The play was “Alice in Wonderland” and it was staged (if ‘staged’ is even the right word: a whole garden is used as the acting space) by the formidable artists at the nolaproject theatre troupe (http://www.nolaproject.com/). Complete with the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, the Queen’s Croquet, a disappearing-reappearing Cheshire Cat and the countless other characters, Wonderland was re-created in the NOMA Sculpture garden. It was a “choose your own adventure” style performance, where audience members pick their guide when they purchase their ticket. You could run with the Red Queen, prattle along with Alice or watch the Mad Hatter and Co. re-enact the whole story from the comfort of the Tea Party.

Now that you know the facts, you must be made aware of the more essential information: the nonsense. It is timed to coincide with the sunset, so the play begins in daylight, passes through twilight and ends in almost darkness. The statues in the NOMA garden, including a few token Rodins and Renoirs, are poked fun at and even made into characters. The young adult cast does more cartwheels, somersault, singing and fighting than occurs at your average kindergarten recess. Finally though, and most significantly, the lines of Lewis Carroll are delivered flawlessly in casual, if not flawless, British dialects. All these elements are sown together by the outdoor location, which provides punctuations of bird songs, wind, cloud and crunch as one steps across the grass to reach the different sets. So intoxicating and inviting is the experience that there moments of almost somatic surrender. I have never in my waking life questioned whether I was truly dreaming or just daydreaming until last night’s production. It was like the last chapter of the “Man Who Was Thursday” brought to life. (If you have not read GKC’s masterpiece, you need to drop what you’re reading and read it now).

Now that you have the nonsense, you should be made aware of the substance. This staging of Alice in Wonderland has, at it’s foundation, the same essential message (I won’t call it a “lesson” or “moral” for those words are just not silly enough!) that Chesterton makes at the end of “The Ethics of Elfland.” The message is, to quote the Mad Hatter, “that the world needs less facts and more mystery.” Children are often right, and adults are often dead wrong, when approaching the question “Why?” A child is comfortable waiting for the story to unfold, whereas the impatient adult wants the answer right away. Alice is happy to travel through Elfland for hours. Tedious and terrible adults can barely stand the place for a few minutes. Yet, humanity needs Wonderland, for a land without wonder is hardly worth fighting for, much less living in. God looked into the Abyss and said “Let there be light!,” there by conquering in one Word forever the darkness of a mere dark fact.

The veil of fact was held up to the light last night and what shone through was the Divine spark dwelling in actors and audience alike. We are all children playing in the Garden, even if most of the time we are acting like naughty children who have spoiled the Trees. The message at the end of the tale (for, again, it was neither a lesson nor a moral) is that learning to say sorry in the right way and learning to share your talents with God and others are the ends we must pursue. It is a message that every child of the Father must learn. Sometimes, nonsense is a better teacher of these truths than all the facts in the world. In a society increasingly organized by economy, bureaucracy and efficiency, I am tempted to change that “sometimes” to “most of the time.” Instead, I will leave you with this paraphrase of the play’s penultimate line; “I am sorry for being selfish. I am not sorry for being imperfect, but I will try, in both cases, to be better in the future.” Wonderland can and does bring us this message. Just remember that the border between here and Wonderland is paper thin…

Top Ten Books Read in 2013 – 6

G.K Chesterton has become a regular on this annual countdown (and on the blog in general), partly because of his vast amount of writings and partly due to their wonderful commonsensical quality, always because he has a mustache. But as has been the case this year, we have another first, a book of poetry.

Wine, Water, and Song is a whimsical look at food and drink. Chesterton has great personal experience with both. Many of theWine, Water, and Song songs are taken from his novel, The Flying Inn, (which sounds like a book for next year). One of my favorite poems of the group in “The Logical Vegetarian.”

You will find me drinking rum,
Like a sailor in a slum,
You will find me drinking beer like a Bavarian.
You will find drinking gin
In the lowest kind of inn,
Because I am a rigid vegetarian.

One of the other great gems is “The Song of the Strange Ascetic”

If I had been a heathen,
I’d have praised the purple vine,
My slaves should dig the vineyard,
And I would drink the wine,
But Higgins is a heathen,
And his slaves grow lean and grey,
That he may drink some tepid milk
Exactly twice a day …
Now who can run can read it,
That riddle that I write,
Of why this poor old sinner,
Should sin without delight–?
But I, I cannot read it
(Although I run and run)
Of them that do not have the faith,
And will not have the fun.

Pick up a beer or high-ball of scotch and enjoy some good levity and even better insights.

 

Family’s Value (Or, Why We’re Home For Christmas)

“Hey, son, when do you get off of work?”

“Closing time on Friday.”

“Oh. So how long will you spend at your house before coming home? A couple of days?”

“Oh no! A couple of hours, if that. I want to be with y’all by Friday night. I’m gonna lock my place up, hit the road and not look back ’till New Years.”

“Ok. Glad to hear it.”

This conversation played out between my father and I recently. I know he was testing the waters, trying to see what my schedule was like for the break. Yet, his assumption that I might spend the days leading up to Christmas alone at my small house in the city seemed odd to me. Did he not know how much I longed to be home this time of year? Can he have forgotten what it’s like to sit in an empty house, knowing that your family is only an hour’s drive away? What would Advent & Christmastime be without family?

Twenty years ago, the kid who was me experienced Christmas as two holidays wrapped in one. The first was the jovial gift-giving holiday promoted by commercials but truly fueled by that playful child-like spirit of games, toys and fun. The other was an equally compelling but strictly religious celebration at church when the adults, with a totally serious (and occasionally stern) face, reminded us kids to be quiet because the God-baby was asleep in his manger. And, deep down inside, I sensed that somehow these two holidays were linked through the living reality of family. Yet, with all the happy serendipity of a child, I merely accepted the mystery at face value.

Having put aside childish things, I now know that those two holidays were, of course, the same one. Chesterton once compared falling down the chimney to what happens when a mother gives birth: a gift is dropped down a shoot into a room full of strangers. Christmas is merely the celebration of the greatest present to fall down the chimney: Christ, and his great act of giving us back to each other. Likewise, a wise priest a know has called Christmas the greatest joke ever. Humor, he argues, is the coming together of opposite ideas. What could be more opposite than the heavenly court literally engulfing the countryside at the birth of a human family on the plains of Bethlehem.

The human family was the key to all this. A man, a woman and a child, illuminated by a star, surrounded by angels, shepherds and sages: this is the strange icon the Christmas has etched in our hearts. It is as if all the powers of heaven and earth are bent in humility around this most fundamental institution: the family. The Psalmist tells us the God has made heaven his throne and earth his footstool: but we get the sense at Christmas that the family is His royal entourage! For laying at the center of the picture, to weak to even speak, is the Word of God. Perhaps that is why they call it silent night: not simply because angels, humans and animals are all adoring the Christ-child, but because God Himself was silent in the presence of the mystery of ‘mommy’ and ‘daddy.’

So, yes, I am going home for Christmas. I cannot wait to arrive, though I cannot say why. Like the rest of us, I can only look at those two parents bent over the manger and wonder what in heaven and on earth God was thinking when he gave us to each other.

 

#popefrancislife

My students have gotten me in the habit of putting #life at the end of any description or tale that involves irony, paradox, awkwardness or humility (ie: those things that the world considers to be mere inconveniences, but in which are contained the meaning of existence). #life, unlike its distant cousin #yolo, is something a of real philosophical sentiment. It alludes to the fact that life is almost predictable. Just when you think you have life figured out and under control, your tire pops on the way to a job interview, you trip and fall in front of that attractive new co-worker, you sleep in late thinking its Sunday…only to remember it is actually Monday. Life is intelligible, but that intelligibility makes it none-the-less unpredictable. In fact, #life is nothing more than expressing that most shared of human experiences: that the only real rule in reality is to expect the unexpected.

As usual, GKC put it better than I;
The real trouble with this world of ours is not that it is an unreasonable world, nor even that it is a reasonable one. The commonest kind of trouble is that it is nearly reasonable, but not quite. Life is not an illogicality; yet it is a trap for logicians. It looks just a little more mathematical and regular than it is;its exactitude is obvious, but its inexactitude is hidden; its wildness lies in wait. (Orthodoxy)

Indeed, what could be more Orthodox than to wake up and realize that a God more rational and loving than you made the universe? What could be more #life? Reality should make perfect sense, but when we try to explain it, we always miss some critical step, trip, fall and end up upside-down. #life

The real misunderstanding, though, is not with the universe. #life, by its very nature, implies that there is something wrong with those that have life. And those that have life are not the objective rules of reality, but us. Pope Francis, with all his talk on sin, healing, Satan and holiness, seems keenly aware of this. In his interview last Thursday, his allusion to the Church as a ‘field hospital’ can only be interpreted in this way. Whether its due to his American upbringing, his Jesuit formation, his contact with contemporary issues or sheer grace of the Holy Spirit, Pope Francis understands #life better than many of the young people who have popularized this slogan.

And he’s up to something. It was not without calculation that he released an interview about finding a new balance in the Church’s theology on abortion but two days before addressing a group of Catholic gynecologists in Rome. On Thursday he surprises the world by saying our Prolife stance can be over-emphasized…and then on Saturday he says that the unborn “bear the face of Jesus Christ,” a strongly emphatic Prolife statement! Is the Pope pastorally self-contradictory? Or is he driving at something deeper.

Could it be that he knows that the root of the Church’s stagnation is a certain spiritual pride, a certain evangelical laxity? Is it that, for too long, Catholics and Christians have spouted their favorite doctrines without applying them in charity? Could it be that the Pope is saying and doing these things, not so much to surprise the media, as to unsettle complacent Christians? After all, he certainly has got our attention. When was the last time we listened this much to the Pope? The world, for its part, can’t seem to figure him out. But it seems to me that he’s got the world figured out. And he’s got us figured out to. And I think he aims to do something about it. So, if you were happy being a back-pew Catholic and coasting along not having to explain or explore your faith, get ready: this Pope is pulling the pew right out from under you. #life #popefrancislife

St. Chesterton, Pray for Us!?

The idea of St. Chesterton, recently reported on by the Daily Mail and encouraged by words of both Pope Francis and the bishop of Northampton, has left me in a fit of giggles. Not that I doubt the validity of the claim. It appears that Pope Francis is a long time Chesterton fan, blessing book groups of the British journalist in his native Argentina. Bishop Peter Doyle’s simultaneous investigation of Chesterton’s life is the first of many steps toward canonization. (In Chesterton’s case, the longest step might be the thorough examination of his writings for intentional heresy, a process that could take decades given the sheer amount of ink he spilt. Still, I think you will find no shortage of scholars willing to volunteer for the task).

Nonetheless, the idea of Chesterton holy cards, Chesterton icons, St. Gilbert Keith Parishes, GKC novenas and (not so) mini-statuettes is enough to make one giddy with delight. Perhaps the only person besides who would find these things more comical than GKC fans do would be GKC himself. Can you imagine the jokes he would crack on the occasion of the dedication of a St. Chesterton Shrine (They’ll have to have a very large sanctuary to fit a statue of me in it! Accuracy would require there be a pub next door! The holy medals ought to be chocolate, like those fake chocolate coins that children use! What will they do, sell penny dreadfuls instead of devotional in the vestibule after Mass!?). It is simply outrageous that GKC should be made a saint. And yet, it seems he has friends in high places who would like to see it happen. It is a good thing, too, that Chesterton became Roman Catholic: he joined the only church crass and crazy enough to canonize the likes of him!

In all seriousness, though (a phrase Chesterton seems to have hated), the cause for Chesterton’s canonization may be outrageous, but it is not offensive. However, from reading the comments on the Daily Mail article, one gets the sense that the good people of London are scandalized that a newspaper man from their own city should be up for sainthood. Perhaps it is with good reason. GKC was the first to admit that he belonged to a profession that attracted the slothful and the spineless alike. He would join their voices of dissent at the idea of a London journalist joining the canon of Saints, save for the strange fact that he is most assuredly no longer alive in London. I cannot suppose his current location, seeing as Pope Francis thinks it possible that he is far better off than any of us thought possible.

Possible is the key word in all this. All this news means is that the leaders of our Church think it possible that GKC is in heaven. The smiles and the scandal surrounding such a statement tell us more about ourselves than they do about Chesterton. Is it so terribly silly that so great a theologian be admitted to heaven, even if he was nothing more than a journalist? Why are we put off by the idea of his sanctity, when it would be a comforting thought that a man as full of life as GKC might have made it through the pearly gates? Perhaps it is because we like gritty, challenging saints, not jolly orthodox ones. Maybe it is because we like controversialists with new ideas, not contrite coots with old ones. Chesterton self-identified as a liberal who fought for the poor. At the same time, he defeated heresy and converted CS Lewis (and countless others). He argued against communism, capitalism and fascism all while they were still popular. He perfectly met all the demands of the era and did it all with his unique brand of optimism and common sense. Optimism, common sense and sanctity: how many of us can claim such a trinity? So, why not a St. Chesterton?

GKC, ora pro nobis.

Sensuum Defectui (Or, the Diet Coke Adventure)

“The most incredible thing about miracles is that they happen.”-GKC

Twice today I had experiences of the surreal nature of reality that can only be called miraculous. Every once in a while, the true colors of our Divinely created universe shift into focus and blind us with their intensity. Science, when taken as merely a form of study, often numbs us to these colors, yet reason itself confirms that numbness is a sign of a distortion from reality. A numbed mind, like a numb finger or blurry eye-sight, may indeed come in contact with reality, but because it fails to connect with reality in its full spectrum, rendering our experience false before it can even try to be true. And perhaps no one knows this truth better than the person who’s numbness is taken away from them to be replaced by a sudden and vivid sensitivity. Such was my experience today.

It is dreadfully hot in New Orleans. Cruising from one side of the river to the other, my mind began to fall into that perilous lethargy that Southerners associate with the month of August. I was leaving the school where I hold classes to pay a bill at another school where I take classes. I walked through the cool halls on my way to the financial office, walked through the door, and was shocked into a state of consciousness beyond hot or cold. When I had come to this office three years ago, I could distinctly remember a diet coke sitting on the desk next to the computer. Certainly there was a new financial aid person behind the desk. It was clear from the boxes and bags littering the office that she had recently moved in. There was a new computer, new decorations, new paint, but the same diet coke sat in the same place I remembered it being before. After all, one does not forget the petty details of so oppressive a place as an financial aid office. Rarely does a student find themselves in such a place without fear. On my visit three years prior, I had sat nervously trying to finalize my information before the semester deadline. In the midst of my turmoil, I remember contemplating the cool perspiration on the diet coke. And here it was again, gloating like the face of fate. I could see the fresh carbonation rising from its sneering mouth, laughing at me.

And my mind, awoken with a strange suddenness to the vexing twists of reality, grappled to make sense of it all. Had, for three years, the world spun dizzily around this one can of coke? Did paint dry, people pack, papers fly, all the while this coke remaining unmoved? Was this round metal the true axis of the universe, on which we all spun. I imagined a time-lapse in which the desk was emptied, the room cleaned, furniture replaced, and all the time this on can of diet coke remained fixed in the center of it all. If the desk rotted into ruin, I wondered, would the coke remain hovering in midair?

I am not a superstitious man. Some might argue the point, however, when they read what I did next: I ran to the chapel. Once inside the stillness of that room, I approached the Tabernacle, but once more awoke with a new horror. This was the same Tabernacle I had seen early today when on the other side of the river! Inside was the same host, the same True Presence, that I had felt early today but in a totally different location. Now two uncanny thoughts swirled in my mind: that of an ever-fixed can of coke that waited for me in the other room and of an ever-loving God who relentlessly chased me across rivers and bridges.

I said I am not a superstitious man, but for a moment I felt on the verge of becoming one. Lightheaded, I prayed to God, then saw these mysteries in their true light. Superstition, a wise man once told me, is not when man thinks too much of God’s place in universe (a logical impossibility) but when he thinks too little of his own place here. The superstitious man forgets in whose image he is made and thus lets the trivialities of nature make sport of him. Made in the image of God, it is totally possible, nay even likely, that two totally different people might take different can’s of coke and place them in the same place. Human beings like regularity and order. We make all cans of coke the same for the same reason that God makes all trees different: creative efficiency. Taking into account the fact that we willfully choose to drink coke at our desks, it would only make sense that I might see two such objects in the same place. Coffee stalls at airports, benches on street corners, Walmarts at Interstate Exits: these things indicate not a mythic quality in the universe but the material mysticism of man. Man, whether praying or building, always likes to be regular.

God made us so. The image of His order and goodness haunts even our sin. Therefore, when He became man (and then became bread) that we might be saved, he left us evidence of His own will by placing himself in all the places we might want to be with Him. Yet He knew that we could not handle the strange solidity of idol worship. Had he become a statue, His Presence would have haunted us like the Immovable Can of Diet Coke, perched ominously in a single Temple like the pagans of old had envisioned. Yet, had he merely given us a symbolic representation of Himself, then how could our hearts recover from the bitingly real enigmas and separations of the material world? That is to say, lovers are never satisfied with representation. We like regularity.We need to be close. We like our coke in the afternoon on the middle of our desk. We like our spouses in our arms at night. A simple “symbol” of His love would never “do the trick.” Only a True Presence would satisfy us. To paraphrase Flannery O’Connor, if the Eucharist is only a True Symbol, then to Hell with it.

“The incredible thing about miracles is that they happen.” In a universe where the food and drinks we desire appear with such regularity, shouldn’t our miraculous God be willing to appear with an even more regularity. The Almighty could not have His show stolen by cans of coke! So, in ways never foreseen and never guessed at, He made His Presence among us known in flesh and blood and bread and wine. According to Aquinas, the power by which He did this was greater than any of the mysteries of creation. Still, the greater mystery is why His love would go through such trouble, why He would bother to leap over a river and mount a cross, just to be with you and me.

“Fran-ces-co! Fran-ces-co!” (Or, Our World Upside Down)

In his famous biography of St. Francis of Assisi, GKC’s on-going metaphor is that the founder of the mendicants was more like the virtuoso of an artistic movement than the father of a religious order. His central image is that of Francis coming out the cave after receiving the Stigmata like an artist looking at the world upside down. So striking was this visual that Mumford & Son’s decided to write a song about it. So striking was St. Francis’ “artistic vision” that pilgrims, provinces, peoples and now Popes are righting wrongs according to it.

And indeed, with the election of Pope Francis, it has felt like our world has turn upside down. The Catholic Church, which one week ago was the object of annoyance to the every-man and a subject of scorn in the press, is now led by the “freshest,” “simplest” and “warmest” of individuals. He asked Rome to pray over him. He spurs limos and greets parishioners at the door. He holds “story-time” in Paul VI Auditorium. He laughs at slightest provocation. He leaves flowers at side altars like “a pilgrim among pilgrims.” And all this before he has even been installed as Bishop of Rome. The media (for the time being) has had nothing but nice things to say, even going out of their way to exonerate him from accusations that he was complacent during the Dirty War. News reporters smile confidently talking about the “Franciscan Reform” that has already begun. In short, Catholics went from being troglodytes to trendy all thanks to their new Pope. It matters not however long or short lived this perception in the press will last. All media perceptions are short lived in the grand scheme of things. I merely wish to highlight the contrast from how things were just seven days ago.

I would like to get back to St. Francis & Chesterton, though, because there is another part of this story that you will not find in newspapers or on TV. The press, for all their virtues, is ignoring the most profound part of Francis’ papacy just as they always misunderstand the most profound heart of St. Francis of Assisi. For Francis did not “rebuild the Church” so as to appeal to the public forum. In fact, GKC dwells on this story in his biography because he believes that it is the key to understanding why St. Francis did what he did. When the son of Assisi rebuilt the church there, it angered the public forum greatly. Far from popularizing his cause, the outcry of the people almost ended it prematurely. Then, as legend has it, Francis stripped before the crowd, wrapped himself in the bishop’s cope and claimed to belong entirely to the Church. St. Francis never saw himself as some outside reformer sent to rebuild the Church. He pictured himself in the very heart of the Church, surrounded by its splendor and apostolic tradition, yet simple and naked underneath it all. He saw himself as a faithful son doing chores for his Heavenly Father. I am certain that, regardless of public opinion, this is exactly how our new Pope Francis sees himself as well.

This is why I am excited: Francis sees himself as our brother. I chant his name, “Fran-ces-co,” as if I were calling on a sibling. The Franciscans took the name “friar” from the Latin “Fray” for “brother” or “frater.” The Franciscans were the first fraternity. They were the first “bros.” Their strength came from inclusion and cohesion, not outside manipulation. When Pope Francis reforms the Curia (as he most certainly will) it will not be because it has become too fraternal. It is because, with its careerism & constriction  the Curia has not been fraternal enough. He will trim and prune the branches of our Church, both at the Vatican and the Church’s other cities, according to the truer fraternity that he referenced in his opening address last week. From the porch of St. Peter’s, our new Pope has called for a return to brotherly love. Rome is now a “philadelpia.” Perhaps all Christians might start calling each other “brother” and “sister” upon Papal authority, the way Franciscans titled Brother Moon and Sister Sky on the authority of their founder. In any event, Pope Francis has inaugurated a new era in our Catholic Faith. What that new era will look like particularly is still anybody’s guess. But, in general, it should be obvious that our new Pope has not come so much as to divide as to unite. He has seen that the rich comfortable Church, too close to the world and too intimidated by its voices, was a Church upside down. In calling for a poor, simple, fraternal Church, he has flipped us right-side up again.

At the Middle of Lent & the Beginning of a Conclave

All the towering materialism which dominates the modern mind rests ultimately upon one assumption; a false assumption. It is supposed that if a thing goes on repeating itself it is probably dead; a piece of clockwork. People feel that if the universe was personal it would vary; if the sun were alive it would dance. This is a fallacy even in relation to known fact. For the variation in human affairs is generally brought into them, not by life, but by death; by the dying down or breaking off of their strength or desire… The thing I mean can be seen, for instance, in children, when they find some game or joke that they specially enjoy. A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately,but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.” GK Chesterton, Orthodoxy

 

Is it really power and complexity that heaven values? Is potentia what delights Divinity? Do the angels find power their greatest pleasure? From all I know of God, of Scripture, of communio and of sanctity, I dare say not! While I do not think monotony as we know it is what thrills them, I think that even our earthly monotony is far closer to the celestial joy than any amount of earthly power. Perhaps I am being childish and romantic, but I do not think that I am wrong (or even alone) in asserting that a child’s smile or a true love’s kiss delights the angels far more than all of our epics and entertainment. A summertime picnic glows with more celestial radiance than the presidential election or Superbowl. Speaking only from my own limited perspective, I can affirm that the times I feel closest to the heavenly shores are moments characterized by the simple joy of existing. Alone in my lover’s arms. Full and satisfied after Christmas dinner. A warm fire on a cold winter’s night. A cool swim on a hot summer’s day. A best friend’s intense hug. Smooth wine and warm bread. I feel the full joy of existing, of just being alive, at moments like this. Certainly moments of exultation and excitement are important.

Life-defining moments like graduations and weddings and funerals and retirement are great and all. But our small human hearts can’t comprehend all the joy and sorrow of moments like these. On the other hand, the small moments contain just enough of the joy and love-of-being-alive that we can see it all at once. Like Chesterton said above, we are not yet strong enough to exult in the monotony of life. We merely plug along through monotony, when the very idea of Eternity indicates a joyous and exultant monotony. What makes us think that we are ready for the sheer joy and incessant pleasure of heaven? We have sinned and grown old. We, as a race, are all too easily bored with both the simplicity of earth and of heaven. For God renounced all the whims of power when he first created the heavens and the earth. Rather than rule vengefully according to fancy, changing the course of the seas and sky everyday, re-writing the laws of physics so as to trip up sinful man, God has chosen to love as with an inspired monotony. As the omnipotent Creator, he could have made creation a place of constant flux, but He delighted in simplicity instead. God saw a value in simple constancy that our greatest rulers and thinkers alike have a tendency to overlook or undermine.

The value of things, both earthly things and heavenly things, is, in the final estimate, based on their fidelity to the goodness of their being. According to the philosophers, God’s Goodness is directly related to His Act of Existence, His Perfect State-of-Being. If that be the case, the smallest hydrogen atom has more in common with God than even the greatest of the fallen angels. Satan dwells in a land of shadows and nothingness. One isolated proton acting as hydrogen in its being is more real and good than he. To be created powerful is of little consequence. To continue in existence, in the simple joy of being: that is what God values. We would do well at this mid-point in Lent and on the Eve of a Papal Election to keep that in mind. Hell is the place for those that seek power. The new heavens and earth will belong to those who are poor enough to accept the raw goodness of just being:

The Top Ten Books Read in 2012, #9

Sorry for the two day delay. Things at the parish caught up with me. Anyway back to the countdown…

Number nine here is from an author who made it on the countdown twice last year (and I’ll be honest will probably make the countdown every year). The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton was probably one of the strangest books that I have ever read. I read it during my time in bed after my ankle injury (see the tag ankler).

I had enjoyed my previous outings with my favorite Catholic writer. However, this time felt like I was in a daze (and not from the Loratab). This book, subtitled a nightmare, holds true. It seemed surreal. I could never really wrap my head around what really was going on, which indeed was the way the main character, Thursday, as he is named, felt.

This is certainly a book that I will read again not necessarily for its greatness but just so I can understand better what Chesterton was doing.

It is a great read despite the fuzziness. The characters are well layered and the plot moves along quickly.

It’s not a summer read. It’s more suited for a rainy day, a hurricane, or for you who are from up north, a snow storm.