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Why I Am a “Duck Dynasty” Fan

“Why are people standing in line to see me!? I thought Clint Eastwood was cool in all the western movies, but I’m not gonna stand in line to see him…The only person I’d stand in line for is God Almighty. ‘You made the Universe? All right, I’ll get in line.'” -Jase Robertson

I love my home state more than words can say. For all her problems, Louisiana is one of the greatest places in the world to grow up. And the reason I am a “Duck Dynasty” fan is because it has communicated to the rest of this nation precisely why Louisiana is so great.

The main reason I like the Duckmen is not the praying before meals every episode. Nor is it the “family values” that the show portrays. Both of these additions are important to the overall message of the show, but from both a spiritual and cultural angle, they are not the main points I would like to praise. No, the main contribution the Robertsons seem to bring to the world of television is a basic sense of humility.

The fact of the matter is that I do not own a TV. It has been years since I bothered to follow a TV show. “Downton Abbey” is the only program that I have shown the slightest interest in since graduating from college (I watch episodes on my laptop). The reason why I avoid the American palantir is because of the amount of pride I am subjected to when I enter its glow. Much like the televisions or palantirs of Tolkien’s Middle Earth, ours are controlled by those who have the strongest ego, the most vivacious will, and, therefore, those who are most arrogant and prideful…but who are also the best at disguising it. After all, no one on television appears egotistical. Everyone presents themselves as polite, reasonable, even tempered, and even ethical.

At this risk of sounding moralistic, it is this hypocrisy that makes TV so disgusting to me. Whether its a news program full of “talking-heads,” a talk show laiden with “gurus,” a sitcom full of “relevance,” or a crime drama full of “investigators,” I can’t help but feel that behind the smiling faces of all these TV personalities lies hidden the career-driven face of ego. I accuse no particular individual of this, but it seems beyond a shadow of a doubt that the raw success of television is due more to ambition than any other factor. When I watch the antics of the Robertsons, however, I see no such evidence of hypocrisy. The Duck Commander can be commanding, even arrogant, at times, but it is never disguised by politeness or pithy truisms. Whether its sucking honey out of a beehive with a shop vac, trying to catch a lizard by covering the warehouse in saw-dust or suffering from donut-indigestion after an eating contest, these boys are the kind of wise-fools that can be found in any part of our great state.

I once defended Louisiana to a British woman by saying, “Whatever we are, we are sincere. You may bring many charges against Louisiana, charges of crassness or ignorance, but duplicity could never be one of them.” Down here, everyone plays the character called “myself.” Our politicians are corrupt, but we re-elect them anyway, because we prefer honest corruption to the sorts of nonsense the people of California and New York are having to deal with right now. We like Jazz Bands that play old instruments because at least its real music they’re playing: not electronic noises recorded by lab techs and regurgitated by a “DJ” at his computer. We like cooking food we’ve grown or killed ourselves. We like slacking off at work and not making excuses for it. We like dressing weird and growing beards and looking like we haven’t showered in a week…cause maybe we haven’t. We like the Robertsons because we are like the Robertsons: we lead lives free of subterfuge.

So what if Louisiana comes out 49th out of the 50 states in most every survey, poll, study and census. Our citizens might not have the “best quality of life” according to the standards yuppie bureaucrats set, but we lead happy, happy, happy lives. It has a lot to do with our family. It has more to do with our faith. We are proud to be a place where our TV stars sit around the table at the end of the day and praise the providence of God. There is little else for us to be proud of and we know it. God is God. We are but foolish men. And all is right with the world. Welcome to Louisiana.

Christianity As a Minority

I am told that, in the course of my short lifetime, Christians have become a minority in this nation. While it is true that many people still self-identity as “Christian” in censuses and opinion polls, the fact of the matter is that very few in our culture live out that Christian identity in their own lives.

I need not cite any particular data. Almost all of the reports agree: attendance at Sunday worship is down, knowledge of Scripture has diminished and efforts at both Evangelization and (Christian) Social Justice simply do not bear the sort of fruit they once did. In contrast, secular alternatives to these Christian responsibilities are gaining significant ground every day. Instead of going to church on the weekend, most people go to the mall. Sales of Twilight, Fifty Shades of Grey and any number of other neo-pagan novellas are up. Most Americans spend more time at the ubiquitous fundraisers, demonstrations and campaign rallies than they do preaching Christ or feeding the poor. In short, we have lost ground, much of it irrecoverable at this point.

It would be easy to look at these facts (that is what they are: facts) and miss the important truth they signify. The keys of the kingdom were given to the Apostles. The task of evangelization and catechesis were entrusted to us. If fewer and fewer people are choosing Christ, it is not that it is because He is less attractive now than He was centuries ago. Nor is it simply thay our culture offers more distractions than any other in history (though this is a major factor). No, the problem lies with us. If people are not choosing Christ, it is because we are failing to consistently offer the inviation.

Many other men better than myself have already noticed this. Men like Billy Graham, JP II and now Pope Francis have been quick to give us both advice and example on how to preach the gospel to this rapidly Paganizing world. Read their works and study their lives for lessons. To their words and works I can only add this: I find that the current situation is an interesting novelty. And Novelty, for me, has always been closely attached to Opportunity.

Allow me to explain. Now is not the time for some dreary message about how all hope is lost, how souls are daily plunging irrevocably into the great abyss, that culture is retrogressing and that the end of western civilization is nigh. All that may be true (and, if it is, it most certainly is tragic). Yet, deep down inside of me there is both a natural and a supernatural hope that I cannot shake. The natural hope is born of that strange human instinct for adventure and innovation. Christians today have an opportunity that many of our brethren in the past would envy: we have a Church that is, day by day, ever freer from confusions of society. Every reformer has noted that the ties between the Body of Christ and the body of the world, between the City of God and the city of man, are usually so blurred as to be indistinguishable. Not in our age, however. I feel that, at this moment, never has the line between “the Church” and “the world” been so sharply discernable. That is not to say that it is clear enough for us to judge what side of the line our neighbor is on. But I do believe, that perhaps for the first time since the founding of our country, the individual Christian finds herself in a climate where she can be certain of her own allegiance to Christ. If you put a political, economic or social agenda ahead of Him, it is very difficult to be blind to it. Consider the fact that, in our day, almost every political, economic and social force in this land has eventually stood at odds with the Gospel. That makes the pilgrim Church one of adventurers surrounded by hostile eyes and dangerous pitfalls. Such a fate is an exciting one, if nothing else.

I also spoke of a supernatural hope. It is this: following Christ will soon require of us a virtue that none of us has yet the opportunity to exercise. We will be rejected, spurned, “hated by all because of My Name.” We will be excommunicated from “good’ society. We will be delivered over to courts. Make no mistake: some of us will soon have the chance to be the first confessors and maybe even martyrs in the history of the United States. This is a chance to love unlike any other that can be offered the Christian. I cannot say on what issue the point will turn. Will we suffer for the unborn, or for our right to practice our religion according to conscience instead of government regulation? Will we die defending the immigrant or the infirm, both shunted away from their families by bureaucracy? Will our efforts to find peace in the world lead to destruction at home? I cannot say. I have not the vision. But I can say that this society, this culture, is close to losing patience with us entirely.

It require patience for an individual to endure the Gospel: any Christian knows that. To be constantly bombarded by its Truth, yet to live outside its grace, is an intolerable and annoying situation. To renounce its Love but to go on hearing its invitation is difficult. Soon, the members of this society might rise up against us. What form their anger will take is a mystery. But when the hour comes, we hope in Christ, who wanted so badly to find faith on earth while also bringing her the sword. Let us pray to Him for this faith, for the faith to remain true to the Love of His teaching, to reject all ethical shortcuts that would have us settle for “tolerance.” We are now being called to be adventurers and lovers of the highest order. Lets not dilute the water by wishing things were easier on ourselves.

How to Crown Thy Good With Brotherhood?

“Absorbed and deepened in the family, faith becomes a light capable of illumining all our relationships in society. As an experience of the mercy of God the Father, it sets us on the path of brotherhood. Modernity sought to build a universal brotherhood based on equality, yet we gradually came to realize that this brotherhood, lacking a reference to a common Father as its ultimate foundation, cannot endure. We need to return to the true basis of brotherhood.” Pope Francis, Lumen Fidei p. 54

Liberty, equality, brotherhood. That was the formula of the French Revolution. And though these words never appear explicitly in our Constitution or Declaration of Independence, they are an implicit part of American Heritage. On July 4th, the United States celebrated the belief that equality and freedom undergird the fraternity of our
great Republic. On July 5th, Pope Francis published the above text. It is something of a buzz kill to say the least.

I don’t know if the timing was intentional, coincidental or just providential. Perhaps it was a strange amalgam of all three. Nonetheless, it has worked a revolution in my own thought. Is it true to say that equality and liberty, while good, are not good enough? Is it good politics, much less good theology, to suggest that a free and democratic society can still fall short of brotherhood? Forget all those criticisms about atheists looking for God and girls having their feet washed: this is the kind of statement that should launch Pope Francis into the heart of controversy! It is fortunate thing that he hid it away in an encyclical, since, to my knowledge, no member of the media has every actually read one in it’s entirety. Had Francis tweeted the statement “Freedom ≠ brotherhood. #faith,” I’m certain that the press would have had a field day with it.

Yet, I will leave off speculating about the press here. The American press has not enough gall to start a revolution these days, and starting a revolution is precisely what I am interested in doing. Allow me to explain: our country is supposed to derive its greatness from freedom and equality. The Pope says that these principles are not enough. He invokes faith as the fundamental principle. I do not think that he is suggesting that freedom is useless and that we need to return to an theocracy. I do not even think that what he is saying runs counter to the Constitution (though it does possibly overstate what that document merely hinted at). After all, the brotherhood-by-equality ideal is no where mentioned in the explicit legislation of our founding fathers. But freedom of speech and freedom of religion are mentioned, and they are mentioned on the first lines of the Bill of Rights. Freedom of speech ensures faith in others. Freedom of religion ensures faith in God. What Pope Francis is saying, far from raining on our parades and fireworks, is that brotherhood must be founded on something greater than freedom. He was looking to set our sights on things higher than even equality. I believe that the revolution he was attempting to inspire looks more like 32AD than 1776.

The faith of the founding fathers went unspoken in much (though not all) of their explicit legislation. Perhaps it is time to amend that. Perhaps it is time to move beyond the vague social scruples of enlightenment era politicians and codify what they merely hinted at.

Or perhaps not.

I am no lawyer or politician. I admit that I do not know the best way to translate this theology into social change. All I can say is that it must be translated into social change soon or any semeblence of “brotherhood” that exists in this nation will begin to be torn at the seams. For too long, our country has justified acts of violence, racism and injustice by reserving too much power to the “local and individual liberty.” Freedom is good, but an absolute freedom that aborts children and lynches minorities in the name of “personal freedoms” has been the stigma of our nation’s history.

I, for one, believe that it is time to move away from an interpretation of the Constitution focused purely on freedom and equality. There must be explicit acknowledgement of the Creator on which are founded these unalienable rights. Until there is, we will remain under the thumb of a very civilized and bureaucratic mob rule.

Misérables Without Christ

I very rarely decry my public school education. I value the experiences it gave me, the lessons it taught me and the affection it showed me: and all that for free. But as I have grown more and more into the adult world, I am amazed at just how much it left out in leaving out God. And while it is true that I was never persecuted for my faith (as current public school students are beginning to be) it is an unfortunate fact that God was never invited to the party. Much of my post-compulsory education has been the gradual realization that God is indeed everywhere, even academically. Every great thinker spoke on Him, either to search for Him, embrace Him or deny Him. It is only our current age that chooses to ignore Him entirely.

The latest example in my own pilgrim’s progress has been the reading of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables . Growing up a theatre kid, I was well acquainted with the characters, the plot and the themes of Les Mis. I have heard the songs, seen the play and reflected on the show many times. Yet, even when enjoying the haunting Castle of Cosette or the On My Own of Eponine, it always seemed like there was something substantial missing from the stage rendition. The music made it emotional, the backdrop of the French Revolution made it epic, but still something was lacking. It felt like they had left out some important character or neglected some important plot point in the story arc. I cannot explain precisely why I felt this way: I only know that I had this sneaking suspicion that something significant had been abridged from the tale. When I read the novel recently, I found out that all of my suspicions were true. The Broadway version does indeed leave out an event, a character, a plot point and a moral. The politically correct script writers left out God.

Hugo’s original version is not the epic-melodrama that Americans are familiar with. It was, rather, an epic story of conversion. With chapters entitled things like “Christus nos liberavit” and a whole section of the book dedication to the Bishop of D— who grants absolution to Jean Valjean, Les Mis reads more like St. Augustine’s Confessions than it does The Phantom of the Opera, that other famous French melodrama. Yet, because of the watered down Broadway musical version, most people associate it with the latter rather than the former.

Here are just a few things I have learned:

1) The Bishop of D—, only a minor character in the musical, is actually a major character at the outset of the book. He is presented at the perfect, saintly Christian. Nearly 10% of the story is written with him as the guiding figure. When he dies, Jean Valjean goes into mourning much to the scandal of the town.

2) Jean Valjean is a devout Catholic. He attends Mass every Sunday and every funeral during the week. He employs nuns in his house. He prays for extended periods. In fact, when Fantine is rescued by him, she immediately falls for him because of his sanctity and prayer.

3) Christ is often referenced as the only true solution to “the miserableness.” Hugo returns again and again to the efficacy of the Gospel and Christian charity as the best and brightest hope for the poor.

4) In contrast, a character’s distance from the Christ usually works to indicate their level of enmity toward the heroes. For example, when Fantine is ratted out by a town gossip, Hugo goes out of his way to point out that this spinster was the widow of an apostate monk. He makes certain the his audience associates her distance from the church with her scheming and trouble making.

5) As any fan of the play would tell you, forgiveness and redemption are recurring themes in the plot. However, in Hugo’s original version, it is a specifically Christian forgiveness. Characters often frame their reconciliation with each other within the larger frame of their reconciliation with God. And before anyone argues that this is due to the cultural context, remember well that Christian reconciliation was NOT one of the priorities of Enlightenment-Era French society. Rather than imitating any popular movement of the time, Hugo was in fact making certain the both his contemporaries and all future readers should be surprised by the mention of Christ’s forgiving love.

Now that I have read the original Christ-inclusive version of Les Misérables , it has quickly become one of my favorite books. It’s wisdom and wit concerning institutionalized injustice and the plight of the poor is as valuable today as it was a century-and-a-half ago. Hugo’s point is clear: until men learn to love each other as God intended (and with the help of his grace), poverty will continue to be a blight upon our race, overshadowing all our supposed “progress” and “revolution.” As he said so well in his short Preface to the novel;

“So long as there shall exist, by virtue of law and custom, decrees of damnation pronounced by society, artificially creating hells amid the civilization of earth, and adding the element of human fate to divine destiny…books of the nature of Les Misérables cannot fail to be of use.”

Getting Priorities Straight

This Easter morning, I awoke after the intensity and beauty of the Easter Vigil to a strange set of headlines. On the top of the paper, in 72 point bold all-caps, was the phrase “Governor’s Tax Plan Offends Both Sides of the Aisle.” Next to it, in 56 point bold, was an article entitled “Escaped Convict found in California.” Finally, under all of these, in 56 point plain, was a picture of a stained glass window captioned “Resurrection.” It made me want to spill my coffee, fall on the ground laughing & otherwise upset the breakfast table.

Did they not realize that Christ’s Resurrection offended both sides of the Temple, the Jewish and the Roman!? Does a convict escaping from death play second fiddle to a convict who escaped from a Louisiana penitentiary!? I understand that the Resurrection of the Christ is old news, but by God, it is greater news than that!

This one front page headline, without meaning to of course, typified precisely what is wrong with Christianity in this country. In the very least, it revealed particularly what is wrong with religious commentators in the media: it is not that they misunderstand our Faith. It is that they misunderstand their humanity. Ask an ancient Pagan what is more sensational, a new tax law or a person rising from the dead, and I can guarantee they will pick the latter. Yet our sensationalized media picks the tax plan. Oh certainly, they talk about the resurrection. They’ll even include a pretty, un-offensive picture, perhaps claiming that it says a thousand words. But the 10,000 words left unsaid is what is so terribly amusing about the whole thing.

Yes, it is amusing. There are some Christian bloggers that would argue-with or editorialize-about this strange juxtaposition of death, Resurrection & taxes, but I would rather laugh at it! What great fun! Here are their priorities: “GOVERNOR CUTS TAXES”, “Escaped Convict Found”, “Human Rises from the Dead.” Again, its not just that contemporary journalist remains uncatechized. Of course they are uncatechized! But what is more appalling is that the are desensitized  To the plight of starving children in Haiti they respond, “Oh, that’s sad,” and get back to sipping their lattes. To the Resurrection of Christ they respond, “Oh, how nice,” and turn the page to peruse the celebrity gossip. My goodness! I can’t make up comedy this good.

Don’t you see: there would be no joke if they were simply Pagans or atheists. If they opened the paper and scoffed at the Resurrection, then they might not be saved but at least they would be sensible. As it stands, many of our contemporaries have access to neither grace nor sense. At least, such seems the case with the editors of the newspaper.

Now, it is a sin to end a story on a critical note. Worse still, it is an offense to end a joke with mere criticism. There is something deeper I would have you see, like the Resurrected Christ telling the Apostles to put down their nets one last time. If we are to dialogue with this secularized Christian culture, then we must be the ones to set the tone of the conversation. In the old days (you know, thousands of years ago), the ancients were sensible enough to argue about Resurrection. Now we argue about fiscal policy. They contested about whether or not a real man could really rise from the dead. We argue about economic systems and paper money, credit and debt which is really unreal. They might have been overly superstitious  we most certainly are. They might have worshiped silver and gold idols: we worship paper that the government tells us is worth silver and gold! Let us, for the sake of Christianity and Pagan sensibility alike, reframe the conversation. Christ is Risen! Believe it, talk about it, celebrate it! Spend this Octave in a leisurely detachment from politics, economics and business! Rid your pockets of that paper money in a spirit of celebration and generosity  Buy candy for poor children! Buy some red wine for your family! But, by the Resurrected God above, don’t waste my time with the Governor’s tax plan!

“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.

On Fear of Losing Our Voice.

There has hung over US Catholics a sense of dread and despair for the last decade or so. At least, as long as I have been conscious of the Catholic-blog-o-sphere, it has seemed to be conscious of looming trials and coming sufferings. Now, whether this be true or not I cannot say (though, for the sake of transparency, I admit that our situation does appear a drastic one). On issues of human identity and sexuality, we are hemmed in on every side. Many people in our culture argue with us. Most just ignore us, even as they admit that the cultural definition of life and sex is inadequate. Almost all disagree with us. And when it comes to one of the most interesting Papal Elections in centuries, the AP and Reuters seems more concerned with the ‘scandals’ in the Vatican than with the Pope in the Vatican. In short, in a society where dialogue is supposed to be a supreme virtue, our voice is overlooked, undermined and out-right ignored.

I do not think the important thing now, though, is to pay attention to our own sufferings. The Church in the United States of America is suffering. It is suffering from political, social and cultural attacks the likes of which our grandparents (or, for that matter, even our parents) could never have foreseen  I feel inadequate to comment on politics or society, but I can say something of our culture. Culturally, Catholicism is already being given a tragic halo, as if it were one of the long-dead pagan cultures. Living Catholics are seen as the last remnant of some out-moded lifestyle. We are thought to be walking museum pieces, quaint like the Quakers and as amusing as the Amish. Those more sympathetic to our well-being like to give us advice. They kindly tell us that the world is moving on without our old-fashioned way of looking at things. Wouldn’t it be best, they suggest, to simply abandon some of our more stringent beliefs in favor of fitting in.

I will mention only in passing that their argument is not a new one. A century ago, the Romantics were telling us the same thing, as they gave lip service to our penances and criticized our virtue. The Jacobins said the same sorts of things 100 years prior to them, exulting in the Church’s devotion but forgetting that we are founded on Faith. And the Reformers some 200 years prior to that made the same sorts of errors, thinking that devotion to Mary was a distraction from Evangelization. As GKC was fond of pointing out, the Church seems always to be dying in the eyes of the world, and it is! That is, because it is always resurrecting.

The main point of this short essay is not an observation but a rebuke. I do not wish to join the chorus of those other noble voices in our Church, warning us of impending doom. The doom is not impending. It has fallen and it continues to fall everyday. The world has ever been hostile to the Church. Therefore, on the grounds of charity and hope I rebuke any pessimism or fatalism that infects our cultural dialogue. In the name of the hope of the cross, I stand against anyone that would have us be dissuaded from carrying our own. Good heavens: we are the light of the world! When we are dimmed, it is not us that suffers but the world. When we grow slack in spirit, we still may be saved. It is those to whom we are called that suffer the violence.

Babies are dying, and we complain that our voice is not heard!? Who gives a fig for ‘our voice’ when a child is never given the opportunity to use her own? The poor are suffering, and we get upset at greedy politicians. Oh, so has Christ made us the critics of the rich!? Did he come with tirades against Herod or Pilate? What are we, Church? Are we mere activists? Is the gospel about raising awareness? No! If we protest abortion (which we absolutely must do), then we do it in the name of love. We aren’t out to overturn Roe V. Wade as much as we are out to overturn human hearts. We aren’t called to flip-off the rich, but to flip their tables, as Our Lord did in the Temple. We are a people of action, not of criticism. The world is covered in critics like leeches. What it needs is not more critics, but more Christians.


This Lent, consider well how you speak. These forty days are meant to be difficult for us, but only so that we may lighten the load of the world. We can expect injustice to be done against us: it is our lot. What we cannot be satisfied with, what we must not stand for, is when injustice is done against others! It is a time to pray for others that they may live, to fast that they may eat, to give alms that they may be nourished. If our faith lacks this positive generosity and charity, I feel that something dire is wrong with it. If our words lack it, then I feel it would be better for us to just shut up.

St. Blaise, bishop and martyr, pray for us.

Moving Downton

Spoiler Alert! Spoiler Alert! Warning! Warning! If you yourself are a regular visitor to the Abbey that is Downton, if you have found yourself caught up in the tension of Lady Mary’s romance with the dashing Matthew Crawley, then I am certain that you were a little more than disappointed Sunday night when the dashing Mr. Crawley became the dead Mr. Crawley. People have often made the connection between Downton Abbey and Jane Austen, so I feel it is not too much of a stretch to say that it would have been like the death of Mr. Darcy or the passing of Colonel Brandon (not to be confused with the Downton character Mr. Tom Branson). In short, it was an utterly inorganic plot twist that has drastically altered the nature of the story. What was a classy, well-shot, sharply acted period drama has gone the way of Days of Our Lives. Or Dallas. Or Deliverance. Death for the sake of drama. Death without substance or meaning or movement. Whatever Downton is, it is no longer Pride & Prejudice or even Tess of the d’Ubervilles.

Now, for the sake of the substantial argument, of what effect this has on the literary meaning, I suggest you visit ( . I do not plan on providing a literary analysis when they have already done a far better job of it. Rather, I wish to reflect momentarily on the death of Downton, a death which happened simultaneous with the death of Mr. Crawley. The reality is that this plot twist was never really a part of plan of the writer, Mr. Julian Fellowes. He had every intention, when he started the series 4 years ago, to provide the audience with a neatly told period drama complete with snappy dialogue, lush sets and classic romance. He produced scenery-based story that evolved into a serial. He certainly didn’t want to become a serial killer. But now that the death toll has been ratcheted up to the point where over half the episodes involve murder, suicide, fatal illness or tragic accident, one does have to wonder where all this is going. And whether it is worth watching. The reason for this is a confluence of two factors: the studio’s pressure to produce hype and the contractual demands of the actors. In short, as Downton has blossomed into the most successful British drama since ‘Macbeth,’ there was great pressure from the studio to keep the drama coming, regardless of the cost. At the same time, there was a great urge from the cast (most recently, Matthew Crawley’s Dan Stevens) to break out of the overly cloistered world of Downton. And lets face it: who can blame these emotions. If you are studio exec, why not ask for ever-increasing tragedy to keep the hype coming? If you are a 20-something actor, do you really want to do period drama for 5 years straight? The result: death and destruction at epic levels. Viewers have seen more death in Downton bedrooms than they did during the wars scenes.

The studio might say that this is the best way to move the plot forward. The actors might say that this is the best way to move their careers along. The question remains: is this the best way to move your audience. Ending the series on Sunday with a happy Mary and Matthew would have been a far better way to tell the story. Leave off that last two minutes of the car wreck, and Downton Abbey would have gone down in history as one of the most poignant, polished and well-told stories in television history. By continuing it (unnecessarily) past its natural story arc, your audience is moved toward jadedness and cynicism. The point is that the writers and producers have sacrificed meaning for the sake of longevity. They have momentum  but it is not positive momentum  They have bought into the ‘Superstition of Progress:’ that a thing moving fast (like a car) must be moving forward unstoppably  It is ironic that the full consequences of this superstition go over the heads of the producers while they have them fall right on the head of Matthew Crawley. It is a pity that it had to fall on the heads of his fans as well.

Oh well: at least the management of Downton is now in the hands of a sensible Irish Catholic (provided, of course, they don’t kill Branson off as well…).

Of Resignation and Self Gift

“Mr. Lacourrege, can the Pope retire?” This was the question posed to me last Tuesday during my C period class. Its a group of about 30 freshmen, and Konnor Gaubert is one of the more curious of the bunch.

“Yes, Konnor, the Pope can retire, if he wants. Historically, its happened a couple of times before.”

“Do you think it will happen again, Mr. Lacourrege?”

“Well, certainly it could, but for the last six centuries or so, the attitude of the Popes has been to die with their boots on. You know, to keep the job until they pass away?”

“But do you think it could happen today, Mr. Lacourrege.”

“Probably not, Konnor. I mean, in today’s world, its highly unlikely that the Pope would ‘retire.’ Especially the current Pope. He’s a work-a-holic German.”

“So you really don’t think it could happen.”

“No, Konnor, I don’t. Now lets move on.”


Heaven has the most vengeful sense of humor, especially when dealing with proud and impatient men such as myself. It is a great comfort to know that the Pope is neither proud nor impatient. It is my supreme hope that the next Pope follows in Benedict’s footsteps in this regard. Really, though, I woke up this morning feeling more proud to be a Catholic than I have ever felt in my life. The media has, as usual, put a completely wrong spin on the thing. They say he is stepping down because of political pressure (which is certainly not true). They say that the butler scandal has taken a toll on him (which may be true). Of course, fact is always stranger than fiction;

“I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering. However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to steer the ship of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.”
“For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.”

This short statement might be one of the most profound things the Pope has ever written on vocation. I say this well aware of the many profound things that he has already written on vocation. Yet in so simple a statement, with words that qualify his action, the Pope explains that he feels no longer capable of praying and suffering and acting and speaking for the Flock of Christ. He cites age, not politics. He cites weakness, not scandal. In short, he says that he is unable to make a full gift of self, and that is why he is stepping down.
The sheer sanity of the Catholic faith can be missed by those who are not looking for it. Our Papa has just admitted that he is too old to sail the Ship. Its as simple a statement as could have been made by an 84 year old shrimper on Bayou St. John. Heck, it could have been made by St. John the fishermen! It could have been made by St. Peter the fishermen. That’s the whole point of this event. Sometimes, a teacher gives the wrong answer to a question. Sometimes a Pope runs out of strength. And when we do, the Holy Spirit is cool with it. He’s totally ready for it. He knows better than anyone that we hold this treasure in earthen vessels. Because the Church is more earthy than the world, the world misunderstands Her. The world assumes that a man only relinquishes power when power is wrestled from him. The Church, on the other hand, knows the natural law: when a man can no longer give, his giving up is not defeat, but victory for those to whom he gives. Pope Benedict XVI has not died physically, but his resignation represents a spiritual death that will bear fruit for us, his children. Now, excuse me: I must prepare a lesson plan in which I die to self, apologize and reward the curiosity of Konnor Gaubert.

QOTD – Sacraments, How to Change the World

Ever thought the last time you went to confession could change the world? Think again:

The sacraments are defining moments for Christians – and for the world. – Fr. Kurt Stasiak, OSB

Seven Sacraments Altarpiece by Rogier van der Weyden
Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp