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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.

Our School, Starstruck (Or, Jesus Coaching Football Outside My Classroom)

“Guys, Jim Caviezel is here filming a movie.” This was how Mr. Collins, our Academic Dean, started things off this morning in the front office. Over the weekend, Archbishop Shaw High School was transformed into De La Salle High School in Concord, California. Arriving to work this morning and seeing De La Salle signage all over campus did have me a bit puzzled. It was announced at the last faculty meeting that a small movie would be filming on campus during finals week, but for some reason I was under the impression it was a indie documentary. They said it was about Catholic schools’ athletic programs, or some such, so I assumed that it would consist of a couple of artsy-types walking around with a hand-held camera shooting interviews between classes. Instead, I find myself sharing a parking lot with Jim Caviezel and Laura Dern’s make-up trailers. Shaw’s maintenance guys are running all over campus installing professional lighting. The football field and gym are crawling with grips, props, set designers, extras, cameramen and actors. As I look out on the back field right now, Jesus and Dr. Sadler are watching “The Thing” from The Fantistic Four run line drills with a team of teenage actors. Seriously, it is one of the most impressive-looking football teams I have ever seen: delicately groomed hair, immaculate uniforms, and picture-perfect drill lines. Nonetheless, I’m sure that the state-champ Shaw Rugby team could give them a run for their money.

Anyway, I’ve been excited all morning. I’ve never been one to be starstruck, but Jurrasic Park & Passion of the Christ are both on my top ten list of movies. The fact that a star from each of these films is down on the field a few yards away has me quivering in my slip-on dress shoes. And, as is always the case with my overly-philosophical mind, I find myself wondering what all the fuss is about. Seeing them from 100 yards away is not much better than seeing them on a 100-foot movie screen. It’s a scorching summer day on the Westbank. Mr. Caviezel looks like any other man would on such a morning: hot, lethargic  wishing that he didn’t have to get up so early to stand under the sun. I don’t know, though. It feels kinda cool to be making the same commute. It feels kinda cool to know that both Jim Caviezel and I are a little reluctant to be up so early and sitting the parking lot of Archbishop Shaw High School. It feels kinda cool to be “going to work” at the same place, even if we’re there for totally different reasons.

It feels kinda cool. Still, that’s not quite why I am excited. I am excited for my students, who keep looking out the windows trying to catch a glimpse of the stars. I am excited for them as the shout, “Yeah! Jesus is playing football on our field! He’s using our locker room! He’s running our drills!” There is something Incarnational about that. I like the idea of them realizing that the actor who played Jesus is really here doing all the stuff that they normally do. Maybe it will help them realize that Jesus Himself is really here, and really did all the normal human stuff too. Maybe.

Anyway, I that’s kinda what told Mr. Caviezel when I briefly introduced myself between takes. He simply smiled, chuckling.

Sweet Freedom (Or, the End of the School Year)

CS Lewis ended many of his books by admitting that he couldn’t really end his books. That is to say, all of his thought tended to culminate on the topic of heaven. Whether is was Chronicling the End of Narnia, anticipating Til We Have Faces, charting a Pilgrim’s Regress, or counting down The Four Loves, Lewis enjoyed visualizing the Beatific Vision. In all of these works, he acknowledges the purely hypothetical nature of these endings. He, like any sound Christian, was more than will to confess his utter ignorance on “what eye has not seen and ear has not heard.” Still, he also insisted that it was good, even necessary, for the Believer to dream of what that final Day will be like. It sets our hearts and minds on the hope that we so desperately need. And among these different visions of the End presented by the Oxford Don, Lewis’ admits that his original metaphor for heaven came while he was still a school boy. Summer vacation stood was his most vivid way thinking about what heaven will be like.

The Last Battle and Until We Have Faces give us some pretty beautiful pictures of heaven. Still, it was summer vacation that the pupil Lewis, and then the professor Lewis, personally used to contemplate the joy of entering our Homeland. Who would not agree? No matter how moving or descriptive a work of fiction, can any feeling compare to the freedom of finishing exams, passing out the doors and leaving school behind for a few months? There indeed is something of the Last Trumpet in the last bell of spring semester. We “strain forward” out the classroom, “looking to what lies ahead” (see Phillipians 3:13). We know that whatever it may be, whether its a beach or a mountain or a summer camp or a theme park, it will be more exciting a place full of many a good friend. The thrill of discovery matched by the comfort of companionship: what greater goods could there be! What greater contrast from the classroom, where everything is practice and precision and patience? There is no greater distance than the space between those tediums and the tenacity of summer fun. I write these words as both a teacher and a student. I know well what summer vacation means for both of us. And I do not envy those who are in other professions: they know not or have forgotten this singular joy. The end of the school year is a sacramental action. It prefigures the Climax: when human training, trial and test will produce the fullest fruit for the Kingdom.

Only one thing more. Forty-four days ago, Christ rose from the dead (liturgically speaking). Soon, I will rise from my desk and steal away for two-and-a-half months. Yes, my rising is not like His, but does that mean there is nothing I can learn from it? Yes, the culmination of my lessons are unlike his “consummatum est,” but what of it? It is for freedom that He sets us free. It is for love that He loves us. So what if there is an Analogy of Being, a dissimilarity between creature and Creator!? What of it! My beach sandals are waiting for me. Both John of the Cross and Augustine contemplated God while walking on the dunes. I am going to swim and sing of my salvation. In baptism, I think He has told us whether the water and the Spirit are incompatible.

The Vision of St. Augustine, by Botticelli

A God Without Order? (Or, the Mixed Results of a Poll)

I took an exit poll of my graduating seniors. On their final exam, I asked them five questions about their experience of Catholic education. The only requirement was that they answer honestly. Most of them trust me, and I them, so I can attest that the results are probably quite accurate. Of the five questions, I found two in particular to be most telling. They were the first and last questions listed: 1) “Do you believe in God or an ‘Ultimate Transcendent Being'” and 5) “What is your least favorite thing about Catholic education.” A comforting 92% responded to the first question in the affirmative. Of the remaining 8%, they were divided evenly between agnostics and atheists. So far, so good. The last question, however, proved to be surprising in light of the preliminary response. Nearly 50% said that, though the believe in God, they do not enjoy all the structure and complex arguments surrounding Him.

Now, this last response would not have been terribly surprising on its own. It is no shock to me that half of the young population is turned off by regulations and argumentation. What did surprise me was that 46% of those who believe in God believe in Him without believing in reason and order. Perhaps I am only speaking for myself here, but the reason it shocks me is because I have never been attracted an Arbitrary Deity. That is to say, God attracts me because He gives me rest, refuge, constancy and solidity. Rest, refuge, constancy and solidity can only be given if God Himself is at rest in His own Divine Order. I am NOT saying that His order is always readily apprehensible: I am merely saying that it is. I am merely commenting that Divine Reason and Order do exist. There is a structure to the Godhead, a method to Divine Madness. If there were not, there would be little for me to take any objective or subjective refuge in. If God were merciful one day and angry the next, if He were concerned about me at one moment and then neglectful of me at another, why would I even exist at all?

Maybe I am reading too much into this, but I feel that this exit poll reveals an underlying attitude in our culture concerning the nature of Divinity. On the whole, people really do want to believe in God. That is to say, I think that most people are smart and kind enough to realize that atheism is both a despairing and debilitating choice. Therefore, the grand majority choose to believe in Him. But their faith is immature. It is not the “solid food” of Hebrew 5. It is a vague notion that there is a loving Big Daddy out beyond the fringe of the Universe who is nice, powerful and wise. We can occasionally pray to Him if we want, but really there’s no point in trying to get to know Him. It would be all too complex an enterprise. Live and let live. I believe in Him: that should be enough. God will do His thing, I will do mine.

The trouble is that the thing God does is everything. God can indeed have a live-and-let-live attitude toward us, but it isn’t reciprocal  In other words, if God does exist, then everything we do should find its source and structure in Him. The problem with religions isn’t their structures: they have to be structured if they are truly seeking the Grand Architect  Rather, it is when their structure is arbitrary and unreasonable that they prove dis-satisfying. For some reason, my seniors feel that the religious structures of their youth have been arbitrary. And while their feeling that way certainly doesn’t make it true, it does raise the question: what forces make it seem as if the Church’s decisions are arbitrary? I have my own opinions (as does everyone) but the fundamental thing is not opinions. The essential question is relationship. Why is it that people abandon a mature relationship with God, founded in Divine Order and Goodness, and settle for an immature one? That is the question I want to seek going forward.

For the fact of the matter is, while religion can have bad rules or arbitrary structures, it can never abandon order and structure. They are what make a religion a religion. I could never wish for nor follow a religion without them. I seek the Infinite God according to my human lights, which are necessarily limited and temporal. They may be small, as long as they are not sinful. I will build my structures, my towers, to God, as long as they do not become Towers of Babel. But, only if He helps me…

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!

Something Strange (or, “The Lord’s Descent”)

Something strange is happening – there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.

He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: “My Lord be with you all.” Christ answered him: “And with your spirit.” He took him by the hand and raised him up, saying: “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”

I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated. For your sake I, your God, became your son; I, the Lord, took the form of a slave; I, whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.

See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.

I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.

Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol of life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.

This ancient homily is taken from the Office of Readings for Holy Saturday. It remains, for me, one of the highlights of the Triduum Liturgy. Favorite part: Christ introducing Himself to Adam as “your son.”

Passionate Repeat Viewing

I’m watching “The Passion of the Christ” 5 times through this week. Maybe six. It’s what comes of being a high school religion teacher and wanting each of your classes to be exposed to one of the most historically accurate depictions of the crucifixion and death of Our Lord.

I do believe that it is historically accurate but, even if it weren’t, it is psychologically and spiritually accurate. The way the torturers treat Jesus, the way Pilate tries to worm his way out of the act, the way the crowds persecute and the way that the Sanhedrin prosecutes: it is all real to human life. As for spiritual accuracy, the fact that the script only departs from Scripture when showing extra-Biblical events is a testament to its depth and sublimity.

In any event, I’m not writing to argue the accuracy of the movie. I am confident that most anyone who has stumbled upon these words will agree. What I do want to reflect on is, in general, the sheer power of remembering the Passion event. When I was young, before I put aside childish things, I used to reason thus; “Why go to the Stations of the Cross? Why read the Passion readings twice during Holy Week? Why pray the Sorrowful Mysteries so much during Lent? I get it: Jesus died for me. Looking at it again and again and again: isn’t that just a bit over-indulgent? Why not have one big Passion liturgy every year and then have done with it?” It wasn’t just the Catholic guilt that intimidated me: it was the Catholic logic. It wasn’t just the shame and disgrace: it was the theology. Over and over again being hit with the Crucifixion, I felt like there was nothing more to see or learn. I knew that I should accept the Crucifixion as true and salvific, or I was a bad person. Once convinced of its power and meaning, was there any real reason to keep witnessing it, meditating on it, praying over it, etc?

All this I thought while still a child. Then I became a man and learned about love. I learned that love is not a matter of being ‘satisfied’ or doing something ‘enough.’ (It is interesting that the Latin word satis occurs so often in “The Passion.” So frequent is its use that my students even asked me “Why do they keep saying satis and what does it really mean?”) I am slowly learning that love, Christian love, is a matter of never drawing a line. It is a matter of seeing things through regardless of personal consequences.  It is about giving to the other at not just great, but total, risk to the self. It cares not for what is “necessary” but about what is best for the beloved.

As I watch Jesus die again and again and again over this week, culminating in the Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion on Friday, I feel that this is really what I need to remember. God’s Infinite generosity is what we see modeled in the Crucifixion. Given the status of the world and, more importantly, the status of my heart, I do not think I can look on this model often enough:

“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:

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.