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The Fallacy of Success

Oh my goodness! Sometimes Chesterton is far too correct. I read this essay of his the other night to lull myself out of the despondency of quarter-life mediocrity. It hit the spot. May he hit you to!

There has appeared in our time a particular class of books and articles which I sincerely and solemnly think may be called the silliest ever known among men. They are much more wild than the wildest romances of chivalry and much more dull than the dullest religious tract. Moreover, the romances of chivalry were at least about chivalry; the religious tracts are about religion. But these things are about nothing; they are about what is called Success. On every bookstall, in every magazine, you may find works telling people how to succeed. They are books showing men how to succeed in everything; they are written by men who cannot even succeed in writing books. To begin with, of course, there is no such thing as Success. Or, if you like to put it so, there is nothing that is not successful. That a thing is successful merely means that it is; a millionaire is successful in being a millionaire and a donkey in being a donkey. Any live man has succeeded in living; any dead man may have succeeded in committing suicide. But, passing over the bad logic and bad philosophy in the phrase, we may take it, as these writers do, in the ordinary sense of success in obtaining money or worldly position. These writers profess to tell the ordinary man how he may succeed in his trade or speculation—how, if he is a builder, he may succeed as a builder; how, if he is a stockbroker, he may succeed as a stockbroker. They profess to show him how, if he is a grocer, he may become a sporting yachtsman; how, if he is a tenth-rate journalist, he may become a peer; and how, if he is a German Jew, he may become an Anglo-Saxon. This is a definite and business-like proposal, and I really think that the people who buy these books (if any people do buy them) have a moral, if not a legal, right to ask for their money back. Nobody would dare to publish a book about electricity which literally told one nothing about electricity; no one would dare to publish an article on botany which showed that the writer did not know which end of a plant grew in the earth. Yet our modern world is full of books about Success and successful people which literally contain no kind of idea, and scarcely any kind of verbal sense.
It is perfectly obvious that in any decent occupation (such as bricklaying or writing books) there are only two ways (in any special sense) of succeeding. One is by doing very good work, the other is by cheating. Both are much too simple to require any literary explanation. If you are in for the high jump, either jump higher than any one else, or manage somehow to pretend that you have done so. If you want to succeed at whist, either be a good whist-player, or play with marked cards. You may want a book about jumping; you may want a book about whist; you may want a book about cheating at whist. But you cannot want a book about Success. Especially you cannot want a book about Success such as those which you can now find scattered by the hundred about the book-market. You may want to jump or to play cards; but you do not want to read wandering statements to the effect that jumping is jumping, or that games are won by winners. If these writers, for instance, said anything about success in jumping it would be something like this: “The jumper must have a clear aim before him. He must desire definitely to jump higher than the other men who are in for the same competition. He must let no feeble feelings of mercy (sneaked from the sickening Little Englanders and Pro-Boers) prevent him from trying to do his best. He must remember that a competition in jumping is distinctly competitive, and that, as Darwin has gloriously demonstrated, THE WEAKEST GO TO THE WALL.” That is the kind of thing the book would say, and very useful it would be, no doubt, if read out in a low and tense voice to a young man just about to take the high jump. Or suppose that in the course of his intellectual rambles the philosopher of Success dropped upon our other case, that of playing cards, his bracing advice would run—”In playing cards it is very necessary to avoid the mistake (commonly made by maudlin humanitarians and Free Traders) of permitting your opponent to win the game. You must have grit and snap and go in to win. The days of idealism and superstition are over. We live in a time of science and hard common sense, and it has now been definitely proved that in any game where two are playing IF ONE DOES NOT WIN THE OTHER WILL.” It is all very stirring, of course; but I confess that if I were playing cards I would rather have some decent little book which told me the rules of the game. Beyond the rules of the game it is all a question either of talent or dishonesty; and I will undertake to provide either one or the other—which, it is not for me to say.
Turning over a popular magazine, I find a queer and amusing example. There is an article called “The Instinct that Makes People Rich.” It is decorated in front with a formidable portrait of Lord Rothschild. There are many definite methods, honest and dishonest, which make people rich; the only “instinct” I know of which does it is that instinct which theological Christianity crudely describes as “the sin of avarice.” That, however, is beside the present point. I wish to quote the following exquisite paragraphs as a piece of typical advice as to how to succeed. It is so practical; it leaves so little doubt about what should be our next step—
“The name of Vanderbilt is synonymous with wealth gained by modern enterprise. ‘Cornelius,’ the founder of the family, was the first of the great American magnates of commerce. He started as the son of a poor farmer; he ended as a millionaire twenty times over.
“He had the money-making instinct. He seized his opportunities, the opportunities that were given by the application of the steam-engine to ocean traffic, and by the birth of railway locomotion in the wealthy but undeveloped United States of America, and consequently he amassed an immense fortune.
“Now it is, of course, obvious that we cannot all follow exactly in the footsteps of this great railway monarch. The precise opportunities that fell to him do not occur to us. Circumstances have changed. But, although this is so, still, in our own sphere and in our own circumstances, we can follow his general methods; we can seize those opportunities that are given us, and give ourselves a very fair chance of attaining riches.”
In such strange utterances we see quite clearly what is really at the bottom of all these articles and books. It is not mere business; it is not even mere cynicism. It is mysticism; the horrible mysticism of money. The writer of that passage did not really have the remotest notion of how Vanderbilt made his money, or of how anybody else is to make his. He does, indeed, conclude his remarks by advocating some scheme; but it has nothing in the world to do with Vanderbilt. He merely wished to prostrate himself before the mystery of a millionaire. For when we really worship anything, we love not only its clearness but its obscurity. We exult in its very invisibility. Thus, for instance, when a man is in love with a woman he takes special pleasure in the fact that a woman is unreasonable. Thus, again, the very pious poet, celebrating his Creator, takes pleasure in saying that God moves in a mysterious way. Now, the writer of the paragraph which I have quoted does not seem to have had anything to do with a god, and I should not think (judging by his extreme unpracticality) that he had ever been really in love with a woman. But the thing he does worship—Vanderbilt—he treats in exactly this mystical manner. He really revels in the fact his deity Vanderbilt is keeping a secret from him. And it fills his soul with a sort of transport of cunning, an ecstasy of priestcraft, that he should pretend to be telling to the multitude that terrible secret which he does not know.
Speaking about the instinct that makes people rich, the same writer remarks—
“In olden days its existence was fully understood. The Greeks enshrined it in the story of Midas, of the ‘Golden Touch.’ Here was a man who turned everything he laid his hands upon into gold. His life was a progress amidst riches. Out of everything that came in his way he created the precious metal. ‘A foolish legend,’ said the wiseacres of the Victorian age. ‘A truth,’ say we of to-day. We all know of such men. We are ever meeting or reading about such persons who turn everything they touch into gold. Success dogs their very footsteps. Their life’s pathway leads unerringly upwards. They cannot fail.”
Unfortunately, however, Midas could fail; he did. His path did not lead unerringly upward. He starved because whenever he touched a biscuit or a ham sandwich it turned to gold. That was the whole point of the story, though the writer has to suppress it delicately, writing so near to a portrait of Lord Rothschild. The old fables of mankind are, indeed, unfathomably wise; but we must not have them expurgated in the interests of Mr. Vanderbilt. We must not have King Midas represented as an example of success; he was a failure of an unusually painful kind. Also, he had the ears of an ass. Also (like most other prominent and wealthy persons) he endeavoured to conceal the fact. It was his barber (if I remember right) who had to be treated on a confidential footing with regard to this peculiarity; and his barber, instead of behaving like a go-ahead person of the Succeed-at-all-costs school and trying to blackmail King Midas, went away and whispered this splendid piece of society scandal to the reeds, who enjoyed it enormously. It is said that they also whispered it as the winds swayed them to and fro. I look reverently at the portrait of Lord Rothschild; I read reverently about the exploits of Mr. Vanderbilt. I know that I cannot turn everything I touch to gold; but then I also know that I have never tried, having a preference for other substances, such as grass, and good wine. I know that these people have certainly succeeded in something; that they have certainly overcome somebody; I know that they are kings in a sense that no men were ever kings before; that they create markets and bestride continents. Yet it always seems to me that there is some small domestic fact that they are hiding, and I have sometimes thought I heard upon the wind the laughter and whisper of the reeds.
At least, let us hope that we shall all live to see these absurd books about Success covered with a proper derision and neglect. They do not teach people to be successful, but they do teach people to be snobbish; they do spread a sort of evil poetry of worldliness. The Puritans are always denouncing books that inflame lust; what shall we say of books that inflame the viler passions of avarice and pride? A hundred years ago we had the ideal of the Industrious Apprentice; boys were told that by thrift and work they would all become Lord Mayors. This was fallacious, but it was manly, and had a minimum of moral truth. In our society, temperance will not help a poor man to enrich himself, but it may help him to respect himself. Good work will not make him a rich man, but good work may make him a good workman. The Industrious Apprentice rose by virtues few and narrow indeed, but still virtues. But what shall we say of the gospel preached to the new Industrious Apprentice; the Apprentice who rises not by his virtues, but avowedly by his vices?

Castles in the Clouds and Christmas on Earth

Passing down that enchanted lane that is St. Charles, with castles and plantations and ancient churches drifting by, one gets the strange, stunning and simple feeling that the most dignified ages of mankind have convened a parliament right there along the road. A stone work structure gives way to white lattice, is followed by red brick reaching to dizzying heights, and is met by a row of Tudor windows that could fit in a London skyline. One feels as if Napoleon might walk out the French Gables of one house, that Churchill would breeze past the red-brick of another, that Charlemagne would fit in perfect next to a certain public library, and that Robert E. Lee would feel right at home on any one of the plantations’ porches. The incongruence of period, style and culture is lost in the train. Despite clashing techniques and aesthetic methods, the golden thread of prestige and power unites all the facades into one long procession of architecture. It is the buildings that march, and the spectator, though moving, seems to merely watch them pass by. In a few weeks parades will start rolling down this street, but I fancy that it is only because the street itself is already a parade. If Carnival floats are a matter of dressing up cardboard and plaster to look like relic from ages past, then the houses of St. Charles all together represent a perpetual Mardi Gras, only the material used is far more lasting and far less gaudy.
And about halfway between downtown and the point where St. Charles ends at the river, there is a series of private schools each built in a unique period. One such, stationed between the Jewish Synagogue and Sacred Heart School, is built in the style of an Authorian Castle. As I drove my red truck past it, I was struck by the size of the stones. Each was easily as large as a barrel and as jagged as saw. If it were not for the fact that the geology of our city is so blatantly that of an estuary  I would have turned quickly around looking for the mountain from which such stones had been quarried. It defied explanation that such large rocks should be cut and transported so many thousand miles only to end up in pristine condition in the side of a wall on St. Charles Ave, New Orleans, LA. It must have been a monumental endeavor to erect such a monument above the streets of a swamp. And all to build a school whose architecture could hold its own against that of a Parisian-Styled Catholic School and a German-Jewish place of worship. I imagined the architect, working with the stones as if they were massive Legoes or alphabet building blocks. Each piece was its own veritable world, filled with nooks and crannies peculiarly its own. Had the mortar suddenly vanished, the blocks would have come toppling down like hundreds of dice rolling out on to a game board. Fitting them all together into such a symmetrical and congruent whole must have been like making a mosaic while balancing book on your head and and chomping a tree down: fitting, balancing and cutting all at once. The thought then struck me: why build such a house for children? As an educator, I searched my brain for some pedagogy that would account for taking the time and energy to erect such and edifice only so that children could study multiplication tables and learn to write in cursive.
And in the middle of such prudent speculations, I passed the gate and saw all the students sitting out on the steps with Christmas gifts in hand. For today was the last day of the semester, and parents who can afford to send their children to such a school probably make certain that the kids don’t leave without some token of yuletide cheer. Such are the way with the affluent: they care much for the details. It is their virtue and their vice: to labor over every nickel and dime only to forget how many they have and, therefore, how many they could afford to share. Anyway, some conscientious parent of this variety had made certain that each child, though all with different gifts, be given these different gifts in the same package. This is yet another characteristic of the wealthy: they stress the appearance of equality so as to avoid having to be responsible for actual equality. In any event, the feelings of my heart were not with the unfortunate parents, but with their beautiful and innocent children. Each stood on the steps of the castle of academics with their uniform gift-wrap in hand. The wrapping for the gifts was a bag of deep red, smooth as a mirror and bright as blood. Out of each bag, the students were pulling their gifts: a soccer ball here, a teddy bear there, a doll or a scarf or a necklace. Regardless of the size of the present, the container it came from was the same: a 2×1.5 foot bag of brilliant crimson. By some odd coincidence, these bags were the same size as the stones against which they were laid. So imagine with me a large castle wall and stair case with large sand-colored stones punctuated by these countless red bags of equal size. What strange thoughts whirled through my head. I pictured a mythical battle that soaked with blood the entirety of those stones that had touched a corpse but left entirely untouched all other stones. I saw a wall built of alternating sand-stone and bricks made of compressed rose, forming a wall of chivalry that would attest to both beauty and strength. As a child picked up a bag here, or left a bag against the wall there, I imagined a castle constantly under construction by children as part of some tetras-like game. And through it all, I was haunted by the re-occurring speculation: why spend some much time and energy on children? They care not whether they learn in a castle or in a plantation or in a synagogue  provided what they learn is fun and good. They pay no mind to the color of the gift wrap provided that the gift inside pleases them. For children, more than adults, have a keen sense of substance-over-style. They know that they value of something is can only be improved by a positive appearance, but cannot be replaced by one. In short, they don’t give a fig for the architecture of their school provided their school is where they can meet their friends and find their fun.
Then the answer to the riddle dawned on me like some colossus astride on the avenue, like the giant facade of the buildings that bordered me along the street. Whether or not it is fiscally viable or civically sound to invest in such school architecture is not the question. Nor does it even matter whether or not the kids notice that they are learning about human life in a monument to an outdated form of it. It doesn’t even matter (in the first instance) whether or not their parents are greedy buffoons or just absent-minded members of the bourgeoisie  The point is the kids. Yes, I said it: the point of the discussion is the children. At Christmas, is it necessary to surround children in an atmosphere of imagination, even if they do not notice the details? Is it ‘worth it’ to take the extra time and energy to give them winter castles and wrap them matching presents? Well, why wouldn’t it be worth it!? What could possibly be more worth our time or effort? When God spared no effort to surround his own Son at his birth with a such a colorful contingent of oriental kings and woolly shepherds, why should we spare any act of imagination on own our children? The question becomes, why isn’t ever street and boulevard more like St. Charles Ave? We spare no expenses so as to be a cable bill: why not spare no expense to line every street with a cable car like the street cars that run on St. Charles? If God was able to turn a stable into His castle at the time of His birth, why not turn a school into a castle in order to teach others about Him?
The answer to all of this, as far as I can tell, is that we are far too lazy in our exaltation. Our eyes grow weak gazing heavenward, as the psalmist complains. Indeed, it is too much for us to realize everyday that the plot line of our lives is greater than any Greek tragedy but can reach a climax more stupendous than even the most romantic faerie-tale. The splendor of St. Charles is limited to one street, the crescendo of Christmas only occurs once a year, precisely because our hearts are not yet ready to see all the glory that we are destined for. Were all the ages of men to roll before us, as they seem to on St. Charles, and were they to all bow before that Infant Messiah, as someday they will, we would not now understand what it all meant. We are like children playing in a castle but thinking of it as nothing more than a school. Are hearts are still far too small to sing like the angels and celebrate like the gods. No, my friends, the joy of the Christmas story is that we are still too selfish and melancholy to understand heaven. That is why heaven had to come down to us! And for one day, we all return to childhood and proclaim Christ as the only Man who never grew out of the joy of childhood.

More Thoughts on Prayer and Sleep (or, Looking for a Distraction from Thanksgiving stuff?)

Union with Christ’s death/sleep is essential to union with His life. For what is the purpose of the spiritual life other than to love, to be united with Jesus? This union IS our vocation. discerning this union is discerning our vocation. being formed into this union is being formed into this vocation.  If union with Christ is the motive and fruit of all our actions, there can be no question of the effectiveness of our prayer life, of our spiritual growth, and, yes, of the sincerity of our religious devotion. Of course, no one gets it perfect, but, at the same time, we all know that each prayer, each sacrifice and each breath brings us closer to such perfection when we move in Christ’s grace. Keep Christ always before your mind and heart, and you cannot fail.

Yet even this simple mantra lacks something. In fact, it lacks something essential for lovers and Christians alike: knowledge of presence. Yes, we might admit, keeping the idea of God before me is a good practice, but where’s the fun, fruit and point in it if I don’t experience Him in the giving of myself to Him? It is one thing for the lover to be there, sitting quietly looking at me. It’s another thing entirely to know what that gaze communicates, to experience in it all its meaning and content. And I need that meaning and content just to carry on. It is here that we come to a particularly sticky problem. Prayer can never promise us complete satisfaction. The loving gaze we look for will not always be returned. If there is one thing that all of the various spiritual masters do agree on, it’s that we must come to prayer expecting nothing, at least nothing in particular. If our spiritual life is to have any real focus, if it is to do anything different to change us, transform us and turn us into the types of people Christ wants us to be, we must come to it expecting only that God wants us to be there and not that we ourselves will always want to be there. This advice is nothing new. It can be found in the heart of every spiritual work that you read (and not just every Christian spiritual work). However it is here at its most dismal that the Christian spiritual message (indeed the whole Christian spiritual life) shifts a great truth into focus. In fact it is the greatest truth that the Christian religion has to offer us in this life and it is the only thing that truly makes the Christian religion unique.

Many religions tell us  that we must find inner peace or come to an inner harmony or learn to forgive ourselves for the sake of others, but also, all preach an Omnipotent God (or Being or Force) who can rule over us and use us in this particular state of passivity to do his will. They focus on a spiritual discipline in prayer that runs far too close to the utilitarian ideals we have already condemned. In contrast, it is only the Christian religion that offers the bruising and startling fact of her own creed which states that the baptized Christians vocation is based on an imitate encounter with not only an omnipotent God but also a weak and powerless human being.

We are told that in our baptism we died with Christ; we are told that in our baptism we also rise with him; and we’re told that in our prayer we gained, a communion a constant communion with this dying and rising. Yet, as with any good love story, the best thing is left unsaid. It is taken for granted when you’re told that we must imitate Christ who is already in possession of us through this dying and rising. But by faith in him we are more than just imitating his actions; we’re also moving out of his very Love. This type of love is so unlike anything found in any other place, offered by any other system, described by any other faith. For the Christian is called to a radical vocation and baptism, a vocation that I will attempt to describe in a few short words.

It is no new thing for religion to claim that man gropes for God in the dark, and some religions claim the man is even been able to find him. However, it is the Christian religion that claims that on that uncanny Passover evening in the garden of Gethsemane we can see a God groping for Man in the dark. Everything from the betrayal of Judas to the denial of Peter to the trial before Caiaphas, to the hours spent alone in the cell in to the minutes of torture at the pillar in the courtyard show us a God that was groping for us just as much, nay even more, than we we are willing to look for him. In this mystery of the passion of Christ, which through the sacrament of baptism forms the foundation of the Christian spiritual life and vocation, the Christian sees mirrored in his own life the greatest love story ever told. The greatness of this love story does not arise simply from a passionate, painful and wonderful love. It is great because it describes the greatest of lovers. The actors in this drama are not just man and woman; they’re not just God and man, but they’re God-Man, us and God. There is something in the very syntax of the previous sentence that reveals a great truth. In this great story of the passion and in the great emotion of baptism man finds himself sandwiched between God and God. The Confines of his vocation are found in the very act of being pulled into the role of the Godhead, of being drawn into the very life of the Trinity. When the Son cries out to the Father in obedience, man himself finds himself crying out; and by some strange miracle of death and water, he hears his own voice echo between the walls of the inner tabernacle of God’s love, the Son’s human voice resounding, piercing through man and reaching the Father. So powerful and incomprehensible is this calling, the calling of the Son to the Father, that man must in a certain sense, falls back asleep in order to be re-created. Our Faith was born in the almost faithlessness of God. Our love was born when it seemed all love, even God’s love, had failed.

QOTD -The Power of Words

People do not take enough stock in words. We take them for granted. We let them flow from our tongues, our fingers, and our pens without reflection to the vast beauty and depth of their existence and power. The following quote comes from a letter to the author’s publisher defending his use of foreign, i.e. non-English, words in his works.

Surely I have never yet made, and never expect to make any money. Neither do I expect to write ever for the multitude. I write for beloved friends who can see colour in words, can smell the perfume of syllables in blossom, can be shocked with the fine elfish electricity of words. And in the eternal order of things, words will eventually have their rights recognized by the people. – Lafcadio Hearn

QOTD – Columbus Day Rethought

I found out at the end of the day when no mail came that yesterday was Columbus Day. The government and some banks take the day off to ‘celebrate’ the founding of the new world by a Spanish funded Italian sailor.

I mean this in an all sincerity. Government holidays aren’t even holidays. They retain no sort of value of festival (no celebration) and maintain a false sense of leisure (i.e. not working). So I turn to a man more wise than myself for consolation.

True joy, genuine festival, means the casting out of wickedness. – St. Athanasius

Courtesy of Library of Congress

Spiritual Implications of ADD Society

For, when it implicates itself more than is needful in things that are without, it is as though it were so occupied during a journey as to forget where it was going; so that, being estranged from the business of self-examination, it does not even consider the losses it is suffering, or know how great they are. – St. Gregory the Great

Pain and Laughter

What a pity it is to be born a romantic. Try as you might, you can never escape the borders of fairyland. That is to say, you can never leave this world nor can you plunge across into Rivendell. You hang in the frontier country, always seeing your patria from the neighborhood over, but never crossing the street, and, in New Orleans, it is so easy to be a romantic, so easy to indulge in the in-betweeness of the wayfarer. On Sunday, when I found out that I would be evacuating once more, I made a point of wandering the streets of our great city, aimlessly making my way to Audubon Park, for that is the secret way of life for the natives of our town: to be passionately devoted to being nonchalant. When it comes to letting the good times roll, we roll up our selves and work at it (it is perhaps the only thing we really work at). We order life around parades, closing our schools and allocating their buses to the project. We set our schedules according to the festivals. Overtime is not something we do at our jobs and is only heard when discussing the (football) Saints. The (Church’s) Saints have, historically speaking, come to our town to sing and party, not just pray and repent. And so, when I set out from my door going about the important business of getting lost, the only desire I had in my heart was that I should end up at a park and climb a tree.

Thus, I cannot say how I ended up in Audubon park, nor why I continued to wander there for many hours more, but I can say that it was utterly intentional when I finally mounted a half-naked magnolia missing limbs from a previous storm. With her remaining limbs, the tree wrapped me up and so that I might fall, not to the ground, but further in love with my home city. And, much as it is when falling in love with a woman, I found that she looked both more simple and more beautiful than she typically does. The air was dry and cool. There was a slight breeze. The Spanish moss tickled me delicately, draped from the trees’ limbs. People talk about seductive women on Bourbon St., but I have never made it that far. I am always taken in by Dame Oak and Lady Willow long before I can make it to the French Quarter.

From within the arms of Miss Magnolia, I looked around at the elegant houses and even more elegant streets that, like my magnolia, still bore marks from Katrina. I reflected that, on the anniversary, we would once again be rebuilding. As I climbed down and walked home, I saw the water lines on the houses left from the last storm. Memories of that flood triggered a strange feeling to flood my consciousness. It was that pale, sickly feeling of helplessness that I first felt seven years ago on that same day. “Will I see this all again? How much will have changed when I walk this street next time?”
As I stated before, New Orleanians never plan their route. As such, we never know just when we’ll be back on even the closest streets to our houses. Thinking that our city might change due to forces beyond our control was perhaps the most drab and sickening thought that lingered after Katrina. And oh, Change! How we hate that word! We like things done the same way again and again. Change imposes planning, and we perfer to expend that energy enjoying ourselves. We don’t like the planning process. We perfer simple action. The party is in the performance. The devil is in the details. That is why we hate change.

This is one aspect of my citizenship that is always in conflict with my creed, where my affection for NOLA finds tension with my loyalty to Kingdom. For Christians are always concerned, even to the verge of paranoia, with the concept of conversion, with the concept of change. So I asked my God whether or not I would have to change again. And He laughed at my silliness. Change again? As if the change Katrina wrought could be repeated!? He made me remember my CS Lewis; “Things never happen the same way twice” said Aslan. Katrina was purification, and not all tears are evil. Isaac is laughter, and not all laughter is flippant. Sometimes laughter strikes with a pain more intense than purgatory, for laughter conceals in its heart the very essence of humility. Tears can be selfish, but laughter is never permitted to be. Because it depends on humility for life, arrogant laughter does not simply offend good manners: it violate the principle of non-contradiction.

Romantics know well the need for laughter, their need for Isaac. As I said before, we live on the border land. Its not that we are citizens without a country, but a people torn between two countries, delicately balancing the pleasures and pains of each. For the pain of being outside of heaven is more manifold than the pleasures of this world. Each of us bears this pain in a different way. Some call it Holocaust. Some call it War. Some call it Disease. Some call it ‘the Storm,’ but each of these pains produce in us a secret link between the world and the fairyland, between earth and heaven, that makes us a mediator like our Beloved Mediator. “Things never happen the same way twice.” Every pain is as unique as the one who bears it, nay, it is more unique. Because it reveals not just the person at their most intimate, but the One more infinite in Good and Variety than all others, our humble laughter does not obscure, but rather enhances this manifold Goodness. Think how agonizingly repetitive merely mirthful moments are. Weddings, birthdays, graduations are redundant with an almost anarchistic similarity. God has to flood these events with His Goodness or we sinners would all grow bored with them. The real miracle, though, is that pain can produce laughter, and that laughter comes in the greatest variety, revealing the full spectrum of human goodness and metaphysical wonder. We leave home entirely uncertain of what trials we will endure, but confident that we will come to a party at the end. We are so confident, that we wonder as we wander and laugh as we set out in the serious business of losing ourselves. The greatest joke in the universe, the greatest act of irony, is that to save our life we must lose it. It was so worthy of Isaac, of laughter, that God Himself was more than willing to become the punchline, taking Isaac (laughter’s) place on Mt. Moriah when He stayed the hand of Abraham. So do not fear the storm. Do not weep over what is lost. What is lost was good, but what comes later, like at the end of a joke, is a Punchline worthy of both heaven and earth.

Doesn’t This Make You Feel Smart!

For everything that is easily grasped is easily despised, but what is beyond us increases our admiration in proportion to our difficulty in apprehending it; and everything that succeeds our reach whets our desire. – St. Gregory Nazienzen

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Pope Benedict XVI

caritas in veritate 40

Today’s international economic scene, marked by grave deviations and failures, requires a profoundly new way of understanding business enterprise. Old models are disappearing, but promising new ones are taking shape on the horizon. Without doubt, one of the greatest risks for businesses is that they are almost exclusively answerable to their investors, thereby limiting their social value. Owing to their growth in scale and the need for more and more capital, it is becoming increasingly rare for business enterprises to be in the hands of a stable director who feels responsible in the long term, not just the short term, for the life and the results of his company, and it is becoming increasingly rare for businesses to depend on a single territory. Moreover, the so-called outsourcing of production can weaken the company’s sense of responsibility towards the stakeholders — namely the workers, the suppliers, the consumers, the natural environment and broader society — in favour of the shareholders, who are not tied to a specific geographical area and who therefore enjoy extraordinary mobility. Today’s international capital market offers great freedom of action. Yet there is also increasing awareness of the need for greater social responsibility on the part of business. Even if the ethical considerations that currently inform debate on the social responsibility of the corporate world are not all acceptable from the perspective of the Church’s social doctrine, there is nevertheless a growing conviction that business management cannot concern itself only with the interests of the proprietors, but must also assume responsibility for all the other stakeholders who contribute to the life of the business: the workers, the clients, the suppliers of various elements of production, the community of reference. In recent years a new cosmopolitan class of managers has emerged, who are often answerable only to the shareholders generally consisting of anonymous funds which de facto determine their remuneration. By contrast, though, many far-sighted managers today are becoming increasingly aware of the profound links between their enterprise and the territory or territories in which it operates. Paul VI invited people to give serious attention to the damage that can be caused to one’s home country by the transfer abroad of capital purely for personal advantage[95]. John Paul II taught thatinvestment always has moral, as well as economic significance[96]. All this — it should be stressed — is still valid today, despite the fact that the capital market has been significantly liberalized, and modern technological thinking can suggest that investment is merely a technical act, not a human and ethical one. There is no reason to deny that a certain amount of capital can do good, if invested abroad rather than at home. Yet the requirements of justice must be safeguarded, with due consideration for the way in which the capital was generated and the harm to individuals that will result if it is not used where it was produced[97]. What should be avoided is a speculative use of financial resources that yields to the temptation of seeking only short-term profit, without regard for the long-term sustainability of the enterprise, its benefit to the real economy and attention to the advancement, in suitable and appropriate ways, of further economic initiatives in countries in need of development. It is true that the export of investments and skills can benefit the populations of the receiving country. Labour and technical knowledge are a universal good. Yet it is not right to export these things merely for the sake of obtaining advantageous conditions, or worse, for purposes of exploitation, without making a real contribution to local society by helping to bring about a robust productive and social system, an essential factor for stable development.

O Come, Let Us…Adore Him?

A few weeks ago, an event called Adore took place at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans. It was an ‘evangelical’ event, in the popular interpretation of such things, a ‘revival’. There were some rousing ‘come-to-Jesus’ moments which, though exciting in the moment, are pretty much standard at such proceedings. The musician who played is up for a Grammy this year, and played very well, but his appearance is no rarity in southeast Louisiana. Archbishop Aymond too was there, but he seems to be everywhere these days, so I hardly find it possible to judge an event’s significance on that account. The decorations were flamboyant. Now, there was something unique about that! The auditorium where the event was being held was your basic, monolithic structure with white walls, a cheap curtain, a four-foot high stage and out-of-date lighting. Most high schools boast about the same. But it had been decorated with cheap Chinese lanterns (the paper kind that come in bright colors and look like oversized bubbles). In contrast, creating a fire hazard of immense proportions, the stage had been covered with candles of all shapes and sizes flickering just inches away from already-hot sound equipment and wooden instruments. A large screen had been placed stage right and caught the projection of hymns and bible verses as they flashed up on the monitor. In the back, there were a series of booths selling ‘Jesus glamour gear’ (as one theology major so shrewdly put it). All in all, it was a comical display of the type of devotion that our pluralistic and consumerist society tries to offer.

And into the middle of this strange and brave new temple, the Archbishop brought in the Blessed Sacrament for adoration. The seminarians who coordinated this section of the evening had chosen to take a pre-Vatican II approach by dressing his Excellency in gold vestments and flanking the monstrance with two censures. As he walked up the aisle, the congregation sang ancient hymns put to modern music. Then, after much awkward fumbling, the Lord of the Universe was precariously placed on what appeared to be a tall wooden stool. Here was Jesus, true God and true man, surrounded by paper lanterns, a dangerous amount of candles, a rock band in blue jeans, a projection screen the size of an Cadillac, a gilded epicopus chanting prayers and diakoniae swinging incense to and fro, wafting sweet-smelling smoke through out the room as God stood on a womblely wooden stand. We Catholics claim that the small host in the center of it all is God. And this is the welcome prepared! What absolute nonsense, right? Right!?

I do not know. How scandalous is this coming in comparison to the welcome He received at that first Christmas? At least there was room in the inn this time, even if the inn looked more like a Chinese restaurant than a Church. My purpose here is not to reflect on aesthetics or ecclesiology. I care not a hoot whether you’re against the progressives or the traditionalists, whether you believe in evangelical youth ministry or in quiet personal promulgation of the faith. What I would like you to do is just think for a moment: if what the Church teaches about transubstantiation it true, then God was there. In His omniscience, He chose to be there. What was He doing? Were I Him (oh dear Lord, how close I come to blasphemy!), I would have been laughing my most Holy Face off. But that’s not what He did. Just as He cried like a babe in the manger, I believe there was more compassion to His coming into that room than irony or indignation. Which brings me to the point of all this: what kind of God are we dealing with? What kind of King so enters the womb and allows Himself to be so welcomed into the room? You see, I can no longer realistically hope to find God. Life has taught me that I can’t journey to heaven. So my only hope is that heaven would travel to me. And if He did come down to love us, it would have to be a two way street. He would half to meet us half way. And to save us poor, that means entering a stable, halfway house of sorts, once He was locked out of the ‘free house’ (or Inn). Our culture has tried covering this mystery of Christmas with cellophane and sale ads, but it just won’t do! Frosty’s death and rebirth is nothing compared to His! Jingle Bells and Deck the Halls and Santa Baby are just plain boring in comparison to a God who is carried in a gold monstrance and sits on wooden stool on a stage covered in fire, all to let us imitate the hosts of heaven. What need I of more Christmas specials? What could be more special education than a God who sits among Chinese lanterns, all so that He can be with me? Or lie naked and shivering in a stable (or on a cross for that matter…) just so that my nakedness and shivering may cease. I’m sorry: I just don’t understand all this and, until I do, there will be much more reflecting, much more writing, much more singing and much much more silence on this subject.