Saturday, June 28, 2008
But real neo-paganism is on the rise. It manifests itself (a) two or three generations out after the rejection or neglect of the Christian revelation, or (b) in full blown human sacrifice "sanctioned" by its ostensible religious prohibitions. Like this. Or like this. Or this. Or this.
True paganism is synonymous with what René Girard deems "the primitive Sacred." His efforts at explicating the taxonomy of the most vile aspects of the fallen human race have laid open in forensic detail what Catholic faith, truth, and morals have for aeons taught and guarded through her Magisterium to this day.
We are blessed to have such a trustworthy helper to the work of the Church in these darkening and fear-ridden days. Girard is a faithful son of the Church and guide for those seeking truth, goodness, and beauty. We would do well to study and inwardly digest his wisdom while taking part in the sacramental life of Mother Church.
In the Church we have the beautiful feasts of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary, with the heart symbolizing the immense love of our Lord and His Blessed Mother for each one of us.
As Catholic husbands and fathers, we might also consider meditating on the heart of St. Joseph, the third member of the Holy Family. His heart is an apt symbol of the love he contributed to the mystery of the redemptive Incarnation that was unfolding under his watch. And now that same masculine vigilance and love, once focused on his beloved wife and the Christ child, is bestowed on each one of us, as he is universally invoked as the patron of the Catholic Church. [h/t: New Advent]
Friday, June 27, 2008
As an added bonus, enjoy Christendom's display of what A. W. N. Pugin considered the pinnacle of architecture: Gothic.
Thursday, June 26, 2008
"The shape of a key is in itself a rather fantastic shape. A savage who did not know it was a key would have the greatest difficulty in guessing what it could possibly be. And it is fantastic because it is in a sense arbitrary. A key is not a matter of abstractions; in that sense a key is not a matter of argument. It either fits the lock or it does not ...
"A key is necessarily a thing with a pattern, so this was one having in some ways a rather elaborate pattern. When people complain of the religion being so early complicated with theology and things of the kind, they forget that the world had not only got into a hole, but had got into a whole maze of holes and corners ... If the faith had faced the world only with the platitudes about peace and simplicity some moralists would confine it to, it would not have had the faintest effect n that luxurious and labyrinthine lunatic asylum ... There was undoubtedly much about the key that seemed complex; indeed there was only one thing about it that was simple. It opened the door."
THE GOOD MAN, Plato tells us, accepts office in the State not for any advantage he gets from it, but because he fears the possibility of worse men than himself attaining to office instead.- Ronald Knox, Captive Flames
Scapegoating is the essential component to the primitive Sacred, the "least common denominator" of social agreement and cohesion. "It's HIS fault," is the accusatory gesture and/or declarative sentence that pulls disparate peoples together where there had been no cohesion, no agreement.
The Chaldean Catholic Church, the Syrian Catholic Church, the Syriac Orthodox Church and the Church of the East are among the Christian churches in Iraq.
Today, about 300,000, or one in three, is a refugee, he said.
"It's at a crisis point," Mr. Isaac's colleague, Zaya Oshana, said later. "Christians will be completely annihilated."
Since the war began in 2003, about 12 children, many as young as 10, have been kidnapped and killed, then nailed to makeshift crosses near their homes to terrify and torment their parents.One infant was snatched, decapitated, burned and left on his mother's doorstep ...
In Iraq and elsewhere, where there has been little influence of the Gospel with its concern for victims of violence, the spirit of the primitive Sacred still serves as a realtime generator of violence reduction between potentially warring peoples; i.e., the Sunnies and Shia. If we might tear each other apart, if we can find a "black sheep" upon whom we can both agree can serve as a lightning rod for the animosity we would otherwise heap on each other, we have a stop gap violence reduction mechanism.
Never mind the fate of that scapegoat. Our Lord's question, "Can Satan cast out Satan?" is expository and rhetorical. Of course Satan can. And does. Etymologically, "satan" means "the accuser." The satanic principle is the heart of the primitive Sacred. It is alive and well in the world today in neo-paganism and the Scimitar.
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
The president of the Pontifical Council for Culture affirmed this in Portugal last Friday, when he gave a talk on "The Bible: The 'Great Code' of Western Culture" at the Portuguese Catholic University.
According to the archbishop, the Bible is present in Western culture "as structural component of the artistic, ethical and social fields."
Citing literary critic Northrop Frye, Archbishop Ravasi said that "Scripture is the universe in which Western literature and art acted until the 18th century and, to a great extent, still act."
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
René Girard has observed, "Deviated transcendency is a caricature of vertical transcendency. There is not one element of this distorted mysticism which does not have its luminous counterpart in Christian truth." This does not mean that modern persons have an automatic and immediate access to "vertical transcendency." Indeed, moderns may not only not thematize the yearning for it, they may fiercely deny such a hunger. So not only does our age have the dilemma of not being able to find the Object of our deepest longing, we may "go looking for Love in all the wrong places."
As Saint Augustine noted in the opening of his Confessions,
"Great art thou, O Lord, and greatly to be praised; great is thy power, and infinite is thy wisdom." And man desires to praise thee, for he is a part of thy creation; he bears his mortality about with him and carries the evidence of his sin and the proof that thou dost resist the proud. Still he desires to praise thee, this man who is only a small part of thy creation. Thou hast prompted him, that he should delight to praise thee, for thou hast made us for thyself and restless is our heart until it comes to rest in thee.
I will not say much more except that Girard has nestled in his magnum opus the truth of the Christain faith; namely, that at the heart of every conventional culture there is an altar, and behind its concretization of ritual and myth a founding murder, replicated since time immemorial. Sometimes this culture founding, culture maintaining violence reduction mechanism lifts up unconscious ad hoc "priests" who point an accusatory finger at a new victim. This is especially true in cultures where the Gospel has not created an empathy for victims.
For at the heart of the Christian faith is a kernel of True Change from this pagan proclivity for human sacrifice; a True Change initiated among human beings by a God Who revealed Himself in Christ Jesus, who showed once and for all that it was - and is - a bloodthirsty, fallen humanity which demands murderous sacrifices, not Him.
The Catholic Church observes this greatest satisfaction and deliverance of humanity by gathering not around the corpse of the sacrificial mechanism of the primitive Sacred, but around the "Lamb slain since the foundation of the world," who was raised to vindicate God's true and covenantal love (hesed, charity, agape). The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the greatest Gift of a self-donating, self-sacrificing God who says, "Come, follow Me."
If we refuse and turn our backs on this Gift, heap scorn on this Mystery, and even deny our true human longing, it is only 2 or 3 generations before we see the primitive Sacred cropping up again. Like this. Or like this. Or this. Or this.
Parents and grandparents who neglect to bring up their offspring in the observance of the Christian Mysteries, the Sacraments, may be flabbergasted to see what children and grandchildren begin to pick up. If we cannot find "vertical transcendency," we humans have a tragic way of settling for "deviant transcendency." Pity the poor, neo-pagan West.
So I leave you, gentle reader, with the injunction to observance and against the sin of sloth from Piers Plowman:
Have ye be slowe to lerne your be leve and the commandmentes and the lawe of God and to teche it to them that beth under your governaunce ... to come to chirche to here dyvine service and prechinge, of the word of god and to worship your lorde god of heven"?
"We follow Nietzsche and choose Dionysus, not like a few of his spiritual heirs by accepting the savagery revealed by Euripides' The Bacchae, but by accepting a cheap interpretation of freedom -- the freedom to say what you think and think what you please, the freedom to do what you want, the freedom to have it your way, the worldly freedom which, in the final analysis, is the sin against the Holy Spirit, unforgivable precisely because those who commit it repudiate the Spirit that would enable them to recognize the hell they are fashioning for themselves." - Gil Bailie
"The modern self has been an attempt to enjoy the relative psychological poise and social autonomy that is born of a life of prayer and sacrifice, but to enjoy this emancipation without the devotions that made it possible." - Gil Bailie
"The first stages of neo-pagan revivals are sometimes celebrated by the very people who will most ardently oppose them at a latter stage, and as these two stages are themselves not easily distinguished, it's sometimes difficult to distinguish between a Christian who is getting ready to throw down the gauntlet and one who is getting ready to throw in the towel. But sooner or later, the moment comes when one has to decide which it's going to be." - Gil Bailie
"Post-Christianity goes by the name of postmodernism for two reasons. First, the Christian element in Western culture has become so attenuated that it could be eliminated without explicit reference to it, and, secondly, because it represents the quintessentially modern slight-of-hand by which the Christian element in western culture was overlooked -- even in its most explicit disavowal." - Gil Bailie
[Quotes gleaned from the now-dormant Cornerstone Forum "Daily Quote."]
Monday, June 23, 2008
Prior to the Industrial Age, sons apprenticed alongside their fathers at their trades: in the field, in the guild, in the family business. After the mechanization of labor, fathers went off and worked, then came home, usually exhausted, seven-parts humiliated by their jobs, and oft-times given to hiding behind the paper in stony silence.
For my part, after school till I was seven, I went next door to where my father was a church pastor (my mother was in nursing school). I went with him on pastoral visits, and watched him work. Sometimes I helped fold church bulletins for Sunday services. Then, in the 4th and 6th grades I had a male teacher, Mr. Johnson: ever trustworthy, encouraging, interest-building in subjects.
For all my adult work-life, I have been (a) a Protestant pastor (20+ years prior to my entering full communion with the Catholic Church), and (b) now a Catholic educator these 7 years. Hmm. See any connections in these two paragraphs?
While I rarely agree with mythologist Joseph Campbell, on one particular point I agree: the armed forces do a great job initiating young males into manhood. But one should not look for Catholic faith, morals, or truth from that experience; wrong fruit from the wrong tree.
And, as Gil Bailie notes (somewhere), that is only for those who find their way into the military. Those countless millions who don't have to fill this developmental need in a catch as catch can manner. No father at home? A gang may be the only source for this mentoring; or a cult; or (fill in the blank).
Franciscan Richard Rohr presents an outstanding introduction to the problem.
Initiation only works when there is a collective spiritual wisdom into which the boy can be introduced and which is agreed upon as rich and valuable by the vast majority of a people. In a deconstructing culture, there is nothing to initiate a young man into except perhaps his private male sensibility. This is fine and even necessary, but it does not create a coherent culture or a safe and sane civilization. For rites of passage, we've moved toward the only collective-agreed-upons we have: sports, education, work, Boy Scouts, and war. Coaches and drill sergeants, smoking and driving, money and merit badges, graduation and girlfriends have become our only mentors and rites of passage. They all have something to teach us, but no one is there to say "you must hear God in this," or "your soul is at stake here." That is the power of the "liminal" and transformative space called initiation.
Life will eventually initiate you anyway, but it might be too late or you might not comprehend the sacred significance of things while they are happening. Without initiation it is a disenchanted universe. All we can do is calculate and control because no one else is in control, at least no one we have met or can trust. An uninitiated man lives in an isolated body and a disconnected world. He must take personal responsibility for creating all the patterns and making all the connections-if there are any. It is an unwhole, incoherent, and finally unsafe world. No wonder the typical young man in our non-mythic culture spends so much time posturing, climbing, and overcompensating. In his heart he knows it is all not true-and therefore not sacred.
A truly initiated man, however, lives inside a sacred universe of meaning. Even the seemingly absurd, even the pain has meaning. Perhaps no world religion deals so directly and effectively with the issue of human suffering as healthy Christianity. The crucified and raised-up Jesus is an ultimate transformation-initiation symbol. The sacraments of initiation that were fittingly celebrated throughout Lent and the Easter Triduum were the liminal space that initiated new Christians and "re-initiated" the old into the sacred mysteries. Now, when I speak of the mysteries, some Christians seem not to know that there were any. This is the tragic result not only of centuries of non-initiated Christians, but of the lust for certitude and predictability that has characterized the Western church.
Here is an excerpt from his homily, ”A Mystery to Be Lived.”
The Eucharist is not only a mystery to be believed and celebrated, but also a mystery to be lived. At the end of Mass the deacon, or the priest, tells us that we are sent to live the mystery that we have celebrated, meditated and received. The Holy Eucharist sends us to show love and solidarity to our brothers and sisters who are in need. There are first the poor, the hungry, the sick, the prisoners, the handicapped, the old, and the homeless. Works of charity done in their favour are manifestations that we are living the message of our Eucharistic celebration. But we are also sent to console those who are in sorrow, to help to liberate those held in slavery, including the victims of sexual, racial or other forms of oppression, to give hope to street children, and to help underdeveloped peoples rise to an acceptable level of human existence.
Love for our neighbour must not stop here. It has to include the spiritually hungry and needy. People are hungry for the Word of God, for the liberating Gospel of Jesus Christ. Therefore missionary work, catechesis in its many forms and leading people to the Church and to the Sacraments are necessary manifestations of love of neighbour. The Prophet Isaiah speaks of these various ways of bringing good news to the poor in the First Reading of this Mass (cf. Is 61:1-3). The Servant of God, Pope John Paul II, told us that mutual love, especially solicitude for people in need, will show that we are true disciples of Christ and prove the authenticity of our Eucharistic celebration (cf. Mane Nobiscum Domine, 28). And Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that "A Eucharist which does not pass over into the concrete practice of love is intrinsically fragmented" (Deus Caritas Est, 14).
Sunday, June 22, 2008
Very soon - indeed the time is already upon us - forces far stronger than any mere individual psyche will be carrying the day, swaying uncountable millions in the United States in their surging tide. Collectively they are called the presidential campaign season. Mimetically they have names I have already mentioned and the reader can examine in the sidebar under the labels "Girard n Girardians" and "Mimetic theory" (and also, of course, "Paganism").
I may soon be blogging less ostensibly on the political venue here in America simply because the rhetoric is becoming so polarized and ripe for scandal that inferences and conclusions are leapt at with the lightning speed of the accusatory gesture.
I will, however, say this: if people were dismayed at the way the present administration came into power and arrogated to itself a whole new prerogative and precedent for governing, one has seen nothing compared to what will happen when and if the Democratic left assumes office in January 2009.
The difference will be the flip-side of the Dionysian mandate: for the former think Pentheus of Euripides' THE BACCHAE; for the latter, think the priest of Dionysus, the Theban women (the bacchae), or Dionysus himself. Ostensibly magisterial and even-handed; surreptitiously seeking new fodder for the victimary mechanism at the heart of all pagan cultures.
So my final word on presidential politics in the United States of America is: carry out Eliot's injunction - prayer, observance, discipline, thought and action - and do not fall into either camp easily.
This Sunday's Gospel contains a number of ideas but they all can be summarized in this apparently contradictory phrase: "Have fear but do not be afraid." Jesus says: "Do not be afraid of those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul; fear rather him who has the power to make both the soul and the body perish in Gehenna." We must not be afraid of, nor fear human beings; we must fear God but not be afraid of him.
There is a difference between being afraid and fearing and I would like to take this occasion to try to understand why this is so and in what this difference consists. Being afraid is a manifestation of our fundamental instinct for preservation. It is a reaction to a threat to our life, the response to a real or perceived danger, whether this be the greatest danger of all, death, or particular dangers that threaten our tranquility, our physical safety, or our affective world.
With respect to whether the dangers are real or imagined, we say that someone is "justifiably" or "unjustifiably" or "pathologically" afraid. Like sicknesses, this worry can be acute or chronic. If it is acute, it has to do with states determined by situations of extraordinary danger. If I am about to be hit by a car or I begin to feel the earth quake under my feet, this is being acutely afraid. These "scares" arise suddenly and without warning and cease when the danger has passed, leaving, if anything, just a bad memory. Being chronically afraid is to be constantly in a state of preoccupation, this state grows up with us from birth or childhood and becomes part of our being, and we end up developing an attachment to it. We call such a state a complex or phobia: claustrophobia, agoraphobia, and so on.
The Gospel helps to free us from all of these worries and reveals their relative, non-absolute, nature. There is something of ours that nothing and no one in the world can truly take away from us or damage: For believers it is the immortal soul; for everyone it is the testimony of their own conscience.