Sunday, August 2, 2015

A Ride on Belloc's Rollercoaster: good, clean fun!

Europe and the Faith "Sine auctoritate nulla vita"
Belloc, Hilaire
A Public Domain Book. 1920 Edition 
(2012-05-17). Kindle Edition.

Wretch that I am, every once in a while I must indulge myself in Hilaire Belloc's swashbuckling. I've done it again and with no regrets! It's no spoiler, as the value of this adventurous book is found in the course of following his reasoning and analysis, and so I can quote his conclusion:

"So things have gone. We have reached at last, as the final result of that catastrophe three hundred years ago, a state of society which cannot endure and a dissolution of standards, a melting of the spiritual framework, such that the body politic fails. Men everywhere feel that an attempt to continue down this endless and ever darkening road is like the piling up of debt. We go further and further from a settlement. Our various forms of knowledge diverge more and more. Authority, the very principle of life, loses its meaning, and this awful edifice of civilization which we have inherited, and which is still our trust, trembles and threatens to crash down. It is clearly insecure. It may fall in any moment. We who still live may see the ruin. But ruin when it comes is not only a sudden, it is also a final, thing. 

"In such a crux there remains the historical truth: that this our European structure, built upon the noble foundations of classical antiquity, was formed through, exists by, is consonant to, and will stand only in the mold of, the Catholic Church. 

"Europe will return to the Faith, or she will perish. 
The Faith is Europe. And Europe is the Faith." (pp. 260-261).

Naturally, such reading and my recommendation is reserved to Belloc and Chesterton enthusiasts. If you haven't got the "bug" you might put this book down prematurely. Even so, I will risk recommending it. For me personally, it puts a certain spin on my other favorite authors (like John Senior), who yoke classic Western Culture and Catholic Faith. Throw in Belloc on the topic of faith and culture and you may begin philosophizing seriously about which came first? The chicken? or The egg?

No doubt some will reprimand my "political incorrectness", coming as it does on the verge of a big Reformation anniversary, for recommending such an ecumenical wet blanket, but I will stand by the "redeeming social value", yes, even of Hilaire Belloc.

Pace George Weigel's Evangelical Catholicism, I doubt if even a 100 years ago Belloc swept away all adversaries by the force of his arguments. Moreover, given my origins, I doubt if anyone would accuse me of wanting to make unqualified Eurocentrism a necessary qualifier of Catholicism and a premise for the Faith fulfilling the evangelizing mission Christ entrusted to His Church. Even so, in Belloc I find an ally against the tyranny of relativism so rightly condemned not only as the death of thought, but as that fault which deprives us of any vitality or hope.

From my Sitz im Leben, I have to add that if Europe were Catholic to the hilt, it probably would not be speechless before the propaganda machine which from Moscow out thumbs its nose at our world and lays claim to titles and property for which it has no claim.

Give me those old "G" rated movies in black and white where the whole theater could nod agreement when wisdom personified as somebody's grandma could respond to tragedy and hardship by saying, "I just don't know where we'd be without our faith!"

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Reconfiguring the Cosmos - Under Christ's Lordship, Today and Tomorrow

The sad litany of all in the world that we can recount as disordered these days seems to be without end. The most common and for me unacceptable reactions to the folly/tragedy of any number of wrongs out there would seem to be two: a sense of helpless desperation and/or a kind of undifferentiated hysteria, both inclined to feigning acceptance of things as they seem to be. Both are little more than emotions; either or both seems to be embraced by many, even among our family and friends, out of a certain sense of resignation to well "that's just the way things happen to be", demonstrating if not almost tolerant comprehension, then sympathy for some folks misplaced "drama" (viz. SSM propaganda). This cannot be right. Our world seems very much out of kilter. Boldfaced lying to gain temporary personal advantage over others seems to characterize the rule of today's jungle. The powers-that-be in government, business and labor resort to such violence as readily as does the proverbial spoiled brat, whom nobody seems to be allowed to discipline any more. As I say, this cannot be right, because God created an ordered world, which, after the sin of our first parents, He redeemed once again from chaos and darkness by His own Son's redemptive death; cost us what it may, we need to be cooperating with His Will. There has got to be something we can do to reconfigure that cosmos of our daily living in conformity with the Divine Will for our happiness in this life and in the life to come.

For some reason in analyzing this drama, a passage from the Book of Jonah came to mind:

"The LORD God appointed a bush, and made it come up over Jonah, to give shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort; so Jonah was very happy about the bush. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the bush, so that it withered. When the sun rose, God prepared a sultry east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint and asked that he might die. He said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the bush?” And he said, “Yes, angry enough to die.” Then the LORD said, “You are concerned about the bush, for which you did not labor and which you did not grow; it came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should I not be concerned about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also many animals?” [Jonah 4:6-11]

Most people will shake their head at this passage and deny Jonah his temper tantrum before God. My presumption is that they do so firmly taking God's part in the conversation: Jonah is the "drama queen" if you will and God is in the right, sparing Nineveh. Many of these same people, when they are not reading Scripture, keep silence about God's rights and accede to cries no less petty than the bush lament of Jonah. To my way of thinking these cries are far less honest than that of the OT prophet, as when we talk about anything "pro-choice" regarding the crime of abortion (an industry born out of hell, criminal in every way long before the appearance of the undercover videos which powerful political and economic interests are struggling hard to suppress). These same "Christians" express sympathy for all those folks who are at the same time disconsolate over the shooting of Cecil, the African Lion. Countless husbands and wives abandon their duties in justice and in charity toward their spouses, totally ignoring their children's need for a safe and stable environment for growth. These people fidget over some power-lifter, who just can't decide between competing as a man or a woman. As surely as Jonah thought to deny the Lord His justice and truth toward Nineveh repentant, so an overarching "political correctness", denying objectivity and truth, lyingly suppresses all that "me-myself-and-I" finds uncomfortable. My annoyance is principally with those who make themselves accomplice to such falsehood by their silence, resignation or dissimulation in the face of such wickedness.

I just finished spending some of my Saturday free time listening to a knowledgeable podcast on prospects for peace in Ukraine. Apart from doing expert kind of sharing on future scenarios for the region and the world, the participants in the discussion made very clear that the West has put Ukraine "on the back burner" perhaps even until the end of 2015. I'd like to frame my own analysis of much of the discussion you hear on implementing Minsk 2 and the neglect of the urgency of the present still very violent situation by focusing on the countless people in the fighting zone of the Donbas and displaced elsewhere who lack shelter, food and water. In the terms outlined above about my perception of the pendulum swing between some people's hysteria and that sense of helpless desperation which most folks take as an out from their having to assume responsibility. It would seem that prevarication is the order of the day. It would seem that the lies and their perpetrators have the upper hand as good men and women remain silent or shrug their shoulders.

For all the urgency we see in ordering relationships among persons and defending traditional institutions like marriage and family, in respecting life, in caring for a world of people in desperate need through no particular fault of their own (refugees and illegal immigrants), I would further make a plea to resist the temptation to cede ground before the onslaught of lies, falsehood and denunciation, which can only find its origin in the machinations of the "accuser of our brothers". Discrediting the other as unworthy of our defense or respect and walking away from his plight is also wrong when we need to be facing the challenge of Ukraine. The failures of the past in Moldova, Armenia, Georgia and countless other frontier territories does not excused continued withdrawal in the face of lawless aggression.

While Christ's Kingship will indeed find its fullness for all to see when time is no more, it must be conceded that we do indeed have a part in preparing His Coming by choices made in the here and now. Prevarication can even cloak itself in the trappings of religion. This should not necessarily confuse us because such pious show never truly gives God His due. 

It could be that the movers and shakers of society have sold themselves to expediency and cloak their accommodations in empty thunder. Truth and the service of the living God demands more of His servants. We hope and pray that no matter the cost God will be served for His own glory and our salvation on that great and terrible day.


Tuesday, July 28, 2015

A Thousand Years is Like a Day

For Sts. Olha and Volodymyr the Catholic Calendars for Ukraine always coincide, whether Roman Catholic or Greek Catholic today in Ukraine we are on the same page. Today is thoroughly special because today with the Orthodox and with the government of Kyiv we celebrate St. Volodymyr's 1000th death anniversary. For most saints in the Catholic Calendar, and this is the case with Volodymyr, we celebrate the day of the saint's birth into eternal life, his going to God, his rest from the travail of life this side of heaven.

Central to the legacy of St. Volodymyr was his pondered choice of Baptism for his people. You'll read any amount of stuff which goes beyond his choice as a reasonable one on the path to forging a nation and talk of promoting the development of his people to those who almost crassly believe that his choice of Christianity in its Byzantine expression was a clever calculation by a man who understood clearly which way the winds of progress were blowing in long ago 988. Personally, I'll have none of it. The Church knows its business in declaring Volodymyr a saint and like unto the Apostles in terms of his founding role for faith among the people of the Rus.

We need to rewrite the history and say very clearly that Volodymyr's choice for his people is humanly speaking counter-intuitive, stemming per force from the action of grace in his own personal life, leading him first to the cleansing and life-giving waters, which he then shared as the pearl of great price with the people entrusted to his princely care. Volodymyr reflects apostolic zeal for Christ and the consummate wisdom of the Christian prince, who thoroughly eclipses Plato's philosopher king.

All I really want to say is that nothing would forbid the same to happen someplace else on the face of the earth as did back then by Volodymyr's cooperation with God's grace. Would that one or another Christian prince could be found today to strike a blow at the darkness of the so-called Enlightenment which has deprived so many of what was in every way better and truly life-giving, for both now and eternity!


Sunday, July 26, 2015

Isn't it Bigger than "Canary in the Coal Mine Type" Man sort of Things?

"Granted such a world let us take the second point and see what was the distance in mere time between this early third century of which I speak and what is called the Apostolic period; that is, the generation which could still remember the origins of the Church in Jerusalem and the preaching of the Gospel in Grecian, Italian, and perhaps African cities. We are often told that changes "gradually crept in;" that "the imperceptible effect of time" did this or that. Let us see how these vague phrases stand the test of confrontation with actual dates. 

"Let us stand in the years 200-210, consider a man then advanced in years, well read and traveled, and present in those first years of the third century at the celebration of the Eucharist. There were many such men who, if they had been able to do so, would have reproved novelties and denounced perverted tradition. That none did so is a sufficient proof that the main lines of Catholic government and practice had developed unbroken and unwarped from at least his own childhood. But an old man who so witnessed the constitution of the Church and its practices as I have described them in the year 200, would correspond to that generation of old people whom we have with us today; the old people who were born in the late twenties and thirties of the nineteenth century; the old people who can just remember the English Reform Bill, and who were almost grown up during the troubles of 1848 and the establishment of the second Empire in Paris: the old people in the United States who can remember as children the election of Van Buren to the office of President: the old people whose birth was not far removed from the death of Thomas Jefferson, and who were grown men and women when gold was first discovered in California." (Belloc, Hilaire (2012-05-17). Europe and the Faith "Sine auctoritate nulla vita" (pp. 48-50). Kindle Edition.)

 I was pleased, most pleased to read Joseph Shaw's latest paper, this one on the liturgy, men and the tradition (here and here). While I cannot and will not take anything away from Joseph's analysis, I am not quite happy with simply admonishing priests concerning their duties to men and boys. No matter how right it is to say that the renewed and rather improvised Ordinary Form of the Mass tends to put off men and boys more than it might women has value, as an observation, to the extent that we realize therefore that we are obviously doing something wrong. The point is that the Catholic Church has a duty to fix its rudder, regain the moorings from which it cut itself loose a half century ago, you choose the metaphor. The point is that certain options are not ours for the taking and we need to regain our footing if we are to be faithful to Christ and proclaim His Gospel in its fullness.

Life is not about unlimited choices but rather about faithfulness to the one God, living and true, which is ultimately about the depth of a relationship. Father Raymond in his books about the founders of the Cistercian Order and about St. Bernard of Clairvaux and his family makes a point about the nexus between routine, to the point of monotony (in daily schedule, diet, etc.), and profundity in the race to overtake Christ and save our world by grace. Basics and essentials are what enable us to carry our Catholic Faith in familiar (almost unchanging) trappings to that next level. Constancy in the externals seems to be a sine qua non for the interior life in all its length, heighth and breadth.

I accept the points in Joseph's paper and wish to harp on one of my constants. Caveat: I do not wish to take anything away from legitimate authority within the Church, but rather speak about the fortunate and unfortunate, the opportune and the inopportune. Divine worship is untouchable and we, deeply penitent, we need to restore it and face our miscalculations or imprecision of thought and analysis on certain other points touching on the Church's identity, as it was meant to be from its founding day. We need to move from present ambivalence and to return to solid ground. It could very well be that what Hilaire Belloc and many today have in mind when they say "unbroken and unwarped" is not the path the Supreme Legislator may choose to restore the liturgy, but tradition has its continuity and restoring it is more than a nod to male psychology, important as that indicator may be.

Multi-culturalism, multi-anything is not a vehicle for much. Perhaps many in the Church have been seduced by the siren song of multiplicity; perhaps they have failed to notice the chinks in that smiling facade. We owe much more than a facade to the faithful. As demanding as a liturgy in continuity with the tradition may be, an austere liturgy in its daily form and no longer as discursive and didactic as the OF on its good days, we need to pick up that thread and diversify our Gospel proclamation once again, no longer depending solely on Holy Mass, as if no other option remained to us for teaching the faith. That world sometimes in jest and sometimes derisively called one of smells and bells is where we need to be; vespers preaching, catechesis and renewed family life must do the rest. The point of saying that men and boys require more would seem to be to say that honesty requires more of us if we would truly do the work of God in worship.

So many of my favorite authors insist that a restored Catholic culture and a traditional liturgy as its crowning glory is where we must strive to be. If I rightly understand Belloc, we must become once again an institution which both in its liturgical life and in its governance would make others sit up and take notice. Persecution comes our way because we have certain pretenses and will not compromise the truth which comes to us from God as revealed in Christ.

My simple point is that in applauding Joseph Shaw's paper I want also to declare that I stand with Hilaire Belloc in insisting that liturgy and church order were not novel or unrecognizable in 200 AD with respect to 35 AD, that Constantine and company did not change much and that liturgy and church order should not be much different today either. Spirituality, genuine interiority, seems to be based on continuity with the past.

Some consider such matters debatable; I do not. And in case you are wondering, I don't have much time for abstract painting and none what so ever for atonal music.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Iconoclasm: it just doesn't stop

Over at National Review Nicholas Frankovich has written a thoughtful piece on the stripping of a church on Park Ave. in New York, beautified only five years ago. For me it is not a question of art or of taste, but simply the will of the donors. In mission territory or in the world of the Oriental Churches (maybe not 3rd World but certainly not 1st World either) if a beneficiary ignores the will of the donors, he is punished and if he is lucky gets by with repaying every last cent. As a very young man before priestly ordination, I learned of the hurt a priest can cause for tossing out two candle sticks and a chasuble, only to find out they were memorial gifts given at the funeral of an adolescent son and brother, who died in a tragic farm accident, not much prior to his arrival in that parrish. As priests we cannot so disrespect our parishioners, be their gift a true sacrifice cloaked in sorrow, as in the case of that farm family, or as with somebody-on-Park-Avenue's pocket change (if you will).

The other day, I took a guest from Canada around here in Kyiv and among the murals we saw up in the choir in the back of Saint Sophia was one of the great ecumenical council (Nicaea II - 8th Century) which resolved the question by condemning the heresy of iconoclasm. In the great fresco, the Emperor and the Empress are seated in the midst of the council fathers and all are holding sacred icons. Also part of the scene shows the Gospel book borne with the very same devotion.

It is hard to imagine less than a person possessed, who would dare to deface a restoration barely done, just because...

From the Office of Readings for St. James

"Then the other ten became angry at the two brothers. See how imperfect they all are: the two who tried to get ahead of the other ten, and the ten who were jealous of the two! But, as I said before, show them to me at a later date in their lives, and you will see that all these impulses and feelings have disappeared. Read how John, the very man who here asks for the first place, will always yield to Peter when it comes to preaching and performing miracles in the Acts of the Apostles. James, for his part, was not to live very much longer; for from the beginning he was inspired by great fervor and, setting aside all purely human goals, rose to such splendid heights that he straightway suffered martyrdom."

As far as the Apostle James is concerned, I must say that I really like this last paragraph from a homily on Matthew by Saint John Chrysostom, bishop. It speaks much about the stuff of which saints and martyrs are made and doesn't shy away from pointing to the example of St. James, giving the primacy to Peter, a man himself with an earlier and inglorious history, who out of fear and self-interest denied Jesus three times on the night He was betrayed by Judas who went where such go out of despair.

James, obviously, is the one who leaves not cowardice but youthful ambition completely behind and we aren't exactly told how that came to be but that certainly it did.

Presiders over Churches need our prayers, more often than not that they might make that inexplicable and courageous comeback to the greater honor and glory of God. All's well that ends well, as the saying goes.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Conversion to Christianity

Waugh, Evelyn
 (2012-12-11). Little, Brown and Company. Kindle Edition.

“No, I think a little better. We look back already to the time of the persecution as though it were the heroic age, but have you ever thought how awfully few martyrs there were, compared with how many there ought to have been? The Church isn’t a cult for a few heroes. It is the whole of fallen mankind redeemed. And of course just at the moment we’re getting a lot of rather shady characters rolling in, just to be on the winning side.” (Kindle Locations 1876-1879).

 In my own fashion, I am trundling along reading books which should have formed my youth and lightened decades long past. For that, perhaps, I enjoy them all the more, and cannot accept that with retirement on the horizon my days of learning have come to an end.

I've read a lot of Waugh short stories and kind of mistrust him as a trifle too lenient or sympathetic toward the dissolute living of youth. Perhaps he is just too clever for me in so treating his characters. The greatness of his art on this very point comes shining through in Helena, where he sketches a very complex or nuanced, to say the least, sanctity for the empress dowager. He's positively merciless in his depiction of Constantine.

Helena is a very different type of hagiography. Perhaps it would be better to say that it isn't hagiography at all, despite the depiction of Helena's fasting and prayer which led her to find the true Cross. 

It could be in the above quote that Waugh was describing the phenomenon of Christianity's transformation into a religion of state. I'm not so sure he doesn't have something to say about Catholics not only back then or in his day but in ours as well: "The Church isn’t a cult for a few heroes. It is the whole of fallen mankind redeemed."