Saturday, November 9, 2013

Getting Beyond Our Virtual World

The Restoration of Christian Culture
Senior, John
(2008-10-01). Ihs Press. Kindle Edition.

The fact that I read Senior volume II on the heels of Topping's fine book on recovering or restoring Catholic culture made this book more interesting for me. On its own this second Senior book is well worthwhile, but his analysis of our dark days is apocalyptic by comparison with Topping. Be that as it may, I think I'd follow John Senior anywhere.

"We must inscribe this first law of Christian economics on our hearts: the purpose of work is not profit but prayer, and the first law of Christian ethics: that we live for Him and not for ourselves. And life in Him is love." (p. 17)

As in his first book, Senior insists that culture will be restored through a monastic revival. He sees us all as having our part in insuring that young men and women choose the better part.

"For the rest of us, laymen and priests in the active life, we must put this on our agenda: Encourage young men and women–particularly women, who have the greater aptitude–to do as Our Lord said, “Be perfect.” Of all the possible careers the young might consider and choose, they must put God’s choice first and consider the possibility of a call to the contemplative life. That again is not a choice but an obligation. And this means that books must be made available describing and explaining the life, visits and retreats must be arranged if houses of contemplative prayer with the Latin liturgy can be found. Parents, priests and teachers who fail at this have committed sins of spiritual contraception against the next generation. For priests and religious who abandon or disgrace this life, it were better by far if a millstone were tied about their necks and they were cast into the sea." (p. 62)

As an educator, he argues convincingly the hopelessness of our situation. Not only are college freshmen poor readers, but they have been deprived of contact with nature and everything which would make children's books understandable to them. As he spoke about the futility of teaching a great books curriculum to such young people, I saw the wisdom of the hiking, horseback riding and survival techniques which form part of the curriculum at Wyoming Catholic (they are trying to recover the cultural humus in which an intellectual life can root and bloom).

Some might be puzzled by his insistence on the revitalization of a regimen of prayer, especially for secular priests, which even Pope St. Pius X sought to curtail. He argues convincingly for a full return to the Mass of the Ages as well.

"Everyone will say at once, it can’t be done. That is what I meant when I said that the first thing said about prayer is that we don’t have time for it. But the reason why we don’t is that priests don’t lead the way by praying their four hours every day, and monks and nuns don’t lead them by keeping all the vigils of the night. We are suffering from the domino effect. Every layman owes his tithe of time–two and one half hours per day!" (p. 63)

Senior's argument for such an abundant prayer life (four hours per day for secular priests) stems from his comparison of our world today to that of St. Benedict of Nursia. He observed that a millennium almost of Benedictine life is what rescued Europe from barbarism and engendered or served as the gestating womb for St. Thomas Aquinas. Senior says that we have fallen so far that it is pointless to attempt a revival of Thomism today; we need to do for our world what St. Benedict and his Rule did for another world and successfully. For Senior, monasticism/prayer and work (ora et labora) spawns culture, which then can produce a life of the intellect.

It is in this book that John Senior recounts his own experience of a Holy Week and Easter in the Monastery of Fongombault. That part of the book alone made it worth the read for me.

For fellow "Kindlers", one caveat: this book was obviously scanned in with software which did not know Latin. Invariably "ae" comes out "ce", which can be annoying. Too bad a proofreader didn't go through this Kindle edition.

Apart from the challenge which Senior presents to any serious Catholic, to restore the lamp to its stand or to give new luster to the city on a hilltop, I'm becoming more concerned generally about avenues open to us for genuine human exchange. Apart from issues about excessive time spent with Facebook and other media, plus gaming, I am beginning to suspect that genuine human exchanges are more of a rarity than we would like to believe. Senior was thoroughly against television, but it goes further. Talk years ago was about avoiding an objectification of the other, which keeps us from an encounter with the other as person. Maybe today we should say that the tendency is to "virtualize" the other and thereby deprive him or her, not so much of personhood as of the possibility to speak to us and touch our hearts. I ask myself whether even Pope Francis isn't more virtual than he is real for a lot of people.

That then for me would be another reason for getting on the Senior "bandwagon" of urging lay people to tithe prayer time/time for God each day: two and one half hours! I guess I better get busy setting an example by attaining my four hours a day! Pray for me as I do for you!


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