I got this outfit,
It was a gift,
The coat sleeves are long,
Like they were stretched.
Can I make it fit?
Or do I grow into it?
The shoes have holes
in their soles.
Don’t ask about the shirt.
No wonder it was free.
I got this outfit,
It was a gift,
The coat sleeves are long,
Like they were stretched.
Can I make it fit?
Or do I grow into it?
The shoes have holes
in their soles.
Don’t ask about the shirt.
No wonder it was free.
This is a review of The Memoirs of Louis Bouyer: From Youth to Conversion to Vatican II, the Liturgical Reform, and After. Father Bouyer was a French Lutheran minister who converted to Catholicism in 1939, and then became respected priest and scholar who served as an advisor to the Second Vatican Council. He prepared these memoirs during his retirement in the 1990s, and died in 2004. They were not published until 2014.
I have read the ebook version. The work is meticulously endnoted, with hypertext links that allow one to jump back and forth from notes and text with ease.
This book will be most enjoyed by those already familiar with his body of work, who are familiar with the history of Vatican II, and have an interest in the history and reform of Catholic liturgy. I do not fall into any of those categories, but I will share my thoughts for those who may be interested in reading it.
About half of Father Bouyer’s non-fiction bibliography is available in English, though you might have to buy used copies. He also wrote four novels under pseudonyms. Those books have never been translated into English, and may even be out of print. He developed friendships with a number of other writers, including J.R.R. Tolkien.
Father Bouyer reminds me of another Catholic priest, writer and scholar: Father Andrew Greeley. Both were scholars who wrote novels, though Greeley much more so. Bouyer’s career was more consumed by teaching duties than Greeley’s was. Both men seemed to have a lot of energy, were inquisitive, and had a certain cheerfulness (at least in their writing), and had a tendency to speak their minds and thus get into scrapes with their peers in the Church.
The most charming part of the book is the first few chapters, regarding his family, youth and early crushes. He had a great eye for detail and characterization. and I would have liked to read one of his novels. His mother died when he was 11.
The weakest part (though not bad) of the book is the middle part, covering his career during the 1940s and 1950s. Its a whirlwind of all the characters he knew and met, and the various places he worked and studied. Friends and historians will probably find this more useful.
The last part involves his role at Vatican II, and for a period of time in implementing it. Its good basis for a belief that the fewer the big conferences there are in Rome, probably the better. He also covers some friendships and favorite places.
Two friends he singled out are a testimony to his generosity of spirit. One was Julian Green, an American, Catholic convert. He was a diarist, novelist and translator who lived most of his life in France. He also struggled with a homosexual orientation, and Bouyer seems to have been a good friend and confidante. The other was an English writer, Elizabeth Boudge. Though she was not a Catholic, they struck up a deep and persistent correspondence that lasted many years.
Now, the themes:
The Mediocrity of the Church’s Institutions and its Leaders
It is suggested in the introduction that the long delay between the writing of the memoirs and their publication was deliberate, to perhaps protect Father Bouyer in his retirement, and to spare many of the targets of his criticism while they were still alive or holding high positions.
It is difficult, as with Greeley’s memoirs, to read about priests criticizing others under Holy Orders. However, Paul rebuked Peter once, so as long as it is done in Charity, it must be done when there is error or failure. The Church, in its institutions and members, comes across in these memoirs as a sprawling university system. We meet “tenured” priests (e.g. isn’t Holy Orders the ultimate tenure?) who loaf and don’t do much work, administrators who have been promoted beyond their competence, or aging leaders who should have been retired and can’t keep up anymore. There is envy for other’s accomplishments, an unwillingness to consider new ideas, hiring decisions based on personal favoritism over merit, etc.
Bouyer sometimes names names, sometimes he doesn’t. He is not nasty about it, he offers his assessment, and moves on. I am reminded of an anecdote from Father Benedict Groeschel, where he relates a conversation he had with Mother Teresa. She asked him why God chose him to be a priest, and he replied with a joke. She answered “You were called by the humility of God.” He chooses very frail instruments to work with, so we should not be surprised when they fail. Fortunately, we have great servants like Groeschel, Greeley or Bouyer to make up for the masses of mediocre Catholics (myself included among them).
Pre-Vatican II Church Dynamics
These memoirs confirm what I have read elsewhere about the pre-Vatican II dynamic. The controversy and confusion that followed Vatican II didn’t just fall from the sky. It had been building for a few decades among silently warring camps.
On the one hand, we had the confident, established Church. It was orthodox and resistant to any change, perhaps more out of fear of modernity than willful close-mindedness. And on the other hand, there was a large camp that fully subscribed to the modernist project, and wanted to conform the Church to the world.
In the middle it seems, were perhaps the smallest, least powerful group. Some reformers who wanted moderate change to the liturgy, Church organization, teaching methods, etc. This includes men like the future Pope Benedict, Bouyer, Henri De Lubac, and Hans Urs Von Balthasar. They thought they had some good ideas for how the Church could respond to the problems of modernity
These reformers were criticized as dangerous radicals before Vatican II, and then criticized as out-of-touch conservatives in the decades after Vatican II. In fact, they never changed their position on anything.
What happened is that there was a rupture, and the modernist camp largely won, and imposed a lot of change very quickly. One of the stranger things I learned reading this was that during the Vatican II conferences there was a strong consensus at one point to abolish Ash Wednesday. It would have been moved to the first Sunday of Lent. It narrowly survived. And it is one of the few times a lot of Catholics see the inside of a Church other than on weekends. Many will skip Holy Days of obligation, but will go to Ash Wednesday services. This is an example of the kind of mentality that was at work at Vatican II.
One of the villains in this drama was Annibale Bugnini (may he rest in peace). He was a Catholic priest and important administrator given a position of great authority at Vatican II, and a staunch modernist. When he ran into obstacles, he would pull out his trump card, “The Pope Wills It!” Bouyer and others later found out he was making it all up, the Pope did not will it. He was later punished by being named the Vatican’s delegate to Iran, where he finished his career.
Bridges between Catholics and Protestants
Though a convert, Bouyer retained his strong belief that Protestants had often outdone Catholics in both their study of scripture and their emphasis on a personal relationship with the Lord. I tend to agree, though I think the Church has made great strides in recent decades, particularly with emphasis on new devotional practices (e.g. the Divine Mercy), and Pope Benedict XVI’s great example in his series on the Gospels. Bouyer felt these two areas should be ones the Church should focus on in its pursuit, perhaps vain, of reconciliation with our Anglican and Lutheran brethren (which were the focus of his ecumenism).
Based on my reading of his memoirs, I do have an interest in trying at least one of his books. I am more focused on poetry now, so it may be a while before I read one. I will post a review if I do.
Here bloomed a rare poet
I groomed for no deceit.
I would play him like a cello
And sway him to singing
Of the rage of Achilles
While there calmly sitting
With unfair, wily Socrates
Ensnared under the olive trees
Already lost in some debate.
You tried to put him to the test,
This child my mind had blessed.
He waited patient on your con
And played along without protest.
The method led to trouble later on,
But you were gentle with my friend Ion.
Yes, I am the guilty one.
He was my pretty Grecian urn
Down which I’d pour fine wine.
And I would let poor Ion burn
Then turn his song to Helen,
To yearn for form fair and pure
As the towers of topless Ilium.
For a poet is a winged being
That flies in proper season.
The spirit spurs the singing,
In rhythm to my breathing,
And any hidden, lyric purpose,
You may not parse or reason.
And when you shake and start
Then reach for pen or lyre
Lay the blame on my desire.
There is no shame in art,
When I undress your heart
Then set your soul afire.
So be a son as wise Ion,
Always the guileless child
Enjoys full pardon
Heaven and this smile.
Now he sings of glory,
And not of kings or rage,
Amid the endless story,
Astride eternal stage.
Father, is this the hour of desolation?
The one you know and of which I warn.
In my holy place an abomination,
Will my Church be still-born?
Is this the day the world swore:
“Blessed be the barren women,
the womb that never bore,
And their breasts never nursing.”
I see two boys in the meadow playing,
A shadow falls and one is taken.
I see two girls in my temple spinning,
One is gone and the sanctum shaken.
The iron nails pierce my bride,
Her veil is torn from top to bottom.
The rusted lance rends my side,
Has my Mother’s “Yes” been forgotten?
There is a man of famous doubt,
And Thomas was his name.
You think you know the truth about,
This rascal and his shame.
You mockers joke about his sin,
So I will tell you true.
He was the Master’s living twin,
And far more brave than you.
Mother Mary was a wise one,
The flower of our race.
But even she would greet her Son,
When Thomas showed his face.
Our Lord was fond of nicknames,
As Adam’s son should be.
And so he called him “Didymus,”
That’s Greek to you and me.
The twin was not one to pander,
And always spoke his heart.
When others thought to flatter,
The doubter took no part.
By deeds not words, he might have said,
This man, the Nazarene.
And when he learned his friend had died,
He left for Bethany.
“You must not go!” the others cried,
Your foes will seek your end.
But doubting Thomas then replied,
“Let’s go and die with him.”
But when one day they struck the King,
As foretold they scattered.
Reluctantly, I have to sing,
All of them were shattered.
The Prince of Peace was put to death,
His heart pierced by a spear.
And when he spoke his final breath,
The twin was nowhere near.
Shame can drive a man to rages,
An anger for an end.
We want to be courageous,
For weakness we must mend.
And so the doubter walked about,
And with his life made free.
And to the Romans gave a shout,
“Please nail me to a tree.”
So then the Lord came back to them,
The spirit was his breath.
While on the streets of Jerusalem,
Thomas sought after death.
And when at last he heard the news,
His pride would not give in.
His shame then fought to probe the wounds,
That truly lay within.
The Lord heard every word he said,
That reckless Didymus,
And then appeared with wounds still red,
Spoke, “Put me to the test.”
A weaker man just might have died,
When hearing such a sound.
But “My lord and my God” he cried,
And knelt upon the ground.
The Lord so quick forgave his twin,
All brothers he did bless.
And while Jesus soon ascended,
The saints began their quest.
For he left a great commandment,
To each and every one.
All of Adam’s descendants,
Must learn about God’s son.
Doubting Thomas took his mission,
And seeking for his own passion,
Took sail for India.
He preached the Word in that far land,
And many knew the Lord.
He prayed that all might understand,
No thought for his reward.
Thomas walked his Master’s path,
Until the kingdom come.
He soon did suffer the world’s wrath,
A bloody martyrdom.
I now end and seek your promise,
To give the man his due.
That you never slander Thomas,
This doubter died for you.
Note: This poem was inspired by Fabrice Hadjadj’s interesting interpretation of Thomas the Apostle in his book Resurrection: Experience Life in the Risen Christ, which I reviewed here.
Most of my poems are in free verse, and sound better to my ear, but I read a persuasive article that an aspiring poet should practice with formal modes to build their skills. So this is in the form of a ballad, which uses the traditional 8-6-8-6 syllables on each line of the quatrains. It feels clunky, and is pretty much my first draft. I don’t have much appetite for polishing and revising yet, but maybe I will come back to it at a later date.
Every womb is holy.
I have made it so.
I am born anew with every soul.
My Father’s temple stood in Jerusalem long ago.
His presence dwelled in the inner room,
Shielded by the temple veil.
The temple fell, but lives again in the womb
Of every woman, a Holy Grail.
So be modest, and guard this font of birth,
This chamber of my sons and daughters,
My Church here on Earth.
This post is about the latest X-Men film, Logan, directed by James Mangold. This is not a movie review in the traditional sense, and more in the nature of a commentary, a long one, and an appreciative one at that. There are spoilers throughout.
The story begins along the U.S. – Mexican border in the vicinity of Ciudad Juarez and El Paso, which is Spanish for “the pass.” The story ends at another pass on the U.S. – Canadian border. In between these two points the characters cut a red river that flows north through our broken world.
The plot is very simple. An older and unhealthy Logan, one of the few remaining mutants in an America of 2029, learns that he has a daughter of sorts, Laura. He attempts to take her and a seriously ill Professor Xavier to a place called Eden, which serves as a clandestine border crossing into Canada. Canada is apparently beyond the reach of the corporation that wishes to exploit Laura’s powers, which are the same as Logan’s.
As Logan journeys north, it seems as if James Mangold is taking the viewer back in time, asking if the Biblical Eden can be rediscovered. Or, alternatively, a northern journey may represent an ascent, from Hell to Heaven. For the place where the movie starts is surely hell. The border is a world of ugliness, blight, crime, illness, drunkenness, and death.
The country empties out but grows pretty with horses as we enter America’s plains, but is still gaudy and dangerous: casinos in Oklahoma City and menacing robotic semis on the highways. The people are fewer, but better: we meet a kind country doctor and a welcoming farming family.
The final act takes place along the pristine border between the U.S. and Canada. It is very scenic, and almost devoid of man and his creations. Logan is successful, and his daughter and her friends make it across the border into a primeval Eden. Logan dies there, one of many casualties on both “sides” of the fight.
The cultural references are overtly Western, and clips from the movie Shane are viewed by the characters. Laura quotes from Shane at the end, and we are apparently left to understand that Logan was Shane, Laura was Joey, etc. Logan was just too tainted by violence to enter the promised land, like Moses dying outside of Israel for his sins.
But when the credits roll, there is an unsettling turn. The viewer is treated to Johnny Cash singing the apocalyptic “When the Man Comes Around,” with its references to the Alpha and Omega, the Kingdom Come and the Beasts of Revelation. What exactly was the message?
They rode out on the north road as would parties bound for El Paso but before they were even quite out of sight of the city they had turned their tragic mounts to the west and they rode infatuate and half fond toward the red demise of that day, toward the evening lands and the distant pandemonium of the sun.
From Blood Meridian, Or The Evening Redness in the West. By Cormac McCarthy
I will propose an interpretation entirely different, provocative, but I think more in accord with what was actually shown. I would suggest that Mr. Mangold’s work is not to be taken at face value, and in a way, he gives his game away in a recent interview:
What I mean by “forced into cinema” is that I am a big believer that we have gotten way into dialogue as the delivery mechanism of meaning in movies. If anything, I tend to find that my results are much more pleasing – at least to myself – when I view dialogue as the delivery system of lies in a movie. What we see is the truth, and what we hear is misdirection.
Creativescreenwriting.com March, 3, 2017
There is a monster lurking behind Logan, under the Shane exterior, and it is Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, Or The Evening Redness in the West. McCarthy’s brutal epic is a revisionist Western, and devoid of any nostalgia for America’s frontier. The novel was loosely based on the actions of the Glanton Gang, a group of mercenaries who were paid by the Mexican government to bring “order” to the frontier by terrorizing the Indian tribes along the U.S.-Mexican border in the 1850s. How? They scalped them. They eventually came to a bad end, killed at a border crossing by the same tribes that they had preyed on.
Mangold and his collaborators are too subtle (or careful) to overtly reference Blood Meridian, a movie that many have been trying to make for years, and has been deemed un-filmable. I think too strong a linkage would have invited criticism for the presumption of borrowing from what some critics consider to be one of the finest American novels of the 20th century. And in a superhero movie of all things too! It is ironic that some have compared Logan to a Cormac McCarthy book, when there was one seemingly hiding in plain sight all along.
It is particularly interesting that the only other well-known mutant used from the comics, aside from Wolverine and Xavier, is Caliban, an albino, hairless creature. Mangold also made an interesting casting choice by having Stephen Merchant, an unusually tall actor (at 6’7), to play the role. Caliban was of ordinary height through most of his tenure in the X-Men comic book series.
I would suggest Caliban is an allusion to the similarly tall (nearly 7 feet), hairless, albino character of Judge Holden from Blood Meridian, who critic Harold Bloom described in Shakespearean terms as an Iago-like villain. Caliban is not intended to be Holden, this visual is just a bread crumb Mangold has tossed out to the careful observer. Under this theory, Pierce and his mercenaries are the Glanton gang. Instead of bringing order to the border, they are delivering order to America by bringing mutants under control. Pierce and his Reavers, like the Glanton Gang, meet a bloody end at a border crossing at the hands of those they victimized.
This theory explains why so much of the action in Logan is set in Mexico or along its border with the U.S. And why there is almost no similarity between the film and its supposed inspiration, the 2008 Marvel comic series Old Man Logan. That comic involved a west to east journey across America, had no Mexican element, and was a typical superhero slugfest. In the end, Logan survives and plans to rebuild the X-Men and take on the villains who have conquered America. The only point in common is that both feature an older Wolverine.
Who is Judge Holden then? Its our friend Logan, the unkillable, immortal, killing machine. Like the Judge, everyone that comes into Logan’s orbit eventually seems to die. Logan was the last of the X-Men, like the Judge was the sole survivor of the Glanton Gang. In particular, Judge Holden appears as the younger cloned version of Logan, the X-24.
Hey, but Logan is a good guy! And he is. In a way he is “the Kid” of Blood Meridian, the least worst, most self-aware of the cutthroats, who has aged into a wiser form by the end of that book. But in his potential for death and destruction, and his method of violence, Logan is a god of war, like the Judge. And it is Logan’s clone, X-24, that kills Professor Xavier and many others in the film. Because Logan, and superheroes generally, are not the saviors we make them out to be. Mangold has Logan deliver the indictment himself, as he verbally shreds the mythologized exploits of the X-Men as portrayed in the films meta-version of the X-Men comic books.
Mangold was upfront in his interviews about wanting to de-mythologize the superhero genre, as has already been done for Western in movies like Unforgiven or his own version of 3:10 to Yuma. In more recent Western, cowboys are not Knights of the Plain. They are survivors, opportunists, and flawed all the way around. And because they rely on violence, often indiscriminate killers as a result.
And this is why the Shane references are a misdirection on Mangold’s part. Because unlike Shane, Logan brings death to those he means to help. This is demonstrated with the fate of the Munson family, who are a stand in for the Starret family of Shane. Laura is not Joey, Joey is the doomed son Nate Munson. Logan draws the Reavers to their home, and is powerless to stop his clone from killing this version of the Starrets. He even gets a bunch of local bullies killed, as he provoked them with an earlier display of violence, and they show up in time for the X-24 to off them too.
Many reviewers, while praising Logan, expressed discomfort with the level of violence. You are supposed to feel this way. The violence in Logan is the most extreme of all the X-Men movies, and nearly all superhero movies. It deliberately mimics the level of violence in Blood Meridian. You are not supposed to revel in it, and I have to say I am a bit disappointed in some who hold up the young Laura as some sort of female empowerment figure. If superheroes really existed, they would leave a trail of death and destruction in their wake that dwarfs anything done by ISIS.
Logan is not the first effort to de-mythologize the super-hero genre. Alan Moore did this with Watchmen, which was later adapted into a film. Moore’s caped crusaders are very human and fail to achieve anything. The ending offers only an illusion of hope, which is better described as “progress.”
Logan differs from Watchmen in that there is a real message of hope at the end. I am not the first to note the religious sensibilities of the film. As I watched, I found myself counting how many times Logan fell down or laid down and lost consciousness in the last act. Three, I believe. And the choice of death was quite interesting: impalement on a tree, with a final stab in the side from the X-24.
In his review, Mr. Vishnevestky notes that Logan is certainly no Christ figure. I agree, he is far more a Peter, futilely hacking away with his sword at an endless stream of enemies, or a good thief, worried about money and material things. But whether thief or Peter, in the end he embraces love and submits to death.
Atheists sometimes complain that Christians wind up seeing religious symbols where they do not exist. And its true to an extent, but also not true. If you want us to stop seeing them, then stop using them. Even Palpatine can’t stop himself when talking about his mentor in Revenge of the Sith, who used his powers to save those he loved from death: “He saved others, he could not save himself.” Actually that’s Matthew 27:42.
What Palpatine said was: He could save others from death, but not himself.” Big difference, right? Perhaps George Lucas is a closet Christian, and wanted to sneak in an allusion to Lazarus and Jesus. I do not know. And I don’t presume to know Mr. Mangold and his fellow screenwriters’ religious views, but as I discussed in a prior review, it would not be the first time non-Christian Hollywood directors explored Christianity in an indirect way.
So I go to these movies, and watch the hero sacrificing himself and/or dying and coming back to life, and having a happy ending. You cannot get away from it, whether its Harry Potter in the Deathly Hallows or Flynn Rider in Tangled. I could make a very long list. And our stories were not always this way. Before the Incarnation, the choice for Drama in the West was either Tragedy or Comedy, death or absurdity. And it was believed these forms were god given, from the muses Melpomene (tragedy) and Thalia (comedy).
But now things have changed. Just like the Roman roads were put to use to spread the Word, so are all mediums curved towards His purpose, whether you want it or not. So it’s not really Hollywood’s fault that they keep inviting an inconvenient guest into their movies. While we live on our surface, Jesus is living rent free in that space inside your heart. Like a good general, he is the master of your interior lines, and can meet you on whatever ground you choose: the workplace, films, books, etc. All your bases belong to Him.
And he is there to welcome us, but first you must become like a little child to receive him. So we are left with a message of hope, as Laura and her fellow children return to Eden, or Heaven. If the studios have any decency, we won’t see any sequels with a grown-up Laura dealing death and destruction. You aren’t supposed to return from the Undiscovered Country.
So, goodbye Laura, and don’t ever come back.
The translation of Ève continues. To recap, I am translating Charles Péguy’s poem, Ève, from French to English. In the poem, Jesus delivers a long monologue to our ultimate mother, and humanity generally, about Paradise, the Fall and the Redemption.
Below is my first draft of the section of the poem where Jesus compares Eve to a housewife whose work is never done, partly because she can never be content with leaving anything alone. This part led me to an insight about some of the people in my life, and might cause me to be more compassionate about the things they do that get on my nerves. The word Péguy uses in various forms in this section is “arrange” or “tidy up.” According to Péguy, we are plagued by an insatiable urge to bring order to chaos of the world, even though it is futile
Péguy humorously asks us to imagine Eve as the hard-charging homemaker who would ask God to wipe the mud of his shoes and then wash his hands if he ever popped in for a visit:
Woman, I tell you, you would arrange God himself
If he came to visit your house in the season.
You would arrange the shame, and the blasphemy,
If he came to visit and flatter your reason.
You would have tidied up the wrath of God divine.
You would have washed away the great iniquity.
The time has long since passed. You cannot take your leave,
When you are stuck in the bottom of the ravine.
Women, you would clean up after the explosion
If God threw a bolt down at your lowly dwelling.
You would arrange for grace, and the absolution
If God visited you in this lonely lodging.
You would have tidied up the first anathema,
When it came upon you in your bleak loneliness.
You would have soon placed it within your formula
Of benign government and deceptive meekness.
Women, you would arrange for a renewed baptism,
If John the Baptist came and entered the Jordan.
You would tidy up the host, oil, and the chrism
If the men of the world returned to the garden.
Women, you would sweep up like crumbs from your kitchen
The bread from My body, of the Resurrection.
Instead you have stored up from your false religion,
The dry crumbled leaves from the tree of rejection.
You would sweep up the leaves from the red Tree of Life
Even after I sprang into the deepest womb.
You would demand to be the attending midwife
Even after I stepped from the mouth of the tomb
I know one woman I will call the Narrator. The day’s schedule is narrated to everyone several times a day. “First we are doing this, and at 4 o’clock we have to go to dinner, and then … ” If we are at a restaurant, the menu selections are read aloud and recommendations given to the other members of the dining party.
Another one I will call the Arranger. If you leave a half-empty glass of water, tea or coffee by itself for five minutes, it will magically disappear, and reappear, emptied, in a kitchen sink. Half-read magazines will be put away if left unattended too long.
There is another I would call the Director. As you can guess, she likes to give directions to everyone about just about everything, no matter how small.
There is a certain lack of self-awareness in these behaviors. And they persist despite objection. And I can see now that it’s not really their fault, as it’s a consequence of original sin. Eve was not content in the garden, she felt she had to arrange for man’s destiny through knowledge of good and evil. Her daughters are cursed, on an almost unconscious level, to try to put Humpty Dumpty back together for the rest of human history, and it shows up at the micro level in the most mundane things.
I don’t intend to leave men off the hook. Men have tried to “arrange” the world and humanity throughout history, though our errors are more apparent on the macro level: the misuse of political power, the abuse and exploitation of natural resources, or unethical scientific research and discovery, to name a few.
If we are listening to Jesus and his Mother, the best attitude includes letting things be. Yes, we must fulfill our daily obligations and take care of what has been entrusted to us, but you will never achieve perfection. Whatever leisure or “free time” you have been gifted by God can always be consumed by an inordinate desire for order, if you let it.
(This is more a note to myself, connecting some dots as I work my way through Péguy.)
One of Charles Péguy’s famous quotes is: “Everything begins in mysticism and ends in politics.”
This was something he learned from the Dreyfus Affair, a political controversy that tore France apart for about a decade. While Péguy was on the right side of the conflict, he felt that the winners wasted their victory through an unjust and unworthy political power grab.
He made this observation years later in his book, Notre Jeunesse (translated as “Memories of Youth”). Péguy reflected that great movements often spring from a mysterious, almost spiritual, yearning to set things right. However, because of original sin, whatever victories or progress we win harden into a rather ordinary political party, program or bureaucracy. Many idealistic young people who vote for a politician wind up being somewhat disappointed within a few years. The lesson is that it is beyond our ability to permanently “set things right”, and therefore we must be very fluid, very pliant to where the Holy Spirit wants to take us next. Don’t rest on any worldly laurels.
Cardinal Henri De Lubac responded to Péguy, I think, years later. In the essay titled “A Christian Explanation for Our Times”, published in 1942 (and collected by Ignatius in Theology in History), he described what follows the politics that had succeeded mysticism:
It is then that substitute faiths inevitably present themselves to fill this tragic void. Such is the fourth and final period of the process. Man is not satisfied by ideologies cut off from any source of real efficacy: the hour must come when he is disenchanted with them. He lives still less from criticism and negations. He does not live by laicism and neutrality. Inevitably something like a great call for air is produced in his inner void, which opens him to the invasion of new positive forces, whatever they might be. The latter conquer him all the more quickly, the more coarse and virulent they are. Cut off from a higher life, he gives in to the brutal pressures that, at least, give him the feeling of a life. Having abused criticism to make truth itself vanish, he now dislikes using it to protect his mirages.
A troubled credulity succeeds his faith. Rationalism has expelled mystery: myth takes its place. We know great examples of this.
Writing in 1942, De Lubac was referring to the mythology of Nazi Germany: its Aryan race doctrine, its occult pageantry, etc. Mysticism had been expelled, but politics and reason were soon banished as well.
I find De Lubac’s observation to be an excellent lens through which to view subsequent history. Reason and science were too dry for our taste buds, and we have embraced a host of myth “isms” as a substitute. They are not a religion in name, but are so in practice. Daedalus, Sisyphus and Tiresias stride the earth once more. And their progeny follow: a new Talos, a new Chimera, etc.
And if you oppose them, you are an enemy of that myth. You cannot beat these new mythologies purely with reason or politics. You must return to faith, and the tools of faith, to respond. The ancient world was laid to rest by Jesus, but the de-Christianization of the world has allowed it to return as a revenant.
(The translation of Ève is coming along nicely. I’ve translated a little over 8% of the poem in the last few weeks. I think it is the longest poem ever written in French, at over 200 pages, so I will be happy to be done by the end of the year.)
This is in part a confessional blog, so let me confess that I am continually struck by the truth of what the novelist Georges Bernanos wrote: Sin makes us live on the surface of ourselves, and we will only come home to ourselves to die. And he awaits us there.
You are more likely to find your heart’s content, in part (this being the shadowland), the less sin and the more grace you have in your life. I have gone from spending a lot of time on sports, tv and politics (which were very unsatisfying anyway) to pretty much ignoring them. Classical music and poetry are my brand new passions, after ignoring them like some homely wall flowers all my life. Translating French poems into English and trying to learn how to write my own poems is very satisfying, even if its purely a hobby.
I noticed an instructional book at B&N over the weekend, A Poet’s Guide to Poetry, by Mary Kinzie, that looks pretty good, which I may buy. If anyone has an opinion on it, please comment.
What follows is a simple, baby poem, but a good practice exercise nonetheless. Rhymed couplets, eight syllables per line. Initially I was trying for iambic tetrameter, but I do not have the discipline yet to work at poem long enough to create a consistent meter throughout. This was ripped off pretty quickly. I will probably never write anything but earnest religious poetry, and in this I try to sum up a lot of what I have read and learned the last few years.
GAMES THE ANGELS PLAY
There is a game the angels play,
They fold their wings and fall away.
Carried high on the winds of love,
They put their trust in God above.
There is no fear, there is no doubt,
Their bodies limp and blown about.
We hope to join them in the sky,
But first a child must learn to fly.
The lesson imparts hurt and shame,
You bear within the ancient blame.
But if you start to learn to cry,
You may grow wings before you die.
As you lay the weight on the ground,
Your soul begins to fly around.
And joins the dance up in the air,
And clasps the hands of the angels fair.
But first do find the partner true,
The one who gave his life for you.
He knows the dance and how to move,
There is no skill that you must prove.
No mighty faith nor works you need,
Just be content with him the lead.
And walk along the little way,
His heart will teach you how to pray.
And listen to the holy dove,
Who flies about the air above.
And when your time has reached its end,
Comes the hand of a silent friend.
This guardian you never heard,
Will take you to the living word.
You will learn your true name that day,
And join the games the angels play.