For a man
To understand God
Is to comprehend
The heart of every woman
That lived and died.
For a woman
To understand God
Is to comprehend
The heart of every child
That died young.
For a man
To understand God
Is to comprehend
The heart of every woman
That lived and died.
For a woman
To understand God
Is to comprehend
The heart of every child
That died young.
Here blooms a fair poet,
In whom there is 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 an olive tree,
Already lost in some debate.
You thought to put him to the test,
This child my mind had blessed.
He waited patient on your con,
And played along without protest.
Your 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,
Into which I’d pour some wine.
I would let poor Ion burn,
And turn his thoughts to Helen.
Only her pure limbs could compare
To the towers of topless Ilium.
For a poet is a winged being,
And thus belongs to me.
My spirit starts them singing
In rhythm to my breathing.
And my hidden, lyric purpose,
Is not for you to parse or reason.
And when you shake and start,
And reach for pen or lyre,
It is done on my desire.
There is no shame in that,
For I undress your heart,
And set your soul afire.
Be a son as my wise Ion,
Who is a guileless child,
And enjoys my pardon,
Heaven, and my smile.
Now he sings of glory,
Not of kings or rage,
With his friend Socrates,
On my eternal stage.
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.
“I am a sinner, but there is no sin in my work.” – Charles Péguy
This guy. But since he was French, he might have been this “Guy.” But rather, his name is Charles Péguy.
Be careful with this guy, cause if you read him, you might actually start writing poetry. I know nothing about poetry, but after reading him, I was inspired to write some of my own. As I said, I know nothing about poetry, but some people who do think he might be the best Catholic poet of the last few hundred years. Those who like Gerard Manley Hopkins would probably disagree. Hopkins was a genius, and smart people who truly understand poetry can explain why he was. I am not a genius or a poet, so don’t ask me to explain Hopkins.
Péguy perhaps was a peasant genius. He wrote in free verse, with little to no rhyme or consistent meter. His poems were long, used simple vocabulary, and much repetition. If this were Seinfeld, he would be Charles Festivus, the “Poet for the Rest of Us”, the 99%. His work is accessible.
But he is largely unknown right now.
Why? He had too much integrity. He came from very modest beginnings, and when he grew older became a socialist and agnostic. He was a very much a defender of Dreyfus, a famous French Jew wrongly accused of treason. However, he fell out with most of his friends on the Left over time due to what he perceived as their pursuit of political advantage over the truth. “Everything begins in mysticism and ends in politics” is a famous quote of his.
He came to occupy a lonely place, neither trusted nor wanted by the Left or the Right. He was a patriot, and a French nationalist, and his basic politics was one of solidarity with the common man. Unfortunately for his reputation, and despite his defense of Dreyfus, the fascists of the 30s and 40s later tried to claim him as a patron for their twisted politics. And when you put God first, you eventually realize that there is no ideology or political party that can really express what you want. So you hang there, suspended between two thieves, one on the right and another on the left.
But he had integrity, and so when the Great War came, he enlisted, even though he was 41 years old, married and his wife pregnant with their fourth child. He was a little guy too. Because while he was a French nationalist and a patriot, he was not going to let some 18 and 19-year-old kids do the dying for him. And so he died for them, leading from the front, shot through the forehead in 1914.
But the politics are less interesting than the faith. When he married he did not believe, but by 1908 he had come back to the Catholic faith of his baptism. But his wife was an atheist, and refused to allow their children to be baptized. And because he was not married in the Church, his conscience did not allow him to receive the Sacraments, ever. And out of solidarity with his family, he did not go to Mass. But that did not stop him from making a forty mile pilgrimage on foot to the Cathedral of Chartres in thanks to Our Lady when his son recovered from an illness. Integrity.
A man in such a situation can get lonely. And you might find yourself falling in love with the young Jewish girl (and she with you) who works at your literary journal. But a man with integrity doesn’t have an affair. Instead, like Péguy , you play matchmaker and find her a husband.
All this pain and sadness generated great diamond tears of words, a series of poems and plays written during the five years before his death. Much of it is out of print, of course, because that’s the way things are right now. The real treasures of the past have to be unearthed. I am going to copy a few excerpts of his poems in some future posts (My understanding of U.S law is that there is no copyright for the works of foreign authors who died before 1923).
Oh yes, his family … His wife converted after he died, and had their children baptized. As it will always be, a man and father will die for the sake of his people.
I took a walk yesterday with two of my female friends during our lunch break. It was a beautiful day, but a front was moving through the area. The wind was playing havoc with their hoodies, and whipping that glorious hair of theirs all around. They were laughing at the sight of themselves, and a woman’s happy laughter is a special kind of music that I think only a man can fully enjoy.
I had been teasing them about showing up for work on Wednesday, in spite of it being “A Day Without Women”, and asked if they should turn in their “Woman Cards.” One half-jokingly wished that she did have a woman card to pull out from time to time. We laughed some more and finished our walk.
The wind was blowing, but I had not been listening closely enough. If I had, what I hoped I would have said was: “You don’t need one. You are God’s calling card.”
Genesis describes God as sending woman to be man’s, and by extension the world’s, helper, and that she was the last thing that was made. She was God’s calling card to the world and endowed with that special genius for love.
Sin forces us to live on our surface, and its often hard to see the true image of what we are meant to be beneath another’s face. Through the mystery of Charity women have the ability, on some level conscious or unconscious, to see underneath, much of the time. It’s a love I see whether they are taking care of a sick child home from school, or a dying relative in a nursing home. Love overcomes any repulsion for sickness and death. I certainly don’t have that natural inclination. Or it shows in the often very tedious and unglamorous work that happens behind the scenes at your church or a local charity. Their heart sees the image in people they may never actually lay eyes on.
And its a love that let’s a woman see the true image of a man beneath the broken shards on the surface. I’m sure many a man has thought, bewilderingly, what does she see in me? Especially, when one may not even be physically attractive. How am I good enough for her? I thought that way much of my life, and missed many opportunities for love. What I missed was that woman was a living symbol that love is greater than any flaw or sin. (It can also cause a little frustration, when a woman naturally wants to help a man “change” and fulfill the great potential she sees inside. Some progress is possible, but the final transformation will only happen after death. Patience is a virtue!)
Paul said that “Woman is the glory of man,” in that sometimes controversial letter of his. I am not sure exactly what he meant, but I like Adam’s reaction to his first sight of Eve:
Adam is talking to himself … out loud. And he says more than one word, like a few sentences actually…
We don’t do that a lot. There are a lot of adjectives that probably exist only to describe the behavior of men: aloof, reticent, dour, taciturn, reserved, stoic, etc.
Adam was dazzled by this “glory” from God.
Women, thank you for being you.
“Beauty will save the world!” the old man said.
But my son did not pray for the world.
Its stones, crowns and kingdoms held no light for him.
My only son, my beautiful son.
Who looked like Mary his mother, an echo of Eve,
She who was never marred by sin.
Like lightning striking a fig tree,
he could root you to the earth with a look.
He did not call down fire from Heaven,
for he was the fire, and those who drew near were scorched by his beauty.
And never was he more beautiful than on that one day, that singular day,
when he opened himself to the world, the world he did not pray for.
There was no beauty to be found for three days after,
for he was wandering the lands of the dead, looking for your new face.
Like Psyche, he returned with a prize, and he had saved the world
and your race, while finding Beauty.
And then he came back to me, the son who I had missed for so long.
But first he gave Beauty to the world,
and she came forth, veiled, from the Tomb in a new gown.
An unstained garment.
“You are beautiful,” he said, “But you will serve your sisters.”
And there he made the fateful introduction, for standing on either side of him
were Truth and Goodness.
They were not afraid of her, nor jealous, nor covetous.
Having Charity, they loved her, having Faith, they never doubted her,
and having Hope, they would never give up on her.
These three girl cousins, who walked the road with the newly acquainted sisters,
who have their own story, gave the new one their blessing.
This beautiful new sister.
She is the bold one, Beauty, though she is veiled.
She is the first one to greet you, the first one you see,
though you will never see her face till you enter her home,
where she lives with her sisters, my son and his mother.
There she will possess you and be possessed by you in a lasting embrace,
and no veil will divide her from you, or you from my son.
(My beautiful son, who saved the world).
But you cannot cling to her now, only after you ascend to me, your Father.
This is my will for you and her, my dutiful daughter, Beauty.
She is beautiful because she points away from herself,
to Truth and Goodness.
That is why she captures your eyes, and makes them hers.
Yet she frees them, and when she turns her head,
you must follow the path of her gaze, which leads to her sisters.
If you cling to her, Beauty fades and withers.
She is delicate as a breeze, a scent, or a whisper.
Her gown softly rustles as she approaches,
she likes to come upon you unawares, when you are defenseless.
Treat her well, this dutiful daughter of mine,
who helps my son to save the world.
Where now the horse and the rider? Where is the horn that was blowing?
Where is the helm and the hauberk, and the bright hair flowing?
Where is the hand on the harpstring, and the red fire glowing?
Where is the spring and the harvest and the tall corn growing?
They have passed like rain on the mountain, like a wind in the meadow;
The days have gone down in the West behind the hills into shadow.
Who shall gather the smoke of the dead wood burning,
Or behold the flowing years from the Sea returning?
The Two Towers, J.R.R. Tolkien
In the movie adaptation of The Two Towers, Theoden chants a portion of the above poem as the darkness closes in. He then asks aloud: “How did it come to this?” Archbishop Chaput, in this survey of contemporary America, proposes to answer this question, among some others, including, “What Comes Next?” While he is writing primarily for a Catholic audience, I think Christians of other faiths grappling with the current problems may find it very helpful.
The book’s title comes from Exodus 2:22, where Moses names his firstborn son, particularly the King James Version:
And she bare him a son, and he called his name Gershom: for he said, I have been a stranger in a strange land.
It is thought that this was a reference to Moses time in Egypt, a “strange land” for a Hebrew. Moses later leads the Hebrews out of Egypt after he accepts a mission from God. America is arguably the “strange land” now, where man has taken the place of God, and we build large monuments to ourselves.
Archbishop Chaput may be the closest thing to a “public intellectual” among the American Catholic Church’s leadership. After reading the book, I can tell he is extremely well read, and conversant with the ideas and arguments of artists, scholars and activists from all corners: Alexis De Tocqueville, Saul Alinsky, Charles Peguy, C.S. Lewis, etc. He is also very conversant with all the more recent big thinkers in Catholic theology, as would be expected (De Lubac, Balthasar, etc.).
I am often interested in writers’ last names, specifically their origin. Chaput is a French name, and apparently means the “wearer of a distinctive cloak or hat”, and is derived from the French word for “chapel.” Certainly an appropriate last name for a Catholic Bishop. He should probably be made a Cardinal, but he is a little too forthright for that to happen anytime soon.
Chaput’s purpose is try to and help Catholics and other Christians (its not just for Catholics) understand how we got to this point. He argues that the roots go far back beyond the upheavals of the last fifty years. Essentially, he agrees with De Tocqueville’s observation that democracy is only as good as the people who live there. Our ancestors, regardless of their party, accepted that they were sinners, were accountable to God for their actions, and accordingly went about governing this country with greater humility, caution and tolerance for those who disagreed with them.
That has changed. While the vast majority of people still believe in a higher power, more people than at any other time have substituted the worldly project of utopia for faith in God. When you don’t put God first, you make a God of other things. Thus political candidates, parties and public policies have substituted for Jesus, Church and the Sacraments. God is a means to the worldly end, and not the End. The great joke about building utopias is that the word means “nowhere”, as St. Thomas More invented it in his semi-satirical exercise in imagining a perfect world.
I am not going to do a chapter by chapter summary. The first chapter is a particularly strong overview of the current situation. The next several get into “How did it come to this?”
The later part of the book is focused on “what to do”, and “what comes next?”. Chaput may not agree with the ideas laid out in books like “Resident Aliens” (a chapter title), and is probably not a fan of what is known as the “Benedict Option”, referring to the monastic community of St. Benedict. In those ideas, Christians sort of withdraw from the world and public sphere and focus on living prayerful, purpose filled lives. Sort of like islands in the storm of barbarism.Rather, I think Archbishop Chaput would prefer us to remain engaged, part of the world, even if we don’t expect solutions from the political process. He gives examples and encourages us to stand fast.
So, what does come next? A lot of heavyweight Catholic philosophers and theologians have wrestled with a theology of history over the past century or so: Romano Guardini (The End of the Modern World), Josef Pieper (The End of Time), and Hans Urs Von Balthasar (A Theological Anthropology), for example. Pope Francis in particular seems to like Guardini, and is particularly fond of the novel Lord of the World, a fictional exercise in imagining the next phase.
Guardini, writing after WW2, argued that the great Modern project had failed, and that something new must take its place. Guardini hoped that a new man, fully converted, would be able to:
… see through the illusions which reign in the midst of scientific and technological development: the deception behind the ‘liberal’s’ idolatry of culture, behind the totalitarian’s utopia, the tragecist’s pessimism; behind modern mythicism and the hermaphrodite world of psychoanalysis. He would see and know for himself [that] Reality is simply not like that!”
I don’t think that’s happened. Rather, the world seems to have tired of postmodernism’s irony, and are interested in rebooting Modernism 2.0. Thus the great interest in Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, Genetic Engineering, Virtual Reality, Life Extension, etc. Modernism failed because Man was not Modern, but now he can be remade through a trans-human ideology and technology. This helps explain in part why the transgender issue is so hot right now. Its just part of Modernism 2.0. Elon Musk seems a particularly prominent spokesman for Modernism 2.0, watch him to see how the new narrative continues to develop.
So, what we are left with is just plain old witness, and the readiness to stake everything on God. But as Chaput notes at several points, its not enough to ignore the world, or hope for a separate peace. You will not be allowed to disengage and retire to a monastic community. You may not be interested in Modernism 2.0, but its interested in you. It wants your affirmation and approval, not acceptance. It will keep pushing on all fronts: public education, workplace rules, health care, public expression, the role of parents over their children’s upbringing, etc. Chaput encourages us to continue our witness in the public square, and all that we do, even if we do not put our faith in political processes.
I will cite someone even more blunt than the good Archbishop. Writing on the same issues in the last chapter of his The Moment of Christian Witness, Hans Urs von Balthasar scripted an imaginary conversation between a commissar and an anonymous Christian under interrogation. The title of this chapter was Cordula, the name of a young girl allegedly martyred by the Huns. The catch is Cordula initially tried to hide, but after everyone else was killed, came out and gave her final witness and received the crown of martyrdom. Balthasar writes that in the end, all we have to offer is our defenseless exposure to the world, like Christ.
Hopefully it will not come to that. And as Chaput writes, we must be hopeful, but not optimistic. Chaput likes the poet Peguy, and cites to his long poem on the second theological virtue. Hope is something we receive through God’s grace, optimism is a belief in Man and his sand castles. I would bet on grace, not man.
This post is for someone who is trying to wrap their head around concepts like the Fall of Man, Original Sin, or “What’s Wrong with the World?, or in other words, the poorly catechized young person I used to be and am still striving to overcome. If you are bored by or struggling with traditional methods of explanation, this alternative approach may be helpful. As Catholic writer Fabrice Hadjadj said in his recent book, it may be ok to be whimsical so long as we are not frivolous. Times have changed, and new methods are required.
In writing about our origin story, the Englishman G.K. Chesterton famously described humanity as “the survivors of a wreck, the crew of a golden ship that had gone down before the beginning of the world.” Like Robinson Crusoe, humanity looks around on the shore for the flotsam and jetsam of truth, beauty and goodness.
For purposes of this post, I am going to expand on Chesterton’s line of thought and ask you to visualize the shipwreck as being caused by a bomb, a spiritual atomic bomb of disobedience to God that is called “original sin.” The explosion and shockwave of our disobedience has made creation groan, and the harmful radiation of sin has mutated us. We are all eX-men (different than what God made) in a sense, and endowed with strange, new superpowers.
The mutation has estranged us from the natural world. Animals shy away from us, we are plagued by disease and natural disasters. Why? It was too dangerous to leave the natural world subject to our full control since we went over to the dark side. All our material security or progress would come through toil, by the “sweat of our brow.” If we had been left with the power of naming, or full dominion, like Adam, we would have destroyed the natural world long ago.
In some mysterious way, the effects do extend down to the physical level, and is thus passed from parents to their children. Ours is an embodied faith.
But hey, you might ask, continuing with the superhero theme, what about the compensations, all the cool gear and powers? And you would be right to ask about this, as our new state comes with a utility belt of sort. For starters you do get a mask and costume of pride, which prevents you and others from knowing your true self. Are you truly transparent at all times to God and others? No, we all know that much is hidden inside and rarely shared.
Some tools are neutral: We do have our intellect, and the freedom to use it as we wish.
And then there are the powers, quite a few actually. The most dangerous superpower may be the ability to lie. Through lying you can create a dream world for yourself and others, where right is wrong and bad is good. Or where there is no Truth at all. I am not responsible for my actions.
Some forms of lying are merely the result of poor reasoning, which we call fallacies, or take the form of mental disorders.
To take one example, psychological projection: Why is the Church so obsessed with sexual ethics? The world wonders in frustration. Many ask this.
Why is the Church so obsessed with sex? asks the priest molesting the altar boy
Why is the Church so obsessed with sex? asks the teacher sexting her student
Why is the Church so obsessed with sex? asks the adulterer who gives an STD to his spouse and abandons his children
Why is the Church so obsessed with sex? asks the physician who performed a few thousand abortions last year
Or the pimp who trafficked a minor, or the man viewing child pornography while his family sleeps, etc., etc.
But is it the Church that’s obsessed with sex, or us mutants? Well, perhaps the Church is obsessed to the same extent that a doctor is obsessed with preventing and curing disease, or a parent is obsessed with making sure their child is properly fed and clothed.
But is that obsession? Or is it Charity? Our power to lie creates a dream world where Charity has been slandered as Obsession. We should acknowledge that Our God is a jealous God, so it may be right to say that He is obsessively Charitable.
So these radioactive superpowers, as enticing as they are, come with a price: death. When talking about elements, the term “half-life” is a term used to describe the amount of time it will take for half the atoms in a given element to decay. It is important to know the half-life of substances that emit harmful, ionizing radiation, like plutonium.
I find the term useful in thinking about sin and our life span. For example, what is the half-life for the original sin you carry? Half your life. Even though you have been redeemed, and can be forgiven your sins, you will not be completely free of the effects of sin until your life ends. Your body is going to die because of that heavy plutonium apple our ancestors bit into a long time ago.
But for your soul, its a bit more complicated. Because of original sin you do not have “life to the fullest.” Rather you have a half-life from being stuck in the dream world of sin.
You can choose to march in place your whole life, and die just as poisoned as when you were young. Or you can sample a variety of uranium, polonium or other poisonous fruits and become even more radioactively sinful on the inside as you age.
Or you can accelerate the process of decay of sin. How? Its a simple formula, He must increase, I Must Decrease. The more you walk in the Lord’s path, the lighter the burden of original sin becomes. Prayer, fasting, receiving the Sacraments and various forms of self-denial all help. The more you cooperate, the more is given to you.
And to cooperate, you need to take off that mask and costume of pride and lower your defenses. For a Catholic, this unburdening means regular confession.
From long personal experience, I can tell you that you can pray and go to Mass all you want, but you won’t begin the process of healing until you avail yourself of this sacrament. In going to Confession, you get to step out of your Darth Vader outfit for a while, and breathe the pure air of truth from a personal encounter with the Lord. It works, and long ingrained habits of sin can begin to be broken.
To close the post on a fitting note, I will return to Chesterton. There is a story (it has never been definitely confirmed) that an English newspaper of his day had asked a group of authors for essays about “What’s Wrong with the World?” Chesterton allegedly sent back a famous two-word response:
This may seem harsh, but things are much easier when we can acknowledge we are part of the problem. One is less inclined to judge (people that is, not actions) and more likely to forgive. You won’t give your heart to some ideology or party, which is merely the sum aspirations of a group of people no better than yourself. You won’t pin your hopes on some worldly utopia, for how could a mass of men under sin ever build such a thing? Or even stake your soul on democracy and majority rule. Jesus may have been the Elect One, but he did not fare so well in elections. The only time he appeared on the ballot, he lost in a landslide to another, one with a pretty poor resume.
So in the end, you die, and in death God performs life saving surgery on you. The mask of pride falls away, and the real adventure begin. Because, as Georges Bernanos wrote, sin has forced you to live on your surface all your life. And as you dive into the limpid, pure water of your soul you discover the hidden depths you never knew existed:
We observe how much that is foreign falls away from us and how what belongs to us is set free. What we are being led into is again, not something foreign, but in the highest sense natural, although one cannot say we had expected it to be this way rather than some other way. When it arrives, it is simply the right thing, that which is far and away the best.
Whoever arrives in heaven has to introduce himself. This introduction, however, is not one-sided; those who introduce themselves are at the same times the ones introduced. God has been waiting for us, just as we waited for him. And now that we are those who have been received, there is no longer any talk of sin and unworthiness. Confession lies behind us. Now there is only the augmentation of grace…
The Book of All Saints
I just read Georges Bernanos’ screen play, Dialogues of the Carmelites, which was also his last work. It is a fictional account of the lives of the Martyrs of Compiegne in the years and months leading up to their execution during the Reign of Terror. The characters are very loosely based on the actual nuns. I found it to be well written and enjoyed it very much. Francis Poulenc later adapted the screen play into the better known opera, and it has got me thinking about marriage and divorce, which may seem an odd connection to make. Thus this post.
The protagonist is Blanche De La Force, the young daughter of a French nobleman whose wife died giving birth to her. Blanche seeks the Lord, but has a serious flaw in her temperament: she is afraid of the world and its dangers to a marked degree. She takes the name Sister Blanche of the Agony of Christ, a foreshadowing of the particular nature of her suffering. Blanche wishes that the cup of martyrdom pass her by, like Christ asked that his own cup pass him by during his Agony in the Garden. It is Blanche’s mission in life to share in this agony of fear and doubt.
The theme of the story is that Blanche, on her own, is not strong enough to pass the test. It takes the sacrifice of three other of her fellow sisters to give her the strength to make the walk to the scaffold. First, the Prioress who accepts her entrance into the convent suffers an unexpectedly painful and emotionally turbulent death. Next, her best friend, Sister Constance, allows herself to be publicly humiliated to conceal Blanche’s cowardice from the other nuns. Finally, the subprioress, Marie de L’Incarnacion is separated from her sisters while searching for Blanche (who has fled the convent) and misses out on their martyrdom, which causes her great spiritual suffering.
Bernanos’ argument is that we are witnessing a mysterious performance of a communion of Saints in the making. These three sisters who had been gifted with greater strength of character have taken on a portion of Blanche’s fear, humiliation, and shame. By doing this, they allow Blanche to respond to the Lord’s call to martyrdom with courage and a song at the scaffold of the guillotine.
This particular operation of the Communion of Saints is described as “vicarious representation and substitution” by Cardinal Hans Urs Von Balthasar in his analysis of Bernanos’ life and works. Blanche is not solely a beneficiary however, as her own natural weakness and the corresponding suffering is a ransom paid for other members of the Body of Christ.
So it is that Blanche is carried over the threshold by the willingness of these three nuns to take her place… However, none of this should make us forget that all these works of willing, vicarious substitution have found their foundation in Blanche’s weakness and derive their efficacy and power precisely from the way Blanche herself represents the essential weakness of all men before the ultimate challenge: Blanche drinks the cup of fear to the dregs both for herself and in substitution for all others.
“Communion of saints” happens when every member of the Body surrenders his whole being and opens it to becoming but a part of the whole, when he allows his integrity to suffer wounds that make possible the passage through him of the Blood circulating throughout the whole.
Bernanos: An Ecclesial Existence, Hans Urs Von Balthasar (Ignatius Press, 1996).
The Carmelite nuns who were martyred had intentionally offered their lives to God in atonement for the Terror and for the restoration of peace to France. The Reign of Terror did end ten days after their executions, and even secular historians have acknowledged that their great courage and docility made an impression on the public.
Turning to marriage, I once read a post by a religious describing how marriage is truly a martyrdom on its own. It often is “for worse”, but we like to forget that. We all know of or have experienced (or are experiencing?) marriages that seem to be cursed by the world: poverty, health problems, infertility, difficult in-laws, etc. Some of these marriages fail, and we might ask, why did God allow it to be so hard for that couple? Some particularly good and strong couples endure hardship after hardship. If we find ourselves in a difficult marriage, we might be inclined to give up. What does it matter anyway we might say.
And yet, the data suggests that divorce is contagious. If your friends and neighbors get divorced, its more likely you will too. In his Diary of a Country Priest, Bernanos wrote that a communion of sinners exists side by side with a communion of saints. Might our sins against marriage make it harder for others to persevere? By withdrawing, do we prevent the Blood of Christ from circulating to all members of his Body? But if that is so, then our obedience might in some way help others endure, like Blanche’s sisters helped her to stay true to Christ to the very end.
If you are in a marriage that is hard, seems pointless, or is burdened by great hardships, one way to find meaning is to accept that you may be going through it for someone else in the Mystical Body of Christ. Like the Martyrs of Compiegne, you can offer up your suffering for other married couples, like Sister Blanche, who might not have a natural disposition towards strength and endurance of hardship. If you seem to gifted with great reservoirs of strength, like Blanche’s sisters, it may be to bear the burdens of others, even if you will never meet them in this life.
The Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy concluded on November 20, 2016. I am certainly not qualified to give unsolicited advice, but if you wish to compare notes, or are seeking, what follows was my experience. This is longish.
The Han Solo theme is a reflection on what my older self could tell my younger self, or any young people looking for advice from someone who’s been on the journey a bit longer. Though I have to admit I’ve been more a Kylo than Rey or Finn in my life. I had opportunities to break away from the path I was on at a younger age, as Finn did, but missed them. Fortunately God’s mercy is never-ending.
Why did I participate? What was this Extraordinary Jubilee Year anyway?
I was very excited when Pope Francis announced the Extraordinary Jubilee last spring, as I had not participated, to my regret, in the Great Jubilee of 2000. There have only been 27 such years. Briefly, a Jubilee is a special year of prayer that a focuses on the forgiveness of sins and the associated punishment.
I have always been interested in “Last Things”, and for a Catholic, this inevitably involves the subject of Purgatory. Essentially, even though Jesus has redeemed us, Catholics believe that a final purification of the person will occur after death before one is admitted into Heaven and sees God face to face. The degree of purification is believed to correspond to how faithful you have been in following the path the Lord has set out for us. It involves some degree of suffering, and it is taught that you can do nothing to reduce this experience after you die. However, it is accepted that you can mitigate your purification by certain actions taken in this life. A Jubilee Year provides an extra special opportunity of obtaining this mitigation, which is called an “indulgence.” By satisfying the conditions laid out, which involve pilgrimage to a Holy Door, prayer, confession, communion, and works of mercy, one can potentially obtain a partial or full remission of the punishment associated with your confessed sins.
I have sinned much, and accordingly I found this opportunity to be most welcome. I recognize that there is a fair amount of skepticism around this topic, even for Catholics, but, to be blunt, what did I have to lose?
I did not wait for the Jubilee Year to officially begin, and began going to Confession regularly before it started (Never put off what God’s grace might allow you to do today). For me this was a hard step, as I had not been to confession in 20 years. However, God provided a special delivery of grace last July, and this gave me the courage to go back. This involved a pretty detailed examination of conscience, and given the quantity of things I wanted to talk about, I forgot to mention a few things on my first trip. I went back the next day, same priest, to finish it properly.
This also involved avoidance of serious sin. For example, I took care to arrange my schedule to I could go to Mass every Sunday and the other Holy Days of Obligation, and to take Communion on each occasion when I was reasonably confident I was in a state of grace. I also began to spend more time in prayer, and make an effort to pray the Rosary from time to time.
Fortunately for me, I live near a Cathedral that had Holy Door, and was able to participate in the diocese’s procession and ceremony when the Jubilee Year began in November of 2015.
What I learned: Main Points
While Baptism is the first Sacrament, Confession is the key that unlocks nearly everything else. Can you imagine going through a marriage without ever saying your sorry or apologizing to your spouse for anything? Nobody’s marriage would last. But many of us rarely if ever go to Confession while still taking Communion regularly. Judas took Communion directly from the Lord’s hand, but he had not repented his treachery. It did him no good. It gets easier the more you do it, and I go every 3-5 weeks now. I am now receiving showers of grace from making good Communions that I was not getting before
“Its true, all of it.” Han to Rey and Finn.
Newton’s Third law provides that for “every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” However, God is far more generous. For every movement we make to him, he advances much farther towards us, like the Father running to greet the returned prodigal son.
I think that the last 18 months has been the best “year” of my life. I had some significant personal, professional and health challenges, but God’s grace carried me through. I had my peaks and valleys, being subject to the “Law of Undulation” as C.S. Lewis describes in his The Screwtape Letters. However, I found myself much less bothered by things, less angry, more forgiving, and did not shoot anyone first, even bounty hunters! And writing as a man, sexual temptation will always be a key struggle, but the grace I have received provided a measure of calm and peace to my carnal nature that I thought would be impossible to experience in this life.
I also found my interest in popular culture has waned dramatically. I am much less interested in watching TV, sports, movies, and listening to talk/sports radio. I am loyal to my sports teams as much as any guy, but no longer feel the compulsion to watch the games. I have also cut down on a lot of the casual fiction reading that I often did just to fill the time (“beach reads”). I was also able to tune out a lot of the election noise and political chatter over the past Spring and Summer, but did get sucked in too much in the past few months. And yes, I will see “Rogue One”, but I don’t have to go opening night.
Instead, I find that I like to do a lot of religious reading (e.g. scriptural commentaries, spiritual reflections, etc.). I probably learned more about our faith in the last 18 months than in all the prior years. A surprising side effect is a new-found appreciation of Classical music. I do not play an instrument and have never seriously studied music, but I find that’s what my radio is set to in the car these days.
This blog was my attempt at performing “works of mercy” for the Jubilee Year. It is sad to see how many people in the West have fallen away from the faith compared to prior times, and that a smaller percentage of the younger generations are being raised in the faith. How can we communicate with people in humble way about what they are missing?
I think one way has to be stories. While the daytime soaps have faded, our imagination has been captured by cable series, Netflix, comic books, movies, music videos, novels, etc. Even our sports and politics revolve around the story structure. There is a beginning, middle and end, with a cast of characters, various crises, and a conclusion.
I have tried my hand at short fiction over the last year or so as a means to convey my own experiences and thoughts in hopefully a humble and interesting way. This blog has a small following, but as I said in my very first post, if one person is helped, then its been worth it.
The creative well dried up over the summer, and I have gotten away from fiction and done some books reviews and spiritual reflections instead. I have tried not to force it, as most of the early stuff just came to me without a lot of conscious effort. So perhaps that’s all God intended for this effort. Also, one who tries to write for the Lord will often ask himself whether its just vanity, or really for the Glory of God. I certainly ask myself that question a lot.
So, perhaps this is the last post. If you have followed along this last year or so, thanks for your time. I will pray and reflect on this, and if it is in accord with God’s will, I may continue the blog. I would like to try more fiction, but if that’s not where the Spirit leads me, this blog may shift to doing book reviews, spiritual reflections, etc.
And no matter what happens, stay true, you will have your happy ending. This thing we call “life” is the Way of the Cross. But Time itself is subject to the Lord, and He makes all things new, and will give you true life to the fullest.