Palm Sunday 2019

Palms and psalms.

Jesus Christ, Superstar.

Condemned for blasphemy when it came out, I always have kept a fond and tender place in my heart for it.

Why, you ask?  Because when I was once headed like a rocket for the outer darkness, this music brought me back.

 

It is the duty of every disciple to become an Apostle, is it not?  It is the goal and destiny of every Christian to become a Saint?

There’s a prayer for that.

 

And I still don’t know how.

But some people are still offended.  That’s – just too bad.

 

Because if God can not be found in pop culture, God is no-where.

Now, the ball is in your court.

Where are YOU at?  Is he where YOU are?  Are YOU where HE is?

Are you listening and nodding at the Sermon on the Mount?

Are you pigging out on loaves and fishes and want Him to be King (and your divine greengrocer?)

Are you waving palms and singing psalms on Sunday?

Are you betraying Him for a Higher Ideal on Wednesday?

Are you having Seder with Him on Thursday?

Are you screaming “CRUCIFY HIM!!” on Friday?

Are you hiding in despair on Saturday?

— Have patience.

Easter Sunday is on the way.

 

Whatever you do, don’t just leave Him up there on the Cross.

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Fourth Sunday in Lent 2019 –Rejoice!

We are almost to the end.  Time for a break.  Three weeks to EASTER, and we are getting antsy.

The Gospel reading for today is about the Prodigal Son.  (The spoiled rotten little kid!)

Hear about him here.

But that’s not what I would like to talk about.

 

Among other things, Lent is supposed to be a time for reflection on who we are and what we are.  It is not supposed to be a time for punishing ourselves.  (Rather presumptions, that self-flagellation, is it not?)  So let it be asked,

When was the last time you sat down and had a good visit with yourself?

No TV, no music, no books, no computer screen, no smart phone, (“…no lights, no motorcars, not a single luxury,”).  Just you, yourself, and some time.

What’s it like when you do that?  (Assuming you have ever in your life done such a thing.)  Do you get bored.  After five minutes, should you make it so far, do you get fidgety and unable to go on?  Do you suddenly recall an urgent task that needs doing right now! ?  Does the idea of being alone with You appall you?  Are you frightened of being alone and without distraction?  Do Strange Thoughts come into your head that you do not want to have there, up front?  (They are always there, you just never noticed them before.)

George Orwell once remarked, in Down and Out in Paris and London, that an “educated” person can withstand being idle better than an “uneducated” person.  The “educated” person has more mental furnishing in the home of their soul, and can think easily about many things, sailing ships, sealing wax, cabbages, kings, and so forth, I suppose.  It is not necessary to have attended Eton and Oxford in order to have furnished one’s soul with sufficient to see one through the storms and shipwrecks of life.  Rather, speak of resources, which are easily acquired.  Among them may be an encounter with a trout, or the bugs in your garden, or the smell of flowers in a park, or observation of people walking down a street.  (Inspecting University graduates, it may even be a hindrance.  Also, at bottom, Orwell was a wannabe upper-class snob, for all his compassion for the working class devils.) But those things are still distractions.

Being alone with yourself is simply that.  To visit with who and what you are.  Even, to make friends with yourself.  It has certain commonalities with sitting zazen, as the Buddhist monks do.

Sitting has no further purpose, and it is easy to think it does.

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But it is also a means for quieting your mind so that you can look at your soul.  Which is what you are really after.

The real goal is to be with yourself, and not run away.

Sigmund Freud made a lot of psychoanalysts rich by glomming onto the obvious fact that humans pick up a lot of hurts  (mostly from other humans) and are ever trying to cover up, like a cat covering up in a litter box.  But the hurts are still there.

Then there are the guilts.  Not over what precept of religion you violated (hot dog on Friday??), but for the nasty things you did, on purpose, to someone else. The willful unkindnesses.  The swineing more than your fair share.  The secret loathings in your heart.  You know, normal human behavior.

Also are the unrequited.  Those things you wanted to do (which were OK), but which you never accomplished.  Your failures.  That part of your life for which you never achieved “closure”.

 

And these are only some of the negative things.  There are also positive things to find inside yourself.  But, do you ever look?

Do you presume you are the dark hole of the universe, that you cannot escape?  Or do you (as most people do) presume you are the centre, and everything revolves about you?

Have you even thought about any of this? Can you handle the Truth?

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Here’s where we get back to today.  Laetare.  Rejoice.  Because you are not alone.

Unlike certain forms of self-containment or self-abandonment, Zen, or Stoicism, you need not be concerned with the warts on your self at all.  If, as Aquinas says, God is Being, Being Itself, Ground of All Being, then you can not be alone.  Certainly not from God.  And if, as Christians aver, Jesus the Messiah is the incarnation of God, and if the Holy Spirit is the comforting presence of God, then you have the entire Trinity going to bat for you.  You need be not afraid of whatever you find inside.  God already knows it’s there.  (Technically, none of it could be there without His permission anyway.)  And your salvation is nearer to hand that you thought.

Take some time every day, a visit with yourself to start, then a visit with God.

Consciously.

 

Who Are You?

And, what is in that hookah?

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Second Sunday in Lent, 2019

Spiritual Practices.

Oh we narcissistic Moderns.  So intently focused on Self that we appropriate every spiritual practice as a means of “improving” that Self.   Is it surprising that we confuse what Lent is for?

The one person, steeped in Tradition, thinks Lent is a time to be willfully miserable, to pay (as if we could) for our sins, both real and imagined.    Another sees it as a time for losing a few unwanted pounds, perhaps abolishing some bad habits, and in general becoming a healthier, happier person.

The Greeks urged humans to “flourish”, that is, to strengthen the Body, improve the Mind, and enrich the Soul.  Moderns, being chronologically superior to the Greeks, know only of two things, and reject the Soul as an unnecessary hindrance to “Success”.

Whereas, many of us, who know that the Soul is the more important component, of the triad, indeed, is the leader of the pack, gladly attend to something more important than our Self.  (Well, to be fair, some do.  Others are obsessively self-flagellating in an orgy of masochistic Selfishness.)

Today’s Gospel Reading:

“Jesus took Peter, John, and James
and went up the mountain to pray.
While he was praying his face changed in appearance
and his clothing became dazzling white.
And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah,
who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus
that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem.
Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep,
but becoming fully awake,
they saw his glory and the two men standing with him.
As they were about to part from him, Peter said to Jesus,
“Master, it is good that we are here;
let us make three tents,
one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
But he did not know what he was saying.
While he was still speaking,
a cloud came and cast a shadow over them,
and they became frightened when they entered the cloud.
Then from the cloud came a voice that said,
“This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”
After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone.
They fell silent and did not at that time
tell anyone what they had seen.”

Today is not the feast of the Transfiguration, that is in the fall.  So why do we have the reading for today being about the Transfiguration.?  There are many opinions on this, and likely many homilies today speaking to that point.  My idea, which is purely subjective, is as follows.

The reading from the Epistles speaks of our home being in Heaven, nor on earth.  Could it be that at the Transfiguration, Christ was giving us a teaser, not of what he is, but of what we may become.  The word here is theosis.  It is a doctrine more emphasized in the east than in the West, but it is also part of the dogma of the Western Church.

The basic idea is that, by the grace of God, we become like Him.  And since He is God, that means we become tht also.  Now, if one were to ask, how, and to what extent, and a dozen other good questions, I am unable to answer.  Like the Trinity, I can’t explain it, I only know it is.

Like the old Protestant song goes, “oh what a foretaste of glory divine.”

Lent isn’t all about penances, reparations, mortifications, flagellations, mutilations, and amputations.  (You think that list goes too far?  Check out the history of the Church.  You’d be surprised what people have thought pleased God.) Yes, some people treat it as though it were.

It is about recognizing the separation between our will and that of God, and making appropriate adjustments.  These adjustments may or may not involve a certain amount of pain.  But the pain is not the idea. (Unless one is a masochist.  And to be a masochist, one who derives pleasure from inflicting gratuitous pain, even on one’s own self – frankly not very Christian.)

It is learning to be like Jesus.  We need His help, of course.  (God knows!)  But we are involved also.

Our Mormon siblings have a neat song they teach in Primary to kids.

Grownups should hear it also.

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MAMMON (part deux)

mammon.jpg

It’s not just about going on a shopping spree. There are other things which both support and depend on Mammon.  Like politics.  (This is not about specific politics, but the general trends, which are cultural, and not outside my ban.)

At the more mundane level, quite disregarding the rallying cries used to motivate the troops for combat, politics is about power and money (and privilege, one of the perks of power and money, thus forming an unholy trinity).  Those who possess the aforementioned have been labeled various ways: oligarchs, bourgeoisie, elites, etc.  For my purpose in this paper, I hearken back to the old Roman thing, Patricians. They will do anything to hang onto what they’ve got.  Since long before Rome was no more than a goat path across a hill in Latium.

Opposed to them are not the peasants, the have-nots (relatively), but the intermediate level, the burghers, the professionals, the petty nobility.  These will do anything to replace those who already possess, even make a (very temporary) alliance with the despised group(lowest) from which they came.

George Orwell wrote of this relationship between the High the Middle, and the Low in Nineteen Eighty-four.

The aims of these three groups are entirely irreconcilable. The aim of the High is to remain where they are. The aim of the Middle is to change places with the High. The aim of the Low, when they have an aim – for it is an abiding characteristic of the Low that they are too much crushed by drudgery to be more than intermittently conscious of anything outside their daily lives – is to abolish all distinctions and create a society in which all men shall be equal. Thus throughout history a struggle which is the same in its main outlines recurs over and over again. For long periods the High seem to be securely in power, but sooner or later there always comes a moment when they lose either their belief in themselves or their capacity to govern efficiently, or both. They are then overthrown by the Middle, who enlist the Low on their side by pretending to them that they are fighting for liberty and justice. As soon as they have reached their objective, the Middle thrust the Low back into their old position of servitude, and themselves become the High. Presently a new Middle group splits off from one of the other groups, or from both of them, and the struggle begins over again. Of the three groups, only the Low are never even temporarily successful in achieving their aims.

One is entitled to ask, what does this have to do with religion?  I’m glad you asked.

There are many people who call themselves Liberals or Conservatives (without, AAMOF knowing the least shred what those words really mean), who justify their stance with selected religious platitudes.

Feeding the hungry is OK, but we MUST STOP ABORTION.

Yes, ISIS is murdering Christians, but we MUST STOP LGBT OPPRESSION HERE AT HOME.

And, if that’s the way they think, nothing can stand in the way of attaining their goals.  They will soon be advocating the most un-Godly extremities to achieve Utopia (Erewhon, nibbana etc.)

But, you cannot mix and match, one from column A and one from column B.  Because, by definition, the things with which the World (Flesh, and Devil) are concerned are in opposition to true Religion. They are Mammon.

You cannot be a “Liberal Christian” or a “Conservative Christian”.   If one is a Christian first, one will be against some parts of the Conservative ideology and against some parts of the Liberal ideology. For those parts with which you can in good conscience agree, you will not be seen as a useful ally, but as a gullible tool.  For those parts you will (inevitably) oppose, you will be castigated as a Traitor to the Cause.

No political party, by its very nature, will adhere to the social teaching of the Church, let alone that of the Gospels.  By their very nature, they cannot, since a political party is a device for gaining and keeping power.  POWER!

In talking to Christians, politicians will emphasize X as being the part of the Gospel which is Most Important (because it conforms with their ideology) and the remainder as secondary, optional, or naïve.

As C. S. Lewis noted in The Screwtape Letters, the Devil first gets you to thinking X is a necessary ingredient to your faith.  Christianity Plus X.  Then, subtly, X becomes the most important element of the Gospel.  X Plus Christianity.  Finally, X becomes the only important thing, and Christianity is discarded as a childish fantasy or an obstruction to achieving X.  X Alone and Supreme.

And you are in Hell.

You cannot serve God and Mammon.

http://www.amazon.com/The-Screwtape-Letters-C-Lewis/dp/0060652934

http://www.amazon.com/1984-Signet-Classics-George-Orwell/dp/0451524934/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1460592473&sr=1-1&keywords=1984

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Does the Buddha have a Dog Nature?

Does the Buddha have a dog nature

Golly, I sure hope so.

Last week, we had to euthanize (put down, put to sleep, kill) our two dogs. Our Old Boy (our son’s inseparable companion) was getting arthritic, had stopped eating and lost bowel control. (he “leaked”), and our neurotic cocker spaniel, the life and light of our last few years was declining fast.

She had contracted something the vet said was an auto-immune disease particular to spaniels, which caused hemorrhaging into her gastro-intestinal tract. She was slowly bleeding to death. Coupled with her not drinking water, meant she was about to go in only a few days, and heroic measures would have been of problematical success. Not to mention, she would have been distraught being in a pet hospital 50 miles away from home without Mommy.

We took them down at the same time, and it seemed to comfort both of them, being together.

It happened on the Tuesday after Easter, and I made them nice beds in the pet cemetery on our place. I put the Little Girl (she was seven years old, but we always thought of her as a puppy) next to one who died 15 years before. The Old Boy I laid on the outside.

I buried them with food pans, collars, leashes, favorite blankies, and some chews. Very Pagan of me, yes? I placed rocks on top to prevent coyotes disturbing the place, and outlined them with garden timbers. Also put in some cheapie solar-powered nightlights.

She was always afraid of venturing outside after dark.

Why was she so special? Well, one night in 2010, my wife and I were sitting on the porch, unusually late for us, when I saw a pale blob at the edge of the lighted area. It took just a moment to realize it was a dog, so I called to it. This puppy came running to us, just under a year old, it seemed, who some &%$ &**#$@ had dropped off at the dead end near our place. We took her to the vet a week later (delaying the inevitable), and found who were the &%**$ #@*&%% who didn’t want her. (Thanks to the microchip they forgot was imbedded in her back – or maybe they had hoped a coyote would get to her first.) We did want her.

It was a happy time.

Sandy 2010 November 23

Does the Buddha have a dog nature? Anyone who has discovered Zen koans knows where that came from. (Also related, “I give a name to my dog and call him Nietzsche.”)

Dogs have been with humans for an awfully long time. They are so attached to humans, and we to them, we have become symbionts. They can read us better than we can read each other, oftentimes. We love them, exploit them, and cannot get along without them. (From Hombre, “I wonder if she’d eat dog now?”)

Contrary to those dogmatically inclined individuals who seem to take great delight in asserting the moral supremacy of humans and the insignificance of the rest of creation, Franciscans have the right (IMHO) idea regarding “lesser creatures”. If Christ redeemed all creation, it surely includes dogs.

You say, the Beatific Vision renders attachment to Earthly Things irrelevant? OK. But how do you know dogs are not part of the Beatific Vision? Eh?

Humans get to go to Heaven because of the Mercy of God, because of the Passion, from Grace. Because we freely chose to Fall. Creation did not so choose. Creation Fell because of us—humans. Perhaps animals are redeemed rom Justice, not Mercy? Because what happened to them wasn’t their fault, but ours? And if our Fall hurt them, whet would be our Redemption but theirs also?

This is probably not theologically sound. But it seems to fit the way I understand how God works. And the Franciscans think similarly.

So, why do I hope the Buddha has a dog nature? Because it is the best nature I know — on Earth.

After all…

220px-AllDogsGotoHeaven

Yeah, I am pretty weird.

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Return of the Pagans

No, not these volk.

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As society retreats from Christian influence, not even bothering to pay the homage of hypocrisy to virtue, the people most surprised by the result will be (and already are) those who have been clamoring for the suppression of religion as an offence against their delicate feelings.

The widespread effect of Christianity on the West is too well documented to be challenged, save only by those partisans who like to make up facts to fit their narratives.

How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization

How the Irish Saved Civilization

Where the West has faltered has not been due to Christianity, but the failure to follow through on the official beliefs.

In actual fact, the effect of Christianity has been to palliate the many ills human beings are prone to inflict on themselves and others, and where Christianity has been explicitly rejected, as in Nazi Germany or Communist Russia, the foundation of a society based on theoretical nonsense has been proven quicksand.

The New Pagans are not a majority, and will most likely remain a minority within the culture, but a most influential minority. I say this because they are already an influential minority, under the flag of so-called political correctness.   (Their latest faddish slogan, “Woke” is too reminiscent of the Nazi “Deutschland erwache” –Germany Wake Up — to make me happy, but as they go along, the alleged progressives seem to be aping ever more the arc of fascism.)

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This triumph of certain professional social activists also strips the human conscience of any restraint or need for even a pretended civility. Blinded by chronological bigotry and historical myopia, they rest smug in the fond belief they are the crown of humanity and the epitome of sophistication. Having a half-baked notion of superiority to their ancestors and other less aware contemporaries, they believe their technological doo-dads (which they use, but do not understand how to make) are the finest proof of their supremacy.

They did not intend to bring about a revival of paganism, but brought nothing to replace the Christianity they sought to destroy. Coasting on the last tide of Christian civility, they are astonished that norms for behavior are being abandoned. When the manners of civil society are dismissed, brute force and ignorance come into their own. For, as Nietzsche observed, absent God, anything is permissible.

Torture your enemies? OK

Starve people? OK

Wage war and extort for profit? OK

Imprison journalists? OK

Ruin small businesses who decline to violate their conscience for the sake of your agenda? OK

Kill anyone who offends you? OK

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But, we have been here before. There are some people like the estimable Rod Dreher, who has made a cottage industry of declaring the sky to be falling. (And, in honesty, he may not be wrong, but I think he is.) Rod’s solution is The Benedict Option, which he has been working on for several years, and with the publication of his book, is gaining traction, or at least attention, even from secularists who can’t disagree with his program.

Basically he calls for the creation of intentional communities of the like-minded, who will tend to their own knitting, and preserve and pas on he essentials of faith and practice. It is a worthy notion, even in the best of times, and reminiscent of the efforts of the Mennonites and Amish, and Orthodox Jews. But that last is the rub.

In times past, European Jews voluntarily segregated themselves from gentile society in order to accomplish Rod’s goals, preserving their faith and transmitting it unsullied to the next generation. The first ghettos were not imposed, but self-selected. After some time, they became imposed, as States found it was convenient to have all their eggs in one basket, for taxing, or pogroms, or, under the Nazis, extermination. But that is a worse-case scenario, if however plausible.

The question rises, dripping with irony, is this scenario, of Aztecs sacrificing Christians on the top of the Empire State Building, realistic. The answer is, no. Even in a “post-Christian” West, such things are not going to happen. Discrimination against those whose lifestyle choices affect the Holy Bottom Line, yes. But not altars built to Moloch where infants are sacrificed to appease the God of Materialism. (Pre-natal abortion works quite well toward that end already.)

The Old Pagans (not to be confused with those who are trying to bring back Norse or Celtic or Druid religions or such in a Society for Creative Anachronism type affair), had a hardscrabble life, and a long history of working out the rules of their societies. The New Pagans are not even trying to link up with the recreationists, but are winging it on their own, serenely confident they know what they are doing.

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Unfortunately, the New Pagans not only have rejected Christianity and all things “Church”, but have contempt for their intellectual ancestors. The problem is that  outrage porn, commercial hedonism, militarism, and drowning in the ocean of social media leaves no room for discovery of pagan thinkers of the past. A very little bit of Homer, Plato, Aristotle, Herodotus, Sophocles, Thucydides, Virgil, Seneca, Epictetus, Marcus Aurelius, Cicero, Plutarch, would do wonders for demonstrating to the new breed there is a whole world beyond “Wow” or “Ouch” or “Yum”.

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But that is wishful thinking. The Sages of the West are strictly TL;DR for this bunch rising. They have skipped the Golden Age, and gone directly to decadence.

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And so, we will go through a dark age, the denizens of which will be deluded into thinking its gadgets are proof of superiority (more even than the chronological bigotry of the “modern” temperament.) But dark ages do not last forever. Shockingly, the world will go on even after my demise.

The last “Enlightenment” merely substituted an (allegedly) ancient and venerable superstition with a (regrettably) modern and shallow one. Perhaps the one coming along in a few centuries will be better.

Maybe.

Meanwhile, the Pagans are back. I hope they have heard of the Gods of the Copybook Headings (courtesy Rudyard Kipling.)

The Gods of the Copybook Headings

AS I PASS through my incarnations in every age and race,

I make my proper prostrations to the Gods of the Market Place.

Peering through reverent fingers I watch them flourish and fall,

And the Gods of the Copybook Headings, I notice, outlast them all.

 

We were living in trees when they met us. They showed us each in turn

That Water would certainly wet us, as Fire would certainly burn:

But we found them lacking in Uplift, Vision and Breadth of Mind,

So we left them to teach the Gorillas while we followed the March of Mankind.

 

We moved as the Spirit listed. They never altered their pace,

Being neither cloud nor wind-borne like the Gods of the Market Place,

But they always caught up with our progress, and presently word would come

That a tribe had been wiped off its icefield, or the lights had gone out in Rome.

 

With the Hopes that our World is built on they were utterly out of touch,

They denied that the Moon was Stilton; they denied she was even Dutch;

They denied that Wishes were Horses; they denied that a Pig had Wings;

So we worshipped the Gods of the Market Who promised these beautiful things.

 

When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace.

They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.

But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,

And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “Stick to the Devil you know.”

 

On the first Feminian Sandstones we were promised the Fuller Life

(Which started by loving our neighbour and ended by loving his wife)

Till our women had no more children and the men lost reason and faith,

And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “The Wages of Sin is Death.”

 

In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,

By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;

But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,

And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “If you don’t work you die.”

 

Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew

And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true

That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four

And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.

 

As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man

There are only four things certain since Social Progress began.

That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,

And the burnt Fool’s bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire;

 

And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins

When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins,

As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn,

The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!

 

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(No, it’s not Congress. But it might be, someday.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Man Born Blind

Sunday’s Gospel was the story of the Man Born Blind, how Christ healed him up, of the blindness, and healed his heart also.

John 9:1-41 As Jesus passed by he saw a man blind from birth.
His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents,  that he was born blind?”
Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him. We have to do the works of the one who sent me while it is day. Night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva, and smeared the clay on his eyes, and said to him, “Go wash in the Pool of Siloam” —which means Sent—.
So he went and washed, and came back able to see.

His neighbors and those who had seen him earlier as a beggar said,
“Isn’t this the one who used to sit and beg?”
Some said, “It is, ” but others said, “No, he just looks like him.”
He said, “I am.”
So they said to him, “How were your eyes opened?”
He replied, “The man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and told me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went there and washed and was able to see.”
And they said to him, “Where is he?”
He said, “I don’t know.”

They brought the one who was once blind to the Pharisees.
Now Jesus had made clay and opened his eyes on a sabbath.
So then the Pharisees also asked him how he was able to see.
He said to them, “He put clay on my eyes, and I washed, and now I can see.”
So some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, because he does not keep the sabbath.”
But others said, “How can a sinful man do such signs?” And there was a division among them.
So they said to the blind man again, “What do you have to say about him, since he opened your eyes?”
He said, “He is a prophet.”

Now the Jews did not believe that he had been blind and gained his sight  until they summoned the parents of the one who had gained his sight.
They asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How does he now see?”
His parents answered and said, “We know that this is our son and that he was born blind. We do not know how he sees now, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him, he is of age; he can speak for himself.”
His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone acknowledged him as the Christ, he would be expelled from the synagogue.
For this reason his parents said, “He is of age; question him.”

So a second time they called the man who had been blind  and said to him, “Give God the praise! We know that this man is a sinner.”
He replied, “If he is a sinner, I do not know. One thing I do know is that I was blind and now I see.”
So they said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”
He answered them, “I told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?”
They ridiculed him and said, “You are that man’s disciple;
we are disciples of Moses! We know that God spoke to Moses, but we do not know where this one is from.”
The man answered and said to them,
“This is what is so amazing,  that you do not know where he is from, yet he opened my eyes.
We know that God does not listen to sinners,  but if one is devout and does his will, he listens to him.
It is unheard of that anyone ever opened the eyes of a person born blind.
If this man were not from God, he would not be able to do anything.”
They answered and said to him, “You were born totally in sin, and are you trying to teach us?”
Then they threw him out.

When Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, he found him and said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
He answered and said,  “Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?”
Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, the one speaking with you is he.”
He said, “I do believe, Lord,” and he worshiped him.
Then Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind.”

Some of the Pharisees who were with him heard this  and said to him, “Surely we are not also blind, are we?”
Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you are saying, ‘We see,’ so your sin remains.

The first healing was of the man’s eyes, with mud and spit.  The second was when he used those eyes to look on Jesus, and worshiped him.

As Father was giving his homily, it suddenly came to me that Les Miserables main characters show some form of blindness, and (mostly) healing. Read it online here. Here is a decent analysis of the characters.

The first connect is not from Victor Hugo’s wonderful book, but from the movie, the musical version. The song which proclaims to love another person is to see the face of God.

Consider how the characters all forward this idea.

Jean Valjean , a man brutalized into blindness to his own nature and to the world. All he can see is pain and misery, until M. Myriel the Bishop of Digne (Dignity?) opens his eyes to his own humanity. After that, he becomes a Christ to other people, relapsing into blindness only when his fear of return to prison overtakes him (which he gets over by testifying at the trial of the poor wretch arrested in his place.)

Fantine  was a foolish young maiden, blinded by the starry eyes of infatuation with her bourgeois boyfriend, who had her eyes opened to the awfulness of mankind when he abandoned her in her pregnancy. She sinks lower and lower, still clear-eyed, for her one goal is to benefit her daughter, Colette. She has a bad opinion of humanity, until “Monsieur Madeline” (Valjean) realizes his foolishness has injured her, and tends her as she dies.

Javert, blinded from birth, to humanity, due to his gutter-nativity, has his eyes fixed on the immovable stars of The Law (not of Justice, take note) until Jean Valjean suddenly shatters his carefully constructed, but brittle, concept of the World, and being unable to handle the sudden sight, declines to go on living.

Marius Pontmercy, blinded by revolutionary and romantic rhetoric, even despises Valjean until he discovers who it was rescued him from certain death.

Cosette also, loved her adopted father, but never saw him for what he was until he died.

Of the others, Thénardier is willfully blind throughout, untroubled by conscience or remorse, (in the book, he goes to America to engage in slave-trading).

Eponine, who is Thénardier’s daughter, is a truly tragic figure, with clear vision, and willing to die for her Marius, who didn’t seem to know she was a live person.

And lastly, Gavroche, Thernardier’s abandoned child, who despite living rough, sees the way the world is, and (in the case of the two boys he ‘adopts’) that he can make a difference. It was not for nothing in the movie, Javert places the Legion of Honor on the breast of the dead Gavroche.

So, the moral is, to what, to whom, are we blind? And are we willing to have our eyes opened?

 

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You Cannot Serve Both God And Mammon

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Of all the advertising schemes promoted by Madison Avenue, is there ONE which does not appeal to human depravity one way or another? Is there a marketing campaign which does not depend on the seven deadly sins? Is there a sales pitch which is not at base contempt for the moral fiber of human beings? Maybe they know what they’re doing…

Pride envy, avarice, lust, gluttony, sloth, and rage.

All prime means of seducing the human spirit. All employed with vigor by Mammon and the votaries of Mammon.

Think how salesmen are trained (I once went through a lengthy class, before I realized I didn’t have it in me.) and what forces they are taught to use. Is there any sales mechanism which is not designed to target the worst of human failings?

Consider how, in keeping up with the Joneses, feeling the pride of ownership, knowing you deserve the best, you have succumbed to the base elements of human nature.

Consider also how if you do as the uncritical economic animals (homo economicus) in responding to these appeals, you will have not the wherewithal in time or resources to help the needy and downtrodden. (Not to mention the aversion you will acquire for having those smelly unwashed ragged muffins near YOUR shiny baubles.)

Consider how much you really and truly needed your last ten purchases, and why you made them.

Are you behaving like a human being? Like a child of God? Like a person seeking sainthood? (It’s our Vocation, you know.)

Or, are you a reactive alimentary canal with easily tingled reproductive apparatus and conditioned to dispense cash whenever a bell rings?

You cannot serve both God and Mammon.

 

Adbusters did this cute little thing a few years back. It is well done, just like what you see in the slicks.

And so damnably true.

Mammon 2

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No Worries, Mate

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All of the flapdoodle, hooey, bunkum, and hunting of snipe aside, what are we worried about?

Are we concerned about politics?

Relax. No human institution is perfect, and you may safely disregard politicians and preachers who declare the USA to be Divinely Ordained. (Any who insist on thinking thusly are hereby sentenced to reading the entire and unabridged edition of St. Augustine’s The City of God.)

Are you worried about natural disasters? Don’t fret. If the hurricane don’t get ya, the earthquake will, if the earthquake don’t get ya, the cholera must. (And God always has a few “dinosaur-killer” asteroids in reserve.)

Frightened by what’s coming over the Nightly News or your favorite 24/7 Niche Culture channel? TURN THE DAMN THING OFF!!! (And I do not employ the word frivolously. At best the mass media is a collective of nasty-minded gossips. At its usual, it is a semi-organized association of emotional pimps and panderers who make a fine living off other peoples distress.)

REAL problems should be addressed, dealt with, and resolved. Most of what comes over the cable, satellite, or internet is a cocktail of artificially contrived nonsense which is never meant to be finished, because then those cards and letters and donations will cease flooding in.

It’s literally The Big Con.igetit.gif

If you deliberately do without “news” or “edutanment” or “commentary” for a week (all forms, TV, Internet, gossip at the coffee shop), there will surely be withdrawal symptoms. Sweaty palms, nervous tics, an almost irresistible desire to have just one little peek… Congratulations, you are addicted to Media Porn. Lust, envy, greed, drunkenness are relatively minor sins compared to the burden on the soul of an incessant snoop. But if you persevere, there is Light ahead.

You will feel/think/pray better. You will not be constantly under the clouds of malaise, but living in the sunshine.

(A while back, as previously noted, I gave up satellite TV, Facebook, deleted my own political blog, erased my DISQUS account for play in comment boxes, and discarded all (YIKES!) of my political and “news” urls.   Including the ones that are dedicated to political activism under the thin veneer of religion. I feel wonderful!

Not only do I have more time for the Better Things like prayer, reading books, listening to good music, making posts for The Catholic Sun, and watching the desert hares in the field behind my house [What’s Up. Doc?] I am sleeping better at night.)

Here’s the thing. We are not guaranteed a carefree, prosperous life. Other than a few dubious TV preachers, nobody is dumb enough to promote such a blatant lie. As Christians, we are guaranteed dungeon, fire, and sword. As followers of Christ, we are guaranteed the same things Jesus received: scorn, persecution, ridicule, poverty, abandonment, and an ignominious death. Cool!

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Butler’s Lives of the Saints is a good, sobering read. Here

Not only will we not make it out of this world “alive”, neither will any of us live in this world forever.

The world cycles. Things change. The Great Pendulum of History swings back and forth without ceasing. All attempts to speed up its travel or to freeze it at a particular moment of time end in failure and destruction for those who make the attempt. In point of fact, a reading of History is salubrious for illusions of success or permanent devastation.

Pick any hundred year period and see how vain ambition, discontent, anger, and greed wrecked so much, so many lives, and then wonder if today is really so different. The names of those people in the past are unfamiliar, even the major actors. For the most part, their vaunted legacy has been erased, and they and their events are known only to specialists.

the-inferno-canto-32Or, read Dante’s little fantasy about his guided tour of Hell in The Inferno. But be sure to get a good annotated edition so you can identify all those folk. I dare say 99% of us could care less for all the passions of Guelf and Ghibelline in the Florentine Republic. And so it will be with the extreme gnashing of teeth today.

 

 

 

When we make it to the end, if we haven’t allowed ourselves to be distracted by worthless mental junk food, we are guaranteed to share in the Divinity of Christ. (See the prayer said at Mass by the Priest or Deacon while pouring wine from the cruet into the Chalice.)

We have, unfortunately, been lulled into a false sense of entitlement by a century of good weather, a time of peace and progress. We thought Happy Days were not only here again, but would go on forever.

Ozymandias

By  Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822)

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias , King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

 

Not to worry.  Every thing of this Earth will be gone someday.  On the time-scale of the Universe, what disturbs you is less than the blink of an eye.

The truly important things, faith, hope, charity, are Eternal.

Here in the second decade of the 21st Century Anno Domini, we are beginning to learn what is ephemeral and what really matters.

Oremus!

 

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Got the Blahs? – Repent!

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I have just finished reading a remarkable book, The Noonday Devil: Acedia, The Unnamed Evil Of Our Times, by Jean-Charles Nault, O.S.B., Abbot of Saint-Wandrille. I heartily recommend it to one and all. This is a condensation of a larger formal thesis which has been brought “down to earth” for laypeople and others who are not specialists.

You can get it from the publisher here.

Also from here

It may be a good idea to read it along with another book it constantly references, The Desert Fathers: Sayings of the Early Christian Monks. Here

OK, so now I have pumped this, what is acedia all about?

Best answer is from “The Neverending Story”, by Morla, the Ancient One.

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In a nutshell, that’s it.

Of course, if a gif were enough to explain, there wouldn’t be any need for a book, now would there?

The English translation was released last year (2015), and I finally got around to reading it during Holy Week. (Dante’s Comedia was my Lenten discipline, so this fit right in.)

I have known the symptoms of acedia, the blahs, restlessness, etc., all my life, in both my self and in others, but never knew what it was called. By accident, I stumbled into a partial “cure” on my own, praying the Liturgy of the Hours without fail, like it or not.

The book has four chapters, the first deals with describing acedia as seen by the Desert Fathers and Mothers, especially one called Evagrius. Chapter Two is an overview of St. Thomas Aquinas’ thought on the subject. Chapter three discusses the relevance of acedia in Christian life, and Chapter Four looks at acedia in the various states of life: religious, priestly, and lay married or single persons.

Among things found are the definition of acedia as “a lack of spiritual energy”. The five principal manifestations of acedia: interior instability, hypochondria, laziness, neglect of the rule (of life), and general discouragement. This is followed by the five remedies for acedia: tears, prayer and work, Scripture, mediation on death, and perseverance. Then follows examples from the Sayings of the Desert Fathers and a wrap-up mentioning John Cassian St. Benedict, and Gregory the Great.

That is in Chapter One. The rest is no less instructive.

A similar book by the esteemed Kathleen Norris (she of A Cloister Walk) came out in 2008, titled Acedia & me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life. I have not read it, but there are reviews out on the internet for any who might be interested.  You can find the book here.

There are also other articles which might give an introduction to the topic which do not involve laying out good money.  Here, here, here, and here.

Special, the writings of Evagrius are online. Here.

Please Note — I get no points, cash, or credit for recommending a book or providing a link to where one can purchase it.   If I were ever tempted to pick up a reward for shilling a product, I’d close this blog down faster than you could say, “This Way to the Egress.”

 

Below are some of my thoughts while reading this book. They are very prejudiced and full of my own bias. I place them “below the line” so others can safely ignore them.

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Personal Notes  — AKA Mad Ramblings:

How much of my ancient problem is simple bipolar depression and how much has been acedia? While I have seized on the idea of acedia, that may be only another level of deception used to cover up something deeper. Or may it be there is a psychological equivalent of acedia? Lastly, even if it is purely psychological (in my case), it seems the prescriptions for spiritual acedia have relevance and efficacy. – They work.

Next, we find this problem of sin versus mental illness (acedia is a sin, bipolar is a mental illness) is interesting. Is laziness a sin? The ancients seemed to believe it was. Is laziness brought on by apathy fueled by bipolar a sin? Moderns tend to think not.

Moderns in general do not appear to believe in Sin (unless one is in opposition to the current fad-of-the-hour) but have substituted psychological analysis for it. (I speak here as one whose undergrad major was Psychology – in the Sixties, before it got messed up.) Have the Moderns really made any progress? To be sure, they all advocate Therapy and cheer for psychotropic drugs, but if the base is still the same, and the patient finds no real improvement?? The cry has gone from “Have Mercy on Me,  a Sinner.” To “It’s not my fault, you can’t blame me, I’m a Victim!”

And as everyone knows, Victims are sacrosanct, beyond reproach and beyond challenge.

Yet, the un-locused guilt of modernity remains. It finds expression in the strangest places. (Augustine famously remarked the human heart is restless until it rests in God, and other have noted that restlessness can throw up some really weird substitutes for God.)

Were the Desert Fathers right? Is this apathy, this ennui, this case of major Blahs a manifestation of the Noonday Devil? For relief, should we not go to therapy or drugs, not to withdraw or plunge into business, but to repentance, top prayer, to persistence in the “dull and boring” routines of our spiritual lives?

Moderns tend to proclaim “mental illness” instead of “sin”, but that became stigmatizing, so they found another approach – victimization. Now, and for a few more years, until the fad collapses, a person is not sick or a sinner, they are a Victim, and are Brave for placing their particular form of insanity on display (to the applause of the legions of twisted hipsters.)

The DSM is constantly being revised, in accordance with popular prejudice and not on grounded research, with every shift in the social winds, so a reliable guide, it ain’t.

This is not to say at all real illnesses are not out there. I have too much direct, personal, and agonizing experience with friends and relatives to think otherwise. There as trauma from abused in childhood. There is trauma from events in adult life (shell shock, they called it a century back.) There is chemical imbalance causing biochemical problems in the brain. But the current epidemic of pill-popping and parading silliness has nothing to do with serious problems either. It is a passing thing, seized upon by those whose self-image is of such fragility they cannot, will not, admit to deliberate wrongdoing.

There’s the rub. Acedia is an evil, like lust or envy or pride. Of itself, it is temptation (albeit a pretty powerful one, which sneaks up on a person without warning.) As a temptation it is not a sin. But yielding to it is. And there is the dividing line.

A person who suffers from what they used to call schizophrenia, who hears voices, is not able to tell the voices to shut up and have them go away. All the will-power in the work will not make the disturbance disappear. It can respond to medication and other ancillary treatments, but it will respond . (Think of John Nash, he of A Beautiful Mind.) The devils of acedia respond to spiritual palliatives. Especially repentance. And prayer. And Scripture. (And Confession, and Mass, and… but you know that drill. The hard part is doing it.)

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