Our Top-Secret Sin by Fr. Theodore from St. Michael’s Abbey

This is Mary, John’s wife posting.  I found this homily exactly the challenge I need to grow in holiness by rooting out the base that is in me, through God’s Grace.

“The mentality just described by St. Francis might be summed up in one sentence: “I’m too weak to practice virtue—at least, not heroically like the saints did—so I’m definitely dispensed from doing so.” Some of us here may be thinking similar thoughts. Despite this presumption, we might still manage to save our own soul, but many others will be lost—those onetime wayward souls whom any given saint manages to drag along with himself to heaven. Even one mortal sin can cost us much peace of mind, yet umpteen souls are lost and our conscience won’t be any worse for the wear, because here below this sin of which we speak will remain buried under a heap of excuses. We wanted to avoid the cross, but in the end we only managed to exchange one cross for another—perhaps even a heavier one. In the process, we forfeited ever so much joy to which the saints are privy both in time and eternity. What shall we say about all this? How about a prayer? Lord, spare us so rude an awakening in purgatory! Save us from our secret sin—and from our top secret sin: ingratitude. Make us thankful in thought, word and deed. Amen.”

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_Twin Peaks’_ Maj. Garland Briggs–a sincere Christian in television

WARNING: If you haven’t seen Twin Peaks, and believe spoilers do just that, proceed with caution; if you have never watched and agree with Flannery O’Connor that fiction is better enjoyed when you know what’s going to happen, read on!)
With “Season 3” of Twin Peaks airing, I’ve been reading a lot of websites and just began reviewing the original series/first two seasons.  This will be my fourth viewing of the series since its original run–once on DVD about 15 years ago and on Netflix about 5 years ago, after the Psych tribute episode.
Before the show was “put on indefinite haitus” by ABC–Whovians, Trekkies and Star Wars fans have nothing on Twin Peaks fans in terms of waiting–there was an outline written for season 3.  As with many cult shows that have been continued in comic book and/or novel form, some fans who were comic book writers approached David Lynch about 10 years ago to try and convince him to let them turn that outline into a comic book series.  Lynch famously declared Twin Peaks dead.
Whether he changed his mind or actually intended to surprise everyone for the show’s 25th anniversary (“I’ll see you again in 25 years”), had that comic book been made, we might not have gotten an actual show.  Amazingly, of the characters who were not already killed off, five cast members have either passed away or refused to participate.
Ironically and problematically, two of those five play characters who are immortal: the late Frank Silva, who played the immortal demon BOB, and the living Michael J. Anderson (“Man from Another Place/Dwarf/MIKE’s arm”).  The other actor who passed away (though a Warren Frost, Miguel Ferrer and Catherine E. Coulson died shortly after filming of The Return was completed) was Don S. Davis (1942-2008), who played Maj. Garland Briggs.  A veteran sci-fi actor, he played Capt. William Scully on The X-Files, and IMDB quotes him saying he enjoys playing science fiction characters because it’s one of the few genres where you are still able to have flawless good guys.
Rolling Stone (in an article I just found) lists him as the show’s 8th best character, noting that he is the inversion of its “you can’t tell a book by its cover” theme.  I’ve seen at least two websites (possibly from the same person) calling him not just the greatest character on Twin Peaks but one of the greatest TV characters ever.
The scene that introduces Maj. Briggs is a family dinner.  His son Bobby, Laura Palmer’s “official” boyfriend, has just been released from jail after being held for fighting and for suspicion of being Laura’s murderer.  Family dinners, whether at home or at the homey RR diner, are a recurring motif of the original series (which could be contrasted to the motif of Roadhouse and barroom dinners in the new series/third season).  Whether it’s the Haywards who are set as the model of the loving, wholesome family yet the parents are clueless about their daughters’ lives, and two of the daughters show up only a couple times, the Palmers and their horrible secrets, or the Hornes and their facade of respectability amid mental illness and infidelity, the dinners usually have the same dramatic function as Ewing family dinners on Dallas.
The first time I saw the scene, it seemed like Maj. Briggs was being presented as another example.  Sitting in his USAF uniform, he starts the meal saying grace–the only character who does so, IIRC, though the Haywards go to church.  He then proceeds to calmly but formally lecture his son (“Robert”) on the value of teenage rebelliousness but his job as a father to guide Bobby’s rebelliousness within the standards of society and their family.
Bobby doesn’t speak, leading to a talk about the various meanings of silence.  He pulls out a cigarette, and his father reaches across the table, slapping it out of his mouth.  The cigarette lands in Mrs. Briggs’s meatloaf, and she barely reacts.  Maj. Briggs says that he is very tolerant but has his limits.  Again, at first sight, he seems to be another example of hypocrisy, and a seemingly wholesome family covering up abuse that leads to the child’s reckless behavior.  As time goes on, Maj. Briggs is revealed to be a very different character and becomes by the end of the second season, the show’s moral center.  The first time the show aired, I puzzled in retrospect over that scene.
When I rewatched it the second and third times, I assumed that it was just an early scene before the character had been sufficiently developed.  This time, it struck me as very well-planned.  As Rolling Stone put it, they want us to see him as a seemingly authoritarian and abusive father.  But just as the seemingly loving and gentle Leland Palmer (spoiler alert) was possessed by a demon which drove him to molest and murder his own daughter, the seemingly stern and gruff Maj. Briggs is actually loving and gentle.
In the aforementioned outline for Season 3, the plan had been for Maj. Briggs to become the main hero.  Whether it was resolved quickly or over the season, the plan was that (spoiler alert) Maj. Briggs would go into the Black Lodge and rescue Cooper.  Though Cooper is superficially an innocent, we know that he is gluttonous, lustful and has committed adultery.  When he invades the Black Lodge to rescue his girlfriend, he gets trapped there and replaced by BOB occupying his physical body because of his own sinfulness.  Originally, had Don S. Davis not passed away, Maj. Briggs would have been the only character worthy of facing the Black Lodge without being corrupted, so whether it would have been a long or short storyline, Briggs would have been the one to bring Cooper back.
(Spoiler) On the new show, one of the mysteries is that his decapitated body was found in South Dakota, and, even though he was reported dead in a fire in 1989 (the events of the 1990-91 series all took place fictionally in February and March 1989), he was in his early 40s when he died.   We recently learned on the new show that he had been in another dimension for 25 years–whether it was the Black or White Lodge has yet to be revealed.
Seen through those eyes, as well as the eyes of real world experience, that first scene looks very different.
Maj. Briggs, even though he refers to patience having its limits, does not lose his cool.  His son, already in trouble with the law, does something completely disrespectful.  It is a controlled and calculated gesture.

EDIT: Don’t know why I never noticed this before, Bobby Briggs standing before a huge crucifix/home altar:
Bobby Briggs Crucifix.png

Please help us get a new van.

In 2008, I got my first motorized wheelchair, and we were blessed with an opportunity to buy a twice used 2000 Chevrolet Express 3500 wheelchair van, which was first a prison van and then a medical taxi (I call it our “Paddy Wagon,” since the expression came from stereotypical Irish cops collecting groups of stereotypical Irish drunks in police vans).
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The van has served us well for almost 9 years as our primary vehicle.  “We’ve” had to put some money into it to keep it going, but when it all adds up, it was less than we’d have paid even for a regular van in payments, much less for a handicapped van that can fit our family.

Me and kids at Roper

Me and my kids in 2013, after my aortic graft surgery

Our economic situation simple: we make a little less than enough to get by in modern America.  Unless I should obtain the time and inspiration to write a best-selling book, we strike the lottery or get a really good  investment, we’ll never make much more than we do now.
So when a major expense arises, we need help.
Every few months, something malfunctions in the van.
We had to purchase a second vehicle, using up the small amount of room we had in our budget to add another monthly payment, so we only have to use the van when we need the power chair and so we have a backup when it fails.  The very day we went to pick up the “new” car, the lift stopped working.  When my abdominal aneurysm ruptures or requires surgery, if I survive, I will most likely lose my ability to walk completely.  In the meantime, I need to be able to keep strain off my aorta to delay that surgery as long as possible.
It won’t be long before our eldest daughter has to use a scooter or power chair–technically she already should because she subluxes her ankles every time she walks very far, but we can’t get insurance to pay for one.
As communities, Muslims, Mormons and Evangelicals seem to be very good at rallying around their members.  We Catholics, as a community, need to show the same generosity with ourselves as we do with strangers, to provide the “safety net” that keeps people from falling completely into destitution.  On an individual basis, we have many wonderful Catholic friends who have helped us more than we can ever thank them for.  We know someone out there can afford to help us.
We’re hoping to get a used, 2015 or 2016 Ford Transit Wagon XLT 350, medium height, for around $25,000.  I figure we can modify it ourselves for around $3000-5000.
So accounting for fundraising fees, taxes, etc., we’re trying to raise about $30,000-35000 just for that, though if a generous benefactor wants to help with about $80000 in other expenses we expect to face in the near future, we’d be very grateful.  If someone out there reading this happens to own a car dealership or know a car dealer (I recently heard a rumor that a major Catholic donor in our state owns a dealership), I’m going to be bold and ask if, in the name of Our Lord, you could please donate a van directly?
Please share this post. Please share the link to our fundraiser.  Most of all, please pray that God opens people’s hearts to share, and that He profoundly blesses all those who have helped us.

Please click here to donate.

On Cult and Culture

The problem with “Culture Wars” is we don’t know what culture *is*.  If we truly want to win back souls to God and the Natural Law, we must do it through redeeming the culture itself.

Chesterton says that the history of Western civilization is a conflict between three worldviews: the Greco-Roman, Judeo-Christian and atheistic-nihilistic. He illustrates this with a parable of a people on an island who worship the sun. They build a round, mathematically perfect, temple. Over time, they come to understand God as transcendent of Nature and nature as corrupt, dangerous and not quite so perfect as they previously thought. So they add a spire to their temple, pointing to the sky, and gargoyles to the outside to show that the world is dark and scary but there is hope in Heaven. Over time, they lose their faith in God completely and create a temple of complete grotesque to demonstrate it: they take away the spire and replace all the gods and saints with more gargoyles.

Chesterton saw 100 years ago what the Twentieth Century was producing and has produced in spades since.

These threads can be seen in smaller amounts in each major historical period and each particular Western civilization’s history.  Generally, though, the Greeks and Romans produced art and literature which saw both nature and the gods as orderly and beautiful.  Their dramas reflected the need to return to order when civil order was disrupted.

The so-called “Dark Ages” produced literature, art, music and architecture focused entirely on God, and human beings who were flawed in an immoral world.  This was the period of Gothic architecture: terrifying and imposing on the outside; uplifting and glorious inside.

The Renaissance saw a general return to the classical worldview.  The visual arts became less stylized by the rules of iconography and more stylized by a desire to reflect human perfection as understood by the ancients.  Music was made a bit more complicated than the simple, utilitarian chant of the Middle Ages, reflecting the Classical understanding of music as a form of mathematics.  Architecture was not directly classical per se but some Greek aspects were returned to architecture.  The greatest Renaissance writers drew from classical mythology or the rules of classical drama.

Then the 17th century brought a Puritan flair to the visual arts, while music focused on God.  Thus, Bach could say everything he wrote was a prayer–because even instrumental music was understood to express a code that, like a Gothic cathedral, raised the soul up towards God.

The 18th century saw the period we call “classical” or neo-Classical: architecture that was mathematical and balanced, per Greek principles as then understood.  The visual arts, like those of the Renaissance, evoked classical norms.  Pagan imagery began to be revisited.  Music was more strongly mathematical and less otherworldly.

Then came the period we call Romantic.  Interestingly, C. S. Lewis considered Jane Austen as the last truly Western author.   The Romantic (i.e., “of Rome”) period in Protestant Europe involved a quest for the “past,” but it was a blend of the “Past” of paganism as well as the “past” as well as a fascination with Catholicism and the purported tendency of people in “Romance” (i.e., Latinate) countries to engage in lots of adultery and fornication, lending to the terms “Romance” and “Romantic” becoming associated with affairs of the heart rather than a group of cultures.  Interestingly, this is the same time the term “Latin America” was coined as a way to unite French, Spanish and Portuguese colonies against the new United States and the remaining British colonies.
Literature evoked the beauty of nature as well as the quest for God.  It also evoked a fascination with the creepy old buildings, the mysterious Catholic past (now thoroughly ensconced in the Protestant imagination as a form of pagan witchcraft, masquerading as “Christianity”) and thus gave us the term “Gothic” as no longer meaning a style of religious art and architecture coming from Germany but now a form of “Romance” focusing on the grotesque and even macabre.

After the Romantic period there was a general shift towards nihilism, which is what Lewis gets at in “De Descriptione Temporum” when he says the above about Austen.  Someone once said that “music died with Nietzsche’s God.”

Romanticism gave way to “Realism,” which still had a bit of the Gothic hope in its negative portrayal of life, but that quickly gave way to the gargoyles of “Naturalism” in art and literature.  Music came to be atonal and discordant.

This is why simple worldliness of much “contemporary” music, like that of modern art and architecture, is ill-fitting the grandeur of God.  Though the attempt to redeem the modern world has its place, slapping “God” and “morality” onto otherwise postmodern literature and music is like Chesterton’s islanders, after burying their temple in gargoyles, saints and angels on top of the gargoyles rather than getting rid of the gargoyles.

Is God a Cosmic Sadist?

Question: “Why would a loving God send people to Hell?”
Answer: People choose Hell over God.
Question: “Why would anyone choose Hell over God?”
Answer: Because they’ve spent their lives preparing themselves to make that choice.”
Question: “How could a Christian make that choice?
Answer: By formulating and clinging to a false notion of God that makes us recoil when we see the reality, or by allowing ourselves to be so attached to sin that we don’t want to be relieved of the attachment even in Purgatory.
Question: “Well, why did God make it so hard.  Doesn’t that make Him some kind of Cosmic Sadist who just wants to torture us?”
Answer: That’s a mystery.  The Old Testament basically says that’s what God is, at least from our perspective, and we just have to accept it because He’s God and we’re not.  New Testament atonement theology doesn’t help much, and there are many interpretations that try to get us out of that trap.

The simple answer is love, and the personalism of St. John Paul II.  Yes, God could have made us differently than He did. He could have made the angels differently than He did.  Maybe He has made other life-forms that are different–He certainly seems to love diversity and possibility.  But the fact is, He made us, and He made us such that, just as each specific kind of plant or animal needs certain nutrients and environmental factors to thrive, so people function to our fullest potential when we live according to God’s design and intention for us.


The New Testament tells us over and over that God has “imprisoned all in disobedience” that He might show Mercy to all, that He prizes the sheep who stray and come back more highly, and so on.  Again, it might seem like a weird way to set things up, but the more we understand it as a relationship of love, the more sense it makes.

To be free to love we must be free to reject, and I believe strongly that Christ gives us the freedom to reject Him. I believe that we have to pray to Christ to shape our understanding and our will to accept Him, just as spouses must both try themselves and pray for the grace to improve ourselves to be better people and to love our spouses for who they are, not who they want them to be.

I believe we set ourselves up for rejecting Christ when we form images of Him that conflict with Who He really is and refuse to allow those images to grow. In marriage, we start off with an idealized Other whom we love. As we grow, we realize the Other doesn’t always match that Ideal. The Ideal gives way to the Real, we try to make ourselves more like the Other’s Ideal, and one day hope that we will be together, perfected, in Heaven, where the truly Ideal and the truly Real meet.
The same is true of our relationships with Christ, but the difference is that He is unchanging.  We are mutable and weak, and blessed with the gifts of ignorance and unknowing that He gave us to give us the opportunity to grow.  However, we start with an “ideal” of Christ that we tend to cling to.  If we take our mistaken view of Christ, whatever its basis, without trying to grow in our understanding, we end up like Javert, confronted with the reality of Christ and too proud to admit we were wrong.
In this sense, the ancient Christian tradition, reflected in both Catholic and Orthodox sources, tells us that it might sometimes be easier for a pagan or an atheist who has gone through life with an attitude of sincerely seeking God, to embrace Jesus when she meets Him than for a self-proclaimed Christian who is too self-confident to admit being wrong.
This is also why we must caution ourselves against the extreme of presumption–we use the rather extreme example of someone who has lived a life of erstwhile holiness potentially “snapping” and committing a murder-suicide, but the far more realistic example is that we are too attached to *something* to let it go for Christ when called to do so.
Paradoxically, one of those attachments can itself be scrupulosity.  We can often be the worst Javert’s to ourselves–indeed, in the book, Javert resigns his position, writes a confession, and commits suicide because he has broken the Law by not arresting Valjean on sight.  He cannot forgive himself for being forgiving–the ultimate paradox of the damned.
The possibility of damnation does not make God a Cosmic Sadist–though, as C. S. Lewis, St. Francis de Sales and the Book of Job all tell us, even if God *is* a Cosmic Sadist, we don’t have any choice in the matter so we might as well play by His rules.
At judgement, we put God in the Dock, as Lewis says–we judge Him.  We say, “I can’t accept Your Mercy,” or “I can’t accept Your Justice,” or both.  In Lewis’s Great Divorce, souls are first tempted — not with the more obvious ones but tests of pride, impatience, etc.–and then greeted by Saints they have the biggest grudges against.  This is similar to the Orthodox theory of the “toll booths”—that personal judgement is a journey, where we must stop and confront different temptations that plagued us in life, and if we don’t built up the resistance to them now, we won’t be able to resist them then.  As well as the tollbooths, like in Lewis’s story, the soul is called to both by the Damned and the Saved, and if the soul has kept bad company in this life, she will be drawn to the appeal of the Damned to join them.
It’s like the joke about the millionaire who is told he can decide between Heaven and Hell and after seeing Heaven, he is taken to Hell for his three day preview.  He spends three days at a luxury resort, with every pleasure imaginable, and all his friends and family are having a big party.  So he decides that Hell has been misrepresented and tells the angel he wants to stay in Hell.  He finds himself in torment, with his friends and family chained nearby, cursing him and each other, and the handsome concierge now revealed as Satan, and he asks what happened.  “That was sales pitch.  You purchased.”
The other mistake we can make with every conception of judgement, even the “tollbooths,” is that we think, “Christ forgives everyone.  He will forgive me.”  We presume that we haven’t bought into Satan’s sales pitch.  We presume we will be able to withstand any temptation in our final journey or that we won’t find ourselves agreeing with all the celebrities and internet combox atheists who say that they’d rather be in Hell because all the interesting people are there.
We have to shape our minds, our lives, our desires to make God, as He has revealed Himself to be, desirable to us, and to recognize when the World is trying to make us think differently of Him.

Vegetables and Grace

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Grace is received according to the mode of the receiver.

So are vegetables.

Some people naturally love vegetables. Most people don’t.

Most people love a few particular vegetables. For me, my favorites are broccoli and spinach, which I’d eat an entire package of on my own if I could but I take Coumadin so I’m only allowed to eat small amounts of them. Ironically, a few months ago I ate a whole bag of broccoli by myself and sent myself to the ER with a clot.

If we don’t have any desire to eat vegetables, we need to have our desires adjusted before we can eat them.

If we grow up eating vegetables, it is easier to love them as an adult. Often, if we grow up eating both, or having our vegetables coated in twinkies, as someone recently suggested, then we are really being taught that vegetables are not desirable.

If we have a desire to eat vegetables but a greater desire to eat junk food, we might eat *some* vegetables but not all the vegetables that are being served to us because we spoiled our dinner by filling up on junk food.

If we fill up completely on junk food, we have no room for vegetables.

So it is with grace.

Our Father in Heaven is offering us a smorgasbord of spiritual vegetables. Our Lady of Victory told St. Catherine Laboure that the precious stones falling from her hands on the Miraculous Medal–the stones which Mel Gibson symbolically has her casting to the earth in The Passion of the Christ, are the graces that go to waste because people aren’t willing to receive them.

Original sin and concupiscence are such that most of us are disinclined to accept His Grace.

Some people are born more naturally receptive to grace.

Some people are born with an inclination to particular graces from God, rather than having a well-balanced spiritual diet, gorge themselves on one kind of grace to the detriment of their overall spiritual life (such as a preference for Scripture or a particular devotion, a scrupulous devotion to COnfession, fasting excessively, doing charitable works without prayer, etc.).

Some people are raised in holy homes and taught to shun the world.

Some people are raised by holy parents who try to teach them the right way, but the enemy sows his seeds of spiritual junk food anyway, and the parents themselves don’t realize the subtle ways they’re teaching that God is second in their lives or that faith is not desirable in itself.

Most people don’t even try to accept God’s grace, and if they try, they get their souls so full of sin that they can’t, and they need to get that out of their systems, one way or the other, before they can take in the graces God is trying to offer them.

The Four Questions 99% of Protestants can’t answer

After a few discussions in the past 24 hours, I am revisiting the Socratic questions that always seem to stymie our separated brethren.

Preface: St. Paul tells us to hold fast to all the Apostle’s teachings, whether by “letter” or “word of mouth” (2 Thess 2:15). Our Lord speaks of the Church having the power to Loose and Bind (Matthew 16:18-19) and frequently speaks of giving us a Church but never speaks of Scriptures as anything other than the Hebrew Scriptures. St. John tells us Jesus said and did many other things that are not recorded in the Bible (21:25). St Peter says that nothing in Scripture is personal interpretation but is to be guided by the Church (2 Peter 1:18-21).
1) So where, in Scripture, is Sola Scriptura? The usual response is some verse about how important Scripture is, but never one that proves it is *exclusive*.
2) Where does the Bible say one must specifically have not just a general foundation for an idea but a specific chapter and verse citation? (Answer, nowhere, since chapters and verses were a Medieval addition and aren’t even consistent among Medieval texts)
3) If one truly believes in “sola Scriptura,” why quote any books or ministers? Is it not really just picking and choosing the Tradition one prefers and calling it Scriptural?
4) Last, but not least, if you are opposed to “secular knowledge,” “images,” etc., what are you doing on the Internet?