Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Waiting in line at Tyburn

On Feb. 27, 1601, three Catholics were executed at Tyburn for the crimes of priesthood (i.e., being a Catholic priest) and harboring priests.  Anne Line, a convert from Puritanism and found guilty of hosting one priest, was executed by hanging. Then, one by one, the priests died in a far more horrible manner.

I'll be honest:  the past several months have not been easy.  Problems at all levels--professional, personal, national, ecclesial--have proliferated and intensified.  Yet the final, awful culmination of these problems always seems forestalled.  We can see a horrendous conclusion looming, yet we are forced into being spectators to our own demise.

Yes, I know: The Book of Job

But anybody who reads this blog probably knows the vacuity of that answer, or at least the superficial use thereof.  Job, despite what James 1:7 says, is not patient. I, like many who have taught an undergraduate course on the Bible, have squelched uncountable student flare-ups over this denial.

Job serves a vital purpose by demonstrating that, contra facile readings, this complete annihilation of one's selfhood really sucks.  This is especially true when your so-called 'friends' stand by nagging and not helping. And it should be laughable that stating that so requires so much language.  Job's story, foreshadowing the Resurrection, concludes with the mystery that the suffering is not the final word. Our earthly existence might end in less-than-desirable circumstances, but that end is not *the* end.  God's mystery unfathomably includes more than mere mortals can grasp.  That is the point of Job--when God speaks out of the whirlwind, not Job enjoys material restitution.

So, yes, sometimes life does suck, but then there are other times when it's quite spectacular. THAT is life--the ebb and flow.

But not when you're apparently waiting in line at Tyburn. Lately it has not been the horrific experience itself but rather the dread anticipation knowing what is unavoidable. Tom Petty sings that "the waiting is the hardest part."  Job and Tyburn substantiate this, but there's no way a nifty pop song summarizes such incipient agony.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Good Food is Not Enough

Celebrity chef, food writer, and CNN travel star Anthony Bourdain committed suicide Friday, June 9, 2018.  His death came as a complete shock--its suddenness as well as the manner by which it came.  Coupled with the suicide of celebrity handbag designer Kate Spade earlier the same week, Bourdain's death ignited a firestorm of discussion:  signs of depression and suicide, what to say in conversation or public speaking events, the morality of taking one's life, etc.

Then Dusty Gates posted this in Crisis magazine:  "Good Food is Not Enough."

A hard post--Gates doesn't shy away from some technical theological language, nor does he shy away from the reality that suicide is, at the bottom of it all, a failure.  So several people I know, and for anybody reading this, perhaps you and several people you know, won't like it.  I think that's fair.  Still, Gates makes some good points worth considering.  Gates:

Another reason that Mr. Bourdain didn’t appear to be a man struggling with depression or despair is that he seemed to be truly in touch with goodness, in several concrete ways. He appreciated good food, good drink, good music, good scenery, good friends. He appreciated good culture, and thought it worth preserving and celebrating. He seemed to have a friend in each location he visited, and he appeared to truly relish the opportunity to sit with them, eat together, and talk. Maybe it was all a show, and they were just actors following a script. But it sure didn’t seem that way. Though sarcastic and critical, Bourdain left the impression of a man who placed value on the good things that the world had to offer. He seemed to advocate time and money being well spent on good and enjoyable things. There is still a big step left to be taken, however, between experiencing good things and experiencing goodness itself, and a supernatural bridge is needed to span the gap.

And an instance that might prompt some to take a step back:

St. Augustine gives us insight into the delicate balance in which beauty must be held by the human mind. His own interior battle with carnality and his resulting distrustful, questioning disposition towards the senses allow Augustine to guide us through a detailed description of how experiences of natural beauty and sensible goodness work upon a person’s intellect and will. His Confessions present us with a nuanced discussion of how things like food, art, and music are interpreted, and how they can move us (either towards or away from God), or, in other cases, appear to do nothing at all. Augustine considers, for example, the different affect which beauty has on the one who merely sees, and the one who sees and inquires: “Beauty appears in the same way to both beholders,” says Augustine, “but to one it is dumb, and to the other it speaks. Or rather, it speaks to all, but only they understand who test the voice heard outwardly against the truth within.”
In a reflection on the potential for creation to participate in the sole divinity of God, Augustine relates to his reader a vision he had of himself encountering a host of created things, and inquiring of each of them whether or not they were the rightful recipients of his love: “They denied me: ‘We are not the God you seek.’ And to all things which stood around the portals of my flesh I said, ‘Tell me of my God. You are not he, but tell me something of him.’ Then they lifted up their mighty voices and cried, ‘He made us.’ My questioning was my attentive spirit, and their reply, their beauty.”

Personally, I think St. Augustine's helpful in precisely these sorts of situations.  It wasn't as if the Bishop of Hippo lived a soft, cushy life free of strains and anxieties.  St. Augustine wrote so much about sin because he had sinned quite a lot already.  He knew that of which he wrote.  Still, I know St. Augustine often turns people off.

Here's the turn in Gates' argument:

Anthony Bourdain’s death was a reminder that good food is not enough. Good atmosphere, good conversation, and good meals can take us a long way towards joy. But they are never substitutes for joy. Those things only give us true joy if they are accompanied, or, perhaps more accurately, preceded by a relationship with the Lord who gives us all these good things, and provides them with their significance. Our God ought not be our stomachs, as St. Paul reminds us, as does Dante in his description of the poor souls in his Inferno. Chaucer’s Pardoner goes so far as to claim that gluttony is the root of all other sins. Our food might help us to be joyful and can lead us towards the higher goods, but only if we recognize that it is food for the journey—a mysterious foretaste of milk and honey like that of the Israelites in the desert—and not an end in itself.

Read it all here.


Recently my most active social media account has been Twitter.  Please follow me here.

Usually, I'll admit, it's a bunch of retweets and funny/Catholic stuff.  I tweet on the edges of "Catholic Twitter" and its subgroups "weird Catholic Twitter" and "Pierogi Twitter" (running afoul of this when I tweeted about Cornish pasties. I'll never make that mistake again!)

All of this to say:  I don't make a big splash on Twitter.

Until earlier today when I retweeted some from Princeton professor Robert George about religious freedom.  Then this happened:

WOOT WOOT!  That' right, folks.  He responded.  My heart is a-flutter.

He's also right.  Religious freedom is for everybody, and Christians should defend it for others as well as themselves.  The original tweet involved Muslims being banned from a public pool here in the United States.  This should not happen, ever, based on religion. Muslim, Sikh, Catholic, atheist, etc--everybody has the right to religious freedom.

That's one of the reasons why one of my favorite St. John Paul II quotes comes from Redemptoris Missio #39: "The Church proposes, she imposes nothing."  In my pre-convert days I scoffed at that very line, and now it's one of my most favorite Catholic things.  Funny what religious freedom can do... 

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Embracing my own rejections

So, usually this blog cheers the Wojtylas, the Ratzingers, and the Extraordinary Form.  TotB (Theology of the Body) and Gregorian chant.  Mt. Carmel and Opus Dei.  Not all of the usual right-wing Catholic stuff, but obviously some of it. ((mitigated by the Trump presidency!)) Oh yeah, and a bunch of 80s hard rock.

This post appeared in draft first during LENT, though, so let's instead this time feast on some of which this blog usually trashes:  polyester pant suited nuns and moms, felt banners, schlocky "spirit of Vatican 2" songs, Communion in the hand, no kneelers, Paul Tillich, LBGTQ and the social construction of gender, bad 80s pop music, and fast food.  In other words, all the things that cause, foment, exacerbate, and sustain spiritual diabetes, not that which, in my view, actually cures this spiritual malaise.

Why?  These, too, are parts of God's creation.  The Creed tells us this.  We ask God to forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.  Both Karl Barth and Romano Guardini remark on the remarkable presumption this request makes.  Who are we--humans, part of creation--to bargain with God, the creator Himself?  It makes no sense, and the extension of responsibility that this forgiveness we desire relies on the same which we extend to others.  Moltmann thought Barth left nothing to say until future eschatology was too reductionistic.

So whether it's mainline Protestantism shrinking though it is with its goofy, inept evangelization:

Source: BadVestmentsBlog

Friday, October 20, 2017

Super Caboodle is more like it, part I

Blogger's note:  Further proof that the time between a post conceived and a post posted cannot be determined easily.  Please enjoy anyway...

So Lady Gaga.

Yes, you just knew that eventually she would make an appearance on this blog.  A Jesuit blogger posted this in 2016 as a reflection on mercy and pop music. And here she is singing "Perfect Illusion."

Scored a couple bonus points with my students by pointing out the Buddhist allusions here.  "At least now I were a perfect illusion."

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Are you bleeping kidding me?

A (melo?)drama in several acts...


Father Anthony Spadaro, a Jesuit priest and prominent Pope Francis advocate, authors with Reverend Marcelo Figueroa an extensive post in La Civilta Cattolica detailing the surprising ecumenism between Protestant fundamentalists and Catholic traditionalists, particularly in the United States.  Normally the response for this would be:


Not for the topic itself but rather the level at which this discourse proceeded.  Let's get it straight:  one of the Pope's closest Jesuit buddies and an Argentinian Presbyterian minister hand-picked by Pope Francis himself to edit the Argentine version of L'Osservatore Romano, co-author a piece about ecumenical cooperation in a continent neither of them come from or live in. (Let's put aside for a second the rather curious fact that there's a Protestant minister playing a prominent role in disseminating a Catholic publication...)  OK, got it--now what are the National League Central standings?  On the surface it just doesn't seem like that big of a deal.

But you know where this story leads--of course it's a big deal.  Spadaro and Figueroa waste no time in alleging a "ecumenism of hatred" between the two groups.  Both harbor deep hostilities about modern life, seeking instead to reassert a baldly theocratic order wherein many elements of progress would be reversed. The authors mention Lyman Stewart's funding of The Fundamentals in 1910-5 (overlooking the complexity of this phenomenon) and John Rushdoony's Christian reconstructionism.  These figures contribute to an apocalyptic world view wherein anything leading to dialogue is suspect and anything validating conflict with the forces of (modernist) evil are celebrated. The Scriptures say a big fight with evil is coming, so let's get to work, good guys.  Spadaro and Figueroa finger George W. Bush as particularly susceptible to this thinking.

They then name Breitbart chairman and Trump cabinet strategist Steve Bannon as a fomenter of this "ecumenism of hatred." They seem unaware that Bannon's religiosity is questionable or that in 2014 Bannon gave a now-well-publicized talk beamed to a Vatican audience.  Of course the Vatican is not a monolith (as John Allen Jr has so ably detailed in his books), but still--is a little awareness too much to ask?  Linking anything Catholic with Rushdoony and/or Stewart is, on the face, just plain wrong.  It is an anachronism for which any undergraduate scholar would be scolded.  Furthermore, the authors posit "Integralists" as if we all know what that means.  Just as the authors themselves are a little fuzzy on what exactly constitutes a "fundamentalist," the same could be said about Sparado and Figueroa's Catholic counterpart.  Google "Catholic integralism" and you get first the Wikipedia entry on the 19th and 20th century anti-Modernist movement.  (And their own article link comes up third.)  That's important because the authors never define "Integralism," nor do they distinguish what that means in the post-conciliar Church.  Instead "Integralists" loom like boogeymen in the dark recesses of the Church where the light of Vatican II just hasn't yet shone.  Again, if an undergraduate student submitted a paper with these unsubstantiated claims, a rather low grade would be forthcoming.  It's not a well-crafted argument.

No matter.  For Spadaro and Figueroa, Catholic traditionalists suspect Pope Francis of closet Marxist sympathies, while evangelicals, when they're not damning Catholic liberationists for confusing social justice with salvation, throw their weight behind alt-Right fantasies and the morally corrupt leadership of figures like President Trump.

Read all the original post here.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Prayers Requested: Blogger Transmogrified

It had to happen.

Things change. The changing itself is a constant. As Rush sings in "Tom Sawyer," "no change is permanent, but change is!"  Sometimes these changes can seem magical, bizarre, or just weird.

Hence "transmogrify" ="to change in appearance or form, especially strangely 
or grotesquely;transform."  This process has occurred more than once recently, and for these your humble blogger requests your prayerful intercession.


A couple years ago, unannounced on this blog, the Spiritual Diabetes family moved from Albany itself to a nearby suburb.  The subsequently much longer drive to and from work has provided many opportunities for spiritual reflection (among other tasks, e.g., questioning the decisions of my fellow commuters).  I've blogged about this here, and the process continues daily.  From the outset, though, I couldn't help but think of this song:

In some ways this song is perfectly Reagan 80s:  "in the shopping malls, in the high school halls, be cool or be cast out."  Because that's exactly what life was like thirty years ago and it became de rigueur to castigate facile white middle-class conformism.  Hence college music (REM, the Cure, the Dead Milkmen), grunge like Nirvana, and rap.  Listen to those kinds of music and you were, in some small way, rebelling. Oh happy fanciful, so simplistic.  Now, of course, the suburbs foster another kind of conformism. In the suburban northeast, at least, conformity involves an entire platform of sexual, social, spiritual, and political conclusions that must, in an secular parody of the Church's gospel of life, be accepted in its entirety.  Catholics practice their faith cafeteria style, but NOBODY, rest assured, may deviate from contemporary secular suburban values.  You must, as Geddy Lee sang, "be cool or be cast out."  It's just that what currently defines "cool" has changed--significantly.


Speaking of work,  I now occupy a new office: the Dean's office.  So, yes, I have made the move (temporarily) from faculty to administration.  This has produced already several insights into higher education which I would not have had otherwise....and will not blog about.


One day after my official start on the new job, my father died.  It was not a surprise in that his type-II diabetes had, through dialysis and dementia, greatly reduced his abilities and mobility.  On the other hand, when my sister called that things didn't look good, I asked "is this THE time?" She responded it was--and less than six hours later Dad had died.  Many friends from all over sent condolences (for which I'm very grateful, of course), some of which presumed I was more worked up than I actually was/am.  Allaert Claesz once depicted death as a drum-beating skeleton who surprises a respectable couple.   In Dad's case, death came as a welcome friend, releasing and accompanying him to the after-life.  Thomas Merton, in a far different situation, once quoted Genesis 5:24: "Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him."  That pretty covers the story.  Over the five years of this blog I've written about the deaths of friends and teachers, losses that I still feel daily.  My father's death, which I'm just beginning to process, leaves me instead with a desire to less, not more.  I've taken comfort in the Rosary, especially the Luminous Mysteries.  Scott Eric Alt has written about these, pointing to their sacramentality.  Along a slightly different line, I've seen the Luminous Mysteries as celebrating transitions and transformations;  Jesus undergoes them and so do we.  Sometimes, of course, these transformations seem to us at least more like transmogrifications.  So in your prayers, please include a petition for me and my own transformations, but more so please include my father and all the departed that they may be granted eternal rest in perpetual light from the Father.