Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Loaves and Fishes

Here's a bit of artwork I did a few years back, called Loaves and Fishes.

Inspired by the work of my friend and a wonderful artist Robert Kauffmann, I was going for something in the style of M.C. Escher adapted to a Scriptural theme. Here it was a pretty easy connection with one of the best-known miracles of Christ: take five loaves and two fishes, and multiply them into infinity.

The basic shape is a triangle, which recalls the Trinity and is repeated in the center of the triangle with a triple set of loaves. The two fish and the two remaining loaves symbolize the two natures in Christ. That two of the loaves are broken recall the confraction of the Eucharist and the Emmaus narrative in Luke where the two disciples recognized the risen Christ "in the breaking of the bread".

At the heads of the first pair of fish there is a chalice which takes up the remaining space. The bottom of the chalice does not stay strictly within the triangle; it spreads outward and connects the first large triangle with the two flanking smaller ones. When inverted, this space becomes a water-filled cruet. The chalice and the cruet are also Eucharistic, and they recall the water and blood from the side of Christ at the crucifixion as well as, more vaguely, the miracle of the wedding feast at Cana.

Finally, the way the fish body sticks straight up and then the tails splay out from them was partly on the columns in the Cenacle, or the room of the Last Supper.

Overall, the idea visually was that the largest triangle would attract your attention first, and then the downward pointing would draw your eye subsequently into the smaller and smaller ones. Not sure if I was able to pull that off, but feel free to drop me a line and let me know if it worked.

The Latin inscription around the frame is from the Vulgate, Mark 6:41-42:

And when he had taken the five loaves, and the two fishes: looking up to heaven, he blessed, and broke the loaves, and gave to his disciples to set before them: and the two fishes he divided among them all. And they all did eat, and had their fill.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

How the Hippies Narrowly Avoided Losing Me: Part 1

An old friend who knew me during my liberal New Age environmentalist hippy days said that she'd love to hear how the hippies lost me.

Well, the first thing to say is they didn't. Everything I loved about being that hippy I still have, and have much better. What I am now involves the same sensitivity to others, the same liberality, the same spirituality, the same deep love for Nature, and the same spiritual burning for Love. So this is less a story about how the hippies lost me than about how they almost lost me.

When I was introduced to the book Bridge Across Forever by Richard Bach it changed my life--infused me with new purpose. I was a teenager at the time, going through all the philosophical and romantic convulsions that are typical of the age, and one phrase from that book struck a deep, deep chord with me: "Do you ever feel like you are missing someone you never met?"

I did! That was exactly how I felt. And Bach's philosophy of the soulmate in that book was, looking back on it, filling a void that religion had left--a spirituality not of dogma and rules but of Love. Pure, free, wild Love. For a kid who had become so spiritually parched, that idea of Love was a life-giving spring and I drank deeply from it. I adopted Bach's philosophy as my own.

Two problems, however, began to intrude on it. One was science. Science had a beauty of its own--a high, cold, piercing beauty but one seemingly unrelatable to Love. Oh sure, scientists could say that they loved truth and loved discovery and loved the Universe and all that, but it wasn't the *same* kind of deep, fulfilling personal Love that Bach was talking about. And objecting from the other angle, what, scientifically, was love anyway? How could you explain it? This wasn't a huge problem, just a philosophical disconnect, but its presence annoyed me.

Far more formidable were the two worst enemies my hippy nature had ever encountered: evil and sin. Evil was something I understood well--why that's just the bad things other people do. Sin was something I didn't understand--because I was not prepared to acknowledge the bad things I did. So I had a curious theology that recognized evil but not sin--the problems in the world were everyone else's. Not mine. They were general, not personal.

That was the state I was in.

At the time I was reading more history, and I was starting to realize how utterly lucky I had been and how rare a kid's life in the American 1980s was. Depressions, war, famine, pestilence...at last the fact hit me with the force of a philosophical sledgehammer. The good times wouldn't last for me. They couldn't last.

My extreme sensitivity to others, I finally realized, had only survived blanketed in a naive assurance that I would always be fine. Sure *other people* were suffering, I felt badly for them, but we in the U.S. were ever expanding our Empire of Kindness, we would soon reach them as well, and all would be right with the world. In my mind was an unspoken prayer to the suffering of humanity..."Just hang on, friends, we will save you."

I was now convinced we would never save them. We *could* never save them. Suffering would always be among us--and even we optimistic go-getter Americans could fall prey to it. My blanket of smug assurance melted before this realization, and there I was, left with my extreme sensitivity to suffering bare naked before the violent ravages of evil.

Meanwhile, my own evil--my sin--was becoming harder and harder to ignore. My sensitivity had begun to fold inward. I was becoming more selfish. More self-absorbed. I began to suffer nausea and anxiety. The more I put my own needs and my own pleasures before all else, the sicker I became and the less joy I felt in anything.

In such a condition, Love became impossible. And I knew it.

That's when I had a philosophical meltdown. Every joy in life evaporated. The Love that I had put such confidence in seemed not only impossible but powerless and puny.

For a few days I was brought to the lowest point I have ever been in my life. It was a period of utter nihilism. Nothing mattered. My life didn't matter and there was nothing to believe in. I was a shattered, broken, miserable, wretched human being.

But, as I was later to discover, this wretchedness was the greatest blessing of my life.

"Into the blistering wilderness of Shur, the man who walked with kings now walks alone.

Torn from the pinnacle of royal power, stripped of all rank and earthly wealth, a forsaken man without a country, without a hope, his soul in turmoil like the hot winds and raging sands that lash him with the fury of a taskmaster's whip.

He is driven forward, always forward, by a god unknown, toward a land unseen...into the molten wilderness of sin, where granite sentinels stand as towers of living death to bar his way.

Each night brings the black embrace of loneliness. In the mocking whisper of the wind, he hears the echoing voices of the dark...

His tortured mind wondering if they call the memory of past triumphs or wail foreboding of disasters yet to come or whether the desert's hot breath has melted his reason into madness.

He cannot cool the burning kiss of thirst upon his lips nor shade the scorching fury of the sun.

All about is desolation.

He can neither bless nor curse the power that moves him, for he does not know from where it comes.

Learning that it can be more terrible to live than to die, he is driven onward through the burning crucible of desert, where holy men and prophets are cleansed and purged for God's great purpose.

Until at last, at the end of human strength, beaten into the dust from which he came, the metal is ready for the Maker's hand.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Non-Choice of Contraception

So let's say I didn't want toast. Yet every morning I went to my toaster, put two pieces of bread in it, and then turned it on. And let's say--because I didn't want toast remember--I'd cover the bread in fiberglass insulation, I'd spray water on the bread, or I'd shoot cool air into the toaster from a high-powered fan so that a few minutes later I could hear the little "ding" and pull my bread out perfectly untoasted--just how I like it.

Well, basically, that's exactly what people are expecting the Church to say when it comes to birth control...and I'll explain why.

The toaster in my analogy is the Reproductive System. That system is a machine with a purpose. It does exactly what it is designed to do. And what is it designed to do? Reproduce. That's what it's for.

If that is what it's for--and I challenge anyone explain it any other way evolutionarily--then it seems a bit curious to play this little game of engaging it halfway and then frustrating it in its natural conclusion. More sensible to simply not engage it in the first place right? Leave the toaster off, and there's no worry about toast.

This is fundamentally what the Church objects to in the act of contraception--this halfhearted, confused act of auto-frustration.

She does not object to the choice itself, nor does she object to whichever way a human being decides to go. She supports our yes, and she supports our no. Every man and woman who have children she elevates as participators in the divine act of creation. Every man and woman who do not have children she elevates as a model of celibate chastity. There have been married men and women in her annals who have deliberately decided not to have children even in marriage--a spiritual or Josephite marriage--and they have been celebrated for it.

The stupidity in the modern thinking on this is precisely here--that the "choice" to have children is thought to be in the frustration of the natural act of sex, and not in the choice to engage the sexual faculty in the first place.

What the Church strenuously objects to is a no-filled yes, and a yes-filled no--one where we do everything in our power to make toast, while we do everything in our power to not make toast. One where we deny ourselves a real choice, a real freedom to decide one way or another, for this strange half-state where we haven't really chosen anything.

The Church knows, sensibly, that there are saner ways to satisfy our need for a nice little "ding".

Friday, May 11, 2012

On the hunt....

I was pointed to this site by a friend of mine. Thanks Lauren!

It makes a bunch of (frankly) ludicrous historical claims, but the one that really caught my attention was this:

In the definitive 10th century account of their lives, St. Sergius is openly celebrated as the "sweet companion and lover" of St. Bacchus. Sergius and Bacchus's close relationship has led many modern scholars to believe they were lovers. But the most compelling evidence for this view is that the oldest text of their martyrology, written in New Testament Greek describes them as "erastai,” or "lovers". In other words, they were a male homosexual couple. Their orientation and relationship was not only acknowledged, but it was fully accepted and celebrated by the early Christian church, which was far more tolerant than it is today.
Now here's my problem. I googled this left and right, and got precious little background on this claim except obvious cut-and-paste rehashings of the same basic plot: that John Boswell "discovered" that the two men were described as "erastai" (likely a mistake for "erastoi") = "lovers" in the earliest account of their martyrdom. This claim is now all over the Internet, and seems to be accepted as plain fact.

Not so fast.

Thanks to Google, I now have the Greek text of the Acts of Sts. Sergius and Bacchus in front of me (page 373 and following). I also found a translation of these Acts attributed to John Boswell.

The Greek text is not searchable, and I'm slow at it, so I'd have to go through it word by word to determine where "erastai/erastoi" occurs if at all. But the *really* odd thing is that nothing like it seems to be in Boswell's English translation.

Do the search. No "lover," no "love". In short, no indication that the concept of lover/erastos is even *in* this text at all--English or Greek.

So let me get this straight. John Boswell discovered the fact in this account that Sergius and Bacchus were erastoi/lovers...*and he didn't bother to translate it accordingly?* Maybe I am just missing it. Maybe he was misattributed. Or maybe some academics are putting some serious disinformation out there, and maybe they have some serious explaining to do.

I sure as heck intend to find out.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Poison of Perfectionism

Last year I had a wonderful conversation on perfectionism with my cousin: a brilliant, accomplished engineer and a devoted husband and father.

He leaned in and told me with his characteristic passion that perfection is mathematically impossible. A person was a finite thing--therefore, he could only do the best he could with the skill, materials, time, and personnel that he had. To put everything on hold until some mythical perfect moment when all the elements were precisely aligned was a foolish way to go through life and great way to never get anything done.

A few months later, we were gathering at a family party expecting to see him shortly, when we received terrible news--he had collapsed and been rushed to the hospital. It was followed shortly by the even more chilling news that he was gone.

Since this all took place around my 40th birthday, his words served as stark warning against my tendency toward big dreams and equally big excuses. I have never been short of ideas. To the contrary, I have a veritable backlog of them. But I am growing ever short of years to accomplish them. My available "somedays" are rapidly contracting--to say nothing of the possibility they could all vanish in an instant.

In each of our hearts, God has seared a mission. A dream.

But we have only a limited time within which to carry it out. As long as we dither around making excuses why we can't make good on it, we set up an irresolvable conflict within ourselves which, inevitably, will sap our energy and poison our relationships. We will begin to despair. Our lives will be a constant reminder of how we are not doing what we were meant to do. We will become embittered, angry, and frustrated.

I am becoming convinced that a lot of unhappiness in myself and in the world--perhaps most of it--comes from exactly this prideful inflation of our dreams by making them more grandiose and less attainable than they really are.

Contrary to what most of us big dreamers think, the limitations that we complain about are not an impediment. They are an opportunity. An opportunity to start small, get a hold of the basics, grow in experience, and then be ready when and if the big break ever comes. Getting lucky--having that big break fall into your lap before you are prepared to handle it--is more a curse than a blessing. It is a recipe for grandiose failure. Compare entrepreneurs who slowly build a business over decades with folks who suddenly come into millions and you'll see what I mean.

Abraham Lincoln called attention to exactly this aspect of human nature in his address to the Wisconsin Fair in 1859:

The ambition for broad acres leads to poor farming, even with men of energy. I scarcely ever knew a mammoth farm to sustain itself; much less to return a profit upon the outlay. I have more than once known a man to spend a respectable fortune upon one; fail and leave it; and then some man of more modest aims, get a small fraction of the ground, and make a good living upon it. Mammoth farms are like tools or weapons, which are too heavy to be handled. Ere long they are thrown aside, at a great loss.

Mammoth dreams are the same way--too heavy to be handled, and soon thrown aside. Instead of satisfaction, there is only frustration.

There is, on the other hand, a great peace that comes with living a dream that is just our size. While we may fantasize about acres and orchards, we might find immeasurable happiness in 20 square feet of garden in a tiny suburban plot, or even in some potted herbs on the 16th floor of a high-rise. And perhaps by proving ourselves with these little responsibilities, we will be better able to tackle bigger ones, should the opportunity ever come.

The Scriptures tell us that through sin, death entered into the world. Many people view that as a kind of retribution: we did bad, so we got punished.

Perhaps not. Once sin introduced in all of us the tendency to selfishly waste, the tendency to languish and dither, the tendency to sulk and mope about what we don't have, perhaps God reclaimed the mammoth, unwieldy sprawl of eternity as a mercy. Perhaps He knew that immortality for a selfish being invariably meant, as it was for Douglas Adams's Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged, a descent into boredom, bitterness, and Hell.

Our limited time on earth may be God's way of saving us from such a monstrous eternity, a way of focusing our dim, inconstant, flickering love into something manageable, something achievable.

Don't wait, my cousin would say, for perfection to do good. Start small. Pare down your ideas to fit the life you have. Then grow in experience, grow in wisdom, and grow in the satisfaction that you are doing what you were put on this earth to do.

Then, if God should deign in His infinite mercy to bless you one day with the whole of eternity, you will know what to do with it.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Chaplet of the Holy Family Confraternity

Madame Barbe d'Ailleboust, the widow of the governor of Canada, founded the Confraternity of the Holy Family in 1663 with the assistance of Father Pierre-Joseph Chaumonot. The Confraternity was soon afterward approved by the first Bishop of Quebec, Blessed Fran├žois Laval, who had established a feast and a Mass for the Holy Family on the Third Sunday of Easter. From these humble beginnings the feast spread, until now it is celebrated by the Universal Church, though it has since been moved to the Christmas season.

The Chaplet of the Holy Family, composed of 3 sets of 10 beads, is as old as the Confraternity itself. By the early 1670s Catherine Gandeaktena introduced it to the Indian mission of St. Francis Xavier, and by the end of the decade St. Kateri Tekakwitha would make it an important part of her devotional life.

Recently I found the instructions and meditations for this chaplet in an 1867 manual of prayers for the Confraternity the Holy Family (see p. 120 and following).

There are, of course, other chaplets dedicated to the Holy Family, but this one occupies such a unique place in Canadian history that I think it deserves to be better known. I have translated it below.

-Claudio

___________________

Prayer before the Chaplet

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Thy faithful and kindle in them the fire of Thy love.

V. Send forth Thy Spirit, and they shall be created.
R. And Thou shalt renew the face of the earth.

Let us pray.

O God, who didst instruct the hearts of the faithful by the light of the Holy Spirit: give to us, in the same Spirit, to know what is right, and ever rejoice in His consolation. Through Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, Who with Thee livest and reignest in the unity of the same Holy Spirit, God. World without end. Amen.

___________________

CHAPLET OF THE HOLY FAMILY

The Chaplet is composed of three decades, each with a brief meditation.

On the large beads is said the Our Father.

On the small beads is said the following:

V. Jesus, Mary, Joseph, Joachim and Anna, come to our assistance.
R. Holy Trinity, One God, have mercy on us.

The Glory Be is said at the end of each decade.

___________________

MEDITATIONS

First Decade.

Remember the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, on which the Most Holy Trinity has bestowed every kindness and the fullness of grace. In the Holy Family all sin has been banished, and the peace of the most perfect union reigns there, along with charity toward everyone. Those who wish to shower upon their household the mercies of Heaven must refrain from offending God, apply themselves in a concerted manner to maintain peace and unity in their family, and be filled with sweetness and charity for their fellow man. These things are what we ask of God, through the merits of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, for all the children of their Holy Family, in reciting the first decade. Our Father…

Second Decade.

Consider the intentions of Our Lady and Saint Joseph in raising the Divine Infant Jesus. Undoubtedly they cared only for the glory of God and for the relief of their fellow man; undoubtedly these thoughts encouraged them at every moment. They thought, "Oh, how the life of our lovable child is dear and agreeable to God! Oh, how it will bring glory to Him, and what good it will bring to the world when he is older!" Let us enter into the same spirit, and let us ask of God, for the fathers and mothers who do not care for God, that all the cares they take with their children will some day make them capable of glorifying God and edifying their fellow man. Our Father…

Third Decade.

Observe, on the one hand, the promptness and the joy with which the child Jesus, the Son of God that he was, obeyed the Holy Virgin and St. Joseph, and on the other hand, the repugnance, the cowardice, and the boredom that some children show in obeying their fathers and mothers. Are we not saddened by this difference? Let us ask of our Eternal Father, for the grace of submission and obedience that Jesus showed to the Holy Virgin and to her Spouse, that He make the children of the members of the Confraternity of the Holy Family tractable and obedient to their parents. Our Father…

Saturday, April 14, 2012

On Happiness in Hell

"Outside of the Church there is no Salvation"

No use weaseling around it. That is a dogma of the Catholic Church. And I don't care what you think Vatican II said or didn't say, it is final. Irrevocable. It hasn't changed for 2000 years and it won't change for the next 2000. If the world lasts that long.

But nothing gets people's noses to crinkle and their underwear to bunch up than this dogma. Go ahead--bring it up at a party, and you'll end up observing to yourself, as you are hurtling out a broken window accompanied by shards of double-pane glass and stray argon molecules, that it absolutely maddens and infuriates people like no other.

People have developed this smug idea that the Church can't POSSIBLY be right on this. No way. To sentence a "nice person" to hell is stupid on its face. Ridiculous.

Well guess what. Those people are wrong. The Church is right.

I'm sure fellow Catholics will want to chime in with all different ways to nuance the dogma. Baptism of Desire. Invincible Ignorance. I get all those things. I understand that they are important concepts.

But never mind those things right now. I am not interested in them here. I want to hopefully demonstrate why, even *without* those nuances, the Church's dogma is STILL perfectly sensible to the modern mind.

The problem, at heart, is that too many people *think* they know what the Church is talking about when it uses the words "heaven" and "hell". But they don't. They've made some bad assumptions in the beginning, then everything has gone wrong from there. But once we fix those bad initial assumptions, the whole thing makes much more sense.

First, let's ask ourselves a question. What is heaven?

Easy question, right? Or maybe not so easy. But take some time and answer it before you read any further. Really think about it. What IS heaven? It's part of the afterlife, we know, but what really characterizes it? What does it offer to us that we don't have here on earth?

Ponder that a bit.

Now here's what I'm betting. I'm betting many of you think of heaven as some sweet place of happiness where there's nice music, and gardens, and freedom from pain, and reunions with loved ones who have died. Where there is enough to eat. Where there is comfort. Where man is physically and psychologically content. Where there generally is...happiness.

The existence of such a place is an entirely reasonable proposition. The pagans, I think, pretty much all believed that. The Elysian Fields. The happy hunting grounds. The pagans thought, generally, that if you were good you went to a good place, and if you were bad you went to a bad place.

I am not going to dispute that idea one bit. I think the pagans were absolutely right on that score.

But here's the problem.

The pagan good place ain't the Christian heaven.

You see, the pagan good place is a place of *natural* happiness. What do I mean by natural? I mean the happiness that is due to your nature: your human nature. Basically, creature comforts. Enough food, enough drink, enough companionship, enough affection, enough all the things that make life enjoyable.

There also happens to be a place of natural happiness in the Christian afterlife. But it's not in heaven.

It's in hell.

Or, actually, maybe on the border of hell. It's sort of hell and it sort of isn't. We're not sure. But we know it ain't heaven.

Go grab a copy of Dante's Inferno. In it you'll find described a place called Limbo, where the souls of the just pagans reside. And if you compare Dante's description of Limbo with what other religions describe as the "good" afterlife, it's pretty clear to me anyway that the same place is being described.

Here's what the old edition of the Catholic Encyclopedia said about Limbo:

"The New Testament contains no definite statement of a positive kind regarding the lot of those who die in original sin without being burdened with grievous personal guilt……Now it may confidently be said that, as the result of centuries of speculation on the subject, we ought to believe that these souls enjoy and will eternally enjoy a state of perfect natural happiness; and this is what Catholics usually mean when they speak of the limbus infantium, the "children's limbo."

Now I am no theologian. But it's pretty clear to me anyway that the good afterlife of pretty much every major religion (maybe with the exception of Buddhism) is the exact equivalent of the Catholic Limbo: a place of natural happiness.

So if one of those nasty old Christian dogmatists tells you you're going to hell because you're not Christian, ask yourself this rather uncomfortable question. Is that Christian REALLY offering you any worse deal than the deal you already have? The Church believes the good non-Christian enjoys natural happiness in Limbo, and the bad non-Christian endures suffering in the nastier bits of hell. If you're good, you won't suffer. If you're bad, you will.

Now do you see why the complaints about "Catholics think I'm going to hell" is so hollow? Why it doesn't make sense?

If you believe in an afterlife of natural happiness and that's it--if your idea of heaven is all the things I described above, YOU think you're going to hell. Call it the underworld. Fine. Call it the Elysian fields or the happy hunting grounds. I don't care. We call it Limbo.

Whatever you call it, it may really be the only thing you ever wanted or expected from an afterlife anyway. If so, then stop complaining about going there.

Another uncomfortable question is this…is do you even WANT to go to our heaven? Heaven as Christianity defines it? Because once you hear what it is, maybe you won't.

We Christians are not content with mere natural happiness. We want more.

Heaven is not just a place of natural happiness. Oh sure, there WILL be natural happiness, all the good things that are in Limbo will be in heaven too.

But the defining characteristic of heaven, the thing that makes it qualitatively different than Hell and Limbo, is SUPERNATURAL happiness.

Now too many of us have forgotten what supernatural really means. It doesn't just mean spiritual. It doesn't just mean other-wordly. It doesn't mean ghosts and goblins.

The word is, etymologically, super + nature. Above nature. Greater than nature. Superior to nature.

Thus, supernatural happiness is a special kind of happiness that is over and above what nature owes us.

Let's draw an analogy. Say we gave you unlimited food, companionship, drink, perfect weather, etc. Say we took care of all your needs. You'd be pretty happy right?

Now suppose we went one further and said ok, "Guess what, now you can fly through space!" You could fly to the moon, or to Saturn, or a comet. Unlike with food and water and loved ones, you could be perfectly happy without being able to fly through space. But if such a thing could be given to you, you would enjoy a new kind of happiness, an *extra* kind of happiness.

Heaven is supernatural happiness because in it we experience something that is not due to the human being by nature. This is the beatific vision--the direct, immediate experience and participation in the life of God. Remember that back in the old days, pagans and Jews too didn't think human beings could experience the divine nature directly. It was just too much for a human being to bear. Hence all the statements about "none shall see the face of God and live."

Try to put the Creator of the entire Universe into a human brain and, yeah, you better believe you're gonna bust the seams a bit.

Unless, of course, someone takes the time to restitch and reinforce it. Add some extra bits of fabric that weren't in the original.

The Church says that with God's help, with his free gift of the thing we call grace, we CAN see the face of God and live. We can participate in the life of God. We can undergo, as the Eastern Churches say, theosis--an elegant Greek term that we might shoehorn into English as "enGoddening."

All it takes is to consent to the process of being made into a new being. To be conformed to Christ. This is where the Church comes in.

The Church is not a gatekeeper letting some folks in and keeping some out.

The Church is a state of the art medical center where God, through the sacraments, freely offers everyone--every single person--the chance to "upgrade" our natures, as it were, from a normal human nature to one that is capable of directly experiencing the Uncreated Creator without blowing apart into tiny bits. That upgrade is a gift. We've never deserved it, and God is not bound by any sort of justice to give it to us. You are obligated to feed and shelter your dog. You are not obligated to teach him to read.

Interestingly, the pagan deities were not strangers to this process either. They practiced a form of theosis and allowed select people to join the ranks of the gods.

But this transformation wasn't for the masses, no no no. To become a god you generally had to have divine blood in you already. You had to be a demigod. Aeneas, Romulus, Julius Caesar, Augustus--all of them claimed divine ancestors. All of them were kings and emperors. Governors and generals weren't made gods--to say nothing of commoners. The poor beggar in the streets of Antioch or Rome--no WAY he could participate in the divine nature after death. He had to be content with his common fate in the underworld and that was that.

Those who fault Christianity for its harshness toward souls in the afterlife have it exactly backwards. It was the pagans who stingily insisted on keeping the most precious gift of divinity for a little privileged elite. It was the pagans who threw the masses indiscriminately into the underworld and never allowed them to lift their sights to the deities of Olympus.

Christianity blew the doors of Heaven off the hinges, setting its sights beyond Olympus, beyond the sun and the stars, beyond even the edge of the universe. It offered anyone, ANYONE, no matter how poor or miserable or downtrodden a way to share divinity in the next life. Not to totally become God Himself, mind you, but in some mysterious way to share in His nature. We don't totally understand it. But that's what it offered, and that's how it must be judged.

So you say ok, fine. Why *wouldn't* everyone want that? Why *wouldn't* everyone want to be your superman, your supernatural upgrade?

Well you tell me. Personally, I think it's nuts not to want it. But people still have their reasons. There's a lot of arrogant people out there. Do you really think such folks are keen to peer into the mind of God and see how small and insignificant they are next to the immensity of the universe, much less the Creator of it?

So you may say well, I DO want it. I WANT the supernatural happiness. I WANT to behold the face of God for all eternity, and not just have the natural happiness of Limbo.

Fine. Then ask yourself this. Does your current religion or lack thereof currently offer a true participation in the divine life of God? Does your current religion give you that option?

If it doesn't, if *by its own admission* it can't offer you these things, and if that is something you want, well……

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Custom Playmobil: The Adventures of St. Patrick

Although Playmobil doesn't make a Saint Patrick set, it's not hard to cobble one together from existing products to help teach your children the story of this great patron of Ireland.

The PLAYMOBIL 4887 SAINT NICHOLAS with ANGELdoes a pretty good stand-in for St. Patrick all by himself, but you can use stickers or paint to color his vestments in his iconic green, like this mockup I did in Photoshop:

The occasional snake can be found in a larger set like the Playmobil North American Forest Animalsor the Playmobil 4842 Treasure Temple with Guards. The cheaper option is to pick up individual Playmobil Snakes on Ebay.

Later this year Playmobil is releasing a Celtic Knight. This is a good figure for St. Dichu, the Celtic chieftain whose sword arm was miraculously prevented from harming St. Patrick but who later became a model of sanctity and peace.

There is an old Playmobil Druid, now discontinued, which you might be able to find on Ebay. St. Patrick confronted and overthrew the power of the druid priests one Easter at Tara.
As far as I know, there are no Playmobil shamrocks.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Big Government on the Eve of the French Revolution

Alexis D'Tocqueville always makes for excellent political reading. I found these passages from his book on the French Revolution particularly striking this morning: In Chapter 5 of his Ancien Regime and the French Revolutionhe discusses how the centralization of government happened first under the monarchy:
"About thirty or forty years before the Revolution broke out, the scene changed. Every portion of the social body seemed to quiver with internal motion. The phenomenon was unprecedented, and casual observers did not notice it; but it gradually became more characteristic and more distinct. Year after year it became more general and more violent, till the whole nation was aroused. Beware of supposing that its old life is going to be restored ! 'Tis the awakening of a new spirit, which gives life only in order to destroy.

... I have said elsewhere that the comptroller-general and the intendants of 1740 were very different personages from the comptroller-general and the intendants of 1780. This is shown in detail in the official correspondence of the time. At both periods intendants were invested with the same authority, employed the same agents, used the same arbitrary means ; but their objects were different. In 1740 intendants were engrossed with the business of keeping their province in order, levying militia, and collecting the taille; in 1780 their heads were full of schemes for enriching the public. Roads, canals, manufactures, commerce, and agriculture above all, absorbed their attention."
Enriching the public? Now that doesn't sound *quite* like the ruthless French monarchy we learned about in school, now, does it? Rather sounds.....(gasp)....like a modern socialist country.
"Day after day, the central government conquers new fields of action into which these bodies can not follow it. Novelties arise, pregnant with cases for which no precedents can be found in parliamentary routine : society, in a fever of activity, creates new demands, which the government alone can satisfy, and each of which swells its authority ; for the sphere of all other administrative bodies is defined and fixed ; that of the government alone is movable, and spreads with the extension of civilization. "
D'Tocqueville goes on to describe the efforts of the Old Regime to provide for the public welfare in this period: a "general concern for the ills of the poor", which he admits was a new thing for the time, including tens of thousands of livres in what we'd call public assistance and welfare payments. Then he sums up with describing the tenor of sentiment a decade before all hell broke loose:
No one in 1780 had any idea that France was on the decline; on the contrary, there seemed to be no bounds to its progress. It was then that the theory of the continual and indefinite perfectibility of man took its rise. Twenty years before, nothing was hoped from the future; in 1780 nothing was feared. Imagination anticipated a coming era of unheard-of felicity, diverted attention from present blessings, and concentrated it upon novelties.
In the 1780s theories abound about the indefinite perfectibility of man. In the 1790s we see the guillotines and the Reign of Terror.

So is the restless centralization and boundless activity we see in our own government right now a symptom of a new revitalization? Or is it, as it was in France 1780, an ill omen best summed up in that Biblical maxim: Pride goeth before the fall.