Collect for the Fourth Sunday after Trinity

O God, the protector of all that trust in thee, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: increase and multiply upon us thy mercy; that, thou being our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we finally lose not the things eternal; grant this, O heavenly Father, for the sake of Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Holy Week 2015

What follows are some suggested meditations for Holy Week, taken from a number of English authors (two Catholics and five Anglicans), as well as some selections from the Litany and the Collects of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. I'll be trying to reduce my time online this week, and am planning to be entirely off for the Triduum (Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday), so this will be my last update until after Easter; for the same reason, I won't be approving comments for a little while, though of course readers are still free to leave them if they don't mind waiting to see them published.

Fig Monday (March 30th)

Named for the famous incident in which Jesus blasted the fig tree -- His sole miracle of destruction -- this is also the date (ritually, at least; the precise chronology of Holy Week in history is notoriously difficult to work out from the Gospels) of the cleansing of the Temple.
At the back of the Christian moral code we find a number of pronouncements about the moral law, which are not regulations at all, but which purport to be statements of fact about man and the universe, and upon which the whole moral code depends for its authority and its validity in practice. These statements do not rest on human consent; they are either true or false. If they are true, man runs counter to them at his own peril. He may, of course, defy them, as he may defy the law of gravitation by jumping off the Eiffel Tower, but he cannot abolish them by edict. Nor yet can God abolish them, except by breaking up the structure of the universe, so that in this sense they are not arbitrary laws. ... There is a difference between saying: "If you hold your finger in the fire you will get burned" and saying, "If you whistle at your work I shall beat you, because the noise gets on my nerves." The God of the Christians is too often looked upon as an old gentleman of irritable nerves who beats people for whistling. This is the result of a confusion between arbitrary "law" and the "laws" which are statements of fact. ... Scattered about the New Testament are other statements concerning the moral law, many of which bear a similar air of being arbitrary, harsh, or paradoxical: "Whosoever will save his life shall lose it"; "to him that hath shall be given, but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath"; "it must needs be that offenses come, but woe unto that man by whom the offense cometh" ... We may hear a saying such as these a thousand times, and find in it nothing but mystification and unreason; the thousand and first time, it falls into our recollection pat upon some vital experience, and we suddenly know it to be a statement of inexorable fact. ... The cursing of the barren fig-tree looks like an outburst of irrational bad temper, "for it was not yet the time of figs"; till some desperate crisis confronts us with the challenge of that acted parable and we know that we must perform impossibilities or perish. 
-- Dorothy Sayers, The Mind of the Maker pp. 8-10
From all evil and mischief; from sin, from the crafts and assaults of the devil; from thy wrath, and from everlasting damnation,
Good Lord, deliver us.
From all blindness of heart; from pride, vain-glory, and hypocrisy; from envy, hatred, and malice, and all uncharitableness,
Good Lord, deliver us.
From fornication, and all other deadly sin; and from all the deceits of the world, the flesh, and the devil,
Good Lord, deliver us.
From lightning and tempest; from plague, pestilence, and famine; from battle and murder, and from sudden death,
Good Lord, deliver us.
From all sedition, privy conspiracy, and rebellion; from all false doctrine, heresy, and schism; from hardness of heart, and contempt of thy Word and Commandment,
Good Lord, deliver us.
By the mystery of thy holy Incarnation; by thy holy Nativity and Circumcision; by thy Baptism, Fasting, and Temptation,
Good Lord, deliver us.
By thine Agony and bloody Sweat; by thy Cross and Passion; by thy precious Death and Burial; by thy glorious Resurrection and Ascension; and by the coming of the Holy Ghost,
Good Lord, deliver us.
In all time of our tribulation; in all time of our wealth; in the hour of death, and in the day of judgment,
Good Lord, deliver us.

-- From the Litany

Temple Tuesday (March 31st)

Named for the time before Passover that Jesus spent in the Temple court teaching. The many parables of Holy Week, the challenges from and to the Pharisees and Sadducees, and the Seven Woes are associated with this day.
Of all that was done in the past, you eat the fruit, either rotten or ripe.
And the Church must be forever building, and always decaying, and always being restored.
For every ill deed in the past we suffer the consequence:
For sloth, for avarice, gluttony, neglect of the Word of GOD,
For pride, for lechery, treachery, for every act of sin.
And of all that was done that was good, you have the inheritance.
For good and ill deeds belong to a man alone when he stands alone on the other side of death,
But here upon earth you have the reward of the good and ill that was done by those who have gone before you.
And all that is ill you may repair if you walk together in humble repentance, expiating the sins of your fathers;
And all that was good you must fight to keep with hearts as devoted as those of your fathers who fought to gain it.
The Church must be forever building, for it is forever decaying within and attacked from without;
For this is the law of life; and you must remember that while there is time of prosperity
The people will neglect the Temple, and in time of adversity they will decry it. 
-- T. S. Eliot, Choruses from 'The Rock' II.25-37
That it may please thee to succor, help, and comfort all that are in danger, necessity, and tribulation,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.
That it may please thee to preserve all that travel by land or water, all women laboring of child, all sick persons, and young children; and to show thy pity upon all prisoners and captives,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.
That it may please thee to defend, and provide for, the fatherless children, and widows, and all that are desolate and oppressed,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.
That it may please thee to have mercy upon all men,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.
That it may please thee to forgive our enemies, persecutors, and slanderers, and to turn their hearts,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.
That it may please thee to give and preserve to our use the kindly fruits of the earth, so as in due time we may enjoy them,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.
That it may please thee to give us true repentance; to forgive us all our sins, negligences, and ignorances; and to endue us with the grace of thy Holy Spirit, to amend our lives according to thy holy Word,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.

-- From the Litany

Spy Wednesday (April 1st)

Giotto, The Arrest of Jesus and Kiss of Judas, 1306

This day is named for Judas Iscariot. When exactly he conferred with the Sanhedrin and agreed to betray Jesus to them is not known; Matthew and John seem to imply that the anointing of Christ at Bethany, which seems to have happened before the triumphal entry, spurred his decision.
But presently [Eve] remembers that the fruit may, after all, be deadly. She decides that if she is to die, Adam must die with her; it is intolerable that he should be happy, and (who knows?) with another woman when she is gone. I am not sure that critics always notice the precise sin which Eve is now committing, yet there is no mystery about it. Its name in English is Murder. ... If the precise movement of Eve's mind at this point is not always noticed, that is because Milton's truth to nature is here almost too great, and the reader is involved in the same illusion as Eve herself. ... Thus, and not otherwise, does the mind turn to embrace evil. No man, perhaps, ever at first described to himself the act he was about to do as Murder, or Adultery, or Fraud, or Treachery, or Perversion; and when he hears it so described by other men he is (in a way) sincerely shocked and surprised. Those others 'don't understand.' ... If you or I, reader, ever commit a great crime, be sure we shall feel very much more like Eve than like Iago. 
-- C. S. Lewis, A Preface to 'Paradise Lost', pp. 125-126
Almighty God, we beseech thee graciously to behold this thy family, for which our Lord Jesus Christ was contented to be betrayed, and given up into the hands of wicked men, and to suffer death upon the cross, who now liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

-- First Collect for Good Friday

Maundy Thursday (April 2nd)

The name maundy is an English slurring of the Latin mandatum, which means 'command,' and appears in the Vulgate phrase Mandatum novum do vobis, or, in English, 'A new command I give unto you'. The original consecration of the Eucharist, and the subsequent delineation of the New Covenant, took place on this night; it is now the first night of the Triduum, the apex of the liturgical year -- a solemn celebration that takes place over three days, commemorating the institution of the Mass and the priesthood, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection.
He determined to be incarnate by being born; that is, he determined to have a mother. His mother was to have companions of her own kind; and the mother and her companions were to exist in an order of their own degree, in time and place, in a world. They were to be related to him and to each other by a state of joyous knowledge; they were to derive from him and from each other; and he was to deign to derive his flesh from them. ... But what did happen? The web depended on its exchanged derivation, which itself sprang from the fact not only that all derived from him but that he had ordained that he, in his flesh, would derive from all. The two derivations were, in him, a single act ... Somewhere, somehow, the web loosed itself from its center -- also by its free choice. ... Sin had come into the great co-inherent web of humanity; say rather that all the web burst into sin, and broke or was antagonized within itself; knot against knot, and each filament everywhere countercharged within itself. It broke? alas, no; it could not break unless its maker consented that it should and he would not consent; his good will towards it ... was too great. He loved it; he had loved it in the making and he loved it made ... No; she had turned from him; she had attempted to deracinate her life; but he was still her root, and she should still have at her disposal all that he had given her; she should still have life. Intolerable charity! 
-- Charles Williams, The Forgiveness of Sins, pp. 120-122, 128
Almighty and everlasting God, by whose Spirit the whole body of the Church is governed and sanctified: Receive our supplications and prayers, which we offer before thee for all estates of men in thy holy Church, that every member of the same, in his vocation and ministry, may truly and godly serve thee; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

-- Second Collect for Good Friday

Good Friday (April 3rd)

Matthias Grunewald, The Crucifixion, ca. 1501

Words fail me. Chesterton can take over.
In this story of Good Friday it is the best things in the world that are at their worst. ... It was, for instance, the priests of a true monotheism and the soldiers of an international civilization. Rome, the legend, founded upon fallen Troy and triumphant over fallen Carthage, had stood for a heroism which was the nearest that any pagan ever came to chivalry. ... But in the lightning flash of this incident, we see great Rome, the imperial republic, going downward under her Lucretian doom. ... Rome was almost another name for responsibility. Yet [Pilate] stands forever as a sort of rocking statue of the irresponsible. ... There too were the priests of that pure and original truth that was behind all the mythologies ... It was the most important truth in the world; and even that could not save the world. ... The Jewish priests had guarded it jealously in the good and the bad sense. ... They were proud that they alone could look upon the blinding sun of a single deity; and they did not know that they had themselves gone blind. ... And as it was with these powers that were good, or at least had once been good, so it was with the element which was perhaps the best, or which Christ himself seems certainly to have felt as the best. The poor to whom he preached the good news, the common people who heard him gladly ... there was present in this ancient population an evil more peculiar to the ancient world. ... It was the soul of the hive; a heathen thing. The cry of this spirit also was heard in that hour, 'It is well that one man die for the people' ... that the one universal human spirit might suffer a universal condemnation; that there might be one deep, unanimous chorus of approval and harmony when Man was rejected of men. There were solitudes beyond where none shall follow. ... Nor is it easy for any words less stark and single-minded than those of the naked narrative even to hint at the horror of exaltation that lifted itself above the hill. ... [A] cry was driven out of that darkness in words dreadfully distinct and dreadfully unintelligible ... and for one annihilating instant an abyss that is not for our thoughts had opened even in the unity of the absolute; and God had been forsaken of God. 
-- The Everlasting Man, pp. 210-212
O merciful God, who hast made all men, and hatest nothing that thou hast made, nor wouldest the death of a sinner, but rather that he should be converted and live: Have mercy upon all Jews, Turks, Infidels, and Heretics, and take from them all ignorance, hardness of heart, and contempt of thy word; and so fetch them home, blessed Lord, to thy flock, that they may be saved among the remnant of the true Israelites, and be made one fold under one shepherd, Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.

-- Third Collect for Good Friday

Holy Saturday (April 4th)

The only thing we are specifically told happened the day after the Passion is that the surviving disciples and the Holy Family rested on the Sabbath as the Torah required. However, it's also hinted that the Lord did something in the realms of the dead at this time, which the Mediaeval Church developed in speculation and art into the awesomely-named tradition of the Harrowing of Hell. No liturgy celebrates this, however; the only liturgy this day is the Easter Vigil, the glorious climax of the Triduum and the very beginning of the Easter season. (This is the time when adult converts, having been catechized over the preceding months, are normally baptized as Catholics.)
For if all the pains contained in hell, on earth, and in purgatory -- including death and all -- were set before us, we ought rather to choose all that pain than sin itself ... And I was shown no harder hell than sin, for of its very nature, the soul knows no other hell but sin. Yet fixing our intent in love and meekness we are made all fair and clean by the working of mercy and grace. For as mighty and as wise as God is to save us, so is he most willing; it is Christ himself who is the ground of all Christian law, and he taught us to do good as against evil. In this we see that he himself is that love, for he does to us as he bids us do to others ... Inasmuch as his love is never broken toward us when we sin, so does he will that it is never broken within ourselves or toward our fellow Christians; rather we should hate the sin itself but endlessly love every soul as God loves it. 
-- Lady Julian of Norwich, The Revelation of Divine Love, Thirteenth Showing
Grant, O Lord, that as we are baptized into the death of thy blessed Son our Savior Jesus Christ, so by continually mortifying our corrupt affections we may be buried with him; and that, through the grave, and gate of death, we may pass to our joyful resurrection; for his merits, who died, and was buried, and rose again for us, thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

-- Collect for Easter Eve

Easter Sunday (April 5th)

Caravaggio, The Incredulity of Saint Thomas, 1602

The Resurrection, I presume, calls for little explanation. Or more accurately, little that I'm equipped to give. I'll only note that the first eight days of Easter, from this day through the following Sunday, are treated by the liturgy as one: eternity invading time, heaven breaking into the terrestrial plane, in the act of the Resurrection. This is why the number eight -- one step outside the seven-day week that forms the standard measurement of time on earth -- is often a symbol in Christianity of eternity.
Here saies S. Augustine, when the soule considers the things of this world ... She rests upon such things as she is not sure are true, but such as she sees, are ordinarily received and accepted for truth: so that the end of her knowledge is not Truth, but opinion ... But saies he, when she proceeds in this life to search into heavenly things ... The beames of that light are too strong for her, and they sink her, and cast her downe ... and so she returns to her owne darknesse, because she is most familiar, and best acquainted with it; Non electione, not because she loves ignorance, but because she is weary of the trouble of seeking out the truth, and so swallowes even any Religion to escape the paine of debating, and disputing ... But then in her Resurrection, her measure is enlarged, and filled at once; There she reads without spelling, and knowes without thinking, and concludes without arguing ... What a death is this life! what a resurrection is this death! For though this world be a sea, yet (which is most strange) our Harbour is larger than the sea; Heaven infinitely larger than this world. For, though that be not true, which Origen is said to say, That at last all shall be saved, nor that evident, which Cyril of Alexandria saies, That without doubt the number of them that are saved, is far greater than of them that perish, yet surely the number of them, with whom we shall have communion in Heaven, is greater than ever lived at once upon the face of the earth ... In Heaven we shall have Communion of Joy and Glory with all, alwaies; Ubi non intrat inimicus, nec amicus exit, Where never any man shall come in that loves us not, nor go from us that does. 
-- John Donne, Evening Sermon at St. Paul's on Easter Day, March 28, 1624
Almighty God, who through thine only-begotten Son Jesus Christ hast overcome death, and opened unto us the gate of everlasting life: We humbly beseech thee, that as by thy special grace preventing us thou dost put into our minds good desires, so by thy continual help we may bring the same to good effect; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

-- Collect for Easter Day

Friday, March 27, 2015

Five Quick Takes


Thank you very much for your prayers, party people. The friends I mentioned in this post have had a wonderful turn of good fortune, in the form of a job that the guy of the pair actually looks forward to doing, and that will furnish him with paychecks, complete with numbers on them that indicate money.

The said guy, whom I will refer to for the purposes of this post as Ceolfrith, is one of my oldest friends: we've known each other for about fifteen years, which is as long as I've known anyone outside my family, and watching him grow as a person and as a Christian has really been something, as has his generosity and affection to me personally. I can't be sure whether this is in spite of or because of the fact that we could hardly be any more unlike one another -- Ceolfrith is an extreme extravert, an engineer, a computer guy, decisive, and amazingly persistent -- but, whatever the cause, thank God he decided that we were friends, because it's worked like the dickens. He's struggled (as a straight dude) with some of the same difficulties over sex that I have, and last month he sent me a series of texts that I found helpful and touching*:
So feeling lonely is of course completely legitimate. But my brain likes to give me unhealthy solutions to painful stuff. So I try looking for where I'm being lied to that makes the bad solution look good. So that starts with what the loneliness means to you. E.g.: I'm lonely (true) which is painful (true) and then the lies start: that pain will kill me ... I have the right to find any available solution to that pain, my solutions will fix the pain/source thereof. But the truth is that I can't 'fix' pain (at least this kind), it's part of being human. The best I can do is share my pain with people who love me and can understand it. Part of the addictive mindset is needing a solution for things that don't 'solve.' ... Also my main internal lie is that I am lonely because I'm too broken to be loved. For me the implied rejection by everyone involved in feeling lonely is the hardest. 'If I were loved I wouldn't feel this way. Therefore I must not be truly loved. I guess no one truly loves me because I'm not good enough to earn it.' And that way I can hate myself for feeling lonely. Tadaaa!
*No homo.

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I don't believe I have mentioned it here on Mudblood Catholic before, though I have twitted about it somewhat; but, I am working on a novel, and have nearly finished! It's a mid-Victorian Catholic vampire gothic fantasy novel of manners, like all the kids are into these days, and is titled Death's Dream Kingdom. I'm currently polishing the final draft in the hope of making it as good as I can and removing any howlers, and I hope to publish it (most likely via Amazon) this summer. Prayers welcome, and maybe I'll give patrons a sneak peek; who knows?

(You. You all know. I'm going to give patrons a sneak peek. That is a thing that will happen.)

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Lent kind of rushed by this year, didn't it? The day after tomorrow is already Palm Sunday. I am planning to take the Triduum, at least, offline, which of course means that I won't be updating the blog or approving comments, but I'll take care of the backlog (if any) when I get back on.

This Lent hasn't exactly gone well for me; generally I have little to no trouble fulfilling my chosen penance, but this year I'm sure I've missed it about a third of the time. I guess that means I picked a good one? I don't know.

Nonetheless, for the past few days -- since Annunciation, on Wednesday -- I have been feeling stupid happy. I'm sure it's partly the Zoloft, but there's something else, too. My awkward fight with God seems marginally to have improved (regarding which, again, thank you for your prayers, and please continue them!): I haven't by any means gotten morally better, and I haven't gone to Confession nearly so often as I have decided to go to Confession.

What if there's a bear in there? With a gun?

Yet, for whatever reason, I just feel more willing and able to talk to Him. And a little less resistant to hearing Him talk to me, though whether I'll listen remains an open question.

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The last month or so, I've had the pleasure of having some conversations with a few Protestant pastors -- one who used to be the youth pastor at my old church, two others who were friends of friends and asked for a little sampling of us. I found both conversations extremely encouraging and refreshing. What stood out to me about both of them -- and which I am cautiously optimistic is a growing trend among Christians -- was that they made a point of talking to gay Christians about the experience of being a gay Christian; rather than deciding in advance that they knew what was necessary and then, however politely, even however compassionately, trying to stuff us into a pre-created mould.

To cure the gay. It can't fail.

Some people in the LGBT community would dismiss this as too little, too late; and I'm the first to concede (or rather, insist) that it should have been the churches' original response to the gay rights movement, rather than emerging forty years after Stonewall. But I believe firmly that it is every individual person who matters; it is in individuals, not in trends, that we encounter the image of almighty God. And if this shift helped only one individual person by making the church a safe place for them to be authentic, it would be worth the trouble.

It remains to be seen how far the shift will go, and in what circles. But I am hopeful. Christian history has its share of awfulness; but it also has its share of us getting it right eventually.

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Relief of the Lord meeting the Virgin with His cross, Church of Our Lady, Geneva.

My parish has been conducting the Stations of the Cross (in the traditional form, rather than the more specifically Scriptural form promulgated by St John Paul II) every Friday throughout Lent. Reflections differ; one that I particularly like is the allegorization of the Song of Solomon, applying its language to the Passion. This form of devotion, using the language of eroticism, strikes a lot of people as weird; it has, however, a very ancient pedigree, going back not only to the Mediaeval mystics (notably St Bernard of Clarivaux), but even to the New Testament itself, and indeed to the Old, where God is described as a Bridegroom, and first Israel and then the Church as His Bride. And it is fitting, too, to remember that the pain of the Passion was endured for the passion of His love for us.

The following are some possible meditations for each Station, adapted from the Song of Solomon.

I. Jesus is condemned to death
My beloved spake, and said unto me, Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.

II. Jesus takes up His Cross
Who is this that cometh up out of the wilderness, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, with all powders of the merchant?

III. Jesus falls the first time
The voice of my beloved! behold, he cometh leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills; my beloved is like a roe or a young hart.

IV. Jesus meets His Mother
Go forth, O ye daughters of Zion, and behold King Solomon with the crown wherewith his mother crowned him on the day of his espousals, and on the day of the gladness of his heart.

V. Jesus is helped by Simon of Cyrene
Thou that dwellest in the gardens, the companions hearken to thy voice: cause me to hear it.

VI. Jesus' face is wiped by Veronica
Thine head upon thee is like Mount Carmel, and the hair of thine head like purple; the king is held captive in thy tresses.

VII. Jesus falls the second time
My beloved is gone down into his garden, to the beds of spices, to feed in the gardens, and to gather lilies.

VIII. Jesus speaks to the women of Jerusalem
Draw me, we will run after thee: the king hath brought me into his chambers: we will be glad and rejoice in thee, we will remember thy love more than wine.

IX. Jesus falls the third time
Until the day break and the shadows flee away, I will get me to the mountain of myrrh and to the hill of frankincense.

X. Jesus is stripped
The watchmen that went about the city found me, they smote me, they wounded me: the keepers of the walls took my veil away from me.

XI. Jesus is nailed to the Cross
I am black but lovely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, as the curtains of Solomon.

XII. Jesus dies
My beloved is white and red, the chiefest among ten thousand. His head is as the most fine gold, and his locks are black as a raven. His eyes are as the eyes of doves by the rivers of waters.

XIII. Jesus' body is taken down from the Cross
I opened to my beloved, but he had withdrawn himself, and was gone; I called him, but he gave me no answer.

XIV. Jesus is laid in the tomb
I sleep, but my heart is awake: it is the voice of my beloved that knocketh, saying, Open to me, my love, my dove, my undefiled: for my head is wet with dew, my locks with the drops of the night.

Friday, March 20, 2015

A Mustard Seed

When I was five years old, my family went on a trip to Disneyland. I vaguely recall enjoying it, but five-year-olds are stupid so who knows whether it was any good.

One thing I did not enjoy, however, was the Pirates of the Carribean ride.* I took one look at the chaos and the shouting, and promptly screwed my eyes as tightly shut as they would go and hid my face in my hands. My mother kept telling me that it wasn't really scary and was just like Peter Pan, but I knew this was a devious ruse.

"You cheated!" "Pirate."

You sit on a throne of lies.

I wonder whether this is a good parallel to faith, especially to my extreme difficulty accepting the Church's teaching -- that is, according to my convictions, divine revelation -- about homosexuality. On the one hand, the similarities are fairly obvious: it was my mother's word, which I had no rational cause to doubt, against my kneejerk reaction and deliberately self-limited observation (I don't know that I've deliberately limited my observations about queer matters, but that isn't the chief point). On the other hand, the ride wasn't actually going to injure me in any way -- it might not even have scared me if I'd consented to open my eyes, but of course I have no way of knowing that -- whereas it is, in fact, terribly costly to lead a celibate life when you don't want to and aren't sure how; costly especially in loneliness, which is one of the hardest and most bitter crosses for a person to carry. Rewarding, perhaps, but that doesn't do away with the costliness. So maybe it's a good parallel and maybe it isn't.

I have been thinking more and more of late, though, that the opacity of the Church's teaching about homosexuality may be one of the conditions of faith for me. I don't get why God couldn't have, or at any rate didn't, design sex in such a way that that gay sex was as morally licit as straight sex; or, to put the same thing another way, why marriage is specifically for one man and one woman, as opposed to any two people irrespective of gender. I don't get that. I never have. But the Catholic Church, which I believe speaks with the authority of Christ, assures me that that is how invisible reality is shaped, so to speak, and so I'm presented with the choice of trusting the Catholic Church or withholding my trust from her.

And that's what faith is. St. Paul contrasts faith with sight, not because it's better not to see -- we look forward as Catholics to the Beatific Vision -- but because faith is precisely the decision to trust. It is an intellectual decision, but no less a decision for that; and that intellectual decision is the basis of love, because you cannot love what you refuse to know.

And honestly, with most of the Church's doctrine, I either see how it works clearly enough to be thoroughly satisfied of its truth, or at the least am content to shrug my shoulders and say, "Whatever, I believe you, Mama." This is one of the few, the very few, points where the faith is not merely opaque to me, but hard to believe, and even repellent. I think faith has to overcome that obstacle in us; save perhaps in a few happy souls whose growth into virtue is sufficiently natural and uninterrupted that the obstacle never arises. But such a dislike of divine things cannot simply be ignored, if it does arise.

Don't fight it, bro. Even God has a Mother.

For of course, as long as our -- my -- "faith" is merely assent to what seems either obvious or the most reasonable explanation of the obvious, it isn't faith, but rationality. Nobody is credited as having a strong faith in mathematics, or in mathematicians, because they firmly believe in the multiplication table. Faith comes in when it is a question of whom you trust, whom you choose to trust, and trust only becomes active and relevant when what's at stake is uncertain -- when trusting, or not trusting, has a concrete impact.

"If a man wishes to be sure of the road he travels on," said St. John of the Cross, "he must close his eyes and walk in the dark." And faith does become a kind of seeing, a way of knowing someone. When you trust somebody, you're finding out by experiment what kind of person they are. Now, that can be taken the wrong way: the experimental element here is not an experiment in the sense of a laboratory test in controlled conditions. Trust reposes its confidence in someone before they have unambiguously proven themselves worthy of it, though it may well start small and grow over time, in the style of the famous mustard seed. It's like the passage in The Silver Chair, maybe my favorite passage in the whole Chronicles of Narnia, where Jill meets Aslan for the first time:

   "Are you not thirsty?" said the Lion.
   "I'm dying of thirst," said Jill.
   "Then drink," said the Lion.
   "May I -- could I -- would you mind going away while I do?" said Jill.
   The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realized that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience.
   The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.
   "Will you promise not to -- do anything to me, if I do come?" said Jill.
   "I make no promise," said the Lion.
   Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer.
   "Do you eat girls?" she said.
   "I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms," said the Lion. It didn't say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.
   "I daren't come and drink," said Jill.
   "Then you will die of thirst," said the Lion.
   "Oh dear!" said Jill, coming another step nearer. "I suppose I must go and look for another stream then."
   "There is no other stream," said the Lion.
   It never occurred to Jill to disbelieve the Lion -- no one who had seen his stern face could do that -- and her mind suddenly made itself up. It was the worst thing she ever had to do ...
Without faith, I think, we will be unable to see God as He wishes to be seen -- as we must see Him if seeing Him is to make us happy. Possibly for much the same reason that I couldn't enjoy the Pirates ride without trusting my mother, because my hands were over my eyes.** Of course, I'm not above making a virtue out of necessity, either: it's easier to commit yourself to walking in the dark if you haven't gotten where you're going before nightfall. I don't get it anyway, whether I bless God in faith or curse Him in stubbornness, so I might as well see if I can't do something useful with my not-getting-it.

Taken this way, I think that maybe when it comes to the Church's teaching about homosexuality, I can be okay with not knowing, not getting it. I guess the only thing to do is wait and see.

*For my younger readers, this was actually the ride that served as the basis of what is now bidding to be the most stupidly huge franchise since The Land Before Time, not a cheap attempt to capitalize on the films. (Cheap attempts to capitalize on the films are what the films are for.)

**The fact that I knew her to be perpetrating a malignant, manifestly ridiculous deception, as mothers who take their children to Disneyland are wont to do, is, for our purposes, neither here nor there.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015


I've been an avid ritualist for as long as I can remember. When I was a Presbyterian I was aware, from the scornful remarks about ritual made by fellow believers, that being fond of ritual was in some way bad form; and I did dutifully try to convince myself that I didn't like it. I don't know if anybody bought it but me, though.

The Advent wreath, being one of the only vivid vestiges we had of the great mass of Catholic symbolism in our worship, was one of my favorite things. We lit it as a family rather than in church, and the lighting of the candles in the dimness, the readings from Scripture, and the carols all combined to make it my favorite aspect of Christmas. They produced a sense of mystery that, while doctrinally acknowledged, perhaps, was experientially lacking in my practice of the Christian faith. There was nothing like it in the Presbyterian services I attended; they were more like very competently run classes in Scripture and theology, with (for some reason) songs and tithing and occasionally sacraments.

Lent, though I didn't become familiar with it until much later, also retained some very slight remnants of ritual. The rate of jokes about "giving up giving things up" for Lent was even higher among my Protestant acquaintances than among the general populace (and, if you didn't already know, has never, ever been funny, just lame), but some people did. And when I was at my last Presbyterian church, which I attended for about a decade, the great cross at the front of the church was hung with a cloth, draped stole-wise, from the first Sunday of Lent, more or less, through Pentecost: purple until the Good Friday service, when it was changed for black, and then white throughout Easter. It wasn't much, but it was something, and I was grateful for it and took pleasure in it.

It's weird to me that some Christians feel the need to attack ritual. You'll find few things as ritualistic, symbolic, and liturgical as the Torah (which, on the most strictly Protestant showings, is God's own word-for-word instruction to Israel in how to worship Him), or the celestial visions of Isaiah and Ezekiel, or the weird and magnificent panoply of Revelation; to say nothing of the fact that incense, gold, and aromatic resin were brought by the Magi to the very stable. And the earliest documents of the faith attest that a ceremonious liturgy was the universal practice of the Church from her inception. If, as many Christians seem to want to maintain, God abhors ritual, then He's a bit schizophrenic about it.

The contention, sometimes put forward by Fundamentalist Christians, that ritual was abrogated by Christ in His abolition of the Torah and rejection of the rabbinic traditions accompanying it, is in my opinion absurd. The Torah was fulfilled by Him, not merely scrapped, and the New Testament (particularly but not exclusively in the book of Revelation) is full of references to Christian ritual and liturgy; indeed, many of the earliest Christian documents are precisely liturgical books.

At bottom, ritual is the expression in terms of matter of spiritual truth. Because human beings are imaginative creatures, we see, by instinct or training or both, a mysterious fitness in symbolizing certain things by physical means. That we should surround things we believe to be holy and precious in their own right with gold is not an attempt to improve the holy things, but an attempt to do justice to their worth; that we should accompany prayers with incense is not an attempt to display the magic of incense, but an attempt to give an aromatic and visible expression to the magic of prayer.

And when you learn the liturgical language of gestures, colors, vessels, seasons, and substances that the Catholic Church employs -- varying in style and even in specifics from parish to parish and from rite to rite, which is good, because the human imagination is varied -- you will find that most of it is pretty intuitive. Moderns are not altogether unfamiliar with ritual, as that pants are men's clothing and skirt's are women's, for no obvious reason and with a great many exceptions (kilts and, uh, more pants come to mind). But modern ritual tends to be quite arbitrary. An apron of fig leaves, a pair of bell-bottoms, or a cunning arrangement of cardboard tubing will all equally serve to hide one's nakedness, but if you pick the wrong one for the culture you're in, you will be laughed at or even taken for a crazy person. There is no reason for this except convention. By contrast, anyone can see how a golden chalice, lifted in a sudden silence amid chanted music and glinting through a veil of sweet-smelling smoke, states the mingled clarity and enigma of divine things more clearly than eloquence could do. No one, I believe, can truthfully claim to understand the enigma of pants.

C. S. Lewis, with his customary intelligence, expresses much of the problem of ritual's uneasy place in the modern Christian mind in passing in his introduction to Milton's Paradise Lost, which was of a deliberately solemn and ceremonial cast:
[T]he very fact that pompous is now used only in a bad sense measures the degree to which we have lost the old idea of 'solemnity.' To recover it you must think of a court ball, or a coronation, or a victory march, as these things appear to people who enjoy them; in an age when everyone puts on his oldest clothes to be happy in, you must re-awake the simpler state of mind in which people put on gold and scarlet to be happy in. Above all, you must be rid of the hideous idea ... that pomp, on the proper occasions, has any connection with vanity or self-conceit. A celebrant approaching the altar, a princess led out by a king to dance a minuet, a general officer on a ceremonial parade ... all these wear unusual clothes and move with calculated dignity. This does not mean that they are vain, but that they are obedient; they are obeying the hoc age which presides over every solemnity. The modern habit of doing ceremonial things unceremoniously is no proof of humility; rather it proves the offender's inability to forget himself in the rite, and his readiness to spoil for everyone else the proper pleasure of ritual.*
A common objection to ritual practices is that, in repeating set forms instead of coming up with things spontaneously, we lose the liveliness and sincerity of worship, and come to substitute the ritual representation of devotion for devotion itself. There is no doubt that people do that. But may I ask the people who raise this objection to try an experiment? The next five times or so that you are listening to the spontaneous prayers of which you're so fond, count the number of phrases that are repeated from one prayer to the next, from one believer to the next, and so forth. If your experience is anything like mine, you will find that these spontaneous prayers are anything but -- that stock phrases are quite as much a part of extempore prayer as of set liturgies. The difference is that liturgies are beautiful and spontaneous prayers are, as a rule, not.

Besides, I think this objection rests on a fundamental misunderstanding. Consult experience. If we think something is important, aren't we apt to get ready for it, to rehearse it, even? Weddings, for example, are not celebrated planlessly on the grounds that it is somehow dull and insincere to have a wedding in which everyone knows what is going to happen next; in fact, people rather prefer to know what will happen next. Even proposals are rarely altogether spontaneous, and those that are aren't necessarily any the better for it.

It's true that every Catholic ritual is, symbolically, something universal and eternal, suited for many situations throughout life, not just something to do in ritual form and then ignore in everyday things. That, to be sure, is hypocrisy. But one of the functions of ritual -- in addition to bringing together our intellectual grasp of truth with our imaginative and emotional responses to truth -- is to give us a place to rehearse the things we need to do in the rest of life. We kneel and beat the breast literally in the penitential rite, in order that we may accustom ourselves to repentance; we bow at the name of Jesus, in order that we may acquire the habit of honoring the person of Jesus. To abstain from ritual on the grounds that it can be substituted for the real thing is like refusing to study for fear that you will stay up too late and sleep through the test: that is, the thing does happen, but to find fault with the studying won't actually help.**

Even if you're up so late it starts to look like this.

A very ancient ritual, of course, is the practice of Lent. For forty days leading up to Easter (Sundays excepted, so that actually it comes to forty-six consecutive days in the West), a deeper devotion to prayer, giving to the poor, and fasting are traditional. It's also become customary to adopt some particular discipline, usually giving something up that you like, though this isn't strictly necessary. If you haven't done anything to mark this Lent, I'd encourage you to start -- you've got more than three weeks to get the benefits out of it. If you've dropped off on what you were doing, I'd encourage you to pick it up again. And if you still think all this sounds like hokum, well, explain pants and maybe I'll listen.

*A Preface to 'Paradise Lost,' p. 17; the Latin words hoc age mean literally "this do," or "behave in this fashion."

**This seems to me to have something in common with the scholarly deduction from the letters of Saint Ignatius of Antioch, a second century Father, that, since he speaks with such emphasis about the importance of obeying the bishop, the institution of the monarchical episcopate was probably a new thing in the Church -- because everyone knows that if you speak about something, it is probably because it does not yet exist.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Housekeeping and Prayer Requests

Hey, readers. This isn't a post exactly, but I wanted to give you all some updates.

First, I don't think I'll be posting a lot during Lent. I'm not going on hiatus precisely -- in fact, I'm planning a new series -- but I have a lot of other irons in the fire, particularly a story I'm working on that is approaching completion, and it's been correspondingly difficult to keep up with my prior output.

Second, I've made a few changes in the sidebar to your right. (Well, and my right.) I've added the weekly Collects of the Anglican Use Catholic missal, because they're quite beautiful prayers and I like them, and often exhibit the mysteries of the faith with a poetic clarity. I've also changed the link lineup a little bit, mostly based on what I find myself actively following (sorry if I'm not reading your stuff!). Disappointingly, I had added The Dish only a few days before Andrew Sullivan announced his retirement; I'll miss his inimitable even-handedness and conviction a great deal.

Third, speaking of prayer, if you all wouldn't mind praying for me and my loved ones. I personally have been having rather a hard time of late, spiritually; my prayer life is lackluster (I really need to go on a retreat), I'm finding it a real chore to keep up with my sacramental obligations, and I'm feeling out of sorts with God in general. A lot of this is because of, well, pretty much what you'd think it would be because of, but there are other factors too. In any case, I'd welcome your prayers for that. Additionally, my sister recently had follow-up treatment for thyroid cancer (she had to have her thyroid removed about two years ago), and is doing fine, but prayers never hurt; and some close friends of mine who recently had a baby -- man, so many friends with babies -- have been having a rough time financially, and, while there's never a good time for that exactly, "recently after having a baby" is a special bonus bad time. Lastly, there are some catechumens at my parish planning to enter the Church at Easter -- at least four, I think -- and prayers for their spiritual well-being are of course welcome. (We have the privilege of housing a very small first-class relic of Saint Edward the Confessor at my parish, so, if you appeal to the saints, he's a good one to go to.)

Fourth, my good friend Ben Y. Faroe has released his first book! It is titled The Stone and the Song: A Fairy Tale, and is available here on Amazon. Mr. Faroe is one of my favorite writers -- he and I met through a group we both participate in, and I've had the pleasure of listening to a magnificently imaginative, hilarious, and at times deeply poignant novel he is working on, whose publication I anticipate with immense excitement.

Lastly, I don't say this much, but thank you all for reading, commenting, e-mailing, retweeting, sponsoring, and praying for me. I'm grateful for the feedback I get -- it's very rewarding to know that I make something that's meaningful and helpful to people.