Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The two most important days of your life

Another book I am reading, that I found in the Pauline Book and Media Center, is On Becoming Beloved : Heroic Sanctity in Marriage by Patricia O'Malley Ashker. Ashker, a member of the Holy Family Institute of the Pauline Family, founded by Blessed Alberione -- has written a counter-cultural book that dares to say that the "secret to sanctity" for married persons is "putting one's spouse first, lifting them up in prayer and sacrifice, with heaven as the ultimate goal for both partners." She writes about the seriousness of the vows of marriage - a covenant made with God, entered into freely, establishing a clear path for navigating the challenges of life as a couple, united with the Creator and surrounded by His graces and helps through the Christ-instituted sacrament of matrimony.

She asks the question, at one point, "Do you know what the two most important days of your life are?" Her answer surprised me. The two most important days of your life are:
  • today
  • the day of your death
Sanctity is built moment by moment in the mundane events of daily life. Like Flannery O'Connor, Ashker sees ordinary life as the staging ground for fierce battles between good and evil. Our gift of free will can choose heroic virtue or cowardly sin (my words, not hers), both of which then ripple out into the world around us impacting the people and environment in which we live, work and play. If we choose our spouse's needs over our own, we practice within marriage the same kind of "little way" practiced and taught by St. Therese of Lisieux who chose the needs of her sister nuns -- even the annoying ones -- over her own. St. Therese, through habitual sacrifice of her own will, learned to free herself from her own likes and dislikes in order to depend on God alone, rather than the vagaries of minute by minute satisfaction and accomodation.

All of this is classic Catholic spirituality that I learned as a kid. The concept of self-sacrifice fell on hard times in the sixties, seventies, eighties and nineties. In particular, women were advised to drop the notion of self-sacrifice in marriage in order that it not feed an unbalanced power struggle between men and women, the kind in which entitled males felt that female subservience was their God-given right. According to Ashker, both spouses are entitled to be cherished, served, and made the focus of tender help, compassion and love. Both spouses are sworn to direct their maximum expenditure of relationship energy into the spousal relationship (my clumsy words, not hers).

That explains the first most important day of one's life. All we have is the present day in which to act. Actions, not feelings, are the building blocks of sanctity. That's a very Catholic notion - the Reformation brought about an unfortunate identification of heroic action with "vain works" which do not win us salvation. This is not the post to explain the Catholic understanding of faith and works, but suffice it to say I embrace the Church's centuries-held belief that our actions in choosing good or evil are quite meaningful -- it is only we, by freely turning away from God (an action), who can endanger the redemption Christ won for us at such a cost.

And what of the second most important day of your life -- the day that you die? The covenant of marriage, Ashker says, has as its purpose the mutual sanctification of the spouses as they journey through life headed to their eternal union with the Triune God. What is the hour of death, if not the final moment in which we are free to exercise our will as mortal beings, for good or for evil? Hopefully a lifetime of habit of choosing good will forestall any of the devil's wiles or last-minute efforts to turn us to "the Dark Side" :-) . If we are married persons, let us spend each day treating our covenanted spouse with such care and support that his or her time of death will be all the easier in choosing, finally, for the Kingdom of Light.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The sins of Oscar Wilde and the sins of Flannery O'Connor

I'm sitting in the kitchen of my sister Sue Marie's place listening to the sounds of early morning birds and insects, examining my life. Each day is a gift, of this I am aware. And I piss away as many gifted hours as I embrace. In this I am Everyman. Yet having died to Christ in the waters of baptism, I am keenly aware, each day and each hour even as I piss the gift of time away, of the ineluctable lure of the new life, the new order of grace, into which I have been born and in which I find the new Rae who walks in the garden with the new Adam and the new Eve.

And it hurts, this straddling of two worlds. Every human being feels it, and calls it by different names according to how he or she interprets the human experiment itself.

I am reading two books at the moment, both of which shed their own light on the pain of the straddling. The Abbess of Andalusia, by Lorraine Murray, examines Flannery O'Connor's life as a believer. The Artist as Critic: Critical Writings of Oscar Wilde edited by Richard Ellman, presents a selection of WIlde's critical writings, after an excellent introduction to the life and times of the man and writer.

Flannery O'Connor interprets the human experiment as the Catholic Church interprets it; as I interpret it: We are created by the good, Triune God who created the universe itself. We are created for His Glory and our own. As a race, we fell under the spell of temptation and sin, rejecting our Creator and His ordering of our lives towards goodness, truth and beauty. He took our own form -- His Second Person, the Son, was born of the Virgin Mary as a true man. He -- the Christ, born Jesus -- undertook a restoration of our innocence. He repudiated our rejection of the Creator and in our name accepted the original ordering of human life towards goodness, truth and beauty. An innocent-- the new Adam teaching and healing in the world of fallen, warped and wounded men --he paid the price imposed on innocence by men and women everywhere under the spell of sin - the price of humiliation and death. But by that very act of surrendering his innocence up to whatever guilty men and fallen spirits might concoct to destroy the Creator's ordering of all things,Christ the Word made Flesh brought about the powerful breaking of the bonds of sin and death and set off the chain of events that brought complete restoration of human creature with Creator. The Kingdom of God broke into the mundane world of men in a dazzling manifestation of the new Life now offered to men and women through the Body of Christ extended in time and space - the Church with its way (imitation of Christ), truth (teachings) and life (sacramental grace).

Flannery's straddling of the worlds in her writing and in her life is always consonant with the way in which the Church interprets reality. In every human action in the mundane world, Flannery perceived a struggle between good and evil, between the new creation and the old one that labors still under the spell of sin and temptation. Grace is offered in the crux of the struggle - grace accepted or rejected, in fiction as in life.

For Oscar Wilde, sin and temptation are tools of the artist in his quest for transcendence, which requires liberation from all that is shallow and conventional (ie. mundane). Influenced heavily by the philosophies explicated by Walter Pater and others, Wilde (although flirting with Catholicism) gave his heart and, possibly, his soul for a time to the search for transcendence of the soul through transgressive experience and raw sensation of the body, as a means of fulfilling the artist's highest calling, which is beyond good and evil. If this last sounds like Nietzsche, it's because Wilde covered much of Nietzsche's philosophical ground first. In the introduction to The Critic as Artist, Ellmann writes:

"Andre Gide found Nietzsche less exciting because he had read Wilde, and Thomas Mann in one of his last essays remarks almost with chagrin on how many of Nietzsche's aphorisms might have been expressed by Wilde, and how many of Wilde's by Nietzsche. What I think can be urged for Wilde then, is that for his own reasons and in his own way he laid the basis for many critical positions which are still debated in much the same terms, and which we like to attribute to more ponderous names."

It moves me to read about Flannery and Wilde. Flannery explored the depths of trangressive experience also, in her writing. She had as little use for convention as Wilde -- less so, in fact, because Wilde although rejecting the conventions of his culture was very much committed to adhering to the conventions of transgressive conversation and shocking wit that made him the darling of the drawing and dining rooms. Flannery shocked the conventional reader and critic by the force of the grotesqueries of her imagination as put down on paper. In company, she was reserved; in her behavior, courteous. Wilde shocked not just in his writing but in his speech and in his flaunting of his culture's mores.

What kept O'Connor grounded was her fierce commitment to Catholicism. The prohibitions against sexual profligacy was not, for Flannery O'Connor, a repressive cultural convention that prevented her from exploring transcendence through experience -- it was a wise teaching of a human institution founded by the Transcendent Human Being himself, the new Adam, the Christ, firstborn of the dead. If Flannery had lived in a culture where sexual profligacy is a perfectly acceptable cultural convention -- a culture like our own, for example - she still would have been firecely committed to sexual temperance. For the Catholic, the surrounding culture may or may not hold conventions that are consonant with the New Life. It may or may not promote the classic virtues. It matters not. The committed Catholic's loyalty -- and this goes for the artist as well as the humblest worker -- is towards the gospel, the New Creation, the Kingdom of God, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sin, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.

Poor Oscar Wilde. But he made his peace in the end, and found his way into the sheepfold. Flannery's life and writings shine out as a sterling example of how the artist is not compromised by religious truth, but liberated. She knew herself to be a sinner, and regretted it. She took the Church's remedies for sin. Wilde knew himself to be a sinner, and reveled in it for a time. He came late to the Church's remedies, and suffered great pain as both an artist and a man for his mistaken notion of the absolute value of flaunting convention.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Michael Voris tells it like it is

Michael Voris is in your face and annoying, but I sure do like that he doesn't pussyfoot around about the reality of the demonic. The devil's biggest triumph in modern times, they say, is convincing folks of his non-existence. Sure we do nasty stuff on our own. But the father of lies and lord of the flies is a Type A overachiever, fer sure.

Planned Parenthood is not healthy for children and other living things - oh Emily Knearl, how can you be so deceived?

On their web site, PP suggests parents tell their teenagers that pornography, although containing exagerrated images, is basically part of a normal, healthy sex life. So why should we be surprised that PP covers up a 31 year old having sex with a 13 year old?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

More on the firing of University of Illinois professor Ken Howell

CatholicVoterAction.org has a detailed report on the firing of Dr. Ken Howell for instructing his student about Catholic moral teaching on homosexuality in a class titled Introduction to Catholicism.

Amazing that this could happen -- but in a way I don't mind if the insanity in this country really does start to penalize Catholics for their beliefs. Eventually, people will have to choose up sides, and decide if they want to live in a country where freedom of speech has meaning, or whether they want to live in a society where "political correctness" has mutated into real fascism.

Friday, July 09, 2010

College Teacher Fired for His Catholic Beliefs

It was just a matter of time...

Join me at the Catholic Writers Conference in Valley Forge

Attention Catholic Writers, especially those on the East Coast. In conjunction with the Catholic Marketing Network Trade Show,

The Catholic Writers Conference, Live! coming up in August!

When: August 4-6- 2010

Where: Valley Forge Convention Center, King of Prussia, PA

Who: Catholic writers, publishers, agents, editors, everyone who has an interest in Catholic publishing.

Come and pray, play and learn with Catholic publishers, editors, authors, and marketing experts.
Attend special pitch sessions and pitch your manuscript directly to Catholic publishers and editors.

Watch video.

World Wide Web--The second annual Catholic Writers’ Conference LIVE will be held August 4-6, 2010, at the Scanticon Hotel Valley Forge in King of Prussia, PA. Sponsored by the Catholic Writer’s Guild and the Catholic Marketing Network (CMN), and held in conjunction with CMN’s annual retailer trade show, the Catholic Writers Conference LIVE provides Catholic authors with a prime opportunity to meet and share their faith with editors, publishers, fellow writers, and bookstore owners from across the globe.

This year's conference will feature presentations on such topics as market tips and time management for busy writers, poetry, creating evil characters, working with an editor, creating winning proposals, journaling and much more. Speakers include Catholic publishing representatives Claudia Volkman - General Manager of Circle Press, Regina Doman - acquisitions editor for Sophia Institute Press, and Tom Wehner - Managing Editor of the National Catholic Register, all of whom will also hear pitches from writers.

Among the other speakers are Mark Shea (Mother of the Son), Michelle Buckman (My Beautiful Disaster), Donna-Marie Cooper-O’Boyle (Mother Teresa and Me), Susie Lloyd (Please Don’t Drink the Holy Water), and Publicist Lisa Wheeler from the Maximus Group.

“Attending this conference has been the best thing I have done for myself professionally,” Carol Bannon, author of the children’s book Handshake from Heaven, said of the 2009 conference. Her fellow writer Melanie Cameron agreed, saying she left the last conference re-energized. “I recommend [this] conference as a resource for any author (or wannabe) at any stage. You will walk away empowered!”

The Catholic Writers Guild, a religious non-profit organization, sponsors both this live conference in August and an online conference in February to further its mission of promoting Catholic literature. “Our conferences are totally focused on encouraging faithful Catholics to share genuine Catholic culture and faith in their writing no matter what genre,” says CWG President Ann Margaret Lewis. “These events are integral to our mission of ‘creating a rebirth of Catholic arts and letters.”

Registration costs $85 for CWG members, $95 for non-members and $42 for students. There's also a discounted combined membership. To register or for more information, go to http://www.catholicwritersconference.com.