The Sarabite: Towards an Aesthetic Christianity

There is a continuous attraction, beginning with God, going to the world, and ending at last with God, an attraction which returns to the same place where it began as though in a kind of circle. -Marsilio Ficino

Saturday, December 31, 2005

On Tamales and Divine Wrath

If you are of the Mexican heritage, chances are you know what the above is: TAMALES!!! And of course, MY grandmother always makes the best ones. But often these little culinary delights are accompanied by a great deal of family tradition. In the spirit of Christmas and the New Year, I will tell you one of the traditions of my family.

My maternal grandfather and his stepfather were some of the first Braceros to work in this country. (Braceros were Mexicans allowed into the United States after World War II to work in the fields of this country, often with little pay and under harsh conditions.) They were, of course, away from the rest of the family for the holidays. (I am not sure of the details of this.) In any event, my great-grandmother, Concha, had a small stone image of the Holy Face in her room. Very worried about her husband and son (as wives and mothers usually are), she prayed a prayer of ultimatum to the Holy Face: bring back my husband and son, or I will hang you in the backyard and leave you there. So she took the little stone image and hung it in the backyard.

"If you bring them back safe and sound," she said, "I'll put you back inside, and every year, on New Year's eve night, I will make tamales and get the whole family to pray the rosary in front of you. But if you don't, you'll stay out here."

God has a way of responding to an audacity that is the result of love, and my grandfather and his stepfather returned safe and sound.

The only problem was Mama Concha forgot about her promise.

The next year around the same time, completely oblivious to her promise she made to the Lord Jesus, she went to her storage where she kept her corn and found to her astonishment, that it had been eaten by weevils! Then she remembered her promise, and to this day my family makes tamales and prays the rosary in front of that little humble stone carving of Our Humble Lord's visage.

God bless you all, and happy New Year!


Friday, December 30, 2005

Interesting quote

If I put something like this up, it's only because I think it's pretty and it gives you something to think about:

"The walls of the world fly apart. I see things hurled about within the immense void..... The earth does not stop me from distinguishing all that is happening beneath my feet, in the depths of the void. At the sight, I find myself seized by a kind of shudder of divine pleasure."


De Rerum Natura

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Vatican recognizes Ukrainian prelate's move to Kiev

see link:

Some thoughts:

First of all, why does Husar even need the Vatican's approval? I thought he was a major archbishop, and thus could do as he likes?

Secondly, there are NO Greek Catholics in Kiev. Why bother moving your seat to a city where you have no faithful? It would sort of be like moving a bishop back to Hippo in North Africa (probably all that is left of this city is a sand dune.)

Maybe the Russian Orthodox are right, this might just be proselytism (open up a church and see who comes in.) Most of Eastern Ukraine is godless anyway, since the Communists did a real good job eradicating religion there.

(One funny anecdote from a friend of mine: he was on a sleeper train going into Eastern Ukraine when he saw a man, at seven in the morning, eating a jar of pickles, eating congealed pig fat, and drinking a bottle of vodka. This is not unusual for a Ukrainian man, but he was also reading a Bible at the same time. When my friend asked him why he was reading the Bible, he responded by saying:

"Well, I'm a construction worker, and I have just gotten a job building a church. I asked my friend what a church is, and he responded, 'well, it's in the Bible.' So I'm reading up on it now."

True story)

Just another wacky episode in Byzantine Christian incestuous politics.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

For the Day of the Holy Innocents

The Harp Consort's Ludus Danielis:

A rolicking para-liturgical play in which the order of the catherdral was turned upside-down, all in honor of the birth of Our Lord.

Catholic morality and illegal immigration

Here in California, and in the United States in general, there has been a tendency to call undocumented immigrants "criminals". But how accurate is this in view of Catholic morality? How culpable are these people?

Basic Catholic moral doctrine states that necessity mitigates culpability. The classic example of this is theft. Theft is wrong in itself; we have the obligation to respect others' property. But if a man needs to feed his family, and they are dying of hunger, if he steals a loaf of bread so that his children might eat, he commits no sin (or at least not a serious one).

Take this example and apply it to undocumented workers: they are not stealing, they are WORKING. How can working a decent job be wrong in itself? Work is a good thing. To do it legitimately would be a better thing, but when survival is at stake, where does legitimacy fall? These people need to come here to feed their families. If the government wants to hunt them down and deport them, I suppose that's its perogative. But they are not criminals in the classic sense, nor do they merit the title.

Apparently the right-wing is proposing a measure saying that the children of undocumented workers do not automatically become citizens if they are born in this country. I suppose if this were the case fifty years ago, yours truly would be an "illegal alien" (though I was born here). Let us remember in this Chritmastide that Our Lord Himself was a "displaced person", first in a stable in Bethlehem, then in Egypt.

Crypto-fascist hate mongering against poor immigrants probably would have targeted Him as well.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Papa Luigi Syndrome

From the Ecclesia Dei journal Oriens, Winter 2001:

Instead of being the summit of the pyramid of Christian society, of which the base was a spontaneous Catholic traditionalism theologically justified by the permanent presence of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of the faithful in every age, the papacy was made, from the time of Gregory XVI (1831-1846) onwards, to carry the whole burden of the maintenance of Catholic tradition, among a Catholic population which, in Europe, was in the process of apostasizing from the faith, and closing its heart to the Holy Spirit. It was as if the pyramid had been inverted, and the foundations of a restored Christendom were to rest on the authority of a papacy isolated in the face of a hostile world. To change the image, when the great forest of Catholic Christendom was cut down, except for the tallest papal tree, that remaining tree stood out in a lonely prominence that was unimaginable in the pontificate of Innocent XII.
In that sense, Pio Nono (1846-1878) could truly say Io sono la tradizione, because he had become, by default, the principal upholder and last defender of Christendom. From the fall of Rome in 1870 to the proclamation of aggiornamento in 1959, the papacy and the Church cut a splendid, embattled figure, defying the modern world and ostensibly keeping the guns of Christian tradition blazing. The danger was that it was a tradition now maintained by papal fiat and bureaucratic decree, and thus dangerously exposed to any shift or ambiguity in Vatican policy.
And the rest, as they say, is history...

read the whole article:

Monday, December 26, 2005

Spiritual Meadow

A monk consecrates the bread for Mass while merely walking to church with the loaf in his hand...

A maiden threatens to commit suicide if a monk defiles her......

A negligent dead monk gets to stand on the head of a bishop in the infernal lake of fire through the prayers of his elder.....

These and other bizarre incidents are recounted in John Moschos' Spiritual Meadow (seventh century), a book that can give theologians an infinite amount of headaches about what the early Church actually believed. If you really want to challenge what you think the Church is really like, you need to read this book.

A very good friend of mine once said that the three major forms of Christianity have three radically different fundamentalisms: with the Protestants, it is of course Biblical. With the Orthodox, it is liturgical (just try taking out some stichera at Vespers and watch the sparks fly.) With Roman Catholics, however, it is historical: the Catholic Church is true because history proves it (St. Peter died in Rome, no Pope in history was a heretic, etc., etc.). But history has a way of jumping up and biting you on the nose; people did things in the past that we interpret differently according to our own agenda. This is what happened with Dom Gueranger and liturgy: a romanticist and unrealistic portayal of historical reality.

John Moschos throws a wrench in this system. All our conventions, prejudices, and shibboleths are put to the test in his little book of monastic episodes. Indeed, all monastic literature of this period can be characterized by this raw sense of reality, without the need to define and dogmatize about many of the things we are obsessed with.

Roman Catholics in particular (and yes, I am Catholic) need to stop reading into history as if everything says: "we're #1" or "we're always right". The world is much broader than the Baltimore Catechism, or even the much beloved Catechism of the Catholic Church.

Where you can get Moschos' book:

What I'm reading now

What is Ancient Philosophy? by Pierre Hadot: a fascinating book that contrasts ancient philosophical traditions with contemporary academic philosophy. Philosophy for Hadot starts as a choice of a particular way of life, and is less dogmatic and more dialectical in the Platonic sense. Philosophy's main aim is thus the search for hapiness. As I have said, learning now oftentimes has more to do with power than with truth. Real learning is not a search for knowledge that is useful for some other aim, but that which rather leads to true hapiness intrinsic in contemplation. Get it here:

La Muerte de Artemio Cruz by Carlos Fuentes: On the rise and fall of a Mexican revolutionary turned plutocrat. Written in a rather Joycean style going in and out of stream of consciousness, especially in the episodes where the protagonist is portrayed on his death bed. An interesting read nonetheless.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Merry Christmas!

From the First Letter of St. John:

"That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the word of life: For the life was manifested; and we have seen and do bear witness, and declare unto you the life eternal, which was with the Father, and hath appeared to us: That which we have seen and have heard, we declare unto you, that you also may have fellowship with us, and our fellowship may be with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. "

Whenever I read the Gospel now, I am filled with wonder. I grew up reading books, in fact, it was often my only source of enterainment in my poor family. I liked books on mythology, books on history, books on all sorts of things. But there always had to be a distance; they were all just words and fantasies. But the Gospel... the Gospel is about the Truth, the Truth that became incarnate for our sake, who is a man just like you and me.

When I look at my grandfather, an uprooted Mexican farmer, I sometimes like to think that Jesus is just like him: simple, humble, and with a big heart. He didn't have the world given to him, he had to work with his hands to make ends meet. We often think Jesus was a carpenter, but the word in Greek that describes His occupation is "tekton": He was a manual laborer without any land, just like the Mexican day laborers who stand on the street corners here in California waiting for someone to employ them.

What does God mean by all of this? Why did He come into the world to become the weakest, the most abject of people in His society? He created the heavens and the earth, and He could create an infinite amount of heavens and an infinite amount of earths without really trying. So why?

To show us the answer is not in power, nor in wisdom, nor in accomplishments. The answer is in love. Love is the only real reason God created anything, the only real reason that anything still exists. Our Lord was not a great inventor, nor a great warrior, nor even a great temporal king. But He loved us. He was born for us, and He died for us. And He rose from the dead to show that love is stronger than death. He was a simple nobody, but He was also the Son of God, the Incarnate Word, born in a stable, without any place of His own to lay His head. This is the guy who means everything, all things. He's the answer. And today He was born of the Virgin for our sake.

Thy Nativity, O Christ our God,
hath shone forth the light of wisdom upon the world;
for therein those who worship the stars
have been taught by a star
to worship Thee, the Sun of Righteousness,
and to know Thee, the Dayspring from on
high. O Lord, glory be to Thee!

-troparion of the Nativity, Byzantine Church

Christ is born!

Glorify Him!

The Roman Martyrology

In the 5199th year of the creation of the world, from the time when in the beginning God created heaven and earth; from the flood, the 2957th year; from the birth of Abraham, the 2015th year; from Moses and the going-out of the people of Israel from Egypt, the 1510th; from the anointing of David as king, the 1032nd year; in the 65th week according to the prophecy of Daniel; in the 194th Olympiad; from the founding of the city of Rome, the 752nd year; in the 42nd year of the rule of Octavian Augustus, when the whole world was at peace, in the sixth age of the world: Jesus Christ, the eternal God and Son of the eternal Father, desiring to sanctify the world by His most merciful coming, having been conceived by the Holy Ghost, and nine months having passed since His conception was born in Bethlehem of Juda of the Virgin Mary, having become man:

Natívitas Dómini nostri Jesu Christi secúndum carnem.
THE NATIVITY of our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Need a break?

Watch a 1995 presentation of Steve Reich's work "Drumming" done by UC San Diego students. Requires Real Audio Player.

Bishop Williamson interview

Angelqueen Forum has done yet another interview with Bishop Richard Williamson, SSPX:

I have come to think that the hard line of the SSPX is really like standing on Jello. Be with the Pope, but not as the actual Pope is.

What really encourages me, however, is the fact that the SSPX is actually moving towards the ecclesiology of Eastern Orthodoxy: tradition trumps authority. They, of course, would never admit this, but it is true. According to the Russian Orthodox theologian, Protopresbyter Georges Florovsky, just because you assemble a bunch of bishops together and call it an ecumenical council does not mean it actually is one. The Church must receive it as such, and this could take centuries. Vatican II ring a bell here?

Bishop Williamson is an odd duck. Although I like some of his eccentricities (I once saw him in seminary say Mass in a comfortable pair of sandals- quel horreur!), he really is becoming a church of one (or of himself and his buddies). He seems a fascinating man, nevertheless, and I do not judge him in these confusing times.

Christmas listening

French baroque is just shear ear candy, and here's a whopping piece of it! Here's where you can find it:

The Sarabite Manifesto

Life in Jesus Christ is the only real life simply put. All things are to lead us to Him and all things have their consumation in Him. But what does this mean? This is where the real problem begins, and this is the meaning of this little corner of the Internet.

In modern times, any clarity of truth has been tainted by the exigencies of ideology. This is because power in itself has replaced a real search for truth, goodness, and beauty in the modern world. Enough ink has been spent in order to show this. Modern man is very much broken, so Christianity itself is broken. God does not need religion, we do (the Latin etymology of the word means "to rejoin"). If, however, we bring to Christianity our own brokeness, our own selfishness, our own fears about needing an ideological pitchfork to keep the rest of the world at bay, we are only deifying the destructive crisis we are presently in.

Thus, we need to find a better way; a way that is beyond polemic and mutual exclusion. If we are too busy excommunicating everyone that comes into our path, it is only because we can no longer understand each other. There is something missing that all Christians used to understand, but now can no longer grasp. Of course, there is no certain way to know if this is true or not, but the Church has reached such a crisis point that we must try out this hypothesis. Everyone can see the sky and say that it is blue. We must be able to look at the Church and say that it is one, holy, catholic and apostolic. We must be able to look at the world, without fear, and say that God created it and that He loves it.

I therefore propose a quest for an aesthetic Christianity, a Christianity that admits doctrinal differences (but is not comfortable with them as differences) and seeks to find the presence of God here and now. If the Son is the Image of the Eternal Father, and the Church is Christ's Body, its soul is the Holy Spirit. The soul can only be known, according to scholasticism, through its acts. How is the Holy Spirit acting in the Church and the world? This is what I aim to find out, through the pursuit of the beautiful, the true and the good that I wish to share with you.

In this, all aspects of art, music, culture and politics will be considered. Christianity has its back against the wall, it has no choice but to go forward and fight. No part of the world is too good for us not to criticize it, and none is too bad that God cannot redeem it. We hope to be guided in this by the Holy Spirit and the immortal teachings of the Church.

The art, literature, and music examined on this blog will be highly eclectic, since if Christ is the Logos that unites the "logoi" of creation, His presence must be looked for even in the most unlikely of places. The politics will lean towards the left, since God in the Scriptures has a tendency not to side with the rich and powerful. We will also abide by the teachings of Holy Mother Church, but we will not hide our difficulties nor will we do cover-ups for cowardly prelates.

Above all, we do not seek definite answers. We are not on the barricades waving a flag. The only battle we have to wage is in ourselves, God has to take care of the rest. Christ has already won. It is only our task to wait things out until His victory becomes evident.

Sub tuum praesidium confugimus, Sancta Dei Genetrix. Nostras deprecationes ne despicias in necessitatibus, sed a periculis cunctis libera nos semper, Virgo gloriosa et benedicta.

-Arturo Vasquez

Tuesday, December 20, 2005