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

Friday, December 29, 2006

Postcards From Hollister # 3

Home Again

Back within the valley
Down from the divide,
No more flaming clouds about,
O! the soft hillside,
And my cottage light,
And the starry night.

-Wallace Stevens

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

From the Editors

I hope you enjoy the two following posts. I am currently enjoying my off-line life, and am posting only a couple of times a week. Posts will tend to be longer and more in depth, though not frequent. As you can see, I have re-written my manifesto to make it more up to date. Hope you are having a great Christmas season with your loved ones, and don't eat as much as I have been eating (if I see any more tamales, I am going to scream....)

God bless and Merry Christmas,

The Editors (all of the voices in my head)

The Sarabite Manifesto- Second Edition

But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through His name.”

-John 20:31

We would need a very long discussion if we were seriously to approach the problem posed by the survival of Christianity in the modern world. From the point of view of my own experience, I can say that one of the great difficulties of Christianity- I’m thinking here of the textual criticism of the Bible- was what revealed to me a more general problem which could be formulated in the following terms: is modern man still able to understand the texts of antiquity, and live according to them? Has there been a definitive break between the contemporary world and ancient tradition?”

-Pierre Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life, pgs. 278-279

This blog is not about defending one denominational position against another. It is not about convincing those who are in the darkness of one church to come into the light of another church. I am not a theologian nor am I going to pretend to be one. This blog takes another approach, and it is to answer Monsieur Hadot’s question: can we understand what has come before us as Christians and live according to these ways authentically?

My goal is not the re-formulation of the truths of the Faith for modern man. That would be too easy and only half a solution. The crisis goes must deeper than that. We must find again what it means to be a human being: to eat like a human being, to walk like a human being, to think like a human being, to laugh like a human being, and to wonder like a human being. If we fail to do this, we will read all of our theological sources, from the Bible to modern declarations of the Magisterium, as disembodied Cartesian robots more worried about obtaining the right information than about living by the Truth. We do not understand, and it is our job to seize this understanding by the glorious violence of beauty, compassion, and love. It is only the return to the sources of our Faith and classical thought with the wonder of a child that can make this possible. All other methods would only create a rationalistic and totalitarian mimicry of the Gospel.

There are neither smug answers nor magical formulas for doing this. The problem does not have to do with one theological school against another. It is neither about apologetics nor the study of history. What we are facing is a crisis of humanity, of what it means to be human and how are we are going to restore it. More specifically, it has to do with how Jesus Christ is both the paradigm and fulfillment of our humanity, how He has redeemed it, renewed it, and given it meaning.

We live in a world where cultural identity, gender, race, and hierarchy are constantly being questioned. We can neither give into this skepticism nor can we become knee-jerk reactionaries in the face of modernity. We have to ask tough questions, and we have to question the “side” that we are on, whether it is Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican or Protestant. A heightened sense of history, greater personal freedom, and even this medium of the Internet itself make these questions all the more urgent.

The point of this blog is not convince anyone of anything. I cannot demonstrate what I believe even with my cleverest arguments. The goal is to show the truth not to formulate it. Above that, though, it is to create in the midst of our world of noise and commotion a small refuge on the Internet of beauty, joy, and laughter. I hope to do this in Our Lord Jesus Christ through the Holy Ghost for the glory of God the Father.

The method of this blog, then, is not to engage in long polemical battles nor is it to formulate massive summae that exhaust the complete meaning of a given doctrine. As one reader of this blog put it, I prefer to lob stones into all the right windows. That is, most of the posts will have a “prophetic” character in that their aim is to make the reader see an issue in a different light and from a different perspective. The goal is not to enlighten per se; it is to wake up and arouse us from our complacency. If I do a good job of this or not is for you to decide and you are more than free to tell me publicly or privately where I succeed or fail to do this.

All these ravings, then, are more about the road and not the destination; they are more about the means rather than the end. This is partially because I believe that our journey into the heart of God is eternal and never reaches satiety. If you think, then, that you have all of the answers, or at least all of the important answers, you are not going to like reading what I have to say. If, however, you want to throw your world out of equilibrium for at least a moment, please stick around.

And most of all, please keep in mind, I DO NOT TAKE MYSELF VERY SERIOUSLY. I have gone through too many ideological permutations in my life to make this mistake again. Thought is not an end unto itself; it is a means to achieve true beatitude. And sometimes that can come better through humor, even if my attempts at humor are not that effective.

So if you like pretty things, strange things, things that don’t make sense, and things that don’t fit into normal world views, please help me in my own quest for sanity and holiness. I really need your help and please pray for me.

-Arturo Vasquez

Postcards From Hollister # 2

Christmas Eve was rather odd for me. Since it fell on a Sunday, I ended up going to Mass with my mother and sister at the local Roman Catholic Church. Maybe I will just be repeating what I have said in another post, but being a Roman Catholic is really, really confusing. I really cannot understand how there are still people out there who devote their lives trying to convert people to Catholicism. Convert them to what? What flavor? What ethos?

At good old St. Benedict’s, I ended up going to the 12:30 p.m. Spanish Mass. Such experiences are no longer disconcerting to me. Whereas I would have considered all the liturgical oddities of the Novus Ordo sacrilegious six years ago, now I just consider them cute in a bizarre sort of way. God can take care of Himself, I figure. If He came down to earth, it is because He wanted to be manhandled. Well, maybe not quite like this…

I really have to congratulate Bugnini, Paul VI, and crew: they succeeded in creating a new religion that people like me cannot reject outright. The priest at this Mass probably gave one of the best homilies I have ever heard; unlike many priests, he was very concrete and down-to-earth about what the Gospel means in the lives of his parishioners. Otherwise, the entire Mass was a parade of all of the trimmings of the “People of God” propaganda: people surrounding the altar, applause every five minutes, secular instruments, lay Eucharistic ministers (one of which is a woman friend I have shown some interest in…. nice), etc.

(Note: the reason why God has historically forbade women from the altar area is simple: if He didn’t, NO men would be there. Everywhere there are female “ministers”, they take over like gangrene. Sorry ladies, but if you want men to be more than just brain-dead pew warmers in church, you have to give them the sanctuary and treat it like a boy’s locker room. That is just the infinite wisdom of God.)

Being smarter than the average liturgy freak, I know that you can legitimize any liturgical innovation you can think of. Somewhere at some point, some Syrian monk consecrated the elements standing on his head wearing a duck suit and somehow it was still alright. The problem with the Novus Ordo for me now is that it just doesn’t feel right. I have a gut reaction against it. Call it a sensus catholicus, a sensus fidei, or just an extreme distaste for tacky things. I still admire Cranmer and Co. in this respect: they also made a “new religion” or at the very least reformed the old one, but they did a good job of it. Their principles were consistent, they were serious, and they went for broke. And they went for beauty too, as any half-literate person can conclude by even just glancing briefly at the Book of Common Prayer. But the latter-day Roman wrecking crew has no idea what it is doing, where it wants to go, and how far it wants to take it all.

What does it mean to be a Roman Catholic? I don’t know. All I know is that I am one, my mother is one, the woman who works out at the library and hands out Communion is one, and the sedevacantist conspiracy theorist is one. If you think that Roman Catholicism is the solution to ecclesiological uncertainty in this day and age, please send me an ounce of whatever you are smoking, because that must be some pretty good stuff….

For something completely different, I went to the SSPX retreat center in Los Gatos for Midnight Mass of Christmas. The choir for some reason was not in the choir loft and they seemed to be lacking in male voices, so I volunteered myself. (I have a passable tenor voice and had Gregorian chant beat into me in seminary, so sometimes I feel bold enough to jump right in.) Unfortunately, a Lefebvrist Redemptorist said Mass, so I knew it was going to be a long sermon dripping with Devotio Moderna. That’s fine for a Sunday morning, but Midnight Mass is not the time to give a long sermon.

Of course, the entire content of the sermon made me conclude that Lefebvrism is really just a rabbinic form of Roman Catholicism as it was before the Second Vatican Council. The same spiritual authors, the same apparitions, the same theological pet doctrines (vicarious satisfaction, merits, purgatory, etc) appear in every sermon, almost in the same order, and in the same contexts. Lefebvrists and the traditionalists who ape them don’t think: they merely string phrases and preconceived notions together. It’s safer that way. That’s how you avoid heresy. That is the way of Faith.

In the library in La Reja, there was a forbidden book section in the library called “Hell” that had all of the books that were too dangerous for seminarians to read. I spent my only apostolate/vacation in the seminary answering the phone and working around the seminary. (Answering the phone was a trying task for me due to the fact that Argentine Spanish is very idiomatic.) I tended to hang around the library, so being the bad seminarian that I was, I took a peek into “Hell”. Most of it was stuff I wouldn’t want to read anyway: Hans Urs Von Balthasar, books on other religions, atheistic literature, among other things. Included in “Hell”, however, was the translation into English of the Orthodox Lenten Triodion done by Kallistos Ware. I thought that was quite myopic, but quite in step with Lefebvrist thought: Bishop Kallistos is schismatic, therefore suspicious of heresy, and thus the seminarians can’t read it. Any good Lefebvrist would defend this line of thinking.

At the end of Midnight Mass, I asked an acquaintance who was also singing what happened to the choir director, Mr. Richard Quenneville. He told me that he had a severe stroke on December 19th, and is now in the hospital. I have to ask you the reader to please pray for him. He is probably one of the most saintly men I know, and has a wife who is the priests’ cook and a fourteen year daughter who used to be one of my students. His family has always struggled to make ends meet, but nevertheless they all attended daily Mass and are the backbone of St. Aloysius Gonzaga Retreat Center in Los Gatos. I still refer to him as my second guardian angel. Please pray hard for this just man.

Driving home early Christmas morning, I began to wonder about God’s plan for my friend and his family. Echoing the Psalmist, I guess my thought was something to the effect that if God had struck me down like that, I would completely understand. I mean, I have screwed up so royally that maybe God would have to do something like that to me just to wake me up. But Mr. Quenneville, Lord? How is his family going to survive?

“I reprove, and chastise whom I love.” The Lord giveth, the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. Thy will be done. Amen.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Merry Christmas!

In case I don't get to post anything before then, I want to wish all of my readers a Merry Christmas.

Special shout-outs go out to Sean (good luck on your impending marriage and your new rap album.... I am sure you will realize your dream of doing a duet with Dr. Dre), Julio (the Dade County Mayor/slash/player), Moretben and the lord of the Lion and Cardinal blog for proving that Catholics can think (it just takes us a little longer because we are always hung-over), Hilary at the Devout Life for keeping it funny, the Cornell gang that just wants to have fun, Mr. O from the Ochlophobist blog for making Orthodoxy interesting, Gabriel of the Going Along blog (ditto), all of the Continuing Anglican blogs (y'all still my peeps), and the Hater, for keeping it hater-ific, the Conservative Blog for Peace for distracting me from my school-work, and to all of my readers, God bless you.

The following is my Christmas gift to all of you. I hope you like it.

Genevieve McKool

Domine Ut Videam

Tonight, when my mother and I were driving by the old Catholic church here in Hollister, my mother told me that my great-grandmother, Mamá Tula (Julia Mottu), taught her to say the following prayer when she passed by a church:

Adorote, gran Tesoro,
Que mirarte no merezco,
Desde aquí, Señor, te adoro,
Y mi corazón te ofrezco.

(I adore Thee, great Treasure,
And I do not deserve to gaze upon Thee,
From here, Lord, I adore Thee
And offer Thee my heart.)

Mamá Tula was the last of the old guard in the Catholic Church around here. She would sit at Mass in her wheel chair, head covered with the large black veil of a widow, and a large badge of the Guadalupanos, a pious Marian group of the Mexican community, on her lapel. She had given eighteen children to my great-grandfather, Rufino, and at the time of her death in 1996, she had 63 grandchildren, 73 great-grandchildren, and a smattering of great-great-grandchildren. (That’s what happens when you marry at the age of fifteen.) She had to raise many of her children by herself since her husband died relatively young. She had a hard life as well, but her legacy is more than sealed by the progeny that budded forth from her. I had the benefit to sit at her feet as a young child (something that most of her great-grandchildren could not do), so from her I probably picked up a lot of Roman Catholicism from her by sheer osmosis….

She, however, is not the subject of this post. Her friend is. In the 1960’s, Mamá Tula was part of the local Legion of Mary chapter here in Hollister, and she would bring along my mother with her. (This, of course, was before I was even a twinkle in my mother’s eye.) There, she and my mother befriended a blind middle aged woman, very devout and unmarried. Her name was Genevieve McKool. She was born in South Dakota of Lebanese immigrant parents. She had served in the Second World War as a nurse and shortly thereafter began to lose her eyesight. Resigned perfectly to the will of God, she would live the next sixty years of her life in darkness. She formed the heart and soul of the Legion of Mary in Hollister for over forty years.

My mother re-joined the Legion of Mary in 1992, and by then I was a pious young teenager looking for a place where I could exercise my newly-found devotion. It was there I met Genevieve. By this time, Genevieve was eighty years old, still living by herself, and still walking to church everyday using her cane as a guide. She and my mother remembered each other, and they quickly picked up where they left off. I would go to the Legion of Mary meeting with my mother, and would accompany my mother and Genevieve on visits to the local hospital and nursing homes. It was there that the Christian upbringing I received was sealed into my mind forever, made real and sincere in my heart, even if now sometimes I turn away from the path of the Lord. It is there that I understood the depth of the Cross, its pain and its love. I saw compassion and the hand of Jesus working in the shriveled hands of an eighty year old blind woman.

Many of the people she visited were younger than her, lonely and forgotten by their children and the world. I remember one sad case, a man by the name of Guadalupe. He had no family and he sat all day in a dank nursing home unable to speak and waiting to die. There were many who were in visible agony and many who felt abandoned by loved ones who in some cases lived only in the next town over. Part of me was indignant; another part of me was intensely saddened that people could do such things to the people who gave them birth. I guess this is all part of the abnormal adolescence I had: should thirteen year olds be seeing and thinking about these things? Maybe this made me grow up too fast.

Genevieve had no such indignation, only love and a heart that inclined toward the misery of others. Guided by my mother, she would go from room to room in the nursery home, rosary in hand, and talk with the people there. When they were lonely, she counseled them to pray. When they were sad, she told them to commend themselves to the Blessed Mother. And when all else failed, she would stretch forth her soft, frail hand and give a stroke of comfort to those who had been forgotten and help them as much as she could to get through this vale of tears.

I remember one incident in particular that for me has been one of the most significant theophanies in my own life, one greater than seeing the sunrise over the desert, the vastness of the pampa at my feet, or the elevation of the Host at a Pontifical High Mass. There was an old Italian woman lying in agony in a room of the nursing home. We came in and Genevieve tried to talk to her, but the woman could no longer speak. Tears started to roll down the emaciated woman’s face, and she began to heave in pain. Genevieve could not see the terrible sight I was seeing, but she could hear it and she felt it in her soul. I looked at Genevieve and on her wrinkled face, I saw the same look of compassion that Jesus must have had when they brought him the sick and the suffering. She felt for the hands of the agonizing woman and took them in hers. She said nothing, but only held her hands for a while and prayed. In those pair of old hand, I saw God, and I thank Him everyday that He allowed me to see such love.

Genevieve led a simple life. She walked around Hollister using her cane and was helped in her errands by people like my mother who would lend her an occasional hand. Other than that, she led an independent life as she had always done. She even used to bake for the Legion of Mary meetings held in Salinas between the various praesidia. She was also constantly learning, either through reading books in Braille or listening to audio cassettes. And of course, she had a prayer routine that would put most monks to shame.

Genevieve did not see the Second Vatican Council and what it did to the Church. She was already blind when it happened, but sometimes she was very grieved by what she heard. I would often see her leaving church very sad, and she would often explain to me how much she missed things as they had been. When we heard that there was a traditional Latin Mass once a month in Santa Clara, my mother, Genevieve and I would make the pilgrimage up in order to attend it. She never put her veil away either. In her own humble way, she was the first traditionalist I ever met, but she never had any of the bitterness that I would have and that many seem to mistake as zeal. She was always a Christian first.

She was also one of the only people who took me seriously when I said that I wanted to be a priest. The priests of the parish thought that I was an overly pious pest who needed to get out and be a “normal kid”. No one else seemed to be able to give me much guidance in my budding vocation. No doubt, Genevieve prayed much for me, and still does, and she was happy that at least one young person understood that maybe the old ways were not so bad after all.

Nevertheless, through my own pride and negligence, I began to fall away from the Church little by little. There was a lot of intellectual pride involved, as well as confusion about the crisis in the Church and my own sins that I could not overcome. Genevieve and I began to drift away slowly, until one day, at sixteen, I left the Church altogether, and ceased to believe in God.

In spite of my atheism, there was still deep down a profound sense that what I was doing was wrong, and it most came to the light one day when I ran into Genevieve on the street. I was walking home from school, and I saw her, cane in hand, coming toward me. I hesitated as to whether or not I should say anything, even a simple “Hello”. As she came closer, I merely stepped out of the way and said nothing. I have never been so ashamed in my life. It would be the last time I would ever see her alive.

Years passed, and finally at the age of twenty, I decided to re-enter the Church. When I came back to Hollister for vacation, the first thing I wanted to do was to go see Genevieve and tell her that I had left the Church but that I was back now. My mother said that she was by then living in a nursing home herself. I intended to go visit her, but for some reason, I just kept putting it off throughout my week-long vacation in Hollister. One night, however, after I had made a firm resolution to visit her the next day, my mother showed me that week’s issue of the local paper and in it was found Genevieve’s obituary. She had died three days before I arrived in Hollister.

Later that night, my grandparents, my mother, and I prayed the rosary together as we do every night, but I began to weep bitterly. At the end, I told my mother, “Genevieve was the one who could see, and I was the one who was blind.” Her death healed the blindness of my heart, and for the next seven years I would go on a wild-spiritual goose chase, the story of which can be found throughout this blog.

Tonight, however, I am wondering what Genevieve is thinking about what has happened to me as she sits up there in our Father’s house. I know she is praying for me, but now I wonder whether she might be a little disappointed in me, or is she happy that I am finally settling for life, simple life, and not trying to live the life I read about it in all of those books? As I prayed the rosary tonight with my family, I didn’t pray that I would be a great saint, or a priest who saves hundreds of souls, or a monk who has the gift of pure prayer, or even a prelate who will turn the Church around from the mess that it is in. I prayed that the woman I have a crush on might find happiness regardless of whether or not she returns my affection. I prayed that I might be strong enough to do what I have to do in order to help out my poor family and make it so that they suffer a little less. But most of all, I just thanked God that I could kneel before Him and adore Him in all of His Majesty and love. That is what it means to be a human being. I ask nothing for myself other than to be a simple man who loves and is loved. Maybe that was Genevieve’s prayer too, and it continues to be her prayer as she looks down on me from up there in Heaven.

“ Lord, that I might see……”

Friday, December 22, 2006

Postcard From Hollister #1

But if we pursue the heavenly way and live in our kindred star, then we will philosophize, living truly, busied with the most profound and marvellous speculations, beholding the beauty in the soul immutably related to Truth, viewing the rule of the Gods with joy, gaining perpetual delight and additional insight from contemplating, and experiencing pure pleasure absolutely unmingled with any pain or sorrow.

-Iamblichus, The Exhortation to Philosophy

All well and good, but can this happen in a fallen world wracked with original sin?

Is pure contemplation even remotely possible in this life?

One thing I do know: the ancient concept of learning and philosophy as a way of life and not a system is something we must return to somehow. Our sense of allegiance to the Church must organically come out of the doctrine of Christ as a transmission of life and not a list of obligations to a set of propositions.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Christmas Break!

I have just got done with my last final exam, and I am on my way back to Hollister for three weeks. Horray for me!!!

Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that blogging with be a tad more difficult in Hollister since I do not have daily access to the Internet. However, I will be writing things on my laptop as they occur to me and posting them on-line when possible, and I also intend to use this time as an intense study period to finally get at the root of intellectual problems I have not been able to address throughout the semester.

So I intend to hermetically seal myself from the world and begin reading books on everything from classical Greek philosophy to modern Spanish literature, trying to view the ontological and religious crisis from a new angle that will enable me to give you the reader a new understanding of our anti-human and anti-Christian world by formulating a highly nuanced and systematic epistemological critique of how postmodern man views the cosmos and his place in it.....

Or I might just sit around all day and watch VH1.

I hope they have a special on Nelly Furtado.

Anyway, I will still be blogging, but it will come out in clumps rather than in the delicious flowing milk chocolate form that you are used to.

God bless,

Arturo Vasquez

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Why I Like French Baroque Music

One of the last scenes from Le Roi Danse, a film about Lully and the court of Louis XIV.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Theological Rant With Changing Parts

Wrong for All the Right Reasons:

I was working in the Main Stacks of the library here in Berkeley when I encountered a book with a brief passage from Ulrich Zwingli's work on the Lord's Supper. I read a brief portion from it, and I have to say that I agreed with it. He's right. What else are we to make of the passages in the Gospels about Jesus no longer being with us. There is a true Absence of Christ in the world, and that absence is what causes us to cry, "Marana tha!" and "Veni, Domine Jesu!" This world is not right.

That's what makes sense logically, but things are not that logical. The more you think about these things, the more your thoughts break down into a mess of metaphors, Scripture verses, and wishful thinking. We are the branches, He is the vine; we are the sheep, He is the Shepard; He is the head, we are the members, etc. "I am leaving you, but I will send the Paraclete...." "Everywhere and in all things, the Word of God wills to enact the sacrament of His embodiment." Anybody bold enough to volunteer what this all means?

Even when we fidget with our beads before the monstrance, there is a Real Absence there. Even there. That is the eschatological dimension that we will never be able to get over in this life. We long for His coming again. There is a Real Absence that eats at us, and if that absence is not there for you, I think you have a real problem:

Vivo sin vivir en mi

Y de tal manera espero

Que muero porque no muero.

Zwingli was just too logical about it. That's the problem.

Speaking of logical, and speaking of Zwingli, I was thinking about priestly celibacy in the Roman Catholic Church. I have now been involved in two churches that do not require celibacy from their clergy (only some clergy in the case of the Orthodox). I think getting rid of the discipline of celibacy in the Roman Church would destroy it, so this is what I propose. Let the priest shack up with a woman and then look the other way. Yeah, you read that right. They've been doing it for hundreds of years anyway, so why not just continue with the dirty little secret....

Oh, that's right, we can't have "dirty little secrets" anymore. Modern educated people are not just hostile to hypocrisy, they actively hunt it down, bring it into the light of day, and then burn it at the stake. At first Christianity was wrong because all of those miracles that Jesus supposedly did are physically impossible. Now it's wrong because no one can possibly live up to it. And that is the fault of us Christians. If we weren't so busy sitting in judgment on the world for hundreds of years, maybe they wouldn't be so harsh on us now. Anyway, I digress...

The Church of the Middle Ages and the early modern period could not (and may have not wanted to) micromanage the behavior of its clergy. Perhaps (and maybe this is just wishful thinking) it knew that canon law and discipline were no match for fallen human nature, so it didn't try to challenge it on a massive scale. Sure, a slight slap on the wrist here and an occasional decree there kept up appearances. But at least people would mind their own business and not expect their clergy to be angels when they themselves weren't even close to this. Indeed, if the greatest intellectual error of modern thought, according to Maritain, is to try to make human learning into angelic infused knowledge, so the greatest problem with modern morality is that it expects man to be angelic. What folly.....

Hypocrisy is bad. But it will always be there. Sorry to burst your bubble.

The Anglican Continuum rocks! Traditional Anglicans are cool, and if anyone wants to pick on them, they will have to answer to me. Then you'll see the real barrio gangsta come out....

Disbelieve nothing amazing concerning the gods or divine dogmas. (The third Pythagorean symbol)

Commentary by Iamblichus: ...[T]his dogma sufficently venerates and unfolds the transcendency of the Gods, affording us a viaticum, and recalls to our memory that we ought not to estimate divine power by our judgment. But it is likely that some things should appear difficult and impossible to us, in consequence of our corporeal subsistence, and from our association with generation and corruption; from our having a momentary existence; from being subject to a variety of diseases; from the smallness of our habitation.... This symbol in a particular manner introduces the knowledge of the Gods, as beings who are able to affect all things.... so that the precept, disbelieve nothing, is equivalent to participate in and acquire those things through which you will not disbelieve; that is to say, acquire disciplines and scientific demonstrations.

-from The Exhortation to Philosophy

See, even the pagans knew it. This needs to be tattooed onto the foreheads of 90% of so called Biblical scholars who claim to be debunking the Bible in order to purify Christianity of mythology. Has it ever occured to these people that they are just disgusting fallen animals who need to burp, wipe their nose, and use the bathroom? Who are they to sit in judgment on the things of God? Indeed, the most authentic scholars are the ones who know the limitations of the human intellect, what it can and cannot know. You won't find many of those types on theological faculties or even on Internet "scholarly" sites where people debate endlessly about minutiae. This type of crypto-angelic cockiness can be found at the levels of the Vatican itself, and many of these guys are wearing funny red hats....

One last Pythagorean symbol:

Do not urinate facing the sun.

I like that. I just thought I would throw that in there.

(Written while listening to Philip Glass' Music with Changing Parts. Hence the title.)

Thursday, December 14, 2006


The "displacement of attention" of which Bergson speaks, as in the case of Merleau-Ponty’s “phenomenological reduction”, is in fact a conversion: a radical rupture with regard to the state of unconsciousness in which man normally lives. The utilitarian perception we have of the world, in everyday life, in fact hides from us the world qua world. Aesthetic and philosophical perceptions of the world are only possible by means of a complete transformation of our relationship to the world: we have to perceive it for itself, and no longer for ourselves.

-Pierre Hadot, Philosophy as a Way of Life, pg. 254.

This is just not a problem of philosophy, but this can also be applied to the things of God. Why when something polemical comes up on the religious side of the Internet, everybody comes out of the woodwork to give an opinion? But when something more important comes up, no one has anything decent to say. It is because we are not looking at theology in the correct manner, we do not perceive it as something for itself, but rather as something for ourselves. I am just as guilty as everyone else, but at least sometimes I realize it.

Just go outside and stare at the clouds. It’s better for you anyway.

First of all, the bright, clear color of the sky, and all it holds within it, the stars that wander here and there, and the moon and the radiance of the sun with its brilliant light; all these, if now they had been seen for the first time by mortals, if, unexpectedly, they were in a moment placed before their eyes, what story could be told more marvelous than these things, or what that the nations would less dare to believe beforehand? Nothing, I believe; so worthy of wonder would this sight have been. Yet think how no one now, wearied with the satiety of seeing, deigns to gaze up at the shining quarters of the sky!

…A truth wondrously new is struggling to fall upon your ears, and a new face of things to reveal itself.

-Lucretius, De Rerum Natura

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

María Castro de Vásquez

.....quia fortis est ut mors dilectio

Note: The purpose of the following series of posts is twofold: on the one hand, I want to memorialize those “unimportant” people who I have touched my life and who have since returned to our Father’s house, and on the other hand, I want to write a very soft apologia for traditional Roman Catholicism. Since Christianity is first and foremost about life, it is the lives of these people who have passed the Faith onto me. And I wish to share this with you.

Some of us are fortunate enough to know those people who have taught us how to love. Our parents of course are the primary source of this knowledge, but many times this is supplemented by someone else very special whose soul is so beautiful that it covers us in its shade long after they are gone. My paternal grandmother was this for me. What she taught me, not with words or books, but rather with actions, touch, and a gaze, was (to paraphrase Newman) that to love is to suffer, and to have loved perfectly is to have suffered often.

To the eyes of that seven year old, she was the most beautiful woman in the world other than his mother. To the eyes of the world, she was balding, hunched over, wrinkled, and wracked with severe diabetes. She was the mother of five, the grandmother of countless, an abandoned wife, a single mother, a keeper of beautiful birds, and a great cook. Everyone around her was intent, however, to make her life as sad and tragic as possible.

Born in Corpus Christi, Texas, she was orphaned at a young age and raised by her grandmother. She met my grandfather, Salvador, at the age of twenty and had five children by him. A drunk in and out of jail for most of their marriage, he finally abandoned her in California when my father was fourteen years of age. Her children, four boys and one girl, took after their father in many ways, and family gatherings often degenerated into drunken brawls between brothers over trifles. There are other more serious things, but I have probably said more than enough. Sons should not reveal the sins of their fathers….

To say that my grandmother had a simple Faith is an understatement. To say she was superstitious is probably more accurate. She had a small altar in her room on the right side of her bed that had, along with pictures of Christ and the Virgin, a picture of a man dressed in a soldier’s uniform. This was one of the many Mexican “folk saints” who would never make it past the post office if his cause was introduced to the Vatican Congregation for the Causes of Saints, but this guy probably did something really nice to some poor family at some point between killing people in knife fights and fornicating, so why not have a little picture of him in your room? Grandma also had to defend me from her rather tacky plastic statues of the Holy Family that scared me so much. I tried to stay away from the room they were in.

I used to sleep in the living room adjacent to her room on the couch opposite my brother. There used to be an old clock whose ticking used to also scare me (now you know what kind of child I was). She used to stuff cotton balls in my ears so I wouldn’t hear the clock, and if that didn’t work, I would go sleep in her bed. (I was six, so what was she going to do?) My father tells me now that she never used to let him hit me, even if I did something really bad. She loved me so much that she did not want to see me suffer, even if I deserved it. Sometimes I think that is how God looks at me.

There used to be a semi-empty lot across from her house where homeless people would sleep under empty truck containers. She would take us over there in order to bring them food. They weren’t there during the day, so we would just leave the plate there. We were poor too, but at least we had a roof over our heads and Grandma always taught us to share what we had.

I think that if I had stayed with my grandmother, I would have come out more spoiled and less emotionally calloused than I am now. I know that compared to most people in the world, I had life pretty easy. But there were times when we didn’t know where we would stay the night, where the next meal would come from, and where we would be next year. That’s a tough life for a seven year old, and it makes you grow up long before your time. Life at Grandma’a house was the only real childhood I had, and it ended abruptly, but here again I am saying too much….

She died on a cold January day in 1991. I wasn’t there, but she had called for me. My parents had separated and we were living in the next town over. For reasons I can’t go into, we were not in regular contact. I didn’t cry at her funeral. It’s not that I wasn’t sad; it was more that my heart was still very calloused over all that had happened. When you see so many harsh things so young, it takes you a while to start feeling again. But I feel now. Her grave in Gilroy is a sacred site to me where I stare into the eyes of the enemy that Jesus Christ has already conquered but in whose night we are still sadly trapped.

My grandmother used to keep two peacocks, as well as ducks, geese, and chickens. (My father said that she used to kill chickens by picking them up by the neck and twirling them around a couple of times, much to the disgust of her children. My grandmother was not squeamish.) The peacocks were of course male and female, so the male would often unleash his splendorous tail for his spouse to see. Sometimes I think that Grandma had all of her beautiful birds as a way to resist the ugliness that had plagued her life and proclaim, in her simple way, that love and beauty will always win out in the end. While sitting on a swing and watching these two fowl walk by, this ideal was passed on to me as well. It is the highest form of theology, etched in the heart, that not even a St. Thomas can articulate in all of the volumes in the world.

Requiescat in pace. I love you, Grandma.

Monday, December 11, 2006

One More Mass Reflection

Is there such a thing as a six month old Calvinist?

I was at Mass yesterday and there was a young famiy in sitting in front of me with four little children squirming all over the place. While most find this a "distraction to prayer", I always think that noisy kids help me pray better. They help me realize that the Mass is not about how I feel, it is about the Body of Christ. And these small noisy children are Its purest part. Having been a monk, I suppose I know that I don't need hyper children to distract me when I pray. I do that very well all by myself. True, parents should try and keep their kids under control during Mass, but this can only be done within reason. Even when the children are well-behaved (and these children were), they are still children. And God bless them. It was really cool when the six month old tried to snatch the rosary right out of my hand. I just smiled and wrapped it around my fist. I wasn't going to let some infant drool all over my rosary.....

When the elevation came, I was astonished that the children stopped squirming for one second and looked up. Now, I am not a big fan of the "Kodak-moment" concept of consecration. While it is surrounded by beautiful cermonial, many obsess too much about the "exact moment when Jesus comes down". This can reduce liturgy to overly mechanistic principals. This being said, when I saw that six month old look up at the priest silently elevating the Host, I realized then what really constitutes our formation as Christians. It is that moment when we watch and marvel before we can even rationalize or speak that binds us to God for the rest of our lives. That is real participation and it cannot be created by a liturgical committee. Thanks be to God that those kids have parents who go to the traditional Mass.

At Holy Communion, I have to say I missed receiving from the chalice. In both the Anglican and Byzantine traditions, you are given the Blood of Christ as well, either directly from the chalice or on a spoon. However, if one principal has led to my recent change of heart on many things it is the one that states that the better is often the enemy of the good. In the Roman Catholic Church, they now give out the Blood of Christ as well but in a manner that destroys the hierarchical principal behind the liturgy. Now that everyone has to receive Holy Communion at every Mass, "Eucharistic ministers" are employed to save time and Communion degenerates into a free-for-all of irreverence. Some would advocate giving Holy Communion by intinction, but this is just another novelty. Haven't we had enough of those lately? In the end, Communion under one kind is a good, and not entirely unique to the Roman rite. (See the Byzantine Liturgy of Pre-Sanctified Gifts, for example.) Trying to replace it with something better has only made things worse.

Going back to the first point, however, I have always wondered if there is really a such thing as a Protestant child. How do you instill an ideology that exalts the word over the image to those who cannot yet read or even speak? It just doesn't seem natural to me. Sola Scriptura doesn't work because it doesn't work for children. And if it doesn't work for these little ones, what good is it for us?

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Manhandling the Divine....

And Eating My Words

Okay, you can all stop your novenas to St. Jude and the Infant of Prague. I am officially a Roman Catholic in good standing (boy, I think the poor priest who heard my confession has heard EVERYTHING now...). I suppose I feel somewhat relieved now. In the end, I have always known that I would return to the Roman Catholic Church someday, it was only a matter of time....

At the sung Mass for the Immaculate Conception (indult traditional Mass in Latin) , I reflected quite a bit on some of the criticisms of Roman liturgy that I have posted on this blog, and I have to take most of it back. So for the record, here is what I found:

1. Reformed liturgy in the form of the Book of Common Prayer and other Protestant orders are theoretically good in themselves, but liturgy is not about theory. One can formulate the main concern of the Reformers as being not wanting to treat God like a thing. This is why they railed against transubstantiation and indulgences; they felt that these things made the sacred into something that could be manipulated. They had a point of course. But that is the risk God takes within any sacramental order. Grace needs to be concretized and even manhandled in order for it to become real for us rational animals. These things should not be fetishized in themselves, but they inevitably will be. But to think that you can attain grace without them is trying to be an angel and not a man, and that has already been covered on this blog....

2. Protestant worship is about information, and Novus Ordo worship has tried to ape the information liturgy model. While the High Church Anglican and Anglo-Catholic forms of liturgy are to be excluded to some extent, the rest of Reformed and modern models want to educate the worshiper first and foremost. They want to educate, but they fail to transform. The transformative power of worship is something that is incomprehensible to most Christians nowadays, especially to those in the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. Perhaps this is why many sincere Roman Catholics end up in the charismatic movement (I was raised in it and am still traumatized by it). If they cannot get that transformative change from a traditional liturgy, they will forcefully make an ecstatic experience using bass guitars and drum sets to fake one.

3. What made yesterday's experience so profound is the authenticity of it, and by this I mean the awkward singing, the dazed altar boys, the children crying, the long lines for Holy Communion, etc., etc. I have not really felt that in a while. All the churches I have been to recently have been so small, and in the Roman Catholic churches the liturgy was so bad I paid very little attention to this authenticity element. But even with these wacky traditionalists, there was still the Catholic element of being in a large heaving body of grace and chaos. That is a Catholic element, no matter what flavor of Catholic you are. In that sense, it felt like home.

(It was raining yesterday, and I had my umbrella, so I was glad that it didn't get nicked...)

4. An ever-vigilant doctrinal skepticism is necessary for many reasons, but it can also go full circle. When the priest started to talk about the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, I began to roll my eyes as it to be expected. But then I realize one very important thing:

"How the hell do I know that he's wrong?"

And I don't. I have concluded that, after you have accepted such obvious things and the Nicene Creed, the rest is up in the air. But if that is the case, why do I always have to play the contrarian? It's a good question. This does not mean that I will just believe blindly. It does mean that at some point I have to give assent, even if its just a "yeah, why not?"

5. Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament might be theologically harmful in terms of placing the Body of Christ "out there" and not in the Church, but it still looks cool so we should keep it.

6. At the end of Mass and Benediction, they rolled out the table again stored in the sacristy in order to start the Novus Ordo Mass. All of us panicked traditionalists stampeded toward the doors when we saw it. It's good to be back in the Roman Catholic traditionalist ghetto! They gave us our allocated time, so then the official service could begin (and you can't complain, since the Pope does it too...)

So there you are. Please feel free to tell me, "I told you so!"

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Steve Reich

A good introduction: the trailer for a recent documentary.

Reich- Eight Lines

A nice excerpt.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Myth of Anglo-Saxon, Middle Class Catholicism

"[Alice Mabel Bacon's] essay opened by describing "the poorest and most ignorant of the colored people"" who lived in "little slab cabins with their mud chimineys, where father, mother, children of both sexes, and frequently adult lodgers of either sex, are thrown together at all times under all circumstances."

-Lee D. Baker, in Globalization and Race: Transformations in the Cultural Production of Blackness, p. 46

This is a description of a Protestant missionary of the immodest and scandalous living conditions of blacks in the South in the 19th century. It also describes my Mexican Catholic household growing up....

What is wrong with Roman Catholic traditionalism in the English speaking world? Read the title of this post. It is the myth that Roman Catholicism is a clean, sanitized, and pasturized religion that is basically a book of etiquette with a little bit of Latin sprinkled on it. It is far from this, at least in places where Roman Catholicism has historically been nurtured and thrived.

Having spent time in the Society of St. Pius X in the U.S. and Argentina, I can honestly tell you that most traditionalists don't have a clue on how to be Catholic (except the ones who were Catholic before the Council.) They somehow think that being a good Catholic means having a spotless reputation, watching all the right movies, and avoiding all the wrong kinds of people. The Catholics I have come to know and admire, however, were really bad at doing all of these things. That was not their world. In their world, people struggled to get food on the table everyday. In their world, people may have done lots of things that are morally questionable in order to to just get through life. In their world, people prayed and prayed a lot even though they knew they were sinners since a prayer was all they had. In their world, there was no such thing as "Christian modesty" because everyone slept in close quarters in order to stay warm. This was the world of the Gospels. It is a harsh world, but one that is real and far from the fancies of those who dream of restoring "the Social Reign of Christ the King".

We can wring our hands all we want about how evil this world has become, and there are some very strong arguments that this is the case. I would argue that the abundance of material things makes us insensitive to the things of God. But hunger and poverty also creates a brutal, unforgiving environment that neither you nor I would want to live in. Perhaps the only difference between sins done in the barrio and ghetto and the sins that we do is that we have no excuse. It is even worse if we try to make the world in the image and likeness of an English garden party: that is the greatest hypocrisy and blindness of all.

What is this tirade really about? It is about people trying to impose a system on others apart from the Gospel itself. This system states that if only you keep your kids away from so-and-so, if you only cut your lawn so many times a week, and if you only live here instead of there you are a better Catholic than the people across the way. Catholicism is not about manners, etiquette, and being able to afford a modest, decent life. Check the Gospels again....

For me, the most indignant aspect about the Catholic separatism advocated by many traditionalists is that it is only possible for those to whom the capitalist system has been kind. Is all of our liturgical and "doctrinal snobbery" mainly another luxury we can afford, and others cannot?

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Sobre Mi Relación Con La Iglesia Católica

Sé, que sigues preguntandoles por mí
Que te lastima el alma que yo siga solo
Que no quisiste lastimarme con tu adios.
No, no tienes por que tu sentirte mal
Si yo aún sigo solo no es por tu culpa
No te pongas triste esto no es por tí
Si la soledad está conmigo
Es que tengo tanto miedo enamorarme
De alguien como tú
Que no le importa destrozar mis ilusiones
Que sigue libre a pesar de que ha matado
Que en su mirada va escondida la traición
Que no te puede dar amor por que envenena
De alguien como tú
Que en cada beso va robandote el alma
Que solo sabe recibir que no da nada
Que te confunde por completo la razón
Que te asesina y se va como si nada
De alguien como tú.

Como tú.

-Intocable, "Alguien Como Tu"

An Appreciation

(Out of all of the people who read this blog, probably only two of you will understand it. That's okay, sometimes you need to post things like this....)

When I first met the Anti-Staretz, he was not yet tonsured and was not even in a monastic habit. I was twenty four, in love with Byzantine liturgy and the spirituality of St. Therese of Lisieux, and had no idea what the world was really like. When I had my first conversation with him, I concluded that he was was a smug, overly-intelligent bastard who liked Evelyn Waugh and a good martini. He had no reason to be a monk, I thought. But it was from him I learned to believe, not just as a monk or as a Christian, but as a mere human being.

There is so much phoniness to all religious sentiment. It takes a lifetime to get rid of prideful piety, exaggerated gestures, and thinly veiled self-righteousness. There are religious authors, Catholic, Orthodox, and other, who seem to think that the key to religious life is to lie to yourself, over and over again, until you turn so naive that you start to believe it. With all due respect to these authors, they are so full of sh#*. No wonder there are so many atheists and agnostics in the world. If we have to walk through life with people pissing on our heads and trying to believe that it is really raining, then we are better off pursuing the most base debaucheries. At least we would have more fun while doing it.

I had so many conversations with Anti-Staretz where it seemed that he really didn't believe firmly in anything. It felt like he was constantly taking the ground out from under himself. He had hacked away at every single prejudice, every single misconception, and every single platitude that others take for granted, and I felt sometimes that we both were at the end of it all staring into an abyss of uncertainty. I would go to bed, and when I entered the katholikon again at four in the morning, there he was again, at the kliros, starting over again, like he had done for years:

"Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us......"

It took many, many conversations with him for me to realize that you can be a saint and still be yourself, even if being yourself means being a cynical bastard. And that is what Anti-Staretz and I have in common. Maybe it would have been better for us if we had been two ignorant monks who thought the abbot's word was the will of God. Maybe it would be better if I had a blog with a big picture of the Pope and if I carved "I love Benedict XVI" on tree trunks when no one is looking. But that is simply not going to happen.

What we can really be certain about in life is very, very little, and it seems with the passing of time it becomes less and less. Certainty as a sentiment is not the test of faith, deeds are. It is not that we have to lie about our difficulties, our opinions, and our failures in order to believe. The key is to accept them and to keep going. To keep going to Orthros at four in the morning, to keep going to Mass on Sunday even if everything is not perfect, and to keep striving to love even if you know you will fail is how we will make it through this vale of tears. There is no certainty in this: there is only duty and resolve, and that duty and resolve must come from the heart. And that is what I learned from Anti-Staretz. Pure Gospel, pure life.

He will be missed. Life is a series of long good-byes until we meet again at the Final Judgment. Hopefully, we will all be standing on the right side of the Throne.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Editorial Note

This post is to inform you the reader that I have decided to start practicing again as a Roman Catholic. This decision is a result of neither a doctrinal breakthrough nor a repudiation of anything I have written on this blog heretofore. It is merely an acknowledgement that I am a Roman Catholic to the bone, in spite of my difficulties, flights of fancy, and quasi-heresies that I have written here against the Roman Church. The Roman Catholic Church is home, even if I will always be a pariah within it.

This decision will not affect how I write nor my criticisms of Catholicism, of the Pope, or of Catholic history in general. So do not hold me accountable for being inconsistent with the ethos that dominates the Roman Catholic Church or the traditionalist movement within it. I am going back to being a plain old Roman Catholic (with heavy unorthodox Lefebvrist sympathies), and not joining the Pope Benedict XVI Fan Club nor the Church of Pope Pius XII Re-Enactment Society.

As for my reasons, they are entirely personal. Please e-mail me privately if you want to know them.

God bless,

Arturo Vasquez

Comments, Comments, Comments

Just like some sort of bizarre special episode of a sitcom, here is a recap of some interesting comments made on the blogosphere lately. To learn more, click on the links:

The ultramontanism that you are advocating here, about uniformity and identity crises, only prevailed after the French Revolution and after Gallicanism was beaten. By that time, the Catholic Faith became less and less of a force within society in general, and the Papacy and the papal cult became more and more important even in the daily lives of Catholics. The flawed and biased scholarship of Dom Gueranger and his obsession to impose the Roman rite all over France is a tragic example of this. This thinking is just as much a product of our decadent age as is liberalism, and it will lead nowhere.

-Yours truly, the Confused Anglo-Papist

I have heard that on Athos the normal reverance for incorrupt remains is not the case, and in fact the opposite is true there, that they think it a sign of sinfulness if the body of a monk there remains incorrupt. I have heard several explanations for why this is so, but it is all secondhand to me, and I have heard so many weird things about Athos I don't know what to believe.

-the Ochlophobist, Canterbury Tales

And among Roman Catholics, the wrong question is this: How do we make the Orthodox become Catholic? The constructive question is rather How do we make the Catholics become Orthodox? Because Roman Catholicism should be an Orthodox-with-a-capital-O religion.

-Daniel Mitsui, The Undercroft

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Orthodoxy, the Papacy and Stuff

The All Too Common blog posted this video on the website of the Ecumenical Patriarchate but done by EWTN. Here are some scatter-brained reflections:

1. It's good to see some real liturgy done on EWTN for a change, not just the sappy stuff that is Devotio Moderna in sound and motion. (I suppose they sometimes show the traditional Latin Mass, but not often enough.) By real liturgy, I mean OBJECTIVE worship meant to be worship, not just catechesis with props.

2. I thought that when the Patriarch served, everyone (bishops, priests, abbots, etc.) has to take off their insignias (the cross, panagia, etc.). Did the Pope have to do this? Probably not. Anyone who saw the video, did everyone else do this?

3. Many of the women receiving Communion are of East Asian extraction. Any explanations? For some reason I thought they were Filipinas. Am I right?

4. I could never become Orthodox because the liturgy is too pretty. I was a Byzantine Catholic monk, and we did the same liturgy as the Orthodox, but I wasn't a monk for too long, and maybe it didn't seem real enough to me. It's just like listening to Bach. Bach is almost too pretty to listen to. Most of the time, I am content with an opera by Lully; it is much more sensual and carnal. Bach seems almost angelic, and that makes me sad more often than not.

Whenever I see the Orthodox liturgy, I always think that I am seeing a glimpse of heaven. But then I realize that I am not in Heaven. We may have to live in both, to live in the eschaton, but Orthodox liturgy now seems too strange, too unearthly. I love it to death, but it can never be home. If Orthodoxy were in my blood, and not Roman Catholicism, it might be a different story....

Personally, I think that when we get to Heaven, the Liturgy before the Throne of the Lamb will be done by Coptic monks, provided that God forgives their flawed Christology. That is hardcore worship.

5. The commenter yaps too much on this video. Why whenever you go into a Western church, people have to thrust missals and prayer books in your hands to let you know "what is going on"? This is not a bad thing in itself, but sometimes I wish they would just leave me alone and let me watch. That's why I liked going to Russian churches where it was all in Old Slavonic and everyone ignored you. In the end, if it is true worship, you will never know entirely what's going on. At least, you couldn't get it from a book.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Tune in, turn on......

Under no circumstances whatsoever would I recommend anyone send any child to any modern university.

-Dr David Allen White, in an interview posted on the Cornell Society for a Good Time.

I know this position well. The Society of St. Pius X encouraged me to drop out of Berkeley in the first place in order to pursue the "higher things". While I don't regret the "life experiences" (can you put being a monk in the Mojave Desert on a resume?), I disagree with the good doctor 100%.

Traditional Catholics in the Society of St. Pius X are so ignorant of history that they are laboring under a paradigm of one period of Church history when they really should be looking at another. St. Basil the Great still went to the Academy in Athens. There were Christians in Antioch even when pagan prostitutes were parading through the streets naked. We are Christians, not Essenes. Christ said we must be the light of the world, not a light hidden from view. There is a severe lack of reality in the SSPX perspective. But I have said this before.....

There is something more dangerous going on theologically, and it is something that misses the spirit of the Gospel entirely. I also watched this enlightening video about the Transalpine Redemptorists on Papa Stronsay on the Devout Life blog, and one young postulant said something to the effect that life of the island is better there because all of the monks' actions earn merits toward their salvation. Now, he is a better monk than I was probably, but I still think that he's nuts. You don't earn your salvation. Life is not about not sinning and doing your darndest not to screw up. It is about love, and love "covers a multitude of sins". One of the greatest acts of love of God is repentance and that is available to everyone, and it is especially easy to those who have sinned much, for they are forgiven all the more.

Look at the Pharisees: they spent all of their time in the Temple and synagogue, reading the Law and praying. In the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee, we can speculate that the Publican probably was not in the Temple all that often, and he certainly was not reading the Law all of the time. (Hustlin' ain't easy....) But when he was in the Temple, who went away forgiven? Religious people are the ones who really get it in the Gospel, those who don't want to get their hands dirty and don't want to risk their salvation on things that might be intuitively right, but go against the "letter of the Law".

Many say that we might be "endangering our salvation" by doing this and that, by living in such and such a place, etc., but here is news for those people: your salvation is always "in danger". That's free will, so welcome to the human race! Anyone who has read the lives of the Desert Fathers or has lived in a monastery for more than two minutes knows that even there "you are not safe". How many monastic cowls are floating about in the fires of hell? At every moment, God is asking us if we love Him, and yes we waiver, we are cowardly, and sinful. Is that news to you? Get a grip, for crying out loud! Being above the world, away from the world, and apart from it doesn't free you from yourself.

True, that doesn't mean you can go strolling into porn shops or even worse, start working for the IMF (bunch of heartless crooks!), but it does mean that you have to look at being a Christian as something you can do right now. So what are you waiting for? To move to a rural area in Idaho where you can go to the traditional Latin Mass everyday? Learn to be a human being, and maybe then you can be a Christian.

Be cool, stay in school.