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

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Waking Up, Little by Little

And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

A New Addition to My Collection

The School of Notre Dame: Léonin & Pérotin by the Orlando Consort

A good recording of medieval plain chant and organum.

Monday, November 27, 2006

I Was Having a Mexican Moment.....

last night, listening to Maria Dolores Pradera (not a Mexican per se, but still the same spirit) and eating spicy tamarind candy, sitting on my bed, just back from the barrio. More on this to come.....

(By the way, my great grandmother was a great fan of Carlos Gardel. Just thought I would throw that in there.)

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Thanksgiving Break

And the Oldest Recorded Gangsta Rap.....

I am going home to Hollister this afternoon until Sunday, so I won't blog until at least Monday, if at all after that. Even though I have felt quite prolific in the past few days (and I thank you for bearing it), I still have a ton of work to do between now and the first week of December. So Happy Thanksgiving to all my American readers.

One last inspirational thought before I go: I can prove the superiority of hip-hop music from the Bible. Yes, from the Bible.....

And Lamech said unto his wives, Adah and Zillah, Hear my voice; ye wives of Lamech, hearken unto my speech: for I have slain a man to my wounding, and a young man to my hurt. If Cain shall be avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy and sevenfold. (Genesis 4: 23-24)

This is the oldest poem in history, if we take the Genesis account literally. It sounds rather familiar:

Grab your glocks when you see Tupac
Call the cops when you see Tupac, Uhh
Who shot me,
But, your punks didn't finish
Now, you 'bout to feel the wrath of a menace
n%*!a, I hit 'em up.

Just an observation, that's all.

I'm out. Peace.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Aesthetic Christianity - Roman Catholic Style

The Church has suffered immeasurably from Protestantization and from historical-critical modernism. A rediscovery of a more ancient and less literal piety, informed by sanctoral legend, miracle story, and apocrypha may be the best anecdote to these trends. This does not necessitate a vain credulity that considers them literally, or that assigns them undue authority; the dangers of that can be seen now in the charismatic movement and the dubious cults of apparition. Nor does it discount healthy criticism; certain of the church fathers were themselves critical of apocrypha and the manifestation of legend in the popular piety of their time. But the Christian East has managed to be both strongly legendary and strongly patristic without contradiction. This sort of traditionalism has been lacking in the Christian West for centuries. If anything, its rediscovery will help the Catholic to see beyond the arguments between Catholicism and Protestantism, and to inhabit an older and larger world. It will help him to see the profound allegory and sublime anagogy in the wisdom of our inheritance from the saints, both simple and wise, naturally expressed in pious tradition.

This is from a must read post over at the Lion and the Cardinal blog. This guy is bright, really bright, and has impeccable visual and theological taste.

In spite of what I have posted and will post on this blog, I do not advocate a "bare-bones" mere Christianity of white-washed church interiors and as little ornament as possible. I can accept this if push comes to shove, but my heart is with the "smells and bells", elaborate liturgies, and "fanciful stories" (I am Mexican, after all). At the end of the day, however, I will not say that these things are absolutely necessary. It would be a shame if we did lose them, and our Faith would be impoverished if we did. But I have learned that maybe the more minimal "Reformed" approach can have a beauty in and of itself (I prefer the simpler Prayer Book Service to the Anglo-Catholic Mass). The trick in my book is not to cling to one approach or the other, but to be able to love and appreciate both (a via media?).

It is not Cluny or the Citeaux, it is both. We cannot be doctrinaire or legalistic about it, but must look at both paths leading lovingly to Christ.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Just When You Were Tempted to Despair....

I read the following poems at a poetry reading tonight. Since you have to suffer through all of the other bright ideas I have, you might as well suffer my poetry, at least the stuff I inflict on the public.


A Rejected Proposal

Break it open-
A hundred flakes of glass
Rushing over the floor.

Break it open and
Do not be afraid-
The heart is not as
Delicate as you think.

It is made of spirit
And forgetting.

Break it open and
You will see the hills
Veiled in darkness-

They dodge the lonely
Headlights and look at
The scars
Left by the hooves of cows.

There is a full moon tonight...
What is she saying?
Does she see me immersed
In you-
In your smile soft
Like the fog-tainted sunset?

Break open that little box
Gilded and glistening
In my chest-
It contains the sweetest ointment-
Biblical almost-
That will fill this room
With childhood memories
Of cucumber fields
And work-scared hands-
They hold mine lovingly
At the end of a joyful,
Dirt-strewn day.

Break open and fill
The sky with mercy
And tears-
You will see that maybe
The walls of time will fall
And we will stand on top
Of the hill- that hill
Occupied by the
Late afternoon wind
Making its vesperal pilgrimage
From the ocean.

Break open what can be
And do not reject that embrace
Of a small glance exchanged
Over coffee.

Peter's Tears

I turn away ashamed
After denying the King of kings,
That harsh word in my ears
Still accusingly rings.
My hour came and went
And in the trial I have failed-
For Divine love I have returned
Cruel cowardice and betrayal.

For so long I walked
With you, but all for naught-
I swore that I would die next to you
And for you I bravely fought.
Against your teaching even
I rose up and used the sword,
But with this phrase I
Offer you an undeserved reward:

“I know him not!” I cried,
Not knowing what I said-
At a maiden’s teasing jokes
I turned away and fled.
My mind sank within me,
Your memory was a haze-
Until I caught those sorrowful eyes
Fixed in a tender gaze.

Lord, I am sorry,
I was not as strong as I told,
To fear my words have turned
So reckless and bold.
I acknowledge that I am weak
Before you,
Into this sin did I fall,
As you go now to shed your blood
Poured out for the life of all.

My heart is ripped out of me,
And I am nothing in your sight,
Confidence turns to darkness now,
Despair and tragic flight-
The air is damp and cold,
The night is long and deep-
The only consolation I have here
Is to hide myself and weep.

Accept these tears, Lord,
Not as a sacrifice to you-
For there is only one sacrifice
That is valued and true-
Sealed in your own blood
On Golgotha’s dreadful height-
Dispersing sin’s clouds
And revealing the light.

Accept these tears, Lord,
And look upon them from above,
For though I am selfish, afraid,
And wicked,
My heart still longs, Lord,
It longs to love.

I almost did not read this last poem. This is Berkeley after all, and who would understand it? Trying to preach Christianity to a bunch of agnostic bohemian poets is not an easy task, and it was one I was reluctant to do. But I threw in a token of Christianity into my "art", and thought myself rather daring for doing so.

But then........

A light-skinned black woman got up to read after me. She was young, quite attractive, and wearing a rather snug-fitting tee-shirt that said "Diva" on it. I thought I knew what was coming. But, as usual, the Holy Spirit came down and smacked me in the face.

Basically, this woman "flowed" for almost twenty minutes about how Jesus had saved her, and pleaded with the audience to accept the motions of the Holy Spirit and the Christian message in an almost endless series of flawless rhymes. My jaw dropped, but not that far. I am getting very used to these random acts of grace that the Spirit springs on me every now and then. I smiled as she continued, without regard to human opinion about being "preachy", to spin her verses into a multi-colored quilt of the Gospel colliding with modern life.

"Okay God," I thought, "you got me again. And I thank You."

People recently in these posts have been arguing how lost everything is, how the old ways are dying and that young people are completely lost. It's a good thing God's plans are not our plans. Was it not Evelyn Waugh, speaking through one of his characters in Brideshead Revisited, who said that the Gospel is a series of beautiful suprises? I just had one again tonight. There is no need to despair. God is with us.

I later went up to this woman and confessed that I had almost not read my last poem thinking people would not understand it, and I congratulated her on her willingness to testify to her Faith in Christ. Perhaps she was not "theologically correct", perhaps she will never set foot inside a Tridentine Mass or a Divine Liturgy. Perhaps her faith is deficient, and we can stand back smirking that she may have those nice words, but we have the "smells 'n bells", Apostolic succession, and the "True Church". You can think that if you want. But this time, at least, I am going to shut up.

"The Holy Spirit dumped a bucket of grace on us tonight," I said to her. And He made our little poetry reading, supposedly a very agnostic affair, into a small Revival tent. He indeed blows where He wills.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Mysticism: A Four Letter Word

Or.... The Truth Is OUTSIDE of You

I am a very cheap person. And by cheap, I mean CHEAP. I will not buy things I absolutely need until the last minute, and even when I do I spend a lot of time looking for the best deal. (When you see those people in the supermarket staring for a long time at two exactly identical boxes of toothpaste wondering which one is the best bargain, that's me.)

So I had nothing to do last night, and I am on a tight budget. Being a student, I can get a lot of cool discounts on concert tickets. I had been looking at posters for an event that the student Sufi association put on last night, and when I saw that student admission was only five dollars AND they were serving refreshments, how could I say no? Besides, there would be music and poetry involved. Who could beat that?

Being the eclectic person that I am, I have of course superficially studied Sufisim , especially through the poetry of Rumi and other Sufi masters. I also know that one of the main functions of Sufisim in Islam was to convert Christians through aping of certain aspects Christian thought (although one can say that both have their roots in Neoplatonism and Far Eastern religions, but that is another story). Sufism, while a part of Islam, is very irenic in many of its teachings, soft-peddling many teachings of Muslim theology and emphasizing self-realization, love, and union with the One.

I have to admit, when I went to yesterday's event, I thought it would be full of granola-eating New Age hippies and bearded Muslim clerics. To my suprise, it was one big Iranian get-together. (And now I know why they cover up their women, since Iranian women are FINE!!!!....but that is neither here nor there. Needless to say, these women had moderninzed and moved past the veil.) The actual event itself had the feeling of "the First Presbyterian Church does Islamic mysticism": smiling girls in modern outfits, guitars, and lots of cheesy sound and light effects. The music was good and very traditional, and the poetry was passible. There was lots love talk and how we must find the truth within us. There was even a rather riduculous meditation exercise where we were encourged to "pick a tulip from our heart", and how this could help us "realize our potential".

The real smoking gun of the night was one Sufi story re-told in a rather dramatic fashion. In the story, a group of moths was flying at night and saw a candle through a window. The head moth sent one of the other moths toward the flame, but the moth did not get past the window and flew back. The head moth told the reluctant moth that he knew nothing about the flame. He sent another moth, and that one got a little closer, but he also ended up flying back only having barely felt the warmth of the flame. Again, the head moth said that his underling knew nothing of the flame. Finally, he sent another moth, and that moth flew right into the flame and was incinerated. The head moth, having seen his brother consumed in the flame, said that it was that dead moth who had true knowledge of the flame. In summary, the man said that that is how we must approach God; and this to the point that our identities, our very selves, are destroyed in the inferno of Divine Love.

That all sounds very pretty, but it is a load of rubbish. Union with God doesn't destory who you are. Indeed, that in truth is the real mystery of the Holy Trinity, the One and the Many, the Body and Its Members. Union does not mean obliteration, but it does in Sufism. In fact, I once read that a Sufi mystic said that the greatest sin of all things is to not be God. On the contrary, it is our greatest glory, since we will be united with Him, but never be Him. (See my absent Palamite footnote that I will not write.)

Aside from this obvious error, there was a greater one that came to mind throughout the night and it is this: Christianity is not mystical. At least not in the sense that other religions are mystical. In fact, it would be best that we get rid of that word altogether in the context of our postmodern intellectual wasteland. Christianity is all about communion, that is, community. While there are obviously bridal images in the Scriptures, they are primarily addressed to the Church as the New Jerusalem, the Israel of God. That is, the community is the Bride of Christ, bone of His bone, and flesh of His flesh. Since religion has become "all about me" in this day and age, mysticism fits modern self-centeredness just fine. All of this talk of spiritual techniques, self-realization, perfection, and ecstasy is extremely counter-productive to the Gospel. There exist people who can read St. John of the Cross, St. Symeon the New Theologian, and the Desert Fathers and not be able to get through a passage of the Gospel without balking at it.

Is it not possible to say that mysticism, mystical techniques, and poetic language are really just products of an over-active "spiritual" (or rather, ghostly) imagination? Why else would many claim that "in their mystical elements, all religions speak the same language"? Why? Because these things are all-too-human. That's why a St. John of the Cross can sometimes sound like a Zen master. What makes the former better than the latter is his faith in Jesus Christ. Without it, he would simply not be worth reading.

The most powerful metaphor that God uses in condescending to our created language is one of the least "mystical" of all: "Pater imon o en dees ouranees..." "Our Father"..... what can be less esoteric than that? He tells us merely to cry out, "Daddy, Abba Pater". There is no special trick, there is no mystical ecstasy in that. It is the most familiar thing we know, and we do it before we can even think and speak. Christianity is about life, real life, ordinary life. I sometimes think that people should not pray with downcast eyes, especially these days. In order to really pray, you have to have a real sense of wonder, like when a child enters a large, beautiful room. Without that sense of wonder, you can try and go into yourself, to seek "the truth within", but all you will find is an empty dark closet. The Truth is outside of you, in a meadow, in a tree branch, and in your neighbor. I am not the answer. I am merely the question, even if I am a darn good (and precious) one.

After the performance, they gave out some Persian treats, which were really good and worth well over the five dollars I paid for the whole experience. I was still hungry (it was nine o'clock, and I had not eaten supper yet) so I went to a Korean barbeque place close by that my roomate recommended. I got there and the crew working there were all Mexicans. "You can't escape us," I thought, "resistance is futile." I listened to their norteña music while I ate my carnitas con kimchi (only in California). Real life can be stranger than the most elevated ecstatic visions sometimes.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

What To Do With A Few Spare Minutes?

I know, I can blog for a little bit.

1. A conversation continued from this post at the Undercroft:

The point I was trying to make has much more to do with our concept of God than it does with liturgy. For if we expect the solution to the crisis in Christianity to be that every person who calls himself a Christian find an ancient liturgical "Philosopher's Stone", what kind of God does that make the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? Is the solution to all of this lie in an esoteric set of rituals known only to those who can sit through an hour ceremony in a dead language? I know evangelical Protestants and I very much doubt that God will judge them for not being able to do this.

Does God meet us where we are? Or is He playing a cruel joke on the vast majority of those who believe in Jesus Christ, even Roman Catholics? I am sorry, I thought that this Jansenist view of God died the death with the humble lines of a young Carmelite nun in nineteenth century France. Perhaps I am wrong, but if I am, we are all neck deep in cosmic hot water.

2. Refer to this post: How come many Roman Catholic traditionalists are so eager to condemn people for being outside the Papal Communion if they themselves are unwilling to receive Holy Communion from the hand of the Pope himself due to the ceremony that he uses (the Pauline Missal)? Does this make sense to anyone?

Friday, November 17, 2006

Y'all Better Chill.....

Cuz' the school-game ain't eazy, know what I'm sayin'.....

All jesting aside, this post is to inform you my readers that I have reached critical mass in terms of school work, and blogging may be light to non-existent in the next few weeks. Truth be told, I am running on a bad diet, little sleep, and endorphins from weight-lifting. So my mind is far from important issues at this point. Expect a normal blogging schedule to resume in early December.

Now, it's time for me to "handle my business".

Peace out,


Wednesday, November 15, 2006


Me gustas cuando callas porque estás como ausente,
y me oyes desde lejos, y mi voz no te toca.
Parece que los ojos se te hubieran volado
y parece que un beso te cerrara la boca.

Como todas las cosas están llenas de mi alma
emerges de las cosas, llena del alma mía.
Mariposa de sueño, te pareces a mi alma,
y te pareces a la palabra melancolía.

Me gustas cuando callas y estás como distante.
Y estás como quejándote, mariposa en arrullo.
Y me oyes desde lejos, y mi voz no te alcanza:
déjame que me calle con el silencio tuyo.

Déjame que te hable también con tu silencio
claro como una lámpara, simple como un anillo.
Eres como la noche, callada y constelada.
Tu silencio es de estrella, tan lejano y sencillo.

Me gustas cuando callas porque estás como ausente.
Distante y dolorosa como si hubieras muerto.
Una palabra entonces, una sonrisa bastan.
Y estoy alegre, alegre de que no sea cierto.

--Pablo Neruda

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

He's Singing My Song

Very often I hear Christians speak of things in their belief system which are ”so clear” to them. Many believers (of all varieties) parade their opinions in such an ostentatious manner as though there is no chance that their mind could ever be changed. I was once one of these people, that is until most of what I held to be “clear” was not so clear anymore and 75% of my beliefs had been drastically altered.

--Jonathan Bonomo

Amen, brother, amen!

I hope that no matter how cocky I might seem sometimes, we will alll keep this in mind when we discuss things on this blog. My opinions are a work in progress, just like Cranmer's Eucharistic opinions, which is the subject of the meditation found above.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Flannery O'Connor vs. Ulrich Zwingli

Because creation is always the medium by which God comes to us, O'Connor argued that Catholic writers must not attempt to bypass creation on their way to transcendence, but rather must expect to find the "presence of grace as it appears in nature." This world is the site of God's action, and therefore the writer's faith ought not "become detached from his dramatic sense and from his vision of what-is." Manicheanism separates "nature and grace as much as possible" and in doing so reduces "his conception of the supernatural to pious clichés and has become able to recognize nature in literature in only two forms, the sentimental and the obscene." .....

Approaching the infinite "directly without the mediation of matter"—it describes the "modern spirit" perhaps, but equally and perhaps better it describes the spirit of Zwingli, the Zwinglian spirit that Luther could not recognize as his own. Insofar as Protestantism is infected with various strains of the Manichean virus, to that extent modern evangelicals are incapable of discerning the theophanies that surround us on every hand.

Read the whole article by Peter Leithart here.

I suppose no matter how much I would like to fudge with my Catholic upbringing, I will never be able to shake this incarnational sense of things. And thank God!

The Book I Wish I Was Reading....

With all of the intellectual and other obligations I have, it has been almost impossible to read anything of substance these past few months (if you count books on postmodern and racial theory as being without substance, which I do.) And to tell the truth, the next few weeks will be even more hectic, so do not expect many enlightening posts over the next few weeks as I watch this glowing screen with weary, blood-shot eyes.

As for books I wish I could be reading, this one by Henri de Lubac is the one that seems to be the coolest new book out there right now. De Lubac is my favorite Roman Catholic theological egg-head after Marie Dominique Chenu. Of course, this is the English translation of his influential work that I have long anticipated. So if you have the time, read it and tell me if it is as good as everyone says it is.

Thank you again for your readership and understanding.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Gamelan

Last night, I finally saw live the Southeast Asian percussion orchestra that has influenced Western composers from Claude Debussy to Lou Harrison. The gamelan is a group of instruments consisting mostly of gongs, drums, and mallet instruments and is to my mind concrete proof that a sophisticated and venerable musical tradition can exist pretty much anywhere.

The presentation of the gamelan here in Berkeley was in the context of a performance of a shadow puppet play, an example of which you can see above. A small taste of what the gamelan sounds like can be found here.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

A Prayer

I am sorry, Lord, that I have wanted to be an angel and not a man.

I am sorry that I have expected others to be angels and not men.

Lord, grant me the strength to accept my own humanity.

(Welcome to the human race, Arturo!)

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Alban Berg

I do not know why I like Alban Berg. Most atonal music drives me batty, but Berg seems to have more to him than just trying to be esoteric. His Violin Concerto is gorgeous in my opinion, and his opera Wozzeck is disturbing but I can still listen to it with an odd sense of fascination. (Maybe I am creepier than I think.) Anyway, you can give these a listen and see what you think.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Origen Says I'm an Animal

These, therefore, who are dedicated to the study of the word of God and of reasonable doctrine, are called men. But those who are lving without such studies and do not want exercises of knowledge, but are nevertheless faithful, are called animals, though to be sure, clean ones. For just as some are men of God, so some are sheep of God.

-Origen, Third Homily on Leviticus

So there you are. Many of your suspicions about me were right.


One more rant, continued from yesterday: Why do people who convert to the Catholicism or Orthodoxy always say that reading Patristics made them come to the conclusion that Orthodoxy or Catholicism is the seat of the True Church? I always have thought the opposite, maybe because I was raised as a cradle Catholic. I have had so many Protestant moments reading Origen, the Cappadocian Fathers, St. Ireneus, or even St. Maximus Confessor. It's not like they are invoking the Immaculate Conception, relics, and icons every thirty seconds. True, many of the "Catholic/Orthodox" things are in there IF you are looking for them, but they always seemed to be very much in the margin for me when I read the texts.

I now understand people who, in spite of reading Patristics, remain in Reformed Churches. Perhaps you can argue that they have cut themselves off from "doctrinal developments" since the Patristic period (yes, I have read Newman and appreciate him as a great advocate of this doctrine), but are all of these developments really important?

Monday, November 06, 2006

Don't Play With Your Food

And Other Random Theological Rants

If I were elected Pope of Rome (and you know that if that happened, we would all be in HUGE trouble), the first thing I would do is ban Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament for at least one hundred years.

A friend of mine is a monk in an Eastern-rite monastery somewhere in the U.S. He was educated by Roman Catholic nuns in Australia before the Second Vatican Council, and he told me that every Friday the scholastic week ended with Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. He described to me vividly the scene: boys and girls processed into the chapel, complete with damp clothes and the smell of uneaten lunches from the week in their sacks. They would kneel in the front pew, the nuns vigilantly sitting behind them, while the Irish monsignor came out accompanied by two spaced-out altar boys and took out the Host and put it in the monstrance. The older girls would begin to chirp "O Salutaris Hostia", and then the old priest would begin saying:

"Blessed be Gawd.....
Blessed be His Wholy Naame..."

You know, old time religion.

Fast forward to today. Recently, the same boy now a monk went on retreat at a contemporary (very contemporary) Roman Catholic monastery, and he said that the ceremony was EXACTLY the same, humeral veil and all. Now, what is the purpose of having a humeral veil if you give out Communion in the hand? Supposedly, the Host was so sacred that the priest had to put something over his hands just to handle something that was touching It outside of Mass. Now, women in track suits grab Hosts as if they were Ritz crackers and throw them around all over the place. Theatre of the absurd? You be the judge.


Just Eat It Already :

I was reading recently Peter Martyr's Oxford Disputation. All sides of that particular debate on the Real Presence wanted to find the Patristic smoking gun, as if the Fathers of the Church obsessed over these issues like we do. Martyr's arguments are convincing only to the extent that he portrays the Patristic ideas as not being clearly on one side or another. It is evident that there was symbolic language in the Fathers, but it is also evident that the Eucharist is more than a mere symbol.

I don't think the Patristic period could conceive of the sacrament apart from its distribution. This is probably what has led to all of the problems we have today. If the Latin West had not developed the concept of the Eucharist as a thing that could be picked up, exposed, and adored, perhaps the Western Church would not have created this controversy. Other Churches don't play with their food. The Byzantine Church historically has only consecrated the reserve Eucharist once a year on Holy Thursday, and also every Sunday during Lent some extra bread is consecrated and saved for the Liturgy of Presanctified Gifts. The Coptic Church consumes all of the sacrament at their liturgy in an impressive process that can take almost a half an hour to make sure all of it is consumed.

Degrees of Presence = Degrees of Absence:

I remember once at the monastery, we left the Royal Doors open to the altar after Vespers while the abbot was anointing. All of the Roman Catholics stood in front of the Royal Doors praying to the altar that is usually not seen behind the iconostasis. Now, even though they were praying and that is a good thing, I figured that they missed the point entirely. The presence of God in that church was not on the altar alone, but in the whole church, themselves included.

In seminary I was taught about the degrees of presence of God in the world. Of course, God is present everywhere, but for traditional theology, He is present in some places more than others. In this world, God is 100% present in the Blessed Sacrament. (How does it go? "Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity", hey, I remember my Baltimore Catechism after all!) Other places, He is not so present. Maybe sort of present. Like leaving a Hallmark card with His picture on it, or maybe just His signature ("Thinking of you. Happy Birthday, God.") That is the whole thing about the "Mystical Body of Christ". The Church is the Body of Christ, but don't get your hopes up. It doesn't really mean anything (pace St. Paul). If you really want to see God, go to First Friday devotions.....

O salutaris Hostia,
Quae caeli pandis ostium......

Better yet, if I were Pope, I would rip down all of the high altars, especially the ornate ones. That could so lead to idolatry, and make God be "RIGHT THERE! SEE, THE PRISONER OF THE TABERNACLE!" Sure, that is Patristic alright. Maybe I wouldn't rip down high altars. Destroying things is a nasty affair, and we have had too much of that going on. Maybe I would just re-install rood screens or if you want to be more exotic, Eastern iconostases. Then there would be no more Tridentine Ms. American pagents in lace and gold thread, nor Oprah-style therapy sessions around the Novus Ordo table. Just worship and eating the Bread of Life.

And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and lively sacrifice unto thee; humbly beseeching thee, that all we, who are partakers of this holy Communion, may be fulfilled with thy grace and heavenly benediction. And although we be unworthy, through our manifold sins, to offer unto thee any sacrifice, yet we beseech thee to accept this our bounden duty and service; not weighing our merits, but pardoning our offences, through Jesus Christ our Lord; by whom, and with whom, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, all honour and glory be unto thee, O Father Almighty, world without end. Amen.

-1662 Book of Common Prayer

Maybe if God is ESPECIALLY in one place, and that place happens to be an "inanimate object" perhaps that has contribted to the rise of a cold rationalistic religion. Perhaps Catholicism in the early modern period wanted to secure a definite location for God in one place where they could be certain where He was, and by doing that cut Him off from the rest of creation, especially the Church, which is the New Creation. The Eucharist has always been a means to an end, and to invert this relationship, to separate the Food from the eating is a grave problem. The greatest trial of Faith is not believing that God can descend into a little white wafer to be paraded around in a gold case. The greatest trial of Faith is to believe that He can come and dwell in our sinful hearts and purify them. That is what the "wafer" is for. Let's get our priorities straight.

Playing with your food is not just messy. It can also lead to real misunderstandings.

Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.

And If You Thought YOU Were Eccentric...

You obviously haven't seen this: Glenn Gould playing Bach. Jaw-dropping!

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Lion and the Cardinal Blog

Want to see a pretty picture? Go here.

From one of the blogger's recent reflections.

One of the saddest things about modern times is that the vast majority of people damn their souls to Hell without ever even really enjoying their mortal sins.... And this, I think, is the slow, gradual, indirect and unintended effect of the idea that occurred to Luther on a latrine about 510 years ago. The idea of total depravity at the root of his entire theology proposes that sin is the inescapable state of human existence. And considered as such, it ceases to be dramatic. Luther may have sinned but he never sinned boldly, at least not by goliardic standards. To defy God, knowing and believing that the result is eternal torment and that faith alone will not save - that is to sin boldly.

Thought-provoking stuff.

32 Short Films about Glenn Gould- 45 Seconds and a Chair

I recently watched this film again, and highly recommend it to all.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Cor Contritum et Humiliatum, Deus, Non Despicies

More Thoughts in the Undercroft

When I was working out at the gym early this morning, a song from the hometown band Greenday came on the radio. The song is probably familiar to younger readers. The chorus goes:

I walk this empty street
On the Boulevard of Broken Dreams
Where the city sleeps
and I'm the only one and I walk alone....

Funny how songs can stay in your head all day. When I discovered the new blog whose plug you will find immediately below, I was excited since it seemed like this was a Roman Catholic who thinks and is not afraid to be eloquent about his (or her?) faith. My excitement, however, was tempered by the newest post found on this blog, which is also linked below. In it, it seems that the author remembers or creates memories of the "good old days" when Irish monsignors and nuns terrorized and sweetly cajoled children into becoming decent Christian people. Even though this irrational absent nostalgia has been addressed and refuted many times on this blog, it welled up in me again as I was in the Main Stacks shelving books. It was like remembering a woman who broke your heart, a father who was not there when you needed him, and a place you had to leave on a rainy night, unable to ever see again what it looked like at the height of the day. The Roman Catholic Church broke my heart, not for what it gave me, but rather what it kept back. And sometimes the wound opens up again and I can't help it.

I didn't have that childhood, that place where a pious boy could find his niche in the Church and go on to serve a society that was Catholic to its core. I had to fight just to keep my Faith in a world that didn't care if I believed or didn't as long as I was "nice". I did indeed walk alone, and for much of my Catholic life I was the odd man out. I tried to be Catholic, I really did. But every time I stood outside the Roman Church's window with flowers trying to serenade her, the window always remained shut. And I stood in the street, bouquet in hand, a fool once again. But part of me is still in love, and always will be.

Again, this is an irrational thing to say. It is just as irrational for the Catholic Church to change back to what it was just for little-old-me as it is to expect the librarian behind the counter in Hollister to fall in love with me just because I think she is the most beautiful woman in the world. Who am I to tell a Church what to do? Who am I to dictate what is good for a billion followers of the Church of Rome? If they wanted to chuck everything out the window in order to start anew, I have to take it or leave it. And I left it. It's sad, but that's how things go. You can't change the people you love. To want to do so is very foolish.

I have known many people who had their hearts broken like this as well. One is a good friend of mine who is a priest in the ROCOR mission in Sunnyvale. He was from the last generation of seminarians who received a traditional seminary formation as a Roman Catholic, and when the changes came about, he was still in seminary. He was merely told that everything he was taught as a Marist novice was to be forgotten, so in the midst of the confusion he left and became Orthodox. With the traditionalists, I heard so many stories of faithful being thrown out of churches physically, denied Communion, and bullied out by progressive priests. It is no wonder that traditionalists can always be in such nasty moods; they are still traumatized, and who can blame them? They are trying to save a world that some very powerful people tried to systematically destroy.

I just don't understand Roman Catholicism. I have also known many that are profoundly at peace with the religion that has come out of the Second Vatican Council, but they are no more familiar to me than Baptists or Presbyterians. Even the many man-eating, apologetics-minded, more-often-than-not-convert elements of conservative Roman Catholicism in this country still have no clue about the real ethos of Catholicism before the 1960's. They read about things in books and do not know the reality of the ceremonies, culture, and piety of the pre-Conciliar Church. And even those of us who experienced these things in the traditionalist milieu have a distorted vision of them, even if it is more authentic when compared to the syncretic conservatism mentioned above.

Even now, when I go into the barren nave of Sacred Heart Church in Hollister pictured above, I feel that I am wandering in a place where a planned intimate rendez-vous never happened. I merely listen to the creaking wood wondering what could have been. Life, however, is built on realities and not broken dreams. Even if Pope Benedict puts some drapes back up and paints a wall or two, the roof has still collapsed and no man on earth can fix it. We just have to go on then as pilgrims without a home, trying to survive in a post-Christian age.

I Have to Get the Word Out....

Click here. This is a cool new blog. Seems to be a rare flavor of Roman Catholic, but I think it might be tasty to many palates.

A little sample from the most current post:

I HAVE A LITTLE CATHOLIC corner in my cupboard and reach beyond it for a prayer now and then; a world apart for lovers, with solemn chants and bells, feasting and sorrow and little trinkets, worry beads that speak I am hungry. School shoes, red ties, blue shirts and jackets, rosary beads and dirty fingernails and darkness, scapulars that glow in the dark; the confessional, and guilt streaming with the sun through stained glass. Mea culpa, lies to cover sins - broken windows, pawings in the dark. Behind a pew on wooden boards, red knees and aching back bless me father (I can't), sliding shutter and deep voice of the frocked priest and fear this is God I want to cry but there are no tears. Say three Our Fathers and three Hail Marys on the marble floor before the altar and

Currently listening to...

Michel-Richard Delalande's Regina Coeli and De Profundis.

Thursday, November 02, 2006


At the Wedding March

GOD with honour hang your head,

Groom, and grace you, bride, your bed

With lissome scions, sweet scions,

Out of hallowed bodies bred.

Each be other’s comfort kind:

Déep, déeper than divined,

Divine charity, dear charity,

Fast you ever, fast bind.

Then let the March tread our ears:

I to him turn with tears

Who to wedlock, his wonder wedlock,

Déals tríumph and immortal years.

-Gerard Manley Hopkins

Dia de los Muertos

Tradition, Theology, and Bad Poetry

(Photo credit to the Lion and the Cardinal Blog)

You had to expect this post from me, so here it is. Many of you may be tired of me putting references to my Mexican heritage on my blog, but it is something I really can't help. I am pretty white-washed and have my "coconut" moments (I go to an Anglican Church for crying out loud!), but the Mexican comes out sooner or later.

In that vein, I went to the event that the Latino student community here in Berkeley put on last night, and I have to say I felt pretty alienated. Sure, it was good to be in a room where brown people were the majority; I haven't felt that too often since I left Hollister last August. I soon realized, however, that I had waltzed into the "Chicano nationalist" world of petit-bourgeois stereotypes and mythologies. The vast majority of those who read this blog will have no idea what I am talking about, so let me summarize the issues at hand concisely. With the rise of the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements in this country in 1960's, many Mexican Americans also began to articulate their own vision of what it means to be a racial minority in this country. What they came up with was the term "Chicano", which often exalted the indigenous roots of Mexican peoples over our Hispanic heritage. In this way, many leftist activists began to embrace pre-Columbian spiritualities and culture, trying to envison the struggles of Mexican Americans in the broader context of the struggles of people of color all over the world.

So when I got to the large room where this event was being held, they had already set up altars for the dead that are traditional for a Mexican All-Souls' Day celebration. While some of the displays were indeed touching, other altars featured home-made votive candles with the images of Che Guevara and Tupac Shakur on them. (Don't get me wrong, I think Tupac could flow tight, but that is another post....) In other words, these aspiring members of the Latino petit-bourgeoisie had stripped the holiday of any reference to the Catholic holy day, aside from, of course, the occasional image of the Virgin of Guadalupe.

Finally a young woman was introduced to read some poetry. Now, this is where I am really going to show my reactionary colors.... SPANGLISH IS NOT A LANGUAGE!!!! True, my mother speaks fluent "Spanglish" but that is just because we get the poor woman so flustered that she gets confused sometimes. Nevertheless, Mexican-American kids in academia seem to think that speaking a mixture of Spanish and English somehow makes them more Mexican-than-thou. But my "barrio credentials" are solid, so I do not feel the need to speak bad English in order to know who I am, but I digress....

This young woman then proceeded to read a few of her poems, of which the best were passable, and some needed a lot of work. Mira, preciosa, (lapsing into Spanglish, my bad), you don't have to make poetry into an exercise in Maoist propaganda. Just let the poem be. And when you raise your voice in indignation like that, you look cute, but I am not going to take you seriously. Here in Berkeley it is proven over and over again that bad art makes bad politics, and good art is usually not political at all.

While she was reading, a few spaced-out frat-boys went around with an incense wand "blessing the altars". This demonstrated that Mexicans make very bad pagans, so they either should go back to Mass or give up religion all together. The poor poetess up front tried to explain the significance of the spirits coming back to altars with theology that would make a class of pre-schoolers giggle. It reminded me of the Chesterton saying that when people start believing in nothing, they will believe in anything at all. If this is the future of our people in the Mexican diaspora, I don't want it. It is the apex of idiocy and an excuse to celebrate an illusion that we have long ago left.

Nevertheless, once the ordeal was over, I went over to one of the more presentable altars and mumbled the "De Profundis" in Latin, making a prominent Sign of the Cross before and after. I then realized that maybe the Reformers were right in a sense. Here were many things that once were Catholic but finally stripped of Christ they had become pure paganism again. (And even worse, paganism without taste!) In the past year, I have had to gauge what is important and what is not in my life as a Christian, and I have had to discard so many things that I once thought I would die for. Many of the trappings of Roman Catholicism have become solely cultural for me. The whole idea of an "incarnational religion" can become idolatry on so many levels, not just on the obvious ones like these neo-pagan altars. When we take externals too seriously on the account that the "Word became flesh", we often end up deifying sinful men, dividing the Church by over-valuing trifles, and in the worse case scenario, keeping the smells-and-bells but throwing out Christ. What then is imporant? I am still trying to find out.

In any event, I see no harm in participating in things like a traditional Day of the Dead if we keep our priorities straight. I don't believe in plenary indulgences, temporal punishments due to sin, and purgatory strictly speaking. They may be true, but I will never treat them as Gospel truth. At best, they are stabs in the dark at a mystery that we will never understand, and I respect them as opinions held by my ancestors. If we accept them as such, perhaps we can keep this sacred sense of life and death, of the mystical bond between heaven and earth that nothing can destroy. In this way, I think it is possible to have our cake and eat it too, to have Christ and traditions, and by them show the mystery of the Cross and Resurrection on a more personal and familiar level. We just cannot lose sight of what is really important.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

A New Mass Perspective

This time from Teofilo de Jesus from Vivificat, with a good analysis of what the liberation of the traditional Latin Mass would really mean to the Orthodox.