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

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Going Where Angels Fear to Tread

Two Dance Moments

Warning: This post might be deemed scandalous, unedifying or otherwise tasteless to some readers. If you are looking for inspiration, or are under the impression that I sit around all day reading old manuscripts and listening to Lully, please don't read it. I hope to return to something more intellectually stimulating soon....

Berkeley goes through fads. That is something that goes without saying. When I first came to Berkeley in 1997 as a freshman fresh out of high school, there were hackey sacks, FUBU gear, and spaced out kids going to raves. Now, one of the more visible fads on campus are groups of dorky, middle-class Asian (and some white) kids doing hip-hop dancing in the open air. For those of you around in the early 1990's, think an all-Asian version of the Fly Girls from the show, In Living Color. The only problem is that there are some dorky, middle class Asian boys peppered in with the wannabe background dancers in hip hop videos. How gay!

Now, I have no problem with people doing activities like these. That's how social networking takes place. You can meet new friends, find professional opportunities, and acquire a special kind of belonging that our cold, technocratic society often deprives us of. So there are times I can almost envy our petit-bourgeois seekers of "street cred". That was until last Saturday, when the whole thing just crossed the line and became completely ridiculous.

Now, I am really trying to keep this blog PG-rated. But here I might cross the line a bit. For, when I was walking home from work, I noticed that the urban bard that our wannabe Fly Girls were dancing to was none other than the ghetto reincarntion of Ovid, Too $hort. For those of you who do not know of this earthy spinner of tales from East Oakland, your salvation is already assured. Those of us who have some familiarity with his work have much to worry about....

To cut to the chase, the song used was one of his more classic tracks from his album, Married to the Game, called Burn Rubber. Some of the more innocent lines from the song are the following:

You suckers disrespect the game

All these video hoes out there spittin your name

You love it when they make that, a#$ clap

But she don't give me no cash, I'll pass it back.

Now, okay, am I just being vulgar here? Am I just writing this so that all of you can be shocked and I can continue my rhetorical goal of scandalizing everyone I meet. Well, that's part of it. But more to the point, I find it very ironic, and almost disgusting, that these mostly privileged youth from the suburbs can entertain themselves publicly using songs that involve things they will never experience. I mean, have any of these eighteen year olds seen a real live pimp or crack whore? (Anonymous, a.k.a my older brother could write a book on the nocturnal habits of these special kind of service workers, as he lived in Oakland right in the middle of one of their busiest haunts.) Maybe that is Mr. $hort's intention; God knows people in the ghetto can't afford to buy his albums. But could they get away with blasting Too $hort's homage to pimping if the campus actually looked like East Oakland and the rest of California and not some freakish demographic blob where whites and Asians predominate? I don't think so.

I am not here to raise the Black/Chicano Studies red flag here, but it seems like cultural exploitation, even if it is mutual between the parties involved.

Later on that day, my homey Dr. Dre came through with a gang of Tanqueray....

No,not really. It's just that I have always wanted to write that out on this blog.

Rather, later on that day, I went to see the Trisha Brown Company perform at Zellerbach Hall. Now, I suppose I was in a much more "high-brow" atmosphere, but the quality of the experience was about the same. I am an open-minded person. I can accept pretty much anything as long as there is some attempt at beauty involved. But to have an evening of dance without a single note of music and all noise? I'm sorry, that just crossed the line. I mean, I'm paying for this. If you want to do this buffonery and let me watch it for free, please, be my guest. I can do my taxes while you all are dancing. The dancing itself was alright, until the end when one of the dancers began a foolish dialogue with some "robots" (motorized cars with large poles attached to them) that lasted a good fifteen minutes. Still, no music? I got gipped.

Seeing that I have a big masochistic streak, I stayed until the bitter end. I didn't feel like doing a "Le Sacre du Printemps" style riotous scene afterwards, since that has all been done before. They could at least have had some atonal crap to dance to like Boulez or Stockhausen.

Saturday was not a good day for art in Berkeley.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Henri de Lubac's Corpus Mysticum

Henri Cardinal de Lubac is one of my favorite authors, not because he answers all of my questions, but rather because he leaves me with new ones everytime I read him. His book, Catholicism, for example, is more an elaborate quilt of theological history rather than a systematic treatment of what it means to be Catholic. His works on the role of the supernatural in theology, at least for my puny brain, seemed to be more about respecting the mystery of God's relationship with Creation rather than trying to give a definitive solution to the purpose of human life and man's ultimate end.
Recently translated into English, Corpus Mysticum is another such work, and the author admits at the start that it is more of a notebook than anything else. To give a very brief summary, de Lubac traces how the terms "corpus verum" and "corpus mysticum" played an elaborate game of musical chairs over the period of three or four centuries. The true body of Christ in the early Church was always the Church itself, while the mystical body referred to the Eucharist. This of course changed within the Roman Catholic Church by the twelfth century when the two terms traded places, but not universally.
Rather than give an intense theological analysis of the book (something I am not capable of), I would rather present over a series of posts various quotes from the book to inspire people to read it, and if so driven by the Holy Spirit and/or indigestion, say a few words reflecting on these quotes. So here is the first one:
Representation: the word defines that intermediate place which I said is occupied by the New Testament in its present form: between shadow and truth, nearer the shadow because of the form of knowledge with which we are left - through a mirror and in enigmas - but how much nearer the truth because of its profound substance! Shadow in the law, image in the Gospel, truth in heaven.... Here we must set aside our watered-down concepts and reflect that for the ancients, affirming that the Son of God is the perfect image of the Father was to affirm the total communication between the one and the other, a true identity of nature..... Christ is not the shadow, but the image of God, whoever walks in the Gospel walks in Christ the image..... As Algerius of Liege would say, this is no longer the era of truth promised, but that of truth given, though not yet of truth revealed.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Against Effeminate Priests

Pues no has curado de generar pesares

Al pobre feligrés atribulado,

Aunque no hay cura para el mal causado

Cuídate al fin de generar más males.

Si a natura rebelde asignares

Mis disputas por cuanto he señalado

Un consejo te doy: déjalo a un lado

Y peca por las vías naturales.

Si has de pecar no pongas en disputa

Lo que te otorga de hombre el atributo

Por moderno que el cambio reputares.

Trocaron relativo y absoluto

Contranatura en aulas conciliares...

Mas no por eso has de volverte puto.

For you have not stopped creating tribulations
For the poor parishioner so disturbed
Although there is no cure for this intentioned evil
Be careful not to create more evils.

If you attribute to rebel nature
My disputes that I have pointed out to you
One piece of advice I’ll give you: leave it alone
And sin in more natural ways.

If you are going to sin do not disturb
What is attributed to you as a man
No matter how modern you consider yourself.

The relative and absolute have traded places
Against nature in the conciliar halls,
But not for that do you have to become a faggot. (lit. male whore)


Sunday, January 28, 2007

Sometimes the Day Does Not End When the Sun Goes Down

January 28th, 2006
At a rest-stop on Highway 5

Dying is an art, like everything else.
I do it exceptionally well.

Sylvia Plath, "Lady Lazarus"

You are not supposed to travel the River Styx in the other direction. It is a one-way street if there ever was one. But my life until then did not follow rules. I was not supposed to do a lot of things, but I did them anyway. And now I was paying the price.

Cars rushed by on the asphalt river that carves up California down the middle. We must have been fifty miles south of Colinga. There was a carnival atmosphere to it all. Mexicans tend to flock to places that have grass. Between Spanish syllables of adults, children played among the trees. Young men in Stetson hats smoked cigarettes and looked toward the falling sun. Yes, the sun is falling. And I am free. I did it. I am going home. Out of the carrion of my life, something was rising again….

Oh, I exaggerate! Besides, you only live in those moments when you have everything before you and everything is possible. Everything was collapsing, and it was being rebuilt.

A flock of birds flew by, a black blemish against the red and orange canvass…

“O Most Holy Trinity, have mercy on us, O Lord, cleanse us from our sins…”

A lump was welling up in my throat. I had to claw my way out of this monastic habit. But now it was weighing on me. My exarasson felt like it was made of lead, and it was burning me. Only now was I beginning to feel sorrow over my decision. But it was all over with. Alea jacta est. Who was I before God at that point? A soul in limbo, in formation, about to be born, dying….

Quae est ista quae progreditur quasi aurora consurgens….

She walked by me and recognized me instantly. I saw her for the first time, no not really, but it was as if it were the first time: hair the color of leaves in autumn, face delicate like the light of morning, voice…. Oh, you don’t need to hear all of this…..

Standing on a golf course: it must have been around eleven o’clock at night. (Where the heck was I, anyway?) They rambled on while I watched the distant spring storm popping out the sky like old light bulbs about five miles away:

“Argentina really does not exist…”

What the hell are they talking about? Something about decrying the lack of roots in Argentine society. I love these people, but they think every problem is resolved by making “a few lefties disappear”…

Think about something more pleasant… oh yeah… Earlier today, we went to the most surreal of places. It was an amusement park on top of a mountain. For some reason, I felt really giddy, more than normal. I ran all the way to the edge of the park. (You could imagine the look on the faces of the people watching: some fat priest running by them with a strange smile on his face.) When I got to the very edge, it was as if I had been assumed into heaven: I could see the valley right there at my feet, spreading itself out. green and brown, for miles around…..

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

This would be the last time I would stand at that kliros. All of those years, all of those sacrifices, all of the hurt, the separation, all of it came down to this day. And it was a dead end….

Glory be to you, Christ God, our hope, glory be to you.

Glory be to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, both now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen. Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy. Father give the blessing.

I felt nothing now. It was all over with. I have to not look back anymore. God, it feels like my soul is being ripped out of me.

…..Amen. Through the prayers of our holy father, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us. Amen.

I have to go shave this beard off. There is still a lot of packing to do.

The store was empty. On the radio, another non-offensive, uninteresting song played on the station where good songs go to die, and bad songs go to decay. The manager was doing paper work, and I was left alone mopping the floor. I was free. I was poor. I was a complete loser. The day had not been too busy, and I had not made too many mistakes on the register. But now, it was eight o’clock, and I had two hours to go in my shift. I swayed gently to the muzzak as I mopped the floor. It is all opened up now. I am exposed to it all, and I have no excuses. I am happy. Happier than I have been in years.

Pulchra ut luna…

No, she wouldn’t like those. They look too much like weeds. So anyway, this is the plan. Give her the poems, at first there were ten, but I reduced them down to eight since I thought two of them sucked. But in the poems, I would put petals of wildflowers in them. So here I am, on the side of the road, a cool breeze blowing in from the ocean, picking wildflowers. It sounds crazy but that never stopped me before….

The same road, the next night. I turn off the 156 to go home on Buena Vista Rd. Good thing I am not being tailgated. I hate being tailgated, since I tend to drive like a law- abiding citizen. There’s a full moon tonight. God, I love this time of day. I am finally going home after being all afternoon on my feet. There is no radio in the car, so I hum to myself. Usually Gregorian chant, but sometimes some non-offensive, uninteresting song was carved into my head from eight hours of audio-torture. Oh well, sing it at the top of your lungs! No one is listening anyway…

Another flock of blackbirds flies by. It had been a good trip home so far. I wonder what my grandparents are going to say. I mean, I am at their mercy once again. How am I going to explain it to them? I walk around the January grass, still green, and thank God that I am out of the desert. It is so good to see vegetation on the ground again…

Praise God from whom all blessings flow,
Praise Him all creatures here below,
Praise Him above you heavenly hosts,
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

At Point Lobos: I followed the trail as it snaked through a grove of cypresses. It emerged in the sunlight before a canyon, volcanic and assaulted by ocean waves.

Dear God, have mercy on me. I felt like nothing, nothing before Him.

The vigil of Theophany, 2003, the Mojave Desert: It was immense, darkness, immense. It filled me with a certainty, a peace, a holy terror. I am nothing before God. Lift me up and strike me, here, on this plain…

Twelve rings summoned us to Vespers….

Dong, dong, dong….

My eyes opened. It was not too humid that morning. I threw off the covers and went to splash water on my face. After that, I quickly made the bed, and began to vest.

Dominus pars haereditatis meae, et calicis meae… The cassock seemed like a tunnel going under a mountain. I remember when I first put it on; I nearly got lost inside of it…

The sash, “Precinge me, Domine, cingulo puritatis…”

The collar… what was that prayer again?…

Down the stairs and through the cloister. The birds had already begun their high pitched shrieking. God, I wish they would shut up.
Looks like Santiago beat me again. He was already at his place. I was second. Slowly, the other clerics began to file in. I read from my book, the Conferences of Cassian, while all of the commotion, rustling, and coughing went on about me. Finally, things began to resolve themselves into a lull. On last set of footprints could be heard in the back of the choir. Finally….


Deus in adjutorium meum intende.

Dong. Dong. Dong.

I really am getting too old for this. Time to get up. I like to go to the gym at six in the morning. Since people in Berkeley tend to think that eight o’clock in the morning is early, I can use my country boy tendencies to have the gym all to myself at six. Today I am going to do chest and arms, with a little bit of other things mixed in to vary it up…

Electa ut sol….

Leaving Rovella’s Gym in Hollister: It is about five-thirty. When I have to work the day shift at the Chevron, I have to get my workout in early. I got up at four in the morning today, and I feel exhausted. But it is all for a good cause.

As I walk towards my car, I see the warm glow emerging from Santa Ana Peak. The birds in the canopy also sense it. A golden line vanishing the purple of dawn. I have made it through the night. I am tired, but when the workday is over at two, I can go home and go to bed.

She stands before me, actually interested in what I am saying. She is not being seen. She is being venerated. She is glowing. Why, why didn’t I really see her like this before? But now I am leaving. Again, I am leaving…..

Terribilis ut castrorum acies ordinata?

(for E.)

Why is it that you
Do not appear,
Sullen light,
Meshed into the glow
Of fallow fields?
Twisting of erased colors-
The uncaught phrase
Dodging valley air
And bleeding soft haze.

A physician you are
Or maybe the disease-
Inflicted with rusty metal,
Pesticidal like scars.
Abandoned between mountains,
Only you are the answer:
Collapse of the dayspring
Spilling off into fog.

Twenty manners of silence
Briskly founding the light-
One sundown advancing-
A space tired and bent.
There are only faint eyes
That wander the land.
Fluorescent wheels slumber
And fail to ignite.

Why is it that you
Do not appear,
Comforting night,
Valley song muffled
In the shadow of hills?
Where your absence abides
There is fear of your coming-
Fall of a city,
No longer awake.


Laudate Dominum in sanctis eius…

“Mr. Vasquez and Ms. M. are it….”

I looked at her, and she looked at me. That meant that we had to go chase down our students in a game of freeze tag. She was no longer teaching there, but all of the kids were ecstatic to see her. I was also very happy, but I tried not to reveal it too much.

I remember how we once all went to the beach at sundown. She and V. ran before us in their long skirts and frolicked on the beach, the sand parting at the soft oppression of their feet. I watched this innocence and youthful beauty emerging before my eyes. It was all supposed to be dead to me. But it was like listening to a dead friend sing a song through an old phonograph. You can’t help but listen. And I couldn’t help but watch. Part of me still wanted to live. I just didn’t want to listen to it anymore.

Laudate eum in firmamento virtutis eius…

I looked down at the small crucifix I had just received with the taking of the cassock. Tears welled-up in my eyes. I am all yours, Lord. Today, I have given myself to you….

Laudate eum in virtutibus eius…

A wall of pine trees surrounded us on every side. The glow of the fire camp in the Mendocino National Forest made them seem like the pillars of a great cathedral. We went to the middle of nowhere, and then drove a hundred miles outside of that. I was driving the truck on a garbage-run throughout the camp. (We had to do this often so that the bears didn’t get to the garbage.)

At the end of the long shift, we went back to our tents and turned the lights out. When everyone else had turned in, I quietly emerged from my tent in the pitch darkness. I looked up at the stars, so bright and close that I could almost touch them. I faced east, and began:

O Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth….

Laudate eum secundum multitudinem magnitudinis eius…

Summer thunderstorm on the desert: immense serpents of electricity slithering over clouds. Seduction of night, flaring up…Dry air ignited….

Laudate eum in sono tubae; laudate eum in psalterio et cithara….

The quiet lapping of water on a man-made lake. The ducks slowly swim by, quietly quacking to themselves. They seem oblivious to the pile of black cloth staring at them from the shore. He is praying his chotki, fingers moving quite vigorously, so contented to be next to that lake on a brisk May afternoon. Fingers of white fog glide in on the water from the west. It is going to be a bit nippy tonight.

Laudate eum in tympano et choro; laudate eum in chordis et organo….

He opened the door to the iconostasis and made three prostrations to the altar. Quickly, he lighted the charcoal and waited. At the single, he put on the charcoal three grains of incense, and the handed the thurible to the hegumen. The curtain opened, the plume of sweet smoke was visible in the soft darkness disturbed by the light of a few lamps.

Father give the blessing.

Blessed is our God, unto the ages of ages. Amen….

Laudate eum in cymbalis benesonantibus; laudate eum in cymbalis iubilationis…

I look towards the Campanile once again. No one is up yet, but the sun has risen. I quickly walk up the steep paths leading to my first morning class. If you want peace in Berkeley, you have to get up early to find it. Am I farther away from God now? A song pops into my head, one of the only ones that I cherish from my Catholic charismatic childhood:

Estaba feliz cuando me dijeron, vamos a la casa del Señor…

Laetatus sum in his quae dicta sunt mihi…

And our feet were standing in your courts, O Jerusalem.

Jerusalem. Beata pacis visio.

Omnis spiritus, laudet Dominum.

Today one year ago was my last day as a monk. My mother and little sister came to the monastery to pick me up. I had a few possessions that I took with me, but left many behind. Now, thanks be to God, all has gone according to plan.

Mane nobiscum, Domine, quoniam advesperascit…

He looked at the sky one more time before getting back in the car. The sun was indeed going down and there were still two hours to go in their journey. The sky was giving up its red and orange hues and putting on the mantle of dark purple, gray, and black. For him, though, the morning was emerging in the west. There was no turning back. Here was his life, delicate like a newborn, in his hands once again. God is merciful, and He will continue to be. All praise be unto Him, unto the ages of ages.

Amen. Alleluia.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Padre Ramón Sarmiento (et al.)

Tu es Sacerdos in Aeternum.....

My relationship with the clergy in the Catholic Church has not always been very good. In spite of the fact that I had youthful ambitions of being ordained a priest myself, many times it has been the priests themselves who discouraged me in my journey of Faith, either directly or indirectly. In spite of all of the changes that have taken place since the Second Vatican Council, the clerical culture of distance and coldness toward the laity still predominates in many places. It is almost a necessity of celibacy, and as one who had to live under these vows for some years, it can often make you bitter and fearful of the "other" who is not like you.

Nevertheless, there were exceptions throughout my life to this rather elitist clerical neglect. When I was young, all of the priests of my liberal parish thought that I was weird and that I prayed too much. Many times, I felt that the priests groaned when they saw me coming, and I quickly learned not to bother them. One time, however, an old retired priest named Fr. Joseph Sullivan actually came up to me when I was praying in back of the church and began to talk. He praised the fact that I wanted to be a priest, and even suggested that I go to a minor seminary. This was never followed-up, of course, since he just said Mass in that church once in a while. But I remember how he was the only one who ever took me seriously, and I remember his old devotional reeking of tobacco smoke and a tone of voice that made me feel that I wasn't crazy after all. It kept the flame alive in me.

Another priest who made a great impression on me was the founder of the Marian shrine of Our Lady of Peace Church in Santa Clara, Msgr. John Sweeney. He would occasionally say the indult Mass my family would go to when I was a teenager. I remember when Msgr. Sweeney would go to the pulpit to give the homily his face would light up with sincerity that only real Faith could give. An old Irish priest in a Roman chausable: there was something in that sight that I had not seen before. It was one of the shafts of light of the ancient Faith in the very secularized experience I had growing up in the Catholic Church.

Not until I got involved in the traditionalist movement in my early twenties, however, did I realize that an even more heroic priest existed than the two I have mentioned. It is the class of priests who never changed when the Church did. These priests refused to go along with the destruction of the Mass they were ordained to say. Many were kicked out of their parishes, treated like pariahs or madmen, and many nearly went crazy because of it. So many more, however, kept the Faith, kept a steady course, and went about the business of the Church even if most of the Church was no longer concerned with the proven ways of centuries of tradition.

I did not know Fr. Ramón Sarmiento well, nor do I think that he knew me at all from the other seminarians that came and went. I knew that he was a Claretian who was thrown out of his order since he refused to say the New Mass. I knew that he had been a minor seminarian in Spain during the Spanish Civil War, and the only reason that he escaped martyrdom along with the rest of his class was that he was Argentine by nationality. I also knew that he was a superb Latinist who could recite entire passages of Virgil from memory.

The Society of St. Pius X in Argentina decided to care for Fr. Sarmiento in his old age, as he had devoted the twilight of his priesthood to the traditionalist cause. This was often a comedic task, since he was quite old and often unaware of his surroundings. He would get up in the middle of the night in the religious houses and shuffle around and speak loudly as if it were broad daylight. When he stayed at the seminary, he would set off the burglar alarms since he decided to take a stroll at three in the morning, waking up the whole seminary and sending us into a panic. Being a first-class Latinist, he refused to pronounce the Latin in the ecclesiastical manner, but rather used the classical pronunciation, to the delight of those who had to serve his Mass:

"Pater noster, qui es in KAI-lis, santifiKetur nomen tuum, ad-W-eniat regnum tuum..."

In spite of his eccentricities, he still received the respect and deference he deserved. All of the seminarians would come up to kiss his hand when he visited, and during priest retreats in the seminary, a kneeler was brought to his room since all of the younger priests came to him for confession. When he was living in an SSPX religious house, a young priest came to back to the living quarters one Sunday with an exhausted look on his face.

"What's wrong?" Fr. Sarmiento asked.

"Oh, Father," the young priest replied, "I just got done saying two Masses, hearing twenty confessions, and doing three baptisms...."

Fr. Sarmiento laughed.

"Oh, when I was your age," the old priest replied, "every Sunday I said three Masses, heard one hundred confessions, did twenty baptisms..."

He wasn't exaggerating either.

He lived the last years of his life in the seminary at La Reja. I remember one scene vividly. I was going to put away the vestments one morning after serving Mass on one of the side altars when, in the cloister, I saw Father staring at the sky, fresh after having just said his private Mass. From the glow on his face, you could see the intimacy he had developed having been so close to God for so many years. He was standing in the cloister looking up at the fresh spring sky, and He was happy with his God in his heart. "Dominus pars haereditatis meae et calicis mei..."

He finally passed to his reward last year in October. May he and all other loyal servants in God's vineyard through His infinite mercy rest in peace. Amen.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

I Nearly Wet My Pants....

from excitement when I saw this video on Fr. Chadwick's links page. It is footage from the coronation of Pius XII. Inspiring stuff, especially for superficial people like me who get very bored following all of the complicated theological arguments that go on in blogdom.

My one thought, being the true child of the barrio that I am, was, "Damn, how gangsta!" I mean, back then, people with power knew what power meant. "That's right, kiss my feet. I am the Vicar of Christ." I mean, if you demand respect, you get respect. If you get carried around in a chair, that means you are too important to walk, and everyone from the professor to the butcher could see that. All of this wanting to stream-line ceremonies and priests saying "Don't call me 'Father'. Call me Bill", is a bunch of effeminate rubbish and that wouldn't last five minutes in the barrio or ghetto. You would get punked and jacked in a minute, and people would just clown your a!#. Maybe that's why people feared the Catholic Church back then and step on it now: we used to be thugs, but thugs for Christ. And we made no apologies about how we believed and how we showed that belief.

Watch the video and see if you see what I am talking about.


"He looks for a beauty that is beyond beauty, something that words can evoke but not say. All romanticism, an aspiration to the infinite, is in this verse; and all symbolism: the ideal beauty, undefined, that can only be suggested. More rhythm than body, that form is feminine. It is nature and it is woman:

[from a poem by Rubén Darío]

Adornan verdes palmas el blanco peristilo;
los astros me han predicho la visión de la Diosa;
y en mi alma reposa la luz como reposa
el ave de la luna sobre un lago tranquilo.

[Green palms decorate the white arcade
The heavens have revealed to me the vision of the Goddess:
And in my soul rests the light as
The bird of the moon rests on the calm lake.]"

-Octavio Paz on the poems of Rubén Darío

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Nihil Novum Sub Sole

Clerical celibacy remained an ideal [in colonial Brazil] but a highly theoretical one. The vicar general of Rio de Janeiro, for example, joyously and notoriously ignored his vows of celibacy. His example inspired others to follow in his footsteps. Imaginative and unauthorized modification of Catholic ritual occasioned little notice. A folk Catholicism emerged unimpeded by dogma. In a celebrated case, a priest-showman conducted Mass in honor of his mother's soul and that of his mistress's mother. In the excitement of the moment his mistress, who took part in the ceremony, declared she could see her mother in front of the tabernacle, at which point her priest-lover ordered the congregation to sing hymns of praise. Less flamboyant clerics lived more privately with their mistresses and children. On occasion, when things got out of hand, the Vatican protested. In 1834, for example, when the regency government nominated as bishop of the capital Antonio Maria de Moura, well known for his call for an end to clerical celibacy and other unacceptable positions, Rome refused to proceed. When he withdrew his nomination, matters returned to normal.

-from Colin M. MacLachlan's A Modern History of Brazil: The Past Against the Future pgs. 31-32

Monday, January 22, 2007

Against Rationalist Catholicism

This is how the Catholic Church stayed sane and happy; by remembering and honoring and loving her greatest rigor with her greatest revelry. Yet too often we assume that the religion can only develop in the opposite direction; that a more doctrinary and legalist understanding of Catholicism can only be accepted permanently; that it is somehow more developed than whatever preceded it.

Post-Tridentine Catholicism, formulated against the threat of Protestantism, can be a royal sourpuss of a religion. Its inability to value far more ancient traditions is the saddest result of its reactionary origins. In the place of a natural traditionalism and a sanctified understanding of virtue, worship, and patristic authortiy; it substituted a legalism, rubricism, and ultramontanism that was supposed to be more effective in combating the heresy. The result was a Catholicism understood with the mind of a Protestant. In response to the new heresy of progressive Catholicism, a conservative Catholicism that repeats the same error is being formulated; one that reduces the religion to a mere expression of assent and that congratulates itself for meeting such a minimal expectation.

....In the mission churches of wood and mud, the ubiquitous figures of the Holy Child of Atocha, Our Lady of Guadalupe, St. James the Moor-Killer, St. Isidore the Farmer, the Powerful Hand, and countless folk-saints whom no Vatican congregation will ever acknowledge indicate a devotion more appropriate to the age of the Golden Legend than to the age of Molanus. And despite its disconnection from the patristic tradition that delineated the arrangement and content of medieval art, this art nonetheless had the popularity, traditionalism, and didacticism proper to true iconography. It was the closest that post-medieval Roman Catholicism has come to reinventing it. When the Counter-Reformation was introduced to people who never knew the Reformation, they turned it back into medievalism.

-Daniel Mitsui

"An Ecumenist Who Does Not Like Ecumenism..."

Why? That's a silly phrase, Arturo. Why don't you like ecumenism?

This could be taken as an addendum to Saturday's post, since in reality Fr. Anastassy didn't like ecumenism either. As many have pointed out elsewhere, what passes for ecumenism nowadays is merely a ploy to inflate the egos of ambitious prelates at its best, and pimping out ancient venerable doctrinal formulas at its worse. It puts way too much confidence in the limited abilities of human beings to solve the problems of this sinful, fallen world.

I learn from and worship with Christians of all stripes, and I have no regrets about this. But I refuse to try to define or justify this with some highly developed theological apologia simply because:

#1. I am not that smart.

#2. I don't think anyone really is,


#3. Why do I have to? Just leave it up to God.

We shouldn't worry too much about unity in the Church. As one hyper-Orthodox traditionalist once put it, the main problem in the Christian Church is not our separation from other Christians, but rather our separation from Christ. If I was united to Christ as I (little ol' me, not worrying about anyone else) should be, then I would be able to see better the plans of God. Besides, worrying about Eucharistic communion is a strange preoccupation indeed. I am lucky just to be able to receive Holy Communion at my own church every Sunday, without having to worry about what churches I can't receive Communion at.

I don't like ecumenism. Period.

(Ranting mode, off)

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Archimandrite Anastassy (Newcomb)

A Solis Ortu Usque ad Occasum....

It was raining that day in San Francisco. I was concerned we were not going to be able to park close enough to the Old Cathedral on Fulton St. in order to get to our appointment with Fr. Anastassy on time. He was expecting us for tea, and I was eager that my young friend J. meet him. Fortunately, we found parking close enough and we were twenty minutes early for our meeting.

I had first met the archimandrite when he visited the retreat center I was then living in. He had come just to meet the followers of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who he considered a saint. He had even sent his spiritual daughter, a nun who took care of him in his old age, to make a retreat with us. It was an odd encounter, but I would later find out his real reasons for his friendship with us.

He was an astounding sight for a twenty-one year old: long black robe, long snow-white hair, a trim snow-white beard, and a small chotki with a gold tassel around his wrist symbolizing his rank of hegumen. (“When I die,” he told me, “I will be buried with one that is all black.”) My friend says that he looked like he had just fallen off of the boat. There are certain people in life you meet that just don’t make an impression; they exude something. They are more a glow than a presence. This Russian Orthodox monk is one of the only people I have met who has done this for me.

Officially, he held the rank of mitred archimandrite, hegumen, and dean of the Old Cathedral of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia in San Francisco. Later he told me his story: he was Irish by blood from a wealthy family. He had been a Roman Catholic seminarian and somehow befriended a retired Russian bishop. He became Orthodox and went to Mt. Athos to become a monk. He was a novice in the Monastery of St. Panteleimon when political turmoil forced him to flee Greece. He had been a student of Georges Florovsky, a parish priest, and a collaborator with Fr. Seraphim Rose. (He showed me with great pride the spot where Eugene Rose was received into the Orthodox Church.) All this time, however, Catholicism was still in him. It’s funny that the most Orthodox person I ever met turned out to be one of the most Catholic as well.

He invited both of us into his monastic living space, where he had a small kitchen and a rather nice table set up for tea. On the walls, there were the usual icons of Orthodox saints, but there were also pictures of St. Teresa of Avila, the Virgin of Guadalupe, and a statue of the Immaculate Conception. Later on in the conversation, he showed us a wood carving of St. Therese of Liseux that he said was carved in Russia in the 1920’s.

I then thought back one of the first times I met Fr. Anastassy. He was at a sung Mass kneeling in the front row in our chapel. I was serving the Mass, and when I gazed at him from the corner of my eye, I don’t know what he was praying or what he what he was thinking, but it looked like prayer. Real prayer. An old monk hunched over, maybe remembering all of those Masses he had served, all of those childhood memories before him again, through a thick veil of a lifetime of Old Slavonic and incense. Was he coming home at that Mass? Or was he already there?

He was a liturgist by training, which explains why we hit it off so well. He saw something in me, I don’t know what. He had all kinds of visitors, and maybe he treated them all the same. But I’d like to think he saw in me someone who was sincerely seeking something. That something was to worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness. He even took me into the altar and began to explain the Byzantine sanctuary to me.

“The altar has for corners. They represent the four corners of the world…”

The way he said this is not something I can express in writing. It was a conviction and word so strong that it could almost make what it said happen. But it was true, above all physical or rational truth. I still remember this old man making three prostrations to the altar when he entered. God was really there, and He still is.

He took us to the narthex of the Cathedral and showed us a box covered in a black sheet. He lifted up the sheet to reveal a coffin with Old Slavonic letters scrawled all over it.

“It says: ‘Man thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return.”

It was his coffin. The one he is lying in now awaiting the Last Judgment.

Time passed. I went off to seminary with the thought of Fr. Anastassy on my mind. I don’t think there was a day when I did not think about or pray for him. When I came back to the States, I was at first hesitant to get back in touch with him. I let almost a year pass before I called him again. Oddly enough, they remembered who I was when I called on the phone. He offered to talk to me after Divine Liturgy one Sunday, so I made the journey up to the Old Cathedral on Fulton Street once again.

The Divine Liturgy was exceptionally long. In spite of his advanced age, he did not believe in rushing the service. Indeed, he even gave a long sermon right after the Gospel, much of which I didn’t understand. (Old people tend to ramble on…) At the end of the Liturgy, I was invited to sit with Fr. Anastassy and his spiritual children at the main table. As it turns out, Fr. Anastassy had quite a following of once agnostic young people who he tried to form into good Orthodox Christians. (“I don’t accept Catholics as catechumens,” he used to say, “the divisions in the Church are bad enough as they are. I only make exceptions if they come from very irreligious households.”) It was a bit awkward being the only Catholic there, but Fr. Anastassy made sure I felt at home.

He was interrupted in his meal by a group of new converts who had come especially to see him. They had attended Divine Liturgy at Holy Virgin Cathedral on Geary St. and were told to go meet the old staretz. He cordially greeted them and began to talk to them about how to be a good Orthodox Christian.

“Never let your Orthodox Faith become a source of pride for you,” he said, “and above all, have a deep devotion to the Mother of God. He who does not believe in the Mother of God does not really believe in God.”

He then brought out the mandyas of St. John Maximovitch for all to venerate. The new converts had there jaws open in amazement, just like children hearing a beautiful story for the first time.

I had a couple of other meetings with Fr. Anastassy before starting my failed monastic adventure. Fortunately, he did not live to see my failure. Of course, I asked him questions about the monastic life, and he told me all sorts of things that are to be expected in those conversations. Out of the blue in one conversation, however, he told me,

“And don’t let anyone convince you to become Orthodox.”

Why did he tell me this? To this day I don’t know. I do know that for Fr. Anastassy, the divisions in the Church really didn’t exist. He taught his catechumens using the Catechism of the Council of Trent. (I saw it with my own eyes.) He was great friends with many Catholic clergy in the city. And he had a great devotion to St. Therese of Liseux who he affectionately called “my girl”. (He was cured of a childhood illness due to her intercession.) At the same time, he was on other issues intransigently Eastern, being a devoted disciple of Florovsky.

(For the record, he was very much a believer in the Uncreated Light of God, but said that we shouldn’t worry about it since seeing it is a special charism reserved for the few.)

Fr. Anastassy died shortly before I left for the monastery to become a monk. I called by chance the Old Cathedral on the day of his funeral and missed the ceremony. Apparently, his death was not really that publicized by the ROCOR at the time. It may have been because of his pro-Catholic tendencies.

As I reflect on all of these holy people I have met, their examples often make me feel ashamed of myself, of my selfishness, flakiness, and pride. But that is all that it is: wounded pride. Would Fr. Anastassy be ashamed of me if he was still on this side of the eschaton? That is the wrong question to ask. The right question is what these holy people have passed onto me. It is like spreading seeds in the desert. You can focus on all of the seeds that did not grow, or on the seeds that may have sprouted and then were charred under the sun of high noon. But when the end of the day comes, and the sky turns the thousand colors of fading fire, there is still that one small flower still standing, blowing in the desert breeze. That one poppy is my Faith, and this old traveler helped plant it, along with the others I have written about. And that alone is a cause of joy for them.

(Don’t worry, I have one post to go in this series. Stay tuned.)

Friday, January 19, 2007

No me mueve, mi Dios, para quererte
el cielo que me tienes prometido,
ni me mueve el infierno tan temido
para dejar por eso de ofenderte.

Tú me mueves, Señor, muéveme el verte
clavado en una cruz y escarnecido,
muéveme ver tu cuerpo tan herido,
muévenme tus afrentas y tu muerte.

Muéveme, en fin, tu amor, y en tal manera,
que aunque no hubiera cielo, yo te amara,
y aunque no hubiera infierno, te temiera.

No me tienes que dar porque te quiera,
pues aunque lo que espero no esperara,
lo mismo que te quiero te quisiera.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Posted Without Comment


Wednesday, January 17, 2007

You Know Who You Are....

For many conservative Catholics, the Papacy is about signing the dotted-line but disregarding the fine print. They use Patristic sources to paint a broad picture about how things should be, but never get into specifics on how it all works. Are there Papal maximalist texts in the writings of the early Church? Yes. Does that mean that this enables Papal power to change the formulation of doctrine, liturgy, or to even choose bishops half-way around the world? No.

Romans were a very legal people. The Catholic Church is a very legal Church. So let's cut to the chase and talk about the fine print of the deal. How much power would the Pope have if the Orthodox Church came under him? How much could he intervene? Would he have to sign something saying that he could do ABC and not XYZ? If the Orthdox or continuing Anglicans ever do get an acceptable union deal from Rome, I would advise them to get a pre-nup.

Many Catholics would protest that of course Papal power is limited by Tradition, Scripture, etc., but the Vatican can always muster up spin doctors to justify anything (they're called Jesuits). So we have either two options: we can either return to the traditional ethos of the Church as obedience to Scripture and Tradition whether we like it or not, or we can elaborate our ecclesiastical legal system some more so no one gets hurt. Otherwise, we will just have the anarchy of going from one Pontiff to another who wants to re-invent the wheel at the beginning of his reign.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Pure Gold

Those who believe that there are not substantial reasons which keep us from being reunited are modernist unityphile ideologues or ecclesial aesthetes who are more committed to lacey churchiness than to the Church.

From the Ochlophobist blog

You can frame that one!


Going to the traditional Roman Mass is like watching clouds go by. It is not exciting but it can be beautiful if you are patient. Real beauty imitates nature, and the Mass is like nature: it is what it is whether you like it or not, whether anyone is watching or not. It is part of the continual cycle of praise in Heaven and on earth even if no one seems to particularily care about it. It is. Nature and liturgy are very much the same.

Roman Catholic liturgical practice since Vatican II has wanted the liturgy to imitate art rather than nature by turning the liturgy into a play or dialogue. But all art seems to be an imitation of nature. A copy of a copy. No wonder it seems so banal.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Super Flumina Babylonis....

I'm back in Berkeley, so expect me to get back to my old blogging self, unless this year gets to hard to handle. I doubt this, however.

Postcards From Hollister # 8


January 13th, 2007
c. 9:00 p.m.

It was a brisk day in Hollister. A soft but cold wind blew in from the ocean. It was sunny but cool.

I am writing some promotional material for my friend Manuel who hopes to make it big in the Spanish rock business (yes, it does exist).

The barrio is finally getting a Starbucks. The sky is falling.

The last light bouncing off of the hills burns sadness into the eyes. It is best not to look too closely.

Telenovelas are more addictive than crack. Don’t watch them.

And if you saw it on Spanish television, don’t buy it. It doesn’t work.

It would have been cool if Nietzsche had been a Christian.

But if you do watch them, notice how the most attractive women are always in supporting roles, not in the lead ones.

It would have been cool if Jungmann had been an illiterate Christian.

“Collapse of the day-spring / Spilling off into fog….”

Beyonce and Mary J. Blige really annoy me. A lot.

“Meshed into the glow of fallow fields…”

So does Ludacris. A disgrace to the game.

Mexicans don’t really talk. They just sort of stare at each other and fire off clichés.

People in the gym should just take a picture. It lasts longer.

We are deeply superficial. That’s what it is.

“Cubrí mis ojos con mis manos…”

The Catholic Church in this country is just the Episcopal Church with better spin doctors.

VH1 plays mostly lame videos.

The Mexican guys here take hustling to new heights. I saw one selling some small toy horses. Who would buy those things?

Why can’t I stop watching MTV? I think they cancelled “Pimp My Ride”.

I mean, I went to a Mass recently where the priest used a Eucharistic prayer that was either written by him or some other liturgical spaz.

My sister likes to listen to a station that plays both hard rock and hip hop. Pure genius. An idea whose time has come.

“You are the shade of a thousand shadows…”

Bishop Sylvester Ryan is finally retiring. Purgatory is coming to an end.

“Refreshment for a summer rain…”

We are also getting another Subway restaurant. All this and heaven too?

Or is it the beginning of hell?

San Jose is getting a real Indult Mass every week. Another trap for liturgical dinosaurs?

“Sobre el agua, se dibuja una historia ya dormida…”

To see the ones you love suffer is far worse than suffering yourself.

“No me mueve, mi Dios, para quererte…”

God has a poetic sense of timing, at least in my life.

“Clavado en una cruz y escarnecido…”

“Quare me dereliquisti…”

Crashing, crashing down, cold white fingers over the mountains.

Saturday night in Hollister. Pulsating boredom. Tranquil joy.

Caught in headlights, half-abandoned streets.

Be thankful. Silence. Routine. Solitude. Night.

In the Chevron at Casa de Fruta, a man comes in to buy a cup of coffee.

In a house a block over, they are listening to KDON and wondering when Chuy is going to get there.

They light up another joint. That’s as illegal as things get around here.

We will be praying the rosary in about twenty minutes. Gosh, I don’t have a life.

Somewhere they are having fun.

Somewhere a monk is singing to God.

I hope I don’t die an old bachelor.

I hope I don’t get cast into the gaping jaws of Hell.

Sometimes I wish that English had not been my first language.

One firmament full of cold stars. A joy fallen, swelling. Not yet.

Between the white lines, passing houses whose lights are going out.

Her eyes hide more than they reveal.

Too many departures. Another might just do me in.

Hair hazel, burnt like the autumn sky. Ecstatic frustration, hoisting me up…

I have to get packing. I have to pick up my sister from work at eleven.

Slight figure: full, warm, a voice cracking like a delicate layer of ice…

There will be plenty of time tomorrow.

I say good-bye and turn away. Barren branches, barren flight, somber traveler…

I am not going to stop by that store and buy Mentos.

“Es un reloj roto, tu corazón, solo….”

On top of Vista Hill Park. Hollister is a quilt of green and yellow light. It does not know itself.

She does not know herself. Barren… a barren terracotta landscape in January…

Broken shards, spread over this valley, on the pampa, in the desert, on the mountains…

“Para que no llegue tarde al amor.”

Hope in that last ray. Hope in that memory. It all seems so small now….

For another height is before your feet
So again and again

Friday, January 12, 2007

Postcards From Hollister # 7

Oh, those Greeks! They knew about living: for this, it is necessary to stop courageously at the surface, at the drapery, at the skin, to worship appearances, to believe in forms, sounds, and words, and the entire Olympus of appearances! Those Greeks were superficial- out of profundity!

-Frederich Nietzsche, The Gay Science

Please excuse me if I ever try to be profound. Sometimes I forget that we only grasp things at their shallowest point.


As for me, my gaze will always end up fixed on the history of human thinking itself, and even more on that of Christian theology. I will always find peace and joy in contemplating them. Amid so many riches that claim my attention, I will always act like a child of Plato, that is to say, every time that there is at least the possibility of so acting, I will not make a choice. A unity that is too quickly affirmed has no power to inspire, while eclecticism has no impact. But the methodical welcoming of contrasts, once understood, can be fruitful: not only does it guard against over-eager partiality; not only does it open up to our understanding a deep underlying unity; it is also the precondition that prepares us for new departures.

Henri Cardinal de Lubac, Corpus Mysticum: The Eucharist and the Church in the Middle Ages pg.xxv

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Church as Machine


Recently, I finished reading Pierre Hadot’s newest book, The Veil of Isis, which is a thought-provoking reflection on the concept of Nature from Heraclitus to the present. More specifically, Hadot uses the fragment of Heraclitus, “Nature likes to hide itself”, to trace how man has approached the world around him from ancient Greece to the present day. As a paradigm, he uses the two mythological figures of Prometheus and Orpheus to analyze how poets, philosophers, and scientists have either viewed nature as a mystery to be revered or a problem to be dissected. The book thus centers on the dichotomy that emerges between veiling and unveiling, personified in pagan iconography of the veil of the goddess Isis/Artemis/Diana.

As with other books by Hadot I have mentioned on this blog, I cannot recommend it highly enough. Rather than go into a more intensive synopsis than I have given above, I will rather apply what I read to what I have been reflecting on recently, particularly to the mystery of the Church and our ideas about it.

It is my feeling that a Promethean attitude reigns in the minds of Christian thinkers as regards to the nature of the Christian mystery. In the book, Hadot summarizes the Promethean approach to nature as one in which man demands total control over nature. Francis Bacon articulated this attitude best when he said that nature must be forced to reveal its secrets, “under the torture of experiments”. For Promethean man, nature must be dominated and put under subjection. Interestingly enough, Hadot develops a parallel between the Promethean approach and the command of God in Genesis to go forth and subjugate the earth. In a way, modern scientists are fulfilling the command of the God of the Torah to reign over nature, as opposed to the pagans who venerated nature as a goddess.

So far, a good Christian sees no problems with this perspective. After all, you are reading this on a glowing screen invented by the voracious Promethean drive of the last two centuries. What happens, however, when this drive is applied to the very mysteries revealed to us by God? What happens when we address the Christian mystery as something that must be mastered, defined, and quantified? What happens when we begin to regard to our liturgical, spiritual, and theological lives as products of cold analysis, institutionalization, and the collection of data? Why is it that people on the Internet in particular are so eager to argue about things that should rather cause in us a “sacred shudder” before our own smallness within God’s creation?

For many, from the most reactionary traditionalist to the most flagrant modernist, the Church is a problem waiting to be solved rather than a mystery that must be venerated in fearful silence. There is an insatiable drive in modern man to fix things, and to fix everything. If something is broken, enough knowledge, drive, and elbow-grease can fix it. I would contend that here we have hit the brick wall of nature, fallen nature, and our approach to it.

In contrast to the ancient thief of fire, Hadot poses the character of Orpheus to represent the other view in which nature is regarded with, “respect in the face of mystery and disinterestedness.” If the Promethean approach is primarily scientific, the Orphic approach is based not on “violence but [on] melody, rhythm, and harmony”. The world in this view is a song sung on a lyre rather than an enemy that must be interrogated, tortured, and tried as a criminal.

One fascinating aspect of this book is Hadot’s treatment of cosmogonic poems in antiquity and parallels to them within Christian liturgy. Plato’s Timeaus, in particular, is viewed as an attempt of finite humans to imitate the secret fashioning of the universe through poetry. Plato writes in the Timeaus that the World is a god, “who once was truly born one day, and who has just been born in our discourse.” When I read this, I could not help but think on the anaphora in the Liturgy of St. Basil the Great that begins with a bird’s eye view of time and eternity. In liturgy, those things which happened and will happen are not just remembered, but rather also re-presented and mystically made present. It is not just a transmission of information, a pedagogic exercise, or a mere social get-together. All existence is given meaning and born again in the celebration of the mysteries of our salvation. (Shades of Odo Casel, I know…)

The error of the modern Roman Catholic Church is anti-liturgical par excellence. The question of the day is one that asks, “What are the people getting out of it and how does it make them feel?” It is no longer about denying one doctrine or another, or even about the scary arch-heresy called modernism (the favorite whipping boy of traditionalists everywhere). These are fearsome things, but there is something far worse at work. Catherine Chevalley summarizes Martin Heidegger’s analysis in this way:

The contemporary period is one in which man perceives everything in the form of a device and an exploitable supply, including himself, and simultaneously loses his own being. (Hadot 150)

The Church is thus deemed as a computer that informs rather than the transfigured creation that inspires awe and silence. Man is to be filled with data rather than emptied of his knowledge through the foolishness of the Cross. At the heart of this error is the theology of the “People of God”, based more on technocratic models of modern democracy than Scriptural or Patristic thought. The Church (liberal, conservative or traditional) becomes a device of personal empowerment.

Our approach to nature very much affects our approach to transfigured Nature. It can be argued from Hadot’s insinuation that the crisis that currently plagues Christianity has its cause in the very heart of the Christian message itself. Our Faith is in a transcendent God who created all things from nothing, and thus we regard nature as a creature just like us over which we are the master. Our Faith on the surface does not depend on nature and could be deemed hostile to it. As I have argued in the past, however, such controversies as whether or not we should ordain women, whether or not we should permit artificial contraception, and the nature of the relationship between the hierarchy and the laity have their causes in our anti-natural, utilitarian society. Our liturgy is parallel (at least in the Northern Hemisphere) with the life and death of the Earth in the cycle of the seasons. The Gospel may be sovereign over all human traditions, but it nevertheless is swimming in the ocean of nature and humanity. The Promethean will to power threatens to make any concept of submission to an all-powerful God incomprehensible to modern man. A wrong approach to nature can thus threaten the Christian message itself.

In this way we must come to the conclusion that being a Christian might entail more than just reading the Gospels and assenting to various doctrines. There is a foundation on which these things must be built and a natural order which is the only context in which these things make sense. Being in communion necessitates more than just a political bond between Christians; it also signifies a relationship with the cosmos and the realization that we are a part of the tapestry of creation. This obligates an attitude of submission, awe, and thankfulness in the face of our own beautifully small role in the cosmic dance.

Hadot cites Vincent van Gogh in a letter to his brother Theo in order to best articulate the Orphic point of view:

If one studies the Japanese painters, then one sees a man indisputably wise, philosophical, and intelligent, who spends his time doing what? Studying the distance between the earth and the moon? No. Studying Bismarck’s politics? No, he studies a single blade of grass. Yet this blade of grass leads him to draw all plants, then the seasons, the great aspects of landscapes, finally animals, then the human figure…. Let us see: is it almost a real religion that we are taught by the oh-so-simple Japanese, who live within nature as if they themselves were flowers?

In all the theological impasses that I have come to, I have concluded in parallel with van Gogh that to describe real Christianity, one must start at that blade of grass in order to ascend to the heights of the Trinity itself. But to do this we must begin to see the world anew, to see it as if we were seeing it again for the first time. To paraphrase Maurice Merleau-Ponty, true theology, like true philosophy, is relearning to see the world through the eyes of a child and through the eyes of Christ.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Postcards From Hollister # 6

The immensity and torrent of the world, in a tiny inch of water.

-Paul Cézanne

Sometimes it pays to look down at your feet instead of always looking toward the high mountains. We can look far and wide for what we were looking for, until we realize that it was back where we started from. We dream, and dream big, but then we often mistake what we think might fulfill those dreams with what will really fulfill them. Sometimes happinesss was there all along for the taking. We just weren't paying attention.

It's not about not dreaming. It's about learning to dream well. And sometimes dreaming well means dreaming small. Very, very small.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Postcards From Hollister # 5

It is not how the world is that is mystical, but the fact that it is.

-Ludwig Wittgenstein

Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (emphasis mine)

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Postcards From Hollister #4

On Reading Jaroslav Pelikan’s The Christian Tradition Volume 4: Reformation of Church and Dogma (1300-1700)

An acquaintance of mine once told me that in the sayings of the Desert Fathers, it is said that if one of the brethren tries to climb up to Heaven, somebody should get him by the foot and drag him back down to earth. This is how I feel about the Protestant Reformation.

I can never really understand Protestantism. As much as I try to wrap my head around it, it just doesn’t make much sense to me. First of all, reading Protestant theology is boring. There is nothing fanciful or cool about it. In all of the obsessions of Protestant theology, like double predestination in Calvin or Luther and justification, a cold logical rigor dominates that has to level everything in its path. Truth be told, I admire this rigor like I admire my fellow students who major in useful things like physics or economics. I admire them, but I really don’t see how they can stand doing what they do day in and day out. And I cannot understand how a Calvinist or a Lutheran believes.

It’s kind of like the old story of the Russian monk who, when he found out that some Anglicans did not used incense at services, asked what they used instead. Protestantism just doesn’t enter into my brain and it never will.

My biggest problem is my upbringing. In my family, if someone is older than you, you respect them. Period. Greeting elders growing up was a quasi-religious ritual that involved hand-kissing and a respectful tone. Things are done that way because they are done that way, end of story. The saying of St. Cyprian that a tradition without truth is an inveterate lie is very problematic in my book. If St. Cyprian had said that to my great-grandmother, he would have got a slipper to the mouth. How do you know that the tradition is false and your interpretation of the truth trumps it? Manioso mocoso….

We always like to cut out the middle man. Why do we have to jump through hoops and take the scenic route when we can just get to the point? Why go through the Church, the saints, and sacraments in order to get to Jesus? How demeaning! How idolatrous! How human! That’s right, because human beings are that way! Again, welcome to the human race….

Another acquaintance of mine, an unorthodox Calvinist who might be reading this, told me rather tongue in cheek that Roman Catholicism is liturgy without theology. While this was meant as a jest that carried some truth to it, I see it from another angle. He is absolutely right. Alleluia! If you read the response of the Roman Church of the Counter-Reformation to the concerns of the Protestants, it is absolutely wrought with contradictions and loose ends. Thanks be to God, because what fun would it be without them? In the mystery of the Trinity and all that flows from It, there can be nothing but necessary contradictions. How does God know all and yet not predestine people to damnation? I don’t know. How can we know if we are saved or not? Beats me. How can one be inside the Church and yet go on sinning? If I knew that, I wouldn’t be writing this stupid blog.

Roman Catholicism does not offer real answers. It just distracts us until death when we really will find out everything. Behind the triumphalist façade of the Roman Catholic Church is hidden its real heart that knows how fragile this fallen world is and how helpless we are to solve any of its problems. That is the reason behind all of the legalism, the bureaucracy, and the superficial character of so much of the Roman religion. Unless a confessor is a Curé d’Ars or a Padre Pio, he really doesn’t have any business guiding souls, so just hand him a manual and tell him to give all of his penitents three Hail Marys as penance. Where was it that I read where someone once observed that behind all of those elegant vestments of a bishop celebrating the traditional Pontifical High Mass was a son of a lowly butcher, a policeman, or a poor drunkard? Do you seriously think we needed the Reformation to point that out to us?

We’ve known that the game has been up for the past two thousand years, ever since a few semi-literate fishermen from Palestine left their homeland in order to push the words of a carpenter who was executed by the Romans. Our religion has always belonged here on earth, in women who spend way too much time dressing their statues of the Infant of Prague, in men who spend way too much time doing things they shouldn’t since they can just confess it on Saturday afternoon, and in altar boys who drink that nasty wine in the sacristy when the Monsignor isn’t looking. Perhaps God is looking down on us and seeing how much we screw up, but He is still trying to find a way to maneuver us toward salvation in spite of it all. God is not just writing straight with crooked lines; in order to save our souls, He might just be settling for the fact that anything is being written at all.

So any serious pretensions of making the Church better, of purging the Gospel of foreign accretions, or of returning to ancient sobriety, are just pompous rubbish in my book. (That tells you what I think of the Church after the Second Vatican Council as well.) Sure, we have to say things like this once in a while to keep up appearances, and once in a great while there is someone actually sent by God who can do some of these things, but to think you can base your Faith on this…. please! The Church works, but it’s just like making sausage. It is the infinite wisdom of God up against the seemingly infinite folly of sinful man. Don’t try to understand it. It will only give you a headache.

What is really important: how people get saved or that they are saved? The Church is a hospital for sinners, not a laboratory for making the perfect society. The best way to know how the Church should be is how it has been passed down to us by our immediate predecessors. As in my family, it is about giving your elders the benefit of the doubt. But what happens when we live in a regime and a society where innovation and eternal youth are the most desirable things? There, my friends, is the rub…..

Dan Monary

...Ut Inhabitem in Domo Domini Omnibus Diebus Vitae Meae

Love speaks the language of details. If there is one thing that most pains me about what is going on in the Roman Catholic Church, it is the forgetting of this most important point. It is not enough to say something. You have to show it. Only in showing it does it become real. Only in showing it does it sink into the heart and erode away the hardness of the forgetfulness of God. For those of us raised in the Church, it is often the details that we most remember, and it is those details that often lead us back home when we have strayed so far. It’s very hard to articulate these things if you haven’t seen them starkly proclaimed at a mature age. I once knew a man who was an embodiment of this principle, and he too has returned to the house of the Father.

I first met Dan Monary when I dropped out of college at the age of twenty and moved into St. Aloysius Gonzaga Retreat Center in Los Gatos, CA. I lived there for one year as a lay oblate before I entered the SSPX seminary in Argentina in 2001. During that year, I learned how to serve Mass, how to sing the Office, and how to dig a hole in very rocky ground, among other things. I was also head sacristan and master of ceremonies for the priory (which was the beginning of my obsession with liturgy). Dan Monary was the eighty year old head sacristan emeritus, and he taught me many important things such as how to properly lay out and put away vestments, how to neatly arrange a ciborium, where to dump the holy water, etc. He was a retired old sailor who came to Mass everyday with his wife and acted as the chauffeur for the priests in spite of his age. (He was notorious for having a lead foot; so much for old people driving too slowly.)

For Dan Monary, the greatest thing a man could ever do is serve Mass. He always used to brag that, during a priests’ retreat before the Second Vatican Council, he served seven Masses in one day. (For the record, my record is three in one day, but one was a Solemn High Mass.) Even as an old man, he would serve Mass in the sacristy if there was a need for it. I remember seeing him use a chair to help him kneel down in front of the altar, which at that point was a very difficult task for him.

He was so enthusiastic about serving Mass that he would serve even when not invited. He told a story about being in Vancouver, Canada on some Navy business and attending a church right in the center of the city. It was Sunday morning Low Mass and the church was so packed that he couldn’t find a place to sit. He plopped himself in the back on the woman’s side (I suppose back then the sexes were still separated in church) and received some bizarre stares for doing this. When the priest came out of the sacristy, Dan noticed that he had no server with him. Looking at how all of the other faithful felt no need to do anything about this, he got up, walked down the center aisle of the church, and seeing no door at the altar rail, jumped over it and knelt before the altar.

The priest came back down from the altar after setting up the chalice, looked at that odd middle aged man kneeling, and began the Mass:

“In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritu Sancti. Amen. Introibo ad altari Dei…. Who the hell are you?”

“Ad Deum qui laetificat juventutem meam. The name’s Dan Monary, Father.”

If you doubt the veracity of this story, it’s because you never met the man in person.

Dan had a million stories like that. I was one of the only ones interested in hearing them, probably because I hadn’t heard them before. There was the one about seeing a street car in Istanbul that he swore that he had ridden as a child in Seattle. There was also the one where at the end of World War II he almost met Pius XII. The story goes that the Pope was having an audience with a large crowd of American sailors, and as he was greeting the crowd, a sailor started freaking out and fell to his knees. When the Pope’s handlers saw this, they whisked the Pontiff away before the got to Dan’s group. What a stroke of bad luck!

Dan was no theologian, but I would always stay behind in the sacristy and listen to him talk as he helped put away the vestments. With people who lived a life like that, it is often not what they say that is important, but rather how they say it. Coming from a family that was very respectful of elders, I am naturally inclined to listen to older people, no matter how crazy some of the things they say might seem. Dan, unlike most in this society, was on firm ground when he spoke. Black is black, white is white, there is a God in heaven, and today will be a good day because of this.

It was easy to see that for Dan, changing or getting rid of details might just be the same as amending the Nicene Creed. There is so little that we can really do for God, and so much that He does for us that every little thing counts. Sure, we should be doing all of those more important things to love God and neighbor, but we sinners have a very hard time even making an effort to begin doing these things. (I am just clearing that up for the majority of people who are reading this, since I know most of you are near-saints.) A well-placed maniple here, a washed-out cruet there, a ciborium whose hosts are arranged in the right order…. if we have the spirit of a child these can go a long way in leading us to bigger things. As Our Lord said, to be faithful in small things is to be faithful in bigger ones. Dan was all about small things.

My favorite sport in church is watching old people pray. I learned a lot about prayer just by watching Dan pray. It doesn’t matter if they are Russian babushkas, Greek yia-yias, Coptic grandmothers, or Mexican widows. If you want to learn to be a Christian, watch them. No amount of book-learning can teach you what they know. Only the look on their faces can.

I went off to seminary and came back, and Dan was still going strong two years later. Shortly thereafter in 2003, his health began to deteriorate quickly. By June, he was dead. Since I was at that point going to a Byzantine Catholic church, I only learned about his death by chance. His funeral was held on a Saturday, and I joined the choir in the sung Requiem Mass. The ceremony was flawless, and no doubt Dan was proud of us in carrying out the Church’s traditional rites so well. I remember that even the one glitch that we had turned into something exquisitely beautiful. When we got to the cemetery, the directors had said that they were not ready to place the body in the ground yet. So we had to sing the actual service at the grave in a mausoleum in front of the coffin. I have never heard acoustics like that before. As we began the “Benedictus Dominus Deus Israel”, the sound resonated off the marble and made us sound like the very choirs of Heaven themselves. It was an enchanted end for a simple man who led an enchanted life.

I long ago stopped believing in a golden chain of elders. Life is just too messy and the world is much too sinful to even conceive such a thing. Dan Monary was not a saint (although we used to say that his wife was since she had to put up with him). He was a Catholic sailor. That should be enough to tell you that he didn’t lead a spotless life. But he invested the talents that he was given and was faithful in things that most of the Church had condemned to the trash heap of history. And this passed down something to me: do it right, do it simply, make it pretty. It is the least we can do for God.