The Sarabite: Towards an Aesthetic Christianity

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

Friday, March 30, 2007

For the Virgin of Sorrows

From some old journals:

See what only Mary saw:
Not a man about to fall,
But the birth again of a rebel pardoned,
In a world of corruption,
Unforgiving and raw.

See what only Mary saw:
The division of garments,
The tearing of the Law,
What nakedness speaks cannot defeat
The Lord’s faint but loving call.

See what only Mary saw:
The sky a crimson parasol,
After a week of triumph is
Unleashed now death,
Blossoming outside
The city walls.

See what only Mary saw:
Mourning’s eyes under a mother shawl,
Vision of peace under a funeral pall,
Chalice spilt but not wasted,
Poured forth for the life of all.

See what only Mary saw:
A tomb cold but imposingly tall,
A radiant tear flows down her cheek,
Delicately formed without a flaw.

Mother whose sorrow is
Not yet spent,
To you my sinful knee is bent,
Grant me now to see
What you saw.

-Newberry Springs, CA
June 29th, 2004

I remember. Life is a string of events that do not make much sense, that are highly illogical, that put us in a frenzy of confusion when we try to sort things out. Take a nineteen year old atheist, apostate, Communist, ex-Catholic, and prostrate him on the floor before a statue of the Mother of God. To this day, it makes no sense. But then again, a leap in the dark is a leap in the dark, and to understand it would mean that is was no longer so.

“How much we hurt the ones we love!” How much have I thought about that phrase! It is the clearest and most powerful summary of our human weakness. We want to be good, we want to treat our loved ones right, but we end up being the worst savages, worse than wild beasts, for at least in them there is no calculated vengeance, no doubleness, no cold and pre-meditated slaughter. How much we hurt the ones we love!

My two mothers…. how often have they been awake at night, worrying about me. The vigil is the office of the mother; if a heart could have the power to move the world with a single sigh, it would be the heart of this sleepless mother, who feels and moans, sheds a tear and paces, wondering and worrying, loving and lamenting the object of her love now so far away. If any eye of the heart could pierce that darkness and that distance, it should be this heart, that runs ever forward but encounters a wall, and a chain that holds her back. But she still stays awake, watching and praying.

We cannot help being a cross to others. No matter what we do, it will always hurt inside. If only we could enter the labyrinth that is the other’s soul, perhaps we could find a way to wipe away her tear and embrace her, telling her that it will be alright, that we will stop hurting her, that we didn’t mean to hurt her in the first place. We are, however, always walking on egg shells, and sometimes one cracks, and we keep walking without turning back.

Mother, help me not to hurt you anymore. And if I hurt you, please forgive me. All that I want to tell you is that I am alright, that you can go to sleep now, because now I am back with you, and I want to make things up to you. But it’s all so hard, I always end up walking away again, and then you begin worrying again, and I feel bad that I have hurt you once more. Help me only to stay near to you, only if it’s for a little while, and maybe then I will one day change and never hurt you again.

-La Reja, Argentina
December 12th, 2002

Thursday, March 29, 2007


like memory’s wound,
the eyes grub toward you
in a Crowland bitten
bright by heart’s teeth-
it remains our bed:

through this shaft you must come-
you come.

in the seed’s
the sea stars you out, innermost, forever.

an end to the granting of names,
over you I cast my fate.

-Paul Celan (from the collection Breathturn, translated by John Felstiner)

For Passiontide

Seven Penitential Psalms


Arturo Vásquez

Pugnamos ensartarnos por un ojo de aguja

(We fight to thread ourselves through the eye of the needle.)

-Cesar Vallejo, Trilce

….tunc imponent super altare tuum vitulos.


I had feared falling
The depth that could
Not be reached:

A rapturous vertigo of
Stained walls and streets-

Life of the soul
Sealed in a dismal sky.

Night of toil, flame,
Fleet of ovens-
Depth, the sound of
Metal turning on metal
It flowed tormented-
Drilled footsteps of armies
In the rain-

Fatigue, the passing, the day-
Hours devouring hours,
Sleepless, without escape-

Holding in the soul with his
Hands as if it had been cut open
By a sword-
Dreams and words spill
All over the floor,

Entrails sliding off entrails-
Looking up he sees
The dirty white ceiling-
Echoing of ovens-
Steel turning on steel,
Florescent scars on walls
Or the absence of light.

Spilling, the mind of love-
Spilling, it is not too late,
Spilling, it is broken open,
Fleeing, a perfect stasis of
Silence…. mute rage,
The emergence
Muffled in lidless eyes….

Sightless flight,
The sovereign night-
No longer cautious-
Cold, crushed on wheels
Of holy obedience-

A stick watered,
A soul immolated,
The remainder of the dead
Is dug up and defiled,

City walls thrown down,
Children burned, impaled,
The wailing of women
Violated over rubble-

Hands cut off,
Handless cries,
Handless tears,

Unable to pull back-
Gaze attached like hooks,
Red streams turning black
And blotting out the night sky-

It happens, it happens over,
It is happening over-

On this road, down the mountain-

Four o’clock and he
Hasn’t slept-
And if he falls asleep at the wheel,
His soul will be thrust
Straight into hell-

Obedience, holy obedience,
Dictates all-
The rising, the terror, and the fall-

The turning of metal on metal-
It flowed tormented,
Drilled footsteps of armies
In the rain.


Claws hoisting me up,
Red and black,
Red and black,
The image of the blinking eye,
Coming back, coming back.
There is a calm certainty
At the origin of rain-
It breaks open the clouds:
Space and lack,
Space and lack.
It is the gray form-
Comedic and homicidal:
The entrance of the widow
Into the valley,
Wearing black,
Wearing black.


Symptoms of decay-
The flowers under
The gray canopy of fog-

Fill these glasses with dust-
Spoilt powers of mortal fingers-
Sent down in the wind,
Clinging mightily
To the splinter of the pier.

In embers, it turned
The whole world into longing-

Lament of busses,
Lament of showers-

Swallow the scene with
A toothless eye-

What it calls,
What it catches-
The downcast gaze-

Chest empty of life-
Powerless is the
Pure form-

Sighing, breaking,
In the barren days.


The life of the soul
Is a cannibal-
Sweating noon gray
Like sheet metal
In the rain-

Spell of infanticidal witches-
Burning, chanting dark
Blood, through vanishing

With caution
Should the desert be approached-

Tattooed with yellow and
White specks-

Radio blaring….
I used to think that
The ground would be cut open
To produce scorpions-

Birth mother,
Death mother,
The hissing of snakes
That wish only poison
And pestilence-

Gliding off hills, soiled,
The sunset of blackbirds-

Carrion soliloquies,
Loud shrieks
Of blue sky
Turning red-

(Red is such a
Reassuring color)

But now it is all dissolving-
All dissolving into the
Foul odor of earth given water
Too late-

It is the spinning,
The spinning on the asphalt-
Reckoning the time with
Slashes of the razor blade-

Turn and turn
Onto dreams,
Roll over them like
A juggernaut and
Pull away.

Turn and turn
Unleash and burn-
Black pillar of smoke
Emerging from the
Desert brush-

Breaking apart over fire,
Over abandonment-

Turn and turn,
Flagrant lies
Crushed like leaves in the hand-
Broken on glowing stone:
A delicate strand of life
Cut away.

Turn and turn,
Wreck and burn,
It is all going up,
It is going up into
The air,
Battle of angels and demons-

Turn and turn
God’s love spurned-
Twelve rings of the bell-
The opening up of hell-

Lamps burst into blistering flames,
God turns away
And is muted again-

Turn and turn
A lesson unlearned-
Books in a fire-
Images burned-
Poems cut up
And tossed into the pyre-

Turn and turn
Until you fly apart-

Turn and turn-
The aborted eye-
The false start-

Turn and turn-
I spit on you-

This nothingness
That ascends into the sky
Like ash…


Reflection of violence
And shattered glass:
A youthful tear.

Unable to emerge
From the cave of his heart,
He stays there,
Suspended over the
Dark flame of being.

Cast out of that house,
He never left it-
Imprisoned in that room
In front of the
Warm glow of a television.

Shards, piles of shards,
He found himself broken.

Streets of forgetfulness,
Streets of pain
And wandering-
Exquisite death in
Seven years-
The tide rising,
Swallowing up the shore-
It was then that
He sank into himself;
Bubbles of the death howl
Emerging at the surface

It was them I saw him
Sink into himself-
And I have been standing on
This shore ever since-
A burnt Narcissus
Frozen in the glimmer
Of black water.

He tried to pick up his pieces,
But he was so scattered-
Pieces, pieces in
Every corner.

Abandoned, he waves
As I drift away,
But he does not look up-

His sunken eyes pinned
To his discalced feet.

This is the night
When life was laid down,
When it fell tragically
As if from a stray bullet-
When the curtain fell
In front of an empty theatre
And the crow flew off silently
Into the dark of the fields-

This is the night
When joy disappeared
In a murky well-
When hope was split apart
And innocence was covered
Behind a thick wall
Of smoke-
Sweet and suffering, it numbed
All desire and sealed the eye
In weariness.

Tonight, the moths dance around
The lamps and turn us away-
They offer nothing but contempt
At the misfortune of once having
Loved and played-

O mocking song that the moon
Sings against us-

O cold paths that strike our feet
With the scourges of sleeplessness-

O gleeful air, unforgiving,
That crushes our souls
Into powder!

Unholy family, broken,
Turned away and
He is still on that street-
Orphaned heart, spat upon,
Abject and derided,

The sun will never come up,
And the stars have gone out
In the sky.


Why did You not slay me
In the sadness of that day?
Why did you not free me
From the burden of that pain?

Why do I go afflicted
In the midst of this foul strife?
Why am I the fruit of death
And the abjection of this life?


Why is it, O Jesus, that You look upon me?
Why does the heart lie there, ungracious and cold?
Why do I still stand, unable to bend the knee
In a prayer, soft and faint, wounded and bold?

There is no path before me, Lord,
Banished and lost am I again-
Into the mother’s heart I thrust another sword,
Dum veneris iudicare saeculum per ignem.

I only have sorrow for myself and not for You,
Having nailed You again to the life-giving Tree,
My sin emerges, and my guilt is ever new,
Tibi soli peccavi et malum coram te feci.

The life given to me I have broken in twain,
No words do I have for my most shameful ways,
Only this cry I offer of despair and pain:
De profundis clamavi ad te, Domine.

For I have been unable to pity and forgive,
My soul having been trampled down mercilessly,
On tears and bitterness do I now live,
Deus meus, quare me dereliquisti?
So Your forgiveness has been taken from this wretch,
I squat in a corner of hell, a look unable to send
Toward Your tender face, toward Your arms outstretched,
Dum veneris iudicare saeculum per ignem….


Miserere mei, Deus, secundum magnam misericordiam tuam….

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Faith and Enchantment

From the Go Sit in the Corner Blog:

I was compiling quotes from George Balanchine on religion and I realized how right he was about one thing: children have to learn faith when they’re young, or they will never have it. Adult converts can have something – a turning over of mind and heart to the Lord, but the natural belief in the supernatural, the nearness of transcendence, the ritual will always be somewhat off. Can adult converts really have the suspicions that children can: that dragonfly wings sound like what one’s guardian angel’s wings sound like, or that the movement of the wind was the Mother of the Lord sighing just for you to hear it, or that the sun beaming through the window was Christ Himself wishing you a personal Good Morning? Perhaps, but adults have to struggle against skepticism to believe in it; it all comes so naturally to children. This is where the importance of the example of St. Anne and St. Joachim comes in – could Mary have believed Gabriel without those saints as parents? As a child, I believed that if I were silent enough, I could hear my guardian angel hovering around me. She had wings and was a bit naughty – if I sat in complete silence, the sound of the air conditioner coming on at the exact same moment as I appealed to her was her form of communication. Was I a crazy child who didn’t understand probability and coincidence?

My heart really did leap when I read this. AG has such a flare for writing, and all of the childhood memories recounted on this blog are traditional Roman Catholicism crystallized into words.

A friend of mine has admitted to me that sometimes he has problems concerning his faith. He is Catholic, intelligent, and very well-read, so at first I was a bit taken aback by this. But I think what is missing not only from the lives of converts but also from the lives of suburban cradle Catholics is a real sense of enchantment about what they believe. It is not about what we believe, it is about how we see what we believe. Judging from many Catholic media, both electronic and printed, I can see how many can have very severe doubts about the Faith. Many times there is real absence from them of a sense of God's all-powerful and "mischievous" hand working in our lives. That is probably due to not having been raised with religious images all over the house, family prayers, and a traditional sense that all things come from the hand of our Father God.

Perhaps I am judging too harshly, but this is why the Catholic discourse in this country can be so depressing to me. And that is why I like reading AG's blog. It is so human because it is so enchanted, it believes in beauty and miracles in a mature and yet child-like manner. I wish I could portray this on my blog, and I try to but more often than not fail. I am most proud of my poetry posts, and I read mostly poetry now with the little spare time that I have. Religion, as represented on the Internet, makes me become belligerent, pig-headed, and proud. Instead, the religiosity that I respect now is the one of the stories that my mother told me about how the Holy Infant of Atocha (pictured above) used to get up from His chair in the middle of the night and bring loaves of bread to prisoners. That is the type of cosmos that I want to dwell in, not one where I have to hold up the fabric of reality with my flawed, all-too-human arguments.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

For AG

God making His rounds one day
Upon the hills of Heaven’s way,
Noticed that unworthy people were walking around
In whose souls great purity was not found.
In this He almost felt ashamed
That He found in them an impurity unnamed.

“St Peter!” He said, “why does he close his eyes
And out of Heaven these souls does not keep?
Now his resolve is found to be weak
And it is necessary to upbraid the guardian who sleeps.
Let him be summoned!” So an angel went
And found the wide-eyed Peter sitting upright,
His gaze ever on the door bent
With an ever sharp eye and keen sight.

“I’ve come to replace you
Just for a moment
For God Almighty wants to ask you something.”

So St. Peter ran, and the Lord with severity
Chastised the saint without soft charity,
Saying, “No, this cannot be,
Look over there, you see,
You are letting people in who are without purity,
Thus soiling this pure celestial house.”

“Lord,” Peter said, “You are confusing me,
For I live at the gates ever vigilantly
Like a loyal guardian ever seeing
In spite of old age on me weighing-
Nothing gets by me, no, not a thing.
Believe me, Lord, the fault is not mine,
For I am at my post all of the time
And not one soul gets into your home
Without the proper papers having shown.”

“Be still,” said God, “we are probably being fooled.
Look down there anew.
Are those people known to you?”

“O Good Lord, to speak honestly,
Never such a people have I seen.
On my list they do not appear,
Nor do I think they belong here.
No doubt someone is smuggling them in.
But I promise to get to the bottom of this sin,
And if I do not triumphantly win
I will renounce forever being Heaven’s doorman!”

St. Peter then went with great care
To the entrances to see if there were any breeches there,
And when he made sure none were present
And a soul could not unfairly Heaven win
He sat once more at the gate ever vigilant
The night already having entered in.

But, what a sight, suddenly he beheld
Uninvited folk, without knowing from where they came,
Walking about Heaven’s gentle fields
Without panic nor fear, neither guilt nor shame.

St. Peter then went with haste
To call upon God to come and see
That which was occurring marvelously.
And when He came the good doorman
Made signs to God to hide Himself
And keep ears attentive and eyes open.

And what an admirable sight they saw!

Outside the walls were standing sadly
Many souls that Peter out of duty
Had rejected at the door,
Because they did not have the papers of authority
To land peacefully on Heaven’s gentle shore.

And those souls with much distress sighed
Such cries that one should never hear,
And complaints of such despair and melancholy
That they reached the Virgin Mary’s ear.
She pitied them, and not bearing
That their cries should be in vain,
She climbed onto the walls of Heaven
And believing she was hidden by the darkness of night,
She lifted up each soul with her gentle might
And with joy’s loving and serene strand,
She defied St. Peter with contraband.

As St. Peter felt triumphantly vindicated,
His innocence having thus been shown,
He made his thoughts to the Lord known:
“Aren’t You going to at least give her a warning?”

But God, having lovingly gazed upon His mother
At Heaven’s walls on that luminous night,
So sweet and gentle, so tender and meek,
Said, “For what? You know how SHE’S like”.

-based on a poem by Eusebio Robledo Correa, “Contrabando en el Cielo”

Friday, March 23, 2007

Listen to Mozart.....

The music of Mozart in all its sunny depth, its open clarity, is surely the most beautiful revelation of Apollonian movement in the modern world. Everything dark, everything ecstatic, everything intoxicated and disintegrating, everything infinite and unaccountable is excluded, and yet, whoever has heard the music of Mozart revealed, that miracle of God, knows that therein sounds not only the depth of life, but also the melody of the beyond.

-Gerardus van der Leeuw, Sacred and Profane Beauty: the Holy in Art

....and be happy.

Have a nice day. (I have his Clarinet Concerto playing in my head right now.)

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Where Everything Is Music

Don't worry about saving these songs!
And if one of our instruments breaks,
it doesn't matter.

We have fallen into the place
where everything is music.

The strumming and the flute notes
rise into the atmosphere,
and even if the whole world's harp
should burn up, there will still be
hidden instruments playing.

So the candle flickers and goes out.
We have a piece of flint, and a spark.

This singing art is sea foam.
The graceful movements come from a pearl
somewhere on the ocean floor.

Poems reach up like spindrift and the edge
of driftwood along the beach, wanting!

They derive
from a slow and powerful root
that we can't see.

Stop the words now.
Open the window in the centre of your chest,
and let the spirits fly in and out.

--Mawlānā Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī

An Apology to My Orthodox Readers

Osculetur me osculo oris sui....

Origen begins his homilies on the Song of Songs commenting on the first verse, "Let him kiss me with a kiss from his mouth". The mouth and the kiss, of course, is the Incarnate Word of God, uttered by the lips.

Thinking about lots of things the other night, I thought that this is the reality of Christianity. One of the most influential books that I have read is the biography that Archimandrite Sophrony wrote of St. Silouan of Mount Athos. In that biography, the simple peasant monk is confronted at one point by a priest missionary monk who was a true firebrand. When the latter began to rail against the heretics, St. Silouan reminded him that it might perhaps be better if the good father told his auditors what they were doing right rather than what they were doing wrong. In that sense, their hearts would then be open to what he would have to say.

(My favorite saying by St. Silouan is: "Our brother is our life.")

You Orthodox are resilient, your liturgies are beautiful, and you have always treated me in a welcoming and kind manner. I have learned so much from the Orthodox Church, and it has only been my time amongst the Orthodox and Anglicans that has made me realize what I was truly looking for as a Christian: to be a full human being. Christ only has the satisfaction for this desire, and I see now that God writes straight with very crooked lines. You are my brothers, and I pray for you and with you. The fact that we cannot share the fruits of the Eucharistic table does not distress me. At least you give me some of the crumbs, but you do it so lovingly that I think of it as the sweetest delicacy.

I don't do theology because I don't understand theology. I'll rant sometimes, and sometimes I'll writes things that look theological. But in the end, anything I do that is close to theology is what I do in church, and that's pray. You don't see that, but I would hope that it would show a little bit in what I write here. And I hope you will continue to welcome me into your churches, so I can venerate the icons, light a candle, and prostrate myself before the cross. It is only in this intimacy, in this coming together, that God nourishes my heart.

Brothers and sisters, forgive.

If anyone wonders how Jesus raised the dead,
don't try to explain the miracle.
Kiss me on the lips.
Like this. Like this. (Rumi)

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

I Sometimes Wonder Why I Even Bother....

When People Like This Say It All Much Better Than I Do

This culture of consumerism has also affected the consideration of the Apostolic Churches against each other. If a man considers Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy as equally available products, and chooses whichever he likes more, he is acting in a spirit that is inimical to both Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, and really to any traditional religion. Such a choice is neither Catholic nor Orthodox; it is simply consumerist. It fails to treat conversion as a response to prevenient grace, and makes it a matter of having the necessary taste and intelligence to pick the best Church.

Often this takes the form of a series of contingencies: If the Catholic Church were to do this, then I would leave it. If the Catholic Church were instead to do that, then I would return. The most obvious objection to this is that it is not his prerogative to demand that problems be fixed within his lifetime. But worse, that sort of thinking in itself places a man outside of the Church; if not sacramentally, at least intellectually. It places him outside of any Church, for he regards them from a superior vantage. Or to continue the previous metaphor, he regards them like a consumer in a grocery store picking out a jar of peanut butter. This sort of thinking is poisonous to any real sanctification, because he who engages in it is never a member of the Church, of any Church, in the guileless and entire way that Christianity demands.

And I thought this was very pertinent to my reservations towards "Neo-Catholics":

An apologist who acts utterly convinced in such arguments will only make a fool of himself, because a man cannot be convinced that his position is correct if he is not even smart enough to understand the controversy. His conviction is nothing more than a function of his sympathy for a particular side, and that usually is determined by things unrelated. He is simply choosing whom to trust. It should also be remembered that no matter how intelligent and clever and convincing an apologist is, there will always be someone more intelligent, more clever and more convincing to argue the opposite position. A man whose conversion is purely intellectual, made for reasons entirely within his own comprehension, can expect his faith to last until he meets the smartest heretic in the world. Apologetics at best are a means of dispelling lingering doubts for a man who is already responding to the prevenient grace of conversion, so that he may move on to something more substantial.

I have to confess my own sins to my readers regarding this. I fell into these traps, and it was really both Mr. Mitsui of the Lion and the Cardinal and Moretben of the Undercroft who finally snapped me out of this ecclesial wayfaring. If anything, I am trying to make amends for some of the rather cynical, anti-Catholic things that have been said on this blog in the past. For me, both of these men cited above will always be intellectual titans who brought me back to my senses.

Christus vincit! Christus regnat! Christus imperat! And thank you.

The Heart of Roman Catholicism

My new devotion to the Muse means that I am spending less and less time reading blogs. But yesterday I was perusing some briefly and I found this gem on the Canterbury Tales blog. Can anyone confirm the source of this anecdote:

Reminds me of a story I heard about Hilaire Belloc. He was visiting New York and attending High Mass at St Patrick's Cathedral. During the Canon he remained standing, as was the custom on the Continent. An usher came up and said to him, "We kneel here, sir." Belloc, holding his missal, turned to the usher and said calmly, "Go to hell." The surpised usher replied, "I'm sorry! I didn't know you were a Catholic!"


Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Okay, You Asked for It......

Here I am shortly before my monastic tonsure in the black beard. I think my beard looks cool. At that point, I had fully guzzled the punch. Now I'm over it.

So that is your first real look at the Sarabite. Sorry to disappoint those who really did think I was a skeleton wearing a sombrero.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Western "Eastern Orthodoxy" as Boutique Religion

A Long Overdue Rant

I used to be a spiritual tourist of Orthodox churches. The one shown above is a church of the Jerusalem Patriarchate in Felton, California, which is a splinter group of the Antiochene church five miles down the road. Once, when I first came to this church, a nice lady approached me in the narthex and asked me the most Protestant question I have ever been asked in my life:

"So, where do you fellowship on Sunday mornings?"

My Catholic brain almost blew a fuse. What the heck was she asking? I had to clear the desk in my brain of photos of humeral veils from Spain and Infant of Prague novenas in order to interpret her "Protestantese". "I think," I concluded, "she is asking me where I go to church on Sunday." So I told her that at that point I was going to a Uniate church. (Don't like the term, "Uniate"? Well if the shoe fits...)

That experience alone should have told me to stop sipping the Byzantine punch of icons and troparia, but I didn't. And now, almost four years later, after a changing rites, growing a rather impressive beard and becoming a monk, I can honestly say that I have learned my lesson. The Orthodox way is NOT the answer. If anything, it is for the most part an exotic spirituality that ignores the patrimony of the Western Church and seeks to replace the struggles at the heart of Christianity with escapism.

I will let other members of my small internet parish, of which I am a cardinal archbishop, tell the story:

From the Undercroft:

To "breathe together" - conspirare - is the meaning of "conspiracy". It's what like-thinking, like-loving human beings do as a matter of course. It implies necessarily no organisation nor formal statement of intent; no plan of action nor party line. It’s no more than the normal and natural way of things. It’s what we all do. The wildest and most radical of all conspiracies is of those who seek to breathe together with the Man-God in His Mystical Body.

From Go Sit In The Corner:

And as for spirituality (since I've already played the gender card, it's only fair that I play the race card now), my grandparents lived in a place and time where they had to pay to attend Mass and then were usually not allowed to sit. Other black Catholics in this time period were not allowed to even stay to the end of Mass, so as to avoid any contact with the white congregation. Many black Catholics in southern Louisiana actually had no place to attend Mass, as they were banned from the white churches. Forget whether or not they were spiritually nourished in a Latin Mass, for they were not allowed to enter the Church. Thus, they lost their faith. That is grievous error, that is a Church hierarchy completely and lackadaisically disregarding the lowliest members of the community. Thanks be to God that I live in a time where I am not banned because of my race from attending a Catholic Mass! Thanks be to God that I do not live in a time and place where I would have to worship Him in a cave and risk being hung upside down if discovered! Thanks be to God that He has given me the opportunity to be literate, and read volumes of books, if I so choose, about the liturgy! Praise God for giving me access to the internet, where I can come on here and praise Him or whine about His Church! Thanks be to God for sparing me the suffering of impaired fingers due to motor disorders as I sit here and type this, and for preserving my fingers from mutilation for believing in Him that I would have suffered in previous centuries!

From the Lion and the Cardinal:

...Apologetics require the consideration of Roman Catholicism in contrast to something else, and that is precisely the problematic perspective that I have been trying to correct with everything I do here. A big problem with Roman Catholicism since the rise of Protestantism is that many Catholics been so concerned with responding to skeptics that they have allowed the skeptics to shape the way that they consider the faith. This website is supposed to be a celebration of Roman Catholicism on its own merits.

Also I believe it a bad idea to seek religious guidance on the internet instead of in reality. I do not want to encourage this mistake by pretending to offer any. This is a Roman Catholic website; one of its purposes is constructive criticism of recent developments in Roman Catholicism. Its harshest criticism is based on the writings of Roman Catholic authors of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, none of whom ever left the Church. The foundational assumption of their criticism, and mine, is that the Church is indeed true. If it were not, it would not be worth the effort to discuss it. A man who does not hold that foundational assumption is welcome to read this blog and to offer his insight, but if he wants to know which religion to profess, he should ask the Holy Ghost, not some stranger with a pretty website.

The bottom line is that we love our Church. We think that it is the true Church. And we don't need mostly convert Orthdox to come along and whine to us about how bad our Church is. We know better than you do because we stay in it, and some of us see the worst of it week after week. At certain points in the history of this blog, I have said that this is an unhealthy thing, and perhaps it is. But if our Church is not the true Church, than no church is the true Church. This is the case since if God cannot make us work, He will not be able to make anything work. But He is God, so all things are possible to Him.

Eastern Orthodoxy will never, ever, ever take root in the Western soul. At best, it can sprout shallow roots until the next spiritual fad or tent revival comes along. The soul of the West speaks Latin, prays to statues, and fidgets with rosaries. The soul of the West is covered with side altars, wears lace, and sports a lop-sided birretta. And the soul of the West doesn't particularily care what was done one thousand years ago, or whether such-and-such a practice was precisely what the early Church did. A lifetime ago is more than enough for it, since the Holy Ghost was there too. Whether or not the West has been faithful to its own soul is another post altogether....

We chose to stay and fight. We chose to be an open conspiracy against the forces eating away at the One True Church of God. We will not build our small churches with twenty converts singing kontakia in bad King James version-style English. We will not get together for Lent in order to discuss homeopathic medicine over vegan cake and Boca burgers. We will not surrender our churches to the people who want to destroy them in order to dream of some Byzantium that never was. If we aren't the answer, then no one is. If we lived in Romania, maybe it would be different. But we refuse to place in doubt the Faith of our Fathers. Our ancestors were not heretics, our saints were saints, and our churches were the Houses of God and the Gates of Heaven, and we will fight to keep them so.

Orthodox people are more than welcome to read this blog, and I will try to post more in praise of Orthodoxy in the future. But this is a blog that thinks that our Faith is worth fighting for, and we will fight. We will refuse to be a small boutique next to the Hare Krishnas and Scientology. As St. Pius X said:

No, Venerable Brethren, We must repeat with the utmost energy in these times of social and intellectual anarchy when everyone takes it upon himself to teach as a teacher and lawmaker - the City cannot be built otherwise than as God has built it; society cannot be setup unless the Church lays the foundations and supervises the work; no, civilization is not something yet to be found, nor is the New City to be built on hazy notions; it has been in existence and still is: it is Christian civilization, it is the Catholic City. It has only to be set up and restored continually against the unremitting attacks of insane dreamers, rebels and miscreants. OMNIA INSTAURARE IN CHRISTO.

Notre Charge Apostolique

Not taking this in its most integrist reading, we can say that the West does not need Eastern Orthodoxy to restore it. It can surely help, but the West itself has all that is necessary for the restoration of the Church. All we lack is an ardent Faith and a firm resolve. May we pray to God that He might give us these things.

Like This

Like This


Coleman Barks (based on a poem by Rumi)

If anyone asks you

how the perfect satisfaction

of all our sexual wanting

will look, lift your face

and say,

Like this.

When someone mentions the gracefulness

of the nightsky, climb up on the roof

and dance and say,

Like this?

If anyone wants to know what "spirit" is,

or what "God's fragrance" means,

lean your head toward him or her.

Keep your face there close.

Like this.

When someone quotes the old poetic image

about clouds gradually uncovering the moon,

slowly loosen knot by knot the strings

of your robe.

Like this?

If anyone wonders how Jesus raised the dead,

don't try to explain the miracle.

Kiss me on the lips.

Like this. Like this.

When someone asks what it means

to "die for love," point


If someone asks how tall I am, frown

and measure with your fingers the space

between the creases on your forehead.

This tall.

The soul sometimes leaves the body, then returns.

When someone doesn't believe that,

walk back into my house.

Like this.

When lovers moan,

they're telling our story.

Like this.

I am a sky where spirits live.

Stare into this deepening blue,

while the breeze says a secret.

Like this.

When someone asks what there is to do,

light the candle in his hand.

Like this.

How did Joseph's scent come to Jacob?


How did Jacob's sight return?


A little wind cleans the eyes.

Like this.

When Shams comes back from Tabriz,

he'll put just his head around the edge

of the door to surprise us.

Like this.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Omnis Spiritus Laudet Dominum

Today marks my 28th birthday.

In my twenty eight long and interesting years on earth, I have come to respect two groups of people: devout Christians and complete atheists. This is because both have confronted the grave ugliness of existence head on and have attempted to wrestle with it. For the former, the terror of being is only a step in a process from which something more beautiful than we can ever imagine will one day emerge. For the latter, nothing will emerge, and man must cope with this nothingness and cruelty the best he can.

One of the people I most love in my life is an atheist. Normally, we don't talk about religion, and if we do it often turns ugly. On one such occasion, he almost screamed at me:

"Where was your god when all of that f#%ked up sh#t was happening to us? Where was he?"

My mind turned back to all of the hardships, the heart ache, the horrible dark nights that I had to suffer so young that I would not wish on my worst enemy. And he was older than me, so he knew much more about what was going on than I did.

I went back in my heart to that darkness, and I was silent. Where was God in all of that? Why was God silent?

There is a passage in St. Augustine where the Church Father goes back to the foot of Calvary, and asks a question of the Good Thief crucified on Christ's right. He asks why, out of the lawyers and scribes, those devout people who prayed in the Temple, fasted, and gave alms, that brutal criminal was the only one who knew what was really going on. Out of all of those people in that society who read constantly the Law and the Prophets, only one person understood all of it that day. When St. Augustine asked how he had obtained at that darkest hour the insight to acknowledge Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God, the Good Thief replied:

"I only looked upon His face. And I understood all."

When that atheist asked me that question , Christ was also asked, and He too was silent; bloody, looking down, with a sad and suffering look on His face. There is no rationalization for human suffering. All of those things that happened to us when we were little could not be justified in a million years of theology and polemics. But there is the suffering face of Christ, looking at us, suffering with us, and that is the only explanation capable of pulling us out of the mire.

A little under eight years ago now, I was in the gutter as a human being. I wasn't a heroine addict or anything like that, but I had no purpose in life, no reason for being. I had no love. And I suffered so much because of it. I was angry at the world, at the Church, but most of all I was angry at myself since I couldn't face the the brutality of poverty and a broken home with the courage that I thought I had. I was hollow on the inside. Jesus came to me, extended His hand and asked me one question:

"Do you trust me?"

This was as if to say: "I know that you have suffered and are suffering. I know it doesn't make sense and you are angry. But I will help you. Do you trust me?"

It took me months and some difficult decisions, but finally, trembling with fear and cold, I said, "Yes, Lord, I trust you."

And He has helped me carry my cross ever since.

There have been nights in the cloister, in the desert, and on the cold mountain that I have almost felt that God wasn't there. But I always knew He was. No matter what happened, I have always prayed:

THE LORD is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; of whom then shall I be afraid?

And I have not been afraid. God has taken care of me. And when I was unable to carry my cross, He carried it for me. God is good. You will never know what God can do for you until you give Him your heart and trust Him.

Today I received the greatest gift a man could ever receive: the love of a woman. This is not an example of "name it and claim it", have faith in God and get lots of nice things. This is another invitation to the Cross. There have been two women on my mind all day long, my new beloved and my deceased grandmother. It was my grandmother who carried the Cross for me when I was so young until she couldn't be with me anymore. And I have told my beloved that my love for her is beyond that of looking into her dark eyes, hearing her joyful laugh and swooning at her melodious sighs. It is a love that will help her to carry her cross, and if necessary, to carry her cross for her, as my grandmother carried my cross for me. That is the only love that can respond to the absurdity of the fallen cosmos. It is the only love that can make all light and life, love and joy. It is the love of the gaze of Christ hanging on the Cross. May we all accept it into our hearts and let go of the darkness that binds us.

And that is MY birthday gift to all of you.

I love you, my Muse.

I love you, Grandma.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Reconstructing Roman Catholicism

A Tale of Three Blogs

It has been my contention for some time now that what is going on in the Roman Catholic Church is not reform but destruction. Even if all of the doctrines on the books continue to be the same as before the Second Vatican Council, the practice and atmosphere of the church is slowly mutating into something strange and different. As I have noted previously, many aspects of the traditional Christian and apostolic traditions of the West have either been dismissed as minutiae or consigned to the rubbish bin of history. Historical consciousness becomes an excuse to uproot and change, "reform" and destroy according to the fashions and wills of so called "experts". These technocrats are able find fault with everything from church architechture to traditional piety to sacramental praxis, and propose changes according to the latest theological fad of academia.

Such criticisms against this are not new, and they are formulated by a small minority in the Church known as traditionalists. Often, however, this so-called traditionalist rhetoric is embedded in its own positivist and authoritarian narratives of what the past was like and how the present should be. It is not enough to preserve in some sense the forms used in the past. One must go deeper, into the very foundations of these practices that were dismissed as medieval, baroque, and decadent. Traditionalism, as it has appeared as a movement since the 1960's, is not radical enough, in the sense that "radix" in Latin means the root of living things. Traditionalism tends to ossify liturgy, theology, and the Catholic ethos into an agenda that did not exist prior to the changes. In this post, I want to feature three distinct voices that characterize true meditations on what it means to be a Christian in the West in the 21 st century: Roman, Catholic and Apostolic. These voices not only analyze doctrine, but go to the root of art, literature, and culture to find a new way of adressing the question: Is it possible to be a true Roman Catholic in postmodernity?

1. The Undercroft:

Here is something that has tantalised and fascinated me for years: “orthodoxy” is not, in the first instance, “right belief” at all – but “right glory”. That’s what the Greek words mean. Of course a modern Greek will also understand “orthodoxy” in the sense more familiar to us; but when the choir chants Doxa Soi Kyrie, doxa Soi, he certainly doesn’t hear Doctrine to Thee, O Lord, doctrine to Thee....

Correct doctrine is fundamentally important – but the manner in which we aquire and maintain it is more important still. Just as we know and love our mother as a consequence of living intimacy with her, so our sensus fidei, our instinctive “feeling for the faith” develops as we meet and live with Our Lord in His Church, and especially as together we follow Him, fasting and feasting, from cradle to Cross and beyond, in the Liturgy. “The Church is Jesus extended in time and space in the souls of those united to him.”


This particular voice is very much aware of the challenge that the continued authentic witness of the Christian East presents for us Western Christians. Without throwing out or questioning the glorious project of Western Christendom, the Undercroft seeks to create an "Orthodox" ethos within the Catholic Church. True, like all of those I will mention here, this voice is one crying out in the wilderness. But I know that the blogger involved has also claimed the title of "unorthodox Lefebvrist" as a sort of working construct meant more to shock than to explain. For it seeks to bind real Christianity not just to magisterial pronouncements or abstract theories, but rather to the witness of the Faith as it has been passed down to us until quite recently.

2. The Lion and the Cardinal

This is contrary to the usual presentation of art-historical development as a succession of distinct but equally valid styles, from Byzantine to Romanesque to Gothic to Renaissance to Baroque. The usual presentation is the result of looking at art in a very superficial way, noticing only incidental changes in technique. What becomes increasingly obvious from a more intense study of mediaeval artistic traditions is that whether Byzantine or Celtic or Mozarabic or Carlovingian, they share a continuity in their manner of composition, despite existing in vastly cultures over a thousand years. This is because they were informed by the same apostolic principles. Gothic art, like other products of the high middle ages, attempted to give a comprehensive form to earlier thought. A Gothic church is an encyclopaedia of patristic thought in stone.


One of the most creative and fertile spots of lived theology on the Internet, Mr. Mitsui is formulating a new perspective on how to approach the life of the Western Church of the past thousand years. Being himself an artist, he continues to present the patrimony of the aesthetic of the Western Church in everything from altars to clocks. On occasion, he will present extended theological commentaries where his symphonic knowledge of Patristics, art, and culture approach theological problems from a new and exciting light. Not satisfied with addressing the problems of the Church in an analytical fashion, he shows rather than tells what the true tradition of the Western Church really is.

3. Go Sit In the Corner

My eyes light up like a kid's at Christmas when I see the words "Promises to those who say this prayer" next to the text itself. I think we Catholics salivate over those “say this prayer (this way) and (such-and-such) will happen” the way others must pick out their lottery numbers for the jackpot. But it's not really that it's works-based - it's how we know that [the saints] are holding our hands. In the same way someone is just an acquaintance until they give you a true gift, a sincere gift from their heart. It's how God and the saints become our intimates. Besides, I'm sure God knows we're human.....

I hate when Catholics label themselves as traditionalist or neo or liberal or rad or whatever else, as if the Church is a political party and there are certain planks that define your position. For Heaven’s sake, if you are Catholic and feel you MUST label yourself, at least choose something that makes spiritual sense - something resonates with the rhythm of your heart and the melody of your soul. Say, “I’m in the beat of the Carmelites, to the melody of St. Teresa of Avila” or "I move to the rhythm of the Redemptorists, to St Gerard Majella's resounding baritone." Otherwise, you’re just talking about the ideas that bind your mind. (And the debate between Thomists and Molinists cannot slide in this way).


Perhaps the most eccentric and clever of all of the blogs cited, the dynamic voice presented here takes the blogger's own extended reading and life experience to create a thouroughly modern yet traditional perspective of Catholic life in the 21st century. While highly read in theology, this blog takes a different approach, meditating on Catholic tradition from the perspective of beauty and taking traditions at face value as they have been experienced. This blog treats Catholicism as a living, breathing organism and not a theoretical construct, perfectly at home with the highest aesthetic and theoretical perspectives of our time.

These three blogs are the reason that I am still a Roman Catholic. They are lights in a polemical, rationalistic, and positivist darkness. And I think that I can summarize the concerns of all of them as the following: it is not that the Church has to be reformed, it has to be reconstructed. That means going to the foundations and not just to doctrinal minutiae, to life and not just to questions of ecclesiatical power. It means not just restoring traditions, but venerating them and coming up with a theological construct to justify them in light of the Incarnation. And it means engaging the world we are in now, not to dominate or surrender to it, but rather to struggle with it critically, avoiding both the pitfalls of paleo-traditionalism and overly optimistic modernism. That is the task, and these voices are crying out for us to take up again the banner of a radical Roman Catholicism .

Thank You

O you who've gone on pilgrimage -
where are you, where, oh where?
Here, here is the Beloved!
Oh come now, come, oh come!
Your friend, he is your neighbor,
he is next to your wall -
You, erring in the desert -
what air of love is this?
If you'd see the Beloved's
form without any form -
You are the house, the master,
You are the Kaaba, you! . . .
Where is a bunch of roses,
if you would be this garden?
Where, one soul's pearly essence
when you're the Sea of God?

That's true - and yet your troubles
may turn to treasures rich -
How sad that you yourself veil
the treasure that is yours!

-Mawlānā Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Je Crois En L'Amour

I believe in love
Which slumbers and quickens
Hidden within the grain.

And when I inhale my springtime
In refreshing summits of the liturgy
And see all the trees and green wheat,
A tremor awakens in the very depth
Of my immortal being: and adoration
Sounds like legendary clocks
That intone their muffled chant
In the heart of the ocean.

And when the giant sun of my summer
Has thrashed the gold from off my sheaves
I've made a fortune: those are my chants, my coins,
My praises of Our Lady.

O brothers, come join me,
Drink the wine of Melchisedech
While all these rejuvenated hills
Clothed with the vines of Isaiah
Sing praise.

For thus are poems born
In my crucible, this heart of a man,
And in the core of my sundered stone.

-Frère Paul Quenon, translated by Thomas Merton

Tuesday, March 13, 2007



Arturo Vásquez

You are the sonnet
That the morning utters:

Silent, singing,
The incessant rustling
Of birds in the branches.

You are the song
That lifts up my feet,
Period of longing,
Period of sighs-
Sweet blade that
Plunges into memory
And cuts away all
That bends in sorrow.

You are the hue of
The sky in spring-
The light that glides off
The streams that
Gallop over stones.

You are the muse,
The recitation,
The singer,
And the tear-

All of this you consume
In your gentle eye-

And I fade away,
Lost and lifted up
In morning's prize.

Monday, March 12, 2007

For AG

A Reply to This
Arturo Vásquez

That must be you up there.

I always drive down that road,
And witness the proud mountains
Towering over me.

They are covered with
A thin film
Of purple and light-

That must be you up there
Entertaining the oaks
Bent down in might-
The sky looks down to
Caress your feet
And I see you jump up and
Spread out your arms
As if no one is looking.

That must be you up there
Curtsying to love,
I saw you give your heart
To the ocean breeze,
Shy eyes falling to your chest-

I saw you giving it a sweet caress-
Calming the noonday heat
As the sun advanced
Quickly toward the west.

I saw you wed
To the cool fingertips of fog
Coming in from the sea,
They bend over the peaks
And embrace you with a
Silent symphony of wind-

They spread your scent into
The valleys and small hills
Burnt golden by the sun-

They snake their way into
The streets and yards
And welcome the evening
Into our hearts-
With a kiss on the forehead,
They tuck us in and turn out the lights-
They bid us to rest, to be still,
To lie awake in the dark-

And remember that you
Were up there, dancing,
Filling us with hymns
Of splendor and joy.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Enough spirit at
The center of solitude-
Bearing on the eye,
This is not love.
It is faltering-
The faltering of the
Earth's re-birth-
It mimics itself...
The sun mimics childhood play-
It mimics life as it had been
Before we first saw
The harshness of day.
Parody- parody of creation-
Articulation of the terror of
It's not enough for all to shine.
It is not enough that
The sky radiates
Gloriously through
The canopies of creeks.
It is not enough that
Two lovers hold hands
And devour each other
With a gaze.
This scene has been immolated
With obsidian eyes-
The chirping of birds mutilated
Into murmuring cries
Of abandonment, suffocation,
And disregard:
Spring cut open, emaciated,
And brutally scarred.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Please Read This

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Another Quick Reminder

I have been making the bad joke lately that the only reason that Martin Luther said that you can't buy off God with works is because he wasn't trying hard enough. We in the Catholic Church are not quitters, and we will continue to make pilgrimages, pray rosaries, and buy the thumbs of saints until God begins to bargain down....

Seriously though, God is not bought off. It is either all or nothing with God (or maybe rather all and nothing).

Monday, March 05, 2007

On Confession and Penance

¿Qué tengo yo que mi amistad procuras?
¿Qué interés se te sigue, Jesús mío,
que a mi puerta, cubierto de rocío,
pasas las noches del invierno escuras?

¡Oh, cuánto fueron mis entrañas duras,
pues no te abrí! ¡Qué estraño desvarío
si de mi ingratitud el yelo frío
secó las llagas de tus plantas puras!

¡Cuántas veces el ángel me decía:
Alma, asómate agora a la ventana,
verás con cuánto amor llamar porfía!

¡Y cuántas, hermosura soberana:
Mañana le abriremos -- respondía --,
para lo mismo responder mañana!

-Félix Lope de Vega y Carpio, Rimas sacras, Soneto XVIII

Lord, what am I, that, with unceasing care,
Thou didst seek after me, that thou didst wait,
Wet with unhealthy dews, before my gate,
And pass the gloomy nights of winter there?

Oh, strange delusion, that I did not greet
Thy blest approach! and oh, to Heaven how lost,
If my ingratitude's unkindly frost
Has chilled the bleeding wounds upon thy feet!

How oft my guardian angel gently cried
"Soul, from thy casement look, and thou shalt see
How he persists to knock and wait for thee!"

And, oh! how often to that voice of sorrow,
"To-morrow we will open," I replied,
And when the morrow came I answered still, "To-morrow."

-translation from from 1893 Cambridge ed. of THE COMPLETE POETICAL WORKS OF HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW from this site

I entered the church and it was already beginning to fall into darkness. There was already a line forming on the side of the confessional. I took my place in line, and instead of standing, I knelt down. I was the “big fish” that day. Maybe the other people had some pretty big things to confess as well, but I was going to be the star of the show this time. I had made up my mind, and I was determined to go through with it. I knew that this was going to change my life and that there would be no turning back. Maybe part of me was lying to the other part thinking that this would be no big deal. But deep down, I knew what this meant. It meant that I had struggled through the night with God. I had pushed Him away, screamed at Him, and said and thought the foulest and most blasphemous thoughts so that God would turn His face away from me. But He had won and here I was.

When my turn finally came, I walked into the confessional and closed the door. It was so dark. All I saw was the dimly lit grill in front of me. It was as if I was a disembodied voice, some wicked spirit who had dreamt that darkness of being away from God for so long, of having lived in a universe that was ugly, dreadful, and cold. I knelt down and began:

“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been three and a half years since my last confession….”

Ninety-nine percent of all confessions that a devout Roman Catholic will make in his life will be rather routine affairs. Yes, sin is dreadful. Sin is horrible. Sin is the only real evil in the cosmos. Mosquitoes aren’t evil. Leeches aren’t evil. A child stealing a cookie from a cookie jar: that is the only real evil in the world. The other two obey their nature, the third is rebelling against his nature, and therefore against the purpose of existence that God has given to Him. Many people have a problem with the doctrine of Hell. Anti-Staretz used to always say that he found Hell to be a rather consoling doctrine. Maybe he said this because he was just trying to be funny, but I found that other people who I have respected in my life have said the exact same thing. The problem of Hell has nothing to do with the failure of the mercy of God. It has everything to do with the horrible nature of human sin. Aside from the mystery of the Trinity Itself, perhaps the other great mystery is the mystery of evil. How will God be all in all when many of His creatures will be separated from Him for all eternity? How can they definitively turn away from God in the first place?

Yes, this is horrible indeed. But the reality right here on ground zero, away from the cosmic questions of philosophers and theologians, is much more mundane, is it not? Sin may not be fun (although some of it is for our fallen nature). It may just prove to be a release. It may just result from our weakness. But it is still sin. And we are doing it all of the time. We are surrounded by it, we are swimming in it, and we practically are breathing it. And when we go to wash ourselves clean of it, when we go before the throne of God to accuse ourselves of these very sins, we do it as if we were going to the grocery store, the post office, or the DMV.

Feeling bad about yourself yet? Don’t. It doesn’t help. You might be very contrite for a while, but then you will just go back to being your old self, stuck in your sins, comfortable with them, and treading water until you die and go before the Judgment Seat. Again, welcome to the human race!

It sounds cynical, but you have to realize that true contrition is not something that you can squeeze out of yourself as if you were squeezing water out of a sponge. It is a special gift from God, and if it were a regular event in your life, it would make you a total basket case.

I suppose this is one of the reasons I am extremely adverse to things written in Christian circles that reflect the sighs of “o tempora, o mores!” Does any of this calling down wrath on our neo-pagan society help? Or does it only serve to separate “us” from “them”, giving us a righteousness that we do not really possess and masochistically condemning things that we know torment our own conscience but shielding ourselves from blame at same time. More seriously though, I think that those who feel they can rail against the evil of this age in such righteous indignation really haven’t hit rock bottom yet. That is, they really have not discovered the depth of their own falleness and still find that they can be angry at the “evil” of our present time. Those of us who have spent some time at rock bottom know perfectly well what we are capable and incapable of, and that often makes us less quick to judge.

It is not that the evil of this age is not evil. It is rather that we as people who live in this age must claim responsibility for it. It is OUR fault that things are like this. If I have learned one thing from reading St. Silouan of Mt. Athos, it is that real holiness is not about feeling separated from the sins of the world, it is rather feeling responsible for the horribleness of all of the sins in the world as if you had committed each and every single one of them yourself. That is real contrition, and I may not feel it now, but at least I know that this is the direction I should be heading towards.

Perhaps feeling bad about all of this is necessary, but one must still be careful. If there has been one trap I have fallen into in my rather short life, it is that of believing that someone in particular has the ability to guide you safely into the harbor of salvation. This of course is the error of trusting absolutely in the religious superior or staretz. Archimandrite Vasileios wrote that practically unreadable book called Hymn of Entry in which he has the beautiful line in which he says that the task of the spiritual father is to make God real for his spiritual son. This is a lovely idea, but things simply don’t work this way, at least not anymore. We either no longer live in an age of spiritual physicians (even many holy monks have affirmed this) or we are too deaf to hear them or hear them properly. We must feel our way through this mess ourselves.

Many Catholics in the English speaking world, along with convert Orthodox and Anglicans, will attempt to make sense of this cosmic catastorphe of sin and passion. They will try to use theories of asceticism, moral conduct, and other theoretical tools to soften the blow of proud modern man confronting the darkness and abyss of the fallen human heart. Rest assured that none of this stuff ever works, and what will endure, what has always endured, are the sacraments that Christ left us and the traditional piety that in an infinitesimal way compensates for our almost total lack of attention to the things of God.

God becomes real only by our being knocked around by sin, and this must happen constantly. God becomes real in our falleness, and only in our falleness. I think that this is the real heart of the blood-soaked, tormented, and wailing Spanish Catholicism that formed me as a child. This is the language of the votos, the penitentes, and the songs that moan at God for mercy and compassion. It is not a theological system of trying to speculate how God is like, but rather an attempt to throw yourself against the very heart of God and break through somehow. Sure, there is some talk of amendment of life, but those young men who still don the masks during Holy Week in many parts of Latin America or who walk into churches on their knees probably have done some pretty foul stuff, and they will continue to do it in spite of their best intentions. They have hit rock bottom, and will continue to fall down there. But they will get up and implore God, not with theological syllogisms or speculations, but with sweat, blood, and pain. That is life. That is true sorrow. That is the true essence of repentance in the Roman Catholic Church.