On Caring for the Poor and the Stranger

28 11 2008


But there was something that Julian couldn’t shake about the Christians. Something he couldn’t get out of his mind. And that was the Christians’ virtue. Their charity. And especially their hospitality to those they didn’t even know. In fact, Julian once issued an order to try to get pagan believers to start imitating the Christians in what he called their “benevolence toward strangers.”

Here’s a quote from a letter he wrote, and you can tell he’s not very happy. He complains that Christians’ care for strangers and their holiness is contributing to the spread of “atheism.” (He called Christians “atheists” because they didn’t believe in the pagan gods.)

Here’s what Julian wrote: “Why do we not observe that it is their benevolence to strangers … and the pretended holiness of their lives that have done the most to increase atheism. … It is disgraceful that when … the impious Galileans support not only their own poor but ours as well, all men should see how our people lack aid from us.”

-Archbishop Jose Gomez of San Antonio, via this blog

I am starting to think that any sort of political calculation among people who consider themselves Christians is toxic to their Christianity. I have read arguments of people saying that we have a Christian duty to take care of those in our own country before we can help the “stranger” in our midst. I have heard the rhetoric of the right-wing pundits who say that the Church is more concerned with immigration and the death penalty than with the pro-life cause. In the end, however, such “[white] America-first” bigotry only underminds the Gospel, just as the last gasp of paganism was delivered a death-blow by those Christians who loved without calculating the cost. Maybe it’s not viable, or maybe we have to “prioritize”, but such actions can at best only maintain what we have, they cannot grow the seed of the Church. The American cultural right, no matter how convinced it is of its own Christianity, is far less convincing to those outside of it regarding the virtues it claims to hold most sacred.

The American Way of Conversion

27 11 2008


Recently I encountered again the boast on one blog I read, “Another Calvinist is now Catholic!“. The discussion that ensued on this and another blog made me reflect on what conversion means in this society. As I have written before, it was not so long ago that conversion from one religion to another was an impossibility, and in some parts of the world it still is. The historical question for me, however, is what has been the nature of conversion in Christian history and not simply in ideas. Was conversion always an “individual” struggle, an intellectual working-through of historical, theological, and devotional texts? How much of the communal is unconsciously assumed in all of this, and how much have we emphasized the interior assent of reason over other, equally important factors?
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Del otro lado del portón

26 11 2008

Some Ramón Ayala, because this is my blog after all. Que tengan un feliz Dia de Acción de Gracias, y que lo pasan muy bien con sus familias. Ciao.


26 11 2008


Thus the Angel in heaven

And the human race on earth,

The devil in Hell

All to this Bread bow,

Down below, in the heights

And on the humble ground in unison

Is heard the sweet sound of voices

That praise in accord and harmony.

Thus ends Calderon de la Barca’s play, the Great Theatre of the World. For those neophytes in the history of Spanish Baroque literature, this play is one of the autosacramentales, which are grand dramatic allegories that teach the truths of the Faith to the masses. In this one, Calderon returns to one of his favorite themes: life is pure fiction when compared to the destiny God has prepared for us. All of our glories and sufferings are roles given to us, not who we are in ourselves. This is seen in the recurring slogan of the play, “Obrar bien, pues Dios es Dios.” (Do well, for God is God.) In other words, you can’t take it with you, and how you will live in the next eternal life is determined by how you play your transitory role in this one.

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The Divine Frenzies

25 11 2008


From all this it is now clear that there are four kinds of divine frenzy: love, poetry, the mysteries and prophecy. That common and insane love is a false copy of divine love; superficial music, of poetry; superstition, of the mysteries; and prediction, of prophecy. According to Plato, Socrates attributes the first kind of frenzy to Venus, the second to the Muses, the third to Dionysius, and the last to Apollo.

-Marsilio Ficino

Forgetting Hologram Jesus

23 11 2008


The temple, in its highest manifestation, was seen as constituting a microcosm, an image of the entire universe, and was laid out accordingly. The temple was seen as an organism, possessing a body and a living spirit. The spirit was attracted through the temple’s underlying geometry and proportions, and gematria, thus reflecting the harmony of the universe and those principles which underlie the genesis of life. Based on the idea of “like attracts like”, the temples of antiquity, like the Gothic cathedrals of medieval times, were designed to reflect, and hence enshrine, the living spirit of harmony which underlies the universe.

-David Fideler, Jesus Christ, Sun of God: Ancient Cosmology and Early Christian Symbolism
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“Catholic in name only”

21 11 2008


One of the other vices that I have been prone to less and less in recent time is reading the blog, Creative Minority Report. It’s an interesting source of news, and supposedly humorous, though I never quite get their humor. Recently, I was reading over one post that I did not find very funny. Here is an excerpt:

Article 1.1 Be it resolved that any person, whether ordained, religious, or lay may not refer to themselves as Catholics in Good Standing if they do not actually go to church or believe what the Church teaches.

Be it also resolved, in addition to the above requirement, that in order to be recognized in public as a Catholic the individual making the claim of “Catholic” is obligated to sign, in the presence of a journalist and affirmed by a duly appointed notary public, a copy of the Catholic Catechism while positively affirming belief in all things contained therein. This obligation should be taken freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion.

If the party fails to comply with any of the above requirements, the party immediately forfeits the right to identify themselves in public as a Catholic. Failure to comply constitutes identity theft and is thereby punishable by all the applicable statutes and by a substantial sojourn in the deepest and darkest recesses of purgatory (whether you believe in purgatory or not.)

Which is all well and good I guess. But I sort of marvel at the idea that there is some sort of litmus test for being Catholic, or even a good Catholic. But then again, as I said before, the women in my family were good Catholics and they prayed to the Grim Reaper and “practiced witchcraft”. There are lots of men in Latin America who love the Church and hate the clergy. And if we are going to talk about morality, well, I suppose I am fresh out of stones.

Maybe I just come from an environment where everybody was Catholic, even the Protestants. I once worked with a guy who used to cross himself every time he passed a Catholic church. Of course, he had never actually been in a church since his baptism. I once got in an argument with a Mexican guy who had become an evangelical. He had a picture of the Virgin of Guadalupe in his wallet. I called him on it, but he didn’t see the contradiction.

Since the French Revolution, people have increasingly seen the Church as primarily an institution and through the prism of the relations of power. That is because the institutional church itself is increasingly powerless, so it must assert itself by other means. That being said, I find it a bit ridiculous that people, particularly the “neocons” and the “trads”, now throw around the epithet of “Catholic in name only”. Since when did a bad Catholic equal no Catholic at all? There have always been bad Catholics, hell, I’M A BAD CATHOLIC. It strikes me as a little odd that people are now wanting to say that “you must be this devout, or this orthodox” in order to be considered a REAL Catholic.

Paranoia at a non-homogeneous Catholicism is a sign of its weakness, and that paranoia really will lead nowhere.


21 11 2008

The opening of the opera by Philip Glass

Now I am confused about my duty and have lost all composure because of miserly weakness. In this condition I am asking You to tell me for certain what is best for me. Now I am Your disciple, and a soul surrendered unto You. Please instruct me.

O son of Kunti, the nonpermanent appearance of happiness and distress, and their disappearance in due course, are like the appearance and disappearance of winter and summer seasons. They arise from sense perception, O scion of Bharata, and one must learn to tolerate them without being disturbed…

If, however, you do not perform your religious duty of fighting, then you will certainly incur sins for neglecting your duties and thus lose your reputation as a fighter…O son of Kunti, either you will be killed on the battlefield and attain the heavenly planets, or you will conquer and enjoy the earthly kingdom. Therefore get up and fight with determination.

Bhagavad Gita


On Certainty

20 11 2008


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

Life is not about creating certainties where there are none, but rather about clinging with all of our strength to the things we are certain about. For me, this does not establish a system, a list of doctrines that build on each other in an immaculate chain of syllogisms and ideas. It is rather a few rules of thumb that we follow when weaving our way through the elaborate cosmos that has been put in front of us: beautiful, broken, sinful, and redeemed. That is why I tend to be slow to argue with someone when it comes to what he really believes, even if that person is a worshipper of demons. There are indeed beacons of light in the night of human mortality, but even they do not make the light of day. For that, we must shed this body of death and be embraced by the immortal fire of divinity. We are so far away from that now.


19 11 2008


In Panama, Aguilera Patino speaks of Seniles, a man who was punished for not respecting the sacred command to not to slaughter animals on Good Friday. He was banished to the far ends of the countryside, where his duty is to herd and protect animals hurt by the hand of man. He shows the animals where they can find good watering holes, the safest pastures, the most comfortable places to sleep, and he protects them from hunters on Good Friday.

-Felix Coluccio, Cultos y Canonizaciones Populares de Argentina

One of the major ways for someone to become a folk saint in Latin America is to help people find their lost animals. More to come later.