Judica me, Deus…

28 01 2010

Sometimes the real life friends I have chosen to make say the darndest things. I had a half-Mexican friend who, after many twists and turns in life, had decided to finally embrace Protestantism. One time, we went out for pizza. While talking about modern Christianity, the conversation turned to how modern Christians tend to regard God as some plush toy they display prominently in a curio cabinet. God loves you, He’s not going to get mad at you. He is perfectly harmless. To this total lack of seriousness, the failure to take seriously the vengeful God of the Bible, he said:

“God is Santa Muerte.”

Being the astute half-Mexican that he is, he knew the weight of such a phrase, but maybe not totally. We have a tendency to think of the divine as a mirror reflection of our insitutions; paragons of organization based on niceness. I don’t have to go into here how this isn’t even a “Biblical principal”. For the same kind and gentle Jesus in the Gospel appears in the Apocalypse as a warrior ready to judge the earth: rex regum et dominus dominorum.

I have been fascinated how certain posts on this blog have become “virtual” shrines for various saints. In the post that I did on a prayer to St. Cyprian against black magic, the last person to comment left the following request, in badly spelled Castillian:

Saint Cyprian, I ask that (name) suffers much because of me, may (name) suffer much for me, may he weep at every moment, may he not have any tranquility with anyone if that woman isn’t me…

We have gone over these love spells before on this blog, but the idea that a saint can do harm as well as good is also a theme we have touched on. In Latin America and the rest of the Catholic world, it is common to pray that the dark works done against you are turned back on those who performed them in the first place. Just as in the Psalms, people pray that they are protected from their enemies, and that their enemies get what is coming to them.

This has been taking place for centuries with various saints. I have read somewhere that St. Michael is invoked in a Sicilian form of knife fighting. I am sure that this had precedence in the Middle Ages with the phenomenon of Catholic knighthood. And need we go into the phenomenon of Santiago Matamoros?:

In spite of people’s squeamishness towards la Santa Muerte in Mexico, and the obvious questions about how she fits into orthodox Catholic cosmology, the idea that death itself is your madrina (godmother) can be very reassuring in a world that seems out to get you. Indeed, more often la Santa Muerte has been used against evil and to ward off evil (I am not ignoring the whole “witchcraft” and New Age uses that this figure also has). For Anglos and “good Catholics”, it is counterintuitive that something so ugly, so ominous, and so frightening could be a source of comfort. And perhaps the cultus to this questionable figure is getting out of hand. But we should also ask ourselves how much of this is our own wanting to pretend that the more unseemly things in life don’t exist, that God and the world must conform to our own sensibilities?

Indeed, even looking at the opening psalm in the old Mass, priests for centuries began “judica me Deus…, which could rather sloppily be translated as, “judge me, O God”, but more accurately (as in the case of the Black Hawk prayer last week), “revenge me, O God”. That may not conform to our own fluffy ideas of Jesus, but in the end, it is just as much a part of our religion as anything else.


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7 responses

29 01 2010
Arturo Vasquez

Of course, I blame in part St. Therese of Lisieux for such attitudes. Or rather, instead of “blaming” this stuff on her, I would say that she probably had no idea that people would take her writings and run with them the way that they did. One of the essays that I would like to write one day is how even St. Therese’s “little way” only makes sense in the context of an ascetical and cultural condition where judgment is just as much in the mind’s view as mercy. Before, perhaps, it may have been that people feared “God as judge”, but now no such fear exists for the most part. All one need do is read people’s testimonials as to why they converted from this to that: very few will say: “because I feared for my eternal salvation and being cast into Hell for all eternity”. If that is not the case, then what is the point, then? To make God “happy”? To put a smile on Jesus’ face? Somehow, I don’t think Our Lord died on the Cross just so that we can make Him happy by picking the “right Church”. He did it because we were in real danger of losing our souls.

But back to St. Therese: if you actually read her life, she had to go through all of the mortifications, deprivations, and all of the other “Jansenist” victimization that most religious and seminarians no longer have to endure due to aggiornamento. I think she once said that when she gave herself the discipline, she did it hard since she wanted it to hurt. A far cry from the rosy cheeked girl who makes us feel that we too can be a saint if we write blogs with pious thoughts about Jesus and give up milk and cookies now and then. Such demonstrations of saccharine sentiment have to be balanced with the dark nights that she went through, and for us not so spiritually advanced, the monstrous aspects of grace that were just as much a part of the Catholic ethos as the cream-puff Madonnas and choirs of girls chirping the Missa de Angelis.

Again, all of this is due to people playing Dungeons and Dragons-style games in their head thinking that religion is a bunch of play acting. It isn’t. And this has been going on for a long time, and many movements, such as Lutheran pietism, Jesuitical meditations, and the popularization of German Rhine mysticism, probably had a part to play in these developments.

I once remember how AG’s grandmother once told a story about being stuck in a lightening storm when she was young. She had nowhere to run in an open field, and concluded that if it was her time, it was her time.

“You can’t run from God,” she said in her accented English. I can’t imagine a person under a certain age saying that anymore.

29 01 2010
jcn

Santa Muerte can be saint death or holy death. In english, it’s one or the other. Being another pasty white guy, it causes me to wonder how much culture drives expression/perception versus the other way around

29 01 2010
Matthew N. Petersen

“But we should also ask ourselves how much of this is our own wanting to pretend that the more unseemly things in life don’t exist, that God and the world must conform to our own sensibilities?”

Fr. A. Schmemann noted that cultures have two ways of dealing with death 1) to revel in it and 2) to sanitize it away, and that neither is Christian (or rather is right, for Christians do both). We are very much the second sort.

Laudato si mi Signore, per sora nostra Morte corporale,
da la quale nullu homo uiuente pò skappare:
guai a quelli ke morrano ne le peccata mortali;
beati quelli ke trouarà ne le Tue sanctissime uoluntati,
ka la morte secunda no ‘l farrà male.
–St. Francis of Assisi.

28 01 2010
athaumaturgus

Interesting timing: being a fan of memento moris and bloody crucifixes, I’ve been thinking about this same concept all week, especially as I’m working on the sermon for Septuagesima. In fact, the propers (more so than the readings) for this Sunday have that same kind of tone about them, “The sorrows of death compass me about,” and so forth. But of course, I wonder whether this same “fluff-bunny” mentality in modern Christianity is also responsible for removing Gesimatide from the calendar in the same breath that it removed black vestments and the Dies Irae.

Me personally, I tend to like my religion with a strong dash realism, along with all the graphic violence, suffering, blood, gore, what have you that the salvation narrative entails, and a faith that has the guts and the grit to take on whatever day-to-day life might throw at you; I would even go so far as to speculate that a lot of folk Catholicism, no matter which culture, is born from that same guts and grit. (i.e. it doesn’t run away from the world, but faces its problems head-on.)

While on the other hand, what I see in American Christianity is (or at least I would describe it as) a tendency toward escapism. There’s a desire to use religion to escape life’s problems, whether it’s to pray for the rapture to come so there’s no need to worry about the house being foreclosed or the car being repossessed, or, outside of the fringe groups, a tendency to focus on the tidy and resurrected Christ as opposed to the filthy, beaten, tortured, and bloody Christ who died for our sins.

Now I don’t know whether this disdain for “the dark side” is a strictly American thing, or a Modernist thing, or if it’s simply a result of religion packing up out of the old immigrant neighborhoods and moving to the suburbs. But what I do know is that when a person tries to keep his/her body so unrealistically healthy and uncontaminated that it’s never been around anything kind of filth, germs, junk food, etc., then the body totally freaks out when it comes into contact with any kind of foreign substance. On the same note, I don’t see how spirituality is any different. The over-focus on a loving God is every bit as bad and unrealistic as the over-focus on a vengeful God. He is both, the universe is both, and we must always keep that in mind.

Okay, sorry for the long post (I hope it makes sense, I’m kinda rushing my thoughts here). But it’s helping me flesh out my sermon for this Sunday, too. Thanks for the help!

28 01 2010
Manuel

Or just look at the old crucifixes, especially the ones found in the California missions. If they haven’t taken them down, the Christ is beaten and bloodied with huge thorns piercing his forehead. And I’ve heard many Catholics say, “why is something so depressing at the front of Church when our religion is about life?” Indeed, for me it also took a protestant to remember that the Lamb of God is also the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, he hath conquered.

28 01 2010
John in Dallas

Didn’t St. Alphonsus Liguori posit God the Father and Jesus as harsh judges and Mary as our intercessor who pleads with them to show us mercy? I thought I read that in one of his works. I know it’s not quite the same.

28 01 2010
Sam Urfer

I’ve had similar thoughts to your friend, but being a pasty white nerd I went with Cthulu rather than Holy Death. Lovecraft tapped very deeply into the awesome majesty (in the old, spooky sense) of the Lord of Hosts (“power and might”, while it has a ring to it, doesn’t quite get that across), an appreciation often lacking in our culture.

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