On the margins of theology – V

7 01 2010

The archbishop vs. the folk saint

The story of Catholicism in Latin America, especially in the last fifty years, has often been a spectacle of the blind leading the blind. While in historical Catholicism, it is the clergy that is supposed to be the defenders of piety and tradition, it has often been members of the common laity who, in their sometimes distorted way, have been defending the historical ethos of the Church. Often, there are no good guys or bad guys, no side that is definitely on the side of the Gospel, or side that is bent on distorting it. In a way, Catholicism is a distorted religion per se since it has always attempted to draw all things towards itself, with often mixed results.

No story in the Church better expresses this than the very real battle between the late archbishop of Cuzco, Luis Vallejos, and the bizarre “folk saint”, el Niño Compadrito. In the late 1970’s, the cleric and advocate of liberation theology waged a real war against this “idol”, seeking to confiscate and burn it while his loyal followers hid him in their houses. While the war is still being waged on a smaller scale in the highlands of Peru, that particular battle was won by the folk saint in a very ominous and tragic way.
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The World Wide Conspiracy that is ARTURO VASQUEZ!!!!!!!

6 01 2010

Who is Arturo Vasquez? Why does he act like such a royal a@#hole on the Internet? Some say he is some bald headed Mexican guy who has taken a liking to Cajun boudin and Saints’ football. Those in the know have figured out that Arturo Vasquez is not who he says he is. He is an imposter, a charlatan, and a con-artist. Some say he is more than one person, some evil creation of a bunch of anti-religious computer science majors who have very little to do and even less taste. But three main theories have surfaced to compete for supremacy in explaining just who this phenomenon is:

1. Arturo is the Fifth Column of Protestantism in the Catholic Church: Just like the provocateurs of the 1930 picket lines, he is throwing rosaries and holy water all over the place to make Catholicism into the caricature that Protestants say it is. Because Protestantism is “Biblical” and “perfectly modern”, ya’ know. He is using the accoutrements of Catholicism against the only real thing that matters in the end: the Pope, his slippers, and everything he happens to write. How dare he be Catholic because he likes Catholic things! Doesn’t he know that Catholicism is more than just home altars, saint statues, and old grandmothers saying questionable prayers over you? “You’re airing our dirty laundry out in public! This isn’t the stuff you see on EWTN: the clean, technicolor, crypto-Protestant theology with certain words taken out and Catholic words put in. How dare you try to turn back the clock to Catholic things that we have long since thrown into the dustbin of history! How dare you apply ‘private interpretation’ to defend the things ‘you like’! You must be some secret Lutheran who reads Chemnitz under the blankets at night and whistles Ein’ Feste Burg in the shower!”

2. Arturo is the Fifth Column of Radical Traditionalism in the Church: This one is actually closer to the truth. But there he is, writing for Inside Catholic, interspersing rad trad phrases everywhere to unsuspecting readers loyal to the Magisterium. Actually, if you read some of his Neoplatonic posts backwards, you will find that they are all really just Archbishop Lefebvre’s sermon of 1976 (that long hot summer of conflict with Paul VI) written in code. Even if he posts a bunch of videos of Koranic recitation, passages from the Bhagavad Gita, the Orphic Hymns, passages of letters from Vladimir Lenin, make no mistake about it: Arturo Vasquez is a closed-minded, intellectual troglodyte who is a hack for bitter old ladies in mantillas who would cut the Pope a new one if given the opportunity. Even when he criticizes the traditionalist movement, calling it out on its contradictions and theological provincialism, we are not fooled. Besides, all that he writes is so confusing that it is easier to label him a ‘rad trad’ than to actually engage what he is trying to say. After all, they don’t really teach reading comprehension in school these days, and if they do, they teach it very badly.

3. Arturo Vasquez is a witch: We are surprised that people don’t make this accusation more often, because this is the one that would stick the best. “Behind all of his piety, and pretensions of traditionalism, Arturo uses his large basement for spells and other dark works. That is why he posts all of those questionable prayers, pictures of folk saints, and essays on Renaissance magic on his blog: to promote his business as a Tarot card reader and curandero.” “Yeah, I’ve seen him. Arturo was hustling on a street corner and offered to read my palm and put a curse on my ex-boyfriend for dumping me for my best friend.” “Arturo said he would cure my kid of the evil eye but instead made his skin turn purple. And the poor child can’t stop singing Prince songs.” “Arturo turned half of the members of the Ladies Altar Guild Wiccan.” And so forth. If there was still an Inquisition, he would be the first burned at the stake if his critics were Dominicans with a huge axe to grind.

Then again, there is no way of knowing. A runner-up theory says that he isn’t a Mexican-American man at all, but some megachurch pastor named Todd Smith who wants create a “Catholic site” that would make Jack Chick salivate. The experts, however, are still indecisive.





…that you see yourself in seeing me

6 01 2010

Estados de ánimo

A veces me siento
como un águila en el aire.

-Pablo Milanés

Unas veces me siento
como pobre colina
y otras como montaña
de cumbres repetidas.

Unas veces me siento
como un acantilado
y en otras como un cielo
azul pero lejano.

A veces uno es
manantial entre rocas
y otras veces un árbol
con las últimas hojas.
Pero hoy me siento apenas
como laguna insomne
con un embarcadero
ya sin embarcaciones
una laguna verde
inmóvil y paciente
conforme con sus algas
sus musgos y sus peces,
sereno en mi confianza
confiando en que una tarde
te acerques y te mires,
te mires al mirarme.

-Mario Benedetti





Meditation on Violence

5 01 2010

A film by Maya Deren





Otra película corta sobre San La Muerte

4 01 2010

Otra película corta acerca de este “santo pagano” o santo popular argentino se puede ver en este sitio de Internet.





Book recommendations

4 01 2010

So people suspect me of bashing converts and American Catholics in general. Fair enough. Instead of being overly critical and not offering any solutions, I decided to make a list of books that I think every convert and convert at heart should read. So here are some books that I have found helpful:

I. Religious formation: Nothing extraordinary here. I recommend the Baltimore Catechism, the Catechism of St. Pius X, and the Catechism of the Council of Trent, in that order. People need to know their Faith without the fads, the chic theological theories, and rhetorical means by which we “sexy it up”. Just the facts, please.
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“Here we are now, entertain us!”

2 01 2010

Or: the First Evangelization was free. The New One is going to cost ya’

I was witness to a combox meltdown on another Catholic blog recently, opening up some wounds from my Scott Hahn post a few weeks back. I wrote:

Of course, what we all are here, Mr. Shea, myself, and the host blogger, are entertainers. Let us not pretend that we are otherwise. None of us has a commission from the Church to write, none of us has a “right” to make a living off of how we write. Inevitably, that is what Chesterton was as well, and unlike perhaps our host blogger, I regard Chesterton as no sacred cow. (Though I did use his writings for something I wrote for New Oxford Review.) We are the products of markets and ratings, we are only read insofar as we “sell” (except I make it a point to give my stuff away). My “niche market” includes Catholics, Protestants, Wiccans, Muslims, atheists, agnostics, kids who play with witchcraft, etc. If people want to imply that I suck, they are in their rights to do so, just as they are in their rights to say that the latest episode of the Simpsons sucked, or the last episode of Battlestar Galactica could have been better, etc. Let’s not pretend to have some sacred commission by which we are immune from criticism just because we touch on religious topics. We rise and fall by the rules of entertainment, and nothing else.

Indeed, I find Shea bemoaning the fact that people are “whispering” behind his back a bit baffling. Are people whispering behind James Cameron’s back if they give an unfavorable review of Avatar on their blog? (Haven’t seen it, probably never will.) Just because a blogger writes on religious topics, and maybe even has a few clerical endorsements (this blog has had a few), doesn’t mean that attacking him is the equivalent of attacking the Pope, or an ecumenical council, or a licensed (clerical) theologian. Yes, in the end, we are entertainers. We create markets for ourselves. And if people don’t like it, then don’t read. Simple as that. To be indignant about people dissing your product is sort of the equivalent of Kanye West blowing up at people if they don’t like his latest album.

The deeper issue is whether people should be making money off of any of this in the first place. I am well aware that lay people have made a living doing things for the Church, particularly in the arts. Lully more than likely got paid for composing his Te Deum, and Rafael for painting in churches. But can we really say that at any point in the history of the Church that there were mercenary theologians who wrote books to help “evangelize” the masses? Did St. John Chrysostom worry about royalty checks from people publishing his sermons, or did St. Bernard go on a speaking tour to promote his commentary on the Song of Songs? Yes, we live in a different time, a time when there are not enough clergy to run the Church. But imagine the shape Catholic theology would have taken if it were always subjugated to the law of the markets, of what sells the most books, of what best articulates the tastes and distastes of the zeitgeist. Would we all be comfortable with that? It is my understanding that many venerable Catholic writings have been canonized precisely because they told people what they DIDN’T want to hear. Only God knows if they would have been “best sellers”.

We do live in an age of ephemeral yapping, and if I thought that I needed to make money off of that fact, I would have to seriously reflect on if I were living righteously. Mr. Shea and other such Catholic writers (even I?) are marketing themselves as brands. If I like their stories, their skills as a raconteur, and their tastes, I identify with them, and I defend them to the death like I defend the local sports team. Personally, if there is a fan club for this blog, I would much rather have it be my own team of “melancholy cheerleaders”. (Please don’t defend me to the death. I can take care of myself, thank you very much.) But to pretend that we are some sort of parallel magisterium while being governed by the rules of the market is about as childish as a lively session of locker room gossip.

Oh yeah, go Saints!





Some Handel (not the Messiah)

1 01 2010