Noche Buena

25 12 2019

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My last memory of my grandmother took place on Christmas Eve. It wasn’t the last time I saw her by any means, but it is what I remember most about her now. It wasn’t all the times she dragged me to the charismatic prayer meetings, or told us to go play outside because we were making too much noise. It wasn’t her rubbing a tomato on her feet for some weird reason, or her watching telenovelas (though watching them with her was fun). I don’t think about how she would make me my own little hard cakes of sweet dough because I didn’t like the pumpkin filling of her empanadas though I liked the dough. It wasn’t even the last Thanksgiving I spent with her when she told us about how when she was growing up she didn’t have shoes, just huaraches made of wood that would leave her feet bloody from splinters at the end of the day. The last memory I have of her is from the last Christmas I spent with her. She began the rosary on the night of Christmas Eve, we muddled through some villancicos, and at the end of it, she picked up her little Niño Dios, maybe no more than four inches long, and began rocking Him like a real baby. She had dressed Him in new clothes, and placed Him in the crib decorated with lights. Of all the memories I have of my grandmother, that’s the one that sticks. That’s the one that stays with me. Read the rest of this entry »





Dying

10 12 2019

One of the most convincing challenges to Western monotheist theodicy that I can think of is one I will term the “finitude of the good.” That is, how can people we love end up doing evil things, or on the “wrong side” of morality? This question poses itself starkly when a loved one dies “outside the faith”, or if they were not a particularly pleasant person, but may have been dear to us. This person did some good, they were not an absolute waste of humanity (people seldom are). The cliché of the serial killer’s mother protesting that he was a “good boy” once rings hollow to both his victims and decent people alike. Where did that good innocent smiling boy in the photograph go? What of any of the good acts he did? Do they merely magnify the turpitude of his later actions, as Catholic theology claims when the mystery of the world is laid bare at the Last Judgment? Are they the result of karma which keeps the spirit-soul in the cycle of birth and death as the Vedas and Puranas of India indicate? Or are love and kindness just a temporary illusion of synapses flashing in the brain as the atheists proclaim? Just chemicals sloshing around in the skull… Read the rest of this entry »





The day I stopped being a Catholic traditionalist

6 12 2019

The title of this post is misleading. I didn’t stop being a Catholic traditionalist suddenly on a single day. That would not have been feasible anyway as I was living in a seminary on another continent with no way of promptly leaving. I don’t think I even knew at this point whether I would continue at the seminary or not. On the other hand, just as a crack in a foundation can indicate the certain demise of a building, there was one incident that signaled to me that my days of adherence to fundamentalist Catholicism were numbered. Read the rest of this entry »





Windows

24 11 2019

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I have been an inconstant seeker of the transcendent. Part of this is due to vague childhood memories of beauty. There were my grandmother’s peacocks. There was the idyllic countryside where I grew up. And there was the church. The Catholic rites were updated over a decade before my birth, but old practices and vessels take a while to get rid of. The devotions of the elderly women never left. My grandmother continued to veil her weary and withered head with a mantilla. There was that old priest or two who chanted a chunk of the Mass in Latin. But most of all, there was the building itself. I grew up in old churches, and no matter how much they wanted to alter everything right away, renovations are costly and can’t be done overnight. In my childhood parish, it took a massive earthquake for them to finally get around to gutting the sanctuary. The actual damage, however, had already been done. The shadows of the past were already cast in my mind. Read the rest of this entry »





On mercy and conversion

7 11 2019

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One theme that has been persistent in my years of writing is how much I hate the modern idea of conversion. Especially in the digital age, everyone thinks their conversion to or from one thing to the other is some Earth-shaking event pregnant with metaphysical meaning. It’s as if their change of heart redefines the cosmos. I for one think that very few people’s conversions are as meaningful or edifying as what was documented in St. Augustine’s Confessions, or even of the caliber what was documented in John Henry Newman’s (not calling him “Saint” sorry) Apologia Pro Vita Sua. Most people who loudly proclaim their conversion have a long way to go in my opinion, and it shows. I don’t have anyone particular in mind; it’s more a general observation. Read the rest of this entry »





Holy violence

17 10 2019

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As a supplement to my review of his book, I also present a reflection on a response that Hart himself made to another critical review of That All Shall Be Saved. In reviewing Hart’s book, Peter Leithart referred to all of the atrocities that God asked His chosen people to perform in His name, namely, annihilating entire cities and towns, including the children and animals. Leithart asks how one could reconcile this Biblical history to the idea of a good God. Hart states bluntly in Good God? A Response:

You ask if I think the YHVH of the Old Testament was “good.”  First of all, there is no single YHVH in the Hebrew corpus.  The various texts that the Second Temple redactors collated into the Torah and Tanakh emanate from various epochs in the development of Canaanite and Israelitic religion, and reflect the spiritual sensibilities of very different moments in the evolution of what would in time become Judaism.  Most of the Hebrew Bible is a polytheistic gallimaufry, and YHVH is a figure in a shifting pantheon of elohim or deities.  In the later prophets, he is for the most part a very good god, yes, and even appears to have become something like God in the fullest sense.  But in most of the Old Testament he is of course presented as quite evil: a blood-drenched, cruel, war-making, genocidal, irascible, murderous, jealous storm-god.  Neither he nor his rival or king or father or equal or alter ego (depending on which era of Cannanite and Israelitic religion we are talking about) El (or El Elyon or Elohim) is a good god.  Each is a psychologically limited mythic figure from a rich but violent ancient Near Eastern culture—or, more accurately, two cultures that progressively amalgamated over many centuries. Read the rest of this entry »





The anti-transfiguration

5 10 2019

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In one of the most dramatic episodes of the Bhagavad Gita, Krsna’s friend Arjuna asks to see Krsna’s universal form, the visva-rupa. The universal form is how Krsna, who is Bhagavan or the Supreme Personality of Godhead, interacts with the world. The original form of Krsna, the source of all of His expansions and avatars, is just as Arjuna sees Him on the Battlefield of Kurukshetra: blueish-black, two handed, and appearing no older than a sixteen year old boy (even though by then Krsna had been on the Earth well over 100 years). Having been instructed by Krsna, and knowing Him to be the Supreme Personality of Godhead, he asks to see the visva-rupa to know better who his friend is. Srila Prabhupada translates the manifestation of the universal form as follows:

Arjuna saw in that universal form unlimited mouths, unlimited eyes, unlimited wonderful visions. The form was decorated with many celestial ornaments and bore many divine upraised weapons. He wore celestial garlands and garments, and many divine scents were smeared over His body. All was wondrous, brilliant, unlimited, all-expanding.

If hundreds of thousands of suns were to rise at once into the sky, their radiance might resemble the effulgence of the Supreme Person in that universal form.

At that time Arjuna could see in the universal form of the Lord the unlimited expansions of the universe situated in one place although divided into many, many thousands. Read the rest of this entry »





Do universalists want to make the Church into ISKCON?

28 09 2019

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I hate to keep writing things about a book I haven’t read, but as I listen to a lot of podcasts online, recently I listened to Pentecostal theologians discussing David Bentley Hart’s latest book on universal salvation. They were very positive about the book and Hart in general, and one of the theologians stated that the idea of people being tortured in Hell for all eternity was a heresy, full stop. In their view, the rejection of Hell is based on the idea of a loving God. The very meaning of who God is excludes the idea of souls being tortured for all eternity. Universalists are now coining the pejorative term “infernalists” to define those who hold the Christian orthodox position on Hell. Read the rest of this entry »





On universalism again

13 09 2019

The summer has been busy so keeping up with blog posts has been difficult. In June, the Church Life Journal published Taylor Ross’s reflection on Origen’s doctrine of salvation in The Severity of Universal Salvation. Here the premise is that the doctrine of universal salvation is far from a “walk in the park,” that the process of purification by which a soul is ready to go back to God is difficult and, more often than not, very long. Ross writes:

It should not require a theological treatise, much less the anxious methods of psychoanalysis, to recognize that the human will is capable of a seemingly endless charade of avoidance. Origen infamously entertained a seemingly endless proliferation of ages because he knew, presumably firsthand, that very often the soul would rather journey on with its false attachments than be transfigured. So, if he countenanced the idea of a God patient enough to make time for fallen creatures to willingly repent, it is because Origen knew, presumably firsthand, that there is no shortcut to reformed desire. Read the rest of this entry »





Escaping the material world

28 08 2019

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Materialism is mistaking your own limited ideas of reality gathered from the senses for reality itself. In reading the Srimad Bhagavatam, Srila Prabhupada comments the following concerning contemplating the Universal Form of the Lord (virat rupa):

Some of them think that to hear about the pastimes of the Lord means to hear about His activities with the gopīs or about His pastimes like lifting the Govardhana Hill, and they have nothing to do with the Lord’s plenary expansions as the puruṣāvatāras and Their pastimes of the creation, maintenance or annihilation of the material worlds. But a pure devotee knows that there is no difference between the pastimes of the Lord, either in rāsa-līlā or in creation, maintenance or destruction of the material world. Rather, the descriptions of such activities of the Lord as the puruṣāvatāras are specifically meant for persons who are in the clutches of the external energy. Topics like the rāsa-līlā are meant for the liberated souls and not for the conditioned souls. The conditioned souls, therefore, must hear with appreciation and devotion the Lord’s pastimes in relationship with the external energy, and such acts are as good as the hearing of rāsa-līlā in the liberated stage. A conditioned soul should not imitate the activities of liberated souls. Lord Śrī Caitanya never indulged in hearing the rāsa-līlā with ordinary men.

In the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, the science of God, the first nine cantos prepare the ground for hearing the Tenth Canto. This will be further explained in the last chapter of this canto. In the Third Canto it will be more explicit. A pure devotee of the Lord, therefore, must begin reading or hearing Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam from the very beginning, and not from the Tenth Canto. We have several times been requested by some so-called devotees to take up the Tenth Canto immediately, but we have refrained from such an action because we wish to present Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam as the science of Godhead and not as a sensuous understanding for the conditioned souls. This is forbidden by such authorities as Śrī Brahmājī. By reading and hearing Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam as a scientific presentation, the conditioned souls will gradually be promoted to the higher status of transcendental knowledge after being freed from the illusory energy based on sense enjoyment. Read the rest of this entry »