Sunday, May 13, 2018

Merciful Love

Today is the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima, the 101st anniversary of the Blessed Virgin Mary's first apparition at the Cova da Iria in Fatima, Portugal.

Today is also the day of my Offering to Merciful Love, after the example of Saint Therese of Lisieux.



I want to wait another week, for Pentecost (the birthday of the Church and the last day of the Easter season), before I really sum up how much has changed for me over these months, but I can at least continue beyond my last blog entry for the moment.



In keeping with the spirit of my previous blog entry, I will start with my main point: letting God be God.



What I mean is this: it is in God's nature to be present everywhere, and to share His love everywhere. He gave us free will, but He wants us to freely choose to let Him do this, to cooperate: to let Him give us His love, and work His love through us, with us, and in us.

While we have free will and can choose not to do so, if we do this we are not letting God be God.  We are not letting Him act to His full capacity.  And aside from this being to our own detriment (since we only exist as relationships to God), it breaks His Heart that we don't want to accept what He wants to give us.  And the worst part of it is that He knows we're not perfect and doesn't expect us to be perfect on our own--but He wants to raise us up and make us the best we can be.  But He will only do that if we show Him that we want Him to.



Many times I have noted that the Gospel Reading at the Byzantine Catholic church at which I'm registered is in perfect keeping with what I needed to know, or what I was thinking about, without knowing in advance what it would be.  But at the Vigil yesterday, something happened to a greater degree than I can remember having happened before.

While I was still at home, before going to the Liturgy, I thought about how I need to distinguish between the reality of things, and my idea of them--because traditionally I haven't been good at that.  I have so clung to my idea of things that, even when I have gotten clear signs that I was wrong, I stubbornly stuck with my idea even though my heart wasn't in it anymore.  (Specifically I was thinking about my college degrees, and how I concluded that the major wasn't for me even before I finished and got the degrees--but I got them anyway.)

Then, after making confession, while I was doing my penance, I came to the above realization, and that's how I put it: we need to let God be God.

And then during the Liturgy, the Gospel Reading was about how Jesus is the true vine, and we are the branches.  And I realized that this is simply another way of saying the conclusion I had come to: a more concrete version of my abstract realization!  And then I realized that what I'd been thinking about at home fell into this same category: if I cling to my false ideas, I am denying the reality of things as God made them--in particular, my own destiny.  If I do that, I become the dead branch that gets broken off and thrown into the fire.  But if I accept the signs of my true destiny and act on them, I become the branch that (with some pruning) bears much fruit.

On top of all this, I thought about how fitting it was that I should come to this the day before my Offering to Merciful Love--and how this relates to the "Little Way" of Saint Therese.  Like water, God's merciful love goes as low as it possibly can--so the littler we are, the more we will receive.  But the bigger we are, the less we will receive--just as a container full of concrete can't fit much water into it.

All these things linking together meant that it was very exciting waiting for midnight, when I chose to make the Offering to Merciful Love.  And now I have made it, and all I have to do is be faithful to it, to the best of my ability--and know that if I fall, God will always be there to pick me up again as long as I keep trying.

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I've also now read, for the first time, J. R. R. Tolkien's unfinished and posthumously published novel "The Notion Club Papers" (found in Sauron Defeated, Volume IX of The History of Middle-earth, edited by his son Christopher Tolkien and published first in 1992).

Talk about inspirational!  I'll save it for a later blog entry in terms of the specifics, but the main conclusion that I came to is this: we human beings universally have two desires which only God can reconcile.  Those desires are as follows:

1) We want to experience things that go beyond anything that is possible in this life, but

2) We want to genuinely experience them, not just have our senses fooled into imagining we do.



By way of an example: the most immersive experience of another world that we can experience with our senses, according to a website I've found, is the dark ride--found usually at themed amusement parks.  But however much a dark ride gives the impression to our senses of taking us out of the real world and into a world that we cannot get in the real world, ultimately it is all a trick.  It isn't real.

I think my first inkling of such a thing was when I went to Disneyland and was disappointed that Mickey Mouse and company didn't talk--I fully expected them to, that's how young I was.

But however clever the trick--usually easiest to find with visceral experiences like "jump scares"--that's all it is, a trick.  It's not real.



Only in the imagination can we find the kind of experience we're looking for.  However far technology goes, it will never compete with our imaginations for taking us out of the world we know.

The problem here is that we're not experiencing it with our senses at all: our minds are participating, but our bodies and sense organs are not.  Someone may be such a good storyteller that we can "see", "hear", "smell", "taste", and "feel" what is described--but we can "see" just as easily with our eyes closed as with them open, and all we're hearing is the storyteller's words.  We can't go there.



The point is that, in our temporal existence, it's a trade-off.  The further we go, the less we can experience it with our senses; the more we experience it with our senses, the more it is only a trick, and limited by technology.

At best we can have both, but usually not at the same time.



The closest that we usually get to this is in dreams.  Tolkien's characters make mention of this phenomenon in "The Notion Club Papers", and it squares with my experience.

The way I would describe it is this: it's like I'm watching a movie, except that I'm in it: as myself, not playing a role, even if the "dream reality" doesn't completely square with the waking reality.  This means that 1) there is no screen at all, everything is literally in three dimensions and I can move my position wherever, rather than being held in thrall by what the camera picked up; and 2) I can interact with the other characters, so that it isn't a passive experience.

And yet there is a quality that is more like I'm watching a movie than like I'm experiencing real life.  Things happen that I have never experienced and can't expect ever to experience in my waking life, for example.  In addition, things seem to be distinctly purposed in a way that, while this is so in real life, we often find it harder to see--so that it's almost as if it was scripted, at least to some degree.  Plus I'm interacting with characters, not with actors portraying characters, who have an existence outside of the characters and the dream-drama.

I definitely enjoy this experience, but I cannot duplicate it in my waking life.



Only God can truly reconcile these desires.  The reason we have this desire to go beyond the confines of our bodies is because (whether we know it or not, whether we will it or not) we long for God.  We thirst to experience Him directly--for the beatific vision.

When we're little children, this longing is first practiced in our imaginations and playing pretend--just as pretending to be a doctor, say, can be practice for someone becoming a real doctor.  All pretend or imagination is childish practice for the real thing when we're older--it's just that we can see playacting what a child might be when he grows up, but we might not see what kind of practice it would be to pretend to be, say, a flying dog from the moon.

And indeed, the specific make believe isn't the point so much as the practice of imagining existence besides this one, and longing for something more--in the abstract.  But children watching Mister Rogers' Neighborhood aren't thinking in those terms.  They think in more concrete terms based on what interests them.



But while this satisfaction can only be found in heaven, we have to die first.  That is, our souls experience it first without our bodies.  So far, only Jesus and Mary are in heaven alive, body and soul.  All other human beings in heaven have died, and only their souls are in heaven--not their bodies.  Only in the End Times will that change, when Jesus resurrects the dead on Judgment Day.  And then the bodies of the saints will join their souls in heaven.

The point that I'm trying to make is that, while we desire to go beyond the confines of our bodies--we also want our bodies to come along!  We would rather really fly than either imagine we're flying, or have our senses deceived into thinking we're flying.  (And I have flown in dreams: in particular, I've jumped and then tensed up my feet, which prevented them from reaching the ground--and it was a short step from this to flying.)  But in this life we cannot fly without technology (falling doesn't count because we're not controlling our movement down).

And only God can satisfy both desires.  Stories on the one hand, and immersions like dark rides or drama on the other, can simulate two aspects of what we're looking for, but only at the cost of the other.  Only when history ends and eternity begins can we get what we truly want--and only if we go to heaven.

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Knowing this, and keeping in mind my above conclusions about the Little Way and letting God be God, frees me up somewhat.

First and foremost, nothing has to be "perfect" (as that isn't possible anyway), just good enough.  And there is no one experience that will grant everything I want anyway, so more than one kind are perfectly fine, even for the same basic story.

In particular, the two extremes would be dark rides that give visceral experiences, and that have some interactivity (for total immersion), and oral storytelling (for not worrying about the confines of safety and budget, and for no fooling of the senses)--the latter regarding the specific words (and body language) as secondary to the story, and interchangeable, so that the same story need never be told the same way twice (and the storyteller interacts with the audience).

This helps me in particular with my current project, Young Blood.  The main thing is that I get the entire story fleshed out and share it in some form--and I need not limit it to just one form.  And that's just fine because I have a lot of passions and skills, and it's so hard to choose: that's why I still don't have steady work and steady income to this day (but I hope to change that soon).



In particular, I've always enjoyed drawing, and I have thought about designing dark rides when I was little (although I didn't know what they were called and didn't think of it in that capacity)--but I am also good with my voice, and I enjoy telling other people things with my voice.  And I am a cantor now (not quite a year yet!).  I also like voice acting, which isn't appropriate in oral storytelling but is immersive.

And in thinking about dark rides, I've looked into their history.  The most fundamental aspects that you find in a dark ride can be done with murals on the walls of a building or a tunnel, that progressively tell a story.  I have considered painting my walls to have some kind of images, and I have admired that at my eye doctor's office.

Also, the rail transport (and a tunnel) help give the impression of leaving the real world behind (and returning to it), similar to the familiar words in storytelling ("Once upon a time" and "And they all lived happily ever after").  Even on Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, where Mister Rogers wanted to indicate this so that even preschoolers could understand it, he had a trolley travel along tracks through a tunnel (with the camera irising out or in, as the case was).  And that got me to thinking about rail transport in general.  My great-grandfather, for example, was a train engineer.

Traditionally I've found trains scary, but maybe I don't need to.  It's good to face my fears.  I don't know about driving an ordinary train to transport passengers or freight, but I could at least get some experience riding such transport, and learn something about how engineers do what they do.

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I'd already considered oral storytelling, noting that the main places where we get that in our modern Western culture are children's storytelling (like story time in the library) and standup comedy--unless it's singing a story.

And this dichotomy of putting oral storytelling (among other things) into categories indicating that our culture doesn't take them seriously (but also doesn't get rid of them), makes me feel that they are part of what it means to be human, so that it's a shame that our modern Western culture, unique among all cultures worldwide through history, does this.



In keeping with this notion, I want to close by elaborating on one thing I touched upon in my last blog, that having to do with the premise of Michael Ward's book Planet Narnia.

After reading his shorter The Narnia Code, I've read C. S. Lewis's posthumous non-fiction book The Discarded Image, and realized just how truly different the medieval view of things was from how it is now (and from how we moderns falsely imagine the medieval view of things was).  And I concluded something about the real loss to our "post-Christian" culture and what it truly means.



Before the last 500 years (and then mostly in the West--and any place the modern West has left its footprints), all cultures regarded existence as (to one degree or another) personal, and involving relationships.  That's why the sun, moon, stars, and planets were thought of as gods; that's why the predominant form of society has been monarchical, with the family as its nucleus but extending to the entire nation.

This reached its culmination in Christendom: Western Europe in the Middle Ages.  I say this because Catholic Christianity teaches that God is everywhere, that God is personal, and that God is three Persons in relationship.  He provides the true explanation for what pre-Christian pagans only grasped at dimly.

But starting in the early 1500's, the West has become steadily less and less personal--not only less personal than Christendom, but less personal even than pre-Christian pagan cultures.  In particular, I now think that the most revolutionary thing about our modern view of the stars and planets is NOT the mere mechanics (Earth rotating and revolving around the sun, rather than Earth being stationary and the sun, stars, and planets revolving around Earth)--but the very fact that we think in such mechanical terms.

That is, I think the most revolutionary thing was the depersonalizing of the cosmos.  Read The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri, especially Paradiso, and you'll see something of the personal qualities that he took for granted--and he was a Catholic Christian who put idolaters in hell in Inferno.



Out of a good but misguided attempt to avoid idolatry, the Protestant reformers depersonalized the cosmos, and in doing so diminished God into someone who can be threatened by his own creation, something impossible for the real God (but mere wish fulfillment on the part of the Devil).  Hence, the new version of the cosmos wasn't only heliocentric rather than geocentric, it was mechanical, like a machine, with no life or influence outside of perhaps gravity.

And that's without getting into the Protestants doing away with the papacy and even the separate ordained priesthood and Church hierarchy.  It isn't hard to see how this depersonalizing continued into deism, agnosticism, atheism (at least secularism), and thence to overthrowing monarchies in favor of republics (as well as the dehumanizing of indigenous peoples by European colonists and their descendants, and the dehumanizing of women by modern European men)--and ultimately dissolving the family itself and denying the personhood of unborn babies, the most helpless and innocent of all human persons.  (This last is especially an issue on Mother's Day!)

(And let's not forget the rejection of the existence of angels and demons and ghosts--and therefore of hauntings, possession, witchcraft, etc.)



The point is that this is how I see the last 500 years of history in the West now.  But more to the point, this is how I now see the fullest understanding of a Christ-centered worldview: it isn't just about Catholic monarchies and patriarchal nuclear families, but about recognizing that existence is by its very nature personal and relationship--and this extends even to the stars and planets.



Before I leave off this subject I need to make certain things clear:



First, I am not referring to the existence of extraterrestrial corporeal creatures, similar to us in ways but not native to earth.  I don't think the mechanics of the universe as we know it supports this notion.  (A mere small centrifuge can defy the gravity of the entire Earth.  Think through clearly what that means.)

Nevertheless, before I stopped believing in aliens, I clung to that belief because I didn't see why God had made the universe if it was that empty.  Now I see things differently: for one thing, the sun, moon, and stars are made for signs and seasons--they were our first timekeepers, and there were many signs in the stars mentioned in the Bible.  But more to the point, medievals believed that each planet itself was associated with a singular spiritual, rational intelligence causing it to move and causing influence upon us on earth.

In short, I think I was right to believe that God wouldn't make the universe so empty--but I was thinking about it in the wrong way.



Second, a caveat about astrology.  It is grievously sinful to worship the stars and planets as if they were divine by their own nature, when God created them out of nothing; it is grievously sinful to believe in such a deterministic view, denying human free will and moral responsibility, that one can believe in horoscopes and specific predictions about the future and our "fate"; it is also grievously sinful to lead others astray in this regard in any case, but also to make money off it.

Nevertheless, these are not the only aspects to astrology.  Indeed, until the 1500's, the Church regarded astrology and astronomy as simply two focuses of the same kind of knowledge.  Compare it, if you will, thus: astronomy is like the study of human biology (including medicine); astrology is like the study of human behavior--the will, desires, and actions (and interactions and relationships).  The point is that the above aspects of astrology are what the Church has always condemned--but tellingly, the Church has never condemned astrology in and of itself.

Saint Thomas Aquinas noted that the stars and planets do exercise influence over us--and why shouldn't they?  Earthly persons and even non-persons do this, so why not celestial bodies?  The sun, moon, stars, and planets can even be partly responsible for certain dispositions we have--not unlike genes, which we've only known about since the late 1800's--but our free will means we are not bound to these dispositions; we are not fated to act upon them in everything we do.



What's more, an astrology rooted in Christ can be something extremely useful for us today, I think.  Another aspect of the "discarded image" is the belief that only up to the moon's orbit was creation tainted by original sin; everything beyond the moon's orbit was regarded as perfect, identical to the way it was before original sin.

Given that, the celestial bodies point to God perfectly in a way that we fallen human beings cannot--and yet, unlike the angels and the souls of human saints, we can see the celestial bodies.  At the very least, the ancients knew the sun and the moon existed, as well as the planets Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn--and the "fixed stars".  They didn't need telescopes to see them.  And this is precisely why the pagan gods associated with the sun, moon, stars, and planets died hardest.  Even if you don't believe in the Holy Trinity, and even if you don't believe that Jesus of Nazareth existed as a historical person (irrespective of whether He was and is the Son of God), it is an accepted fact that the sun, moon, stars, and planets exist because we can detect them with our senses.

I would argue that this is also why this notion of the planets being associated with intelligences has visited us in a different form today: that of extraterrestrial corporeal persons ("aliens").  And this is why I think a return to Christian astrology can counter not only dangerous non-Christian astrology (backed by demons), and not only lifeless astronomy, but also any UFO cult about "ancient aliens" that could threaten people's souls.



In sum, I know think of a Christ-centered astrology as the missing piece of the puzzle that I began years ago, in attempting a Christ-centered philosophical worldview.

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I didn't mean to go on and on about astrology, so I'll leave it there.  I might try to get into a more detailed and organized indication (and a more concise summary) of how I've changed in this year 2018 (the Year of Grace, and the year that all the planets are on the same side of the sun), next week or so.



In the meantime, thank you for sharing part of your day with me.

May God show you His divine mercy, through and with and in Mary.  Amen.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Morning Glory

Christ is risen from the dead!



Today, the Feast of the Annunciation (moved from March 25 which was Palm Sunday this year), is the day of my total consecration to the Blessed Virgin Mary.  And today, I finished watching the DVD series Divine Mercy in the Second Greatest Story Ever Told, hosted by Father Michael E. Gaitley, reminding myself of what I had read three months ago in the book it was based on.



And now I have made up my mind to continue with this Pair O' Dimes blog after all.  I'm going to be more prudent (I hope) with what I put on it, but I will NOT end it.  I have a lot to say but I want to be concise, so I'll focus on my main point:



When it comes to God, I have been working backwards for almost eight years now.  (I wish I remembered the exact date so I could say exactly when the eighth anniversary will be.)



Let me explain:

In 2010, Mortimer J. Adler's arguments persuaded me that God exists, where I wasn't sure before that.  Later that same year, Peter Kreeft's arguments persuaded me that Jesus of Nazareth not only existed historically, but that He rose from the dead--and therefore that He is the Son of God, making Christianity the one true faith.  Later still, that same year, I used a process of elimination to reject all Christian faiths except for the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church.  I had only gotten that far when I returned to regular Mass on the First Sunday of Advent: November 28, 2010.

But for awhile, I didn't know enough about either the Catholic faith or the Eastern Orthodox faith to choose decisively between the two.  In the Spring of 2011 I took Confirmation classes and was confirmed in the Catholic Church on May 10, 2011.  But it was Father Brian Harrison's scrutiny of Eastern Orthodoxy that persuaded me to reject it in favor of Catholicism.  Even at this point, however, though I tried my best not to give in to them, I still had nagging doubts prodding me--specifically with regard to the claims of those who distrust the Second Vatican Council (the most recent one).

At some point (I wish I remembered when, but I think it was early on), I concluded that I could use Father Brian Harrison's arguments against sedevacantism as well.  And as I felt more and more strongly that I understood the Catholic faith, I thought I had reached the Truth more than ever before. But I still wasn't finished.

It wasn't until the last few months when Shane Schaetzel (in late 2017) and Father Michael E. Gaitley (in early 2018) finally persuaded me that even "radical Traditionalism" is false.  To clarify: it's okay to be a Traditionalist Catholic, but it is not okay to have contempt for Vatican II or those who follow the true Vatican II rather than the heretical perversion of it that has been running rampant for so long.

It's taken me almost eight years to learn all this (again, I wish I remembered the exact date when I learned of Mortimer J. Adler's cosmological argument for God's existence, so that I could mark the exact eight-year anniversary).



But I've been working backwards all these years.  I've sort of known that for awhile now (and I have Peter Kreeft to thank for it), but I think I now understand it more fully than ever before.  Jesus said "No one comes to the Father except through Me." (John 14:6)  In other words, it isn't through the Father that we come to the Son, but the other way around--yet I had come to the conclusion that Jesus is the Son of God only after I had come to the conclusion that God's existence could be known with certainty.  But the arguments regarding Jesus's identity necessarily imply the existence of God on their own--so that the cosmological argument for God's existence isn't needed simply in order to satisfy us that God exists.

In addition, I had heard the phrase "to Jesus through Mary", and especially this year when I've been reading Father Michael E. Gaitley's works about consecration to the Blessed Mother.  Again, it isn't through Jesus that we come to Mary, but the other way around--and yet, again, I had come to the conclusion that the Catholic Church (which venerates Mary) is the true faith only after I had concluded that Jesus her Son is the Son of God.

More to the point, though, is that I had been thinking too much and not experiencing enough.  I had been looking at it from a philosophical perspective, not a personal perspective.  I had been treating God, Jesus, even Mary, as philosophical concepts--the same that I would for fictional characters, even though in my head I knew they were real, and no one could convince me otherwise.  But I hadn't truly been engaging them in my relationship with them--or at least, not as much as I might have.

Part of this may not be my fault, not entirely (I do have Asperger's Syndrome)--and better late than never, but I'm still glad that I've finally come to understand better than ever before.



The way it's supposed to go is this:

We, the Church, united by the Holy Spirit and led by Mary, His Spouse, must lead the world to Jesus Christ, who in turn leads us to the Father.  We do this by receiving merciful love from the Father and the Son through Mary and the Church, and then sharing that merciful love with others.



Here's a summation of what I've taken away from Father Michael E. Gaitley's inspiring wisdom:

God is Love itself--but sin (original and personal) is rooted in a distrust of God.  Because of this, our sin (the original sin of Adam into which we are all conceived, plus our personal sins) distort the image of God that we hold in our hearts.  Rather than see Him as He is, completely trustworthy and completely loving, we see Him as untrustworthy and frightening.  To put it another way, we see not the handsome Prince of Peace, but a scary Beast judging us and inflicting wrath upon us when we displease Him.  (I'm beginning to wonder if this might have something to do with the pre-Christian pagan religions, where the gods were indeed like that.)  That's why we are often scrupulous, or else we despair that we will ever measure up--or we deny that God even exists, just to have some relief.

But because God is Love itself, He has spent all of history since the Fall of Man showing us how He really is, in contrast to the capricious heathen gods.  The culmination of this was the Incarnation and Nativity of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  Jesus Christ has the fullness of human nature, like us in all ways except sin--and this makes it easier for us to trust Him than it was for us to trust God before the Incarnation.  Historically, Jesus of Nazareth was never anyone frightening, treacherous, or judgmental.  On the contrary: He was little and humble, and He reached out to sinners, children, people being ignored by the powers that be--and He subjected Himself to the powers that crucified Him for a traitor.

The point is this: our distorted image of God, caused by sin, does NOT apply to creatures.  If it did, babies wouldn't trust their own parents, and so they couldn't survive--they wouldn't accept their parents' loving help that they need so desperately.  It also makes sense: while all sin necessarily offends God, only some sins (not all) offend any one creature--which is why only God can forgive all sins.  And so, Jesus Christ having the fullness of a created human nature helps us to trust Him better than anyone could have trusted God before He took flesh.  God didn't change, but our relationship to Him did.

But here's the rub: even though this is the case, Jesus Christ is still a Divine Person, not a creature--He has the fullness of Divine nature, and is the eternally begotten Son of God through whom all things were made.  Jesus of Nazareth the historical Man is identical to the Second Person of the Holy Trinity through whom the Father created the entire universe, visible and invisible.  And at His Second Coming, Jesus will be our just Judge, exercising justice to good and evil alike.  Added to this, in order to have the fullness of human nature at all, He needed a human creature as His Mother--and because God loves us (and because love isn't true love if it is coerced), she had to agree to be His Mother, uniting her will to His in that regard.

And that is where Mary comes in.  She is the Immaculate Conception, and so her will is always perfectly united to God's will--therefore our sins upset her as they upset God--BUT, because she is a mere creature, our sins only upset her by proxy, not all do so directly.  Mary cannot forgive us all our sins, and she cannot punish us for our sins--she is not our Judge.  She is a creature, exactly like us except for being Immaculate.

The long and short of it is this: Mary is a creature, and Jesus gives her to us to be our Mother--and sin doesn't distort our image of creatures (and babies and children naturally trust their parents, especially their mothers).  Plus she is not our judge.  This all makes it easier to trust her--easier for us sinners even than it is to trust Jesus Christ Himself, who will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.  But because Mary is the Immaculate Conception, her will is perfectly united to God's will, and therefore she is completely trustworthy--it isn't only easier to trust her, but she will always be worthy of our trust.

And so the Virgin Mary is God's primary instrument in healing us: she is no more trustworthy than God Himself, but because of our sin (our fault, nothing to do with God whose loving nature is unchanging), we can find it easier to trust her (a creature, and a Mother, who isn't our Judge) than to trust God.  And because she is the Immaculate Conception, she is also no less trustworthy than God Himself.  Mary, of her own free will, leads us to Jesus, who leads us to the Father.

Therefore, we creatures, sinners though we are, should be the same: not only trusting Mary to lead us to Jesus, who leads us to the Father, but uniting with her purpose in leading others in the same direction.  And we do this by accepting love through Mary that comes from Jesus and the Father, and sharing it with others--in effect, by ourselves being trustworthy and loving, and NOT scary, judgmental, and treacherous.  And we must be this way to everyone without exception or condition.



But it took actually doing a 33-day do-it-yourself retreat in preparation for consecration to Mary to make me understand more fully what I was missing.  Towards the end of this retreat, I realized something: Mary wants us to share our innermost life with her.  She wants to participate in our every joy and sorrow, as well as in our every work and prayer--no matter how small.  As long as what we're doing isn't sinful, she wants to be a part of it.  Mary is interested in who we are as people, not just in the biggest sense (our not being in danger of death or mortal sin), but in the smallest sense.  And that's what true love really is.  Not only is Mary like that, but so is Jesus Christ--and so is God our heavenly Father.  And knowing this is making it easier for me to share with Mary--and therefore with Jesus and God the Father--even little details.  I'm not used to it, and so I'm not perfect in it, but I don't have to be: I'll get better with practice and with heavenly aid, and even then I won't be perfect in this life, not until I die to sin completely and go to heaven.

But now that I know this, and know that I am completely consecrated to Mary, I feel more strongly than ever before that God loves me, and I feel more strongly than ever before that I want to return that love and share it with everyone.

Think of it this way: a lot of the time, people begin prayers with "God, I hate to bother you, but...." or "God, I know you're busy, but...."  Unless we are sinning, we NEVER bother the all-good God, and the all-powerful God is NEVER too busy to listen to a heartfelt plea.  God wants us to thank Him for, and share with Him, even the littlest things, because they are never too small for Him to notice or to appreciate.  Only if they are sinful does He not want them--but even there, God knows our weakness. "For a righteous man falls seven times" a day (Proverbs 24:16), and no sin will ever make Him stop loving us.  It's the sin He hates, not us--and He hates it because it's hurting us, because He loves us.



And it's partly because I've been working backwards since the year before I started this blog, that I've decided to revive it--and to dedicate it to the Blessed Virgin Mary, whose image you see to the right.

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But I've also been working backwards with regard to what I am meant to do, as I realize now more fully than ever before.

C. S. Lewis's "trilemma" helped me to conclude that Jesus is the Son of God, but now (through Bruce Charlton and Dr. Michael Ward) I'm coming to conclude that I have more in common with him than I thought.  I already knew that he left the Christian faith and then returned to it as an adult, and his theological writings made an impact on me (as did some of his fiction), but only now do I really feel closer to C. S. Lewis in a way that I haven't felt with any writer since J. M. Barrie, beginning in 2004.

Bruce Charlton's blog pointed out to me that C. S. Lewis's writing style is different from that of J. R. R. Tolkien--and while I share a birthday with Tolkien, I discovered more of myself in the description of C. S. Lewis.

For one thing, C. S. Lewis finds it difficult to make long works cohere into a singular unit--that is, he does better with episodic works than with a single novel-length plot.  I recognize myself in that: indeed, after reading part of Alice's Evidence: A New Look at Autism by Robert B. Waltz, I had a name to put to this common trait in people on the autism spectrum.  It's called "weak central coherence"--a stunted ability to see the forest for the trees, compared with neurotypicals.  I have definitely found it easier to go with a single burst of inspiration, writing shorter pieces (including shorter or episodic fiction), than to write long novels.

For another, C. S. Lewis's inspirations tend to be philosophical ideas or still images.  The same seems to be true for me--and that, combined with what I said above about how I'd been working backwards since 2010, is why I've chosen to keep this blog up, to begin it anew.  This blog, which I began in 2011, has always been a philosophical blog, and I have always had a mathematical-logical-spatial mind.  In addition, I have been drawing since I can remember, and new ideas that aren't philosophical ideas tend to come to me in visual form (that might be why I didn't notice my singing gift until I was 26).

Again, I've been working backwards: since shortly after the turn of the millennium, I concluded that what I wanted to do was to make up stories, irrespective of medium, and so I thought that the job title I wanted for myself was "writer".  Only now am I coming to accept the truth that I understood better before I became an adult.



But in recognizing and accepting this, I've decided to go further than C. S. Lewis did.  That is, if I'm going to "write" anything, I intend to stick with my strengths--so that the closest things to original stories that I might write will (at least in large measure) probably be one or the other (or a combination) of two things: 1) Socratic dialogues after the fashion of Plato (done in dialogue form but essentially philosophy texts); 2) stories told pictorially (in our modern Western culture, we can most often find this in children's picture books and in comic books).

In particular, I want to use these strengths in writing my epic fantasy Young Blood.  And it's here where my connection to C. S. Lewis really feels complete.

I haven't read his book yet, but I've become fascinated by Dr. Michael Ward's claim in Planet Narnia, which sounds outrageous on the surface but which seems to be backed up by solid evidence in C. S. Lewis's works themselves: namely, that what truly unites and makes sense of all seven Narnia books being what they are is actually expression of the qualities associated with the seven non-fixed celestial bodies known to the ancients, as they understood it before the Scientific Revolution: the sun, the moon, and the planets Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.

In learning what these qualities were and how Lewis utilized them in the Narnia books, I've come to realize that I have (quite unknowingly) done something similar with the overall Young Blood story--but in a different order.  My own order is more comparable to the Ptolemaic model's order of the planets from Earth outward, which seems to me to make more sense than any order (perhaps excepting that associated with the days of the week).

Given this, I now feel more than ever that I'm doing the right thing with my Young Blood story, and I intend to do it as a heptalogy (seven volumes telling one progressive story).  With regard to its roots in Christ and my faith, I intend to take greater inspiration from Lewis's Narnia books--but in terms of its progression and a young protagonist growing up (and the fact that I have it in mind to do seven even before I've finished and published any of them), it will probably more obviously resemble J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter books.



But again, I've been working backwards: I've been trying to find a goal first, before deciding on the best way to achieve that goal.  But that way takes longer and takes more effort.  I've come to realize that the more sensible thing to do is actually to start where I am, and then take the next step.  I may have to trust some, and risk going in a zigzag, but as they say, God does more with a mistake than with inaction.  And I've been inactive for far too long.

In other words, as long as where I'm going isn't sinful or dangerous, all I need to do is move away from where I am now.  God will let me know if I'm going the right way or not, as long as I trust Him and ask Him.

And now that I am consecrated to Mary, and recognize that Our Lord and Our Lady are interested in everything that I do or want (that isn't sinful), I think I will find it easier to do that than ever before--and this, combined with my conclusions about philosophy and art, makes me feel that I'm more ready to begin than ever before.  I may be in my mid-30's, but I'm still alive: better late than never.

********

In addition, partly thanks to the inspiration of Shane Schaetzel (although he's going about it a different way than I am), I have also done something that, for the last six years, I thought I would never do:

I am once again a registered Democrat.

Sadly, the Democratic Party's platform hasn't become pro-life or pro-marriage as of the Democratic National Convention of 2016 (and it won't change again until 2020), so that's not the reason.



The real reasons are as follows:

1) I kept thinking that, if an election were held in which the Democrat and the Republican held the same pro-life and pro-marriage views and planned to act on them if elected, I would vote for the Democrat--because the Republican would be towing the party line, but the Democrat would be showing courage and integrity by going against the party line to stand up for good, and in my view that really deserves a vote.

2) I had already come to the conclusion that, if the Son of God had become Man today, the people He would most rebuke would be self-proclaimed "conservatives" and "right-wingers": people one might more expect to vote or register Republican than Democratic.  I base this on the example of the Gospels themselves, plus my own experience: for all that the Democratic Party gets fundamental morality wrong, many people vote or register Democratic because of a perceived focus on people, on individuals; and for all that the Republican Party gets fundamental morality right, too many who vote or register Republican dehumanize this morality, which is hypocritical and even worse than outright rejection of it.  The so-called "right" can accuse me of condoning abortion and homosexuality all they want in deciding to register as a Democrat, but it doesn't make it true.

3) Related to the above, the Democratic Party is closer in other ways (notwithstanding abortion and homosexuality) to what I believe as a Catholic Christian.  In particular, while I don't like the idea of big government in principle, the fact of big business and big banking and big money means that big government is kind of necessary.  Without it, big money can hold the government hostage, through a combination of bribery and threatening to cut off funds.  And while I am against illegal immigration on principle (it is illegal, let's not forget), we need to address the reasons why it happens, not just build a wall along the border with Mexico (I especially want to do something for pregnant women, Mexican immigrants, and drug addicts).  As I said even during the 2016 election, I think the Republican Party is being too idealistic and unrealistic on this issue--in particular with regard to President Donald Trump's desire to build a wall--and that it will have economic repercussions if it succeeds.  In this way, I think the Republican Party hasn't changed since it began: it was right to oppose slavery, as it is right to oppose illegal immigration, but it failed to take into account economic practicalities in its idealistic crusade against it.

4) I came to realize that "Democrats for Life of America" still exists, and according to their website, it is pro-life Democrats who have made the difference between the Democratic Party being the majority in Congress, or the minority.  In other words, from the 1970's even to this day, the Democratic Party has needed pro-lifers in order to control Congress!

5) Notwithstanding the party platform, I realized that I didn't have to undergo a "loyalty test" to prove my loyalty to abortion or homosexuality in order to be a registered Democrat--I just had to select that as my party registration, nothing more, and there is nothing innately sinful in doing that.  And this, combined with #4 above, meant that there was nothing innately sinful (nothing innately pro-abortion or pro-homosexuality) about being a Democrat.  Indeed, registering as a Democrat is the only way I can vote in Democratic primaries and so help any pro-life Democrats to be nominated.



So even though the party platform hasn't changed, I am once again a registered Democrat, and I don't feel that I have compromised my Catholic faith in doing so, even as I have not changed my understanding of it.

That said, however, I am against the concept of "party loyalty".  I owe loyalty first to God and Church; after that to my parents and family, and to my country.  But Democrat or Republican (or neither), we are all Americans.



Indeed, that's led me to something else I should mention:

Recently, my friend Eric read me an article (by a Christian) condemning the God's Not Dead movie series.  And I couldn't agree more: with friends like those, who needs enemies?

The Christian author of the article points out that the movies are not about the existence or nature or will of God, so much as they are about a persecution complex on the part of Christians in the West today.  That is, it doesn't suggest that the Christian fight is within, but only without.

But what I really took away from that article is this:

Our modern culture isn't exactly Christian-friendly, and it's no use pretending it is--BUT (and this is crucial) we are NOT being persecuted for our Christian faith.  At worst, Christian bakers and photographers are getting in trouble for not wanting to offer their services to same-sex "weddings"--but that's a FAR cry from being threatened with torture and death unless we renounce Jesus Christ, or unless we do something that He commands us not to do.  We have the first 280 years of Christian history to see what real persecution looks like, and I for one have never experienced any such thing.

Indeed, in my experience, when I say something like "God bless you" to a stranger, the response is usually positive.  I don't usually even hear them saying things like they don't believe in God, or "What's God done for me lately?" or anything like that--never mind attacking me physically because I'm a Christian.  Nor has any such thing happened during Mass in my experience.

And this is a GIFT from God!  The very fact that we don't have a Christian culture anymore is proof positive that this lack of persecution is God's merciful, loving gift to us--NOT coming from man!  And we are being ungrateful to the Lord (and so risking losing what we have, just because we are greedy for more) if we don't appreciate it and thank Him.  As someone said, with gratitude a spoonful is a feast, but without gratitude, a feast is a spoonful.

And so I've come to the conclusion that this is one clear way to be patriotic.  I am grateful that in the United States of America I still have freedom of religion, even though this is not a Catholic monarchy I'm living in but a secular republic.  And so I both can and should exercise that freedom of religion as long as I do have it.



And again, now that I'm consecrated to Mary and better understand what it means to love, I feel more ready to do just that--and that's another reason why I've decided to revive this blog.

********

One more thing, as regards vocations.



On February 20, at the beginning of Lent, I woke up that morning feeling what I can only describe as a stronger feeling than ever before in my life that my true vocation is Holy Matrimony: marriage.

After that experience, I thought it over and realized that it made sense, even though I haven't yet met a woman that I want to marry.

One thing that I've come to learn from reading Father Michael E. Gaitley's books is that, as Saint Maximilian Mary Kolbe pointed out, what matters most is our will.  If we will what God wills, we will become saints.  Our free will is the only thing that we control: God controls the rest.  We have no control over our outside circumstances, including the exact results of our efforts (and the future in general)--we don't even necessarily have any way of knowing the future with certainty.  Therefore, God cares more about us exercising our wills in union with His, than He does in what results.  He will take care of the results.

That being the case, then, I've come to conclude that a true vocation (which means "calling") is God telling us His will for us--whether we will it or not.  In other words, the truest clue to our vocation is what we feel the most strongly about, what we can't get out of our minds--whether we like this or whether we don't.

And while I've been fearful about it more than anything, the one vocation that I have indeed felt the most strongly toward is marriage, which requires being open to having children--and that requires sexuality, which is something that frightens me.



Until February 20, 2018 my thinking went like this:

I don't want to get married, or even get started on that route, unless that's my true calling.  Certainly I don't want to get married solely in order to have a legitimate excuse to face my fears (or a chaste way of having sex).

But then I remembered The Sound of Music, and how I felt about Maria in the second half, and I realized that I had been acting not entirely dissimilar to her.  I concluded that I had been using the religious life (being a friar) as an excuse to run away from my fears--which isn't what God calls me to do at all.  Whatever my true vocation is, God does NOT call me to give in to my fears and run away, but to face them with His help.

The difference is that she came to this conclusion after meeting the man she ended up marrying.  I haven't even met a woman I'm in love with and want to marry, which makes it more difficult.  But I must remember the lesson that the Reverend Mother told Maria: If I do fall in love with a woman, to the point to where I want to marry her, that doesn't mean that I love God any less.  Matrimony is holy too--indeed, it's a sacrament.

(I'm even coming to reflect on the old joke--even mentioned in the musical Camelot--that a brave man who faces the most powerful monsters and diabolical villains without a second thought is brought to his knees at the thought of facing a woman in a romantic sense.)



Indeed, maybe this is why I wrote Your Health!, to which Young Blood began life as a sequel: to show that this isn't scary at all.

In fact, this relates very much to what I said earlier about what I took from Father Michael E. Gaitley: I have a distorted view of sexuality.  In my mind I know it is holy: it is the complete sharing of bodies, and the only way that children are born.  But it's difficult for that to trickle down into my heart.  Instead of seeing the beautiful princess, I see the ugly frog, and she makes me uncomfortable.

This is why I used terminology from the fairy tale of "Beauty and the Beast" in talking about our distorted image of God--that's my own comparison, not Father Gaitley's, although I'm sure he would agree.

And again, now that I am consecrated to Mary, and understand better that she and God are interested in everything to do with me as an individual, I feel like I might be more ready to discern my vocation than ever--and like I might be better able to trust that I will get an answer and that it will be the correct one, however I might feel about it initially.  Again, better late than never: I'm still relatively young, and I look even younger.



(I still intend to look into the Secular Franciscan Order.  Married people can be Secular Franciscans--indeed, I found out about it through a married couple at my parish.  In addition, I'm coming to recognize that being saintly isn't about how much you do, but about obedience and doing what is right for you, and no less--or more.  It's about the will, not results--we don't "earn" our way into heaven.  So my previous conclusions about the Franciscan Order can still apply even if my vocation is to be a husband and father, rather than a Franciscan friar.)

********

In sum, Father Michael E. Gaitley was right: yesterday was the 33rd day, and today I am experiencing my morning glory.



But my story isn't over yet.  I must be faithful to my consecration in preparation for whatever God has in store for the world and for myself as an individual.  I must act on my vocation and on my love of philosophy and art.

But I'm also going to begin another 33-day do-it-yourself retreat in preparation for consecration: to Divine Mercy.  And once again, I'm going to go by a book by Father Michael E. Gaitley: 33 Days to Merciful Love.

Tomorrow (April 10, 2018) will be day one, and my consecration will take place on May 13, 2018: the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima (which, this year, will be Mother's Day, as well as the Sunday before Pentecost, which ends the Easter season).  Pray for me.



Thank you for sharing part of your day with me.

May God show you His divine mercy, through and with and in Mary.  Amen.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Not Quite the End

A LOT can happen in two months!  I'm hardly the same person I was, even when I posted my most recent post on this blog!



I'm still debating what to do, and I need to pray on it, so this blog entry will be brief.

Let me just say that it's now, in 2018, that I feel that I have a greater understanding and appreciation for the true Catholic faith and the true reality of things (as opposed to what I believe based on logical extrapolations, which have steered me wrong before) than I've ever had in my life.  As it's been in the past, it's been humbling--but also liberating!--to admit how wrong I was.



Part of me has wanted to go into detail here, to show that I can admit to my wrongness, and to show where and how I was wrong, and what I know now to the contrary.  But another part of me has wanted (if I continue to blog at all), to start a brand-new blog--and even if I do this, I don't know if I'm ready just yet.  And that's if I continue to blog at all, which I'm not sure if I want to.

(Also, while I may at some point decide to return to my Zoa mythos and/or my other original writings, I have no immediate plans to do so at this time.  They've been more of an obstacle to me than a help, at least in and of themselves.)



Let me just say this: even more now than in 2017, I am appreciating how far to the opposite extreme (the hypocritical "traditionalist" extreme) of the false dichotomy (the one I've discussed on this blog in the past) I had really gone, even after my decision to stop prognosticating, which was over a year ago now.

I have a better appreciation for the Second Vatican Council and for the Vatican II popes, especially Pope Saint John Paul II, and their place in salvation history--completely consistent with the Catholic faith as it has existed from the beginning.

And I am now rejecting entirely the apocalyptic future events I was fearing even after I decided to stop prognosticating.  Since March 25, 1984, the world has been consecrated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary--and since April 30, 2000, the world has been entrusted to God's Divine Mercy.

While we still have a way to go, obviously, and while those willful, stubborn enemies of Christ will go down fighting--and cause a lot of damage on the way--I am no longer so afraid of anything as apocalyptic as I've been claiming on this thread in the past.  I don't know for sure, but I don't need to know, only to trust to God's Divine Mercy and to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

And if I were to venture a guess, my guess at this time (only a guess, granted) would be that the Golden Age of the Church will NOT come after a World War III or Three Days of Darkness.  Rather, I suspect it will be more akin to the Christianization of the Roman Empire, which did not come after anything so apocalyptic, even on the regional level.  The worst that happened just before the Christianization of the Roman Empire was the persecutions of the Church under the Emperor Diocletian--and there may well be something like that on a larger, more international scale in the near future, but I imagine it will only last for years at most (I don't even think it will last multiple decades).

At any rate, we faithful should see such a thing for what it is: the monster becoming more dangerous because it knows it's dying and it's desperate to prevent that, though its efforts are all in vain.  We can hope for God's mercy and we should show mercy to our enemies--it's up to them whether they accept it or not.



But don't listen to me: listen to God, and to Mary.

In particular, I highly recommend a book that I've just finished reading last week: The Second Greatest Story Ever Told by Father Michael E. Gaitley, MIC.

I could hardly put it down!  It wasn't merely informative or entertaining, but inspirational!  Better still, it's short (a couple hundred pages, 10 chapters)--and it's very easy to read.  But it packs so much that it feels like it's a lot longer--in a good way!

And now I plan to read another book of his: 33 Days to Morning Glory.  (I don't have it yet and haven't read it or gone through the 33-day consecration yet, which is part of the reason I'm not going into more detail here.)



Even before getting and reading this book (thanks, Eric!), I have come to the conclusion that I feel a strong calling to the Franciscan Order, even though my patron saint Thomas Aquinas is a Dominican.  I think that's just fine: in Dante's Paradiso, Saint Thomas Aquinas recounts the life of Saint Francis of Assisi, while Saint Bonaventure (a Franciscan) recounts the life of Saint Dominic de Guzman--the point being that there is no disunity in heaven as, unfortunately, there is on earth (even between Franciscans and Dominicans).

Thinking about the Franciscan charism and the life of Saint Francis (which I've known about since my CCD classes as a kid) has made sense out of my life in particular, as an individual, from my earliest memories until now--the missing piece of the puzzle that connects everything--more so than anything I've ever been interested in before.  That being the case, I plan to start meeting with my local community of Secular Franciscans as part of my new years' resolution.  (Again, I haven't done so yet, another part of the reason I'm not going into more detail here.)



I will conclude this blog entry by mentioning one connection between these two matters: Saint Maximilian Mary Kolbe, OFM Conv., who is known as the "Apostle of Consecration to Mary".  My friend Eric sent me a medal of Saint Maximilian Kolbe (thanks, Eric!) years ago, because he is the patron saint of addiction recovery, and while I haven't been addicted to any substances (thank God!), any kind of obsession or compulsion counts as an addiction in my book, and I've definitely been the victim of those, including sinful ones--even after I returned to the Church and the faith.

Saint Maximilian Kolbe was a Polish saint who died in Auschwitz in 1941, and he was a Conventual Franciscan.  He was also so devoted to Mary that he took her name: "Maximilian Mary Kolbe".  And he founded the Militia Immaculatae, and has given us a consecration prayer to Mary--and he also gave us an addition to the Miraculous Medal prayer.



Thank you very much for being with me.  God bless you.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Goodbye

I have been thinking this over, and all the signs are pointing to this being a good idea for me.



Beginning this Tuesday, November 7, I plan to undergo a ritual fast for 40 days--the 40 days before Christmas Day (not including Sundays or December 8, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary).

I intend to fast not only from food but also from frivolous things--like this blog.  Therefore, I will not be adding to the blog during that time.  But since the last day of my fast will be on December 23 (leaving only eight days left in the year 2017), I figure I might as well end this blog entirely.

I know this isn't the first time I've thought I would end my blog entirely, but I think that this time I'm going to really make it stick.  To that end, I plan to delete my blog entries tomorrow as I can, so that I can spend as little time as possible doing it during my fast.



Also during the fast I will be praying for respect for life and marriage, chastity, children, the family, and travelers, and the poor and needy, and workers--and in anticipation of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, whenever that is (and for when I have to account for my deeds in this life to Him, which may be sooner than that)--all things appropriate to the time before the Nativity of Our Lord.

And I will be getting rid of things that I don't use or need anymore, and intend to donate to help the poor and needy.



It seems like a perfect time, because this fast will include November 28, the 7-year anniversary of the day I came back to regular Mass after so many years of being away from Christ and His Church.  And the number 7 is a number of completion (seven days in a week, for example: six days of creation and the seventh day of rest).

This will also capstone this year being a major year of faith for me, since it was only at the end of last year that I realized I had been going to the opposite side of a false dichotomy from where I had been before I returned to the Church.  That is, I regarded the faith too philosophically, too much with my mind alone--not personally enough, not with true love, not even though I had rejected my beliefs that were incompatible with the faith and embraced beliefs that were rooted in the Catholic faith.  This will be a great way to start the new year, AD 2018.



Again, while I will not fast on Sundays or on a Solemnity, I will not post on this blog on those days either.  I will also not post on Christmas Eve, or on Christmas Day--and so, early though it is, I want to sign off with one last Merry Christmas!



Thank you for staying with my blog for as long as you have.  God bless and be with you all, always.



Goodbye now.