⁋1865Sin creates a proclivity to sin; it engenders vice by repetition of the same acts. This results in perverse inclinations which cloud conscience and corrupt the concrete judgment of good and evil. Thus sin tends to reproduce itself and reinforce itself, but it cannot destroy the moral sense at its root.
Peccatum exercitationem constituit ad peccatum; per eorumdem actuum repetitionem vitium generat.
IF YOU’RE NOT LISTENING TO THE Every Knee Shall Bow podcast you should be. Right now they are in the middle of a series on the struggle against habitual sins that is astounding. (Like: you walk down the road with your headphones on and Gomer says something and you are catapulted into the heavenly contemplation and you’re crying because God’s grace is so amazing.) In the most recent episode, I was struck as Gomer discussed something that will be familiar to my Orthodox and Eastern Catholic readers: sin is not only a discreet action. Rather, sin is a web of antecedents, a cultural context, of personal weaknesses and history, and – yes – discreet actions as well. Sin is a violation of our relationship with God. More than that, as mentioned in Paragraph 1865 of the Catechism, Sin leads to sin. Sin clouds the mind and corrupts our conscience. The more habitual a sin is the more habitual sin becomes. As was said on the podcast a trillion venial sins are not “worth” one mortal sin, but sin leads to sin: and a venial sin is a pathway to damnation.
If we think in terms only of discrete actions then our confession becomes just a laundry list where we have no self-awareness. Where we are not aware of why we sin, of when a sin began, of which actions first launched us into sin. If we are to root out sin entirely, we need to be aware of when the relationship with God started to go wrong.
And so back to Paragraph 1865.
Sin creates a proclivity to sin; it becomes easier to sin. As Saint Paul says our conscience becomes seared as with a hot iron. We no longer see something is bad. We just do it. When we first began to sin we might have been aware that we were committing a bad action. But the more we do it the easier it becomes to do it. And not only our current sin other sins as well. Our chosen sin becomes a gateway to other actions: we need a bigger hit, a stronger dose to feel like we’ve done something. It engenders vice by repetition of the same acts.
This results in perverse inclinations which cloud conscience and corrupt the concrete judgment of good and evil. We no longer think in terms of identifiable Good and Evil. Suddenly, since we’ve already discarded one moral law on the basis of feeling good, we find it easier to discard others for the same reason. Our conscience ceases to function not only along the lines of our chosen sin, rather it ceases to function at all. We have successfully silenced it – seemingly – or rather we have successfully stuffed enough cotton in our ears to ignore it.
Thus sin tends to reproduce itself and reinforce itself, but it cannot destroy the moral sense at its root.
This is where it’s important to realize that “a sin” is not a discrete act but rather part of a web, as Gomer said, or a fractal pattern. All sin is a manifestation of the same destruction of the relationship we have with God. Sometimes the destruction is only partial and sometimes it is total. Sometimes it’s only a minor rip in the fabric and sometimes it’s a case of “burn it all down”. Yet, all sin is a fractal of itself: all sin is an action of pride. The fruit was looked good to eat and she took and ate it. That’s all we do, over and over again.
Read the rest of the Catechism’s Part III Section 1 Chapter I Article 8.V. on the proliferation of sin. After detailing a list of capital sins and ways in which we can participate in another’s sin, it says, citing St John Paul, (in ⁋1869) Thus sin makes men accomplices of one another and causes concupiscence, violence, and injustice to reign among them.Sins give rise to social situations and institutions that are contrary to the divine goodness. “Structures of sin” are the expression and effect of personal sins. They lead their victims to do evil in their turn. In an analogous sense, they constitute a “social sin.” If we let sin have its way, soon it creates a rut, if you will, that we just follow: this is the way it’s always been. Like an addict, we just go along without questioning what (now) seems perfectly normal. We are sinning not because we are tempted, not because we make a choice, but because this is what we do. The conception of another way to act is entirely lost. We might even convince ourselves that we “are” this thing that we’re trapped in.
The Catechism clearly says there are structures of sin, there is social sin: there would have to be. We are not individuals, rather we are persons. Persons only exist in communion. The communion is not broken: it sours and the infection spreads.
IT IS TRADITIONAL when reading the propers for a Sunday to think of the scripture readings, the Epistle and the Gospel, as one thing and then prayers and other verses and some other thing. However, the propers of a Sunday go together as a set: they are combined together to give us a picture to meditate on. There is not a rank – the Gospel first, the Epistle, then everything else. Some preachers might think of each proper as a piece, and then think of what picture might be constructed of each piece. Others might focus on the Gospel to make some point and then see if other pieces might line up – keeping or discarding each one. Contra this, it seems it might be better to look at the collect, the prayer of the day, wherein the Church has seen fit to sum up her thoughts, the root intentions if you will of the whole enterprise. It seems the collect is the key by which we may unlock the intended meanings of all the other parts. Let us begin there.
Deus virtútum, cujus est totum quod est óptimum : ínsere pectóribus nostris amórem tui nóminis, et præsta in nobis religiónis augméntum ; ut, quæ sunt bona, nútrias, ac pietátis stúdio, quæ sunt nutríta, custódias.
O God of power and strength, from whom comes every perfect gift, implant in our hearts the love of your name, and increasing us True Religion; foster what is good in us and protect with your watchful love what you have fostered.
Literal Translation: O mighty God of hosts, of whom is the entirety of what is perfect: graft the love of Your Name into our hearts, and grant in us an increase of religion; so that You may nourish the things which are good and, by zeal for dutifulness, guard what has been nourished.
Fr Z notes this is still the collected for the 22nd Sunday, Tempus per Annum.
Let us start with the word “religion”. The Romans understood religio as coming from the root meaning to bind. It is a complicated word indicating things that bind us to the gods, to tradition, and to each other. Religion is the bonds that creates society. That’s all well and good for a pagan but we are Catholics. All of these bindings are still true but they are no longer generic. Religion is what binds us to the Holy Trinity, to the Catholic faith, and to each other in the body of Christ. What is religion? My 1962 missile has us looking for something it calls True Religion however the literal translation does not have the word “true” in it. Increase in us religion. What could that be? Increase in us the bonds that hold us together? The prayer can be read that way:
Make us love your name Increase religion in us Nourish in us the good and by increasing our zeal help us to hold on to the good.
Yet what is religion, this love of the good, that is a perfect gift from God? St James tells us (James 1:27): Religion clean and undefiled before God and the Father, is this: to visit the fatherless and widows in their tribulation: and to keep one’s self unspotted from this world. He uses there the same word, religio, which is a translation of the Greek θρησκεία thréskeia referring to religious actions, ceremony, liturgy if you will. The true liturgy, the true religion, is to take care of orphans and widows and avoid sin. To increase religion, then, means to increase the Corporal Works of Mercy. That is the key: give us the Love of your Holy Name, and the love of orphans and widows. With this key we can unlock the rest of these texts.
The Introit reminds us that everything depends on God.
The Lord is the strength of His people, and the protector of the salvation of His anointed: save, O Lord, Thy people, and bless Thine inheritance, and rule them forever. Unto Thee will I cry, O Lord: O my God, be not Thou silent to me, lest if Thou be silent to me, I become like them that go down into the pit. Glory.
The Lord is the strength of His people, (O God of power and strength)and the protector of the salvation of His anointed (from whom comes every perfect gift). It to this All-Powerful Lord that we turn asking him to give us good gifts and to nurture the gifts in us so we do not leave them behind in our pride.
The Epistle reminds us that by virtue of our baptism we have been slain with Christ. “Our old self is crucified with Him, that the body of sin may be destroyed, and that we may serve sin no longer” and we are dead to the values of this world. This world “no longer has dominion over us.” This is what makes the Corporal Works of Mercy possible: the outpouring of love that becomes part of us in Christ continues through us as a result of our baptism. Everything becomes an act of kenosis, self-emptying, an imitation of Jesus. This kenosis is participating in our Salvation, responding of our own free will the grace that is given to us. And as we are dead now so we shall be alive with Christ. Chrysostom says that Paul leaves it up to the believe to work out in his conscience, but he also says, “When then the fornicator becomes chaste, the covetous man merciful, the harsh subdued, even here a resurrection has taken place, the prelude to the other (the Resurrection on the Last Day – DHR)”. When we turn from our life of sin and begin to do the works of mercy, we experience the resurrection here and now.
In the Gradual we are reminded that God has always been our refuge from generation to generation. God, our refuge, fosters what is good in us and protects with his watchful love what he has fostered (Collect). And the same reminder comes in the Alleluia. In Thee, O Lord, have I hoped, let me never be confounded, these are not pleas to have God protect us from the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”, but rather to keep us safe so that we can do his will. We’re are “planted with Christ” as the Epistle says, referring to a mystical burial, but it is as the seed falls to earth and then yields a hundred-fold harvest. It required nurturing, protection from God the farmer.
Tradition reads the Gospel story as prefiguring the Eucharist, yet it is so much more. Isaiah prophesied that when the Lord restored the kingdom of Zion everyone would be said on the mountainside. And the Lord of hosts shall make unto all people in this mountain, a feast of fat things, a feast of wine, of fat things full of marrow, of wine purified from the lees. (Isaiah 25:6) Unlike the Eucharist – open only to believers – this Feast on the Mountainside was open to all. It is an apocalyptic enactment. God is calling food out of nothing and restoring Harmony. Tht this takes place on the model of the Eucharist – Jesus, to the apostles, to their “churches” in groups around the grounds – indicates a deeper meaning for the Eucharist itself. The heavenly banquet is a sign of the kingdom of God. But also our acts of feeding others are a sign of the heavenly banquet. When we share from the abundance that God has given us to others who are poor we are enacting in an Earthly way the Heavenly Eucharist. When the priest gives us with the host and says the body of Christ it is a foreshadow of the Heavenly food. But when we give food to the poor we are serving the body of Christ itself in the person of the poor, just as Jesus had the Apostles do on the hillside.
Church fathers especially underscore this two-fold feeding of earthly and spiritual food. Jesus would not send the crowds away hungry lest they faint on the way. You cannot do the will of God always on an empty stomach. As God gives us spiritual food in the Mass, he also gives us the sustenance needed for our bodies. And if we turn to the starving and merely give them a host and perhaps a blessing (or only a blessing) have we done anything at all? From the Holy Mass we draw the life of the world himself – who has told us to feed the hungry. This is why he gave us the Mass – that we might have the spiritual strength to do the physical works he asks us to do as part of our salvation and the repair of the world.
The Offertory continues the theme of blessing and nurturing the blessings: Perfect Thou my goings in Thy paths, that my footsteps be not moved: incline Thy ear, and hear my words: show forth Thy wonderful mercies, Thou who savest them that trust in Thee, O Lord. When you unpack the words mercies and savest. There’s a whole theology implied:
– Mercies is the Hebrew word חֲ֭סָדֶיךָ lovingkindness, as the Authorized Version has it: it’s God condescending to fulfill our needs – again, not just the spiritual sort. – Savest is מוֹשִׁ֣יעַ from the same root that gives us Jesus name, יָשַׁע. We are seeking a greater love of his name to be planted in us (as we asked in the Collect). God’s salvation is not only spiritual. It’s all of our life (mind, soul, body) that he is saving. This is why God was incarnate as one of us and why we cannot let the cries of the poor go unanswered.
The Secret which is said over the gifts before they are consecrated: Be appeased, O Lord, by our supplications, and graciously accept these offerings of Thy people: neither suffering the hope of anyone to be in vain, nor his prayer to remain unheard, that we may obtain that for which we faithfully pray. We lay out our offering in firm faith that God will not let the prayer or hope of anyone fall unheard. This is not a prosperity Gospel: but our prayers down’t bounce back off the ceiling. God’s purpose is to save us. Nothing we ask rightly to that end will be denied us – and there are some for whom salvation requires the very next meal, a new set of shoes. God has appointed us to provide those. God hears the prayer of the poor. And asks what are we going to do about it?
Naked did you not drop from the womb? Shall you not return again naked to the earth? Where have the things you now possess come from? If you say they just spontaneously appeared, then you are an atheist, not acknowledging the Creator, nor showing any gratitude towards the one who gave them. But if you say that they are from God, declare to us the reason why you received them. Is God unjust, who divided to us the things of this life unequally? Why are you wealthy while that other man is poor? Is it, perhaps, in order that you may receive wages for kindheartedness and faithful stewardship, and in order that he may be honored with great prizes for his endurance? But, as for you, when you hoard all these things in the insatiable bosom of greed, do you suppose you do no wrong in cheating so many people? Who is a man of greed? Someone who does not rest content with what is sufficient. Who is a cheater? Someone who takes away what belongs to others. And are you not a man of greed? are you not a cheater? taking those things which you received for the sake of stewardship, and making them your very own? Now, someone who takes a man who is clothed and renders him naked would be termed a robber; but when someone fails to clothe the naked, while he is able to do this, is such a man deserving of any other appellation? The bread which you hold back belongs to the hungry; the coat, which you guard in your locked storage-chests, belongs to the naked; the footwear mouldering in your closet belongs to those without shoes. The silver that you keep hidden in a safe place belongs to the one in need. Thus, however many are those whom you could have provided for, so many are those whom you wrong.
The Communion verse is a line of praise to God. I will go round, and offer up in His tabernacle a sacrifice of jubilation; I will sing, and recite a psalm to the Lord. What is the sacrifice of jubilation? The word rendered jubilation can also mean “War Cry”! How do we make sacred a war cry? God would have us tear down the oppressions around us, to destroy the system that lets it happen, that continues it.
And finally the Post Communion Grant, O Lord, that we who have been filled with Thy gifts, may be cleansed by their virtue and strengthened by their help. What is our goal, as stated by the Collect? That God plant in our hearts a love of his name and increase religion – the care of the poor and the widow. These are two sides of the same coin. Latin is actually good word play here: Repleti sumus, Domine, muneribus tuis:tribue quæsumus; ut eorum et mundemur effectu, et muniamur auxilio. While two different words are coming into play here, the “mun/mun/mun” creates an alliteration and the “mundemur/muniamur” is a reflection – we want the strength of the Eucharist to strengthen us.
The 16th Century Anglican post-communion prayer (written by Thomas Cramner) ask God, by the gift of Holy Communion, “so to assist us with thy grace, that we may continue in that holy fellowship, and do all such good works as thou hast prepared for us to walk in.” This is where this Mass leaves us, asking God to assist us with his grace to walk in all the Good Works he sends our way, to foster what is good in us and protect with your watchful love what you have fostered.
THINGS LEARNED AS A CHILD: when flag passes in a parade, or when it is brought into the room/stadium/meeting in a formal manner, when singing the Star Spangled Banner, or when reciting the Pledge of Allegiance: stand up, take off your hat with your right hand, and, with the same hand, cover your heart with your hat until the flag has passed or the singing/recitation has ended. When displayed, the Flag Code of the USA is to be followed. Equally, the flag is not to be worn nor are clothes based on the flag to be designed or worn (although the thematic elements – stripes, stars, etc – can be used). This latter tradition went out of popular usage in the 70s and so, today, garish shirts, pants, ties, scarves, hats, patches, etc are all to be found and worn – especially in the high summer of our patriotism. But also, no one else pays any attention to the quaint rules of public piety in our state religion. In a way, we grew up, but though some of the trappings changed, the system has stayed the same.
Although my High School social studies classes only discussed the ways the South was racist, the first time I saw the Chicago towers and the same constructions on the fringes of NYC, I knew racism was in the North as well. Later, I learned about the racism of our first European settlers, and then the continued maltreatment of aboriginal residents of this Stolen Land. The Cultural Myths of the Tabula Rosa and Manifest Destiny gave rise to our imperialism and our racism. The original sin of the Americas is not slavery, but entitled occupation. Entitlement – I can have that because I want it – is the sin of our first parents and the credo of our American culture. Racism is only a symptom, but it seems to be our dominant one.
The Recent Electoral Unpleasantness which resulted in the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue provided us a with a choice between two persons who equally despised at least half of the electorate in a public manner. I’m not privy to their hearts, but I imagine that figure was closer to 95% in terms of private feelings unexpressed in their “baskets of deplorables” and “nasty women”. 4 years later, I cannot imagine the gaslighting, the internecine bickering, or the social dissensions would be any worse – or better – had the outcome been opposite. The last real policy change I remember was when Nixon opened China. Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush Jr, Obama, and Trump have changed nothing except the political tone of voice and their choice of shills vrs dupes. As we rev up for the conventions this Summer all I can think of is Chicago and Miami in 1968. I’ve been here before.
In the meanwhile, COVID-19 has – in a nearly miraculous way – exposed every other division in our country which is not related to partisan standing in most cases. I’ve seen nutty discussion of 5G towers on both sides, ranting about our health care on both sides, and reality denialism on both sides. Both sides have shown their concern for business rather than people, and both sides have shown that literally everything from prayer to health care is a political tool. Then the riots started. Anyone who thinks that the riots are somehow less valid today than they were in the 60s is just stupid (that’s charitable) or else simply racist. Blaming people of color for their oppression by a system that was built to oppress them is the mortal sin of lying. Full stop. I am reminded of a saying from my childhood that explained the ways non-white people experienced racism in our country: If you’re yellow, you’re mellow. If you’re brown, stick around. If you’re black, get back. Watching the assumed Catholics in charge of Guadalupe Radio call Gloria Purvis “uppity” with a whole thesaurus has proven to me nothing has changed since my late grandparents in the Deep South could use the same thesaurus to avoid the N word and yet never acknowledge the personhood of our neighbors in even polite conversation. It is miraculous that a virus which has kills so many people has also removed all the scabs on our wounds and exposed our already dead hearts. Again, I’ve been here before.
Our founders are credited with setting up a system for the betterment of the human person, unfettered by the ways of “the old country”. Yet they built a system flawed from the beginning, marked with our original entitlement – ignoring the original inhabitants of this “property” and also a huge population of people whose skin happened to be the wrong color. They, too, were treated as property. This system is the one they created in the original political victory we celebrate today. In the salad days of my political activism, there were defeats, of course, but not many. And every victory seemed to indicate we were making something new, something better. Yet every such victory came inside this same system. Every such victory left me hopeful: we have progressed closer to what the founders wanted. Only each progressive victory has helped build exactly what we have now. The very things we did not want we have done, the things we wanted did not come to pass. How is that possible? I think the answer lies in what we can see happening in light of the recent riots.
The simple request – as I understood it – was “please make your police stop killing us.” I do not – as a white man – experience any fear of the police. I cannot related to it in the same way. But I can empathize and I can see not only the oppression but get a sense of how it affects people. Yet, within a couple of days, the whole tone of the conversation was changed into “Yes, but not looting” and then, a month later, we were celebrating the victories of Texans no longer referring to “master bedrooms” while actual lynchings and police killings continued. Are the Texan realtors showing the same houses to all people? This is what I want to know. Are banks giving loans justly? If someone moves into the “wrong neighborhood” in Texas, do their neighbors make them feel welcome or do they go buy crosses decorated with Christmas lights an say “oh, they’re just Christmas lights…” Movies are coming out of circulation. Fine: but is Hollywood ready to let people of color into all levels of production and status? My political victories – as small as they were – helped build this system. When preachers worry that single-parent families cause disadvantages for the children without blaming the system of economic deprivation and political oppression that causes those families, we only perpetuate this system and our own empowerment.
This doesn’t even address the economic or class divisions in this country – also fully uncovered in the last 10-15 years. Does anyone remember the G7 (G8, etc) riots that happened literally around the world while the Neoliberal Economic System was being locked in place under previous administrations?
We built this. I built this. You built this. Somewhere my sense of warm mushiness at polite displays of secular piety died. You can’t pretend to live in Mayberry anymore. Sheriff Taylor, with his keys hanging near the cell so folks can go home for Sunday dinner with the family is not the legal system we have built. America currently has 2,193,798 in prison. Mayberry is only the mythical, mostly-empty Limbo in our hellish inferno of perpetual prison and hate. We built this.
There was something comforting about beginning every meeting of our Knights of Columbus Council with the Pledge. It reminded me of grade school when every weekday began that way. It was a continuation of those things I learned in childhood – which were lies, but we can pretend different for a few moments. Right? Yet I’ve also learned that the Knights of St Peter Claver were founded because some Columbian Councils wouldn’t let blacks in. The pledge, which was an obscure text for a long while, came to the fore in the last century as a talisman against “reds”. The Holy Name society requires of its members the same respect for the Flag as the Holy Name. That tells you something. Nothing is as it seems.
St Paul says, though, that when he became a man, he put away childish things. My nearly Late-Fifties self is wondering if it’s finally time to do so as well. Somewhere the dream died – or rather I awoke into a hellish reality, able to see the dream as only a distraction, a carrot that we never get to have while we are beaten with a switch we cut for ourselves.
Putting out the fire, putting away childish things: What would it look like if we let it burn down, turned the ashes over, added fertilizer and started something new? The integralist side of me wants a world where “State” and “Church” and “Economy” as we know these today do not exist, where the Kingdom of God runs with only as much mediation as required. The realist side of me sees that quite a lot of my fellow countrymen as well as not a few of my coreligionists cannot imagine another world and, given their druthers, would rebuild this system but “better”. Burning it all down would only result in more of the same but, we hope, less of the bad stuff. That seems impossible since the only hope at all is Jesus Christ and his Kingdom (the Catholic Church). So any human activity is doomed to fail, all the more another Enlightenment-inspired Masonic Liberal Democracy. The only hope, then, is evangelism: proclaiming the Good News that Jesus is the only King that matters. Satan, we must remember, is the first thief who stole the whole creation. God has won it back it back by the force of love on the only tru weapon of peace: stretching his arms out on the cross.
Quid timidi estis, modicae fidei? Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?
THIS MORNING, Fr Michael’s homily took this scene all the way back to the creation, reminding us that God’s first actions (on the first three days of Creation) were related to God calling order out of Chaos. Here Jesus is stepping into the role of Creator, calling order back into his creation. Another priest also reminded me that this was a Theophany: a manifestation of God. Jesus used the disciples’ lack of faith to show them who he was. It’s the standard homiletic reading of this text: I think it aligns firmly with the Patristic reading here as well. But I immediately asked, Is that all there is?I had the feeling that something was missing. I don’t know what, but…
The Disciples are terrified. I get that. These men who have been fishermen all their lives are seeing a storm – perhaps a once-in-a-century storm. Whatever is wrong they are terrified, so this seems to be more than the normal thing.
Yet, Jesus – God incarnate – is asleep in the boat. Will anything happen to them? I ask you here and now. Will anything happen to them? Even if they do not wake up Jesus, asleep in the boat, will anything happen to them? I think not.
In another passage written decades later, St Paul tells us that we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. The Apostles surely fit this description. So what would have happened if they had had faith to say, Goodness but this storm is bad. We have Jesus sleeping in the boat though, so everything is ok.” When they do wake up Jesus, he chides them. Why are ye fearful? O, ye of little faith. (Jesus uses the Greek neologism, ὀλιγόπιστος, oligopistos. It’s only found in the Gospels and it only refers to the Apostles, in other words, to us.) Why does Jesus snark here? I mean he does wake up… he fixes things… what complain?
I’ve been thinking about this in light of our problem with statuary.
No one but Unreconstructed Confederates cared when the targets were Confederate memorials. Yet even secular statues of men who happen to be saints seem to need defending by the Church and I’m wondering why. The storm, you see, rages all around us: is Jesus sleeping?
Pope Francis’ meditation on St Mark’s version of this story is important here:
The storm exposes our vulnerability and uncovers those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits and priorities. It shows us how we have allowed to become dull and feeble the very things that nourish, sustain and strengthen our lives and our communities. The tempest lays bare all our prepackaged ideas and forgetfulness of what nourishes our people’s souls; all those attempts that anesthetize us with ways of thinking and acting that supposedly “save” us, but instead prove incapable of putting us in touch with our roots and keeping alive the memory of those who have gone before us. We deprive ourselves of the antibodies we need to confront adversity.
In this storm, the façade of those stereotypes with which we camouflaged our egos, always worrying about our image, has fallen away, uncovering once more that (blessed) common belonging, of which we cannot be deprived: our belonging as brothers and sisters.
“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” Lord, your word this evening strikes us and regards us, all of us. In this world, that you love more than we do, we have gone ahead at breakneck speed, feeling powerful and able to do anything. Greedy for profit, we let ourselves get caught up in things, and lured away by haste. We did not stop at your reproach to us, we were not shaken awake by wars or injustice across the world, nor did we listen to the cry of the poor or of our ailing planet. We carried on regardless, thinking we would stay healthy in a world that was sick. Now that we are in a stormy sea, we implore you: “Wake up, Lord!”.
The storm. It’s breaking all around us and all we can think to do is scream back into the darkness. We did not stop at your reproach to us, we were not shaken awake by wars or injustice across the world, nor did we listen to the cry of the poor or of our ailing planet.
I think it’s strange that we have yet to connect (in our hearts) the terror of March with the anger of June. We don’t realize this is all one pattern.
Why are we still afraid?
The Holy Father continues, Faith begins when we realise we are in need of salvation. We are not self-sufficient; by ourselves we founder: we need the Lord, like ancient navigators needed the stars. Let us invite Jesus into the boats of our lives. Let us hand over our fears to him so that he can conquer them.
I find myself wondering why we are afraid… why we are ashamed. We have to confess our sins to be forgiven – we are Catholics and we know this. Why are we afraid to admit that the Mission system was part of a colonialist campaign by Spain, attempting to protect the West Coast from the Russians? Why are we afraid to admit that we destroyed a culture nearly a millenium old, replacing it with food, language, polity, and social structures alien to the locals? We wanted to make Christians out of them – that’s certainly Good – but we added to “Christian” the title of “Spaniard”. We wanted to make Spanish Christians out of them, as certainly as the earliest Church wanted to make Jews out of Gentiles before they could become Christians. Certainly, it was wrong this time as well? Why are we afraid to admit that? There might be sins that cause people to hate us. And we might have to repent.
Why are we afraid to admit that our alliances with false princes and potus-tates have left us mirroring the world, unable to work for its healing. We’ve become partisans. We can’t repent – that would mean we’re wrong. Instead of the Hail Mary we keep chanting the mantra about “The judges” even when the judges have betrayed us and given the lie to all our panderings. Instead of the Bride of Christ, we are only the call girl of Washington. What if this storm is our cross now and our redemption? What if we are only to let go… to remember Jesus is sleeping in the boat with us. All will be well if we but sacrifice our place, our power, our illicit lovers.
Embracing his cross means finding the courage to embrace all the hardships of the present time, abandoning for a moment our eagerness for power and possessions in order to make room for the creativity that only the Spirit is capable of inspiring. It means finding the courage to create spaces where everyone can recognize that they are called, and to allow new forms of hospitality, fraternity and solidarity.
Pope Francis, speaking in March, seems nearly prophetic now, reading his words in June. Why do we double down on our daily schedules, our projects, our habits and priorities? Now is not the time to screw our courage to the sticking place and tell the world where to get off in “all those attempts that anesthetize us with ways of thinking and acting that supposedly ‘save’ us, but instead… we deprive ourselves of the antibodies we need to confront adversity.”
Now is time to confess our sins, to embrace our cross, and save the world.
THERE WAS VERY LITTLE POLITICAL CHOICE in my household growing up: one was either Democrat or one was silent. My stepfather was brave enough, once or twice a year, to pick fights on this issue. I don’t think he ever actually voted Republican, but I think it was something. to fight over, in those adult ways that make children terribly uncomfortable at the dinner table. When Mom was on the NY State Democratic Committee, my Aunt June was on the CA State Republican Committee. And so, friends on two sides of the family, with the Cuomos and the Reagans. Life was odd for us from the 70s into the 80s. When I got to college, Mom made me register to vote, an honor I accepted under protest, and when I got my absentee ballot that year at my Evangelical Christian College in the suburbs of Westchester County, I held open the double-wide newsprint and scandalized my dorm-mates by voting, in a bright red magic marker, across the board on the Socialist Labor line. I sealed it up, dropped it in the mail. Twelve years later my Mom called one November and said she was happy to see I had voted again: she always knew my across-the-board red vote. I confusedly asked her why she checked on her 30 year-old son, who had not, in fact, voted since he was 18 in that one election. But at least I know that someone in my home district was keeping up my traditional voting patterns.
The next time I registered to vote was when an actual leftist was running for Mayor in SF. I don’t mean a Democrat, although he – like anyone else in this town that wants to get elected – was registered in that party. I mean a leftist. He didn’t want real estate or tech money, bankers or the old guard to decide things in SF. He wanted, you know, electoral power and civic justice, better city taxes, health care, and education, high pay for teachers, lower pay for cops… naturally, he lost.
These stories are to indicate I have no partisan bona fides at all. Which is appropriate for someone who thinks of themself as an Anarchist, although not in the stereotyped, Molotov Cocktail sense of the word. I consider the state a real construct, and I consider the social contract to be real (and even for me to be beholden to it). But I do not consider myself to be bound to it. I am an ontological Anarchist: my person is mine. But before you get all grumpy about American Atomism, I give my person to the only King that is, Jesus Christ. That involves submission to his will, in his church. How can I be an anarchist then, you may ask: because no one coerced me into doing so. Not even I coerced me into doing so, for you can only submit out of a grace freely given to all: you cannot be drawn by force, it is the ontological nature of the human soul to seek truth and, having found it, to submit.
Much of our recent shared experience has been political theatre.
By political theatre, I mean something to distract us. Anarchist theory suggests that any protests are part of the state’s system for letting off steam in order that the system can keep going. Protests are like a valve on a pressure cooker. When the system changes bedroom names and says “small gatherings – except protests” this seems to be exactly the case. We are watching only the existing system of injustice give vent to the energies raised by shelter in place and fear of the covids. Businesses all over the political spectrum are making official actions to publicly adhere to the current political vogue. This is virtue signaling in the purest sense of the word: unless there is systemic change, which is beyond the power of any business, this will all be for naught. But we will all feel good. Then we’ll go back to being productive. Even tearing down statues is only a political drama: we feed into it by defending the statues and performing exorcisms (while carrying the American flag, no less).
Political theater reached unheard-of heights when the current incumbent departed 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue under cover of pepper spray and twice went to church. The predictable reaction was for members of the opposition party to waive their Bibles like flags, dress in cloth stoles like clergy, and be seen to pray. Both of these scenes triggered a new round of sectarian violence in the Catholic internet. This came to a head, recently, when the crypto-schismatic Archbishop Vigano came out of crypto, openly siding with President Trump against the canonical head of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, Archbishop Wilton Gregory. Catholics, online and off, lined up in predictable sectarian fashion under these two princes of the Church.
Another part of the Catholic Drama has been our reaction to the protests and riots that are happening around the nation. Sadly this is parsing out in predictable, sectarian fashion as well. Not only Roman Catholics, but also the Orthodox, as well as various ecclesial communities and denominations, have all divided (as we did in the US Civil War) and simply mirrored our society. This division and political mirroring is kind of humorous when it comes to most issues. I don’t care how you feel about the Second Amendment, you can’t make me believe there is a theological reason for that feeling. But you can try so I can enjoy the political theater. Ditto taxes, single-payer health care, and the designated hitter rule.
Racism, however, is different. The Church should not mirror society on the issue of racism. It is not a political choice: there is right and there is wrong. St Paul (and the first council of the Church at Jerusalem) made it clear: there is no race in the Church, all are one in Christ. Racism (directed against previously-Gentile Jewish Christians) was the first thing that the Apostles were asked to deal with. They had to appoint men (Deacons) whose job it was to keep things rightly ordered. Still, we know that for a long time, on the topic of racism, the Church has simply mirrored society. We have bad actors in the Church and we also have the rest of us. As someone mentioned, the issue is not that there are “bad cops” but rather that the “good cops did nothing”. This is us in our current situation: it’s not that there are not bad actors – we all know there are. It’s that the rest of us do nothing. Pope Pius XII compared American Jim Crow laws to Nazi Eugenics and Pope Francis refers to how our “…toleration of evil, which is injustice, tends to expand its baneful influence and quietly to undermine any political and social system, no matter how solid it may appear. If every action has its consequences, an evil embedded in the structures of a society has a constant potential for disintegration and death. It is evil crystallized in unjust social structures, which cannot be the basis of hope for a better future.” But most of us seem quite happy with our crystals.
This is not a matter of data: you can’t count the number of “racisms” and say it’s going up or down. This is a matter of failed personal relationships. This is a matter of doctrine, a matter of right and wrong. I respond to you differently because of some element (skin color, usually) that I can see. I treat you as less than a person (usually by treating you as less then me). That is racism. It’s not a data point. It’s a failure of love. Christians know this: we know all sin is a failure of love, a failure in rightly-ordered relationships between human beings, each other, and God.
But, as the church works for salvation – not of some, but of all, we must realize that everyone out there needs Jesus. BLM needs Jesus. PBA needs Jesus. It’s not our job to support one to the damnation of the other. The Church, in order to be the Church, must bring Jesus to all. You cannot be silent: a choice has to be made, to stand with – and spread – God’s kingdom, or to be outside it. When someone who says “there’s nothing wrong” gets blocked by a Bishop on Twitter, with which side do you stand? There are sides there. Really. Don’t stand on the side that says “some don’t need Jesus.”
The air is full of plans, and of pacts and proposals. Every wind that blows through press and air carries patterns for new leagues, Federal Unions, Spheres of Influence, and Hemisphere Controls, each of which is spread out on the bargain counter of the world, and offered at a price so cheap as to require only a little manipulation of politics and economics-but never a change of heart. Are we not still suffering from a mental “hangover” from the days of liberalism and the doctrine of the natural goodness of men? Does not the enthusiastic and fulsome praise we give to every three-hundred-word generalization prove that all we think the world needs is a few structural changes?
Ven. Fulton Sheen, Seven Pillars of Peace
It is a mark of the failure of the American system that our political spectrum tends to run from center-right libertarian to further-right libertarian. At the farthest left end of our political spectrum are those who say it would be okay to tax others for social goods – usually the “wealthy”. But no one ever says, “Sure, tax me 40% more to pay for social goods.” For most of us, our idea of Justice involves correcting somebody else. Racism, however, asks us to deal with our own, personal acts of injustice. We want the government with political authority to correct other people but we also want that same government to leave us alone. As such, we are nearly all center-right Libertarians. Racism- and classism – however, is always in the first person. How to I show favoritism?
The protests offer us only more statism: they don’t like the system in place (rightfully so), yet they only want to give us a new system. What is that new system? Do they know? They reject the idea of “absolute truth” so what is their idea of “justice”? Is it merely revenge? That seems to be the case sometimes. Without a stated goal, a desired outcome, the protests will be hijacked (as they already are) by people with their own agendas and more skill at leading crowds. The protests, the yelling, the iconoclasm are not Justice coming into focus. They are only a distraction. From what? From the only hope any of us have.
Jesus wants to give us life. I do believe that Jesus fixes racism – but only by changing our hearts. The Church cannot mirror the world in this. The Church must not mirror the world or she is lost. Fa and AntiFa, everyone needs Jesus. If the Church picks a side, everyone loses. This is not political theatre: this is the souls of everyone we reach with the Gospel. Bl. Pier said that we need social reform: he was speaking of a reform that was possible at that time, in his country, when the vast majority of his fellow countrymen understood that to mean Christian Social Reform. He was not advocating merely more politics, but Christian politics. We must do the same. We cannot be partisans in this: we must be Christians. It is not enough to decide which side is right enough: we need to preach the truth.
There was a tradition of socialism in Anglo-Catholic circles in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. An old website devoted to this subject still lives at the Internet Archive in all its early-internet glory: Anglo-Catholic Socialism. This quote, from Anglican Bishop Frank Weston, late of Zanzibar, ties it all together nicely in two ways:
The Church of England stopped saying no to these “ritualists” but they got them out of the way. They stopped them from making too much trouble. In England they were assigned to the poorest parishes: sent into the slums and villages too far from the railways, they were assigned to care for sailors in the dockyards or miners. As Bishops they were sent to the fringes of the Empire, to people who didn’t speak English, to places where no one important ever went. Blessedly that only made stronger their sense of social justice, as we would say now. Serving the poor, the marginalized, the weakest of society, they built up huge, strong communities with their Tridentine (in English) Mass, their Breviaries, and Religious Orders that looked “more Catholic than Rome”.
Our “ritualists” tend to drift right. I’m not sure why. There are very few open racists singing On Eagle’s Wings or holding hands at the Our Father. But the actual texts of the Extraordinary Form are as Revolutionary as the Novus Ordo. There is no reason a person praying the Latin Breviary should not walk out of Vespers wanting to
Deposuit potentes de sede, et exaltavit humiles. Esurientes implevit bonis, et divites dimisit inanes.
Cast down the mighty from their thrones and lift up the meek and the lowly. Fill the hungry with good things and send away the rich in their stupidity. Full stop.
Yet they wave flags on their censors, cast aspersions with their aspergillums, and dismiss “social justice warriors” as a bunch of silly “snowflakes” and – at the same time “terrorists who are persecuting us and destroying everything that’s good”.
Where’s the Catholic Left? For that matter, where is the Orthodox Left that would bring us the promise of the Paschal Homily?
Enter all of you, therefore, into the joy of our Lord, and, whether first or last, receive your reward. O rich and poor, one with another, dance for joy! O you ascetics and you negligent, celebrate the day! You that have fasted and you that have disregarded the fast, rejoice today! The table is rich-laden: feast royally, all of you! The calf is fatted: let no one go forth hungry! Let all partake of the feast of faith. Let all receive the riches of goodness. Let no one lament their poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one mourn their transgressions, for pardon has dawned from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Saviour’s death has set us free.
Attributed to St John Chrysostom
Is there no one who will say a Latin Mass and then turn and lead a march? Is there no one who sees the connection between the Sacred Heart and the sweat of the poor, between St Joseph the Workman and the union organizers at Starbucks? Do you not see the link between the Litany of Loreto and Laudato Si?
I have been listening to a number of political Catholic podcasts recently. I have been interested mostly in the discussion of Catholic socialism which is been taking place on Twitter and in several podcasts. These tend to fall farther to the left than many of my friends and social circle. (By way of listing the resources, see the end of this post.) What I’ve noticed is that there seems to be a marked lack of political theatre, although there are some abstractions. When the Gospel gets too far from the person-to-person relationship it drifts into political abstractions and heresy. But these folks seem to realize that it’s based on relationship.
I’ve also been intrigued by the overlap of the integralists and the socialists – although they rarely talk to each other, seemingly. I’m on the outside looking in. Both want a society built on Catholic principles, but the former are vague about the endgame, while the latter are not vague at all. Yet both seem to avoid a statist version of their history, seeking rather something that fits well with my ontological anarchy. God seeks your salvation… but it’s only in relationship. Submit to this yoke of your own free will, not through coercion. But it will be encompassing. Racism must be destroyed in our relationships. If we cannot relate as equals before God, no law will fix this. But charity is not enough and we need social reform. That can only come through changing society into the image of God’s Kingdom, the Church.
And this last can only come when the Church stops trying to mirror society and, instead, seeks to change it.
QUARANTINE’S FIRST TERRIFIED PANIC led to a tedium where days blent together in disordered shades of fog. This, in turn, parted like a curtain on a sort of political theater which allows us to pass the time with a modicum of excitement unrelated to our sickness or death. In my fear at the beginning of this excitement, I did not realize but I was watching political theater. Only as things settled into a new normal did I begin to realize that some of this was merely drama and entirely unnecessary. The Theatre has been (for me) most prevalent in the Church. My friends were not fighting for toilet paper or hand sanitizer, but they were arguing over how “The Rules” (health orders, etc) are “oppressing” the Church. There were some who felt otherwise, and so they fought online. I’ve learned that many who are Catholics and proud of our intellectual tradition become just as keen to deny science when it serves their political (theatrical) ends. Also, as wealthy, mostly-white Americans we have a very distorted view of what “oppression” actually is. This is playing out in our reactions to other cultural moments right now. While oppressed people are actually demanding justice, some – politicians, clergy, and laity – are simply reacting to the demand in a theatrical manner. This political theatre even though it’s inside the church had to be ignored as the worldly distraction it really is. Even the debate about socialism was only more political theatre.
One hundred days into this new cultural pattern things are more than beginning to fray around the edges. First, when I and almost all of my friends who lived through the 80s noticed the parallel with AIDS, it seemed sort of OK but even so, every reaction was fear-driven. Then, for a while, there was a depression that wasn’t letting go. One day I realized I could offer this cross to God – that I should offer it to him – and then things got markedly better. Then I learned that I have one extroverted quality above all others: processing things externally with the help of others. It’s not just being around others that’s important, but rather processing around others. Going to the park is not just fun, but the maddening crowd forms a meditative space where thoughts, feelings, and process all happen.
Additionally, my extroverted self is not just struggling to process things in public, but struggling to be seen from an external point of view: when you see me, I can be. Somehow this seems to be part of my struggles around intimacy, sex, friendship, and love. Being alone means for me non-being: how can there be any being if there is no validation, no interaction? This struggle arises at work as well as when a whole day goes by without any Slack interactions. How can today have gone well? No one spoke to me. In these mental habits living alone means never having time to think. Destructive, sinful patterns that come and go in my life are resurfacing and – like depression – it took forever to realize these are crosses that need to be offered up.
Writing to the Corinthians, in the concluding passages of “The Love Chapter” St Paul turns a curious phrase:
For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away… For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
1 Corinthians 13:9-10, 12 (AV)
We only know in part, he says, starting out, seemingly, with something theological, mystical, but then it suddenly jumps to first-person intimacy: Face to face, I shall know even as I am known.
The Greek here for face-to-face is πρόσωπον πρὸς πρόσωπον and yes, it means “Face to Face” but it also means so very much more. Πρόσωπον prosopon is the mask an actor wears in Greek theatre – which theatre was often a religious act. It means not just “face” (as in I put on a mask to look like someone else) but rather it means the entire persona that the actor became when wearing the mask. Prosopon means the intimate personhood of a being. Paul means here, person to person, divine to mortal, God to Man. What that would be like, Paul does not say here, although it is related to love, to charity, to agape. Yet in his next letter he has cause to use prosopon one more time. Saying that God has given us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face (prosopon) of Jesus Christ. In the very person of Jesus the Messiah, we have the very knowledge of the glory of God. In looking into the face of Jesus – the full prosopon of God – we are each revealed as prosopon. We have become ourselves, knowing as we are known. God sees us as subject of his gaze and offers himself as subject for ours as well.
The desire to be known which pretends to offer validation to me is but a corruption of this revelation that each of us – in his fullness – is known (and validated) exactly in this way by God. Not only that, but God does not seek just to see us in an omnidirectional panopticon. He’s not watching: he’s relating. He seeks to reveal himself to us, person to person. God reveals himself in the personhood, the prosopon of Jesus.
That this should be done in the context of an offered cross should come as no surprise since that’s the way God revealed himself to us, stretched out on the beams of a cross, pierced in hands and feet and side. That this should come a personal cost should be no surprise either, vide supra. That this should come as a gift of a very personal weakness, a very personal failing: that’s what we call grace.
20th Century Fox’s 1950 masterwork, All About Eve, directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz (who also wrote the screenplay) and produced by Darryl F. Zanuck, is a classic of Christian theology. Staring Bette Davis, Gary Merrill, Anne Baxter, Celeste Holm, Hugh Marlowe, Thelma Ritter, and George Sanders, at least for the purpose of the credits, it should also list St Paul, St James, and St John as writers. Even though the eponymous Eve (Anne Baxter) is the seeming focal point, the starring role of Margo Channing, more of a Mary Magdalen played by Bette Davis, is the one who gets saved. How she gets saved should put every post-modernist on edge.
If you’ve not seen the movie I have provided, on another page, a Synopsis. It lists the prologue, seven acts, and an epilogue. The following commentary is more thematic. You may want to read the synopsis first.
Although it’s not usually classed as such, I treat this as Film Noir. Culturally, the Noir arose in the aftermath of WW2. In the economic collapse of the post-war economy and the cultural confusion that resulted from the sudden peace, men returned home, women lost their war jobs, and people tried to “be normal” again. But many rural families ended up in urban environments, there were also many refugees coming into this country. What was hoped to be “normal” ended up being very strange. Film Noir provided a cathartic release for these tensions: clipped dialogue, shady characters, confusion, but a good ending where all things work out well. And yet an undercurrent of concern and suspicion. This movie has all of the above. It takes place in a few glitzy NYC apartments, a world unfamiliar to most audiences. It has some very cardboard characters – until all the masks come off and people are people. But the ending is classic noir.
During the Prologue we are introduced to all the main characters in turn through a voiceover from Addison DeWitt. By way of this filter we learn more about Addison than we do about others: as Critic who writes for the press, Addison thinks of this world, “The Theatre,” as filled with royalty and a bloodline. He speaks of people being “of the Theatre” by birth or by marriage. Curiously, through the course of the movie, we learn that the only other person who shares this view is Eve herself. Bill will blow this idea of The Theatre out of the water indicating it includes show girls and vaudeville, radio, TV, movies… it’s not just wooden stages and a few blocks on Broadway. Margo will ignore the traditions of the theatre when it suits her, Lloyd married a young college student. Etc. So, most of The Theatre is normal people who are actors. But there are a few cultists, for whom this is everything. Maintaining the purity of the cult is very important.
The characters Lloyd and Karen do not make much of a journey in this movie. They serve as foils for Margo and Bill, but their characters do not evolve much. Karen stays the calm housewife, Lloyd is the hard-working writer. Their actions result in changes in Margo (especially) but they do not change. Addison, too, does not change. He is a snarky queen, of a sort that may be familiar to anyone who watches black and white movies of this era.
Bill does not make much of a journey himself. He’s matured: Margo says as much in one of her famous lines, “Bill’s 32. He looks 32. He looked it five years ago. He’ll look it 20 years from now. I hate men.” He’s hit where he’s going to be for a while. Margo, however, matures a lot in the course of this movie. In fact, although the movie is called All About Eve it really is all about Margo. This is Margo’s journey. What we learn about Eve is how Margo can go wrong: Eve is Margo’s shadow. Eve falls as deep as she can. Margo rises so far and above all expectations.
Eve is an ingenue -or at least she pretends to be. Margo is in her 40s and yet tends to play 20-somethings on Broadway and act 20-something when she can’t get her way. Eve is begins to learn her own way by copying everything Margo does. Eve thinks that pretending to be like Margo will make her as Margo. Margo does not notice that’s at first, but when pretending to be like Margot results in needing to have Margo’s boyfriend and Margo’s job then things go awry. Margo finally notices the sort of theatrical Invasion of the Body Snatchers just in the nick of time and saves herself from the defenestration that would have resulted in the “cancel culture” of the day, if an elderly matron was seen to be standing in the way of a young darling of the theatre community.
What others do not see (except for Karen and Lloyd and, of course, Bill) is that Margo sidesteps Eve not by killing her or stabbing her in the back or leaking rumors to the press, but by getting married and going TradWife. This quote does not tend to make it into the “Favorite Quotes from this Movie” listing on the internet but it’s important. When Margo and Karen are talking in the car about what would make Margo happy the subject of Marriage comes up:
[Eve is…] so feminine, so helpless. The things I want to be for Bill. Funny business a woman’s career. The things you drop on your way up the ladder so you can move faster. You forgot that you will need them again when you get back to being a woman. That’s one career all females have in common: whether we like it or not, being a woman. Sooner or later we’ve got to work at it. No matter how many other careers we’ve had or wanted. And, in the last analysis, nothing’s any good unless you can look up just before dinner or turn around in bed and there he is. Without that, you’re not a woman. You are something with a French provincial office or a book full of clippings. But you’re not a woman. Slow curtain, the end.
The resurfaces later, after Margo and Bill announce their engagement.
Groom! (She’s addressing Bill) You know what I’m going to be? (A cowboy? He replies.) A married lady… I’m going to look up at six o’clock and there he’ll be. Remember Karen? … No more make believe off stage or on.
Salvation has come to Margo by marriage.
Margo realizes that the important things in life are brought to fulfillment in relationship. Her (future) marriage to Bill, her friendship with Karen and Lloyd and Birdie and even with Max, the producer of the play, are the real things in life. Her plays, her acting, what reviewers say about her are nice things – and yes, it’s nice to be on top of her craft – but these are not real things. They do not matter at all compared to looking up at six o’clock.
At the same time Eve falls to the very depths of depravity. Eve goes from copying Margo – especially in clothing, in voice, and in personal style – to trying to steal Margo’s place in the theatre and in Bill’s heart. Since her one goal is theatrical success without any moral underpinnings (such a cold woman with a lack of morals is another Noir trope) she doesn’t imagine love as between Margo and Bill or Karen and Lloyd has any real value. She thinks everything is playacting – not real. She wants to rewrite the script with her in it instead of Margo, but she doesn’t think she’s ruining Margo’s life… that has no value. Margo will just find another playwright, another play to be in. Nihilistic solipsism is also a Noir trope.
As Eve falls further and further she tries to steal Lloyd away from Karen. But it doesn’t matter if she succeeds or not, she only wishes to appear as if she has succeeded. It’s a play: appearance is the only thing that matters. Then she doesn’t care at all only the next part must be hers. And when she gets it she doesn’t see Addison swooping in for the kill. He will ride her coattails, having discovered the truth about her. He can spill the beans (by way of blackmail) or she must take him with her. In the one act of violence in the whole movie Addison slaps Eve and says, “Never laugh at me.” There’s reality when there are no morals, there is only honor and pride.
In the closing scenes as Margot and Bill go off with Karen and Richard and their friends to a party to which Eve should be coming -as she is the guest of honor – Eve realizes no one likes her. Their parting lines are cold. Eve has missed a signal somewhere: this is not about acting. This is about relationship, but she doesn’t know how to do that. She’s only a shell of a person.
When she meets Phoebe, later in her apartment, Phoebe wants to be like Eve. But Eve’s not a person… Phoebe wants to copy the shell that is Eve. And in the final scene, we see hundreds of Phoebe-shells, all trying to be like Eve, like Phoebe. Not persons, just shells. Snatched bodies. Eve is the first of this new race of shallow non-beings.
Slow curtain, the end.
A note on Names:
Margo means Pearl. The thing of beauty that arrises from so much irritation. This is as perfect a symbol of salvation as possible: for we take our cross and offer it to the Lord and the cross, itself, becomes our throne. Margo’s cross – at this point in life – is realizing that she is female but that she has never worked out being a woman.
Bill comes from William and it means “Protector”. That’s what Bill is for Margaret: a protector.
Karen is a derivative of Catherine and it means Pure. Karen’s motives are pure throughout the movie, nearly naive. But because of the purity of intention the motives succeed – even when Karen thinks they’ve failed.
Lloyd is a Welsh name meaning grey. It comes from the word llywd. It implies worthy of respect, a sort of elder wisdom. It’s a perfect name for a writer, but also for one whose function is basically to be the strong silent type.
Very early in this I learned that I can go quite a long time on autopilot without realizing this is not “the new normal” but rather this is the rut I let myself make and it’s only that I’m calling it the New Normal. For a while my two emotions were fear and snark. Sometimes, all up in there, God would manage to punch through with some emotions, like during the Papal Holy Hour. I wept like Tammy Faye in uncontrolled sobs. But mostly I was running on fear and snark. That was not the new normal: that was the rut.
For a while, my entire life was from the apartment, to Grace Cathedral’s Labyrinth, to Nob Hill Market, to back home.
Labyrinths are curious. Why bother: it’s a walk in circles. But it forces you to watch your feet, to look down, to not be distracted. It’s perfect for praying a rosary or the Jesus Psalter. It’s a place for zoning out: in broad daylight, people will watch you like you’re a TV show. They will talk to you when you’re done as if you’re a TV star. Then they go on with their day. The first time I looked into the center and saw death, I cried. I’ve since become friends with her by walking into her at least once every other day or so. And praying.
The Market was another trip: do you remember the time before we washed groceries? Then they stopped taking cash. I learned how to make sourdough bread with a half teaspoon of commercial yeast that I’m still using to make things. It bubbles up nicely when I need it to.
But there’s also been a slow, painful learning process.
First: I was taking mass for granted. It was a badge of honor that I was going to daily mass – not a daily coming into deeper relationship with God. This was something I did… a box to check off. Not a desire from my heart. Now that I cannot go (or rather, that I can only go on-screen) I’ve learned that you should only eat when you’re hungry.
Second: I’m really afraid of prayer. God teaches us a vocabulary. God gets us going… and then God rocks it. This thing happens when God reaches in and takes over. Grace works your prayer life like this scene from Close Encounters of the Third Kind (EMI 1977):
We are taking over this conversation… now.
But that’s terrifying. While there are few things as glorious, it’s also one thing as terrfying… even the prophets ran away from it. In a deep relationship of love, why do we hurt each other so? My child you cannot hurt me, but you are wounded by Love because you do not trust me. Light can only hurt if your eyes are not strong enough. But I can heal your eyes: and your heart. Only trust.
Third. We asked God to purify His Church but we didn’t really mean it. This is like the item above on prayer: When God has something to do, he does it. I’ve come to believe that’s what’s happening now. God is fixing things, refocusing things, getting things lined up for a future that may even be worse. These words from 1969 are familiar to some:
From the crisis of today the Church of tomorrow will emerge—a Church that has lost much. She will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning. She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes, so she will lose many of her social privileges. In contrast to an earlier age, it will be seen much more like a voluntary society, entered only by free decision. As a small society, it will make much bigger demands on the initiative of her individual members. Undoubtedly it will discover new forms of ministry and will ordain to the priesthood approved Christians who pursue some profession. In many smaller congregations or in self-contained social groups, pastoral care will normally be provided in this fashion. Along-side this, the full-time ministry of the priesthood will be indispensable as formerly. But in all of the changes at which one might guess, the Church will find her essence afresh and with full conviction in that which was always at her center: faith in the triune God, in Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, in the presence of the Spirit until the end of the world.
In faith and prayer she will again recognize the sacraments as the worship of God and not as a subject for liturgical scholarship. The Church will be a more spiritual Church, not presuming upon a political mandate, flirting as little with the Left as with the Right. It will be hard going for the Church, for the process of crystallization and clarification will cost her much valuable energy. It will make her poor and cause her to become the Church of the meek. The process will be all the more arduous, for sectarian narrow-mindedness as well as pompous self-will have to be shed. One may predict that all of this will take time. The process will be long and wearisome as was the road from the false progressivism on the eve of the French Revolution—when a bishop might be thought smart if he made fun of dogmas and even insinuated that the existence of God was by no means certain—to the renewal of the nineteenth century.
But in the midst of the process it that really sucks, you know? We don’t like it. Worse some of us actually decided – after yelling and screaming about purifying the Church – that we needed to tell God where to get off – especially if he wanted to take out some other things in the process, like ‘Muruka.
Fourth, now that I can’t run away, I’ve realized that all the running away I did in the past was a form of suicide. I would reach a point of disconnect, or dislike, find myself trapped in some way or another, and then I would just go: dropping friends, religions, jobs, lovers, whatever… and reinvent myself. Except the self I’d reinvent was often someone else: a new name, a new religion, a new backstory. The old one was killed.
That’s… not a healthy thing. Not at all. And I’m only learning that now because I can’t escape. Where could I go that’s not here? Or like here? So now I just get out and walk 15 miles. In the past I would drive 400 miles, sleeping in the car, and figure out something to do before coming back (if I came back).
Fifth, American healthcare sucks, and we’ve now shown that to the world. Literally everyone knew this, but no one laughs at the bully until it’s safe to do so. Now it’s safe and we’ve made it clear: millions of people lost healthcare in this crisis, but only in America. Only because their bosses – on whom they depend for health care – were too stingy to care for their workers in times of loss. We need a nationalized – socialized – healthcare system now: from the local pharmacy and privatized “Urgent Care” clinics to the big HMOs and the Pharmaceutical companies. They all need to be torn down, nationalized, and purged. But we will not get it. The next crisis will be worse.
Before this all started in the States, one priest on FB was convinced that the only reason Italy was suffering was because – unlike America – Italy had very few hospital beds to care for the ill. Mostly because of Europe’s socialized Health Care. He didn’t care that per-capita number proved that Italy had more beds than America, or that even our medical experts were saying we didn’t have enough beds. That level of denial is common in America: we know we’re the best so if something bad happens it must be someone else’s fault.
That was before NYC started to bring in refrigerator trucks to hold the dead bodies that they had no other room for. That was before:
The population of China is 1.435 Billion people. They’ve had 4,634 deaths. The population of the USA is 328.2 Million people. We’ve had 97,647 deaths. How did we get ~24 times more deaths despite having only a 5th as many people? We’re NUMBER ONE! USA! USA! USA! (Source). There are other places with worse stats. We’re not the worst. I get that. But still.. we’re certainly not the best.
Sixth, the American Economy is dysfunctional AF. The cries of “only old people need to stay home”, “let’s risk the deaths…”, “keep our cities open!” and “Meat slaughtering is essential work – even if workers are dying” are, as one person on twitter put it, a sign that America, confronted with the classic Trolley problem elected to save the streetcar named capitalism at all costs. Sorry, wrong answer.
Finally, we really live in a banana republic.
In economics, a banana republic is a country with an economy of state capitalism, whereby the country is operated as a private commercial enterprise for the exclusive profit of the ruling class. Such exploitation is enabled by collusion between the state and favored economic monopolies, in which the profit, derived from the private exploitation of public lands, as private property, while the debts incurred thereby are the financial responsibility of the public treasury. Such an imbalanced economy remains limited by the uneven economic development of town and country, and usually reduces the national currency into devalued banknotes (paper money), rendering the country ineligible for international development credit.
Remember, civilized countries did far more than just give out $1k checks so that people could shop some more – to prop up the economy. All the Feds did was give us more money (as individuals) to give to Jeff Bezos (and some others). And while millions of us sat home unemployed, the stock market had one of its best months ever. That’s where we live. If the Caldera in Yellowstone blew up – because, you know, 2020 – the main loss would be elk, bears, and Old Faithful.
After the martyrdom of the Czar and his family, the Orthodox Church in what was becoming the Soviet Union wrestled for a while with various ideas about what was needed. In the Byzantine idea of polity, the Church and the State had always worked “in symphony” even though the idea usually manifested as State Control of the Church in reality: what the west called “Caesaropapism”. In Russia this played out as an ongoing power struggle between the Czar and the Patriarch of the Russian Church. In fact, Czar Peter forbade the election of any new Patriarch in 1700 and the Russian Church let that happen. So there was no Patriarch until the Bolsheviks killed Czar St Nicholas II in 1917 and let the Russian Church have a Patriarch again.
That’s where this story gets really odd. If the state can prevent your leadership from electing a Chief Bishop – and then, turn around and grant you permission to do so again 200 years later – how beholden to the state are you? Both the Church and the Russian State – Czarist and then Soviet – thought the answer was “Greatly Beholden”. So, in the 1920s and 30s, when Orthodox Clergy wanted to bring the Church more-closely into alignment with Soviet ideology, the Soviets encouraged this…
Not because Soviets thought that the proper manifestation of Christian Social Teaching was socialist; not because they thought that Marx had finally understood Christ more perfectly. Rather the Soviet Support for what was called “The Living Church” (Живая Церковь Zhivaya Tserkov) was to encourage a schism in the Church – in order to weaken the Church entirely. After a while, it was common for Soviet agents to influence internal Church politics by seeming to take “liberal” Church positions against the “conservatives” in the Church: things like allowing monastics to marry without giving up their church titles, or allowing Bishops to get married. Today they would have been pushing new definitions or marriage and sex or liberalized abortion laws. This was a political choice and not a theological one. When it became necessary to fight the Nazis, Joseph Stalin jumped theological tracks and began supporting the conservative majority in the Church to get them all fighting with him (and Churchill, etc) against Hitler. Later, again making a political choice, Stalin and his successors would persecute (or partially liberate) the Church in order to gain some political stepping stone.
This history is presented because America seems to be in a Trumpian Renovation period right now.
Entirely for his own political power (not for any theological position) the President has taken religious talking points. In that it results in some sort of political change in favor of Church teachings, I don’t think that’s bad, per se. But the overall effect is to lure a certain class of clergy and faithful into thinking they have to support the President no matter what. These are like the minority of Orthodox in Russia today seeking to make Stalin a saint. They remember the Great Leader’s overtures to the Church and so the Bad Things he did must be ignored. Our President has this same class of supporters in the Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant communities of America.
So I think it’s interesting that right now there is a fight between governors and the president over opening Churches. I remark that it’s interesting… but I don’t trust or agree with either side. While I can agree that many “liberal” politicians would rather the Church go away, the reality is the “conservatives” would drop us like a hot potato if they thought they could get more votes by doing so. We already see this in the area of abortion where Republicans are quick to talk, but slow to act and even many a Catholic Politician refuses to vote (as a matter of course) in keeping with the Church’s position. No, if they could get more votes and stay in power by doing so, they blow up Churches just like Stalin did and give their people swimming pools.
The real issue about opening the churches: If gov’ts allow houses of faith to be open for the spiritual wellbeing of their people it is a tacit admission that religion is a communal, not private affair. It follows that religion is a part of – with effect in – the public sphere. This is contrary to the entire enlightenment project and contrary to the stream of secular, atheistic culture. Religion is ok at home. Not in public.
Neither Trump nor the Democrats can allow for that save that it supports their political ends. Trumps was conservatives who think they have to vote for him because of abortion… while ignoring literally everything else about him as a person and the economic choices he makes. Democrats what liberals who think they have to vote for Biden (or Clinton, or Obama, or whomever) simply for the sake of healthcare or welfare, ignoring abortion and every other moral issue that comes up. At present, both sides are using the medical emergency and taxes to whip up support.
Contrary to any “Politicopapism”, the Church offers the Social Kingship of Christ: which requires the state to move her people towards salvation… or get out of the way while the Church does her job. So it is possible to see that a given politician’s support for something is a cynical ploy to get votes and yet, realistically to give that politician our vote now – knowing that next election we may have to get rid of him. It is possible to see that healthcare for all and a social safety net are part of the requirements of Catholic Teaching while realizing that abortion must be stopped and cannot ever – even momentarily – be considered “healthcare”. Siding with one politician over another will only lead to a schism in the Church, to participation in the Enlightenment project of weakening the Church.
Our current culture drives us apart, to consider “my needs” over and above anything else. Catholic Social Teach is exactly social and requires a community. It takes a village, actually, to live the faith. If we allow the politicians to destroy our social fabric in a Stalinesque move simply to divide and conquer, (if, God forbid, we should participate in it) we are following them – not Christ. We are seeing the new Living Church, and we are bound for death.
I am neither a spiritual director nor a psych-anything. This is a meditation.
Two of my favorite podcasters (who do not podcast together), Fr Harrison and Gomer, have been talking about acedia in their podcasts and/or social media. This topic has interested me since before I was Catholic. My first visit to an Orthodox monastery, a priest was reading The Noonday Devil by Dom Jean-Charles Nault, OSB. Although Fr David and I had a brief talk about it at that time and the title stuck with me and I was able to buy it on Amazon. It was my first grasp at understanding that the sin of “sloth” is not really the same thing as being lazy.
Acedia, according to St Thomas, is:
It should be said that acedia, according to Damascene, is a certain oppressive sadness, which so depresses man’s mind that he can do nothing freely, as things which are acidic are also cold. And therefore acedia implies a certain weariness in working, as is evident from what the Gloss says about Psalm 106:8, “their soul abhorred all meat”; and some say that acedia is a torpor of the mind that neglects to begin good things. Now such sadness is always bad, sometimes in itself, sometimes with respect to its effect. For sadness in itself is bad when it concerns that which is apparently bad and truly good, as conversely delight is bad when it concerns that which is apparently good and truly bad. Therefore since spiritual good is truly good, sadness that concerns spiritual good is bad in itself. But also sadness that concerns something truly bad is bad with respect to its effect if it weighs a man down so much as to draw him totally away from good work; hence the Apostle in 2 Cor 2:7, does not want “the penitent to be absorbed by greater sadness” about sin. But since acedia, as we take it here, names sadness regarding spiritual good, it is bad in both ways: in itself, and with respect to its effect. And therefore acedia is a sin, since evil in appetitive movements we call a sin, as is evident from what was said above.
Summa Theologiae, II-II 35:1
St John Cassian has an entire book on the subject, writing of a Monk who, instead of praying, “looks about anxiously this way and that, and sighs that none of the brethren come to see him, and often goes in and out of his cell, and frequently gazes up at the sun, as if it was too slow in setting, and so a kind of unreasonable confusion of mind takes possession of him like some foul darkness.”
Other Fathers have written about this sin. They have something like St Thomas’ description: “a certain oppressive sadness, which so depresses man’s mind”. And yet… does that not sound like what we, today, in psychological terms might call clinical depression?
I know a lot of folks who take anti-depression meds, many with the approval of their confessor or spiritual director. So, meds can’t get rid of sins.
What’s the difference between depression and acedia? I’ve asked this on Twitter and in other places… I’ve not gotten an answer at all. Then, early in the Quarantine, my HMO assessed me as living with mild depression which can be managed without meds. My response was something along the lines of, “This is only MILD?!?!?! I don’t even want to know what cross is borne by those who have the sort of depression that needs meds. OMG THIS SUCKS. Or words to that effect. This question of the difference between acedia and depression became personal.
It seems to me that – as with other sins – one must have a tendency or a weakness that needs exploiting. This tendency can be styled, perhaps, a Melancholic temperament, although not always – many folks deal with depression right now. But the tendency, once present, allows for temptations to be triggered.
Depression is not acedia. But the Noonday Devil can use depression for its own ends.
So: sometimes I wake up and don’t feel up to getting out of bed. Sometimes, I’m just too down to get dressed and get on with the day. Sometimes, I’d rather sit and sit, and sit. And I can actually see that happening… I might be able to catch myself, to be able to move away from that… or perhaps, like the gif above, it feels like it follows me anyway. That’s depression.
But I know I can and should get up and pray. I can ask for help: St Catherine of Siena is my go-to intercessor for my mental health, as is my patron, Stanley Rother. But asking for help takes. just. too. much. time. and. I. can. lie. here. for. a. long. time…
But I should ask for help… too… much… work…
It strikes me that’s acedia.
The blog post two weeks ago on NSFW Satanism took me nearly 4 months to write (even from before Covid). It was a struggle. I knew it was important, but I kept avoiding writing it. I would sit down and get up again. That was acedia. This post was about to become hard to write: but I decided to put my foot down. It seemed important to note.
Depression is a cross. Manageable or not, medicated or not, it is a cross to bear – and one to offer to God. It’s ok to ask for help (God has help for us, as solid as St Simon of Cyrene was for Our Lord). But it’s not ok to use any tendency, any psychological state, struggle, or damage to fall into sin. The addict may or may not be spiritually culpable for actions committed in the throes of his passion, but that does not mean those actions are free of harm to himself or others. That harm may be physical, mental, or emotional but it is also, often, spiritual in which latter case, it’s sin. I think acedia can show the same pattern: it can arise where one crosses the line from depression to causing harm (of a spiritual sort) to oneself or to others. I can be depressed: I can pray and go to bed. Or I can sit and not-move until I find myself watching NSFW content… when I should be praying. The process by which I go from depression to triggering my addictive behaviors seems to be where acedia feeds in.
I could be wrong: I am open to correction. As I said at the top, I’m neither a spiritual director nor a psych-anything. I didn’t even take psych 101 in college.