Friday, May 19, 2017

Let Our Voices Blend With Theirs

Gentleness, meekness, mildness - these are things vaunted in word but often ridiculed or rejected (even if only in thought) when encountered. The meek are deemed weak or sentimental and perhaps even simple-minded because they shun the frenetic activities of the aggressive and power-driven.

My mind marches along at a slow pace, turning things over and over again, like checking and double-checking to make sure the stove is off and the door locked. It does not launch like a firework into the sky, sending down dazzling rains of light - it's like a slug that gropes and flinches away from pointy rocks and salt, leaving a trail of slime to show its path: where it came from and the direction it's headed in. You can track its progress and watch its binary operations. I can't keep pace with frenzy. It feels unnatural.

We desire to be loved and admired, praised and emulated. Our words and works we want propagated but we are seldom satisfied to enter into harmonious melodies with others. The strident voice is the one heard - the one that shouts louder, which is most out of tune, standing apart from all the rest. That is the one we often remember.

And we listen to it time and again. The forceful are called clever in our encounters and we point to them and say they speak truths because they speak in high contrast. Their rhetoric pulls us into the eddies of their different worldviews and their agility of mind and strength of conviction sway us. Truth is a clarion call, isn't it? A mark of truth is that it cuts?

We start to mimic, to grow coarser and less forgiving as we emulate the sharp. I see men and women begin to simplify their ideas and their voices until they all sound alike even when meaning to be opposites. And their likeness is all harsh cries and subjugation. It's like when a group sings a copyrighted song SO BADLY that YouTube doesn't even flag it as a copyright infringement: its algorithm can't figure out what the tune is.

There is the echo chamber of us surrounding ourselves with those who hold similar views as we back-pat ourselves. There's also the cage we impose on ourselves by echoing others. It's not that we need to be original - one of my professors once told a class to not even both trying since everything we thought and would write had been thought and written before. But we do need to be authentic.  (Heideggerian language sometimes will out.)

Very few of us, I'd like to imagine, *really* get off on calling people dumb, telling them to fuck off, or, worse, damn them to hell. But I see, for example (a mild example that I've seen happen time and again), people with kindly dispositions slide from swearing in acronyms (wtf, wtaf, etc.), to explicit swearing, to caricatures of the people whose attention they're trying to catch or whose fame they covet. It often isn't *them* and it's not *who they are* and it's not *their voice.* It's a corruption.

I DON'T have an issue with swearing (or vulgarity!) so long as it doesn't profane what is good or holy...and sometimes find it a bit boring when used badly. My grandmother saw Gone With the Wind in theaters remembers vividly the gasp that came from the audience at the line "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn." That damn had solidity and weight, rhetorical impact and measure. If you're going to damn, make it good for heaven's sake!

But when those with hearts clamoring to find out and think the best of people find that this is Not How Things Are Done By Those In The Spotlight, they slowly stifle better impulses and shush the flames of charity. Reluctantly at first, they begin to change and small inroads are made until force of habit kicks in and they begin to relish this newfound cacophony since they, too, are being Noticed or are in the company of the Noticed. And their hearts become like duckweed on a pond - drifting here and there, seeking attention (everyone knows duck-weed is diva-like, yes?), becoming closed and indifferent.

The meek and gentle have no such allures. Theirs is a quiet and deep-abiding character that is not turned easily and which springs from deeper sources and has oak-like roots. Meekness seems to keep a slower pace in some ways and its very mildness is seen as a disgrace or, what seems like the greater sin, boring. A line from Whit Stillman's movie Metropolitan comes to mind:
It's incredible the eagerness of girls like you to justify the worst bastards imaginable as being sensitive and shy. But if any guy who really was shy dared talk to you, you wouldn't give him the time of day. Your eyes would glaze over.
But the gentle have strength: the strength to shore up, to refuse to be sowers of discord, the courage to pursue the promptings of the Holy Spirit. As Augustine says:
You wish to possess the earth now; take heed lest you be possessed by it. If you be meek, you will possess it; if ungentle, you will be possessed by it...For this is to be meek, not to resist your God. (Sermon 3 on the New Testament, emphasis added)
And if God calls you to be a preacher with words of fire, that is one thing. And if God calls you to be a mother who soothes her child, that's another. In hearkening to His voice, in diminishing like John the Baptist, we become more authentically ourselves: we blend our voice with those of the angelic hosts. We should not seek to assert our voice aggressively but to be conduits of the Holy Spirit.

"If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts."

NB, I am heavily influenced by this quote of Graham Greene: "I want men to admire me, but that's a trick you learn in school - a movement of the eyes, a tone of voice, a touch of the hand on the shoulder or the head. If they think you admire them, they will admire you because of your good taste, and when they admire you, you have an illusion for a moment that there's something to admire."

Also heavily influenced by re-reading Servais Pinckaers on the Beatitudes in his Sources of Christian Ethics.

Am also sort of using gentle and meek interchangeably - I know their senses are different, but they're similar. **shrugs**

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Living in Denial

Trad Catholic
Catholic Socialist
Catholic Libertarian
Normie Catholic
Weird Catholic
Leftist Catholic
Catholic Republican
Catholic Democrat
Communist Catholic

This one has a little car.
THAT one has a little star!
Say! What a lot of Catholics there are.

When I was at Cal, I colluded with a fellow student to bring a contingent of students into contact with the extraordinary form of the Mass. We'd drive them over, help 'em get used to the weird missals, and whisper warm encouraging things when their eyes glazed over at the 1 1/2 hour mark, surreptitiously dabbing away the drool trickling from their slackened mouths.

That's little exaggeration - going to a completely new (to you) liturgy can be draining. When a friend brought me to some Eastern Rite Mass, I practically fainted. He helpfully clutched my elbow for awhile in case I decided a reverent face-plant was in order. So many new sensory inputs, so much difference, is daze-inducing to the detail-oriented.

After one Mass (we'd made this a regular offering to students, and I think we went for maybe 4 months in a row, 1x/month?), a regular approached me with a smile asking if I was thinking of becoming a regular, too. Her mantilla-framed face froze as I told her that I was happy with the Ordinary Form. She *turned her back on me* and left without another word (perhaps she mumbled an "oh"? Maybe.), leaving me a solitary stunned outcast.

Literally bringing people to the extraordinary form of the Mass couldn't satiate her - I must conform to just and only this, leaving no room in my heart for anything else. It certainly felt like there was no space in that woman's heart for me à la Ordinary Form - or maybe she had IBS and I totally misinterpreted her frozen face of horror as she had a bowel movement and one of those LITERAL "CRAP!!! I'M NOT WEARING DEPENDS!!!" moments and had to waddle away. MAYBE.

That didn't stop me from bringing people to the extraordinary form, but it remained with me as a formative perception.

I hate being labeled and often hate labels. Flannery O'Connor hated labels. She's good company. Sort of spicy and acerbic but with a warm pulse - leaves you feeling like she's trying to shove your begrudging body in the right direction with a wry grimace-smile.

Catholics have a different kinda substance. The indelible mark(s) that we're sealed with re-configures our soul and thus our form and thus our body and thus our substance. They remain with us in the afterlife (so I've read). What that really means in theological terms, I'm not entirely sure, since I studied philosophy not theology, ya know? But it suggests to me that in some sense being a member of the Church is what we are and not an aggregation of the things we have done or what Mass we attend or what political party we adhere to.

Living up to our baptismal vows, remaining in communion with the Church, is a different matter. If you do not say "CREDO" to the fundamental truths, if you assent in intellect but spurn in will, if you deliberately face off against the Catholic Church like a forçado, well, then, you're still under her authority but not necessarily in communion.

I KNOW this is a pretty poor blush on the whole thing and that writers from Saint Bellarmine to John Paul the Great deal with the Church as the mystical body and make profound observations regarding its body and soul / being of the body / being of the soul of the Church, and how people fall into those categories. But bear with me - I'm aiming at something so don't focus on where I go wrong or where I'm the equivalent of a kindergartener spouting things about Kierkegaard -- I'm trying to wave my hand at something. Focus on that. Kthxendaside.

Probably, I would be identified as a Leftist Catholic, but would never and have never identified myself as anything but "Catholic." I suspect some might also say I'm a normie Catholics, perhaps. (I'm still not quite sure what the extension of that term is, but it seems pejorative.) To be Catholic is enough for me. The additional descriptors aren't substance-y enough but we often treat them as if they were, tho. You must BE a Republican if you are to call yourself a Catholic. You are CATHOLIC if you attend the extraordinary form of the Mass. Etc.

Then, armed with these descriptors, some of us stand shoulder to shoulder with our associates and get all down and tribal and funky. All who agree with us are within a protective bubble of civility. All who are outside are open to the worst epithets. What this person says is not just reasonable - the person himself is obviously erudite, has a good character, deserves standing applause. What THAT OTHER PERSON says is not just unreasonable - the person himself is obviously a peon, lacks any semblance of internal thought processes, and should be cursed unto the nth generation. Plus, their kids are ugly. And fat. And he looks like a goat. HA HA, OH SNAP.

What some (many?) people really mean by such requirement statements for Catholicism is: in order to be in union with the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, you must be x/y/z. We also see the phrase: "You cannot be Catholic and a/b/c" which has similar shorthand except it deals with the denial of a conjunction.

"You cannot be Catholic and pro-choice." Fine.
"You cannot be Catholic and support euthanasia." Fine.
"You cannot be Catholic and deny the divinity of Christ." Fine.
"You cannot be Catholic (in the USA) without being a Republican." Er.....

The first three things are not a positive affirmation of a position with an identity, but a denial. I'm ok with denial. I live in denial. What makes me uncomfortable is when identity statements are made about human institutions, transitory forms of liturgy, or political ideologies -- and that is the basis used for grouping ourselves within the Church and FIGHTING WITH EACH OTHER.

I'm not saying that these labels are without use -- but that some of the ways in which we use them are less than helpful and fuel for unnecessary division. We're members of the same Church, the mystical Body of Christ, claimed for Him through the same waters of baptism. To be Catholic defies, in some ways, defies such descriptors - it is so grand and there are so many rooms.

My, how we Christians love each other, eh?

[Thanks to mah friend Dr. Tan from Divine Wedgie who looked at this post to make sure I wasn't saying theologically unsound stupid stuff.]

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Topical Application

These are the subjects marinating in my head:
- Prone to Failure (Ambition, Commonality, First Followers)
- Knowing and Doing (Formal Necessity's Need)
- Catholic Tribalism (Are Descriptors Necessary?)
- Faux Appreciation of Gentleness (Judas Paying Lip-Service)
- Being in the Weeds (Considerations of Smaller Things)