Saturday, February 10, 2007


You may have heard of a film called Office Space directed by Mike Judge. Well, you've probably heard he's got a new movie out called Idiocracy. No? Well, if you haven't heard about this film it's probably because Idiocracy, like Children of Men, was barely promoted by the studio. According to Slate:
Both movies were scandalously underpromoted by the studios releasing them. Judge's film sat on a shelf for two years at Fox before being hacked down to its current 84-minute running time and dumped, unadvertised, into only a few cities on the slowest movie weekend of the year. Children of Men's fate has been slightly less ignominious; it was released nationwide, largely untrumpeted, on Christmas Day, and only this week, after countless critics put the movie on their 10-best lists, has Universal rushed to mount a too-little-too-late push for Oscar consideration.

The burial of Children of Men was lame, but comprehensible. Figuring that few viewers would flock to such an unremitting downer of a film, Universal must have decided to market the movie modestly, hoping at least to break even with attention from art-house audiences. But Fox's choice to withhold Idiocracy even from the markets where it was most likely to find cult viewers—New York? San Francisco?—and to eschew all advertising is simply bewildering. The shrouding of Idiocracy in what amounts to a marketing burqa is especially ironic given that the film's most pointed satire is aimed at the ubiquity of advertising in American life.

Since a common theme of both these movies is the West's inability to make babies, this has Daniel Larison wondering if breeding scares Hollywood. He blogs on the subject here and here.

Anyway, I finally got my hands on a copy of Idiocracy and watched it last night. The plot of the movie is that two Joe Schmoes are frozen as part of an Army experiment and are supposed to be brought out of their capsules in one year. (Well, one of the Joe Schmoes is a prostitute played by Maya Rudolf; the other is a very average soldier played by Luke Wilson.) When the experiment is canceled their capsules are misplaced and aren't opened for another 500 years. By this time, human beings have devolved into a race of morons because elites have stopped having children while only the underclass has continued to breed. Things have gotten so bad that crops will no longer grow because people "water" them with a sports drink--Brawn the "Thirst Mutilator"--reasoning that, after all, "Brawn's got 'lectrolytes."

It's not a great film, but if you want to have a good laugh at evolution-niks, at sophisticated yuppies who refuse to breed (DINKs--double income, no kids), and at our inane, Beavis-n-Butthead, consumerist culture, Idiocracy is your flick.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Screwtape #2: The Church and Conversion

The second letter starts off with the news that Wormwood’s patient has become a Christian. This may be surprising to some as it would seem that Lewis would devote a whole series of letters into deceiving the patient away from Christianity with a conversion as the final defeat of the Lowerarchy. Instead, Lewis devotes only a single letter to the patient’s pre-Christian days. This might have to do with Lewis’s declaration , despite his being a long-time atheist, that atheism was merely “a boy’s philosophy.” But I think that more importantly this decision is influenced by Lewis’s belief that conversion is a life-long process and we are constantly struggling against sin in order to accept Christ. So Lewis chooses to focus on the period right after conversion when the patient is still discovering his faith and when perhaps the truth can most be perverted by Screwtape.

And as Screwtape points out, the period after conversion is a particularly vulnerable stage:

“At bottom, he still believes he has run up a favorable credit-balance in the Enemy’s ledger by allowing himself to be converted…”

That is, the newly converted have a natural vulnerability to self-righteousness. This inflation of pride in the patient coupled with the patient’s inexperience with the Christian community, namely the Church, can be put to the advantage of Screwtape. This is not the “Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners,” but the physical church as seen by the new Christian which would be “the half-finished, sham Gothic erection on the new building estate.” So Screwtape is attacking here the difference between the idealistic conception of the Church and Christians and the realities. This might be the trivial and silly, that is the difference between the mental images of Christians as wearing togas and sandals as they did in the time of Christ being martyred and the silly woman whose hat is funny-looking and can’t sing on key to the more serious, such as seeing well-known sinners in Church.

Scott Hahn had a similar problem when he was considering entering the Church. He fell in love with the theology of Ratzinger and John Paul II and particularly with Eucharistic theology. He loved the Scriptural basis of the liturgy. However, upon talking with various priests he wasn’t sure, as his wife put it, “that the Catholic Church he believed in still existed” (Rome Sweet Home). That seems to be a mighty trick of the devil. He separates us from the Church by getting us to focus too much on the flawed physical Church and not enough on the invisible Church which Screwtape admits “is a spectacle that makes our boldest tempters uneasy.” Whether it’s the child in the pew in front of us that’s cutting up during the homily or the silliness of some of the congregation, if we become too focused on the physical we miss what’s most important.

Having seen the physical fail to match up to the ideal, a natural period of disappointment follows. This, Screwtape believes, is a key moment in the battle of the soul for both God and Wormwood.

“The Enemy allows this disappointment to occur on the threshold of every human endeavor. It occurs when the boy who had been enchanted in the nursery by Stories from the Odyssey buckles down to really learning Greek. It occurs when lovers have got married and begin the real task of learning to live together. In every department of life it marks the transition from dreaming aspiration to laborious doing. The Enemy takes this risk because He has a curious fantasy of making all these disgusting little human vermin into what He calls His ‘free’ lovers and servants-‘sons’ is the word He uses, with His inveterate love of degrading the whole spiritual world by unnatural liaisons with the two-legged animals…If once they get through this initial dryness successfully, they become much less dependent on emotion and therefore much harder to tempt.”

When in faith and in love and in life we confront the inevitable shortfalls of this imperfect world, the choice is set upon us very clearly. We either declare the shortfall to be indicative of our inability to sustain happiness or we declare the shortfall to be indicative of our inability to sustain happiness outside of the perfect God. If we make the latter choice we will be far stronger than we would if we had not been disappointed. Perhaps this is a partial explanation of why we suffer: it is to teach us this lesson and to demand the difficult choice of us so that we grow more aware of our reliance on God for happiness.

Discussion of Bioethics this sunday

This Sunday Philip deMahy will be presenting on issues of Bioethics, specifically some theological problems concerning ensoulment. The presentation will start at about 8 o'clock on Sunday night at 4463 Tupello St, which is the house of Parousian Ryan Hallford. Directions can be obtained by calling 504-952-0247.

We're okay; we're not okay

I like to bring up old stuff. Like this amusing bit of Cafeteria Catholicism in a post from last week by Gerald of the Cafeteria is Closed. Gerald takes a swing at social justice and whiffs, his main point being that he and other like-minded Catholics aren’t terribly interested in the topic because things are honky dory and there isn’t that much economic injustice in developed countries anyway:

Obviously, capitalism as we have it today is the best economic system around, providing more people than ever before with good lives. Real questions really only arise in details. I think that is why, in the West, this [the Church’s social teaching] is not a big draw to a lot of people.
I was reminded of Gerald’s post this morning when I heard a story on NPR about how mortgage defaults have hit a five-year high despite the economy being relatively robust. At one point in the story someone states that a few years ago brokers were selling as many mortgages as possible not really caring if prospects actually had the ability to pay the loans back. Great.

I didn’t really understand the mortgage market until recently, but learning about it helped me to understand the Church’s teaching and also begin to see how messed up our economic system is. As Wendell Berry says, “an economy firmly founded upon the seven deadly sins and the breaking of all ten of the Ten Commandments.” You take something as personal and significant as a home and then take the loan for that home and ratchet it up all these levels of abstraction until you have a Wall Street broker who is part of a huge investment bank who trades packages of bundled loans trying to spin pennies out of them which eventually add up to billions of dollars for the bank. Do you think this broker spends a lot of time thinking about Sam and Julie and the house on Dogwood Lane where they live with their four kids, their sheltie, and their pet goldfish, or about the struggles of their daily lives? Or are these mere data points which help him to judge risk appropriately and make more money?

I do commend Gerald, at least, for making the effort to read the Compendium of Social Doctrine. I pray that more Catholics will do the same.

Catholic Outreach to Homosexuals

The National Catholic Register continues to drive home the point that the Church must show charity to homosexuals. The editors offer this piece, "Loving Homosexuals", saying, "We Catholics have a tough job ahead of us. As we’ve mentioned before, the task of loving homosexuals in a total and authentic way falls squarely on our shoulders."

In the same issue, Melinda Selmys continues sharing her personal insights in "Evangelizing the Homosexual."

Why God is Father and Not Mother

Mark Brumley writing for Ignatius Insight provides apologetic critique of a faulty feminist trend in viewing God.

Jack Chick Meets John Edwards

The Curt Jester offers a Chick-styled tract endorsing John Edwards entitled "Are Roman Catholics Human?"

A Love for the Ages

Jimmy Akin points out an incredible example of the depth of love between a man and a woman. Be sure to measure your Valentine against this standard.

Pope Gregory XVI, Catholics, and Slavery

Bill Cork provides an incredible post on papal intervention in defense of human dignity and two bishops who tried to dismiss the Pope's wisdon as they offered apologies for the peculiar institution. This is a must read!

Anti-Catholic Bigotry is OK by Presidential Hopeful

Bill Cork offers these words in his critique of bigoted statements by John Edwards' staffers: "This isn’t reasoned criticism of public politics. This is intentionally slap you in the face offensive mocking of what she acknowledges is mainstream Catholicism." Edwards has condemned the statements without firing the staffers.

The Flesh was Willing but the Battery was Weak

A epic Parousian adventure took place tonight between Parousians Toby Danna, Emily Byers, and Michael Denton(that's me). These brave three decided to travel to Lafayette in my Honda Civic to a meeting of the UL chapter of the Parousians so that I could give my famous (or infamous) talk on Bishop Fulton J. Sheen's Life of Christ. The meeting went well as I didn't botch the speech irredeemably and the discussion turned out to be fantastic. So we left the meeting in good spirits. We decided to drive by the convent of the Carmelites, which is not too far off the way back to the interstate. We drove by, looked at the statues for a bit, and then decided to stop at a Gas station/casino for some drinks before hitting the road again.

Our drinks purchased, we got back in the car. I turned the key expecting it to do precisely what it's done since I bought the darn thing: start. It wouldn't. A few prayers and a few more turns of the key produced only the same result. Apparently God wanted to test us on how well we had listened to Sheen and his call to accept suffering as part of the Christian life. Hopefully we passed that test well enough.

However, accepting suffering still left us in Lafayette. So we needed a hero. A superhero if you will. And of course when one is in trouble around Lafayette, who else is there to call but our beloved cassock-wearing patriarch? So a quick call from Emily and a few minutes of being "sketched" out by the lady who kept walking outside to smoke and sorta stare at us and soon our beloved cassock-wearing patriarch, Fr. Bryce Sibley, drove in to the rescue. Except it wasn't our beloved cassock-wearing patriarch that came; it was our beloved car-jumping newly-shaven pajama-wearing patriarch. And of course as he always jump starts our thinking about God he jump started my worthless battery. And so we were off hoping to ride the I-10 on a prayer back to the Red Stick.

But the adventure was not to end there. For not too long after we had been on the interstate we saw a sign warning us that there was an accident 13 miles ahead on the bridge. We had a tough choice. Either we had to drive out of our way to avoid the wreck and hope the battery could last a long time in the middle of rural Louisiana or hope that the car wouldn't stall out while sitting in possibly stopped traffic. We decided to take the longer road. I can make it philosophical and say we took the road less traveled. After a stop at Waffle House for directions (and a very scary moment when the lights dimmed for a moment and seemed to dare us to return to the road), we were off on the winding roads of rural Louisiana. After driving by the farm that I stayed in in the weeks after Katrina struck we got back to 190 while praying the rosary. My car's battery held out thanks to the intercession of St. Raphael and Mary and we arrived safely (yes, even me. Sorry to disappoint). In case you're wondering, I tried after I parked my car, and yep, the battery is still dead.

So thanks to Fr. Sibley for rescuing us from the sketchy gas station and no thanks to Honda.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Mind your manners

I love this post on manners by blogger Dulcinea. Here's an excerpt:

traditions and manners have been scoffed & eschewed in modern society, most notably since the tiresome '60s and '70s. respect, true tolerance borne of acknowledging personal dignity, and the little customs that smooth our casual contact with those at the grocery store, post office gas station, have all been lost. try talking to a check-out clerk: "i'm doing fine, thank you. how are you?" nearly always, their faces relax, sometimes they smile: suddenly they become human, instead of paid slaves doing menial jobs to serve you. it is a striking testimony to how much our actions mean. what we do or do not do affects others. small actions and words can either be an affirmation of personal worth, or can be insulting affronts that can damage the dignity of others in our little worlds.

i noticed, too, how the liberals lack basic social manners. those who have thrown off these traditions as inhibiting your "real" personality are notoriously rude, even vitriolic, with no respect or toleration from anyone who's views differ from their own. they portray a selfish, self-centred philosophy: accept me as i am or deal with it. why should i? we all have rough edges and imperfections that should not be tolerated because they are immature, petty, rude, vicious, and uncivilized. manners are a proof of natural virtue, a sign that we can raise our communications to a level based on the intelligent recognition of basic human dignity--a dignity that has been lost both in mind and in manner.

I think Christians, in word and deed, should come across to others as rather bizarre. To me, this is part of evangelization, to act in a way, not affected but sincere, that makes people say, "What is it about this person that makes him not like everyone else?" In an age when being cynical and sarcastic are the norm, we can stand out by being gentle and sincere. When crudité reigns supreme, we can stand out by being measured in our speech and avoiding coarseness. We should strive not for a false politeness that tolerates what is deplorable in the name of pluralism, but a true politeness that recognizes every person as a unique creation drawn by the finger of God. I think when we go about trying to be suave and to show that we can be just as crude as pagans in an attempt to ward off accusations of prudery, we become little more than write-off Christians. I sometimes find myself falling into this trap. This isn't to say that there isn't room for some good natured bawdiness à la Chaucer or Rabelais.

Goodbye, Norma Jean

Speaking of popular culture...I am pressed on all sides to give an opinion on the death of Anna Nicole Smith. Maybe her downfall had its roots in the lust of an old man, but more likely the roots were much older and deeper, perhaps as old as the history of man. I am reminded of the words of Monsieur le Curé in Georges Bernanos' Journal d'un curé de campagne:

[N]obody can see in advance what one bad thought may have as its consequence. Evil thoughts are like good ones: thousands may be scattered by the wind, or overgrown or dried up by the sun. Only one takes root. The seeds of good and evil are everywhere. Our great misfortune is that human justice always intervenes too late. We only repress or brand the act, without ever being able to go back further than the culprit. But hidden sins poison the air which others breathe, and without such corruption at the source, many a wretched man, tainted unconsciously, would never have become a criminal.

Emily Byers on Ova Trafficking

Parousian Emily Byers draws attention to this important but often overlooked issue in the latest edition of the Daily Reveille and points out the many ways in which this practice harms women.

Emily Byers on Ova Trafficking

Miraculous Conception

Godspy's John Murphy reviews Children of Men.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Reflections on Philippians 4:4-9, With Attention to Apologetics Based on the Transcendentals

Philippians 4:4-9 (Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition)

"Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let all men know your forebearance. The Lord is at hand. Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, do; and the God of peace will be with you."

1.) Visible joy and peace radiating from the interior working of grace provides testimony to the goodness and beauty and truth of what God has begun in us. We are the apologetic if we would only be it, but only through prayer and contemplation.

2.) Our inability to be these people of profound peace and radiating joy is frequently linked to the anxiety of being too busy to find that peace, even at times being too busy doing good things for God and neighbor. Our service cannot be disconnected from our Source.

3.) All the whatevers that St. Paul instructs us to think upon are not a call to merely present a reactionary defense. Too often, we can get caught up in presenting the apologetic response without really knowing the things that we are defending. These whatevers St. Paul names are worth contemplating in and of themselves. They should not only be given thought after they are attacked. They are at the core of how we worship God with all our minds.

4.) Thinking on these whatevers means reducing the clutter of our minds. To properly give our attention to these things, other attentions must be lessened, and perhaps in some cases dropped. Much of this clutter is the consumed garbage of pop culture. We should certainly have a discerning eye for the culture, trying to find the redemptive clues in it. But this cannot be a defense for staying in chains to our addictions to it, at worst to its filth and at best to its mediocrity. We should question our reading, viewing, listening, and buying habits : are we consuming this to be informed so we can redeem society, is this just a harmless expression of playfulness that I should keep, is this something keeping me from turning my eyes to the highest things, or is this something that is making me into someone unlike Christ. The answers may be difficult to find, and they will sometimes require sacrifice, but the very questioning itself is a good and higher thing that will draw us closer to Christ.

5.) St. Paul is not afraid to tell his readers to consider his example and imitate it. That act is very humbling as it strips St. Paul of the appearance of being humble, but in this case the love of neighbors in need of example trumps the love of self and the spiritual pride one can take in being thought humble. St. Paul's life, as well as the lives of all the saints, can be viewed as apologetics reflecting the transcendent goodness, beauty, and truth of God. Our attention to the lives of the saints will aid in shaping our lives to conform to the image of Christ. As we move towards that holiness, we must also invite the world to imitate us, if not in our holiness, then at least in our struggle for it. For bad Catholics and honest scoundrels like we are apt to be, we can have a reasonable hope that the world will see the beauty and goodness of an underdog, seemingly outmatched pursuing a most beautiful and noble cause, hopeful nonetheless. So let us cast down smugness and self-righteousness, fears of being found out, and admit that the Christian life is hard, that we are not the best followers but we are following the best of the ages in the saints of old, the best of our lifetime in John Paul the Great and Mother Teresa and now in our Holy Father Pope Benedict, that we are being shaped by holy priests and consecrated persons and holy lay people, that as bad as we can be we will not give up hope that we will be like these radiant souls and that our neighbor can also. And as we learn their examples, contemplate them, confess them, we will imitate the saints in their imitation of Christ more closely.

Archbishop Jose Gomez on Confirmation

The Sacrament of Christian Maturity.

Bishop Robert Finn on the Consecrated Life

Celebrate the gift and vocation of the consecrated life.

Dare to Love

Pope Benedict XVI's message to youth.

Archbishop Jose Gomez on Cultural Apologetics

Amy Welborn has posted Archbishop Gomez's recent address to the Conference of the New Evangelization of America. His words find home in the heart of the Parousians, especially in light of Father Bryce Sibley's challenge to us to seek an apologetic based on the transcendentals of goodness and beauty.

Father Julian Carron on the Fundamental Need in Catechesis Today

Matthew Fish publishes an excerpt from Traces.

Our excerpt of his excerpt:

"It needs the presence of another man. It needs the Mystery to have become flesh. In Christ, concepts that were abstract become flesh and blood. This unheard-of realism, this involvement with the Mystery, is the only possible way of being saved. No reduction of Christianity to something merely spiritual or to ethics is enough to arouse people... Christ is contemporary to man by means of the Church. His Body is the tangible and historical sign, which carries the Mystery in its womb."

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Haggard, Globalization, Islam, Catholics, Mexicans

Mark Shea critiques a deep error in the new American evangelical subculture, most clearly expressed by the disgraced former president of the National Association of Evangelicals.

Hunger Strike, MIT, Stem Cells, Racism, Chomsky

Mark Shea on a story of interest to pro-lifers with a whole bunch of strange bedfellows.

Beth Reed is Doing Better

Thanks to all of you praying for Joey and Beth Reed yesterday. Beth got out of surgery yesterday, woke up and talked to Joey with some improved speech, held his hand, and ate some food. She was breathing on her own. All of this is different from the last brain surgery Beth had, where the recovery from the surgery was much longer and harder. She's not out of the woods, so please keep her in your prayers.

Monday, February 05, 2007

2nd 1st Anniversary Party

The Parousians were granted a radio interview with 1590 KKAY on David Dawson's Around the Parish which will air sometime between 11AM and 3 PM. If you'd like to find some online information about it, check here:

Catholic Community Radio

Now, there's an interesting story with this. We did the interview last Sunday the same day of the Parousians anniversary party, so we told him that we would be celebrating our 1st anniversary at O'Charley's later on that night. You might be able to see the problem. The interview, now taped delayed until tomorrow, will have us claiming that we will celebrate at O'Charley's that night. So it seemed that the radio interview would make a liar out of us until we decided that we uphold the standard of truth and indeed celebrate our 1st anniversary at O'Charley's the night of the interview. So tomorrow night we will meet at Christ the King parish after Student Mass (so about 9-9:15) and then we will head to O'Charley's to celebrate our second 1st anniversary party.

It will not simply be a joyful romp however. In true Parousians style we have a discussion lined up. Those of you who attended the 1st 1st Anniversary Party heard Fr. Bryce Sibley talk about the difficulties of dealing with postmodernists who have disavowed reason. Fr. Sibley proposed using truth and beauty as alternate lens to show these people Christ if they refuse to look through reason. We will be honored to have Fr. John Carville joining us for this discussion so it should be a great evening.

Martyrs and Fools Attend!

Text and podcast from Father Philip Powell, O.P. on the wisdom of losing one's life.

Flannery O'Connor's Christ Haunted South

Following a link from Godspy,, this New York Times travel essay by Lawrence Downes on his pilgrimage to O'Connor's home provides an interesting take on the author's mythos.

From the article:

"O’Connor’s short stories and novels are set in a rural South where people know their places, mind their manners and do horrible things to one another. It’s a place that somehow hovers outside of time, where both the New Deal and the New Testament feel like recent history. It’s soaked in violence and humor, in sin and in God. He may have fled the modern world, but in O’Connor’s he sticks around, in the sun hanging over the tree line, in the trees and farm beasts, and in the characters who roost in the memory like gargoyles. It’s a land haunted by Christ — not your friendly hug-me Jesus, but a ragged figure who moves from tree to tree in the back of the mind, pursuing the unwilling."

Rethinking St. Augustine and St. Monica

Mike Aquilina on their farewell at Ostia and its implications on ecclesiology.

Virgin of the Blessed Thunder Candle

The Shrine of the Holy Whapping discovers one of Our Lady's most amazing titles.

Poet's Obligation

Mark Shea's analysis of an excellent poem by Pablo Neruda on the role of the poet in society.

Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles Opposes Government Funding of Catholic Schools

Our friend Bill Cork analyzes the reasoning. This debate, which can be extended in principle to most government aided faith based initiatives, is not an easy one. Is the mission of the Church helped or hindered by the funding?

Witnessing Marriage as Sign, and Prayers for Beth Reed

Beth Reed is in surgery as I am writing this, having the brain tumor that rendered her deaf removed. I spoke to Joey Reed a few minutes ago, and he tells me so far so good, and that he's not certain how long the surgery will take. Please pray for her as the day unfolds.

Michael Denton and I went out to Ville Platte to visit Joey and Beth at his parents' home on Saturday night. Michael was taken by the joy Joey and Beth displayed even with today's struggle impending, even after everything they have been through. Joey is 24, Beth is 22, and they have only been married a year and a half. Beth's illness became obvious after their first anniversary. Many people might be tempted to say I did not sign up for this, forgetting some of the tougher words of their vows. Beth and Joey are steadfast.

What Beth gives to Joey defies description. She is not passively being cared for. Her rehabilitation has been long and difficult, but her persistence has been doubly strong, flowing from both her own tenacity and her desire to love her husband with all her strength. Beth is courageous, answering every doubt with the steady confidence of faith. She knows God's hand is at work in her and through her.

And Joey is doing everything that the good man hopes he will do if ever faced with such circumstances, everything that the humble man fears he might not do. His tenderness in taking care of Beth as she cannot care for herself reveals a sacrificial love deeper than any I have ever seen.

Forget your books by Scott Hahn or Peter Kreeft - they have their value surely, but they are only books. Marriage is a sacrament, a sign of both the love of Christ for his Church and the love exchanged freely and completely between the Persons of the Trinity. It is both a means of salvation for the married couple and a signpost to an unbelieving world of the beauty and goodness of God. I promise that the best work of apologetics that I know is Joey and Beth.

I saw Joey spoon feeding Beth at Touro right after a priest had delivered the Eucharist to her. After a few spoonfuls, Joey realized the Host was stuck to the roof of her mouth and covered in yogurt. He carefully scraped it out and consumed it, going right back to feeding her. The other night, Joey helped Beth move from a chair to a couch across the room. I am used to him carrying her, but on Saturday night, they glided across the floor, moving sideways slowly, Joey holding her up as if they were dancing. What incredible joy on both of their faces to show this progress, that they had accomplished it together.

Joey told me a story of profound peace he experienced. Beth had not been inside of a Church in months when she left rehab at Touro. Joey carried her into St. Anthony in Eunice one afternoon, laid her down in front of the altar, and prayed offering the both of them completely to Christ, praying for the healing she needs however God would will it, praying for grace to carry on in the meanwhile.

Beth Reed was a dancer at Eunice High School. She was a stunning bride on her wedding day, and always easy on the eyes. She was pretty feisty and independent. While she is still very mentally sharp, sharper than most of us, her hearing is gone, her speech is slow, her mobility is impaired, her dancer's build is gone as her body shows the wear and tear of illness, and she is in many ways dependent on Joey.

And I insist she is more beautiful now than she was on her wedding day.

She is more physically beautiful than on her wedding day because she is not a ghost of herself; rather she is body and soul, and in her body she is revealing the splendor of the Church's beauty, offering everything she has to God and Joey and accepting the love they give her. Likewise Joey is becoming more beautiful in spite of some signs of growing up too soon. His fatigue is evident, but it cannot overshadow the joy in his face - joy that emanates from the opportunity to love more. He is becoming Christ to her, because of her wounds he is taking wounds upon himself.

This is the beauty of sacramental marriage, and because it is sacramental it is necessarily spiritual and physical beauty in union - we are not gnostics attempting to divide the two - meant to be seen and witnessed as a signpost by a world with cheap notions of love and beauty, a culture scowling at notions of sacrifice and grace.

Michael and I have read the signs. Michael says he will pray considering Joey and Beth's example, preparing his will if similar circumstances affect him one day. I realize that all the trappings of an ideal marriage have been stripped away from my friends, and what really matters is all that remains, remaining in abundance. For those of us who hope to marry one day, these are the things that really matter: will we choose to love a person in this way, can we find someone who will best love us , can we look past the trappings and ornamentation of what we have been taught marriage means to find a sacramental vision for marriage, will we be frustrated with God for not giving us what we want instead of being content with the graces he has given us, and can we possess a Marian acceptance of whatever God allows.

Pray for your future spouse that you may choose each other for the best reasons, pray that you may become a person whose heart has been made ready for the sacrament, pray and ask if God might have a higher calling for you to accept instead, but don't be preoccupied with it. For now, you are single and it is God's gift to you in this moment. No one is pushing for you to make defining choice in life today. On the other hand, Beth Reed has a pressing need for your prayers today. So does Joey. Please be vigilant for their sake.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Screwtape Letter I: Reason and Ordinariness in Evangelization

About a week ago, Parousian Amanda Pendleton and I had an hour long talk with Eric Freeman about abortion. If you don’t remember Eric, Eric wrote one of the two letters to the Daily Reveille criticizing Emily Byers for her column against abortion. Amanda and I talked to Eric for a while, tag-teaming on the pro-life position. Most of the argument centered on either of us trying to force Eric to give a definition of when humans had rights, something he was very reluctant to do. At the end of the discussion he left without conceding the foolishness of his position. In fact, I would say he left in nearly the same state of mind as he did when he walked up to the Students for Life table.

Similarly, I’ve been thinking about the final scene in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. In that scene, Jefferson Smith collapses after giving a long and impassioned filibuster speech about the need for idealism and honesty in government. When he falls to the ground, no one seems to have been swayed and Mr. Smith seems destined to simply be dragged out of the Senate having wasted a lot of time.

Disregarding the end of the movie right after he falls, the question came to my mind, and it came again after the talk with Eric: was it worth it? Was it just another lost cause? If we don’t succeed in convincing people about the truth, then was it worth it? Have we really done any good or have we simply frittered away an hour of time with little more than a good story to tell our friends afterwards?

C.S. Lewis thinks we’ve done something worthwhile when we argue. Lewis has convinced a lot of people through his works of the truth so if anyone should place a high value on convincing, it would be him. But he doesn’t. Instead he has Screwtape in the first letter warn Wormwood against utilizing too much reason in his patient:

“Even a particular train of thought can be twisted so as to end in our favour, you will find that you have been strengthening in your patient the fatal habit of attending to universal issues and withdrawing his attention from the stream of immediate sense experiences.”

That is, when we argue we force the people we’re arguing with to resort to reason. We force them to think about it. God, as “Logos” which means not only the “Word” but also “reason” and “logic,” then has the advantage. All logic points back to the truth. It might take a while and likely won’t happen immediately but we plant a seed that gives the turf back to Christ.

Screwtape then wants to avoid reason at all costs. So he advises Wormwood to push forth ideas not based on their internal merits but on their popularity:

“Don’t waste time trying to make him think that materialism is true! Make him think it is strong, or stark, or courageous- that it is the philosophy of the future. That’s the sort of thing he cares about.”

You have probably run across this mindset. People want to be on the winning side and may not care so much for truth. As a sports fan, I see this a lot with the “bandwagon” mentality commonly shared by all sportswriters. But I heard it even in abortion arguments: “it’s not going to be overturned, so why bother about it?” People see a side as winning and so accept it as truth. In a larger scale, this might be behind the whole “progress idea.” People assume that because an idea is dominate or will be dominate that it must be truth.

So how do we contradict this? All of a sudden we seem to lose the power of reason to persuade. Fr. Sibley recommended using beauty and goodness when we lost reason as an evangelization tool, but the Screwtapes can easily say “look at the modern definition of beauty in that art museum” and “Mother Teresa can’t stem the tide of the poor. Most people are deciding to live for themselves anyway.”

I don’t have an easy answer. The simplest one would seem to try to make the argument that our side is the one that’s winning. I heard this at the March for Life last month as the speakers mentioned more than a few times that the younger generations are more pro-life and so will be the wave for the future. That might win us a few converts, but would they be real converts? Or have we simply played them more deeply into Screwtape’s trap so that when the tide turns we will have lost them again?

The best I can come up with (and that is a far cry from the best answer) is to try to challenge the mindset of “who will win.” Showing the mistakes that seem to have won out in the past only to have been reversed might show them at least that who’s winning now might not win it all. Think of the Bears tonight after the kickoff. They were winning but they didn’t take home Lombardi (Sorry, Angela). I don’t know if that method can win a conversion by itself but it may mess up Screwtape’s trap enough so that other methods of evangelization can succeed.

The other method Screwtape tells Wormwood to use to avoid reason is ordinariness and procrastination. He recounts a patient he had who once began to lean towards God yet didn’t go all the way. Screwtape managed to convince his patient that the thoughts he was having were too important before lunch and needed to be thought about later. Once out in the street, the ordinariness of the scene contrasted with the great beauty the patient had been contemplating before Screwtape’s interference convinced the patient that he had been foolish. Screwtape says,

“…they find it all but impossible to believe in the unfamiliar while the familiar is before their eyes. Keep pressing home on him the ordinariness of things.”

The first lesson for us is to seize the moment when we have the chance. We may have a small window of time to succeed and we need to take. The second is the importance of the Parousian mission. It is against this mindset of Screwtape that finding grace in all things and the sacramental vision become so critical. If we can show people to find the unfamiliar in the familiar then we will have come a long way in rescuing people from Screwtape’s grasp. In fact, that might be part of the reason Christ himself came among us. Screwtape complains to Wormwood:

“Remember, he is not, like you a pure spirit. Never having been a human (Oh, that abominable advantage of the Enemy’s!) you don’t realize how enslaved they are to the pressure of the ordinary.”

God was already reason and already has that advantage. In order to claim the ordinariness of the world, he came to a rather ordinary peasant girl and made her extraordinary and took an ordinary body and made it the body of God. Now what we have to do is to utilize reason and ordinariness knowing that they both can be used to point towards God.

Next Letter: Screwtape discusses the Church