Saturday, November 28, 2020

Christmas Cheer

Did I start to decorate for Christmas before Thanksgiving?  Why yes, I believe I did.  I have not put up a Christmas tree yet, but there are lights and garland and nativity scene in the living room, plus lights, garland and silk pointsettias in the study.  The craptaculous year; the darkness falling at quarter past five p.m.; our Elders and Betters, those purveyors of atheistic puritanism, trying to ration our (but not their own) holiday cheer with eyedroppers: the confluence of all these calls for laying it on early, and laying it on thick.  As you can see, Scarlett the Cat, Mistress of All She Surveys, thoroughly approves.

Nor will Advent get short shrift.  There are not one, but two Advent wreaths; and the outside lamps will shine purple (pink for the week beginning with Gaudete Sunday).  As Advent is a penitential season, I will deign to forego a chocolate or whiskey Advent calendar, though there might be a hot buttered rum on a cold Sunday evening.

Despite the disasters and anxieties that this year has brought, I for one have a lot to be thankful for.  In discouraging times, praise, thanksgiving and cheer are still the best medicines.

Monday, November 23, 2020

Holidays: A Foretaste of Heaven

In his book about Bl. Charles of Austria, Charles Coulombe has a passage describing in detail the Holy Thursday ritual of the washing of feet by the Emperor.  Twelve poor old men would be chosen and transported by carriage to the Hofburg in Vienna.  A four-course meal was laid out before them, then taken away.  The Emperor himself would then wash the feet of each man, and hang a bag containing thirty silver coins around the man’s neck.  Afterward, the men would be transported home by carriage, with royal attendants bearing the four-course meals which were given to them as a gift, dishes and all.  The Empress would perform a similar ritual with twelve poor old women.  

Coulombe, to whose podcasts I have become addicted, often urges his listeners to celebrate holidays and holy days and observe them as well as possible, with as much cheer as possible, no matter what else is going on in the world.  I was thinking about this and the above-described observance this morning in connection with the mania this year of our Elders and Betters to deprive us of Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas after having shut down the public celebration of Holy Week and Easter.  I thought wryly to myself: what a better place this world is for our having gotten rid of the Emperor’s foot-washing ceremony!  How New and Improved we are!

Then a couple of realizations hit me.  

First, the realization that holidays and all the good things that attend them are valuable not so much for their own sakes, but as a reminder and a foretaste of heaven, for which we are made.  Every good thing, every rightly-ordered pleasure, every bit of innocent fun, everything warm and cozy and beautiful, is a foreshadowing of our long home.  This includes the pleasures of our senses: delicious foods well-prepared and lovingly garnished; good drink (including spirits); the warmth of a fire; lovely decorations; good music; the enjoyment of good company.  In these United States, founded on Puritan ethics, even Catholics have picked up by osmosis the classic abhorrence of the physical world and its enjoyment: some traditionalist Catholics devote a lot of time to preaching the evils of certain holidays like Halloween.  But God made us to interact with the world, and even with Him, via our senses, and so even though these can be abused, like all things, they cannot be evil in themselves.  The joys of the holidays are meant to encourage us in the midst of a fallen world, with the hope of joys that will never end, and that will be ours if we remain faithful.

The second realization was that the world may be able to make heaven less visible to us, but it cannot do away with the reality of heaven.  Taking away the hope of heaven is precisely what the devil and his human minions have set out to do in this campaign to deprive us of holidays and holy days.  They hate the joys in which they do not share because they do not love; they hate the hope of heaven, of which they despair because they think there is no heaven.  They hate the people who possess these things, and seek to force upon them the inordinate fear of death and the horror of eternity that seizes them because they are slaves to vice.  Most of all, they hate God.  But even if they were to succeed in stamping out every vestige of celebration of Easter and Christmas, they cannot stamp out the truths they celebrate.  They cannot eliminate heaven.

So, no matter what we see on the news (which we should probably stop watching for the sake of our sanity), and no matter what fresh abuses our Masters heap upon us, we should not allow ourselves to be overcome by gloom and doom and give up on the holidays.  We should indeed celebrate them as joyfully as we can, as acts of hope in the God Who has promised us deliverance from our tribulations, and who will cause all our sorrows to be swallowed up in the happiness with Him that will never end.

The Corruption of Professions

I woke up the other morning in the wee hours thinking about all the stories I have read and heard about medical professionals isolating patients from the Sacraments, even going so far as to prevent priests from visiting the dying, ostensibly because of the coronavirus.  These stories include a first-hand account from a friend who had to baptize a dying relative himself when the staff of the “Catholic” hospital refused to allow a priest up to the room.  Fortunately, he accomplished the baptism before being himself chased out of the room.

First-hand, second-hand, fifth-hand or twentieth-hand, I am inclined to believe these stories. Two and a half years ago, long before the current moral panic, my lapsed Catholic father lay in the hospital in a coma from which he would never emerge.  I had to fight with the staff of this allegedly Catholic hospital about getting a priest in to give him Extreme Unction.  Their excuses for fighting me on this were, number one, I did not count as next of kin, and therefore could be brushed off; and number two, the nurse in charge of his care actually could see no reason why I would want to have a priest see my father when he had lapsed from the faith.  

Here was a nurse in a Catholic hospital, dealing with patients in the grips of life-threatening maladies, who had to be educated on the reality of eternal damnation and the need to take it seriously.  The nurse passed me off to the chaplaincy office, where, amazingly, I had to have a similar argument with the staff there.  Ultimately, a priest was found who, seeing a basis to give my father the benefit of the doubt, came in and gave him the Sacrament.

The lack of supernatural faith in the medical profession, including its members who staff “Catholic” hospitals, is clearly a problem that predates the present coronapanic, and in fact has prepared the way for this situation where the sick and the dying are openly and unashamedly being denied the ministrations of a priest.  Why has this happened?  

Maybe the cause lies in our quest as a society to do whatever we want without suffering any consequences, a quest to which it was necessary to recruit the medical profession.  To be able to divorce sex from procreation, we needed people with the expertise to provide us with contraceptives, sterilization procedures, and abortion.  Since old people and the disabled also interfere with our freedom to do whatever we want, we also needed the medical profession to provide us with the means of dealing with those problems.  And my own profession, by the way, is not off the hook in all this.  Contraceptives, abortion and euthanasia all used to be illegal, so lawyers were needed to clear away those roadblocks to what we are pleased to think of as “freedom.”  Thus we enshrined revolution into law.

But, as history demonstrates, revolutionaries are short-sighted, and fail to notice that, by overthrowing the social order, they are only preparing their own doom.  It’s unfortunate that so many of us no longer know history.  Many of the prime movers in the revolutions in France and Russia and Germany, for example, ended up suffering the same fates to which they had consigned those who opposed them.  And what of the religious revolutionaries?  One thinks of the accounts of the death of Martin Luther, who, at the end of his life, was surrounded by people who saw to it that he died reaffirming his errors.  Or the eyewitness accounts of the last days of Queen Elizabeth I, who, having driven all the Catholic priests into hiding or exile, realized she had no one left to give her absolution, and was plagued by visions of herself in hell.

The inevitable result of decades of indoctrination in the culture of death, and decades of court cases overturning laws that once held the culture of death at bay, is that doctors and nurses in this brave new world are expected to serve the cause of extinction.  Not all have bought into this ideology, but many of them have.  How many?  We are finding that out right now.  And how can we expect medical professionals who have bought into the culture of death to have any concern for eternal life, either for themselves or for their patients?  That is another thing we are finding out right now: they can’t, and don’t.  How terrible is the judgment that we bring upon ourselves, when, having revolted against the social order, we find ourselves, near to death, in the hands of those who have bought into our revolution.  

Now, more than ever, we need to pray for protection against sudden and unprovided death.

Friday, November 13, 2020

A Timely and Outstanding Read: Blessed Charles of Austria

Charles Coulombe is a Catholic author, historian, monarchist and podcaster whose wit, humor and joy are threads of gold in the otherwise almost uniformly dark gray tapestry of current events.  I recently discovered him in a Taylor Marshall interview about his latest book, Blessed Charles of Austria: A Holy Emperor and His Legacy.  Intrigued, I forthwith (a) started following his podcasts, and (b) ordered the book and read it.

Like most books, this one is not without its flaws.  However, in this case, these are minor issues.  Overall, Mr. Coulombe does a very good job of laying out the history and traditions that ultimately brought forth Bl. Charles, of setting his life within the context of that history, and within the context of his Catholic faith.  In our utilitarian age, when many dismiss as mere pointless and unnecessary pageantry the rituals and liturgies of kingship, Mr. Coulombe demonstrates how meaningful and necessary they in fact are, how they formed Bl. Charles, and how seriously Bl. Charles took them as his pledge of faithfulness as Emperor. 

Most of all, this book has touched my beady-black heart.  St. Therese of Lisieux, recounting the dream that made real to her the Communion of Saints, said that those in heaven love us and look after us as their own children, even when we never pray to them, even when we do not know who they are. I feel that through this book, Bl. Charles has reached out to me, introducing himself to me and offering to help me as I work out my salvation in fear and trembling. Probably he has been helping me all my life without my knowing it.

As I read the account of Bl. Charles’ prayers for divine aid in ruling, his sacrifices for his subjects, his strivings on their behalf, and his attempts to regain his throne, not because he was hungry for power but in fulfillment of his kingly oaths, I pondered the question why God seemed to allow his prayers and his efforts to be so often thwarted. Perhaps the answer is that the failures were God’s judgment, not on Bl. Charles, whom He ultimately rescued from this vale of tears, but on his ungrateful and undeserving subjects, and on a world that had given itself over to godlessness.  What a terrible thing to have God leave us to our own devices. Through the intercession of Bl. Charles, may He soon rescue us from the troubles we have created for ourselves.

Saturday, November 07, 2020

The Deep Relevance of the Traditional Mass

For decades, we have been subjected to endless drivel about the need to make the Catholic faith, and the Mass, "relevant" to the needs of modern man.  What's stupid about this is that, first of all, truth is always relevant, and attempts to spice it up and repackage it only manage to obscure its substance.  Secondly, if we pay attention, we find that both the faith and its expression in the Mass -- particularly the traditional Mass -- are relevant even to the details of our peculiar circumstances at any given time.

I think it's a good practice to prepare for Mass by reading the propers beforehand.  Sunday after Sunday, I am struck by how the propers for that day seem to be speaking directly to current events and circumstances.  Sunday after Sunday, (a) we get something we need to hear in our particular situation, and (b) the Church is praying for the very things we need to be praying for in our particular circumstances.  

Tomorrow is the 23d Sunday after Pentecost.  The Introit is something we need to hear in the midst of the active coup that is going on in our country right now.  It contains both consolations and marching orders:

The Lord saith: I think thoughts of peace, and not of affliction: you shall call upon Me, and I will hear you; and I will bring back your captivity from all places.

If we call on Him with a repentant heart, He will hear us, and, when the time is right, even deliver us from the troubles we have brought upon ourselves.  Remember His promise in Psalm 106:

Such as sat in darkness and in the shadow of death: bound in want and in iron.  Because they had exasperated the words of God: and provoked the counsel of the Most High: and their heart was humbled with labors: they were weakened, and there was none to help them.  Then they cried to the Lord in their affliction: and He delivered them out of their distresses.  And He brought them out of darkness, and the shadow of death; and broke their bonds in sunder....He took them out of the way of their iniquity: for they were brought low for their injustices.

In tomorrow's Collect, the Church prays:

O Lord, we beseech Thee, absolve Thy people from their offenses, that through Thy bountiful goodness, we may be freed from the bonds of those sins, which by frailty we have committed.

And in the Postcommunion, she prays:

O God almighty, we beseech Thee, do not leave to succumb to human dangers those who from Thee have been the happiness of being partakers of the divine nature.

The propers of the Mass are not decided upon on an ad hoc basis: every 23d Sunday after Pentecost, year after year, they are the same.  Yet they always have particular meaning for us year after year, and in them, the Church prays for precisely what we need at that given moment.

Many of the prayers of the traditional Mass do not survive intact in the new Mass.  Thank God that, when revolution struck the Church, there were churchmen who took care, even at great personal cost, to insure that the traditional Mass survived, so that, at least in some churches, prayers were being raised for those particular things we most need in our times.

Thursday, November 05, 2020

Nothing Else Has Gone Smoothly This Year, Why Should the Election Be Any Different?

Observations concerning the election, which is entirely consistent with the whole ethos of 2020:

- The ludicrously long, absurdly drawn-out presidential election of 2000 — can it really be that we already have a generation of adults too young to remember this? — was just a dress rehearsal for what’s going on right now.  What’s going on right now is an authentic coup, and it’s going to make 2000 look like a cake walk.

- In 2016, Hillary Clinton ran a very limp campaign, with few appearances, because she and everyone around her thought she had it in the bag.  It was a huge shock to the Democrats when she lost the election.  This year, Biden did very, very little campaigning, and, when he did surface, promised to do outrageous things like impose more lockdowns and national mask mandates and destroy the oil, coal and gas industries.  Was this because the Democrats had simply failed to learn any lessons from 2016, or was it because they instead devoted all their resources to pulling the present coup?

- The psy-ops is really obvious, from the censorship of dissenting voices on social media to the news purveyors — including Fox News — calling states for Biden before their polls had even closed or before the return of more than .007% of precincts.  

- If Biden was really winning in all those swing states, why was there the need to suspend counting in those states?

- The time is coming — maybe sooner than we think — when our Elders and Betters will decide they are done going to all the trouble of lying and cheating and stealing elections, and will just dispense with elections altogether.  After all, Trump has proven that the electorate is capable of making wrong decisions.  Just as we need to be protected from a virus with a less than 1% fatality rate, so we will also need to be protected from our propensity to disagree with Those Who Know Better.

- Deus ex machina rescues from disasters are a staple of popular entertainment, but rare in real life.  That said, Donald Trump is not the wet-noodle, capitulating milquetoast that is the usual GOP political fare.

- Maybe the time really has come, as the monarchists hold, to reassess our whole system of governance.  Is our present system, which is currently failing spectacularly, really the one that best accommodates our human nature, and that best accounts for and safeguards against our human weaknesses?

- This is absolutely the time to pray, fast, do penance, repent and convert.  In case you think this is beyond your abilities, read St. Therese of Lisieux’s Story of a Soul for the details on how much spiritual value even the smallest sacrifices contain.  We need to pray for the assistance to get to the point where we deserve worthy leaders.

- This is also the time to remember that the Lord of History is not Bill and Melinda Gates, George Soros, Gavin Newsom, Gretchen Whitmer, Jeffrey Sachs, Pope Francis or even Donald Trump.  From our point of view, everything is in free fall, but from the point of view of the true Lord of History and His unfathomable counsels, everything is going according to plan.

Tuesday, November 03, 2020

Being Above It All

There seems to be this idea, even among Catholics, that the moral high ground is that place you occupy when you don’t take a stand, when you are above the fray, when you look down from your mountain fastness upon the benighted combatants of both sides and apportion blame for the mess we are in equally to both sides.  Besides being annoying, this world view is misguided, unjust, and just plain wrong.  To not take a stand IS to take a stand.  And it’s a cop-out.  

To not take a stand is an overreaction to the anxiety of these turbulent times.  But it doesn’t make either the turbulence or the anxiety go away.  It is just running away, not pulling your weight, and leaving the fight, which cannot be avoided, to others.

To not take a stand saves you the trouble of examining the merits of each case, as if somehow they are not worth examining.  It is true that neither side is perfect, as each is made up of imperfect human beings.  But nevertheless, they are not morally equivalent, and it is outrageous to assume that they are.  One side does in fact conduce to the common good, and the other side does not.  It is important to know which is which.  You do an injustice to those who really are on the side of the common good by dismissing them as being no different from the other guys, and you harm the cause of the common good by not taking seriously enough those who are opposed to it.

To not take a stand is to succumb to human respect.  What is the point of making sure you are perceived as being above it all, if not to seem wiser and smarter than the average bear?  But in fact, you don’t seem wiser and smarter.  What you seem is smug and self-satisfied.  You only end up irritating the very people you are trying to impress.

Bottom line: you need to take a stand.  And you have a duty to make sure you’re taking the right stand.

These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true Witness, Who is the beginning of the creation of God: I know thy works, that thou art neither cold, nor hot.  I would thou wert cold, or hot.  But because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold, nor hot, I will begin to vomit thee out of my mouth.  Apocalypse 3:14-16.

Sunday, November 01, 2020

On the Feast of All Saints: The Odor of Rottenness Transformed

Today the Church celebrates all the blessed in heaven, whether known or unknown. In his homily, Father highlighted the fact that, although there is one basic path to sainthood — doing the will of God — saints are not printed off a copy machine: every saint is distinct from all others.  This got me to thinking about St. Vladimir I of Kiev (956-1015), who began as an evil-smelling specimen of the raw, rank, raunchy Slavic paganism of the early Middle Ages, yet managed, thanks to God’s grace, not only to die in the odor of sanctity himself, but to arrange for countless others to do likewise. He is honored as the man who Christianized the people of Kiev, and is patron, among other things, of Russia, of converts, of parents with large families and — murderers.

I cannot help comparing St. Vladimir with another pagan ruler who became a saint, King St. Aethelberht  of Kent.  Both were devoted to the worship of gods who demanded gruesome rites, including human sacrifice.  But unlike St. Aethelbehrt, who possessed a certain amount of natural goodness and decency even before his conversion, Vladimir was far from exhibiting those virtues for which the saints are often renowned.   He made war on his brother, whom he eventually slew after the latter surrendered; slew a prince and took his daughter to wife; took several other wives and numerous concubines, by whom he had a boodle of children; and set up a great many shrines devoted to Slavic pagan gods.  It is thought that Vladimir also may himself have participated in rituals involving human sacrifice — not a stretch for a fratricide.

Although Christianity was quietly and secretly blossoming in the lands under his rule, it was not until 987, while planning a campaign against the Graeco-Roman empire, that he began to be interested in Christianity.   He sent envoys to study the religions of various neighboring lands, and received glowing reports about the beauty of the Divine Liturgy celebrated at Hagia Sophia in Constantinople.  Thus was the finger of God, as Whittaker Chambers put it, laid on his forehead.  In 988, after beseiging the city of Kherson in the Eastern Roman Empire, Vladimir sent an embassy to Emperor Basil II of Constantinople asking for his sister Anna's hand in marriage, and threatening to march on Constantinople if he refused. The Emperor replied that a Christian could only marry another Christian, so only if Vladimir were a Christian prince could he sanction such a match. Vladimir replied that he had studied the Christian faith and was inclined favorably to it, so that he was ready to accept Baptism.

Which Baptism took place that same year, as depicted above by the Russian artist Viktor Vasnetsov, and was not without its effects.  Vladimir emerged from the laver of regeneration a changed man.  He married his Christian princess, Anna; returned the city of Kherson to its rightful ruler; returned to Kiev with his new bride; got rid of all his other wives and concubines, and set about expunging paganism from within his borders.  Catholic Encyclopedia describes the opening of his campaign:
When Vladimir returned to Kieff he took upon himself the conversion of his subjects. He ordered the statues of the gods to be thrown down, chopped to pieces, and some of them burned; the chief god, Perun, was dragged through the mud and thrown into the River Dnieper. These acts impressed the people with the helplessness of their gods, and when they were told that they should follow Vladimir's example and become Christians they were willingly baptized, even wading into the river that they might the sooner be reached by the priest for baptism. Zubrycki thinks this readiness shows that the doctrines of Christianity had already been secretly spread in Kieff and that the people only waited for an opportunity to publicly acknowledge them.
Vladimir did become known as a mild and devoted ruler (having given up warmongering), and was zealous for the spread of the Christian faith. Although two of his sons were later recognized as saints in their own right (Boris and Gleb), his later life was dogged by the intransigence of some of his older children. Vladimir died on the march north to deal with his rebellious son Yaroslav in 1015, and his feast is celebrated on July 15th.

Vladimir's conversion and subsequent recognition as a saint provide us with a striking example of the powers of Baptism, even in the case of a man with multiple murders and fornications on his conscience, whose appallingly evil life should have landed him in the bowels of Hell. Mere good will on Vladimir's part — especially mixed as it appears to have been, at least in the beginning, with political motivations —could never have been enough on their own to give him the purpose of amendment he obviously exhibited after Baptism, let alone save his soul.  But this crack of the door, however slight, was more than enough for God to penetrate with His grace.  Here is proof, if more is needed, that Baptism is no mere symbol.

So, on this feast of All Saints, let us raise a glass of vodka to St. Vladimir of Kiev and to all the repentant sinners whose overpowering stench, like that of Lazarus, dead and entombed for four days, was transformed into the sweet odor of sanctity, which rises like incense to God and pleads with Him that each of us may one day swell their ranks in heaven.