I'm thankful for a year of growing faith

The other day I was talking to one of my kids and we agreed that the last "normal" year for us was 2019.  Since then, it's been crisis after crisis.  Some of this is related to world events (such as the pandemic), but other aspects are functions of poor decision-making and what would otherwise appear to random personal events.

The upshot is that we take nothing for granted, and our family continues to deepen its faith. 

It's interesting how - to outward signs - we used to be more faithful because every Sunday, the bunch of us dutifully trooped off to Mass.  Now, it's a rare thing for everyone to go, but that's more a function of logistics and physical limitations that lack of faith.   Back then, the kids went because we made them.  Now they go because they want to.

No pressure was applied to get people to see the relics of St. Jude the Apostle.  Interest was keen and the experience was profound.  This in turn strengthened our faith even more.

That growth in turn renders us less troubled by events in the world.   It's a wonderful thing.

I hope you and yours have a wonderful, and faith-filled Thanksgiving.

An early end to my hunting season

Today was Opening Day for firearm deer season in Michigan, and I spent the day out in the woods, waiting for a deer to pass my way.

It didn't happen.

What did happen was that I learned a lot about how antiquated and broken much of my hunting rig was - some of it actually dated back to the 1980s!

This was a needed reminder that sometimes failure isn't a failure - it can be an important learning experience.

Despite my disappointment in terms of tasty venison, there is a lot to be said sitting in a glade and watching the shadows move across it.  I try to limit my screen time, but it took me a while to slow my mind down and focus on the movement of the birds, the light on the leaves, even the sound of the leaves hitting the ground.

While I didn't see a deer, a friendly mouse came into my blind, no doubt seeking a warm pocket to chill in.  I'm not fond of rodents, so I sent the creature on its way.

I also took the opportunity to say a Rosary, which is quite pleasant out in the woods.

All in all, a long day, but a worthwhile one.

The fruits of the Reformation

While the Catholic Church has been absorbed with saints and souls this time of year, much of the Protestant world has been observing Reformation Sunday, a commemoration of Martin Luther posting the 95 Theses.

Setting aside the merits of his claims, it is interesting to look at how well his teachings have done in the half-millennium since they were promulgated.

In Germany, Christianity is a spent force, and those few identifying it do so with practices that Luther himself would abhor - female clergy, legalized sodomy, and a general repudiation of the old teachings.  Interestingly enough, this love of sin and vice afflicts Protestant and Catholic alike.  Must be something in the water.

But elsewhere, we see the same symptoms.  I believe many of the old 'state churches' have been disestablished, but even if they haven't, are any of them following their original theology, or have they embraced modernity?  I think almost all of them lie on the most liberal end of the religious spectrum.

Mainline Protestantism in the United States has likewise collapsed into meaningless tropes, rainbow flags and an inability to define sin outside of "hate," which of course is the worst thing ever.  Female clergy can cheat on their husbands, divorce them, have open relationships and remain in good standing as they explore their "inner goddess."

The Church of England, with its separate roots, held together much better, but it has also splintered, first as the Methodists broke away, and now as the Anglican Communion has been torn asunder.

If one believes that the fruits of one's actions indicate their conformance to the will of God, then Luther's reform has failed.  The lands where it first took root are desolate, and the crop from its transplanted seeds is rancid and twisted.  Only a fraction of the harvest is wholesome.

Christianity has faded throughout Europe, and it has all but collapsed in Ireland, but elsewhere its seeds continue to flower.  There are more Catholics at Mass than Anglicans in England, and Scandinavia now boasts a small but growing Catholic community.

Maybe the branches of the Sixteenth Century German Church were already rotten, which is why they fell away so quickly.  There does not seem to have been the same level of clerical resistance in northern Europe as there was in Tudor England. 

Halloween for adults

This year marks the first Halloween when there are no children in the house.  Everyone is now 18 or older.

Okay, that's not technically true - the grandchildren will be over, starting the cycle anew.  Still, this fall has been quieter than any in more than a quarter century - no back to school, no marking periods, parent meetings, report cards or dances.  It's very relaxing.

Autumn is a nostalgic season, and a year ago there was an air of reflection and memory.  This year, the emphasis is on looking forward, as the kids continue to discover the joys (and pains) of independence and the grandchildren being to find their voices and understand the world around them.  The elder has memories of last year, so she had anticipated this moment.  The younger is taking it all in for the first time.  Next year both will be veterans.

I'm looking forward to Mass tomorrow, which is itself a sign of my spiritual growth.  Candy, scary movies and costume parties are all fun, but in my case they have become a bridge to something far more profound.

Upon further review, Van Helsing is not that great

When Van Helsing first came out, I thought it was great, and naturally I bought the DVD.  A couple of nights ago I watched it again, and was quite underwhelmed.

My disenchantment is focused on two areas.  The first, and most obvious, is the overuse of CGI to create insane spectacles and daring escapes.  It was funny and over the top in 2004, but after a decade of superhero movies and the excesses of Star Wars, it's just annoying, a waste of screen time devoid of dramatic impact.  I've written before about how the constraints placed on prior generations of filmmakers brought about better quality, so I won't belabor the point.

Much more subtle is my dislike of the film's approach to theology, which is frankly awful.  I used to give it credit for having the Catholic Church be shown in a positive light, but it gets so much wrong and in so many ways, it's hard to sit through it.

Hugh Jackman's character is a generic jaded superhero, and David Wenham's friar is an amusing collection of friar/scholar tropes, but it hasn't aged well.  Even Kate Beckinsale (with her atrocious accent) left me cold. 

About the only performance that was still enjoyable was Richard Roxburgh's Dracula, which he eerily foreshadowed in Moulin Rouge.  That film has held up well, by the way.

The combination of steampunk crossbows and interfaith good guys was very much of its time, part of the hallucination that democracy was a universal and achievable aspiration. 

If nothing else, the film demonstrates that the most dated films are the ones rooted in a "modernity" that didn't last.




The secular-fueled religious revival

There's an unmistakable upturn in religious sentiment in the air.  The Catholic Church has (largely) cast aside its rainbow flags and tolerant language and is breaking out the holy relics and talking about the perils of hell again.

The Protestants are feeling it as well, and I've noticed that the various "geek culture" sites I follow (and write for) are talking more about faith and its role in entertainment.

In fact, The Chosen is releasing its fourth season in theaters before streaming it.

While Hollywood doubles down on heresy and sin, normal people are turning away from it.

I think a major cause in this remarkable turn of events is the way secular society has completely destroyed its legitimacy.  Growing up in the 80s, there was a certain sense that religiously observant people were boring and uptight and devout ones were a little bit mad.  The proper attitude was one of somewhat detached reverence, but not overdoing it.

This secular view has been completely discredited.  One can't call religious people nuts and in the next breath declare biological sex irrelevant to athletic competition.  One can't wave the banner of science while punishing skeptics for demanding more exacting research.

It's now no longer unusual to talk about people being moved by demonic impulses because it's the only logical explanation. 

Look at the current state of Yard Sign Calvinism.  People who had "No Blood For Oil" and "Give Peace A Chance" now howl for Russian blood.  Or Jewish blood.  The point is: they want blood.

The language of tolerance and inclusion has been replaced with militancy and threats.  Again, one might well call that demonic.

None of this is new.  G.K. Chesterton wrote at length about the irrationality of "rational" people.  It's just stunning to see it up close and taking root so quickly.

The epitome of arrogant self-help: Richard Schwartz's No Bad Parts

I have read a fair number of pop-psychology and self-help books, always under duress.  I've found my archetype, identified my color and learned my language.

None of has mattered in the least because it's just the same warmed-over feelgood nonsense.

That being said, Richard Schwartz's No Bad Parts really does stand apart from the crowd.  I don't think I've ever read a book that combines such monumental arrogance with laughable ignorance while purporting to give expert advice.

In only 14 pages, the author declares that he has more wisdom than the Church Fathers and more insight than Buddha.  This is like the scene from The Princess Bride where Vizzini asks the Man in Black if he's heard of Plato, Aristotle, Socrates.


"Morons," Vizzini replies.

That's Schwartz's view of the world.  He's figured out the key to mental health, and he's also divined how to bring about world peace and solve all our other problems.  As the book progresses, he takes a less dismissive tone towards religion, modestly informing us that his methods are actually true manifestations of Buddhist thought as well as an interpretation of Christian philosophy that Jesus Christ would be happy to endorse.

It's the kind of book that both Evelyn Waugh and G.K. Chesterton have mocked, so the genre is actually quite old.  It's funny how these miracle methods keep popping up and yet people are ever more depressed.  Maybe, just maybe, there are limited to what secular analysis and treatment can do, and a vaguely spiritual worldview isn't enough to deal with the existential issues of life.

Of course, Schwartz isn't nearly as smart as he thinks he is, especially when it comes to religion.  His summaries of Christianity is a comedy of misunderstandings, but combined with his air of absolute certainty, one must either hurl the book through a window or burst out laughing.

Then there are the transcribed therapy sessions, which remind me of the role-playing examples given in Dungeons and Dragon books from 40 years ago.  It's unclear if their purpose is to show off the doctor's amazing therapeutic manner or just pad the page count, but I found them insufferable.

Aside from humor value, the book does contain about 14 pages of insight, chiefly near the beginning when it discusses the terminology used for various conditions.  That was genuinely helpful, but I could have gotten it from a pamphlet or web site. 

The relics of St. Jude, Apostle of the Impossible

Today my parish hosted a visit by relics of St. Jude the Apostle.  This was my first encounter with a reliquary and I was not sure what to expect.  Plans were in place for large crowds, but since it was on display from 1 to 10 pm, I timed my visit for what I presumed to be a lull at 2, presumably after the opening rush of pilgrims had left.

In the event, there was not much of a line, though there were quite a few people there, praying in adoration or awaiting Reconciliation.  Thus, my daughter and I were able to move at a steady pace through the improvised lanes in the sanctuary and up to the reliquary itself, which was protected by a glass and wood case. 

I was not sure what to expect when I put forth my hand to touch the glass, and I am still struggling to describe the sensation.  It was like a chill, but not cold or sharp, nor was it warm.  It left my slightly dazed as I touched our household holy water fount to the glass and made my way to a pew to pray and regain my composure.  With prayers completed, we left.  My daughter said she felt a sense of euphoria and a surge of energy.

When we got home, the "second shift" left with my wife taking another daughter (we were babysitting the grandchildren), and they each felt something different.

As a convert to Catholicism, I found the veneration of relics difficult to accept and more than a little macabre, but as the day approached, I resigned myself to accept the Church's teachings and roll with it.  Too many people today consider themselves the final authority on everything, and refuse to humble themselves before the wisdom of their ancestors.  I've criticized this before, and did not want to make myself a hypocrite.

I will say that it was meaningful, profoundly spiritual and I am glad I went.  I'm beginning to understand why people become pilgrims, seek out holy relics and devote their lives to their study and veneration.

Fort Fright: a new Halloween tradition?

Once again, I spent the first weekend of October in Mackinaw City, savoring the fall color and the fun of Fort Fright, an annual two day event at historic Fort Michilimackinac.

Last year's event was big, but this was even bigger.

The staff seems aware of it, and it is now possible to pre-pay for tickets, which cut the lines down considerably.  Another interesting development is that more people are showing up in period costumes, adding to the historical flavor.

For the park, the event is a big deal, likely the biggest weekend of the year.  While it has its amusing aspect (the entrance to the Demon Walk has signs pointing to "Demons" and "No Demons" so folks don't wander into the scare by accident.

Halloween is second only the Christmas in retail sales, and over the years it has been heavily secularized.  I think that is changing as people become more aware of the spirit world, which increasingly becomes the only way to explain what is going on in our world.  Other than the haunted walks, much of the event is simply sitting around the fire hearing the ghost stories told there centuries ago, many of which originated in rural France.

Just as last year, there was a presentation in the reconstructed church about funeral customs, though this year the priest (or person dressed as one, it wasn't clear), seemed to stress the changes in the liturgy from present practices.  I notice a lot of that lately, and certainly Pope Francis seems worried about it, all but banning the Latin Rite.

At any rate, next year I will be sure to book my hotel weeks in advance, as I sense word is spreading and accommodations may be harder to come by.

A spiritual re-reading of Lord of the Rings

I have lost track of how many times I have read Lord of the Rings.  For a while, it was an annual event, but as I began to wander farther afield into literature, the practice faded.  I think part of the re-reading was simply for comfort in my troubled adolescence.  It was a place of mental refuge.

Now I'm reading it in a different way.  To be sure, I enjoy its familiar paths, but as I've become more aware of the richness of Catholic theology (and J.R.R. Tolkien's encyclopedic knowledge thereof), I'm intrigued to see it revealed to me more clearly.

I have done similar focused readings before, paying attention to characters, choice of language, prose style, and even religion, but now I want to see how Tolkien's descriptions of the various spirits and references to then align with what I've learned over the last few years.  The Lord of Spirits podcast was a big part of this education, and there are times when I miss being able to listen to it on lengthy road trips. 

Alas, as I noted months ago, the hosts began to run low on content and turned the show into Why Catholic Do Everything Wrong.  Not only is there a glut on the market for that kind of thing, the show lost its sense of humor, which was one of its strengths.  But I digress.

There is a movement to canonize Tolkien, and I think it is appropriate.  His personal life was nothing short of exemplary, and he was clearly a faithful and conscientious father and husband.  His work is infused with his faith and it is increasingly clear that his approach to sharing it is uniquely suited for our troubled times. 

The open embrace of what were once derided as "fantasy" books filled with pagan symbols is nothing short of remarkable, but also entirely appropriate.  His work is more subtle than that of his friend C.S. Lewis, but I think that gives it a qualitative edge.

After slogging through the sinful ways of Ford Madox Ford, I'm very much welcoming the change.