Religion

The National Forgiveness Deficit

Today is the commemoration of Martin Luther King, Jr., and while I'm not watching the news, I'm pretty sure that instead of highlighting his message of compassion and forgiveness, people will be using it to further stir up anger and resentment.

Four years ago I wrote about this, and how "cancel culture" is the natural result of a society that no longer believes in mercy or forgiveness.

I think part of that comes from a belief on the part of the elites that they personally are justified in whatever they do.   Society is awash in yard sign Calvinism these days, and it's never been a better time to be one of the Elect.  Some obscure teenager makes a joke?  Crush them utterly.  They must have their entire life ruined.

But if you, say, kill someone out of gross negligence, well that's different.  I don't know how much longer this sort of thing can go on and a big part of why I'm cut myself off from as much of the outside world as possible is that I'm tired of watching it play out.  If we're going to do Spain 2.0, I'd just as soon skip the long, boring backstory.

A little pessimistic for a Monday?  Perhaps, but there is something deeply wrong on a spiritual level right now, and I'm not sure how that changes.  The United States of the 1960s was also wracked with turmoil, but there was a universal agreement by the people in charge that open warfare was a terrible idea and they did what they could to lower the temperature.  I wasn't around back then, but I'm getting a very different vibe.

For example, where did the peace movement go?  Anyone who suggests that maybe negotiation is better than mass killing is now denounced as a traitor to the nation - and many of the people doing this were carrying signs that read "Give Peace a Chance" only a few years ago.

It's all very strange.  In a recent Lord of Spirits podcast, the hosts discussed that there are collective spirits - spirits of the age, spirits that rule mobs and crowds.  I think we are very much being ruled by spirits who feed on hate, who seek to fuel death and rage.  Mercy and forgiveness are intolerable to them.

This is all the more reason to practice it, especially towards people we know personally.  In the current environment, forgiving certain things may be folly (and even immoral), but that does not mean we should abandon it altogether.  As I said four years ago, now is a great time to let someone you know off the hook.


Henry VIII and Edward VIII: Two disastrous reigns

In my previous post I examined Edward and Mrs. Simpson, a television series which provided (as far as I can tell) a pretty accurate picture of the disastrously short reign of Edward VIII.

One of Edward's recurring arguments in trying to make a twice-divorced woman his Queen Empress was "a king should be able to marry whom he likes."  A quick survey of British history reveals this to be an argument without merit or precedent. 

Indeed, one of the reason why it was socially acceptable for kings and princes to have mistresses was the fact that they often had little control over who would be their spouse.  Dynastic marriages were sometimes happy, but that was besides the point.  The goal was to unite royal houses (and their attendant lands) and hopefully produce an heir.  To do this often required elaborate arrangements depending on the laws of succession.

Perhaps because of the English Kingdom's muddled origins, these laws were fairly fluid.  For example, there was no Salic Law regarding male rulership, nor was there a requirement that heirs be of noble blood on both sides.  English kings could (and did) marry commoners (the current Prince of Wales has done so).

While some accounts of the crisis emphasize Wallis Simpson's American citizenship, that was a secondary concern.  Far more serious was the fact that she had two living ex-husbands, which was a violation of the Church of England's teachings regarding marriage.  As the titular head of the English Church, Edward was bound to abide by its rules. 

Some accounts of the crisis have to offer an explainer on this, noting that at the time this was indeed taken seriously.  Obviously, that is no longer the case, and I've seen citations claiming that in 1982 the C of E said "yeah, never mind about that bit."  Indeed, the last half-century has seen the various Archbishops of Canterbury pretty much rewrite scripture to legitimize all forms of sexual license, most recently deciding that "trans" individuals can have a form of re-baptism.

This is of course deeply ironic, given the number of people killed to create and then solidify its place in English society five centuries ago.  There are countless plays, movies and television adaptations that recreate the life and times of Henry VIII, most of them implicitly taking the position that Rome was wrong and his creation of the Church of England was an act of intellectual independence.

The truth is, it wasn't.  Contemporary events prove that by every measure, the English Reformation was an unmitigated disaster, unleashing centuries of persecution and war.  Henry's serial marriages did not produce a healthy, long-lived heir.  His intrigues bankrupted England, his confiscation of the monasteries undermined the social safety net and severing ties with Rome exacerbated divisions within English society that have yet to fully heal.  It's funny, but even at this late date, one still sees casual bigotry on the part of the English against Catholics.

I wrote at length about how "historian" Anthony Beevor included gratuitous and nonsensical anti-Catholic tropes in his book on the Spanish Civil War, outright saying that Spanish clergy were somehow intellectually incapable of any other occupation.  English period films with Catholics almost always have a scene showing self-flagellation.

American culture has incorporated a certain level of anti-Catholicism, no doubt because of its Puritan roots.  It's amusing to see people claim that the separation between church and state in the Constitution was somehow motivated by fear of the Catholic Church.  In fact, it was caused by the persecutions the Puritans suffered at the hands of the Church of England. 

What made the union of crown and altar so dangerous (and often deadly) was that it turned religious dissent into a form of treason.  Movies about Henry (and especially Elizabeth I) tend to downplay this, but both monarchs put their subjects to exquisite tortures in order to compel absolute obedience.  The Tudors didn't want intellectual freedom, they wanted control.

One could argue that all of this was part of God's plan, and that the martyrs created by Henry have in turn brought about many miracles and ultimately strengthened the faith.  That may be so, but I think it is still essential to fully dismantle the myth that the English Reformation was anything other than a naked power grab of breathtaking scope that brought ruin and war.

And lots of drama, which is why people still recreate it on stage and screen.


Edward and Mrs. Simpson: aristocratic selfishness causes political crisis

I've been doing something of a deep dive in archaic television serials.  I guess some of these could be called a "miniseries," since they aren't really a full season worth of programming, but the upshot is that I'm enjoying watching the old shows.

The latest offering is Edward and Mrs. Simpson, a drama about the romance between Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson that culminated in the Abdication Crisis of 1936.

The show aired in 1978, after Edward's death but while the Duchess of Windsor (nee Wallis Warfield) was still alive.  It is very respectful to the subject matter, and while it is taken for granted that Edward is carrying on a sexual affair with Mrs. Simpson, they never so much as make out.

That is to say, there is much discussion of bed-hopping, but all of it takes place off camera.

The story is quite well-known at this point, but I enjoyed this presentation, particularly Edward Fox's turn as Edward VIII.  Fox was one of those English actors who never quite became a leading man, instead serving in a supporting role.  To be sure, he played the assassin in Day of the Jackal, but it was a very restrained role with little dialog.

I think Fox does a splendid job, and many of the set pieces are designed to mimic known photographs or newsreels.  Cynthia Harris (who I don't recall seeing before), is just as good as Wallis, and the pair establish a compelling (and likely accurate) dynamic of co-dependency that explains why Edward would cast aside the throne and throw the British Empire into crisis simply because of his desire to date older, married women.

I'm sure a more modern treatment would celebrate the victory of love over duty, but this 1978 version does the opposite, noting that at every turn, Edward tried to shirk his royal duties and always put pleasure before business.  The picture that emerges is a fascinating one. 

Traditionally, first-born children feel a heightened sense of obligation to their families, particularly since they may have to help manage the care of younger siblings.  Edward seems to have been an exception to this rule, resentful of his birth and working tirelessly to avoid the responsibilities associated with his birthright.

In the end, of course, he succeeds, abandoning the throne in favor of his brother Bertie, who reigned as King George VI.  After some vague intrigues during World War II (which resulted in Edward being the go-to monarch for alternative history regarding the UK), the Duke and Duchess of Windsor became little more than minor celebrities and part of the Continental social scene.  The question of inheritance was moot because they produced no offspring, which was no surprising given that she was already nearly beyond child-bearing years when they met.

(There were of course salacious rumors about botched abortions and such to explain her lack of children.)

The one knock against the show isn't really against it at all, but rather FreeVee, which apparently owns the rights and streams via Amazon.  FreeVee uses commercials to cover its costs, which was once standard practice (and still is in the broadcast world).  However, the commercial breaks in Edward and Mrs. Simpson appear almost at random, cutting through a scene rather than the normal practice of doing it between them. 

I think there's a fascinating parallel with Edward VIII and Henry VIII, and at some point I'll dig a little deeper into it.


Passing and renewal: 2022

When I saw the news of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI's death, my immediate response was "of course."  The timing seems to align with the passage of so many other things.  A lot of the color and goodness has left the world of late, and the darkness that had long lurked in the corners now seems to be moving to the center of the room.

I am not one of those Catholics who insisted that Benedict never resigned his holy office and that Francis was an antipope.  In retrospect, it is clear that Benedict knew that the corruption within the Church was beyond his ability to remove, and that having done what he could to make necessary corrections in doctrine (especially in the English language version of the Mass), he selflessly stepped aside.  I think he saw the damage of having a weakened Pontiff at the head of the Church and did not want to repeat what he regarded as Pope St. John Paul II's mistake.

I'm not normally one for year-end roundups or New Year's resolutions.  I think more in terms of seasonal cycles rather than calendar changes, perhaps a legacy of my school days, where the end of the school year (which coincided with my birthday) was when I paused to reflect and also look ahead.

Still, the end of 2022 now has additional significance.  The coming year will have no "shadow pope" to clutter Catholic discussions.  On a person level, my youngest child will complete high school in the spring, ending that particular era for our family.  I will enter the new year as a civilian, which is another change I am still adjusting to.

And yes, I will also publish Walls of Men, a project that I thought to complete over the holidays.  That was my original plan, but I instead took the time to visit with friends and family, do some light reorganization, and above all, get some rest.

It seems appropriate to remember Benedict at the vigil Mass today and I will be one of many to do so.  Rest in peace.


As in Olden Days, Happy Golden Days

I've taken particular care this year to reach out to as many old friends as possible.  Between the pandemic and the constant (generally electronic) distractions of modern life, it's easy to become isolated from actual people and instead be caught in a virtual world.

We have hosted more gatherings this year than ever before, and I intend to build upon that a year from now.  I think back to the pre-internet age, and holiday parties were the way people caught up with one another.  I spent Christmas Eve going from party to party as my mother caught up with old friends who were back in the old neighborhood.  I was typically bored, because I'd last seen these people when I was a toddler.  I often begged off, but of course part of why I had to come was so she could show me off.

Which was fine, really.  Lots of snacks and treats and then Midnight Mass to wrap up the experience.

After Christmas Day, there were the informal parties - ad hoc get-togethers of people in town to play games or watch movies.  I'm glad to see my kids doing this.  We hosted a considerable party the week before, and I'd like it to become a regular thing because these are what the best memories are built on.

People may stress about family gatherings, but after all that is done and the gifts bought, delivered (and possibly exchanged), the "quiet" part of the holiday is often the most satisfying.


Happy Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord!

Among the  many homilies I have heard, a few stick with me.  One of them was built on the idea that while we have all been through Christmas before, each one is different in its own way.  That's very true.

Yesterday we went to the Children's Mass and it was great.  Despite sub-zero wind chills and near-white out conditions, the place was packed with extended families and friends greeting one another.  This wasn't the normal hand-shaking an nods in the pews, either.  Children dashed about the church, embracing aunts, uncles and grandparents.  It was great to see.

The children's choir was also perfect.  Mostly in tune, and very sweet, they also went after a couple of carols with the wild abandon of youth, belting out the high notes in total disregard of intonation.

The awful weather prevented our full family from attending, and that was also poignant.  Our feast afterwards was somewhat subdued for that reason, though we hope to get everyone together today.

That's why each day has to be seen as fresh and new.  I've celebrated dozens of Christmases, and yet each is unique in its own way.  We should approach holidays with a freshness and expectation because in a sense, the birth of the Christ-child is an ongoing thing.  Every day someone learns of it for the first time, or experiences it more fully than before.  I went through 33 Christmases before I entered the Church.  I'm still learning its true meaning. 

Merry Christmas!


The Christmas Spirit

In may last post I (jokingly?) referred to malign spirits of technology glitches, but over the last few years I've come to accept that there's more spiritual activity in this world than we acknowledge.

While I have to give the obligatory nod to the Lord of Spirits podcast, this view predated my wife's discovery of them, and it also made me very receptive of their message.

Timing is important in these sorts of things.  What might have seemed stupid then may make perfect sense now.  Given my upbringing, which was very skeptical of miracles and hostile to organized religion, I could only accept these truths gradually.

As the podcast points out, there are singular spirits, but also collective ones - the "spirit of the age" as it were (literally Zeitgeist in German).  There are also crowd spirits, and we see this in things like football games or various rallies.  How many times has "the mood turned sour" and a reasonably calm crowd suddenly become overcome by madness - a change that even the participants found hard to explain?

I'm sure some of you are immediately thinking of psychological conclusions (certainly I am), but what if psychology itself is an attempt to find a material expression for a spiritual event?  The grand experiment in secular psychology is about a century old and the results are pretty awful.  We pump people full of drugs, tell them to play with crayons and they still kill themselves.

Indeed, now our "medical professionals" are urging assisted suicide as a solution to chronic depression!

To me, it is increasingly obvious that the problem is a separation from God and any sense of meaning in life.  If you're just a bony juice bag waiting to get the whole thing over with, fast-forwarding to the ending makes sense.  Obviously, folks like G.K. Chesterton, Evelyn Waugh, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis pointed all this out decades ago.  If you aren't reading them, you should be.

In addition to the spirits of crowds, I think there are also spirits of events, and that's where Christmas comes in.  One of the Enemy's greatest victories was turning the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord into a celebration of materialism.  I hate "holiday displays" that center on wrapped gifts - as if that's the reason for the season. 

Growing up as I did, the culmination of Christmas was Christmas Day, but traditionally that is the beginning, not the end.  As the song says, there's 12 days of Christmas, and the decorations should stay up and the music should still play because the event isn't just about tearing away wrapping paper on the morning of the 25th.

I am pleased to say that (at least in the circles I move in), this view is becoming more common. 

Partly because our kids are grown, the gift-giving element has become merely symbolic in our household.  I'm hoping to do what I can to ensure our grandkids also look at the season as a time for some presents, but that it should in now way be a lavish attempt to either show off prosperity, or a belated attempt to buy affection.  I know kids who grew up with that, and it hasn't worked out well for them.

Despite what was in many ways an unhappy childhood, I've always had a warm spot for Christmas because I associate it with joy and happiness.  Christmas Day to me has been marked with family gatherings, old friends dropping in and a sense of overall well-being.  I hope your Christmas is possess by the same benevolent spirit that has touched mine.

 


The malign spirit of glitchy technology

The site glitched yesterday, and I think I have it fixed.

Amusingly, I've been having software issues in completely unrelated areas.  Coincidence?

Some folks might call it karma, which is an acceptable Western religious sentiment.  Declare it to be a work of the devil, and well, that's crazy Christian nonsense.

In any event, hopefully things will run smoother for a bit.

UPDATE:  Hah!  No sooner do I post this than Typepad goes down for 3 hours.  Naturally, I said the St. Michael the Archangel prayer.

I'm sure a "rational" explanation will be found, but some of us know the truth.

 


This year I'm thankful for the Rosary

As an (ongoing) convert to Catholicism, I'm still exploring many aspects of the faith.   Just as it took me time to understand, accept and eventually implement the full slate of beliefs, I'm still learning about all the different forms of worship.

For example, I've yet to experience a Latin Rite Mass.  I know, I know, in certain circles that's practically a mortal since, but I'm hard-pressed just to make my weekly parish Mass.  Going farther afield will have to wait just a little longer.

Over the last couple of months events in the world really started to get to me, and so I once again began to tune out the world.  I also wondered why the forces of darkness were almost everywhere advancing from victory to victory.

As I pondered this, I noticed our bishop continuing to stress the importance of the Rosary.  I had of course said a few of these over the years, but I found them time-consuming and my attention wandered.

However, the military strategist side of me noted that multiple authorities (I'm talking saints here) have highlighted the fact that the Rosary is one of the Church's most effective spiritual weapons.  That being the case, how could I forgo using it giving the increasing operational tempo of spiritual warfare?

I think part of the issue was the environment.  I started saying the Rosary with Gregorian chant playing in the background, and I found a quiet part of the day in which to do it. 

And then I understood.  I am not yet at the point where I say one every single day, but I find that having it there, and praying it several times a week has given me an incredible sense of calmness.

This Thanksgiving Day, I look back on the last 12 months and can say without hesitation that things for our family are vastly improved.  We have so much to be thankful for.  Most people will focus on the health of loved ones, or their physical comfort and financial security, all of which are important and we should be grateful for them.  However, I'm thankful that God was there for me when all of those things were fading and some I feared might never return.

Have a blessed Thanksgiving.


A Strange November

This is the mildest start of November I've ever seen.  It is no unusual for Halloween to be balmy (or freezing), but the long streak of warm weather is uncanny.  I keep running into people who smile at the weather and then shudder at the thought that we'll be "paying for it later."

Perhaps.  Sometimes there are mild winters.  A succession of these added fuel to the global warming movement (which was strange, since mild winters are a good thing - more please!).

I don't like to bring up current politics, but I will note that while huge sums of money are being spent on campaigns (my mailbox is hit with glossy fliers every single day), no one seems really interested in it.  The "yard sign wars" are the most restrained I've seen.  I don't know if it's people not caring, the campaigns not spending money or what, but the political signs have robust competition from contractors and the virtue-signalling Yard Sign Calvinists.

(Speaking of which, after decades of pondering, I've realized a similar term describes the hatchback covered with leftist bumper-stickers - Bumper Sticker Calvinism.)

My little burg's most common sign is in favor of the library millage renewal, which will certainly pass.

I'm not going to complain about either, and I'm approaching Election Day with more calmness than a felt a month ago.  I must keep reminding myself that God ultimately decides who wins, and if "my cause" loses, I should embrace that cross and also ask myself what lesson we are being taught.

In the meantime, I need to keep going on walks and even take a few bike rides while I still can.