Religion

Sickness teaches us to appreciate being healthy

I woke last night with a low-grade fever and growing body ache.  I rarely fall ill, so this was something of a surprise.

However, as I sit in a comfy chair, sipping tea and struggling to type, it occurred to me that when I get better, I'll feel much happier about it than I did yesterday.

Since the Exile from Eden, people have always taken things for granted, and in reading the life of St. Francis of Assisi, G.K. Chesterton stresses how the saint always kept a sense of wonder and joy around him.  That's one reason why modern people have a hard time understanding him or even accepting his existence.

We're to the point where we regard bitter, ungrateful and cynical people to be normal, while people who approach life with a child-like expression of joy are assumed to be mentally ill.

I don't know that there's ever a good time to get sick, but this certainly meshes well with my current reading.


A lot of bother about blessings

For reasons known only to themselves and God, Pope Francis and his allies decided to issue a new doctrinal letter just before Christmas declaring that blessing "irregular" (read: sinful) relationships was okay so long as it was spontaneous and done in a casual setting.

This was in direct contradiction with an earlier directive from 2021, which stated very clearly that one cannot bless sinful things - to do so is blasphemous.

Because the clergy was wholly absorbed in the celebrating the Nativity of Our Lord, reaction was uneven, but with the festivities largely concluded, a great many Church leaders are making their opinions known.

They are not happy.

One of the weird elements of the letter was its insistence that this policy was universal and that bishops could not intervene.  I don't know who thought that was smart to put down in writing, but it was guaranteed to provoke a negative response.  Thus we have various bishops, archbishops, cardinals and even entire conferences of bishops forbidding these blessings within their territories.

Because the Catholic Church incorporates various rites, these groups have also stated that they will not comply.  The Eastern Orthodox Catholics, for example, do not do "non-liturgical" blessings, so it was a non-starter for them.

Things got so bad, that a second letter was released, walking back much of the first letter while also doubling down on the concept.  For example, the first letter said the prayers should be spontaneous and not use a set formula; the second letter contains a recommended formula.

The larger lesson from this is that - contra much secular and Protestant propaganda - the Pope is not an absolute dictator of the Catholic Church and "Papal Infallibility" was created to limit rather than extend Papal directives.

Another lesson is that the heart of the Church is to be found in parishes, not the Vatican.  Liberal Catholicism is dying, and the fleeting triumph of Francis' elevation is about to fade away.  The young men coming out of seminary today are fiercely devoted to tradition, and feeble attempts to denounce the Latin Mass or smear American Catholics as reactionary are only strengthening their faith.

While many commentators are upset by this whole affair, I find it helpful insofar as it is very clarifying.  It's important to know where people stand, particularly when those people hold positions of authority in the Church.  We now know exactly which bishops and priests want to endorse sexual perversion and promiscuity.  That will prove very helpful going forward. 

For years, the laity has been monitoring the clergy, and 'vigilante' groups troll hookup apps, hunting down priests and reporting them.  I'm sure similar lists are being prepared for those performing these blasphemous blessings.

This episode also illustrates why "nice" Christianity is a dead end.  You cannot encourage people to reform by telling them that sin is okay.  What this does is reinforce sinful behavior and increase resistance to the necessary repentance.

Indeed, by reinforcing the sin, "affirming" clergy like Father James Martin, S.J. is actually putting the souls of sinners at greater risk.  Such people will have much to answer for at the time of judgement.

What makes the whole episode so laughable is that we've already seen the "embrace the sinner" model in action for decades with the Church of England.  Changing doctrine has brought schism and emptied the pews. 

Indeed, G.K. Chesterton wrote about this a century ago, which is why one cannot help but think the stated goal, isn't the actual goal.  Yes, people can remain remarkably stubborn in their ignorance, but they also use ignorance as a shield for something more sinister.  At this late date, it's a distinction without a difference.  Hiding behind good intentions in for Yard Sign Calvinists, not Orthodox Catholics.

 


Natural Law and Priest-Kings: The Faith of Lord of the Rings

Yesterday I finally concluded my spiritual re-reading of Lord of the Rings.  I started this project in early October and initially was keeping notes.  However, as I got deeper into the story, I found myself once more captivated by it, reading late into the night even though I know it so well.

I think that's the true proof of Tolkien's excellent writing - one can read through it again and again, and still be entranced.

While I've read this book dozens of times, it was only recently that I came to truly understand Catholic theology and the spirit world.  As an irreligious teenager, this almost totally escaped me.  As an adult, I began to recognize Christian themes, but not their deeper meanings.  Even after my conversion, I was essentially skimming the surface.  I'm sure scholarly dissertations have already been written on the topic, but two things stood out to me: the use of natural law and priest-kings.

Natural Law

There are several expressions of this concept, but the one I am using is that even people with no exposure to God's revealed word have an understanding of basic morality.  Just like gravity, it doesn't have to be explained for people to understand that it exists.

The natural law in Lord of the Rings begins in The Shire, which is something of an English garden of Eden.  While far from perfect, hobbits live their lines relatively free of sin.  They gossip, engage in petty theft (mushrooms and spoons come to mind), and love to eat, but crimes of lust and wrath (like rape and murder) are unknown to them. 

Why this is the case the books never come out and say, and at several points "the wise" openly ponder how they an be so untainted by sin.  The answer seems to be a special kind of grace that leaves them with little ambition beyond a comfortable life and the joy of family and friends.

This grace is of course absent in Smeagol/Gollum, who is irredeemably evil.  He is guilty of treachery, greed, murder and perhaps cannibalism (which he certainly was willing to attempt in The Hobbit).

Gollum's fall is not without resistance, and (as with so many other lives) he might have been redeemed if circumstances permitted it.  I think of addicts who clean up but go back to their old haunts and lifestyle and thereby get hooked yet again.

When the hobbits move into the larger world, they see a more formalized system of religion, more open displays of it, and this is a reference to the formalization of God's covenant with Israel. 

Being close to living in an Edenic state, the hobbits have essentially the faith of the antediluvian patriarchs, honoring their creator, honoring their parents, and refraining from mortal sins.

The realms of elves, men and dwarves, however, are fallen, and thus must practice a faith as a means of redemption.  This results in the creation not of a church, but the ancient concept of the priest-king.

The Priest-Kings of Numenor (and Rohan)

It is noteworthy that on almost every occasion when the hobbits meet and leave the various royalty they encounter, that a blessing is bestowed upon them.  This frequently involves the laying on of hands, but other times they simple told to go with the blessing, as at the conclusion of Mass.

This hearkens back to the customs of the Near East in ancient times, when kings also served as high priest, often due to (claimed) divine descent.  The king blessed the crops, blessed the first fruits and in all ways served as the representative of the patron deity on earth.

The same was true in Numenor, where the kings had certain religious duties.  On the Holy Mountain, only the king could speak aloud.

The "downfall" of Numenor was spiritual before it became physical.  Sauron famously allowed himself to be captured and turned the ruling class towards the worship of Melkor.  This in turn led to a declaration of war against the Valar and the destruction of the realm, with only a handful of survivors escaping the disaster.

The line of priest-kings was spared, however, through Elendil and his sons.  The destruction of Arnor and the extinction of the royal line in Gondor left the men of Westernesse spritually crippled, and facilitated a crisis of faith that almost wiped out the line of the Ruling Stewards.

It is worth noting the many powers Aragorn exercises in his capacity as king.  First and foremost, he is a healer - very much a priestly function and a way to demonstrate the justness of his claim.  It is telling that miraculous healing rather than military conquest are what make a Numenorean king.

These Numenorean concepts are reflected in Rohan as well, and the funeral customs may be consciously borrowed from the Anglo-Saxons, but they nevertheless reflect Christian elements, especially the sharing of wine among the celebrants.

I'm sure a few readers might be thinking "Yes, but lots of pagan societies also shared food and drink with guests, it's not just a Judeo-Christian thing!"  This is true, but from the Catholic/Orthodox spirit realm perspective, that is because these societies were led by fallen angels, who preserved the same customs, albeit often in debased ways.

This also goes back to natural law and the notion that sharing food and drink with someone draws you closer - which it absolutely does.  There's a reason why even in our debauched, post-religious secular materialist world, "dinner and a movie" is still regarded as a way to gain intimacy.  I would argue that the eclipse of dinner parties by social media is one of the driving factors in our ongoing societal strife.

The pandemic crushed much of this social activity and "public health experts" continue to undermine it by exaggerating the dangers of disease while ignoring the greater threat of social isolation and despair, especially among young, otherwise healthy people who now struggle to form in-person relationships.

Tolkien understood the importance of this activity in holding societies together, and that is no doubt why he emphasized taverns and inns as the primary social gathering space and in lieu of priest-kings, the hobbits had a mayor (who presided at banquets) and a Thain (of the Took line) and the Master of Buckland.  It is no accident to the narrative that the heirs to these 'royal' seats (Pippin and Merry) are part of the quest and that they return with a deeper understanding of spirituality to lead their people.

All of this is to say that Lord of the Rings is truly a masterpiece, a multi-layered work of true genius. 

I've remarked on this before, but it's been fascinating to see how Tolkien's work has gone from being regarded as a fringe-fantasy epic for teenagers to a deep and meaningful book about Christian faith.  It is not uncommon for priests to reference it during homilies and even bishops now cite its examples.

Clearly, Tolkien builded better than he knew.

 

 


The best Christmas in years

This post is a bit late simply because there is so much going on at Chateau Lloyd.  A pair of toddlers is more than enough to keep one's hands full, especially when they are wired on sweets and toys.

Taking it all in, the family has agreed that this has been the best Christmas since 2019 - that is, before the Plague Year.   Indeed, this is the first time that everyone was present for the holiday.

Alas, my parents are not included in that number.  Though both are still alive and alert, travel is a challenge, and kids having sniffles is enough to deter them.  As I noted a year ago, Christmas is never the same because we are never the same.  Christmas at 22 may not be that different from 23, but it certainly is at 32 or 42. 

With children, the differences are more stark, especially the transition from infancy to school age.

I know many people find this time of year difficult, and there are certainly moments sadness, particularly when I recall people who can longer join us.  I miss the big get-togethers with my aunts, uncles and cousins at the homes of my grandparents.  Because I'm an only child and my wife's kin are far away, we'll have to wait for marriages and more grandchildren to fill things out.

That anticipation is somewhat offset by the realization of my own mortality - and that of my parents.  How many years do they have left?  A friend of mine's father is over 100, a remarkable lifetime, and one that is no doubt likely to end soon.

This also causes me to treasure these moments.  I do this not just for myself, but for the children and grandchildren so that they also see Christmas as a happy time, devoid of the drama and regret that so many people feel at this time of year.

I'm not going to close with belated Christmas greetings because Christmas is still in progress.  We won't wrap the season up until January, so Merry Christmas to you all!


The sterile calendar of atheists (and some Protestants)

In my previous post, I noted how in discussions centering on Christmas, it's often difficult to tell Protestants from evangelical atheists since they often use the same arguments.

Both regularly accuse Catholics of "borrowing" pagan elements, with the result being a semi-pagan faith.  By stripping all these elements out, the Protestants argue, their form of Christianity is more "pure."

In practice, this makes it sterile and ruptures its continuity from Judaism.  This in turn facilitates hostility to Jews (and Jewish things) in a whole new and more violent way.  Martin Luther's "reforms" further enable Jew hatred, which combined with the Enlightenment to create the "evolutionary" study of religion.

Under this view, religion (like culture) starts primitive and - as scientific knowledge grows - advances from shamanistic practices to polytheism to monotheism.  Within monotheism, the most primitive is Zoroastrianism (which informed pagan Judaism - God didn't choose the Jews, the Jews found Him in captivity).  Judaism gave way to Catholicism, which contained Christ's truth but was polluted with pagan (and Jewish) superstition. 

The highest, and most evolved form of religion was naturally 19th Century German Protestantism (and its offshoots).

This worldview is entirely divorced from any spiritual element other than a vague personal relationship with God.  There's a devil, and some angels, and that's it.  The pagan gods are imaginary, the saints are simply pagan gods repackaged to facilitate (an imperfect) conversion, and the proof for all of this is the nonsense Catholics put up with, and the similarities between their holidays and pre-existing pagan ones.  "True" Christianity has Christmas and Easter (though Puritans famously hated Christmas).  The rest of the time it's pretty much one day after the other.

This completely rejects the fact that faith has always been tied to time and place.  (It also rejects the spirit realm and the fact that the pagan gods are real.)

In addition to the Ten Commandments, Moses was also ordered to keep a calendar, and if one actually bothers to research it, it is filled with special days, including memorials and feasts.

It is also tied with planting and the harvest, and Catholicism retains these links.  The liturgical calendar tracks very closely with the Jewish one for the obvious reason that the people who drew it up were themselves Jews! 

Both Catholic and Jewish calendars contain feast days, fasting days, memorials, solemnities and so on.  This is why weekly Mass is so emphasized - it keeps one tied into the divine conception of time rather than just dreary work days and state and federal holidays.

One would therefore expect religious holidays and observances to share a link to the natural world because for most of history, humanity was intimately connected to it.  The fact that the Winter Solstice is now something of a footnote mentioned by weather forecasters merely shows how divorced we are from nature.  Blinded by electric light, held in trance by flickering screens, we fail to notice the ebb and flow of sunlight, the waxing and waning of birdsong, and become completely detached from both physical and spiritual reality.

The Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord being set near the solstice is not a marketing gimmick or a lazy copycat of Yule or the Saturnalia but rather a correction of those pagan ceremonies.  It is a celebration of the True Light emerging from the darkness.

 

 

 

 


Through the eyes of a child

One of the blessings our family is enjoying this year is the age of the grandchildren.  They are two and three, so the elder remembers something of Christmas and is looking forward to it.  The younger doesn't, but is thrilled by the elder's inspiration.

This is as it should be.  We live in a world that has been largely stripped of its wonder.  Everything is broken down into either "science" or a moral hierarchy based on Yard Sign Calvinism, which has no room for childish joy and delight.

There is no whimsy in "woke," nor can there be sentimentality or nostalgia, because the present must always sit in judgement on the past.

The Spirit of the Age demands that the past be rejected, and that children be forced into adult decisions such as birth control or sexual preference before they have any conception of what these things are.

But here at Chateau Lloyd, we can shut all of that out.  Safe from social media and even the internet, the grandchildren can live as the generations before them lived - in a world they can touch, see, smell, taste and hear.  The wood burning in the fireplace is something unknown to them, and they experience the same mysterious fascination that our ancestors know as they watch the flames wax and wane, and the logs slowly turn to ash.

The Christmas tree is a thing new and mesmerizing, full of light, color and - as they are told - memory.  Is that really Mommy in that little picture?  Do you mean Grandpa was a little boy once?

Part of the power of holidays is how we pass them on to the next generations, creating the same sense of awe that we knew when we were young.  As we grow older, many of us are tempted to cut corners, and in some ways this is as it should be.  Christmas is about the birth of our Redeemer, not getting presents at deep, deep, discounts.

But there need be no conflict in economizing and preserving the spectacle and sensation of Christmas.  Lighting the Advent candles, preparing the Nativity - all of these create a sense of something special beyond the mere exchange of gifts.  The older I get, the more I focus on these, rather than the presents, and my chief happiness is seen in the eyes of the children.

 

 


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.