Spiritual Warfare

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.


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. 


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 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.


Why isn't the Disney version of Hercules the actual version?

It's axiomatic that when Disney would do an animated adaption of a fairy tale for folk legend that it would be simplified and softened.  In a word:  "Disneyfied."

When Disney decided to tackle the story of Hercules in 1997, this posed a serious problem, because like all Greek heroes, he's got some serious flaws.

The reinvention of him as the beloved son of Zeus and Hera (hah!) who was tragically stolen and condemned to mortality by Hades (wonderfully voiced by James Woods) was about as far as one could get from the source material and still have a link to it.  The film works because it's in part a send-up of Disney itself, mocking toys, tie-ins and theme parks as Hercules becomes successful and famous.

But this does raise and interesting question, which is why Hercules (and the Greek gods in general) were so nasty.  The conventional (secular academic) view is that they represented the extremes of human behavior, outsized versions of our vices and virtues.  Thus, they regularly intrigued with one another, committed rape, incest and murder, yet also rewarded virtue and conveyed wisdom.

In short, the gods were fickle and it was best to take nothing for granted.

That being the case, if the gods were supposed to provide moral lessons, why weren't they more moral themselves?  Surely they could have been 'written' as exemplars of honor, dignity and restraint - which were virtues the pagans understood, though they did not always follow them.  Chastity was valued in pagan societies, as was marital fidelity, yet the gods honored these more in the breach, which encouraged those human who had the ability to do so to emulate them.

After exploring the Lord of Spirits podcast (which I had to quit, alas), it occurs to me that another explanation was that the Greek gods were in fact fallen angels, just as the Bible says, and that having rebelled against God, they were incapable of showing self-restraint.  They understood the divine virtues, but being in a state of rebellion, had little incentive (or will) to follow them.

This is a common human behavior, and the "downward spiral" is a real thing, one that I think everyone has seen happen.   Bad choice piles upon bad choice, countless opportunities to turn things around are wasted and eventually immersion in sin locks the unfortunate soul into a collision course with damnation.

Happily, there are also redemption stories, where people recognize where they are headed and make a needed course correction.  I'm an example of that. 

There is a key difference between humans and angels, however.  Having rebelled in the actual presence of God and knowing Him fully, the fallen angels cannot repent while humans still can.  There is no halting their spiral to the abyss.

All of which is to say that the Greek gods were who they were because they could be no other after their rebellion.  One can fault Disney for self-pedaling their depravity, but in fact anyone who was moved by the film to convert to Greek paganism would quickly learn how savage that faith really was.

 

 


The (partial) death of the reunion

The triumph of social media has destroyed the old way of celebrating anniversaries.  In previous generations, the arrival of a significant date would be commemorated with some sort of reunion.  Because such things happened at intervals of five or ten years, people would anticipate them, and make plans for travel, etc.

Alas, in our benighted age, people think that 'following' on various social media platforms fulfills this function.  It does not.  Partly because of Covid, there was no 30th year reunion for my high school graduating class, and the 20-year festivities had abysmal attendance.  Easier to just send messages on Facebook or something.

The problem is that social media is not real life.  People inherently seek attention, and so they manipulate the information they share about themselves, inflating accomplishments to bolster their self-esteem or highlighting challenges to gain sympathy.

Either way, social media serves as a form of performance art, and is no substitute for human contact.

Indeed, it amplifies the worst aspects of human behavior.

Happily, there are still places where people gather to meet face-to-face, and yesterday I participated in one of them.  My exact contemporaries were few, but the fact that multiple generations gathered and could still share common experiences and relate to one another in terms of life rather than politics or a need to find scapegoats was wonderful.  Indeed, attendance was unusually high, particularly among the younger crowd. 

This gives me hope that perhaps people are realizing that online relationships lack the fullness of a personal touch.  Far better to spend a few hours talking face to face than simply clicking thumbs up  or offering commentary.

Human were built to be together - to hear, to see and to touch one another.  After the lockdowns, maybe people are more sensitive to his.  We can only hople.


The Roman helmets of The Chosen are driving me nuts!

Okay, I'm a bit late to the party in tuning into The Chosen.  Sue me.

I'm only a couple of episodes into it, and I find it interesting, but...

those Roman helmets!

I hate being that guy who is always pointing out historical inaccuracies in movies, but given the attention to detail, I can't watch scenes with Roman soldier without gritting my teeth.

I mean, on the face of it, they're fine, decent copies of museum pieces.  The chrome shine on them is a bit unrealistic, but I'll allow it.

No, the problem is that the cheek pieces just flap around.  Um, hello?  No one can fight in that kind of gear.  The cheek pieces need to be laced together.

I mean, if an ultra-low-budget show like I, Claudius could get the right, surely The Chosen could have figured it out.  My hope is that some well-wisher got through to the production team and that withing a few episodes the troops will tie those mud flaps down.