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Archive for the ‘education’ Category

Post on Sunday Mass is here – short version – there was a wedding!

After a late breakfast at the B & B, we began a slow walk out to the Copan Ruins. We could have taken a mototaxi (tuk-tuk), but it was a bit more than a mile, we’d just eaten a substantial breakfast, so why not walk?

There’s a walking path by the road that leads out there, and it was pleasant. Weather report: It’s very mild here. 70’s, a little humid. It rained last night for a while. I get a sense that the mountains shield this valley from any intense level of rain – which is good and bad, I guess.

We arrived at the site, bought our tickets, and waited for our guide. You don’t have to have a guide, of course, and my son knows a lot  – but I had no doubt that a knowledgeable guide would add to the experience and my son’s understanding (the goal), so I asked our hotel proprietor for the name of a guide who could offer information a level above what your normal guide would, addressing those with out the deep  background my son has. And he delivered – our guide for the afternoon was archaeologist David Sedat.

If you want to read more about Copan and why it’s important, go here. 

Most North Americans have little understanding of the Maya, ancient or modern, and tend to assume that the ancient Mayan civilization disappeared because of European conquerers. But that’s not the case – all of those temples and pyramids had been overgrown for hundreds of years by the time the Spanish arrived. And why? What happened? There’s a mystery about that, and that question, as well as any continued memory of the ancient civilization among the Maya, is what interests me.

But my son is, of course, primarily interested in that civilization itself, so that’s why we’ve been to the sites in the Yucatan, as well as many in Guatemala.

Some shots from the tour, and then last night’s dinner – tacos pastor and something else – just a different arrangement of tortillas, meat and in this case, cheese.

The photo of the large colored temple is from the museum – it’s a reproduction of a temple found within another larger structure on the site – called Rosalila – you can read more about it here. 

This was a good introduction to the site, but we’ll be returning here, to the museum, as well as trying to get to some other smaller sites in the area.

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Yeah, I’m fed up. 

Time to return to trans issues. Why now? Because while it seems to be something that’s sucking all the air out of every single room every single day, over the past couple of weeks, we’ve seen an uptick in the news:

But the general picture is being painted in pretty bright colors, isn’t it? (Although pastel – not bright – blue is the trans color).

Here’s what I have to say – resist. 

This is a bizarre, deeply damaging moment we’re living in, driven by a tiny minority of people suffering various forms of mental illness. And yes, there are various forms. Once you start looking into this world, you come to understand that there is really no such thing as a monolithic gentle group of “trans folks” we’re gently reminded to welcome by gentle Fr. Martin, all gently seeking understanding for their differences.

No – there’s a little more to it than that.

There are different iterations and roots of this type of dysphoria, obviously, like any mental illness, not all understood.  There are men who experience this desire, frankly, as a fetish. It’s called autogynephilia, and it’s a thing – a male being aroused by the idea of himself as a woman. There are young people who have been abused, who are on the spectrum, who are deeply influenced by what they see online, there are pre-teen and teen girls who are confused, disturbed and revolted by the physical changes they’re experiencing. There are teen girls and boys, young adults, who look at this weird world of strict gender conformity, the land of pink and the world of blue, and think…I don’t fit here. I’m different. Maybe I fit….there. 

There’s a lot to say and lot to do and much to resist, but here’s where it starts – here’s the bottom line:

Resist and reject gender self-identity in all spheres of life, including the law. 

That is to say: You are not a woman because you believe you are. You’re not a boy because you’ve decided you are.

Don’t let the law budge an inch on this score. 

This – the notion that one can simply decide what gender you are and then merit treatment and rights on that score – is the root of all current trans activism, including political activism, embodied in this country in the so-called Equality Act – endorsed by all the current Democratic candidates for president and passed by the House last spring. (You know your constitution, so you know that “passed by the House” means nothing unless it’s also “passed by the Senate” and signed by the President. But still – it’s there.) Most people don’t understand this. They think that transing is all about people who have gone through counseling and years of medical treatment and surgery – right? Nope. Not at all.

At the core of the Equality Act and similar efforts in England, a person should be treated according to the gender he or she (?) claims, even if they are still physically intact, have never had surgery – and maybe never even intend to. It doesn’t matter if they “pass” or not or what they look like to you.

You’re a girl because you say you are.

Image result for rachel mckinnon

No. Resist.

Resist attempts to change the law, resist the intrusion of this into your schools, your public spaces  – snort derisively  when you’re asked your pronouns – and never stop being deeply and annoyingly logical. So if your community passes some sort of Self-ID in terms of gender, the next time you go to the DMV or have to fill out a form indicating your identifying characteristics – go crazy. If you’re Asian with straight black hair, demand to be accepted as an Irish redhead. If you’re obviously a woman, calmly claim that you’re a dude. If you’re 60, put down 1982 as your birthdate. And don’t let go – demand to know why – if that guy over there can be named “woman of the year,” can win women’s sporting events, can be awarded a woman’s spot on a committee – it is perfectly logical that I, too, can self-identify in any way, respect or category I decide. 

There is no logical argument. None. 

It is mostly misogynistic, crowd-driven, profit-fueled gnosticism. 

And those of you who call yourselves feminists, take note here. The greatest energy in the trans movement is of biological males demanding access to women’s spaces: restrooms, athletics, locker rooms, shelters, prisons and honors. You do not see female–to-male individuals making the same demands. As I’ve said before, I see this movement in part as Peak Misogyny, enabled by medical technology and profit-seeking pharmaceutical companies. (Because if you do physically transition, guess what? You’re on medication…for the rest of your life.)  Peak Misogyny which is trying to create a world in which actual girls and  women hopefully commit to their own erasure and the best women always turn out to be  men.

Yes. Erasure of actual women, is what it all seems to be about, in the end.

From a great column in the UK Telegraph a few days ago, by Celia Walden:

“This cloakroom may be used by any person regardless of gender identity or expression,” reads a notice on the toilet door of the bar I’m in on Saturday night. This is designed to give me a hit of self-importance. I have choices, options, both in terms of who I am and how I decide to express that all-important self to the world: a world waiting with bated breath for me to tell them why I’m special.

And yet I don’t feel reassured by this open-minded toilet, because everyone in the bar is drunk, the corridor it’s situated in is dimly-lit – and the only other people queuing outside it are men. So instead what I feel is uneasy, undignified, un-safe.

I’m guessing younger women are getting used to the feeling of vulnerability I felt so acutely on Saturday night. Just as British schoolgirls are getting used to their Mao-esque, gender-neutral uniforms, and “holding it in” all day at school (with the risk of contracting infections): anything to avoid using the gender-neutral toilets.

****

But this is an attack on women. And I don’t think the leading feminist campaigner, Julie Bindel, was exaggerating when she said on Sunday: “We’re now moving towards the total elimination of women’s biology.”

This isn’t about feminists, activists, sociologists and the deliberately impenetrable jargon they all choose to use in their very public duels. And it’s not about who gets to claim periods, with all their paraphernalia, either (but have them, please, along with stretch marks, the menopause, and the certainty that you’ve been ripped off by every MOT guy you’ve come across).

This is about fragile young girls still struggling to come to terms with their own changing bodies being forced into preposterous intimacy with boys. It’s about transgender athletes like Rachel McKinnon – who won the Masters Track Cycling World Championships on Saturday for the second year running – killing women’s sports.
It’s about the series of future crimes, assaults and intimidations that will have to happen before someone works out that having a load of drunk men and women using the same toilets in bars and clubs was Not A Smart Move. It’s about rapists being indulged and coddled by the police while their victims are effectively mocked.

And it’s about knowing when we’ve reached peak gender insanity. Please God, let this be it.

“This” will not be “it” all by itself. It won’t be “it” unless human beings stop it.

And it needs to stop – and the law could play a part in stopping it – or opening up the floodgates. Either way. The citizens of this country – who make the laws, remember – could demand, for a start, that their state and federal representatives ban medical transitioning of minors – no drugs, no puberty blockers, no hormones, and God help us, no surgery. No teen girls lining up for binders and mastectomies, no boys, their genitals shrunk by years of puberty blockers and estrogen, having their penises and testicles sliced off, the remaining skin tucked in to form what amounts nothing more than an open wound that must, for the rest of their lives – the rest of their lives  – be dilated daily for….what? 

Start with banning that in your state. Don’t allow it and run the medical professionals who profit from it out of business. And then stand firm against the Equality Act. If you have the opportunity to interact with one of the Democratic candidates, ask them about it and don’t let go. Don’t accept platitudes. Ask, over and over – Should any biological male who says he is female be granted access to women’s spaces such as locker rooms? Well, we need to be an inclusive society, welcoming of all people. Great. Should any biological male who says he is female be granted access to women’s spaces such as locker rooms and restrooms? Trans folks experience a lot of discrimination, you know. That’s too bad. Should any biological male who says he is female be granted access to women’s spaces such as locker rooms, restrooms and prisons? I’m for equality for all people. Good for you. Should any biological male who says he is female be granted access to women’s spaces such as locker rooms, restrooms, prisons and shelters for abused women?

As noted above, I’ve written about this before – links at the bottom of this post. I want to end, though, with a lengthy excerpt from a column by Janice Turner in a September issue of the UK Times, reproduces here at the Fair Play for Women FB page:

The Oscar-winning singer Sam Smith, a gay man, has “come out” as non-binary because, rehearsing a dance routine, he discovered a “vivacious woman inside my body”. He said of his fat-deposits: “There’s a bit of a woman in me who won’t let me look like that. I put on weight in places women put on weight. That spring-boarded everything.” So Smith knew his “gender identity” wasn’t male because he frets about his figure like us ladies. Just as Eddie Izzard believes that he has “girl genetics” because he paints his nails.

This is progress, I’m told. Feminists must embrace the idea that womanhood is predicated upon hoary old stereotypes while flamboyant or “vivacious” gay men must accept they are not really male. That I refuse to call Sam Smith “they” is not from disrespect (I never misgender trans people) but because the concept “non-binary” is sexist, homophobic and, above all, damaging to the mental health of fragile young people. And we should have the courage to say so.

Yet because policymakers and broadcasters prefer to surf rainbow flag approval than suffer a Twitter storm, in just a few years, with zero debate, public institutions have converted to a new state religion: the magical, wholly unscientific belief that biological sex does not exist while “gender identity” is real.

Let’s start with the Office for National Statistics, whose definition of “sex” includes “something that is assigned at birth”: ie a child being male or female is not an observable fact even in utero but randomly allocated and therefore provisional. The ONS also notes “gender is increasingly understood as not binary but on a spectrum . . . along a continuum between man and woman”.

“Increasingly understood” suggests some scientific breakthrough when it is merely a fashionable theory. Because postmodern academics such as Judith Butler believe sex can be erased, the government may change the census question from birth sex to “lived sex”, thus undermining the very integrity of government data.

Gender religion has now swept into schools as shown in a leaked Equality and Human Rights Commission report, which proposes that male pupils who identify as female should be taught sex education with girls. Not only would they remain ignorant of their own developing bodies, but such classes are supposed to spare shy girls from talking about periods among boys.

The EHRC states that natal male trans pupils must use girls’ changing rooms: any girl upset about this should use, say, the disabled lavatory. Sports should be divided by gender identity, even if girls will no longer win their own races. All these plans breach the 2010 Equality Act where sex is a protected characteristic — but they preach the new gender liturgy.

Even more zealous is the BBC Teach website which provides classroom materials. In a film for key stage 2 pupils — seven to 11-year-olds — a small child asks a teacher: “How many gender identities are there?” The teacher replies that it’s a really exciting question: “We know we have male and female, but there are over 100 if not more gender identities now.” (Note the “now”, implying cutting-edge new research.) The unease and puzzlement on these kids’ faces — what are all these genders? which one am I? — made me furious.

The government’s own No Outsiders programme simply teaches primary kids that some families have gay parents, and boys can like mermaids just like girls. Yet the BBC believes nine-year-olds should go googling the supposed 100 genders. Which include “Perigender: identifying with a gender but not as a gender” or “Vapogender: a gender that feels like smoke”. In other words, they are made up, mystical nonsense: gender Pokemons.

At puberty, developing a new sexed body can distress many children. Girls, especially, hate their breasts, are appalled by periods, loathe the sudden attention from men. Ruth Hunt, the former head of Stonewall, told me she thought teenage girls often declare themselves “non-binary” as a temporary holding bay, while they come to terms with their bodies and a world which expects them to look like Love Island babes. A fair point.

Watching videos by “non-binary” young people, I was struck by their reasoning. “I can avoid beauty standards of either sex,” one crop-haired girl said. “I always hated rough sports but my dad made me play,” a fey boy said. They saw the problem: a constricting world, but their solution was to identify out of it. Instead of challenging rigid ideas about masculinity, say you’re not a man.

The non-binary fad would be as harmless as goths or punks, if social media and peer pressure weren’t pushing so many towards medical transition: if you don’t fit with society’s gender rules, change your pronouns or ultimately, via hormones, your body. Besides, is it wise to send vulnerable young people out to battle against our very language, telling them that anyone who fails to call them “they” is hateful, has even committed a crime? How can this not amplify, rather than lessen, your anxiety and alienation?

Better to understand that your sex is immutable, that you don’t need some off-the-shelf gender identity because instead you have a complex, unique personality. “I’m not male or female,” says Sam Smith. “I think I flow somewhere in between.” Darling, don’t we all.

My posts:

An introductory post.

The Feminine Genius of the Cowgirl in Red

But Look How Much I Gained

Peaked?

Peaked yet? – if you want to read a shorter summary and skip all my meanderings, go here.

It’s called dysphoria. It’s about not feeling quite right. It’s about not feeling at home in your body or even in the world.

I am careful in speaking about mental illness, because it really is a challenge to understand and discuss. Who among us is “normal” or “whole?” Who relates to themselves and to the world with complete clarity? None of us. Not a one.

So I am not sure how to talk about this – what is not normal, what is clearly mental illness – without being required to define what normal is. You feel as if you are not a woman? Well, let me tell you what you should feel like.

Who can do that? I don’t think it’s possible. That was one of my points in those previous posts.

But clearly, body and gender dysphoria are forms of mental illness. They are rooted in various factors, they can present in different way for varying lengths of time, and healing, if it comes, is as varied as the individuals involved.

Now, honestly – once you accept that – this is a form of mental illness – much of the present moment clicks into place, especially if mental illness has ever played a part in your life:  the insistence of putting oneself and one’s felt needs in the center of every, single conversation and issue, the unblinkered focus on the self and trying to find a way to feel okay and then being affirmed, from every corner, in that okaynes. No matter how difficult it is to define “healthy” and “ill” we do know that healthy people, in general – don’t act this way. 

So yeah, that’s what’s going to happen. If you’ve ever been part of a group – a class, a workplace, a family, a neighborhood – where there’s someone who’s struggling with mental illness, quite often, those struggles tend to dominate everyone’s lives and every gathering, don’t they?

Understand that, and the pieces of that puzzle – how has the issue of such a tiny, tiny minority come to dominate the culture, and so quickly and why do they act like this? – click right into place.

They’re not well.

***

Finally, to close up this tedious Wall of Text with some philosophizing.

For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.  And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.

Add to my list above: an affluent, sterile, leisure-oriented, performative culture – a material one stripped of the transcendent, with no road but an earthly one and no destination but a grave.

And being taught from the beginning of your life on this earth that fulfillment and happiness are not only possible, but expected. That a great deal of this happiness and fulfillment lies in just who you are and the wonderfulness that you are and being accepting of the marvelous being that you are.

But what if you’re not feeling it? What if you’ve had horrendous experiences in life that have made, it seems, a sense of self – much less a contented, whole self – challenging? What if what’s inside doesn’t match what your family, your community or even the big world tells you is correct and normal?

Raised in a material, appearance, emotion and achievement-oriented culture – despair for the dis-oriented might seem to lie just on the other side of every door, around every corner.

But consider another way – formed to value this life and who you are, but also understanding that, because of weighty mystery, you – along with everyone else on earth – is broken, sees through a glass darkly – including yourself – and that as hard as it is, it is also okay, because this is not your home. 

Oh, the suffering remains, and strangeness. But one just might be spared the perceived need to fix oneself right here and right now and make what’s outside “match” what’s inside.

And the older you get, the more true you see this is.

I turned – unbelievably – 59 this week. A few weeks ago, on our way back from Spain, I spent time with my friend Ann Englehart, who also turned 59 this summer. Over great Greek food in Astoria, I looked at her and asked the question that had been weighing on me:

“Do you feel fifty-freaking-nine years old?”

“NO!” she exclaimed, clearly relieved to hear someone else say it.

What does it even mean? we wondered, articulating the same thoughts aloud. What does it mean to be “almost sixty” – but to feel no older than, say forty, and to wonder – was I ever even 45 or 52? I just seem to have leapt from still almost youngish adulthood to AARP discounts without blinking. My appearance is changing, and I look at women two decades older than I and I know – God willing I make it that far – that there will be a day when I, too, will be unrecognizable to my younger self.

It’s very, very weird. It’s challenging. I completely understand why people – especially those in the public eye – get work done to stave off the sagging and the wrinkles. It’s so strange when what you look like on the outside doesn’t match what you feel on the inside. It’s disorienting. You might even say it’s dysphoric, if that’s a word. Centered in those feelings, living as though this were the only reality and all that matters, the temptation to use all the technology at one’s disposal to fix it – to make it all match up – might be very strong.

But understanding that disassociation and sense of dislocation in another way, as an invitation. An invitation, a hint to listen to the heart that seeks and yearns for wholeness and unity, to understand that while it’s not perfectly possible on this earth, the yearning for it is a hint that somewhere, it does exists, and it waits – and the hard, puzzling journey we’re on does not, in fact end where the world tells us.

For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the one that is to come.

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Today’s the memorial for Blessed John Henry Newman – and of course this coming Sunday, he’ll be canonized.

As I mentioned, yesterday, Church Life Journal published an essay of mine on the novels of David Lodge, particularly those that excavated the lives of young midcentury English Catholics, trying to figure out life and faith around the time of the Second Vatican Council. One thing I noticed on this most recent reading, but could not elegantly work into the essay, was that Newman – whom we see today as a titan of English Catholicism – plays no role in these young Catholics’ lives. None. He’s not mentioned, not he – nor any of those 19th century Catholics, Oxford Movement or outside of it – not a one. Graham Greene is a touchstone – he’s the public Catholic that this crew, particularly Michael (whom I suspect is the most autobiographical character)keeps tabs on, tracking his perceived faith perambulations on a regular basis. Which brings us back to my theme of narratives – our contemporary narrative of engaged English Catholicism is dominated by Newman – but even a few decades ago, were most engaged, self-consciously Catholic Catholics even thinking about him at all?

Cardinal Newman is featured in Bishop Robert Barron’s Pivotal Players series. I wrote a prayer/meditation companion book for the series Praying with the Pivotal Players.  Below are pages from a chapter on “The Idea of the University.” Note that this book is designed to aid the reader in personal reflection, so the chapter leads from Newman’s general points to suggestions on how his thought in this area might lead and challenge us in our spiritual growth.

 

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There are four more chapters on Newman in the book. 

More Newman in a book I’ve had a hand in:

My book Be Saints!  – illustrated by the artist Ann Engelhart – was inspired by a talk to young people that Pope Benedict XVI gave on his visit to England in 2010. 

amy welborn

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI beatified Newman on that visit. So naturally, on that visit, he had many interesting things to say about him:

In an interview on the plane to England:

He was a man of great spirituality, of humanity, of prayer, with a profound relationship with God, a personal relationship, and hence a deep relationship with the people of his time and ours. So I would point to these three elements: modernity in his life with the same doubts and problems of our lives today; his great culture, his knowledge of the treasures of human culture, openness to permanent search, to permanent renewal and, spirituality, spiritual life, life with God; these elements give to this man an exceptional stature for our time.

At the prayer vigil before the beatification:

Let me begin by recalling that Newman, by his own account, traced the course of his whole life back to a powerful experience of conversion which he had as a young man. It was an immediate experience of the truth of God’s word, of the objective reality of Christian revelation as handed down in the Church. This experience, at once religious and intellectual, would inspire his vocation to be a minister of the Gospel, his discernment of the source of authoritative teaching in the Church of God, and his zeal for the renewal of ecclesial life in fidelity to the apostolic tradition. At the end of his life, Newman would describe his life’s work as a struggle against the growing tendency to view religion as a purely private and subjective matter, a question of personal opinion. Here is the first lesson we can learn from his life: in our day, when an intellectual and moral relativism threatens to sap the very foundations of our society, Newman reminds us that, as men and women made in the image and likeness of God, we were created to know the truth, to find in that truth our ultimate freedom and the fulfilment of our deepest human aspirations. In a word, we are meant to know Christ, who is himself “the way, and the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:6).

Newman’s life also teaches us that passion for the truth, intellectual honesty and genuine conversion are costly. The truth that sets us free cannot be kept to ourselves; it calls for testimony, it begs to be heard, and in the end its convincing power comes from itself and not from the human eloquence or arguments in which it may be couched. Not far from here, at Tyburn, great numbers of our brothers and sisters died for the faith; the witness of their fidelity to the end was ever more powerful than the inspired words that so many of them spoke before surrendering everything to the Lord. In our own time, the price to be paid for fidelity to the Gospel is no longer being hanged, drawn and quartered but it often involves being dismissed out of hand, ridiculed or parodied. And yet, the Church cannot withdraw from the task of proclaiming Christ and his Gospel as saving truth, the source of our ultimate happiness as individuals and as the foundation of a just and humane society.

Finally, Newman teaches us that if we have accepted the truth of Christ and committed our lives to him, there can be no separation between what we believe and the way we live our lives. Our every thought, word and action must be directed to the glory of God and the spread of his Kingdom. Newman understood this, and was the great champion of the prophetic office of the Christian laity……more.

And then, of course the homily at the Mass:

While it is John Henry Newman’s intellectual legacy that has understandably received most attention in the vast literature devoted to his life and work, I prefer on this occasion to conclude with a brief reflection on his life as a priest, a pastor of souls. The warmth and humanity underlying his appreciation of the pastoral ministry is beautifully expressed in another of his famous sermons: “Had Angels been your priests, my brethren, they could not have condoled with you, sympathized with you, have had compassion on you, felt tenderly for you, and made allowances for you, as we can; they could not have been your patterns and guides, and have led you on from your old selves into a new life, as they can who come from the midst of you” (“Men, not Angels: the Priests of the Gospel”, Discourses to Mixed Congregations, 3). He lived out that profoundly human vision of priestly ministry in his devoted care for the people of Birmingham during the years that he spent at the Oratory he founded, visiting the sick and the poor, comforting the bereaved, caring for those in prison. No wonder that on his death so many thousands of people lined the local streets as his body was taken to its place of burial not half a mile from here. One hundred and twenty years later, great crowds have assembled once again to rejoice in the Church’s solemn recognition of the outstanding holiness of this much-loved father of souls. What better way to express the joy of this moment than by turning to our heavenly Father in heartfelt thanksgiving, praying in the words that Blessed John Henry Newman placed on the lips of the choirs of angels in heaven:

Praise to the Holiest in the height
And in the depth be praise;
In all his words most wonderful,
Most sure in all his ways!
(The Dream of Gerontius).    .…more

This site offers more quotes from Benedict on Newman:

Conscience for Newman does not mean that the subject is the standard vis-à-vis the claims of authority in a truth less world, a world which lives from the compromise between the claims of the subject and the claims of the social order. Even more, conscience signifies the perceptible and demanding presence of the voice of truth in the subject himself. It is the overcoming of mere subjectivity in the encounter of the interiority of man with the truth from God. The verse Newman composed in 1833 in Sicily is characteristic: “I loved to choose and see my path but now, lead thou me on!” Newman’s conversion to Catholicism was not for him a matter of personal taste or of subjective, spiritual need. He expressed himself on this even in 1844, on the threshold, so to speak, of his conversion: “No one can have a more unfavourable view than I of the present state of Roman Catholics.” Newman was much more taken by the necessity to obey recognized truth than his own preferences – even against his own sensitivity and bonds of friendship and ties due to similar backgrounds. It seems to me characteristic of Newman that he emphasized the priority of truth over goodness in the order of virtues. Or, to put it in a way which is more understandable for us, he emphasized truth’s priority over consensus, over the accommodation of groups

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A friend from Red Mountain Park on Sunday.

Just a bit of blogging this past week – scroll back for that. Some homeschooling thoughts, some El Camino thoughts. Important, big stuff.

I’ll be in Living Faith on Tuesday – go here for that.

And per usual, check out my son’s writings on film and his fiction!

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After flailing away for months, trying to find thinkers and thoughts that in some way echo my own chaotic thoughts on the Present Moment, particularly in regard to mass and social media, the self and spirituality, I’ve stumbled upon a couple of works that I think might help – one I should have read decades ago, the other new to me:

The Culture of Narcissism – duh. It’s one of those books that for years I’ve just thought, yeah, I get it – as I’ve read other authors referencing it. But then I thought – yeah, I should probably just read it.

and then Society of the Spectacle by Frenchman Guy Debord, referenced by Catholic thinkers here and  here and available here. 

So perhaps at some point, you can return for any insights gained from that.

— 3 —

Debord wrote from the position of a cultural Marxist, and before you get all frazzled by that, consider:

It goes without saying that Western culture is saturated with images. They are on our billboards, on sides of vehicles, buildings, clothing and phones. We cannot even answer nature’s call without the walls of toilets calling to us with the latest offer we cannot refuse. The explosion of smartphone technology means that users have round-the-clock screen time. Our world is awash with signs and symbols that flood every corner of our social space and fill our collective imaginations.

But what is the cultural effect this image-saturation? This is where Kulturkritik comes in. The heart of Kulturkritik is the well-known Marxist analysis of the process of commodification ― the conversion of things into units of exchange. In brief, Marx saw commodities not merely as things but also carriers of meaning acquired through the process of industrial manufacture and commercial distribution. This cultural meaning accrues in the form of a series of images that surround the commodity, the most important of which is the conceit that the commodity possesses self-contained value ― and it is this value that facilitates commodity-exchange. The upshot of this is that, for Marx, a commodity is a thing with an image fused to it. And through these images, the commodity acquires a symbolic power over its creator, shaping ― and clouding ― the creator’s perceptions of the world around him. This was described by Marx not only as an illusion, but also as a “religious fog.”

But Marx was talking about tables and chairs. What happens when non-physical goods like images become commodities in themselves? This is where Baudrillard and Debord make their singular contributions. In 1967, Guy Debord published his landmark work Society of the Spectacle, in which he argued that images have the mobilising power they have now because “the commodity has succeeded in totally colonising social life … we no longer see anything else; the world we see is the world of the commodity.” Images are not distractions from the real world, they have become the means by which we apprehend the real world. They, moreover, give a certain consistency to the world; as Debord writes, images are “a means of unification … the focal point of all vision and consciousness.”

That’s from Matthew Tan, who blogs at Awkward Asian Theologian – a spot I will be exploring with great interest. 

— 4 —

This is the Debord reference that piqued my interest:

This debris, the culture of late-modern industrial society – as has been realized at both ends of the political spectrum – is really little more than a spectacle designed to reproduce and inculcate a secular, consumerist ethos and order of production, which itself is essentially a theatre. This partly lies in the fact that the gratuitous consumption fundamental to our society is driven not by need, but by wants related to the construction and maintenance of “identities” and “lifestyles” paraded about in a collective charade with little connection to authentic human realities. Thus, to paraphrase Guy Debord, cultural Marxist par excellence, spiritually lifeless mass culture in late-modern capitalism is just a spectacle for the sake of maintaining a spectacle. 

It’s from Catholic Insight – another online publication, this one Canadian, that is also worth your time. 

— 5 –

Today’s the feastday of St. Vincent de Paul:

He’s in The Loyola Kids Book of Saints. 

 

An account of his life:

Thus, although he had no advantages of birth, fortune, or handsome appearance, or any showy gifts at all, Vincent de Paul’s later years became one long record of accomplishment. In the midst of great affairs, his soul never strayed from God; always when he heard the clock strike, he made the sign of the cross as an act of divine love. Under setbacks, calumnies, and frustrations, and there were many, he preserved his serenity of mind. He looked on all events as manifestations of the Divine will, to which he was perfectly resigned. Yet by nature, he once wrote of himself, he was “of a bilious temperament and very subject to anger.” Without divine grace, he declared, he would have been “in temper hard and repellent, rough and crabbed.” With grace, he became tenderhearted to the point of looking on the troubles of all mankind as his own. His tranquillity seemed to lift him above petty disturbances. Self-denial, humility, and an earnest spirit of prayer were the means by which he attained to this degree of perfection. Once when two men of exceptional learning and ability asked to be admitted to his congregation, Vincent courteously refused them, saying: “Your abilities raise you above our low state. Your talents may be of good service in some other place. As for us, our highest ambition is to instruct the ignorant, to bring sinners to a spirit of penitence, and to plant the Gospel spirit of charity, humility, and simplicity in the hearts of all Christians.” One of his rules was that, so far as possible, a man ought not to speak of himself or his own concerns, since such discourse usually proceeds from and strengthens pride and self-love.

From his own words, in today’s Office of Readings:

Since Christ willed to be born poor, he chose for himself disciples who were poor. He made himself the servant of the poor and shared their poverty. He went so far as to say that he would consider every deed which either helps or harms the poor as done for or against himself. Since God surely loves the poor, he also loves those who love the poor. For when one person holds another dear, he also includes in his affection anyone who loves or serves the one he loves. That is why we hope that God will love us for the sake of the poor. So when we visit the poor and needy, we try to understand the poor and weak. We sympathise with them so fully that we can echo Paul’s words: I have become all things to all men. Therefore, we must try to be stirred by our neighbours’ worries and distress. We must beg God to pour into our hearts sentiments of pity and compassion and to fill them again and again with these dispositions.

 

— 6 —

The writings that St. Vincent left behind are mostly in the form of correspondence and conferences, which are in print today and easy to find. Some of these thoughts were collected in a small volume of “Counsels” which you can access via archive.org. For example, here.

I find reading works like this instructive for a number of reasons. First, naturally, because they are the thoughts and advice of a great saint, and that’s always good to put in your brain and fill your time with.

But secondly – what a contrast. What a contrast to the contemporary spiritual gestalt and yes, I’m talking about Catholic gestalt, too. Perhaps especially.

I am ever intrigued by popular spirituality, no matter what era, and in particular by the give and take, ebb and flow between Catholicism and secular thought and culture. When does the latter help illuminate the former? When does it obscure, distract and point us away from Christ? When we tease it apart, what should be retained, and what should be tossed?

When you read these Counsels of St. Vincent de Paul, you might start suspecting that much of what you’re encountering in contemporary Catholic spiritual and pastoral efforts falls into that latter category.

Harsh!

But why?

Because traditional Catholic spirituality, from St. Paul on, has been about humility and emptying the self and allowing Christ to fill you. It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me. 

Consider what you’re being sold these days, even from Catholics. In every way, in every corner, it seems to be about you and your self. We are constantly told that the core of spiritual seeking is to discover who you really are, with gifts ‘n’ talents at the ready, accept who you really are, accept that God accepts you as you really are, arrange your life around the self you have accepted, be passionate about that self and its potential for greatness, find a church community that accepts you as you really are, and then get upset if you feel that you’re not being accepted as you really are. Lather, rinse, repeat.

 

There’s that concept of being stuck in perpetual adolescence, and this seems to me to be one manifestation of it – that unrelenting focus on and anxiety about the self and how well we are understood and accepted. As well as a spirituality formed in a context of relative material prosperity and social segregation. Does it nudge us in the proper direction, open us to the fullness of the Gospel? Sometimes, perhaps. God can work through anything, no matter how weird and odd and even bad, and does. But really, this moralistic therapeutic deism, as it’s commonly called in this, yes, culture of narcissism –  and what St. Vincent is preaching – to not speak of oneself and one’s own concerns –  are…different.  It’s good to pay attention and question your spiritual paradigm, not just once in a while, but every day.

— 7 —

Here’s my tonic for that temptation. From the Counsels:

The methods by which God chooses to work are not in accordance with our ideas and our wishes. We must content ourselves with using those small powers which He has given us, and not be distressed because they are not higher or more far-reaching. If we are faithful in a little, He will give much into our charge ; but that is His province, and does not depend on efforts of ours. We must leave it to Him, and try and fill our own niche.

The spirit of the world is restless, and desires to be active in all things. Let it alone. We must not choose our paths, but follow those into which it is God’s pleasure to direct us. So long as we know ourselves unworthy to be used by Him, or to be esteemed by other men, we are safe. Let us offer ourselves to Him to do or to suffer anything that may be for His glory or for the strengthening of His Church. That is all He asks. If He requires results, that is in His hands and not in ours ; let us spread out heart and will in His presence, having no choice of this or that until God has spoken. And, -‘meanwhile, pray we may have grace to copy our Lord in those virtues that belonged to His hidden life.

Remember always that the Son of God remained unrecognised. That is  our aim, and that is what He asks of us now, for the future and for always, unless He shows us, by some method of His which we cannot mistake, that He wants something else of us. Pay homage to the everyday life led by our Lord on earth, to His humility, His self-surrender, and His practice of  the virtues such a life requires. But chiefly pay homage to the limitations our Divine Master set on His own achievements. He did not choose to do all He might have done, and He teaches us to be content to refrain from undertakings which might be within our power, and to fulfill only what charity demands and His will requires.

I rejoice at this generous resolve of yours to imitate our Lord in the hiddenness of His life. The idea of it seems as if it must have come from God, because it is so opposed to the ordinary point of view of flesh and blood. You may be quite sure that that certainly is the state befitting children of God. Therefore be steadfast, and have the courage to resist all  the suggestions that are against it. You have found the means by which you may become what God asks you to be and learn to do His holy will continually, and that is the goal for which we are striving and for which all the saints have striven.

Another way to think of this, traditionally, is in terms of will. One of St. Benedict’s rules is “to hate one’s own will.” Again – harsh! Isn’t happiness about fulfilling our deepest yearnings?

Well, yes and no, and of course it all comes down to definitions.

We all suffer because we believe that happiness lies in fulfilling our will. But if we have the gift to reflect on our past, we quickly come to the realization that much of what we “will” does not bring us happiness and in fact is quite fleeting and arbitrary–changing with the wind.

To fight “our will” does not mean going off into another direction but rather facing reality. Our “will” often pulls us away from what most needs our attention. We often will to be somewhere other than where we are, to be doing something other than what needs to be done and to be with someone other than the one we are with at the present moment. These are exactly the moments when we are to “hate” our own will and seek to do the will of God.

 


 

Coming Monday: St. Jerome’s feastday:

 

 

From The Loyola Kids Book of Signs and Symbols. 

 

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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The one in the middle?

EPSON MFP image

She’s 28 today. Today! 28! Whip-smart, an attorney passionately dedicated to the rights of the marginalized, married to a wonderful, kind, talented musician.

That’s who that baby is today!

The one holding her? He’s 37 now, an Emmy-winning video editor, making his way in a tough business, hopefully – hopefully  – at some point in the near future with the title “showrunner” in front of his name.

The one on the left? He’s 34, married to a lovely young woman, father of two – one of whom we know well, the other we’re super excited to meet in a couple of months – a brilliant guy and an awesomely talented writer, author of a few novels and amazingly perceptive film analyst. 

Three of the five, right there.

There is nothing like perspective. It’s why segregated, bifurcated, closed-off communities are so terrible and why  our most life-giving dwelling place, instead, is in communities where the old and the young, the new parents and the experienced ones all gather on the front porches and in the town plazas and piazzas and in the dining rooms on a Sunday afternoon – so that the frantic, frazzled, exhausted young parents can see and hear, again and again – it will be all right. Let me help you for a while. It will be fine. And of course, indeed, nothing will go at all as you’ve planned – 

– it will be better. 

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Gregory’s story has a lot to teach us about that tricky thing called discernment.

Back in 2008, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI devoted two General Audiences to this saint.  He began with a helpful outline of his life – born into an important Roman family, serving as prefect of Rome, turning his family’s land into a monastery togregory the greatwhich he retired, then entering the service of the pope during very difficult times in Rome, including the plague, which killed the pope, and then…

The clergy, people and senate were unanimous in choosing Gregory as his successor to thend  See of Peter. He tried to resist, even attempting to flee, but to no avail: finally, he had to yield. The year was 590.

Recognising the will of God in what had happened, the new Pontiff immediately and enthusiastically set to work. From the beginning he showed a singularly enlightened vision of realty with which he had to deal, an extraordinary capacity for work confronting both ecclesial and civil affairs, a constant and even balance in making decisions, at times with courage, imposed on him by his office.

Benedict engages in some more analysis in the second GA. This is useful and important to read. 

Wanting to review these works quickly, we must first of all note that, in his writings, Gregory never sought to delineate “his own” doctrine, his own originality. Rather, he intended to echo the traditional teaching of the Church, he simply wanted to be the mouthpiece of Christ and of the Church on the way that must be taken to reach God. His exegetical commentaries are models of this approach.

And that is what any teacher of the faith, especially a pastor, is called to do.

Moving on:

Probably the most systematic text of Gregory the Great is the Pastoral Rule, written in the first years of his Pontificate. In it Gregory proposed to treat the figure of the ideal Bishop, the teacher and guide of his flock. To this end he illustrated the seriousness of the office of Pastor of the Church and its inherent duties. Therefore, those who were not called to this office may not seek it with superficiality, instead those who assumed it without due reflection necessarily feel trepidation rise within their soul. Taking up again a favourite theme, he affirmed that the Bishop is above all the “preacher” par excellence; for this reason he must be above all an example for others, so that his behaviour may be a point of reference for all. Efficacious pastoral action requires that he know his audience and adapt his words to the situation of each person: here Gregory paused to illustrate the various categories of the faithful with acute and precise annotations, which can justify the evaluation of those who have also seen in this work a treatise on psychology. From this one understands that he really knew his flock and spoke of all things with the people of his time and his city.

Nevertheless, the great Pontiff insisted on the Pastor’s duty to recognize daily his own unworthiness in the eyes of the Supreme Judge, so that pride did not negate the good accomplished. For this the final chapter of the Rule is dedicated to humility: “When one is pleased to have achieved many virtues, it is well to reflect on one’s own inadequacies and to humble oneself: instead of considering the good accomplished, it is necessary to consider what was neglected”. All these precious indications demonstrate the lofty concept that St Gregory had for the care of souls, which he defined as the “ars artium”, the art of arts. The Rule had such great, and the rather rare, good fortune to have been quickly translated into Greek and Anglo-Saxon.

Another significant work is the Dialogues. In this work addressed to his friend Peter, the deacon, who was convinced that customs were so corrupt as to impede the rise of saints as in times past, Gregory demonstrated just the opposite: holiness is always possible, even in difficult times.

He proved it by narrating the life of contemporaries or those who had died recently, who could well be considered saints, even if not canonised. The narration was accompanied by theological and mystical reflections that make the book a singular hagiographical text, capable of enchanting entire generations of readers. The material was drawn from the living traditions of the people and intended to edify and form, attracting the attention of the reader to a series of questions regarding the meaning of miracles, the interpretation of Scripture, the immortality of the soul, the existence of Hell, the representation of the next world – all themes that require fitting clarification. Book II is wholly dedicated to the figure of Benedict of Nursia and is the only ancient witness to the life of the holy monk, whose spiritual beauty the text highlights fully.

Above all he was profoundly convinced that humility should be the fundamental virtue for every Bishop, even more so for the Patriarch. Gregory remained a simple monk in his heart and therefore was decisively contrary to great titles. He wanted to be – and this is his expression – servus servorum Dei.Coined by him, this phrase was not just a pious formula on his lips but a true manifestation of his way of living and acting. He was intimately struck by the humility of God, who in Christ made himself our servant. He washed and washes our dirty feet. Therefore, he was convinced that a Bishop, above all, should imitate this humility of God and follow Christ in this way. His desire was to live truly as a monk, in permanent contact with the Word of God, but for love of God he knew how to make himself the servant of all in a time full of tribulation and suffering. He knew how to make himself the “servant of the servants”. Precisely because he was this, he is great and also shows us the measure of true greatness.

And he’s in The Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints. 

amy-welborn-bookgregory-the-great

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It’s what they call them over EWTN way down the road.  Here’s one for you.

 

 

(Yes, posted before – from the Museo de Bellas Artes in Seville –  but today’s the remembrance – the Beheading of St. John the Baptist.)

 

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