Category Archives: Catholicism

ON THE ANNIVERSARY OF MOZART’S DEATH: WHY CATHOLIC?

I frequently get asked “Why Catholic?” by diverse self-proclaimed demographics; Evangelical Protestants, Rad Trads, and that sector of atheists who can be just as either/or in thinking as religious fundamentalists.  I can think of no more apt and meaningful a symbol than Mozart as an initial gateway as a response to that question, although there is more to it than that.

My introduction to artmusic was at a young age and while I started off with the standards (i.e. Beethoven and Wagner), by my late teens and early twenties, I was venturing into the more modern terrain of Bruckner, Mahler, Debussy, Schoenberg, Berg, Webern, Bartok, Boulez, Xenakis, Feldman, and Nono. At 55, I’ve gone back primarily to the one constant throughout my life; Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. I have no greater love in music than Mozart, but he is merely music to the degree that the Grand Canyon is merely a rock. It’s no accident that theologians Karl Barth and Hans Kung, along with the Trappist monk Thomas Merton, wrote extensively on Mozart. The famous film on Mozart seems to pooh pooh his religiosity. It’s an excellent film that otherwise drops the ball on that and errs in denying us a vital and profound dimension to Mozart and his art. Barth, a Protestant, struggled and was baffled by Mozart’s passionate Catholicism and disdain for Protestantism (a disdain that Michelangelo shared), which prompted a loving and respectful laugh from Merton and Kung. Perhaps the film (and the play it was based off) failed to look at Mozart’s devotion due to being sidetracked by his excesses and surface immorality (the composer of Don Giovanni did know of what he wrote). Yet, despite his personal shortcomings, what we find in Mozart’s music and letters is a deeply ethical voice (ethics ((the Golden Rule)) being different than morals). He was consistently frustrated by his inability to financially provide for his children and wife, who he loved and was devoted to sacramentally, but through it all he did what he was here to do in his brief life; There has never been a more aesthetically Catholic composer. Mozart was Catholic in that he was stubbornly focused, despite the ugliness in people and life that threatened to engulf him, to create a world of immeasurably profound beauty. I relate or aspire to that, which is perhaps why, as I am middle-aged, I spend much time with the beauty of Mozart. He had the authentic pulse of Catholicism in that he could not penetrate the status quo and a deeper Catholicism is radically removed from bourgeoisie precepts. Rad Trads tend to speak through a dualistic model rather than a unitive model, which is what Catholicism actually is. Like super patriots (another cult) and extremist right-wingers (btw, non-religious radical right are even worse than the religious right), they will inevitably suggest leaving the Church when not in agreement with them. No, because to do so would inevitably confirm that it is their Church alone.

Some of the greatest Catholic artists were, in fact, renegades (Caravaggio, Paul Gauguin, Gustav Mahler, Gerard Manly Hopkins, and Flannery O’ Connor being examples) producing work of shattering beauty. Charlie Chaplin, Luis Bunuel, Pablo Picasso, and Pierre Boulez were self-proclaimed atheists. Yet, the Vatican declared Chaplin’s Tramp as the most religious of all cinematic figures. Neither Orson Welles nor Andrei Tarkovsky accepted Bunuel’s claim, and rightly assessed him as a deeply religious filmmaker. Belatedly, art historians are seeing the depth of Picasso’s religiosity in his work. Boulez was often at his most inspired in responses to his familial Catholicism (i.e. Rituel and Repons). It was these artists who left the earliest and most lasting impressions on me; impressions in which I found an identification point. Often, I have defensively stated that I am Catholic because I am an artist, not vice versa. Yet, I also recall a comment made by my late aunt Greta, who upon learning that I had converted, said (to my Father), “You won’t understand this, but your son was born Catholic.” She may have had a point because even though she took me to my first Catholic parish, my world was already filled with the artists above, because they were brothers and sisters to me.

The remainder of this amounts to an unpacking, in part, because my novel, Brother Cobweb is going to be published next April. When I first submitted the novel (which turned out to be a rough draft… many thanks to my editor) I attached the usual synopsis, along with intro and was frank in saying: “I took a pair of brass knuckles to the Midwestern religious right evangelical church.” One potential publisher wrote back (after reading), “no, not brass knuckles, you napalmed them.”

Of course, we all tend to make quick either/or assumptions and I’ve often found that the predictable dull assumption that I receive, from a quick glance at the novel synopsis or the Brother Cobweb character that I perform (at the House of Shadows) or some of my art, is that I’m an extreme leftist atheist.

No. Because both belief and unbelief are ultimately abstractions for me. I resist both words and the implications they are saddled with. Too, whether we admit it or not, most of us are both progressive and conservative in areas, so those categories are given to extremisms and are rendered hopelessly two-dimensional.

I refer to some of my art, although by no means all of it, as trench theology; a holding to accountability, akin to the statement made by the Catholic theologian Karl Rahner: “The number one cause of atheism is Christians. Those who proclaim Him with their mouths, but deny Him with their actions is what an unbelieving world finds unbelievable.” I repeatedly had that reaction myself long before I ever heard of Rahner. As an early teen, my mother’s evangelical church forced me to read the gospels and, with me, it was the biggest mistake they made because this man who people call Christ that I discovered in the Gospels; that was not them. Worse, through their actions, abuses, and verbiage, they had kept Him from me. Him, I am all about. I wasn’t at first, despising the hackneyed picture of Him as a thug whose followers I had to dumb down to in order to survive. Due to the intensity of their tactics and relentless hypocrisies, that caricature of him was ingrained, and even after plunging into the gospels myself, it took decades of struggling, which included a period of atheism, to eradicate the parody.

I recently read an article in which the writer took some bishops to task and he conjectured that they do know the words of Christ. Now, I am hardly a sola scriptura kind of guy and when you hear that phrase: “The Bible came out of the Church. The Church did not come out of the Bible,” it’s true and that’s a historical fact. Cardinal Newman added, “To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant.” That’s an authentic statement as well, but as Paul Harvey used to say, “And now the rest of the story.” Because even the Church came out of something and I’m not referring per se to our Semitic origins, although we should be astutely aware and respectful of that. Rather, I am referring to what the Gospel According to John says: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The Church sprang from Christ and Christ was Word.

Let’s divorce ourselves for a moment from all that redemption language because far too many use it as a crutch to justify not Living it and a Word has to be Living. In his short sojourn on this planet, Christ said a lot of Words and it is a scandal that those Words are not Living in the hearts, minds, and Spirit of so many who profess him, but He also predicted this. How can one profess Him and yet not abide by what He taught, or heed His warning? Matthew twenty five is clear: “I was hungry and you did not feed me, I was thirsty and you did not give me drink. I was an immigrant and you did not take me in. I was naked and you did not clothe me: sick and in prison and you did not give me medicine and visit me.’ And they asked Him, ‘when did we do this to thee?’ and he replied, ‘ Amen, I say to you, when you did it not to the least of these, neither did you do it to me.” Yet, over the years, I have heard alleged Christians attempt to spin doctor that with a vapid, “well, he meant members of the Church.” Mind you also, these tend to be Christians who mantle the facade of taking everything at face value… until it becomes a mirror. These self-professed Christians will go to any length in order to weasel out of Matthew 25 and, despite what they claim, they are far more atheistic in practice than any atheist.

No, we cannot dodge or spin doctor Matthew 25, the Beatitudes, the Good Samaritan, the Golden Rule, the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man, the story of the Rich young ruler, His discourses on turning the other cheek, paying taxes, the Prodigal Son, His encounters with the adulteress, the Samaritan woman at the well, the Centurion and his pais, the prostitute who washed His feet, or His Mother’s Magnificat and cling to a perverse and farcical prosperity gospel, bigotries, sexism, or judgments.

Now, the next paint-by-number spin doctoring would be to claim that such a critical tone is in itself judgmental. Perhaps, but we need to recall that Christ did not condemn the adulteress. The thief by his side was, theoretically speaking, the first Christian. As a matter of fact, the only sins that Christ consistently called out were hypocrisy and avarice and he judged judgmentalism. When reflecting on that, I am reminded of the deist philosopher Jacques Ellul and his assertion that morality is often seen today through a solely erroneous patristic filter because the lucid portrait we receive of the Gospel’s Christ is that he was as maternal as he was paternal. His Beatitudes read as if spoken by the offspring of the woman who authored the Magnificat. He was influenced by Her, obeyed Her at Cana, just as He obeyed His Father in the Garden, which renders some Protestant disrespect (and often contempt) for Her as tragic and nonsensical.  We can no more separate Christ from His Mother than we can separate Him from His Father. Christ is unique among religious figures in that He treated women on a plane equal to men. In the gospel narrative, Post-Resurrection, He chose to reveal Himself first to a woman. No First Testament figure, or even Buddha, viewed women as equals to men. How then did Christianity get this so wrong?

With the Reformation, Protestants, across the board, threw out the Mother in their diminishment of Her, along with the female saints, thus rendering the Holy Family a dysfunctional one. The argument might be (and is frequently) made that some Protestant sects do have women clergy. That is true and should be commended, but clergy come and go. Symbols remain and it’s far more important and influential to retain those symbols.

Even the Post-Vatican II Church has slipped in this to a degree. In the name of ecumenicism, it has subdued the Maternal images. It did so out of sensitivity to Protestantism because nothing is more provocative than the maternal, especially here in the States. However, that is sloppy ecumenicism; holstering one of our most defining and edifying spiritual colors. Far too many post-Vatican II churches have lost the identity of the maternal and without the pronounced maternal, it is an anemic temple. Indeed, one would be pressed to feel it a temple at all because in the place of that is something akin to a bland basketball court where one can no longer walk in on a given Sunday and behold a Sea of Rosaries. The Rosary is a prism of the Christ consciousness and without it, we lose a vital facet of Him.

Regarding Christ Himself; it is becoming increasingly common among fundamentalist atheists to deny even His historical existence. They will often point to narrative “errors” in the Gospels, along with vignettes that clearly utilized preexisting folklore symbology (i.e. the shepherd). My first response to that will echo the late (and vastly underrated) Fr. Andrew Greeley who, upon hearing the venerable biblical scholar Raymond E. Brown debating with Hans Kung over the historicity of a gospel passage, Greeley asked: “Who cares?” Greeley, like Thomas Merton and Cardinal Newman, had the pulse of the Catholic imagination. Too, we have to realize that the way people wrote then is not beholding to our rules of writing. For us, it is either historical or myth, non-fiction or fiction. It has to be an A-Z linear narrative. That is not the way ancient writers penned narratives. It was common to mix historical with folklore, myth, symbology, metaphors, and poetry into a single narrative. Yes, there are inconsistences in the light of face value literalness, despite what biblical inerrancy advocates dishonestly claim. Gospels will describe certain incidents differently. For instance, one describes two possessed men and a lake. Another describes one possessed man and a river. If anything, that actually lends credence to something historical behind it; like two witnesses to an auto accident recalling details differently. We’ve all heard the asinine response, “Sometimes, you just gotta believe,” followed by “It was Holy Spirit inspired.” Even the Spirit has to be filtered through human hands and those replies do not wash, especially (and understandably) with each succeeding generation, who is less apt to dumb down. Pat Robertson, of all people, warned his followers, “If you continue to deny evolution, you’re going to lose your children.” They will not heed his warning and will lose them. Yes, they are that ignorant.

It does not matter how much of a given gospel narrative really happened (which is one of the most sophomoric of questions). What matters is the point behind it, to see it contextually and as a part of the whole. All the time we see questionable characters using a passage, divorced from what came before or after, to justify their agenda. A good way to gauge a Christ passage is to ask oneself, does it coincide with his sayings, teachings, and themes elsewhere? If it does not, then we are forced to dive contextually deeper. We may find that Christ is indeed consistent, but he is no simpleton, despite claims made by some that the bible is easy to understand. That is called denial. No it is not an easy or satisfying read and even His apostles complained, asking Him to be more straightforward, less allegorical. He had none of that, chastised them their laziness, and made them work for it.

Still, we can debate for half of forever on how much is real or historicity. I went through periods where I did. However, a few things kept coming back; this Man Christ was conceived out of wedlock (a death sentence at the time), was born in poverty, never traveled (that we know of) more than 100 miles past the place of His birth, never wrote a word, died in poverty, in His thirties, and was executed as a criminal (the only major religious figure to be murdered). The odds that we would still be talking about him 2,000 years later are virtually impossible, unless there’s something to it. If we are honest, we have to admit, since we are not eyewitnesses, that we don’t fully know, but faith, so to speak, lies in recognizing that there has to be something to it.

Why hold onto it? Because He is the most remarkable of all models, inspiring the likes of such diverse mystics as Paul, Augustine, Francis, Julian of Norwich, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, the Little Flower, and Martin Luther King. In that phrase; fully man and fully God we find a connection to Christ’ two rules: Love God with all your heart, love your fellow man as yourself. They are inseparable. He had human complexities. We can turn to the man who spoke of The Least of These, the man who said, Leave her alone, the forgiver of the adulteress, His disregard for money, and, if we divorced all this from Him historically, we would likely label him a liberal today. However, we can also look at His discourses on the sanctity of Life and marriage, along with his ironclad rejection of divorce and would label him a conservative. The historical or gospel Christ never heard the terms liberal and conservative. Nor would he have wasted time on our silly labels. His law was consistent : unconditional Love and so, yes, He would be anti-guns (turn the other cheek), pro-immigration, anti-war, anti-divorce, anti-abortion, anti-narcissism, anti-unfettered Capitalism (Acts 2-5), pro-health care and he would reiterate, “for those who harm these little ones, it would be better had they never been born” and he would be consistent, as he was on this planet, in calling out the judges (plank meet splinter).

Again, people will take a passage out of context to dispute what He said, to pervert it in order to justify their failure to practice what they preach. Recall though that Paul’s attitude, when confronted by scripture thumpers of the period, was, “You can quote scripture all you want. I don’t care. I am about Christ.” Christ never said, “Worship Me.” He said : “Follow Me” AKA “Do as I Do.” Paul’s attitude is one to model, even in how we approach Paul, or at least the Paul of the first seven letters (I agree with modern biblical scholars that these are likely the only authentic Paul).

For those who complain about Pope Francis being political, one need only dive into scripture to refute those smoke screens because John the Baptist was political, Jesus of Nazareth was political (and he messed with the money system, which is what got Him killed), Paul was political. These were the original social justice warriors. Whoever thought that being an advocate of social justice would be considered a slur?  I call them smoke screens because that is what they are and accusations are used against this pope, usually with the yawn-inducing comment, “why isn’t he preaching Jesus instead of involving himself in politics and World affairs?” Of course, we never heard Francis’ critics complain when his two predecessors did the same. Because, like those models above, Francis is living it by being part of this world, aspiring to be a caretaker. The reason for those accusations are oh so diaphanous, except to the most dishonest. Most of what Francis teaches and speaks has been taught before, but his language is new and contemporary. It should be. At the end of John, we hear the phrase, “Go and spread the Good News.” News is always new and nothing provokes rad trads more than something new. It provokes them because they have put an ism (traditionalism) above the Word. They have made a cult of it and will usually quote Pius (not Christ) to justify their cultism. I belonged to a Facebook group that was overtaken by rad trads and they were (rightly) criticizing Pope Francis’ handling of the abuse crisis, but they were taking it to the point of labeling him a heretic. When I spoke up and reminded them that he inherited this mess from his predecessors, they became evasive and threw a blanket over it. Not appeasing them, I pressed on and directly asked why they had not criticized JPII and BXVI to the disrespectful degree they do Francis. I’ll give credit where credit is due I suppose because they were honest when they said that they let JPII and BXVI off the hook because they were traditional enough and therefore not heretics. They would not afford Francis this because he was (in their words) a modernist. So, I asked: “In other words, if a pope is traditional enough for you, you will sweep the abuse under the rug?” They flat out answered, “Yes.” I think I was booted out the same day (and put that on my resume of accomplishments).

So, Why then the Church?

Because the Word said: “Even the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.” Time and again, people have proclaimed the death of the Church, only to discover that is a premature obituary. We can (rightly) point to the abusers (God knows I have), but with the awareness that the gates of Hell often come from within and it has been that way from day one. All  Christ’ apostles denied Him and fell short. One betrayed Him. If we were to deny Christ, the religion, and the Church due to countless Judases, then the religion would not have survived the physical life of Christ. The Reformation would have been theoretically necessary, if the reformers had not merely repeated the same mistakes, even surpassing the mistakes of their models. We see it still today with 40,000 plus Protestant denominations and New Age groups (who tend to bandy about that vapid ‘we’re spiritual not religious trendy catchphrase) being as guilty of tribalism and ethical bankruptcy as those they have long criticized (perhaps even more so. Anne Rice, who did leave the Church, once said ‘The Catholic Church is the only church that strives for holiness, which is why it falls down so much.’) Although it will not look like it to those on the outside, there is an edifiying freedom in the structure of the Church, even when we, as individuals  and members of its body, find ourselves at odds with those who deem themselves our shepherds (and to them, I would counter that Beethoven’s Fidelio and Mozart’s sense of intimacy convey the importance of the individual over the structure while being children of the structure).

We must indeed hold the hypocrisy, the I, Me, Mine narcissism, and materialism to accountability and there is nothing hypocrites hate more than their hypocrisy exposed. They will, at best, ignore being called out. At worst, they will prepare the fire and stake. Yet, we are guilty ourselves if we do not hold them and ourselves accountable (as scripture says). When we fail to do so, we are complicit in creating prodigals through our neglect, indifference, and abuses. We keep Christ from them. We are seeing it more and more. Millennials are, to a broad degree, rejecting religion. A priest I once knew said that a Satanic theology transforms Christ into the quintessential Pharisee, making him so pedestaled, so pretty, so perfect that no one can touch him (or his Church). It is easy to be seduced by such false tinseled beauty. To a large degree, we were and our successors see and find our actions repugnant.

Rahner said: “the future Christian will be a mystic or he will not be Christian at all.” He was right and that is vital. So too is trench theology. Both are essential to an authentic Catholic path.

Hence, my contribution called Brother Cobweb and why I am Catholic.

THE CATHOLIC ART OF SALVADOR DALI

Madonna of Port Lligat (1950)

Although, I’m not a fan of the earlier work of Salvador Dali (having seen too many stickers of his art on the folders of angst-ridden teenage boys in the 70s- they all seemed to be fanatical lovers of the Doors and Lynard Skynard-I’m not sure the connection), I respond most to his work in film (‘Spellbound’ and ‘Porky Pig in Dodo land’) and his later Catholic work.

Virgin of Guadalupe 1959

At one time, a self-proclaimed atheist, Dali reconciled with his Catholic faith and became devout, espousing devotion to saints, daily prayer, sacrament of marriage, lifelong fidelity, Mariology, etc and saw these as being authentically revolutionary, especially in his later years when all of the above was anathema to the I, ME, MINE mindset (the horrors of WWII was also a factor in his conversion).

The Ecumenical Council 1960

Dali’s reconciliation with his faith caused a heated row with Andre Breton (who considered himself the spokesperson head of the surrealists and authored the Surrealist Manifesto). Breton insisted that a true surrealist HAD to be a practicing atheist and there was NO room for religion in the movement. Dali rightly saw Breton’s prerequisite as hypocritically transforming surrealism into a dogmatic religion. Famously, Dali left and eventually the movement collapsed while Dali persisted.

Christ of Saint John of the Cross 1951

For years, art historians and theologians criticized Dali’s later Catholic-themed work as kitsch. They were off. Dali had the pulse of that blue-collar Catholic surrealism. Now, his later work has been reassessed (imagine that). There’s a wonderful portrayal of him that captures his spirit in Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris.

Assumption 1952

Crocifissione (1954)

Madonna 1943

Day of the Virgin 1947

God sends Gabriel to the Virgin Mary, 1964

Madonna of Port Lligat 1972

Microphysical Madonna 1954

The Ascension of Christ, 1958

The Sacrament of the Last Supper 1955

The Temptation of Saint Anthony’ (1946)

Corpuscular Madonna 1952

Cosmic Madonna 1958

I knew him in the breaking of bread, 1964

Madonna 1952

Madonna 1960

St. Helena of Port Lligat 1956

St. Jerome 1960

The Madonna and the Mystical Rose Salvador 1963

The Sacred Heart of Jesus 1962

Pieta 1982

Pieta 1982

DEBUNKING EDDIE RUSSELL’S CATHOLIC IN NAME ONLY FLAME MINISTRIES

Fr. Justin Belitz Teachings

Debunking Eddie Russell’s Catholic In Name Only Flame Ministries:

 Eddie Russell fancies himself something akin to a pre-Vatican II-styled avenging crusader, taking it upon himself to expose, correct, and abuse wrong-thinking Catholics. In short, Eddie Russell is a fundamentalist extremist; the type that the late Fr. Andrew Greeley advised against arguing with. However, this is not a polemic meant to engage Russel (which, would fall on deaf ears anyway). Rather, as in with a current political leader, this is holding hostilities and aggression to accountability. Additionally, it’s a heeding against Russell’s online aggrandizing, which is anything but Catholic. His perspective, style, social media rhetoric, and antagonizing springs from fear, paranoia, and assumptions in a way that echoes the bizarre Anti-Catholic propaganda of the notorious Protestant Chick Tracts (founded by the late Jack Chick). Like that infamous fundamentalist organization, Russell’s Flame Ministries, abiding in an either/or arena, propagates half-truths to…

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Jesus of Nazareth: A First Century Harry Potter

Jesus raising the dead with a wand, Roman catacomb, 3rd century)

(Photo: Jesus raising the dead with a wand, Roman catacomb, 3rd century)

When J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books hit the shelves and became a global hit, American fundamentalist Christians took note and reacted with a loud fear, demonization, and astoundingly idiotic condemnation that was rare even for their various denominational demographics.  There is perhaps nothing more threatening than rival mythology, especially when its well publicized and successful. Protestations and calls to ban the books were followed by entire websites devoted to instructing Christians how to respond to witchcraft and demonology as pop phenomenon. It backfired and the Potter juggernaut paved right over all that evangelical silliness. With the films that followed, Rowling became the most successful franchise since Disney. Given their way, these Western, allegedly Christian sects would have certainly have mounted a belated sequel to the Salem Witch Trials. Alas, pesky secular laws predominantly douse homegrown puritan torches and minimize imitation of Isis-styled iconoclasm, which hardly negates in-house suspicion of and aggression toward imagery, such as detailed here:

https://frjustinbelitzteachings.wordpress.com/2016/06/02/an-isis-like-iconoclastic-spirit-in-our-own-walling-off-our-lady-and-erasing-the-holy-in-north-denver-our-lady-of-guadalupe-parish/

4th century Raising of Lazarus Fresco (Christ with magic wand) Catacomb cubiculum O, Rome

(Photo:  4th century Raising of Lazarus Fresco ((Christ with magic wand)) Catacomb cubiculum O, Rome)

Although the display of overwrought evangelical histrionics reached a new, modern height with the opening of the Harry Potter universe, their pop paranoia is nothing new. For those of us old enough to remember, the same demographics were issuing warnings about Superman, who they saw as a rival to their Lord and Savior (the mythological underpinnings of the DC character were undoubtedly inspired by Christ origin Gospel narratives).

In A Search For Solitude, Journals 1952-1960, Thomas Merton lists “distrust and rejection of emotional symbolism of art,” as an unfortunate tenet of contemporary Western Christianity.

Earlier, in Run To The Mountains. Journals 1939-1941, ” Merton wrote:  “It is one of the singular disgraces attached to Catholics as a social group that they, who once nourished with their Faith and their Love of God the finest culture the world ever saw, are now content with absolutely the worst art, the worst writing, the worst music, the worst everything that has ever made anybody throw up. All this, far from being caused by their Faith, only weakens and ruins their Faith. It is something of a Middle Class culture which is poisoning the Faith instead of slaking our thirst to honor God. And those who cannot distinguish what is bourgeoisie, in what they believe, from what is Christian are crucifying God all over again with their trivial, complacent ignorance and bad taste and materialism and injustice.”

Continue reading Jesus of Nazareth: A First Century Harry Potter

IN HONOR OF THOMAS MERTON’S 100TH BIRTHDAY: AN EXCERPT FROM “JUSTIFICATION BY IMAGINATION.” BY ALFRED EAKER

January 31st is the 100th birthday of Thomas Merton. In honor of his centenary, the following is an excerpt from my Master’s Thesis: Justification By Imagination: The Marian  Art Of Thomas Merton. 

The thesis was approved by Drs. Frank Burch Brown, Marti Steussy, and Lorna Shoemaker.

 

Introduction: Opening Merton

 

It is, perhaps, apt that Thomas Merton’s Marian art is primarily concealed—much as the Marian figure is in the gospels. The bulk of Merton’s Marian drawings reside at the Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Kentucky. Little of that art has been published. To approach it, one must first open Merton: “One hears from others that this is a Sacred Book, takes their word for it, and resolves not to get involved.”[1] Thomas Merton’s own words on the act of opening the Bible can be applied similarly to opening Merton. Over one hundred books and several documentary films have been produced about Thomas Merton since his death in 1968, indicating the extent of his art and influence. The magnitude and immensity of Merton is such that no single interpretation will have the final word on the famed Trappist, whose status as the preeminent Christian monk of the twentieth century, is readily acknowledged, even by his critics. Continue reading IN HONOR OF THOMAS MERTON’S 100TH BIRTHDAY: AN EXCERPT FROM “JUSTIFICATION BY IMAGINATION.” BY ALFRED EAKER

FR. JUSTIN BELITZ TESTIMONIALS

Several articles from personal blogs have appeared online regarding Fr. Justin Belitz, O.F.M. These articles ultimately represent social media being used and abused as yet another demonstration of someone judging from the outside looking in, seeing only slivers, hearing only soundbytes, coming to blatantly erroneous conclusions, and portraying Fr. Belitz as a caricature. It is nothing less than crass stereotyping and echoes the words to the old song: “I don’t like what I don’t understand and it scares me half to death.”

Fr_Justin_OFM_0129

I am an Indianapolis native and former member of Friar Justin’s Hermitage (Former only because I moved out of state).  I met Fr. Justin through  the late Fr. Hilary Ottensmeyer, a Benedictine priest, who happened to be the former director of St. Meinrad’s. I met Fr. Hilary at an art gallery showing  (the 431 galley) in the late 1980s.  At that time, I was a self-proclaimed atheist.

Having grown up in an abusive, evangelical church setting, I had mantled a lot of anger. Hilary and I became good friends, having countless discussions on art history, film, philosophy, and music. He even counseled me through a divorce. Slowly and astutely,  I became aware that there was indeed an artistic, intellectual side to the religious life; one that did not require me to dumb down.

Continue reading FR. JUSTIN BELITZ TESTIMONIALS

Tutti Fruity New Age Spirituality

For all the well deserved criticism leveled at the hypocrisy in religious leadership,  the new “spiritual but not religious,” “religionless religion,” and tutti fruity new age spirituality is such hackneyed tripe, that I am, at times, apt to prefer the insecurities of ancient religion.

LIGHTWORKER3
LIGHTWORKERS2
LIGHTWORKERS1

Sometimes we get educated in things we do not want to know. Such was the case when recently stumbling on the site: “Lightworkers.” In addition to the cornball name, the website itself is something akin to a summation of the banality found in the “spiritual, but not religious” fad (and a fad is what it is). It is yet another trivialization of something primordial, raw, confounding, and unreachable (thankfully so).

Jesus light
RAPTURE JESUS
testamints

That the “light workers” use gnosticism as a kind of sticker logo is even more nauseating, which inspires me to ask: “what the hell is wrong with “spirituality?”  I used to ask that solely of religion. It is akin to what the Merton industry did to poor Tom:  posthumously transforming him into a kind of Trappist Stuart Smalley. Naturally, the Lighworkers throw in pagan deities (merely because it falls into that oxymoron category of trendy provocation), reincarnation, and putrid pastels. It reminded me of that kitsch Jesus postcard from a years back; the impossibly beautiful caucasian model from Nazareth, adorned in blinding white robe, emitting a spectrum of colors from his being. That image is only slightly preferable to the gun-toting apocalyptic Jesus, who would gladly fry you for passing gas in church. Jesus as a smiley faced, John Boy Walton type along with primitive rabbinic narratives transformed into rosy-cheeked vegetable cartoons are just as offensive as that sadistic “Left Behind,” fundamentalist image.

JESUS BENCH PRESS THIS
Jesus come into my light
JESUS MACHO
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CHRISTIAN THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY: FORMING PRODIGALS IN THE NAME OF FAITH

With astounding astuteness, a professor once critiqued the Roman Catholic hierarchy as frequently and fatally mantling the attitude that it is above both criticism and self-criticism. In my previous post regarding my grad school, Christian Theological Seminary, I proposed the possibility that the school’s board of trustees, along with its president, Matthew Myer Boulton, were, in some ways, perhaps modeling that aspect of the Roman Catholic hierarchy. It seems I  have erred in the usage of that perhaps. https://alfredeaker.wordpress.com/2014/04/21/matthew-myer-boulton-sounding-the-death-knoll-for-indianas-progressive-seminary-christian-theological-seminary-2/

CTS BANNER FULL

CTS banner slogan has long been Forming Tomorrow’s Leaders In Faith.  I believe CTS may need to hit the refresh button in order to view and review the not-so-improved Forming Prodigals In The Name Of Faith. The late Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen proved himself a rarity of  shrewd, reflective self-criticism in the Catholic hierarchy when he proposed: “often, we have prodigals due to our own negligence. We have pushed them out the door with our carelessness, recklessness, thoughtlessness, and abuses.”

PRODIGAL SON REMBRANDT

Paradoxically, CTS, its trustees, Boulton, et al. are proving themselves the worst kind of parents imaginable. The fault is not entirely theirs, however. We prodigals err as well in having continued to look to them as trustworthy parents and make no mistake, we are the children of CTS.

groucho marx

Over the weekend, a fellow alumni let me know they had been booted out of and blocked from CTS’ Facebook group for alumni. Yes, I was too, which I half expected after my blog post ( I will add that I was barely tactful enough not to post on their group page). Still, for me, I rather identify a tad too readily with Groucho Marx’ statement: “I am leery of any club that would have me for a member, anyway.” Besides, it is merely Facebook. However, after dialoguing with said alumni, I did see another point; the latent (or not so latent) message delivered by the current CTS admin,”You are no longer ours.” I do not know what that alumni said to them, or said about them (I know what I said, of course), but he/she believed it an attempt, on their part, at status quo taming. Astute observations on the alumni’s part? Additionally, I should add that said alumni was prone to critique and challenge while expressing his/her love for and belief in CTS. Of course, this does not matter. The school only wants docile children, shorn of edge. Continue reading CHRISTIAN THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY: FORMING PRODIGALS IN THE NAME OF FAITH

MATTHEW MYER BOULTON: SOUNDING THE DEATH KNOLL FOR INDIANA’S PROGRESSIVE SEMINARY (CHRISTIAN THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY)

CTS_Center_black-type-WEBLight of the world log

I graduated from Christian Theological Seminary with a Masters degree in Theological Studies. It is the progressive, ecumenical seminary in Indiana, or, rather, it was. As I was graduating, a new president was coming in. His name is Matthew Myer Boulton. I was informed that he had an evangelical background, had married, and converted to Disciples of Christ via his wife. As expected when there is a change in new leadership, I heard a few nervous grumblings. However, as I was too preoccupied with finishing my final semester, I rather pooh poohed the grumblings, which turned out to be a grave error.

This is not to say, I did not have initial misgivings. Quite the contrary, I had enormous trepidation, particularly on the day of our commencement. Boulton had invited a guest speaker to deliver one of the most pronounced, jaw-dropping reprehensible screeds I have ever had the misfortune to be inundated with.

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The speaker, Rev. David Hampton, who was reportedly getting his honorary PhD for monies contributed to CTS, took the platform and essentially delivered a tent revival diatribe,which had the chutzpah to mix New Age claptrap phraseologies with dyed in the wool, sawdust on the floor, ho-de-ho backwoods melodramatics. The speaker, from the kitsch named organization: Light Of The World, made every effort to promote himself and his organization as the group most responsible for having notified the world at large of the hate crime brewing in Florida under the guise of George Zimmerman. Additionally, we were told that it was Light of the World, which had single handedly reversed public apathy regarding the tragic case and had stirred up support for Treyvon Martin’s family. Like Mighty Mouse, Light of the World had come to save the day. I half expected every sentence to end with a shrewdly timed Aa-ya aa-ya. I have to give credit where credit is due. Hampton knew how to work the herd.

Hampton 2  hampton 4

Unfortunately, he followed this up with an even more divisive and ill-timed screed on gay marriage, which ended with an erroneous comparison of that to looming mortal sins. The worked over crowd was equally divided between cowardly amens and pent rage.

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The Annunciation, Stations of the Cross, Pieta.

The Annunciation, Stations of the Cross, Pieta.

In The Mary Myth, Andrew Greely writes, ” The Marian symbol is surely one of the most powerful symbols in the Western Tradition. Virtually every major painter from the fifth to the sixteenth century painted at least one Madonna. The Marian paintings and poetry tell us far more about the power and meaning of the Madonna than theology books could possibly portray.  Art is much better at conveying limit-experience than scholarly theology.” [1]

Annunciation

Last year, at the beginning of seminary, I began a series of works on canvas, entitled Stations to parallel my experience. The first three works were completed last year and this year I have painted the fourth through the sixth.

Stations I. Christ is condemned to death.

The point of entryism is the primordial Sophia.  The apophatic Stations rejects the crude violence inherent in subscription to the tyranny of the hyper- realism often associated with the passion narrative.  From Genesis, Sophia’s stream of hallowed pathos manifests in the intricate Magnificat; the second testament’s renowned fiat of relentless communication. The illiterate adolescent Miriam issues her sublime revolt, exalting the destitute, fragmenting the elite. From the womb of her proclamation, the obscure is cultivated. Miriam issues forth the faint beacon; Christus. In the pondering of Miriam’s heart the character of Christus is wistfully seeded. Miriam and Christus, unified in erect clarity, are Sophia’s intimate motif.  The translucent  passion of Christus, endured through the Mother of sorrows, reaps an unequivocal music.

Stations II. Christ is given his cross.

Historical-critical analysis, while having its place, is not a concern in these works. Rather, the meditative Stations reflects John Henry Newman’s “Fact of the Imagination.”  Stations,  lamenting the bankruptcy of theological idiosyncrasy, is the expression of an illegible signpost.  These works, admittedly, subscribe to a type of Zen Catholicism, although there is also resistance in labeling it such, just as an idiosyncratic theology resists attachment to a dogmatic school. In this, the works are post-modern in both theological and artistic expression. For me, the age of theological and artistic schools has passed and is rendered impotent. Subscribing to a particular movement, within the arts or within theology, is as linear, is as institutional as stifling attachment towards a blueprint for doctrinal, patriarchal religion. Sacramental pathos sows freedom in the secular crisis of symbols. Symbolic idea is equated with the incarnation. The artistic theology in these works seeks to simultaneously beautify and inspire discomfort. By jettisoning traditional imagery, the risk of subscribing to a perceived totalitarian atheism runs high. However, the discarding of  solidified imagery and adhering instead to the internal, emotionally organic content inherent in the Stations, breaths an ecumenical expression. Catholicism (iconography), Zen Buddhism (indefinable), Judaism (Genesis heritage), and Protestantism (subduing of concrete imagery) are influentially present within. Prominent in the creative process is Jorunn Okland’s[2] observation that “Symbolic Continuity is fundamental to our culture.” For that reason, both The Annunciation and Pieta serve as “bookends” to the unfolding, journeyed Stations.

Stations III. Christ falls for the first time.

In The Annunciation I painted Mary as a fleshy, ethnic, girlish, peasant youth. In contrast to her fleshiness, is the diaphanous, ethereal milieu in which she is encompassed. This milieu is conveyed with monochromatic, Prussian blues, Pthalo blues, Viridian Hues and Dioxadine Purple. Flowers adorn her, weaving in and out of the fabric of her dress. Behind her is the questioning angel. Fiercely independent, Mary is on the verge of her Yes, her “Let it be done”,  without consulting her family or her betrothed.

STATIONS IV. Christ meets his Mother.

The Pieta is thirty years later in the narrative. Often, the Madonna is painted, at that scene, still young, still unblemished by age. I chose, again, to depict her ethnicity, combined with age. She looks very different here, weathered. She is on the verge of collapse, but, she surrenders herself, her naiveté, to her dead son’s ambitions. Her silence protects her fragile dignity. John the apostle, and Joseph of Arimathea lift the Corpus Christi to Her; the lowly, the woman of whom it was derogatively asked, “Isn’t this the son of Mary?” She, alone, is caught up in a state of contemplation. Rather than the traditional depiction of the Mother physically embracing the son, this Pieta depicts the two worshipers of Christ in the immensely struggled act of lifting the dead son up to the Mother. John and Joseph are worshipers of the Son and so the Son is elevated. However, the Mother is elevated even higher because She has no worshipers. Unlike Her Son, She is completely human and through her full humanity She is thusly edified for us.  A cadmium red rose adorns the lower left corner, symbolic of the rosary. An emotional storm of Dioxadine purple flows through the scene.

Stations V. Simone of Cyrene carries the cross.

The language of the icon is an ambiguous presence in Stations. The emotional symbology from “Mary’s Stations of the Cross” was latently in thinking, colors, brush work and organic form from those two “bookends. The works have an intentional Debussian feel, no doubt enhanced by the fact that I listened to much of  Debussy’s later music, along with the music of  the Second Viennese School, Morton Feldman and Luigi Nono, during the painting process.

STATIONS VI. Veronica wipes the face of Christ.

Andrew Greeley writes, “She guides us to see ultimate reality not only as creating, organizing, directing, planning, bringing to completion but also tenderly caring, seductively attracting, passionately inspiring and gently healing.” [3]

Greeley sees, in this devotion, an imaginative attitude that is not confined to the limits of dogma or that faction of “creepy” Mariology. “Mary has been a prisoner to creeps far too often.” he writes. Greeley relates an amusing, supposedly true story in which Heidegger was “caught” genuflecting at a festival of Our Lady. Heidegger was incredulously asked if he wasn’t an atheist, to which the philosopher replied, “a rationalist like you wouldn’t understand.”

A Marian spirituality surfaced amazingly fast in early Christendom. “The early Christians were far more casual about the similarities between Mary and the pagan goddesses.” However, Greely believes he, like the early Christian, is far more interested in the differences between Mary and those pagan deities, rather than the similarities.

Leonardo Boff  is considerably more weary in regards to using mythological Marian terminology and he focuses primarily on finding valid edification through historicity. In The Maternal Face of God Boff writes, “There is a danger of reducing Mariology to modifications of archaic mythologies. Historically, God did not choose a princess. God was not taken by the beauty of Athena, but the plain visage of a destitute woman. The Holy Spirit chose a fragile woman of poverty  to be the living temple of God.  Mary did not give birth in a royal palace, but was surrounded by beasts. The Mariology of exaltation must know what it is exalting: concrete, humble realities. It must extract the divine transparency that hides in the lowly, it must uncover the depth that is concealed in the humble. God the eternal mother is totally historicized in Mary ” [4]

The tragically short-lived John Paul I wrote, “God is Father, but above that, God is mother.” Greely concurs with an explanation of his view for the symbol, ” I am not discussing Mary as a person, but I am discussing God who is revealed to us through Mary.”

Boff sums up the hidden historicity of Mary, “The historical figure of Mary is very much hidden, much like a hidden pearl in an out-of-the-way place.” [5]But, this does allow much in the way for an imaginative projection of our personalized imagery into creative expression, which is why, for myself, the Marian image is the boundlessly expansive conduit for an idiosyncratic theology of artistry.

PIETA


[1] page 120

[2]  Blessed One: Protestant Perspectives on Mary.

[3] The Mary Myth. Page 20.

[4] page 125-126.

[5] page 108.