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.

SEA OF ROSARIES: Black Madonna of Oropa

Black Madonna of Oropa ©2018 Alfred Eaker

Aubade-Harlem by Thomas Merton
Across the cages of the keyless aviaries,
The lines and wires, the gallows of the broken kites,
Crucify, against the fearful light,
The ragged dresses of the little children.
Soon, in the sterile jungles of the waterpipes and ladders,
The bleeding sun, a bird of prey, will terrify the poor,
These will forget the unbelievable moon.
But in the cells of whiter buildings,
Where the glass dawn is brighter than the knives of surgeons,
Paler than alcohol or ether, shinier than money,
The white men’s wives, like Pilate’s,
Cry in the peril of their frozen dreams:
“Daylight has driven iron spikes,
Into the flesh of Jesus’ hands and feet:
Four flowers of blood have nailed Him to the walls of Harlem.”
Along the white halls of the clinics and the hospitals
Pilate evaporates with a cry:
They have cut down two hundred Judases,
Hanged by the neck in the opera houses and the museum.
Across the cages of the keyless aviaries,
The lines and wires, the gallows of the broken kites,
Crucify, against the fearful light,
The ragged dresses of the little children.

SEA OF ROSARIES: Black Madonna of Tindari

Black Madonna of Tindari ©2018 Alfred Eaker

Proverbs by Thomas Merton

1. I will tell you what you can do ask me if you do not understand what I just said

2. One thing you can do be a manufacturer make appliances

3. Be a Man-u-fac-tu-rer

4. Make appliances sell them for a high price

5. I will tell you about industry make appliances

6. Make appliances that move

7. Ask me if you do not understand what is move

8. First get the facts

9. Where to apply? Ask industry

10. Do not expect to get by without Mr. and Mrs. Consumer

11. Man-u-fic-tion

12. I am wondering if you got the idea be a manu

13. MAKE FALSE GODS

14. Apply mind energy they will move

15. Mention one of the others see what happens

16. Now apply that to our problem

17. Try not to understand

18. Be a mounte-fictioner

19. Surpass all others in price and profit

20. Assail the public with lies

21. Home-spun-facts-are-more-fun repeat this

22. Prevent spreading on garments

23. Breathe more than others

24. Supply movement and traction

25. Our epidemix will exceed

26. A homemade appliance: no honorable mention

27. Now you can refer to garments and spread out

28. But there are still more facts

29. For excitement: say whose epidemic may be next

30. Apply this to the facts and see what happens

31. Wear dermal gloves in bed

32. Here is an appliance that will terrorize mothers

33. And fight the impossible

34. Man-u-fac-ture: wear it on your head

35. Beat it here come the mothers

SEA OF ROSARIES: Our Lady of Kibeho

Our Lady of Kibeho ©2018 Alfred Eaker

Canticle for the Blessed Virgin (Thomas Merton)

Die, Boreas,
And drown your ruins in the gaudy sea,
December, clash your cymbals once again
And put them away.
The crops come thronging from the ground.
The land is green with strength.
The harvests sing like confidence
In the ascetic earth.
Let there be no more patience
With your iron music, death:
Stand, continents, and wear the spring your crown!

The ox-eyed land,
The muted lakes,
The cloudy groves that praise you,
Lady, with their blooms,
Fuse and destroy their lights
And burn them into gold for you, great Virgin,
Coining your honor in the glorious sun.

The skies speed up to meet you, and the seas
Swim you the silver of their crests.
If you delay to come, we’ll see the meteors, by night,
Skimming before your way,
Lighting the time of death’s dismay
In lights as lithe as animals.
And God will blaze your pathway with the incandescent stars.

But oh! Queen of all grace and counsel,
Cause of our joy, Oh Clement Virgin, come:
Show us those eyes as chaste as lightning,
Kinder than June and true as Scripture.
Heal with your looks the poisons of the universe,
And claim your Son’s regenerate world!

Because your Christ disposed Orion and Andromeda
And ordered the clean spheres,
And interplayed the chiming suns to be your toy,

Charm you with antiphon and psalmody
And canticle, and countersong;

Because your Christ
Fired the fair stars with argent for your raiment,
And charged the sinner’s tears
With clean repentent lights –
(As on the day you found me in the dens of libraries
And crushed the jeweled head of heresy) –
He gave you every one of the redeemed to be your dowry
And angels for your crown.

Come from the compass quarter where the thunder sleeps
And let the pity of those eyes
Rout all the armies of our million dangers
Here where we lie in siege:
For you unlock the treasures of the bleeding Wood.
You hold the Mass-keys, and the locks of Calvary,
And All-grace springs in the founts of your demand.

Lady, whose smiles are full of counsel and theology,
Never have you withheld those seas of light
Whose surf confounds the keenest eye.
Grace me to be the soldier of your Scotus,
Arming my actions with the news
Of your Immaculate command.

You, who have saved me from the ones about to break me
On the iron wheels of sin,

And brought me from the torturer
With all the florins of the Parasceve:
If Christ will burn me clean
Of my red-handed perjuries,
Win me His Blood again, and blazon me His priest.

But if my hands that one time wore the stench of death
Are too unworthy of the Liturgy
That speaks our deathless Pasch in veils of Bread,
Make me, until my death, His priest in secret
Offering Mass in all-day’s sacrifice.

Teach me to take all grace
And spring it into blades of act,
Grow spears and sheaves of charity,
While each new instant (new eternity),
Flowering with clean and individual circumstance,
Speaks me the whisper of His consecrating Spirit.
Then will obedience bring forth new Incarnations
Shining to God with the features of His Christ.

Tower, stars, and oh! You sun in Aries,
Shatter a way for her through the embattled weather,
Until the hills
Tidy their fields, and fill them full of flowers
For those Annunciations:

And hell shall melt his onsets
Faster than January’s brawling clouds
Doomed by the music of her chariot.

SEA OF ROSARIES: Our Lady of La Salette

Our Lady Of La Salette © 2018 Alfred Eaker

La Salette

(Thomas Merton)

It is a hundred years since your shy feet
Ventured to stand upon the pasture grass of the high
Alps,

Coming no deeper in our smoky atmosphere
Than these blue skies, the mountain eyes
Of the two shepherd children, young as flowers,
Born to be dazzled by no mortal snow.

Lady, it is a hundred years
Since those fair, terrible tears
Reproved, with their amazing grief
All the proud candor of those altitudes:
Crowning the flowers at your feet
With diamonds, that seized upon, transfigured into
nails of light
The rays of the mountain sun!-

And by their news,
(Which came with cowbells to the evening village
And to the world with church-bells
After not too many days,)
And by their news
We thought the walls of all hard hearts
Had broken down, and given in,
Poured out their dirty garrisons of sin,
And washed the streets with our own blood, if need
be –
– Only to have them clean!

And though we did not understand
The weight and import of so great a sorrow,
We never thought so soon to have seen
The loss of its undying memory,
Passing from the black world without a word,
Without a funeral!
For while our teeth were battling in the meat of
miracles and favors,
Your words, your prophecies, were all forgotten!

Now, one by one,
The things you said
Have come to be fulfilled.

John, in the might of his Apocalypse, could not fore-
tell
Half of the story of our monstrous century,
In which the arm of your inexorable Son,
Bound, by His Truth, to disavow your intercession
For this wolf-world, this craven zoo,
Has bombed the doors of hell clean off their hinges,
And burst the cage of antichrist,
And roused, with His first two great thunderbolts,
The chariots of Armageddon.

MARY AND THE CATHOLIC IMAGINATION: AN IMAGINATIVE GEM

A sublime manifesto. Brief, but no mere trifle. Simultaneously lucid and poetic, Wendy M. Wright’s “Mary and the Catholic Imagination” dips its pen into a desperately needed Sophiastic inkwell.

An excerpt from her introduction:

“I encountered the fascinatingly polymorphous religious symbol and touchingly intimate presence who answers to the name of Mary…She occupies a generous space in the hearts of those who speak tom look to, identify with, implore, honor, and hope in her. In a conceptual world in which sacred presence is powerfully sensed, she is among those presences most poignantly and deeply felt.”

That last line could just as well be applied to this book, a multifaceted, diaphanous gem amongst seemingly countless essays. Wright invites us to cling for dear life to Her image, opening us to “the breath of the spirit to hear the whisper of mercy and conceive of justice in a world where it does not exist.”

This is no touchy feely, Stuart Smalley type of meditation, but a profound, imaginative work of art, which may feed those willing to partake.

Fr. Justin Belitz O.F.M. Success:Full Relating (Spirituality for the 21st Century and Beyond) Australia Retreat

Fr. Justin Belitz O.F.M.. The above are images from his retreat at the Infant Jesus Parish in Morley Western Australia, April 2010. In March, 2011 Fr. Justin returned to the parish for a follow up retreat.

Fr. Justin’s retreat centers around the teaching of his latest book, Success:Full  Relating. This is Fr. Justin’s third book in the success series. It is a guide to successful life goals and relationships. Success:Full Relating is also the most theological of his books, outlining the matriarchal/creation model of spirituality and the patriarchal/ fall/redemption model. Fr. Justin’s approach is lucid, optimistic, and inspiring.

Fr. Justin will be celebrating his 50th jubilee as a Franciscan priest this summer.   He promotes interfaith expression, practical theology and renewal in the model of Augustine of the Retractions, John XXIII, The Little Flower, Mother Teresa, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Fr. Justin is a licensed teacher of the Silva Method but here he gives us the Justin Method. Justin’s method incorporates Franciscan spirituality, the Silva Method and a lifetime of experience into a celebration of life, love, art, and spirit.

OUR LADY: CATHOLICISM’S DIAPHANOUS ADAGIO

Alfred EAKER 'Our Lady Of The Mermaids%22 oil on canvas © 2011 Alfred Eaker“Our Lady of the Mermaids.” © 2011 Alfred Eaker

When it comes to Mariology, even self-proclaimed liberal, protestant denominations passionately raise objections towards the Catholic tradition of elevating Mary to the level of near goddess, arguing that she is an impossible role model for women (being both virgin and mother) and, understandably, resisting the ultra right’s tendency to use her image as a suppressive, brow-beating weapon.

Certainly, Marian symbology has often been used as a correctional tool, something akin to a “What Would Mary Do?” motivational. Mary, in her ever-virginal state, has often been reduced to bumper sticker theology, in an effort to combat the onslaught of puberty. Needless to say, Mary, as a potential, imaged disciplinarian, set before young Catholic school girls and boys, or seminarians, has, more often than not,  been a predictably ineffectual inspiration.

However, Christ has certainly been used this way as well, of course; even more so. Indeed, Jesus of Nazareth may well be the Yukon Cornelius of deities since depictions and interpretations of him are as varied as the sands, and he never seems to quite fit in any one depiction, rendering him a misfit among misfits.

In regards to an imaged Christ, there is, at least, literary diversity within the New Testament that can be referenced, regardless of static images often applied to the Nazarene. The Christ of Mark’s Gospel projects qualities of aloofness and moodiness. He is enigmatic, earthy, and masculine. In contrast to that, Christ, as portrayed in the Gospel of John, is mystical, ethereal, sensitive, and effeminate. These varied, interpretive portraits of Christ beautifully flesh out the contradictory nature of his narrative, which we can readily identify with. The richness of disparity in the New Testament profiling of Christ has given rise to wildly contrasting Christs ever since.

Michelangelo’s Christ of the “Last Judgment” resembles a Prometheus unbound, the kind of Jesus one might picture in Mark’s action-packed gospel. This is the Jesus who, after having resisted Satanic temptation in the cave, descends into town, chest protruding,  to further wallop the demon-possessed .  Yet, near the end of his life, this same artist, depicted a much different savior, in stone. In his last, unfinished “Pieta” Michelangelo’s Christ, in death, is withered, vulnerable and his mother’s cradled son.

annunciation2012

“Annunciation” ©2011 Alfred Eaker. oil on canvas.

Within scriptural text, the enigma of Mary is cloaked in pronounced minimalism, even if she has been referred to as “The First Evangelist” (when she visits Elizabeth) and “The First Church” (with the shepherds and Joseph on Christmas morn in the manger). The young Mary does have a girlish quality, but, as she grows older, in the dramatic narrative of the gospels, the characterization of Mary dissipates as the character of Christ expands.

From the point of Christ’ adulthood on, the events involving Mary do not reveal her emotional makeup or reactions. Tradition attaches slithers of emotion to her, but these are apt, artistically interpreted attributes.

Catholic apologetics liken the miracle of Cana to the Garden of Gethsemane. In the garden, Christ asks his Father to remove the bitter chalice that he must soon drink of, but he yields to his Father’s will. At Cana, Christ resists Mary’s prompting to transform the water into wine, telling her “It is not my time.” Christ is reluctant to begin his ministry, but yield’s to his mother’s will. This is a smart literary development, employing an example of Christ’s obedience to the forth commandment.  However, Mary is merely a mother here, and no insight is given to her temperament.

The same is true of her appearance at the cross of her son and at Pentecost. Mary’s last appearance is a metaphorical one, in the Apocalypse. Two vivid images are given. First she appears in the desert(Egypt), after having given a painful birth, fleeing the dragon/serpent. Here, she is depicted as the New Eve, at enmity with the serpent. The serpent is symbolic of the king, seeking her son’s death. She flees to protect her child/the Church. This dream-like vignette is word painted in  expressionist, monochromatic  colors. The second image of her, as a Lady, clothed in the Sun, is strikingly colored.

Alfred Eaker PIETA (2011) oil on canvas © 2011 Alfred Eaker

“Pieta.” ©2011 Alfred Eaker

With the figure of Christ being illustrated in four canonical gospels, we are given multi-faceted perspectives for contemplation. From the Jewish rabbi, to the dusty human and the mystical god. With Mary, the gospels and the Apocalypse composite a consistent archetype of a young girl who becomes an increasingly otherworldly woman. The human quality, found in her as a lowly peasant, humble, expectant, teen mother, becomes subdued as the the adult image of her becomes increasingly preoccupied with a celestial state, that was pronounced even in the youthful figure of her as servant,  hence the surrealist attraction to Our Lady.

Imagery of Christ as a warrior/judge figure can at least be attained from some of the wording of the Apocalypse, even if that depiction fatuously ignores the Christ of the Beatitudes and so on. More nonsensical is the Marian image used as a means of disciplinary chastisement.  There are no literary or early traditions for the use of that image in that manner. Still, the representational imagery of a benevolent mother far outnumbers opposing depictions. The various, imaged incarnations of her; Our Lady of Peace, Our Lady of Sorrows (where one is invited to lay heavy burdens at her door),  Our Lady of Perpetual Help,  Our Lady of Mercy, Our Lady of the Snows, Our Lady of  the Sacred Heart, Our Lady of the Rosary, all depict a womb of empathy. She is far less often portrayed as the judgmental yardstick that we are hopelessly measured against.

No family is complete without a mother, unless it is a dysfunctional family, of course. Objections to Mariology often are coached in terms of historicity, even from agnostic theologians, more likely betraying a misogynist resistance to the feminine as near divine.

More progressive mainline protestant denominations, while embracing a female clergy, cannot go so far as to embrace feminine symbology within the divine family. PC friendly denominations may abstractly refer to God in the vernacular, but are still resistant to an actual, solidified feminine image.

A Post-Vatican II Catholicism, in a strained effort to be “protestant friendly,”has taken the easiest, superficial, surface reforms by downplaying Mary’s presence, along with caving into an iconoclastic, protestant spirit. Rosary services are set aside in most parishes, usually after scantly attended early morning weekday masses. Predictably, we have still failed to grasp the deeper, mystical reforms of John the XXIII. Even more predictably, when the mystical quality fails to be attained, that most pronounced of mystical figures, Our Lady, is the first to go.

In place of a sea of rosaries amidst a parish of divinely inspired art, the post-modern American Catholic Church, more often than not, projects the atmosphere of a dull, artless, masculine basketball court, rather than a temple. Naturally, rosaries and Mary have no place on the court.

 

When protestant churches jettisoned the sacramental, mysterious qualities of Catholicism, they universally rejected the Marian symbology, and proved themselves even more unimaginatively patriarchal than the original role model. Much in protestantism densely attaches itself to an alarmingly limited perception of hyper realism, in which the Marian image becomes the equivalent of a round peg in a square hole. Of all the protestant tenants to avoid, this should have been the Church’s last route. Instead, the Church has emulated the worst in its competition.

Of course, sophomoric attempts to appease protestantism hardly stops two millennium of Marian devotion among the laity, particularly European, Scandinavian, and Hispanic laity. Marian apparitions and pilgrimages to attributed sights of these apparitions are still vigorous forces of mystical inspiration to be reckoned with.  The Church, understandably- from its public point of view, looks at each sighting with skepticism. That is the face the Church is forced to put on for the world. The authenticity of each sighting is reviewed, but the authenticity lies in that translucent wave of inspiration. Marian devotion has never been preoccupied with historicity or vacuous realism.

Christ himself rarely acquires that level of frenzied sightings. That possibly is because the Marian image, while certainly ethereal in the end state of being, traverses that bridge between the human condition and the goal of inclusion in the divine family.

Being a woman in first century, patriarchal-ruled Judea, Mary is a symbolic outcast, a secondary citizen. It is written that a sword pierced her girl’s heart, the traditional “Mary’s Way of the Cross” depicts a mother closely following in the bloodied footsteps of her dying son, and the various Pietas capture the mystical and emotional anguish of a parent losing her child.

In his writings of “Total Concentration to Mary”, that Franciscan martyr Maximilan Kolbe wrote,  ” Anyone incapable of bending his knee and of imploring from Her in humble prayer the grace to know who She really is, cannot hope to learn anything more about Her.

From the divine Maternity flow all the graces granted to the All Holy Virgin Mary, and the first of these graces is the Immaculate Conception. This privilege must be particularly dear to Her heart, if at Lourdes She herself wished to define Herself thus: I am the Immaculate Conception. With this name, so pleasing to Her heart, we also wish to call upon Her.

To draw close to Her, to make ourselves like Her, to allow Her to take possession of our heart and of all our being, that She might live and work in us and through us, that She Herself love God with our heart, that we belong to Her without any reserve: behold our ideal.

To shine in our environment, to conquer souls for Her, in such wise that in Her presence the hearts of our neighbors also open, so that She might extend Her reign in the hearts of all who live in any corner of the earth, without regard to difference of race, of nationality, of language, and likewise in the hearts of all who will live in any moment of history, until the end of the world: behold, our ideal.

Further, that Her life be ever more deeply rooted in us, from day to day, hour to hour, moment to moment, and this without any limitation: behold our ideal.

And still, that this Her life develop in the same way in every soul which exists or will exist in any time: behold our precious ideal.”

Despite some, admittedly, dated terminology (i.e; ‘conquering souls’) Kolbe’s ideal, inspired by his devotion, was put into action when he voluntarily laid down his life for a stranger in the Auschwitz concentration camp in August, 1941. “Greater love hath no man than this.”

Instead of eradicating her image and spiritual presence from our Churches, or applying a reductionist approach to her, the Marian image and presence can be embraced for what it is; the faith’s sublime, mysterious Tahitian pearl, a diaphanous adagio for our contemplation and inspiration, a startlingly sensuous rose which can, quite astonishingly, burst through the practicality of our senses. The Church and the faith are desperate for a veracious, mystical revival and movement. This will not be found in the hollow, pedestrian, futile,  and predictable attempts that have been made time and again. No, the first steps of this can be attained by an image we have always had before us. As usual, she is forced to wait on our “coming round” to her embrace.

Alfred Eaker %22Stations IV%22 Christ Meets His Mother On The Way To The Cross. oil on canvas 5 ft x 5 ft. ©2011 Alfred Eaker

“Christ Meets His Mother On The Way To The Cross.” © 2012 Alfred Eaker