Wednesday, October 31, 2007

All Saints' Day

Mass tomorrow...

All Saints' Day by William Adolphe Bouguereau (1859)

From a Halloween History (although I don't think "syncretism" is the right word to use):

The Catholic celebration of All Saints' Day was officially inaugurated in 609 A.D., although the Christian influence on Halloween actually begins in 601 A.D., when Pope Gregory I instructed his missionaries that, rather than obliterate native peoples' customs and beliefs, they should try to use them; hence, Catholic holy days were set at the times of native holy days, celebrations and festivals. As Christian missionaries moved into Ireland, they practiced Gregory's doctrine of "syncretism" and replaced the Celts' Samhain with All Saints' Day (Pope Gregory III moved the observation to November 1 in the eight century). In 998 A.D. St. Odilo, Bishop of Cluny, instituted a day of prayer and special masses for the souls of the dead. This day became All Souls' Day, and was set for November 2nd. In many areas All Saints' Day and All Souls' Day celebrations merged, as in Mexico, where October 31 to November 2 became known simply as "Days of the Dead".

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Iñigo's Mule

From The Life of St. Ignatius of Loyola:

He had decided that he wanted to go to Jerusalem to live where our Lord had spent his life on earth. As a first step he began his journey to Barcelona. Though he had been converted completely from his old ways, he was still seriously lacking in the true spirit of charity and Christian understanding, as illustrated by an encounter he had with a Moor on his way.

The Moor and he came together on the road, both riding mules, and they began to debate religious matters. The Moor claimed that the Blessed Virgin was not a virgin in her life after Christ was born. Ignatius took this to be such an insult that he was in a dilemma as to what to do.

They came to a fork in the road, and Ignatius decided that he would let circumstances direct his course of action. The Moor went down one fork. Ignatius let the reins of his mule drop. If his mule followed the Moor, he would kill him. If the mule took the other fork he would let the Moor live.

Fortunately for the Moor, Ignatius' mule was more charitable than its rider and took the opposite fork from the Moor.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Movie Monster Runoff

A little fun for All Hallow's Eve...

Boris Karloff as Adreth Bay/Imhotep

No "Aliens", no "Predators", no Godzillas, no Jasons, Freddy Kruegers, or Lestats... This is a traditional contest. Who was the best "classic" movie monster?

Take your pick, until Universal pulls the clips off of Youtube.

First Category: Best Univeral Studios Movie Monster of the 1930s and 1940s

The nominees:

1) Boris Karloff as Frankenstein (1931)

"It's alive!" A big, misunderstood, not so gentle giant... Karloff actually has you feeling a little sorry for him when the villagers trap him in the windmill.

2) Lon Chaney Jr. as The Wolfman (1941)

Picking up from where his dad, Lon Chaney Sr, left off. I like the dark, foggy, Gypsy chic. Here, he succumbs to a beat-down from Claude Rains with a silver-tipped cane. Who knew Claude was such a hard guy?

3) Bela Lugosi as Dracula (1931)

Lugosi makes Transylvania a household word, displaying old world charm, and apparently, what passed for sex appeal at the time. Can you figure? Poor Bela started to get the idea after a while, that he really was Dracula.

4) Boris Karloff again, as The Mummy (1932) Editor's Choice

Karloff as the Egyptian priest and mummy, "Imhotep". His lean, sinewy physique worked very well here again, like it did in Frankenstein. He was a kind of physical genius. I think this movie was pretty cool. I love the use of the Egyptian hieroglyphics, legends, and symbols in a Victorian/Edwardian, slightly inaccurate, dusty, Harvard-Peabody Museum kind of way.

Second Category: Repressed and Frustrated Movie Monsters of the 1950s

I don't think the Sexual Revolution started in the 1960s. Looks to me like the lid was already coming off the pressure-cooker well before then.

1) Michael Landon in I was a Teenage Werewolf (1957)

Michael, before his Little House On The Prairie days, making mischief in the school gymnasium. Who was that mad-scientist guy in all those 50s films? Whit Bissell... He was in everything...

2) Ben Chapman in The Creature From the Black Lagoon (1954) Editor's Choice

The "Gill-Man" was my favorite movie monster when I was a kid. Pretty fancy swimming there by Ben Chapman, in a full body rubber suit, you must admit (there's your opening for pithy remarks, drive a truck through it if you wish...). I think Julia Adams was quite fetching. Wonder whatever happened to her?

Blessed Franz Jägerstätter

Franz Jägerstätter was beatified on Oct. 26th in Linz, Austria.

Taken from One Man’s Decision, by Willard Jabusch, America, August 27, 2007…

Does being a martyr make one, ipso facto, a saint? Certainly the young Franz did not appear very saintly. He was a rowdy type, known for getting into brawls with the other young men of the area. It would seem that he fathered a child out of marriage and then disappeared for a year or so, going to another part of the country to work in the mines. When tempers had cooled he returned, fell in love with a local girl and married her. The lovely Franziska was just what this undisciplined young man needed. She was lively and full of fun, but also mature and deeply devout… Franz was, as everyone said, a lustiger Mensch (“lively fellow”), who had found the perfect partner.

He became quite devout himself. Neighbors said they could hear him singing hymns as he worked the family farm. He became friends with the Rev. Josef Karobath, the pastor, who named him sacristan and put him in charge of training the altar servers, planning the holy day celebrations and caring for the church.

But some serious political changes were taking place at the time. Franz was the only one in town who voted against the annexation of Austria by Germany. The German army entered the country and was greeted with wild enthusiasm. Hitler made a triumphal entry into Vienna and was met by the Cardinal Archbishop. Franz was one Austrian who was not pleased.

A year later Poland was invaded. Franz decided he could not in conscience serve in such an unjust war. Poland had not invaded Germany; Germany had invaded Poland and, very soon, other countries. Many of his friends were enlisting; others waited to be drafted. Franz told his wife, his mother and his pastor that he would not serve. Father Karobath was understanding. In fact, soon he would be removed from his parish for having delivered a less than totally patriotic homily. But he reminded the younger man that his widowed mother, his wife and now his three tiny daughters depended on him. Franz decided to seek advice from the bishop in Linz.

But the bishop simply lectured him about the other young men who were fighting and dying in Russia in defense of the fatherland. He should do the same.

Franz’s determination would not be eroded. For a long time the induction notice did not come. The government needed farmers like Franz for the war effort. But as the war took more and more lives, older men and even boys were being sent to the front. The notice came in the mail: Franz was needed in the army. There could be no such thing as a conscientious objector.

Franziska remembers that she and Franz got up early in the morning while the grandmother and the three girls were still asleep. Would she ever see him again? They said their farewells and he walked off into the pre-dawn darkness toward the induction center. He refused to take the oath of obedience to Hitler and was quickly put into jail in Linz. He was held there for some time and sent some truly beautiful letters to his wife. Eventually he was sent to a dreaded prison in Berlin.

Franziska very much wanted to visit him. The new young priest who had taken the place of Father Karobath said he would accompany her. They set off by train although the Americans and the British were bombing the rail lines. At the prison they could see through a window that Franz was brought in a van, pulled out and knocked to the ground. Yet he was allowed to visit with them. The priest repeated some of the old arguments: there was still time to change his mind; he could still be saved. But Franziska knew that to her strong willed husband, saving his body was not as important as saving his soul. For him it was a clear case of right and wrong: the war was unjust; he could not serve...

He was taken away, and the two visitors made the dangerous trip back to St. Radegund. Franz was beheaded by the prison guillotine. When the war ended, the prison chaplain, who knew where the body had been buried, had the bones put in a box. A nun agreed to take them back to St. Radegund for burial. Father Karobath had returned as pastor and he announced that Franz would be given a solemn funeral and buried in a place of honor directly next to the church...

There were two priests in Germany who were executed as conscientious objectors, but Franz seems to have been the only layman. It was a dangerous and risky business to say no to Hitler’s insane war. Could he have done it without the support of a strong and loving wife? Now, however, his three daughters know that their father was a martyr. And martyrs are saints.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

A Wedding Blessing

For Liam and Imperatrix Pulcherrima Africae Occidentalis

"In the Spirit of Dance" by Chidi Okoye

We bathe your palms...

In the showers of wine,
In the crook of the kindling,
In the seven elements,
In the sap of the tree,
In the milk of honey,

We place nine pure, choice gifts
In your clear beloved faces:

The gift of form,
The gift of voice,
The gift of fortune,
The gift of goodness,
The gift of eminence,
The gift of charity,
The gift of integrity,
The gift of true nobility,
The gift of apt speech.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Father John on Karl Rahner and Being the Church

Karl Rahner, SJ (1904-1984)

Last Saturday morning I was late getting to the Men's Group meeting at my parish. In fact, I missed the whole thing. One of our common practices is to read and reflect upon some of the homilies of our late and beloved long-time pastor, Father John P. Although I missed the meeting, I did have a copy of this particular homily, and I thought I'd share it...


Karl Rahner gave some important interviews, and they are recorded in a book entitled Faith in a Wintry Season. Karl died in March of 1984. He was a Jesuit, a priest, an internationally respected theologian, and a totally dedicated Christian. What he had to say about life and church and faith needs to be read and re-read by us as we live our faith in a wintry season, a season of disillusion and disappointment.

I loved what he had to say about presenting the Christian way of life in a newer, more attractive way. We could preach the real heart of the Christian message in a much more lively, joyous, and courageous way. We should not abandon or pass over moral imperatives in silence, but should place them in proper perspective. He said that we could preach in a lighter fashion than we often do in our sourpuss pastoral ministry. Priests should exemplify that absurd optimism that claims that this awful world is going to have a happy ending. They should be able to laugh despite all, to hope despite all, to know despite all their own misery that they are loved by a God who is eternal and holy.

As for people leaving the church, just keep in mind what happens in life all the time, are there not families in which parents are marvelous human beings who properly raise their children and yet experience terrible setbacks in raising them? So a good number of withdrawals from the church are practically unavoidable. That is not to say that the church is sinless and is not without fault. But we are the Body of Christ; and do we not need to be better, more holy, less critical, more truly Christian? The church is what we are. The church gives us what we need -- the Eucharist, the gospel, the sacraments, a believing, a hoping, a loving community of God's people. If we want a better and a holier church, then we might need to look closer to home.

The story is told of a Catholic family that moved to a new city, and they decided to attend all the Catholic churches in town and then make a choice about which one they would join. They found that the music was good in one, the preaching better in another, that some congregations were more friendly, etc. They even found an urban parish that was free of kids--but, it soon dawned on them after their second visit, it was totally free of kids; and that was not good. They would hear of a hot parish to the east or the west, and off they would go. They soon found that all they were doing every Sunday was critiquing the homily, the presider's style, the music, the lighting, the sound system.

As they tell the story, finally one Sunday, after attending Mass, they were silent on the way home, both of them almost simultaneously said, "Let's go home." It had dawned on the two of them that they were not parish shopping but parish hopping! They began to realize that they were perilously close to looking to be entertained! After they went back to what in the old days was called the parish church, they looked at it with new eyes. Yes, the same problems were there; but none was catastrophic. They could choose to ignore them, or at least not let them distract. But the parish seemed to meet the needs of a lot of people. Therefore, if they only provided their presence and their financial support, they were helping others in their needs. Up until they came back, they had been interested only in their own needs and interests and had paid no attention to what they might bring to the rest of the community. Maybe what they realized and what all of us have to look at is that we need to plant ourselves in a place that you sense you can grow. Maybe then you will.

I think that all of us have to be somewhat cautious about personal infallibility; that is, of knowing and proclaiming what the church needs to do and how it needs to change with absolute assurance that we are right and any other opinion is wrong. A certain modesty is a becoming virtue in the face of the many problems of the day.

A few years ago, there was a popular saying that the people of America always knew that they knew everything that needed to be known on two subjects: religion and education. I don't know what we know about religion, but time has shown that we certainly did not know too much about education. Maybe we had better make sure that we are branches on the true vine before we do too much talking. The gospel tells us that Jesus said, "I am the vine; you are the branches." Before we speak to others, we must be sure that we first have had an inner personal experience of God, that we have a heart and a life that has had a personal love of God as central.

Some final words of wisdom from Karl Rahner: "If a Tyrolian farm boy loves a girl, I can probably give him an existential philosophical lecture on love, about which he will understand absolutely nothing. Nonetheless, he has had the experience of love, about which I am speaking, and perhaps has experienced love in a much more profound, honest, radical, pure, selfless way than I have, even though I can rattle on brilliantly about it as though I were a lover.

My brothers and sisters, we have come here this morning to be together and to ask the Living God to speak to us in whatever way that we need to listen to Him in our lives and to ask Him to give us the grace to live according to His will. This is a sacred time in the story of our lives. We have come to praise, to thank, to reverence God, who is the center of our life. This is the first and the greatest commandment: "I am the Lord your God and you shall not put false gods before Me!"

Rooting for Underdogs. It Often Disappoints...

Moving On From the Animal Kingdom to Man's Inhumanity to Man

Rockies vs. Red Sox... Jets vs. Patriots... Hector vs. Achilles...

From the movie Troy

You know, I was really, really pulling for good old Hector here (Eric Bana makes him very likeable), but gosh darn it, I'd already read the book.

Sorry. That'll do for violence for now.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Regarding Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, et al...

There has been a lot of buzz on the web in the last year or so about the recent books by Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris concerning what can be considered their radical, bold arguments on behalf of atheism, if not outright jeremiads against religion. I don't think that faith and reason need to be adverserial by necessity, but I do believe that faith is ultimately a gift we receive through grace, and cannot be forced. Most of the time the two sides in this faith vs. science dispute are talking past each other. Often it seems to be on terms equally fundamentalistic. I don't have much to add beyond the following...

Taken from National Geographic's Eternal Enemies

That's it? That's all there is?

I've posted here a bit lately about the goodness of creation. Yes, I believe that it is ultimately good, but it is flawed in a way that only God can ultimately set to right... It is with the eyes of faith that I'm allowed and encouraged to see it as good. As Crystal quoted David Hart on her blog today:
The Christian vision of God and the world ... and of how God is reflected within his creation, is of a different order. For, while the Christian is enjoined to see the the glory of God in all that is, it is not a glory conformed to the dimensions or logic of "nature" as we understand it; in fact, it renders the very category of "nature" mysterious, alters it, elevates it - judges and redeems it .....The Christian eyes see (or should see) a deeper truth in the world than mere "nature" ..... the Christian should see two realities at once, one world (as it were) within another: one the world as we all know it, in all its beauty and terror, grandeur and dreariness, delight and anguish; and the other the world in its first and ultimate truth, not simply "nature" but "creation", an endless sea of glory, radiant with the beauty of God in every part, innocent of all violence. To see in this way is to rejoice and mourn at once, to regard the world as a mirror of infinite beauty, but as glimpsed through the veil of death: it is to see creation in chains, but beautiful as in the beginning of days .....
But, if we are left to Dawkins and Harris...

Day after day, night after night, from time immemorial... At the end of the day, this is all they have to offer. No matter how the argument is couched in terms of evolutionary psychology and the means by which Natural Selection has conditioned us for reciprocity and even altruism and a certain kind of rudimentary morality, this is what it comes down to at the end of the day, no matter how much beautiful art we create along the way. The lion may be graceful and beautiful in the chase leading to the killing, but a killing machine is ultimately what he is.

The strong kill the weak (or more accurately, the "fit" outlast the "unfit").

And this is how it must be.

And that is how it should be.

And your body is basically a vehicle that exists for the purpose of passing on your selfish genes, by granting you the illusion of having a "life" that means something.

A refusal to face reality on our part? As Jeremy Irons' character 'Father Gabriel' says in The Mission, "Maybe so... Maybe so." I won't say it doesn't give me pause sometimes, that God has created a world in which living things must eat other living things in order to survive. Still, if this is what they are selling, this is why they will never succeed in eradicating religious faith.

Monday, October 22, 2007


Not to gloat...

... but I've got to give credit where credit is due.

I'm not the most chauvinistic and rabid of Red Sox fans, but I have to make note of this accomplishment. The Red Sox did an amazing job of coming back from a 3-1 deficit to win the American League Pennant in seven games. Now it's on to face the red-hot Colorado Rockies in the World Series, winners of 21 out of their last 22 games.

The stars are really aligned for this region's teams right now. The rest of the country must want to burn New England down...

The Sox win the ALCS in 7.

The Patriots are 7-0

The Boston College Eagles (football) are 7-0, ranked # 2 overall (unfortunately, I'm a Notre Dame fan... don't ask how they're doing)

The Bruins are still hapless, but at least the Celtics picked up Kevin Garnett.

Jump on the Bandwagon

A little crayon sketch I threw together for the kids once

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Pére Jacques on the Beloved Disciple and the Incarnation

Last year, I put up a post called The Incarnation and the Dignity of the Human Person. There was a quote in there from Fr. Michael Himes that really resonated with me:

Any form of spirituality which belittles humanity, which de-emphasizes the goodness and dignity of the human person, far from being a channel to God, is within the Christian tradition, an obstacle to genuine union with God, to truly being like God, to truly being holy.

We've also had discussions here on Celtic Spirituality and its appreciation for God's presence and visibility in creation, its appreciation for St. John the Beloved Disciple, as well as a post or two on the various theories of atonement.

Back in August, I posted about the film Au revoir, les Enfants, and one of the main characters of that film, Carmelite friar Père Jacques Bunel, who perished at concentration camp KZ Mauthausen shortly after it was liberated at the end of World War II. Recently, I've been reading a short book called Listen to the Silence: A Retreat with Père Jacques, which is a transcription of a retreat that he offered to a group of Carmelite Sisters at Pontoise in the summer of 1943. I liked what he wrote here about the Beloved Disciple and the Incarnation...

Consider those closest to Christ. Saint John the Apostle grasped what was indispensable for a clear understanding of his master. John never tired of probing and querying Christ. We can see how John thus gained richer insights and fuller explanations, precisely because he went to the bother of approaching and asking Christ to clarify each day's lesson. I picture John, walking close behind Christ, as he made his way about the Holy Land. Thus, John came to gain a wealth of intimate knowledge, which the other apostles did not acquire. Herein lies the explanation for the special character of the fourth Gospel. While the other apostles traveled across the then known world on their missionary journeys, John's unique apostolate was to remain close to the Virgin Mary, whom Christ had entrusted to him. Thus were these two great souls conjoined in love and prayer...

There is an adage, which accurately states: "far from the eyes, far from the heart."' Conversely, we need to feel the presence of our beloved in order for the heart to be kept aflame and the relationship to be kept alive. After the loss of a loved one, little by little, the sorrow fades. To be sure, some remembrance remains, but it is not the same as when the person could be seen. So it is with nonbelievers. Unfortunately, they can neither see God nor find his presence in the Eucharist.

Therein lies the problem of why God willed the Incarnation. You are well aware of the great debate among medieval theologians concerning whether or not the Word of God would have become flesh, even if redemption were not necessary. One school of theologians was shocked to think that the Word of God would become flesh solely to overcome sin. They explicitly taught that, even in the absence of sin, the Word would have become flesh, because Christ alone was the adequate explanation for all creation. This vast universe with all its diverse forms of being would, they argued, have been created only in anticipation of the Incarnation.

A familiar, beautiful text from the Christmas liturgy of the hours describes the enthusiastic acclaim of the Word made flesh: "In the fullness of time, God sent his Son" [Gal. 4:4]. Then the heavens shook in admiration, for at the moment chosen by God from all eternity, the Word became flesh! This theological concept opens up vast horizons for us. This concept likewise explains the fall of the angels. For, God would ages ago have granted the angels a view of his Word made flesh and affirmed: "This Child is your King! You shall be his servants!" In this perspective, we come to understand the revolt of Lucifer, who was unwilling to serve this humble human being, and who, as a pure spirit, considered this corporeal being inferior to himself.

These vast theological horizons are worthy of deep meditation in prayerful silence. Despite the debate concerning whether God had anticipated the Incarnation independently of human sin or vice versa, it is nonetheless true that Christ is the way to reach, to touch, and to come to God. You are aware of how strongly Saint Teresa insisted that her Sisters faithfully follow Christ in order to find God. You are likewise aware of how often the vocations of countless great saints are rooted in the humanity of Christ. The divine and the human meet in marvelous mystery in Christ!

Saint Francis of Assisi experienced a vision in which Christ appeared to him and said: "Francis, will you please rebuild my church?" Francis set himself to work and came to realize that the Lord wished that the Church itself, not the chapel of San Damiano, be rebuilt.' (Saint Therese of the Child Jesus, gazing upon a picture of the bleeding hands of Christ, understood that the Lord's blood continues to be shed. She longed to collect this blood and to offer it to God for the salvation of the world.) Countless others have likewise found the source of their vocations in the contemplation of Christ. Precisely because he is simultaneously God and man, Christ is paramount. He must be paramount for you, as the Scriptures confirm. There we read: "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" [Jn 14:6]. In their Letters, Saint Peter and Saint Paul consistently emphasize this theme: "Christ has given us an example in his life so that we can be examples in our lives." Elsewhere Saint John tell us: "The Father loves the Son and has given everything over to him ...we have seen his glory ...and from his fullness we have all received, grace in place of grace..."' Saint Paul notes that in Christ "are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" [Col. 2:3]. Finally, turning again to Saint John, we rediscover the reason for the Incarnation and for Christ's earthly mission: "You sent me into the world, my heavenly Father, so that men might see with their own eyes the light which you gave me before the creation of the world."

You will undoubtedly be able to search out other similar texts in the sublime Gospel of Saint John and in the remarkable Letters of Saint Paul. In each instance you will surely see Saint John and Saint Paul stressing that we cannot come to God except through Christ.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

My Paul Problem: Part III. Towards a Solution... Paula Fredriksen on the Dangers of Anachronism

Paula Fredriksen on anachronism in NT Scholarship, the need for "willed ignorance", and the importance of letting the ancients be ancient.

Animal Sacrifice in a Roman Setting.

Krister Stendahl's Three Rules of Religious Understanding:

(1) When you are trying to understand another religion, you should ask the adherents of that religion and not its enemies.

(2) Don't compare your best to their worst.

(3) Leave room for "holy envy." (By this Stendahl meant that you should be willing to find elements in the other religious tradition and faith that you admire and wish could, in some way, be reflected in your own religious tradition or faith.)


"[From] the World Council of Churches [to] Catholic liberation theologians, Jesus's Jewishness is frequently erased. In the churches, as Jesus continues to be the symbol for all that is socially good, Christian minis­ters and laity alike depict his Jewish background as the epitome of all that is wrong with the world. If Jesus preaches good news to the poor, so the common impression goes, "the Jews" must be preaching good news to the rich. If Jesus welcomes sinners, "the Jews" must have pushed them away. If Jesus speaks to or heals women, "the Jews" must have set up a patriar­chal society that makes the Taliban look progressive...

... In the academy, certain schools of thought have managed to distin­guish Jesus, whether implicitly or explicitly, from any sort of "Judaism:" The popular push to depict Jesus as a Galilean and see Galilee as reli­giously and ethnically distinct from Judea winds up conveying the impres­sion that "Judaism," with its Temple and its leadership, is quite distinct from the Galilean Jesus. The popular image of Jesus as a "peasant" often serves not to connect him to his fellow Jews but to distinguish him from them, since "the Jews" remain in the popular imagination not peasants but Pharisees and Sadducees or, in academic terms, members of the retainer and elite classes. Worse, the lingering view that Jesus dismissed basic Jewish practices, such as the Laws concerning Sabbath observance and ritual purity, turns Jesus away from his Jewish identity and makes him into a liberal Protestant.

Historically, Jesus should be seen as continuous with the line of Jewish teachers and prophets, for he shares with them a particular view of the world and a particular manner of expressing that view. Like Amos and Isaiah, Hosea and Jeremiah, he used arresting speech, risked political persecution, and turned traditional family values upside down in order to proclaim what he believed God wants, the Torah teaches, and Israel must do. This historical anchoring need not and should not, in Christian teaching, pre­clude or overshadow Jesus's role in the divine plan. He must, in the Chris­tian tradition, be more than just a really fine Jewish teacher. But he must be that Jewish teacher as well.
Amy-Jill Levine, Professor of New Testament Studies at Vanderbilt University Divinity School (emphases mine)

In Part I and Part II, I described some of the discomfort I'd felt regarding the Apostle Paul. I described how arguments between Catholic and Protestant apologists on the meaning of the writings of St. Paul, and on the apparent dichotomy between St. Paul and St. James on "faith and works" had left me uncomfortable about Paul himself in general... how he seemed on the surface to me to be much more of a Hellenstic Greek thinker than the Pharisee he claimed to have been. If left to standard, "orthodox" apologetic answers alone, I'd have remained unconvinced and unsatisfied. Here is where some help in resolving these doubts came to me from unlikely sources...

There were too many Catholics throughout our history who persecuted Jews brutally because they had rejected the Messiah. They had crucified the Savior. It was a charge of deicide. Blood libel ("let his blood be upon us and our children"). Unfortunately,this is part of our legacy, a history that includes harsh polemics, forced conversions, expulsions, endemic discrimination, and pogroms.

When Protestantism came along, rather than ameliorating this, their theologians simply piled on by adding the caricaturization of Judaism as a religion of legalism and works righteousness, which had certainly been present but had not really been the dominant strand of Catholic thought up until that time. When Luther was sitting in the tower pondering St Paul's Letter to the Romans, and came upon “justification by faith”, he thought he had come up with the key for reaching out to the Jews. He thought to himself, “The Papists have been so horrible to the Jews, no wonder they won’t convert. If I can only speak to them, and show them what Paul was really trying to say, perhaps it will open their eyes, and they will come to believe!”Luther went to the most learned rabbis in Germany and made his case to them. They listened, but they had absolutely no idea what he was talking about. As far as they were concerned, they were already living by faith. This put Luther into such a rage that he turned on them viciously, referring to them as “kinder der teuffel”, children of the devil. He wrote about “The Jews and their lies”, and died with a curse for the Jews on his lips.

When the enlightenment came along, instead of ameliorating that, the tendency only increased, although overt forms of crude violence and discrimination eventually faded. Jesus was increasingly being stripped away from anything that smacked of superanaturalism, in addition to being pulled away even further from his Jewish context. The "pure religion of the heart" preached by Jesus was contrasted in favorable terms against a "dead" religion of traditions, rules, forms, burdens, and outward appearances. As Amy-Jill Levine intimates above, it is still a trend that continues today, even with the best of intentions, in that Jesus is seen in liberal circles as resisting an oppressive, exclusive, anti-feminist, patriarchal, legalistic religious system.

Is all this accurate?

Today, even certain Protestant scholars like James Dunn, who have no intention of sticking up for the Catholic Church, realize that Martin Luther was reading back into the text trying to project the medieval Church onto 1st century Judaism.

The above-mentioned Krister Stendhal is a Lutheran NT scholar and the Bishop Emeritus of Stockholm. This site has a blurb on Stendahl’s central thesis:

According to Stendahl, the quest of the plagued conscience began with Augustine whose Confessions are "the first great document in the history of introspective conscience" and climaxed with Luther. Prior to Augustine, the church had read Paul accurately in terms of the question, what does the Messiah's arrival mean for (a) the law (not legalism) and (b) the relationship between Jews and Gentiles? Since Augustine, the church has misread Paul in terms of the question, how can I find a gracious God? Luther and the subsequent reformers read Paul's statements about faith and works, law and gospel, Jews and Gentiles "in the framework of late medieval piety" such that the law quickly became associated with legalism. "Where Paul was concerned about the possibility for Gentiles to be included in the messianic community, his statements are now read as answers to the quest for assurance about man's salvation out of a common human predicament". To illustrate what he means, Stendahl appeals to Luther's understanding of Galatians 3:24 to illustrate the second use of the law. Whereas Paul clearly envisioned the law as the custodian for the Jews until the arrival of the Messiah, Luther reversed the argument to assert that the law is the schoolmaster for everyone to crush self-righteousness and lead to Christ. Furthermore, the law is no longer the law of Moses which has become obsolete, but God's moral imperative as such. Stendahl concludes, "Paul's argument that the Gentiles must not and should not come to Christ via the Law, i.e., via circumcision, etc. has turned into a statement according to which all men must come to Christ with consciences properly convicted by the Law and its insatiable requirements for righteousness. So drastic is the reinterpretation once the original framework of 'Jews and Gentiles' is lost, and the Western problems of conscience become its unchallenged and self-evident substitute".

Is it possible that the whole antithesis between Gospel and Law is built on a cardboard cutout of Judaism? Is it a straw-man version of Judaism that didn't exist in the first century and does not exist now? Most NT scholarship (especially that which follows the German scholars of the 19th and 20th centuries) has St. Paul presenting Judaism as a religion of works righteousness, in which a man tries to earn God's acceptance through works of piety and good deeds, and that the Law for them was something arid, burdensome, and a curse, because it could not be kept completely. The Jew becomes a metaphor for "the religious man" who is contrasted unfavorably to the Christian who relies fully upon the grace of God. Many Protestant and Catholic and Jewish scholars over the last 30 years who've studied Second Temple Judaism have shown that this caricaturization is demonstrably false. Having had many close Jewish friends in my life, I know from my own anecdotal experience that it is false and has nothing to do with what they think about God. I once found what I thought to be an illustrative quote:

When I walk through the streets of a city and a Christian missionary meets me, the first question he asks me is: 'What do you do for the salvation of your soul?' I have never thought of salvation, it is not a Jewish problem. My problem is what mitzvah I can do next. Am I going to say barachah? Am I going to be kind to another person? To study Torah? How am I going to prepare for the Sabbath? Those are my problems. The central issue in Judaism is the mitzvah, the sacred act. And it is the greatness of man that he can do a mitzvah. How great we are that we can fulfill the will of God!
-- Abraham Joshua Heschel

For Jews, the Torah is not a curse, but through its study and application, it is a way to draw closer to God and to experience the divine in everyday life. They don't keep the Torah to earn their way into the membership in the people of God but to express it. Do they believe in faith and grace? I'd have to say yes, if faith means trusting God and believing that He will be faithful to His promises, and grace means believing that belonging to the covenant is a gracious gift and call, and that God is a God who lets both mercy and justice abound.

Jews don't believe in a false dichotomy between faith and works, but see them as an integrated whole. So do we as Catholics. Jews believe in Divine Providence that is compatible with free will. So do we as Catholics. Jews believe that God is totally transcendent, but that he is also immanent in the sacred acts of Mitzvah. So do we Catholics in our sacramentalism. We look for grace everywhere, including physical, tangible things. Any Jew who walks into a Catholic Mass will recognize elements of his own synagouge services.

Certain sects with Judaism were waiting for a redeemer, the Messiah. The Gentiles were beyond all hope. Christ came for both. The problem facing St. Paul and the early Church was how they were going to bring all of these Gentiles into what had been an exclusively Jewish movement. If he said that righteousness was from the Law, he would be excluding Gentiles, or at the very best, forever relegating them to second-class status. He knew that trying to force the Gentiles under the Law, which was foreign to them, and never meant for them, wasn't going to work. He knew that it would be inevitable that they would slide back into their pagan ways. I think that at least in some ways, this is what an accurate reading of his letters indicates. Sad that the circumstances of history have "parted the ways" as far apart as they are now....

There are two historical-Jesus scholars who write for the mass market that I enjoy reading. One is John Dominic Crossan, even though I think he's had a tendency in the past to project certain aspects of Irish history onto 1st Century Judea. He doesn't do that as much as he used to. Although he'd be considered "heterodox" in his views, I think he carries himself as the epitome of what it is to be a Christian, in addition to being a brilliant writer. The other writer is Paula Fredriksen, the Aurelio Professor of Scripture at Boston University. I find her writing accessible and sensible, and she seems to me to be the most honest about following the texts wherever they will take her with the least amount of pre-suppositions and biases directing her. Then again, maybe I just have a soft spot for her because she's a Wellesley College grad. :-)

Regarding her final and ultimate conclusions regarding Jesus, I am not in agreement with her. I don't think she expects all of her readers to be. As I've said before, the full humanity and full divinity of Jesus are non-negotiables for me, along with the Creed. As indicated above, Amy-Jill Levine understands this, as does Fredriksen. They, as in all of us who believe in God, take certain matters on faith. As noted previously in this quote by Geza Vermes, "I have reached the point where my role as historian comes to an end. Preaching is not my job. If I have set out truths which some readers find meaningful and applicable to their lives, it is up to them to choose how to implement them."

Here are some excerpts from Fredriksen's Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews: A Jewish Life and the Emergence of Christianity. In these passages, she stresses the importance of taking on a certain kind of "willed ingorance" in looking into the scriptures. We know more about how events eventually unfolded than the authors did, which in turn colors the way we subsequently look at them. We have to avoid the dangers of anachronism - of projecting our views and concerns onto texts that may have been entirely different from the ways that the ancient authors themselves understood them and meant them. This is especially true in the case of St Paul.

The question of Jesus' ethics leads us directly to the question of his attitude toward the Law. New Testament scholars frequently draw a distinction between the Law's "ritual demands" (and segue from there to purity codes, sacrifices, and the Temple) and its "ethical demands" (love of others, care for the poor, and so on), and argue that Jesus (and Paul, and early Christianity generally) rejected or discarded the former, favoring as of greater importance the latter. See E.P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism for an analysis of modern Christian scholarship's difficulties with ancient Jewish law: He notes that "ritual" becomes associated with "mere externality," and therefore with inauthentic religion, "ethics" with "internal" and thus "authentic" religion. These ways of thinking, he observes, trace back partly to the existentializing analyses of Bultmann in the earlier part of this century, partly to the Protestant critique of Catholicism embedded in New Testament scholarship more generally, given the discipline's birth in the late Renaissance, which coincided with the Protestant Reformation. Perhaps needless to say-but I will say it anyway-such a reading is hopelessly anachronistic and, to the extent that doing history requires sympathetic imagination, only obscures the ancient people whose lives and values we seek to reconstruct...

What is the single biggest difference between the religious sensibility of people in the modern West and our cultural ancestors of twenty centuries ago? When I put this question to my students, they invariably name distinctions of religious ideas: ancient people worshiped many gods, but we are monotheists; ancient people saw demons or astral influences as causing disease, but thanks to scientific medicine, we battle the virus, the bacterium, the errant blood cell; ancient people followed the courses of heaven, the stars and the planets, to understand the world and their place in it, whereas we look to terrestrial realities-society, economics, politics to analyze ours.

These answers have their virtues-though I have too often encountered fellow moderns who cast star charts or dodge demons to be entirely convinced. But I do not think that the biggest difference lies in the realm of religious ideas. Ancient Jews were monotheists but also fretted about planets and demons; for that matter, certain pagan philosophies had their own forms of monotheism. What has changed, altered utterly, is religious behavior. Worship in antiquity involved blood sacrifices. Universally, the worship of a deity-virtually any deity-involved the slaughter of animals and the ritual redistribution of their bodies: some parts burned on the altar to the divinity, some parts eaten by the priests, other parts distributed to the worshipers. And since proximity to a god's altar meant, in some sense, proximity to holiness as well, all ancient peoples who offered at traditional altars, whether pagan or Jewish, underwent rites of purification. Purificatory rites helped prepare the worshiper for his or her encounter, through sacrifice, with the sacred.

Tauroctony - Mithras slaying a sacred bull before the Sun God


PAGAN PURITY LAWS, like paganism itself, tended to be local, particular to the specific cult of a god. Their laws, when public (in mystery cults, silence was the rule), circulated much less widely than the Jewish scriptures: We find them inscribed in stone, on tablets associated with sanctuaries, or alluded to in ancient poetry and literature. Water rituals, abstention from sex, fasting or avoidance of certain foods-we might think of these as musical notes composing the scale of purification techniques. All ancient peoples concerned with purity expressed their religious culture by sounding these notes: Ancient pagan purification rites and sacrificial protocol, in technique similar to those observed by Jews, were thus particular variations played on this universal theme of worship. When commenting on what Jews did, pagans, whether admiring or hostile, would name circumcision or Sabbath observance or refusal to eat pork: These practices struck them as odd. Jewish purification and sacrifices, however, elicited no such comment, because in the religious sensibility of antiquity, such practices were simply normal. The thing most foreign to modern Western religiousness about ancient Judaism-the sacrifices and their attendant purity regulations-struck ancient observers as one of the few normal things Jews did.

We know much more about ancient Jewish laws regulating purity than we do pagan ones, because the Jewish laws are still published: Their establishment, together with the correct protocol for offerings, constitutes much of the matter between God and Moses in the opening books of the Bible. The biblical narrative specifies purity as a condition for a person's approaching the Divine Presence-in the language of the story, appearing before the tent of meeting; in Jesus' period, going to the Temple. Impurity in this context is an actual, objective, usually temporary state. It might be incurred through certain natural (and often involuntary) bodily processes, such as ejaculation, menstruation, childbirth or miscarriage, or various genital discharges. Certain defiling sub­stances or objects-human corpses especially; also scale disease (the biblical "leprosy," which could afflict clothing, houses, and furniture as well as persons); the bodies of some animals-could convey their impurity through contact or even proximity. Scripture assumes that everybody at some point would be in such a condition some of the time-it was virtually unavoidable-and most people were in such a condition most of the time. But Scripture also prescribed the means to remove impurity. A system of "wash-and-wait"-immersion and observing a liminal time period (until sunset; seven days; forty days: it varied, depending on the case)-cleansed most impurities.

Many of these purity laws specifically regulated access to the Temple. They were in principle incumbent upon all Israel, though priests, given their special cultic responsibilities, had additional purity rules peculiar to their station. The High Holidays especially occasioned huge effort to ensure that pilgrims were in the appropriate condition of purity to stand before God: Beyond the descriptions remaining in ancient literature, our evidence lies embedded in the very stones of the Temple Mount itself, where today traces of a multitude of immersion pools stand in mute witness to the great numbers of Jews that used them on their way to the altar. The Temple was designed and prepared to accommodate great numbers of worshipers.

The sheer size of the Temple and the archaeological remnants of its purification technology point to another social and cultural fact about ancient Judaism that distinguishes it from traditional paganism. The religions of antiquity's majority culture were local; as one passed from sanctuary to sanctuary, from a grove sacred to one god to a valley or mountain sacred to another, one encountered the rules peculiar to that individual god's site. The priests of that cult would ensure that visitors acquainted themselves with and observed these particular rules, lest they pollute the altar and so incur the god's anger. The cultic worship of the God of Israel, similarly, stood localized in Jerusalem, around the altar, in the sanctuary; similarly, his priests (and their assistants, the Levites) supervised. But unlike paganism, Judaism was not restricted by locality, and consequently instruction in its cult did not depend on direct contact with its priests. Knowledge of its traditions, its sacrificial may be acceptable" (Rom 15:16). Behind the English of the Revised Standard Version are Paul's words leitourgos ("minister") and hierourgeo ("priestly service"). In Greek, the first word means specifically "a priest's attendant," someone who assists with the sacrifices; the second, literally, means "priest's work," that is, making offerings at the altar. And since Paul in this passage names Jerusalem as his destination, we have a further clue that these images are not generically sacrificial, that is, related to just any first-century priestly service or priestly cult to any god, but they evoke specifically the cult of the God of Israel. For Paul, behind hieros, the Greek word for priest, stands the Hebrew cohen, the priest who in Jerusalem offers sacrifices to Israel's God.

If Paul, a diaspora Jew and active spokesman for the post-Resurrection faith in Jesus as Christ, so naturally and immediately esteemed the Temple and its cult, by that much more should we expect to see that same esteem evident in the pre-Resurrection mission and message of Jesus. But the Gospel sources complicate our view of him on this issue, because they are written after, perhaps in some sense in light of, the Jews' war with Rome. Thus, though the Gospels' narrative context is, roughly, the first third of the first century, from the final years of Herod the Great (d. 4 B.C.E.) to Pontius Pilate's term of office (26-36 C.E.), the Gospel writers' historical context is, roughly, the final third of the first century, c. 70-100 C.E. Between these authors and their subject yawned the unbridgeable breach in Israel's traditional worship. The evangelists' position as regards the Temple, then, is closer to ours, despite the nineteen centuries that intervene between us, than to that of those generations who immediately precede them. They, like us, know something that none of the historical figures about whom they wrote could have known: that is, that Jerusalem's Temple was no more.

This knowledge cannot but affect what the evangelists saw, and what we see, when we look backward. Both we and they are in the position of someone reading a novel or watching a film for the second time. Gestures and actions that the first time through seemed simply to give texture to the story now throb with heightened poignancy, because we know where things will end...

So, too, with the evangelists. Whatever the traditions they inherited about Jesus and Jerusalem, they received them in a period with a much-altered religious reality: the cult mandated by God to the Jewish people, whose details stretched through four of the first five books of Scripture, whose performance had been the particular responsibility of the Jerusalem priesthood, and whose manner of execution had fueled the wars of interpretation and the vigorous sectarianism of the late Second Temple period, had ceased to exist. Inherited sayings and stories about Jesus and the Temple, or about Jesus and the laws of purity concerning the Temple, or about Jesus and those groups whose piety focused especially on the Temple, accordingly acquired a dimension added by the evangelists' own, post-70 perspective: Jesus spoke about and interacted with an institution and its religious authorities that had vanished. How could he not have known what would so shortly happen? What could God have meant by permitting such a massive destruction? The evangelists' efforts to respond to these questions intimately affected their retelling of tradition.

So, too, with historical scholarship: It also is burdened with (in this sense) knowing too much. Our retrospective knowledge unobtrusively shapes what we see. We know that the Temple ceased being a focus of active Christian piety soon after the lifetime of Jesus; that most of the purity laws soon became irrelevant to the evolving movement; that the churches would become increasingly Gentile and, eventually, anti-Jewish. And this knowledge in turn can lend weight to those modern readings of New Testament material whereby Jesus himself seems alienated from or hostile or indifferent to the concerns and commitments of his Jewish contemporaries. The retrospect inevitable to the historical project can, ironically, threaten to collapse the distance between the present and the past. And such collapse in turn threatens the historical project both morally and intellectually.

Morally, this diminution of difference between present and past can lead us to project what is meaningful to us back onto and into our subject of inquiry. Especially when studying religious texts such as the Gospels or culturally central figures such as Paul and, even more, Jesus, the desire to have these ancient voices speak immediately to the present, to be spiritually and morally consonant with current concerns, too often pulls them out of their own historical context into territory familiar to later generations but foreign to them. We see the results in the Christ of the western Imperial church, depicted in a sixth-century Italian mosaic as a Roman army officer. We see them in the Jesus of liberal Protestant scholars in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, who emerges from their weighty tomes as a religious liberal himself We see them now, as the Jesus of the late twentieth-century academy battles nationalism, sexism, and social hierarchy. Such a Jesus is immediately relevant to the concerns shaping these later contexts. But his relevance comes purchased at the price of anachronism.

To do history both honorably and well, then, requires the moral discipline of allowing the gap of twenty centuries to open between us and our ancient subjects. What matters to us, what is meaningful to us, will coincide at best only rarely with what mattered to them. They lived in a different world. Some aspects of this world can be felt as well in ours: We, too, can understand the social consequences of oppression and poverty, the spiritual effects of prayer. But some aspects will remain obdurately other, forever outside our experience and our categories of meaning, precisely because the ancient past is ancient. It is not our own world at all, but a place where leprosy and death defile, where ashes and water make clean, and where one approaches the altar of God with purifications, blood offerings, and awe.

Respecting their historical integrity and moral autonomy, allowing Jesus or Paul or the evangelists as late Second Temple Jews or post-Second Temple Christians to be concerned with what concerned them and not with what concerns us-for which they had no responsibility and of which they had no knowledge-is the only way to see them in their full humanity. Anything less simply drapes disguised versions of ourselves in antique garb, presenting figures in a costume drama who comfortably inhabit a modern stage, not the ancient past. Thus, whether reading the Gospels themselves or assessing modern studies of them, we need to ask if later sensibilities affect the presentation of the past, the past as truly lived by Jesus and by his contemporaries-sympathizers, admirers, opponents, enemies.

The "backward" thrust of history also poses intellectual dangers. Again like the reader of the twice-read novel or the viewer of the twice-seen film, we cannot help knowing more than we should. Beyond the moral discipline of allowing for otherness, then, we need to cultivate as well the intellectual discipline of viewing the past as if we knew less than we know.

This is difficult precisely because history in its very nature is retrospective. We start from our vantage point in the present and work our selves back into an imagined past. But though history is always done backward, life is only lived forward. We all move from our present into the radical unknowability of the future. If in our historical work we wish to reconstruct the lived experience of the ancient people we study, then we must forswear our retrospective knowledge, because it gives us a perspective on their lives that they themselves could not possibly have had. We, looking back now, know how their stories ended; they, living their lives, did not.

To understand our ancient people from the evidence they left behind, we must affect a willed naivete. We must pretend to an innocence of the future that echoes their own. Only then can we hope to realistically re-create them in their own historical circumstances. Only by accepting-indeed, respecting and protecting-the otherness of the past, can we hope to glimpse the human faces of those we seek.

I propose that we start the search for Jesus of Nazareth by looking at an activity ostensibly common to both modern and ancient culture: the worship of God.

For anyone still hanging in here with me on this, Fredriksen does have some interesting takes on the various interpretations of what St. Paul meant, and the relative strengths and weaknesses of each... If anyone is interested.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Tony Hendra, Father Joe, and Quarr Abbey

Quarr Abbey, on the Isle of Wight

A few posts ago we were talking about the movie This is Spinal Tap and it reminded me of a post I'd been meaning to write for a long time, but that I was also reticent about taking on for certain reasons. Back in 2004, I was given a great holiday read called Father Joe: The Man Who Saved My Life. It was written by Tony Hendra. You'd remember Tony Hendra in Spinal Tap as the guy who played the part of band manager Ian Faith. In addition to that acting role, Hendra is also known as the longtime editor of The National Lampoon (back in the days when it was funny) and other vehicles of sharp parody and satire such as Spy Magazine and a British television program called Splitting Images.

Tony Hendra is a somewhat controversial and complicated character, which is why I have a postscript... a caveat of sorts... at the end of this post.

The book itself is a wonderful read, and very inspirational, not so much for the biographical details of the ups-and-downs of Hendra's life, but for the beautiful description of his mentor and the man whom he gave credit to for saving his soul - a Benedictine monk at Quarr Abbey by the name of Dom Joseph Warrilow.

The story begins with Hendra describing his growing up and coming of age in a diffident Catholic household in Hertfordshire, England, in the mid 1950s. Young Tony is enamored of nature and at the age of 14, exploring the woods and glens near his home, he comes upon the trailer of Ben and Lily, a married couple that he has noticed before in his own parish. Upon getting acquainted, Ben, an intellectual, cerebral, and somewhat repressed and bloodless convert, learns that Tony has had no proper instruction and catechesis in the Catholic Faith. Ben takes it upon himself to provide this, and Tony starts spending a lot of time with Ben and Lily, under Ben's instruction.

Lily, however, who is feeling lonely and frustrated in her marriage, takes a shine to Tony and things start happening in an escalating fashion between them. Finally, Ben catches them together just barely before they would have been in flagrante delicto. Tony is afraid that Ben will attack him, but that is not the way Ben reacts to anything. Several days later, after insisting on praying a Rosary together, Ben addresses Tony:

"We're confronted with an unfortunate situation," said Ben... "You and I must resolve it." What did that mean? Fight a duel?

"We will have to bring the matter to a priest," he continued. I began to panic. Presenting Father Bleary with our unfortunate situation would not only do no good, it would lead inevitably to parental retribution.

"But not just any priest," Ben continued. There was a monastery he knew of, in the South of England, where dwelt a monk whom he and Lily had consulted on some prior marital matter. We-meaning he and I--would travel there as soon as possible. It happened to be the school Easter holidays, so we could leave in the next day or two. He would make the arrangements. He was willing to tell my parents the white lie that it was part of my instruction.

"This monk," pronounced Ben, looking at me directly for the first time, his cold, gray, alien eyes made colder and grayer and more alien by the permanently skewed lenses "will know how to handle the matter.” The heart of the matter, I thought. Ben's tamped-down hostility struck a chill into my gut. ' The matter was me.

Ben and Tony take the ferry across the cold and choppy sea to the Benedictine monastery on the Isle of Wight, Quarr Abbey. Tony is shown to a separate room, where he waits in dread and trepidation for the visit from the mysterious priest that Ben has told him of. All sorts of horrifying confessional scenarios are going through his head. Finally, there is a knock on the door, and the terrified Tony stands and advances to the door.

The sandals first. They were huge and stuck out from floppy, flapping black skirts at an angle of sixty degrees. They contained the flattest pair of feet imaginable. Thick black socks could not conceal their chronic knobbliness. Knobbly too: the big pink hands like rock lobsters sticking out from frayed black cuffs, the scrawny neck rising from its frayed black collar, the award-winning Adam's apple. A fleshy triangular nose sported granny glasses that must have predated the Great War. The crowning glory: gigantic ears, wings of gristle, at right angles to the rather pointy close-shaven skull. The long rubbery lips were stretched in the goofiest of grins. Father Joseph Warrilow was as close to a cartoon as you could get without being in two dimensions.

"Ben-my dear!" He came toward Ben, arms outstretched for the big hug, but Ben, no devotee of physical contact, converted it into a handshake. Holding on tight, the good monk hustled him toward the door. "Out we go," he grinned at an open-mouthed Ben, who began to protest as the door closed on him. "Tony and I want to be alone." He turned to me and gave me the hug instead. Then a smacky kiss on the cheek, as if we'd known each other for years.

"What terrible weather you brought with you, my dear." He gathered his skirts around his knees and plopped into the only armchair. "But it's always remarkably wet in Holy Week. Then on Easter Sunday, out comes the sun!" He had a hurried, eager, very English manner of speech, his rs always threatening to become vs.

I went to kneel beside the chair as I had with Father Bleary when he heard my confession in his lair. "No no no no," said Father Joseph Warrilow seventeen times. "Sit down next to me." He reached over for a little wooden stool at the table and pulled it to him, patting the seat.

I sat down. Without looking at me he took my hand in his-big, surprisingly soft-and held it on the arm of the chair. His long mobile lips pursed and unpursed several times; he blinked rapidly until finally his eyes closed. Evidently it was his way of concentrating his energies. His hand relaxed slightly over mine and I began to feel its warmth. The intimacy took me aback, but I was drawn in by something stronger. There was a stillness in the room, the same stillness I'd noticed earlier when we'd arrived, this time without any apprehension. A calm suffused me, a physical sensation running through my body like a hot drink on a cold night. For the first time in a week, all my fears melted away.

"Now, dear," he said, eyes still closed, "tell me everything."

An editorial comment of mine at this juncture... In his review of the book, Andrew Sullivan acknowledges how these passages might make people uneasy today in the wake of the sexual abuse scandal, but Sullivan points out how a different dynamic is at work here:
A Catholic reading this description today -- perhaps anyone reading this today -- is struck, sadly, by the intimacy, an intimacy some priests have terribly betrayed by sexual abuse. But here we see the real beauty of such intimacy in a spiritual context; and I have rarely read anyone since Gerard Manley Hopkins who understands the Catholic sacramentalism of the physical world as deeply as Hendra. For Catholics, God is everywhere in nature, and Hendra revels in the tangibility of faith.

So I did. I told him how Lily and I had met, how it had started, where it had started, the things she said to me, the things I said to her, the kissing, the existential silences, our deception of Ben, the dinginess of the trailer, Gallic versus Teutonic, the religious indoctrination, the parallels with Graham Greene, everything I could think of. His lips continued to work, pursing and unpursing; occasionally there was a flurry of blinking, but his eyes stayed closed as he listened without comment or prompt, concentrating on every aspect of what I had to say, as if he were meditating as I spoke, murmuring "yes yes yes" from time to time, his whole knobbly, lopsided body focused on my story. When I came to the parts that had made me privately laugh or had seemed absurd, he smiled and nodded but didn't laugh. The only time he frowned was when I threw in a self castigating "mea culpa," as if this was an irrelevant intrusion into the narrative.

Inevitably we came to the part I dreaded, the breaking point, the unhappy ending…To my complete surprise, this didn't seem to merit a different response from anything else I'd said. His lips went on working, his eyes, as always, closed. They didn't purse and unpurse at any greater tempo or blink any more rapidly. None of it seemed to warrant any of the shock or horror I had anticipated.

And so my tale was done.

A beat of silence, his busy face at rest. "Poor Lily," he murmured. It drifted across my mind, as he sat there saying nothing further, that this had been a cue; he'd gotten me to open up, now wham - punishment! The door swinging open, younger, tougher monks pulling me to my feet ... Even as the fatuous thought passed into the limbo of fatuous thoughts, I knew I'd just met a man from whom would come none of the usual responses I'd learned to expect from priests. Some unknown fuel drove his engine. Gentleness bubbled out from the funny figure in the scruffy black robes like clear water from solid rock. It was flowing into me through his dry warm hand. I felt on the brink of learning an entirely new set of possible responses to the world.

He hadn't questioned a thing I'd said; he hadn't asked me to repeat or clarify, or was I sure that so-and-so had happened or that I hadn't left something important out? He seemed to assume that I was telling the truth-which I'd tried to the limit of my ability to do - or he knew by instinct that my account could be trusted. That alone was remarkable: no authority figure had ever failed to question me, directly or indirectly, about any account I'd ever given of anything. Adolescent life is governed by cross-examination.

When he finally spoke, his words were slow and stilted, his face beginning to work again, as if he were trying to puzzle out what was being said by someone speaking to him through a spiritual earpiece.

"You've done nothing truly wrong, Tony dear. God's love has brought you here before any real harm could be done. The only sin you've committed is the sin of... s-s-selfishness."

The soft, hesitant emphasis on the word made it quite clear he regarded this as a far more serious crime than the one that was officially on the charge sheet.

The verdict was gentle, final, the last word of, well, a father. A father unlike mine or anyone's I knew, unlike the men we were accustomed to call Father or even-according to all reports-the God we called Father. I'd confided something that had confused and tormented and terrified me to this father. And the matter had been handled.

"You won't see her for a while, will you dear? Not alone, anyway. It wouldn't be fair to her."

I nodded, swept by waves of relief, then by a new consternation, that I'd never once considered the pain of a hungry, trapped, unhappy woman. Yes, selfishness. Lily came into sharp focus; I saw her anguished, longing face, a real person with a real inner life whom I had treated as a mere extension of my nerve endings, a prop for my young posturings on the stage of adulthood. For the first time, I felt toward her something like love, or at least the gentleness I owed her. How had he done that?

He murmured the words of absolution and made a tiny cross on my forehead with a big long thumb.

"No penance. I think you've already done a good deal of penance, haven't you?" He shot me a little grin, sidelong and conspiratorial. And how did he know that?

He got up awkwardly and a fuss of departure began, words tumbling out of him in his funny rushing prattle. I didn't want him to go. I'd never felt so safe and secure with anyone in my life. I wanted to tell him everything that had ever happened in my few years. There were a million things I wanted to ask him. No, two million. He'd been with me only five or ten minutes, for Heaven's sake. (I realized later that it had been nearly three quarters of an hour.)

"Can't you stay a bit, Father?"

He chortled. "I'd love to, my dear; I'm a night owl-if they'd let me, I'd talk all night. But these old bones must be up at the crack of dawn for Vigils. Now don't you try and come like these others, silly things--it's much too early for sensible people. We'll see each other again and talk and talk. God bless you, my dear."

Again the hug, again the swirl of skirts, again the super-sandals squeaking away down the linoleum.

Then silence. And peace.

From this point on the relationship between Tony and Ben & Lily is over, but it is just begining between Tony and Fr. Dom Joseph Warrilow ("Father Joe"). Completely put at ease by the wisdom and the uncritical and unconditional love put forth by Father Joe, Tony starts visiting Quarr Abbey on a regular basis, and becomes somewhat of a "little monk" himself, learning under Father Joe's tutelage while also diving into spiritual classics like the writings of Dame Julian, Thomas à Kempis, and Meister Eckhart. Finally, after undergoing what he terms his own "Dark Night of the Soul", he announces his firm intention of entering Quarr Abbey as a postulant after he finishes school. While he is extremely fond of Tony, Father Joe has his doubts about Tony's suitability to be a monk, but even he seems to come on board eventually as Tony comes close to finishing up at St. Alban's School. Tony's father, however, will have none of it, and is determined to see Tony attend Cambridge University when he gets the chance to do so (based upon superior grades), and that is what Tony does.

At Cambridge... the vocation goes right out the window. Religion falls before political consciousness and the excesses of the Baby Boom generation. It's the 1960s, and Tony discovers at university the nucleus of what later will become the Monty Python troupe and the power of humor and political satire. Tony decides that his mission in life is not going to be a life of saving the world through prayer in an abbey, but in saving the world through laughter. Thus begins his career as a professional parodist and political satirist, which takes him to eventually to the US, Hollywood, and beyond.

Still, Tony never loses touch with Father Joe, attempting to visit him at least once a year at Quarr.

Not only has Tony gone on to embrace New York and Hollywood and their attending celebrity circles, but he has also embraced a dissolute and debauched lifestyle that often goes along with those circles. Father Joe is never harsh and is never judgmental. I do have to say at this point that there were times when I was reading this when I thought that Father Joe needed to show him a little bit more "tough love." There were times when I think Tony needed a kick in the ass, but it occurs to me that maybe Father Joe had his own gentle way of kicking him in the ass. Here, on one of his visits, Tony tries to explain to him just what he does for a living when he's put on the spot...

"You've never told me much about satire. How does it work?"

"Good question. First of all, it's cruel and unfair. It hurts people and it's supposed to. You take on the coloring of your target's thoughts and beliefs and exaggerate them mercilessly. But you can't just do it arbitrarily, without knowing them. You have to be inside his skin. Or, in the case of Maggie Thatcher, her hide."

"Good heavens. It sounds horrible."

"It's not a pretty business."

He walked thoughtfully for a dozen paces. Much twitching of lips and eyebrows. Setting lobes aflutter.

"Tony dear, by `inside' Mrs. Thatcher's, er, `hide,' do you mean that you're thinking the way she does?"

"Part of you is, yes."

"And that would be the unpleasant or unkind side of her. The side you want to criticize with your satire?"


"So that would mean that you have an unpleasant or unkind side too?"

"Well, er ... no, not necessarily."

How had we got here so fast? I was supposed to be the ex­pert.

"It's a question of mimesis," I explained. "You're just mimicking her cruelty or hypocrisy or whatever. It's like a kid walking behind an old man, copying his limp."

"You don't mean that satire is childish, of course."

"Nope. It's serious grown-up business. I think of it as a branch of journalism. The inspired lie that's closer to the truth than any num­ber of carefully researched facts."

"I'm sorry, dear-did you say satire was a lie?"

"Only in the sense that all art is fabrication."

He walked for some distance, head down, concern in his busy brows, thinking this over. The silence between us grew so long that I was on the brink of saying something, when he stopped.

"You don't think, dear, that if you do a great deal of, er, mimick­ing cruel or hypocritical people, it won't have a bad effect on you eventually?"

"Satirists do have away of turning into what they satirize. But it's a risk I'm willing to take-if you can bring the bastards down."

"Does satire often `bring the bastards down'?"

"Alas, no."

Over the years, Tony finds his life and his career spinning a bit out of his control. He's failed at two marriages, has neglected his children, and his magazine ventures and television programs have not been long-term success stories. He has treated neither friends nor enemies particularly well either. Seeking solace, Quarr once again becomes an important touchpoint for him, and the visits back there do a great deal to sustain him.

He notices, though, that Quarr is changing, and like many prodigal sons, he has a traditionalist heart that chafes at change. Distressed by the dropoff in vocations and the replacement of the sonorous Latin chants with banal and ill-suited English, he voices his frustations about the Vatican II reformers of his own generation to Father Joe. I found Father Joe's response to be interesting.

In the days that followed, I read as much as I could about what had happened to my Church while I'd been away. It was pretty bad. The mighty chain of events and people stretching back over al­most two thousand years, which even a pimply teenager like me had once thrilled to, had been not just shattered but thrown on the garbage heap. As if only certain links in it mattered-the Church's official lapses and sins-not the hundreds of millions of other links: kind and generous people, clergy and laity, hard-striving souls full of faith and good works and humor-and of failure and frustration and sin and tribulation. These had been the Church also-for two thou­sand years. But they appeared to be without merit for our doughty reformers, nothing but a millennium-long death dance of supersti­tion and gullibility.

As far as I could tell, the reformers who had taken charge after Vatican II-mostly my contemporaries or slightly older-had in­dulged enthusiastically in one of our generation's most deadly flaws, nurtured, no doubt, by growing up in the rubble of World War II - ­a willful lack of any sense of history.

I'd been doing no reforming, but I was not without blame. Like my contemporaries, I'd for years bought into an attitude that went well beyond Henry Ford's reprehensible "history is bunk." In our version, history was far worse than bunk: it was suspect, the enemy, invariably evil, a repository of constant failure and deadly delusions and appalling role models. History was when all the mistakes were made, all the atrocities committed, that time before we knew better. History was before we were born again to the One True Faith: only change, with its benison of the new and the now, can lead to salva­tion.

There was an object lesson here that went beyond the chaotic state of the Church. To reject any vast group of one's cultural ances­tors in the cause of some current theory is not just arrogance; it's posthumous mass murder. It's the same kind of thinking that makes genocide possible. The masses (albeit the dead masses) and the pathetic little lives they lived are irrelevant compared to this greater purpose we have at hand. Write them out of the record. They never existed.

One very concrete result of these "reforms" could be seen in the choir stalls of the Quarr Abbey church. If you brought the next gen­eration up to despise history, especially the history of their own Church, pretty soon you'd have only one third the monks, the old farts or young kooks who liked singing unhummable thousand-year ­old chants and following an unempowering, self-negating fifteen ­hundred-year-old Rule.

Quarr was not changing. It was being changed. Why? What on earth had been wrong with it? A more serious question: if it was shrinking at this rate, could it survive?

I mentioned my misgivings to Father Joe. He was less concerned about what looked to me like wreckage.

"People are always changing themselves and their world, dear. Very few of the changes are new. We rather confuse change and newness, I think. What is truly new never changes."

"You speak in riddles, aged progenitor."

"The world worships a certain kind of newness. People are always talking about a new car, or a new drink or p-p-play or house, but these things are not truly new, are they? They begin to get old the minute you acquire them. New is not in things. New is within us. The truly new is something that is new forever: you. Every morning of your life and every evening, every moment is new. You have never lived this moment before and you never will again. In this sense the new is also the eternal."

Unless change generated newness of this sort, he went on, it was pointless change, undertaken simply for the sake of change. That did not mean that every so often it wasn't necessary to clear away bad habits, deadwood, and outdated customs, to adapt to new informa­tion. That was necessary to return the Church to its essentials.

That in turn did not mean fundamentalism, the recurrent urge of all reformers to sweep away everything and return to the way it had been "in the beginning"-in the Vatican II reformers' case, "the early Church." Wisdom and genius and sanctity undreamed of by the early Church had been acquired along the way since then. It had to be preserved too.

Ultimately, Tony assesses the increasing trail of wreckage in his life and comes to terms with the fact that although he wanted to change the world though laughter, he had to face the fact that he himself just wasn't very funny.

In the wake of two failed marriages and a career that was no longer satisfying, he makes a decision. He is going to become a postulant at Quarr after all. He goes to Quarr to tell father Joe the news...

I turned the rounded old shoulders toward me. He was quite a bit shorter than I now, squinting up at me, a twitching smile on his lips, relishing my air of mystery, the surprise I had planned for him.

"Dear Father Joe, I've thought about this long and hard. It's why I'm here and why I'm being led back to faith and, well, there are a hundred reasons we can go into later ...

"I'm twenty-six years late, dear Father Joe, but I've never been known for punctuality. I wish to present myself once more as a pos­tulant to the community of Quarr Abbey. This time, I'm ready."

Over the last week I had seen it in my mind's eye a hundred times: the old face turning in surprise, creasing bright with joy after all these years. After so much sin and apostasy, the lost sheep is found. The prodigal returns. The father embraces his long-lost son and gives thanks to the Lord, and there is great rejoicing in that house ...

What I actually saw was an old man suddenly look very weary. He sank down on a huge newly cut oak stump and patted the stump. I sat down beside him.

"Dear Tony. We've known one another so long. You have been such a joy in my life."

Every crease of his face radiated tenderness. For once it was at rest, rapt, serious. His sharp old eyes searched mine. He was silent for a while.

"You know, dear..." He paused a long moment and sighed. ". . . almost from the first moment I set eyes on you, I knew you would never make a monk."

Never in my life had a few little words hit me with such force. I had to gasp for breath.

"Often I resisted this knowledge. I would think perhaps I'm wrong. You never know. One must be humble. And you were so dedicated, even after your terrible vision of Hell, so certain of your vocation ... I was confused."

Father Joe was gazing at the ground, hands clasped as if he were in Confession and searching his conscience.

"Sometimes I tried to push you away. Sometimes through my self­ishness I encouraged you to persevere. Because I love you, dear, and always have, and wanted you very much to become a monk here. That's why I kept you in the guesthouse all those weeks, Tony dear. I could not bring myself to present you as a postulant. Although I wanted to-oh yes. That was what I wanted, you see. That was not what God wanted."

I wasn't listening. His self-examination had given me a moment to regroup.

"Father Joe-wait! Is this because of my marriage? My marriage is-"

"No, there is no canonical barrier to your entering Quarr. The Church recognizes neither of your marriages."

"So then surely it's not your decision. It's mine!"

His eyes had moistened. I realized that I'd never seen this pro­foundly emotional man with tears in his eyes.

"The evening your father called for you to go to Cambridge, Tony ... well, God seemed hard that
night. But it was for the best. I knew then that we would not see you after university.. ."

"I should have come back! That's where I went wrong!"

"If you had come back to us, dear, sooner or later, you would have exploded..." A smile creased the old mouth. ". . . causing considerable d-d-damage to b -b -bystanders.

"Father Joe, that person was immature, confused, deluded, unre­liable, faithless! I've made a new beginning.. ."

"I know, dear. And it will grow and mature and blossom. But not here."

"You're wrong this time! You were right long ago about being wrong. This has been part of me forever. It's why my marriages didn't work. Why I destroyed the lives of those around me. Even at my least spiritual times, it was still there, a hard little spur of truth. I belong here. Quarr is my home!"

These words seemed to strike deep. He looked totally exhausted. He shook his head imperceptibly.

"That little spur is not a monastic vocation, dear. It's your refusal to accept your true vocation."

"Which is what?"

"You're a husband and a father, Tony. I could see that long ago. The way you thought of Lily and treated her, even as a boy, gently and generously. A husband and father is what God has always wanted you to be. It's a vocation as sacred as ours."

"I've failed utterly at both those things. Father Joe. Not once. Twice!"

"Yes, you fought God. One could even say that the first time, you w-w-won. But boundless love, Tony dear, is giving you a second chance."

"Father Joe, dear Father Joe! Please! Don't do this!"

In reply he took my face in his old hands and, as he had in the first moment I ever saw him, gave me the kiss of peace….

I slunk back to New York, chastened and, as ever after a visit to Quarr, with far more to contemplate than I'd reckoned on. The bedrock of my great idea had been that my whole life had been tend­ing toward Quarr. That Father Joe had been gently leading me back, first to faith, then to my true destination, the cloister. That my monastic vocation had always chafed against the bonds of my mar­riages, destroying them both.

Alas, something else made just as much sense: it was my delusion of a monastic vocation that had chafed against the bonds of mar­riage, destroying the first and almost destroying the second. Even at my most apostate, I had kept in the back pocket of my soul the idea that I could leave any situation, opt out of any problem. I had a se­cret escape route: Quarr. Tony the Monk, my alter ego, had been making excuses for, and rationalizing, my selfishness for thirty years.

Because Tony the Monk had a higher mission, he didn't have to obey the norms by which ordinary, worldly, little people lived. Tony the Monk had savaged people in writing and in person, careless of the damage, regardless of the consequences-even to himself- - because he had contemptus mundi, detachment from the world. And less lofty-because he could always flee to his sanctuary to escape retribution. Tony the Monk was so far above the flimsy moral system of other mortals that he was allowed to commit transgressions with impunity-to treat others, his wives or his children or friends or enemies-with utter contempt and lack of humanity. He was entitled to because his heart was pure.

The "something else" that had always lain beside the love Carla and I had together, plotting its murder, that we had never been able to get rid of, our unwanted partner, our Iago, our Unholy spirit, had been, all along ... me.


The book received great critical acclaim, and it does seem like Hendra got his life back in order and has been able to come to terms with his past and with his future.

About a year after the book's release, however, Hendra's daughter Jessica wrote a book called How to Cook Your Daughter: A Memoir. In that book, she accused her father of sexually abusing her, and expressed her anger that he had not revealed this point in a book in which he had claimed to have gotten a lot of things off of his chest, acknowledged his faults, and had his soul saved. Tony Hendra denies the charge. It's not up to me to say what is true or not true. I do find it troubling. Although "ambush" books are sometimes written by the children of celebrities, I see no reason for his daughter to write such a book unless there was some truth to the charges, but ultimately, in my view, it has no bearing on the real hero of Hendra's book, who is not Tony Hendra himself (as he would most readily admit), but Fr. Dom Joseph Warrilow.