BELIEF

And what, then, is belief? It is the demi-cadence which closes a musical phrase in the symphony of our intellectual life.

American philosoper Charles Sanders Peirce, from How to Make Our Ideas Clear

The word “God,” so “capitalised” (as we Americans say), is the definable proper name, signifying Ens necessarium*; in my belief, really creator of all three Universes of Experience.

*Necessary Being

Charles Sanders Peirce, A Neglected Argument for the Reality of God, 1908

MARRIAGE

There are words signifying human arrangements or states of life which should never be emptied of their true meaning. Marriage and all that it signifies is such a word.

This remains true even if every soul in our culture succumbs to the temptation to treat marriage merely as a fungible civic “institution” or solely as means to a beneficial personal financial end. It becomes a mere human contract, and, compared to a contract to buy or sell land, is perhaps not nearly as serious or consequential.

The word marriage in our culture still implies love, intimacy, total, “ideally” unbreakable commitment between human beings. I think many would agree that it should be “sacred,” however one wishes to interpret that word. In the religious culture I embrace, it is one of seven Sacraments. It is prohibited to regard it merely as a civic, possibly temporary and reversible arrangement. It is eternal. It must be borne through all human trials of sickness or poverty. The universal evidence reveals it to be a source of enormous joy and fulfillment for multitudes and a natural and desireable state of being for all humanity in all times.

The Catholic Church and much of the secular culture still regards marriage, of necessity, to be between a man and a woman. And religious and non-religious peoples alike probably never expected that fundamental fact to be upended.

But that’s where we are in our culture. There is no telling where it will lead us.

Marriage is also fundamentally supposed to be about new life — children, family. This comes about through an intimacy that God-oriented people regard to be special and sacred and, in Catholic teaching, reserved only for the sacramentally married. The culture at large flaunts this shibolith in a spirit of indifference, even mockery, and in the name of “progress”. Like all the most special and sacred things that exist, the powerful human drive for intercourse can be grandly abused, but remains an infinitely serious form of human expression. No one, even the most unreligious and secular-minded, denies that, though many deny that abstinence is possible or desirable, sometimes regarding it to be “unnatural” in the wake of the so-called “sexual revolution”. (Whenever I hear that line urging us to “crown our soul with self-control” from “America the Beautiful”, I believe I’m hearing lyricist Katharine Lee Bates propounding the pre-modern understanding of how we should deal with everything from anger and hunger to sex. I guess that was the “old” America, “from sea to shining sea.”)

But in the new, still beautiful America, we have gradually embraced polymorphous means of being intimate, and unnatural means of conceiving children. No telling where this will lead us, either.

Sex, seen as merely a primal impulse or appetite, has largely been “divorced” — another troubling word — by much of the whole world’s culture from marriage. So has the necessity of procreation as a unific, inseperable aspect of sex.

So many, like me, are either guilty bystanders or active, sinful collaborators in this cultural unraveling –which millions define as “progress”.

Random sexual, temporary parings between the male and the female of the species are, based on scientific evidence, premordial. They are common in the animal kingdom. But the arrangment called marriage is for humans and involves a number of human norms and understandings. Sometimes people, regardless of their age, come together in this bond out of shortsighted immaturity and emotional infirmity. ( I ain’t preaching. I’m as frail and shortsighted as the next person.) We all know about those early, ill-considered, half-forgotten marriages. Those who engaged in them failed to grasp the seriousness or nature of the journey upon which they were about to embark – or didn’t know their future spouse as well as they thought they did. The list of problems goes on.

But, as it happens, the most thoroughly secular marriage I ever attended took place in a grand stone castle above a beautiful, mist-shrouded Massachusetts beach between two atheists, at least one of whom (the male) I know to have –to this day — an utter, insistently reasoned disdain for religion. He is a professor of philosphy.

Nonetheless, the Introductory Address at that wedding by the “celebrant” in the presence of a Justice of the Peace read as follows:

“In all cultures and at all times, people have entered into matrimonial union in recognition of the mystery of love, the power of moral commitment and the enlightening force of communication which connect them and give meaning to their lives. “

Further, that address went on to speak of “(L)ove, the fundamental bond which ties the human family together and which gives us hope for a world in which peace and community reign….”

Beautiful! And very serious, and true. This was well over thirty years ago. That couple is still married.

But I would submit that this atheistically-oriented address ( which, in my book, qualifies as a “prayer”), recited in the presence of the bride and groom, though they were never referred to as “bride” or “groom”, nonetheless invoked a number of theological concepts, e.g., “the mystery of love” and “hope” which Catholic Christians regard to be a theological virtue along with charity, often rendered as “love”. And “family”, too, is a bond that Christians or other religions see as of divine origin.

If there is no God, why should love be a “mystery”?

I have attended Christian marriages that did not seem so steeped in the beauty of things I, for once, see as of divine origin. In everything good thing we mortals do, if it is worth doing, there is an echo of eternal truth.

But then there is cohabitation — or marriages that are mere cohabitations. Here is where two humans can experience endless, deep, psychological and spiritual lacerations, live in a state of mendacity and illusion, anger, recrimination, sexual and emotional objectification, financial ruination, trapped like addicts in one another’s emotional grip, aware, however subconsciously, that they are merely hostages to one another. It is a nightmare, a horror. True love is obscenely mocked and strangled.

Then someone comes along and says to the unmarried, “you two should be married.” They cite Social Security benefits, scold a person who would deny the other party both the SS benefits and tax benefit. If the “mystery of love” is baffling, so, too, is the mystery of modern cohabitation among those we might diagnose as “codependant.”

It is understandable that those well-meaning kibitzers should be baffled– not realizing that they are urging those two souls to make a horror permanent; seal the bonds made of fear and emotional infirmity, born of what we have come to call, again, co-dependancy.

God help us. God help them. God help me, as a matter of fact.

To be single, alone, living and responsibly maintaining our own orderly, charitable lives, possibly experiencing lonliness, but bonded to all those we love and even find it necessary, through circumstances of our own making, to support financially — even to our own detriment and for as long as we live — this is truth, integrity and reality.

A decision to do so is every bit as essential as the decision to marry. Like true marriage, it is a state of life that can bestow true peace, engender true love. I, for one, believe this.

I pray for it.

God hear my prayer. God care for those I love and with whom I hope to escape all illusions, all disorder. Let me be an instrument of your peace, your love and your truth. And of divine and human — reality!

Amen.

EASTER MORNING

The two Marys kept their vigil, the men had fled. In their mind, they’d endured a tragic, shocking defeat and their savior a tortured, humiliating betrayal and death. It was all over. All was death. Life would go on, empty. It had all seemed so — possible, that this was not all there was, and as good as it gets. Back to the fishing boats and the drudgery.

None of these thoughts or expressions are very original on my part. There must be a way to jolt us to greater — awareness. Cold, hard truth. The truth that liberates. I want it. I need it.

Yes, he was dead.

But He had come to die, and he had died. He foretold it all. No one was listening or believing Him.

Then, the Resurrection. Without it, the whole story is meaningless. And the churches — or The Church — a big costume show and money pit. A place where teens are abused by their homosexual overseers.

Really?

Secular historians and theologians have examined the matter of the Resurrection exhaustively over centuries. In the early years of the Christian era, Celsus, an anti-Christian polemicists, suggested that the whole story emanated from the disordered imagination of an ecstatic Mary Magdalene. Others theorized a case of mass hallucination. People thinking they’d seen things they didn’t see. I could be wrong, but I think that’s the belief of the ever-popular James Carroll.

The Church has examined all these claims stringently. The precise details of the empty tomb, the encounters in the flesh — for many it is important to deny it all, because if He rose, then absolutely nothing matters except that.

“He thrown everything off balance. If He did what he said, then there’s nothing for you to do but throw away everything and follow Him.”

So says Flannery O’Connor’s Misfit, a serial murderer. He decided it all must be false. All that could possibly matter to him was pleasure and cruelty and self-seeking – and pleasure in cruelty. But at least he understood what was at stake and made his conscious, perversely reasonable choice. Like all of us, he had difficulty believing such a thing could be true, but if it was, how could anything else be more important than that?

Admittedly, his fictive testimonial is all a little too overt, too credulous for most of our tastes. We can doubt such literal depictions of nihilism.

See, instead, images of Vladimir Putin, reverently touching the cross of Christ (as he did as it was held before him by his bishop), then crossing himself, then ordering an ongoing mechanized slaughter, destruction, horror and cruelty on an industrial, civilization-killing scale. Joe Biden, his forehead smudged with the visible chrism of salvation, a “devout Catholic”, seeing to the slaughter through abortion of millions, insisting on it. A more banal and to many seemingly innocuous, perhaps necessary mass killing — until we’re forced to think about it, hear that Silent Scream….as each soul is “cancelled”. (Yeah, I know. We don’t want to believe such stuff. We do what we do for the “good of humanity.”)

If He didn’t rise, all is folly, says St. Paul.

And if He didn’t, all should be permitted — within “reason”, of course.

Tertullian would ask, a century later, “how many of the crowd standing around us, shall I not prick in your inner conscousness as being the slayers of your own off spring?” He spoke to the mobs who cried for Christian blood while they drowned or exposed to the dogs those unwanted among their newborns. Then there were these tawdry other matters — among the Persians, he claimed, there was word of those who had intercourse with their own mothers.

All is permitted. Our own darkness spreads. “Self-will run riot,” as they say in the recovery community trying to rescue folks from substance addiction. But you don’t have to be drunk or high to be atrocious.

For the record — Mary Magdalene’s reaction at the sight of the empty tomb was not disordered. A disingenuous gospel-writer might have depicted it so, but instead, shows a woman perplexed and assuming the body of her savior has been stolen and proceeding to investigate based on that assumption. She summons the men and Peter and John run to search for the body. They find the burial cloth arranged in an orderly way one would not immediately assume was the work of grave robbers. Slowly, sluggishly, they come around to accepting the seemingly impossible. That would be us, too. And then — they see Christ in the flesh. He stays with him for forty days, and they stay with him for life, even unto their own cruel deaths for his sake.

St. Paul: “If Christ is not raised from the dead, then our faith is in vain.” This from a man who had zealously persecuted Christians and overseen their execution. They were a threat and a nuisance to his mind. Then he became one of them. Did he ever! I guess he believed Christ rose. But he had the extra advantage of being struck with a bolt of light and hearing His voice.

For us, it is a matter of faith. Investigate. Think about it. Compare and contrast the stories. Listen to the doubters or deniers. “Test everything,” said that same St. Paul. “Cling to what is true.”

But even believing, the course is hard, the temptations and distractons many. Sin, however you define it, abounds. It’s easier just to not think about it. Unconscious living, in the manner of those anti-Christian mobs who were addressed by Tertullian.

Well, He told us we were weak. He told us we’d need Him.

And, by the way, He promised He’d rise. And that He’d come again.

Meanwhile, I beg You, please come to me….life’s getting a little flaky.

Where is the Life we have lost in living?

T.S. Eliot, from “Choruses from ‘The Rock’

Where, indeed.

PRAYER

Dear God, thank you on this eve of the feast of your Last Supper for all that you have done for me and for my family. If sorrow or uncertainty or darkness or selfishness or painful indecision or irresoluteness or weakness descend on me, for whatever reason, please may I offer such discomfort up for your intentions. The world is suffering, my discomfort amounts to nothing. May I continue, through my daily prayers, to reach out to you, hoping for the peace that comes only from you. May my suffering brother Bill know peace and joy and feel our love and Your Love and Peace. The same for brothers Ron and Doug, their wives and children and all my family and my dear friend Diane.

Dear God, pain and confusion and lack of courage can muddy one’s vision. Darkness descends, and agitation of spirit. But last evening, in the beautiful church in Tampa, Florida, where first, nearly forty years ago after a long absence, I returned to you, I felt comfort. I believe I felt your presence. It was here that a priest, name unknown and probably long departed, comforted me, and in Persona Christi, forgave my sins and reminded me that evil stalks us always out there in that dark, busy world. It is tragic that I came, over four decades, only half way back to you and that a kind of pain persists. It is the pain of others of which I must be conscience and seek to lighten.

I pray on this April evening, for inner peace and pray for the assistance of all those loved ones and friends who knew suffering and joy in this life and have now gone before me — and I ask your grace to do your will, not mine. I cannot end this prayer. I cannot stop reaching out to y ou for clarity in my current dilemmas. I pray I will love, know and serve you to my dying day.

There is work to be done. We must — I must — work while the light lasts.

Through Christ, Your Son,

Amen.

HIS PASSION, OUR PASSION

It’s been a so-so Lent for me. Always falling behind in prayer, distracted by periodical reading, disorganized, lazy as ever, and, therefore, scatter-brained as ever in matters both material and spiritual, pestered by temptations and unworthy thoughts and angry bouts, and deeply worried to the point of agony and persistent anxiety about finances.

This morning, having fallen behind in my spiritual reading regimen in the several valumes called In Conversation with God by Francis Fernandez, I am called in today’s reading to meditate on Christ’s Agony in the Garden. What’s always driven home to me about that, the opening moment in Christ’s Passion, is how the disciples, despite their best efforts, fell asleep when Christ needed their comfort and support the most and for them to keep a vigil. He warns them to stay engaged with The Master unless they be put to the test. I don’t want to be put to the test. I better stay awake with Christ, keep a vigil, pray to be spared the useless agonies sin inflicts upon us, pray to the Holy Spirit for His gifts, especially Understanding, and especially over the coming Holy Week.

Today , 4/8/22, is neice Mary Beth’s 62nd birthday — she for whom I once served as babysitter. I must call her, chat with her, as well as entering the obligatory greeting in Facebook, along with the thread of other well-wishers. But I am ever-mindful, where my family is concerned, that just about all of them long ago abandoned the practice of the faith. I’ve got my own spiritual row to hoe and reparations to make….but I believe it is my role to pray for their conversion and perhaps, only with the greatest of subtlety, suggest that they consider the time of their lives, the short duration of this earthly pilgrimage — and all that stuff. (We’ve all heard it before, right?) And that goes especially for my brother Bill, caught up in his own emprisoning agony, confined to a bed in a rehabilitation center, angry, yearning to go home where, though he does not know it or, more likely, cannot accept it, he is unlikely to return — and perhaps now suffering from dimentia, as an added burden, and lashing out.

God help him. Let me help him. He is first born of Bill and Jo Wayland. Somehow, I want to help all of us.

But let me, finally, by urgently mending the broken state of my own scandelous life, speak to them with my actions, not so much with my few careful words.

The day is far spent….

The night is dark and we are far from home.

Amen.