Feast of St. Louis

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King Saint Louis’s
Last Instructions to his Eldest Son, Philip III

1. To his dear first-born son, Philip, greeting, and his father’s love.

2. Dear son, since I desire with all my heart that you be well “instructed in all things, it is in my thought to give you some advice this writing. For I have heard you say, several times, that you remember my words better than those of any one else.

3. Therefore, dear son, the first thing I advise is that you fix your whole heart upon God, and love Him with all your strength, for without this no one can be saved or be of any worth.

4. You should, with all your strength, shun everything which you believe to be displeasing to Him. And you ought especially to be resolved not to commit mortal sin, no matter what may happen and should permit all your limbs to be hewn off, and suffer every manner of torment, rather than fall knowingly into mortal sin.

5. If our Lord send you any adversity, whether illness or other in good patience, and thank Him for it, thing, you should receive it in good patience and be thankful for it, for you ought to believe that He will cause everthing to turn out for your good; and likewise you should think that you have well merited it, and more also, should He will it, because you have loved Him but little, and served Him but little, and have done many things contrary to His will.

6. If our Lord send you any prosperity, either health of body or other thing you ought to thank Him humbly for it, and you ought to be careful that you are not the worse for it, either through pride or anything else, for it is a very great sin to fight against our Lord with His gifts.

7. Dear son, I advise you that you accustom yourself to frequent confession, and that you choose always, as your confessors, men who are upright and sufficiently learned, and who can teach you what you should do and what you should avoid. You should so carry yourself that your confessors and other friends may dare confidently to reprove you and show you your faults.

8. Dear son, I advise you that you listen willingly and devoutly the services of Holy Church, and, when you are in church, avoid to frivolity and trifling, and do not look here and there; but pray to God with lips and heart alike, while entertaining sweet thoughts about Him, and especially at the mass, when the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ are consecrated, and for a little time before.

9. Dear son, have a tender pitiful heart for the poor, and for all those whom you believe to be in misery of heart or body, and, according to your ability, comfort and aid them with some alms.

10. Maintain the good customs of your realm, and put down the bad ones. Do not oppress your people and do not burden them with tolls or tailles, except under very great necessity.

11. If you have any unrest of heart, of such a nature that it may be told, tell it to your confessor, or to some upright man who can keep your secret; you will be able to carry more easily the thought of your heart.

12. See to it that those of your household are upright and loyal, and remember the Scripture, which says: “Elige viros timentes Deum in quibus sit justicia et qui oderint avariciam”; that is to say, “Love those who serve God and who render strict justice and hate covetousness”; and you will profit, and will govern your kingdom well.

13. Dear son, see to it that all your associates are upright, whether clerics or laymen, and have frequent good converse with them; and flee the society of the bad. And listen willingly to the word of God, both in open and in secret; and purchase freely prayers and pardons.

14. Love all good, and hate all evil, in whomsoever it may be.

15. Let no one be so bold as to say, in your presence, words which attract and lead to sin, and do not permit words of detraction to be spoken of another behind his back.

!6. Suffer it not that any ill be spoken of God or His saints in your presence, without taking prompt vengeance. But if the offender be a clerk or so great a person that you ought not to try him, report the matter to him who is entitled to judge it.

17. Dear son, give thanks to God often for all the good things He has done for you, so that you may be worthy to receive more, in such a manner that if it please the Lord that you come to the burden and honor of governing the kingdom, you may be worthy to receive the sacred unction wherewith the kings of France are consecrated.

18. Dear son, if you come to the throne, strive to have that which befits a king, that is to say, that in justice and rectitude you hold yourself steadfast and loyal toward your subjects and your vassals, without turning either to the right or to the left, but always straight, whatever may happen. And if a poor man have a quarrel with a rich man, sustain the poor rather than the rich, until the truth is made clear, and when you know the truth, do justice to them.

19. If any one have entered into a suit against you (for any injury or wrong which he may believe that you have done to him), be always for him and against yourself in the presence of your council, without showing that you think much of your case (until the truth be made known concerning it); for those of your council might be backward in speaking against you, and this you should not wish; and command your judges that you be not in any way upheld more than any others, for thus will your councillors judge more boldly according to right and truth.

20. If you have anything belonging to another, either of yourself or through your predecessors, if the matter is certain, give it up without delay, however great it may be, either in land or money or otherwise. If the matter is doubtful, have it inquired into by wise men, promptly and diligently. And if the affair is so obscure that you cannot know the truth, make such a settlement, by the counsel of s of upright men, that your soul, and the soul your predecessors, may be wholly freed from the affair. And even if you hear some one say that your predecessors made restitution, make diligent inquiry to learn if anything remains to be restored; and if you find that such is the case, cause it to be delivered over at once, for the liberation of your soul and the souls of your predecessors.

21. You should seek earnestly how your vassals and your subjects may live in peace and rectitude beneath your sway; likewise, the good towns and the good cities of your kingdom. And preserve them in the estate and the liberty in which your predecessors kept them, redress it, and if there be anything to amend, amend and preserve their favor and their love. For it is by the strength and the riches of your good cities and your good towns that the native and the foreigner, especially your peers and your barons, are deterred from doing ill to you. I will remember that Paris and the good towns of my kingdom aided me against the barons, when I was newly crowned.

22. Honor and love all the people of Holy Church, and be careful that no violence be done to them, and that their gifts and alms, which your predecessors have bestowed upon them, be not taken away or diminished. And I wish here to tell you what is related concerning King Philip, my ancestor, as one of his council, who said he heard it, told it to me. The king, one day, was with his privy council, and he was there who told me these words. And one of the king’s councillors said to him how much wrong and loss he suffered from those of Holy Church, in that they took away his rights and lessened the jurisdiction of his court; and they marveled greatly how he endured it. And the good king answered: “I am quite certain that they do me much wrong, but when I consider the goodnesses and kindnesses which God has done me, I had rather that my rights should go, than have a contention or awaken a quarrel with Holy Church.” And this I tell to you that you may not lightly believe anything against the people of Holy Church; so love them and honor them and watch over them that they may in peace do the service of our Lord.

23. Moreover, I advise you to love dearly the clergy, and, so far as you are able, do good to them in their necessities, and likewise love those by whom God is most honored and served, and by whom the Faith is preached and exalted.

24. Dear son, I advise that you love and reverence your father and your mother, willingly remember and keep their commandments, and be inclined to believe their good counsels.

25. Love your brothers, and always wish their well-being and their good advancement, and also be to them in the place of a father, to instruct them in all good. But be watchful lest, for the love which you bear to one, you turn aside from right doing, and do to the others that which is not meet.

26. Dear son, I advise you to bestow the benefices of Holy Church which you have to give, upon good persons, of good and clean life, and that you bestow them with the high counsel of upright men. And I am of the opinion that it is preferable to give them to those who hold nothing of Holy Church, rather than to others. For, if you inquire diligently, you will find enough of those who have nothing who will use wisely that entrusted to them.

27. Dear son, I advise you that you try with all your strength to avoid warring against any Christian man, unless he have done you too much ill. And if wrong be done you, try several ways to see if you can find how you can secure your rights, before you make war; and act thus in order to avoid the sins which are committed in warfare.

28. And if it fall out that it is needful that you should make war (either because some one of your vassals has failed to plead his case in your court, or because he has done wrong to some church or to some poor person, or to any other person whatsoever, and is unwilling to make amends out of regard for you, or for any other reasonable cause), whatever the reason for which it is necessary for you to make war, give diligent command that the poor folk who have done no wrong or crime be protected from damage to their vines, either through fire or otherwise, for it were more fitting that you should constrain the wrongdoer by taking his own property (either towns or castles, by force of siege), than that you should devastate the property of poor people. And be careful not to start the war before you have good counsel that the cause is most reasonable, and before you have summoned the offender to make amends, and have waited as long as you should. And if he ask mercy, you ought to pardon him, and accept his amende, so that God may be pleased with you.

29. Dear son, I advise you to appease wars and contentions, whether they be yours or those of your subjects, just as quickly as may be, for it is a thing most pleasing to our Lord. And Monsignore Martin gave us a very great example of this. For, one time, when our Lord made it known to him that he was about to die, he set out to make peace between certain clerks of his archbishopric, and he was of the opinion that in so doing he was giving a good end to life.

30. Seek diligently, most sweet son, to have good baillis and good prevots in your land, and inquire frequently concerning their doings, and how they conduct themselves, and if they administer justice well, and do no wrong to any one, nor anything which they ought not do. Inquire more often concerning those of your household if they be too covetous or too arrogant; for it is natural that the members should seek to imitate their chief; that is, when the master is wise and well-behaved, all those of his household follow his example and prefer it. For however much you ought to hate evil in others, you shoud have more hatred for the evil which comes from those who derive their power from you, than you bear to the evil of others; and the more ought you to be on your guard and prevent this from happening.

3!. Dear son, I advise you always to be devoted to the Church of Rome, and to the sovereign pontiff, our father, and to bear him the the reverence and honor which you owe to your spiritual father.

32. Dear son, freely give power to persons of good character, who know how to use it well, and strive to have wickednesses expelled from your land, that is to say, nasty oaths, and everything said or done against God or our Lady or the saints. In a wise and proper manner put a stop, in your land, to bodily sins, dicing, taverns, and other sins. Put down heresy so far as you can, and hold in especial abhorrence Jews, and all sorts of people who are hostile to the Faith, so that your land may be well purged of them, in such manner as, by the sage counsel of good people, may appear to you advisable.

33. Further the right with all your strength. Moreover I admonish you you that you strive most earnestly to show your gratitude for the benefits which our Lord has bestowed upon you, and that you may know how to give Him thanks therefore

34. Dear son, take care that the expenses of your household are reasonable and moderate, and that its moneys are justly obtained. And there is one opinion that I deeply wish you to entertain, that is to say, that you keep yourself free from foolish expenses and evil exactions, and that your money should be well expended and well acquired. And this opinion, together with other opinions which are suitable and profitable, I pray that our Lord may teach you.

35. Finally, most sweet son, I conjure and require you that, if it please our Lord that I should die before you, you have my soul succored with masses and orisons, and that you send through the congregations of the kingdom of France, and demand their prayers for my soul, and that you grant me a special and full part in all the good deeds which you perform.

36. In conclusion, dear son, I give you all the blessings which a good and tender father can give to a son, and I pray our Lord Jesus Christ, by His mercy, by the prayers and merits of His blessed Mother, the Virgin Mary, and of angels and archangels and of all the saints, to guard and protect you from doing anything contrary to His will, and to give you grace to do it always, so that He may be honored and served by you. And this may He do to me as to you, by His great bounty, so that after this mortal life we may be able to be together with Him in the eternal life, and see Him, love Him, and praise Him without end. Amen. And glory, honor, and praise be to Him who is one God with the Father and the Holy Spirit; without beginning and without end. Amen.

Saint Louis, pray for us, particularly that nobility and chivalry may return to our world.

Friday Flotsam: Some Aphorisms

1. Loving your enemy does not mean forgetting that he is your enemy.

2. That we cannot judge what we don’t know doesn’t mean that we can’t judge what we do know. E.g. I don’t know the state of X’s soul, nor the internal motions that lead him to act as he does, but I do know that he steals and that stealing is wrong. To say as much is not to be ‘judgmental’.

3. Art direction is always more important than graphical fidelity.

4. Democracy is not intended to give people power, but to take power away from specific people.

5. Most successful revolutions, political or otherwise, amount to different people doing the same thing under different names, only with less restraint.

6. And as a final entry: my latest post is up at The Everyman, applying the lessons of Chesterton’s surreal classic The Man Who Was Thursday to the modern situation:

As may be found from this brief synopsis, the book is very strange and often surreal. It’s sometimes called a ‘metaphysical thriller’. At the same time there is a sharp and at times disturbing exactness of its vision of the world and the philosophies at work in the modern day. Consider, for instance, Gregory’s assertion of what the anarchists really want:

“To abolish God! We do not want to upset a few despotism and police regulations…We dig deeper and we blow you higher. We wish to deny all those arbitrary distinctions of vice and virtue, honour and treachery, upon which mere rebels base themselves.”

Indeed, though they lack the capacity to put it in such terms, the modern woke anarchist would likely agree with such sentiments in his heart. What is the common thread in their insane rhetoric but the destruction of the hard lines of reality: not just right and wrong, but male and female, family and stranger, citizen and foreigner, living and dead, man and beast? All subsumed into a morass of self-will. Yet a will founded in a self that, removing these solid foundations, is as insubstantial and pliable as a cloud.

And as is said later in the novel, “When duty and religion are really destroyed, it will be by the rich.” The poor, Chesterton suggests, will never truly be anarchists or anything of the kind. It is the rich, the educated, the sophisticates who play with such fire. “The scientific and artistic worlds are silently bound in a crusade against the Family and the State,” says the man who recruits Syme to the police, before going on to lay out how much more wholesome mere criminals are than the kind of modern philosophers who hate marriage as marriage, property as property, and life as life.

Meanwhile, there is a deluded ‘outer-ring’ of anarchists who believe that “all the evil results of human crime are the results of the system that has called it crime.” That is to say, the kind of people who condemn ‘slut-shaming,’ who call ‘mis-gendering’ violence, or who rail about the demographics of prison populations without once mentioning the words ‘guilty’ or ‘innocent.’

Yet even these are only the dupes, the willing tools of their leaders, who though they mouth the same platitudes understand as the rank and file do not the true meaning behind them and “have but two objects, to destroy humanity and then themselves.”

It is sometimes hard to believe, looking at the current crop of politicians and other social elites, that this is not precisely what they have in mind.

Syme, standing against the anarchists, stands explicitly for sanity, respectability, and the “common and kindly people in the street.” His backstory tells of his being “surrounded by every conceivable kind of revolt since infancy,” leaving him with only one thing to rebel into: sanity. In this he is an early prototype of the strange fact that to defend the values that once defined our civilization is now itself an act of rebellion.

And the only motive for such a hopeless and Quixotic rebellion is “that unanswerable and terrible truism of the song of Roland”: Pagans are wrong and Christians are right.

Liberal broadmindedness has nothing to say in answer to such reckless hate as the anarchists bring. Only the great counter assertion of right and wrong, of true and false, and of the real, solid distinctions of real natures will do. “Perhaps we are both doing what we think right,” Syme tells Gregory early in the novel. “But what we think right is so damned different that there can be nothing between us in the way of concession. There is nothing possible between us but honour and death.”

Read the rest here.

Friday Flotsam: Collective Authority

1. The modern world feels like being walled up in an asylum that’s been taken over by the inmates. Except the inmates are not just insane, but smug, sanctimonious, and completely disconnected from reality.

2. Collective ownership cannot work as a system for multiple reasons, but chiefly because someone has to enforce the collective ownership, to arbitrate between competing claims. If Brother John and Brother Francis both want to use a certain part of the abbey’s garden, then it falls to Abbott Tuck to decide who has the better claim. But this means that it is Abbott Tuck who, in practical terms, owns the garden, since he is the one who exercises decision making authority over it, which is what ownership means.

Ownership by all only every means – only ever can mean – that one owns in the name of all.

3. Ownership means authority – the ability to make decisions relative to a particular object which others are morally obliged to respect. If I own a computer, that means I have the right to decide what software I’ll put on it and what use I’ll put it to. If I use a computer owned by someone else – say, my employer – then I not have the right to exercise decisions of what software will and will not be installed on it or what use it will be put to, except by permission of the rightful owner.

‘Ownership’ only means a form of transferable authority. I can sell or give away my computer. But if I exercise other forms of authority, as, say, a father, I can’t sell or give away my children (I haven’t worked it out completely, but as of right now I think that is the chief distinguishing feature of ‘ownership’ as opposed to other forms of authority).

Equal authority means no authority: if two parties exercise equal decision making powers over any one thing, that means that each can make decisions regarding that thing which the other is obligated to respect. Which means that each can cancel out the other’s decisions at any time. Meaning, effectively, neither has any rights relative to the other with regards to this particular thing. If it becomes necessary to make an actual decision, then either one or the other’s authority must be recognized as higher or one with a higher authority than either must settle it.

4. I think most us recognize this regarding ownership of property. The question is, why do we think ownership of the government is any different?

One of the liberal mantras is “the government doesn’t own the people, the people own the government.” Okay, but at the same time we know collective ownership does not work. So, the government is actually owned by whoever is in charge of arbitrating the people’s decisions. Which is to say…the government. But a government that still claims to represent ‘the people’ (which is even more ridiculous when you remember that, by its nature, a representational government can only represent a portion of the people, since if it’s elected, that means a significant portion of the people voted against it) and so to be acting in their name.

This pretext of a state being the expression of the people’s will means that anyone who opposes it opposes ‘the people.’ A government with pretensions of being ‘of the people, by the people, and for the people’ will hold that anyone who opposes that is against the people (and how does this square with the fact that, when this was said, a large chunk of the people were actively fighting to escape the said government? Do they simply not count as being among ‘the people’? I’m actually a Union partisan, but I bring it up to illustrate how ridiculous the whole ‘rule by the people’ idea really is).

Again, collective ownership means that some own as if there were all. And “power to the people” only ever means “Power to some people as if they were all the people.”

Or in other words:

Brief Thoughts on ‘The Shining’

Last night I watched The Shining for the first time with my family. Though obviously I’ve been familiar with it for a long time and I’ve seen many clips of it (which, unfortunately, meant that I kind of went in knowing more or less what was going to happen).

Quick take: it’s pretty good. I can’t say I thought it was amazing, certainly not one of my top horror films, but it’s pretty good.

The best part: definitely the camera work and set decoration. I haven’t seen a camera move as much and in the way this one does in a long time; maybe ever. Especially the way it’ll hang over the character’s shoulders, following them from room to room as though something’s watching them. The suspense scenes are very well set up as well, like when Wendy is dragging Jack to the storeroom, and we can see he’s beginning to wake up as she fumbles with the doorknob. And the Overlook Hotel is a masterpiece of design. It looks very much like a real hotel, but something about the way it’s shot and the ambiance conveys a strong sense of isolation, of that particular, specific feeling of being alone in a place meant for crowds.

The performances are great all around. Danny Lloyd, who plays little Danny is a stand-out in the ranks of creepy children in horror films. Shelly Duvall has to do a lot of the heavy lifting, and props to her for pulling off the terrified wife role so effectively. I also really liked Scatman Cruthers as the kindly chef who shares Danny’s gift and tries his best to help them (his exit was kind of annoying, though: all that work and time to get him there, and he’s just bumped out of the movie). The smaller roles were excellently cast as well: particularly Barry Nelson as the hotel owner, trying to put the best possible spin on “one of your predecessors went nuts and murdered his family” so as not to scare off a potential employee, and Joe Turkel as Lloyd the bartender, who manages to be one of the most unsettling things in the hotel with nothing but a piercing smile (who was also Dr. Tyrell from Blade Runner: dang, that’s a resume right there).

(There is one big exception to the cast, which we will get to. Though you’ve probably already notice who I’ve left out)

The scares were nicely done for the most part. I thought some of them dragged on for too long (the nude woman in the bath for instance could have stood to have been tightened up a bit: come on, movie, we know something’s going to happen here). And I really liked the creeping sense of uncertainty of just what the hotel wants and what really is happening here. That famous final shot, coupled with some earlier lines, leaves us feeling we’ve touched the edge of a world of rules that we don’t understand, which is what many good horror films aim to achieve (definite Lovecraft influence there, as he was the master of this effect).

Speaking of influences, I saw quite a bit of DNA from Robert Wise’s The Haunting, especially the creative camera work and the specific scare of having a crucial door which had previously been locked suddenly be found open. Actually, upon reflection, the film is more or less the same story as The Haunting, only with a family and ax-murder angle and more heavy-handed manifestations. This is not a bad thing at all; most stories are variations on older ones. Just so long as you do something creative or interesting with it, and I’d say this one does.

The biggest liability to the film is definitely Jack Nicholson. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a great actor and he’s extremely entertaining here. But that’s kind of the problem; he’s more entertaining than scary. When he goes nuts, I couldn’t help laughing because it’s Jack Nicholson gnawing at the scenery like a sugar addict set loose in Willy Wonka’s factory, bugging his eyes, arching those famous eyebrows of his, and twisting his face like rubber. Take the scene where he’s talking to his son (a genuinely uncomfortable scene, admittedly). When he says, “I would never hurt you,” I just laughed because he says it in the most insane, non-reassuring way imaginable. It wouldn’t have been out of place in a cartoon.  

Who would believe this guy could become an ax murderer?

That, and he’s too obviously crazy from the get go. If I’m supposed to be disturbed and shocked by a normal family man dissolving into an axe-wielding psychopath, he can’t start off looking like an axe-wielding psychopath. Nicholson’s many things, but he’s not the everyman. Intentional or not, he comes across like a nutjob from almost the moment we meet him (about a half-hour in I commented “this is basically ‘I Married the Joker’”).

I also didn’t care much for the roller-coaster of scares in the climax, with Wendy running around the hotel and encountering different ghosts. Throwing weird stuff at her like a guy in a bear costume giving a blow-job to a butler feels way too desperate and…well, just random. Like they collected a lot of different weird ideas and just pulled a few out of the hat. Not like, say, the Shape’s surreal tableau of jack-o-lanterns, a tombstone, and the body of one of its victims at the end of Halloween, which was atmospheric as hell while tying in with the opening and giving disturbing hints at the inner workings of its mind. This just feels like they were trying to be shocking for shock’s sake.

Actually, that’s another problem; the manifestations throughout the film are too random. They actually remind me of the scares in House on Haunted Hill: that sense of just throwing anything at the screen in the hopes of getting a reaction. They seem to me to lack any kind of thematic through line, or to have any real depth to them. They could have had with a few small tweaks, but they don’t (I haven’t read the book, so I don’t know how much this applies there as well). Like, the bear-costume bit could have been ten times as effective if, say, Danny had carried a teddy bear around with him or been particularly attached to such a toy. That would have linked it to the rest of the story, would have been a scare with some real bite to it, instead of just a “what the heck?” moment. Likewise the woman in the bath would have worked better if we’d established that Jack and his wife were no longer being intimate (playing on the idea of isolation and confinement), but nothing suggested that to me. Wendy is warm and affectionate to Jack, if a bit of a frumpy nag, and the friction comes primarily from his end.  

The best scares are simply the sense of isolation and cold created by the visual style: the crushing sense of loneliness, of boredom, of confinement. The film excels at this, and I think it’s the best thing about it.  

Overall, I’d call The Shining a good horror movie, but not a great one. The directing and acting are exemplary, it’s amazingly atmospheric, and it’s highly entertaining, but a lot of the scares are pretty shallow upon reflection and it’s handicapped by a tremendous miscasting in the lead role. But whatever its flaws, it’s definitely one that needs to be seen by anyone who enjoys horror films or wants to understand the horror genre.

Never going to be a favorite, but clearly canon status.  

“Sail On!”

Serpent's Den

Behind him lay the gray Azores,
Behind, the Gates of Hercules;
Before him not the ghost of shores;
Before him only shoreless seas.

The good mate said: “Now must we pray,
For lo! the very stars are gone.
Brave Adm’r’l, speak: what shall I say?”
“Why say: ‘Sail on! sail on! and on!’”

“My men grow mutinous day by day;
My men grow ghastly wan and weak.”
The stout mate thought of home; a spray
Of salt wave washed his swarthy cheek.

“What shall I say, brave Adm’r’l, say
If we sight naught but seas at dawn?”
“Why, you shall say at break of day:
‘Sail on! sail on! sail on! and on!’”

They sailed and sailed, as winds might blow,
Until at last the blanched mate said:
“Why, now not even God would know
Should I and all my men fall dead.

These very winds forget their way;
For…

View original post 144 more words

Friday Flotsam – Holy Irresponsibility

— I am determined not to comment on the news. I despise mobs, mass movements, and those who enable them, and my great desire is to be able to move to a nice little corner of the country where there aren’t enough people to form moving blobs of collective stupidity and then shut out as much of the insanity as I can.

— This has been a pretty unproductive week for me. I find myself ‘drifting’ quite often. This is where I’m trying to focus on one thing (such as a story or essay), but I somehow get reminded of something quite different and my mind chases after it like a dog after a squirrel. Usually I don’t notice what’s happening until a little later, by which point I have usually lost my train of thought on the original subject. I actually think it’s related to my anxiety issues; my mind’s kind of trained itself to think that if I don’t follow up on some point, I’ll miss something important. Of course, what actually happens is that I don’t get things done, which only makes me more anxious. Feeding the beast again.

The trick, as I see it, is to cultivate a degree of irresponsibility; allowing oneself to say “yeah, I might miss something important, but I can live with that” or “some people might not like this bit of the story; it might not be perfect, or it might offend someone, but oh well; such is life.”

This is, of course, a matter of letting go and trusting God. Trusting God doesn’t mean that we tell ourselves things will work it; it means trusting that He will bring us through it and accept us despite our mistakes and failures, and, consequently, that our failures aren’t really as important as we make them out to be. And if they’re not that important, then of course we shouldn’t worry overmuch about risking them. It’s rather like having a cheat code or a save state in a video game.

Faith allows us this holy irresponsibility. Perfectionism and with it a degree of Phariseeism is, it seems to me, built into a materialistic worldview. For those who must have material success, social acceptance, and generally the good things of this world there is an urgent need to do things right; to be the right kind of person doing the right kind of job and saying the right kind of things. This, it seems to me, is why so many people today are downright terrified of social opprobrium.

For (to depart from my determination for a moment) that is what I see in virtue signaling; in all those corporate behemoths and public figures crying their support of angry mobs, in the politicians who cower and grovel before the barbarians celebrating within their gates, trying vainly to pretend they don’t see what is happening (headline from the BBC: “27 police injured during largely peaceful protests.” In a sane world, that would be a joke). I see fear. Not fear of the mobs, fear of being thought the wrong kind of person. All I see in this and other such things is people on their knees begging and crying and willing to accept any kind of self-abasement not to be cast out, not to be hated, not to be considered “one of those people”.

Well, if you don’t trust in God, anxious perfectionism seems the only option. It’s hard enough to avoid with faith; we shouldn’t be surprised to see it without it. Holy irresponsibility; to be willing and able to shrug at the possibility that you might be doing wrong or that you might be imperfect, is one of the great gifts of Christianity.

Friday Flotsam: On Not Getting What We Want

On Monday I had a job interview, the final such one before the decision. It was for a job I dearly wanted, a company I have actual interest in, and in a location I wanted to move to. I was well-qualified, and the job promised excellent opportunity for growth. The interview seemed to go really well, with a lot of positive comments, good humor, and talk about what made the company great to work for.

This morning I found that I didn’t get the job.

Such is often the pattern, I find; a great opportunity comes along, one replete with every advantage. We pray hard, do all we can to make the most of the chance…and nothing.

The worst part is not just the disappointment itself, but the fact that we now have to go through the exact same tedious, Sisyphean process all over again, likely in pursuit of a far less desirable opportunity, if there is an opportunity at all. The question can’t help but come up ‘how many such companies / jobs / chances are there?’ To put it another way, “there’s plenty of fish in the sea” may be helpful advice if I’m a fisherman and all I am after is any old fish to have for supper; it really doesn’t help if I’m a collector and just lost a rare, beautiful, one-in-a-million fish that I’ve spent hours trying to reel in.

Times like these, it’s very easy to get angry with God; to feel like we’ve done everything we can and yet He still jerks us around. Even now I can’t help wanting to ask ‘just what do you want from me here?’

Hard as it is to believe, though, there is a reason for it. Don’t ask me what it is, but God’s will for us is always for our own benefit. This does not mean that I’m assured of an even better job down the line; having a good job might not really be the best thing for me, or at least might be an impediment to something better (obviously, I sincerely hope it isn’t, and it disturbs me to even write that). God’s idea of our good has very little to do with the things we are concerned about in this life, or even our earthly happiness: it has everything to do with our eternal happiness.

That isn’t to say God is indifferent to present happiness. This life is a part of our everlasting life, after all; the foyer of Heaven. I suspect that He is delighted when the chance comes to give someone as thoroughly happy a life on earth as could be and welcome him into Heaven afterwards. But unfortunately, that is not how things usually work, and if it is a choice between happiness now or happiness forever, He’s going to pick the latter every time, as should we. And if that means that this life is thoroughly and unremittingly miserable for us, He thinks that a small price to pay to have us with Him forever in Heaven.

Or perhaps as a price to pay to have other people in Heaven. Remember, He did not spare Himself or His nearest and dearest from the miseries of life, if it meant saving the souls of the human race. It may be that you could get to Heaven on very easy terms, but that if you did, this other person might not get there at all. If so, and if God thinks you can take it, then He’ll strip away your happy life for the sake of saving both you and the person you will never meet.

Hence, “Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” and “Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

This sort of thing is alarming to write, given that I feel I’m bucking for God to say “Glad you understand; now here’s a tedious, pointless job in downtown Detroit for you to work for the next three years…” But so it is. It doesn’t make it hurt any the less, and I don’t know that I would say this to someone in the midst of mourning, but it does at least help maintain hope and makes it easier to soldier on. God knows what is best for us, and He has a far better perspective than we do.

I find being a writer helps to grasp this point. Often times the fun part is taking a character and giving them something that they initially hate or which makes them thoroughly miserable for a while, and then turning that into the source of their ultimate happiness. This is one reason, for instance, I really like the romance between Ron and Hermione in the Harry Potter books (spoilers, I guess, though you probably already knew that). They start our thoroughly disliking each other, and Ron even groans when he finds out she’s going to be in the same house with them. Then, by the end, she’s become the thing he wants most in the whole world. That transition and the final result is a large part of what makes that relationship (and consequently those characters) so enjoyable.

God is the great author, and He sees our stories whole and complete, while we only get it a page at a time. So, even when we don’t like His decisions, even when they’re the opposite of what we have been praying for, and we see not prospect of anything half as good, we may rest assured that He knows what He’s doing. “Just keep reading…”

“When Earth’s Last Picture is Painted”

When Earth’s last picture is painted
And the tubes are twisted and dried
When the oldest colours have faded
And the youngest critic has died.
We shall rest, and faith we will need it,
Lie down for an aeon or two
‘Till the Master of all good workmen
Shall put us to work anew

And those that were good shall be happy
They’ll sit in a golden chair
They’ll splash at a ten-league canvas
With brushes of comet’s hair
They’ll find real Saints to draw from
Magdalene, Peter, and Paul,
They’ll work for an age at a sitting
And never be tired at all

And only the Master shall praise us
And only the Master shall blame
And no one will work for the money
No one will work for the fame
But each for the joy of the working
And each, in his separate star
Will draw the Thing as he sees It
For the God of Things as they Are!
–Rudyard Kipling

New Aleteia Post: On Swearing

New post up at Aleteia, this one on why and how to stop swearing.

So why should we stop?

In the first place, because there can be a legitimate use for profanity. It’s a way to pack extra felt emotional force into a statement — whether for effect or to let off extreme stress (hence the famous swearing of sailors and soldiers). The trouble is, overexposure to profanity deadens the impact and consequently renders it useless. At the same time, normal speech becomes less effective and makes less of an impact. Like addicts, we become dulled to ordinary sensations and require higher and higher doses to register any effect at all. Casual profanity, therefore, becomes less and less effective while at the same time forcing us to use it more and more to try to make our words carry weight.

Which brings us to another issue. Profanity is meant to shock the listener, but in normal conversation, this is simply rude — akin to constantly shouting at the other person. Common courtesy dictates that in ordinary conversation we should try to make the other person feel reasonably comfortable, while profanity is meant to discomfort the other person. The two are contradictory. The only way a person would feel comfortable speaking with someone who swears constantly is if they had already become so desensitized as to render the profanity meaningless.

Read the rest here