0

Por Michael O’Brien

El Señor Michael O’Brien es un autor Canadiense, novelista, artista y conferencista internacional en literatura Cristiana, arte y cultura; mariología y temas sociales y mariológicos contemporáneos.

En la tormenta de confusión y desinformación que ha dado la bienvenida al debate de una definición papal sobre el dogma de María Corredentora, Mediadora y Abogada, la controversia del muy conocido San Maximiliano Kolbe en relación a la Madre de Dios, “¿Quién eres tú, o Inmaculada?” toma una nueva acerbidad y urgencia.

¿Quién es ella? ¿Quién es ella realmente, y qué está haciendo Dios a través de esta mujer singular?

María es ambas cosas, María de Nazaret y “la Mujer” del Apocalipsis. ¿Pero cómo puede ser esto? ¿Es ella dos personas? Alternativamente, ¿Es quizá una persona en dos “vestuarios” religiosos? ¿Es solamente un modelo de fidelidad, una discípula ejemplar, un santo (si bien la más grande de todos los santos)? ¿No es acaso algo más que un signo?

Si, es un signo. Pero mucho de la confusión sobre Ella en la mente moderna se deriva del carácter peculiarmente unidimensional de la sociedad Occidental, que ha fracturado la gran armonía del cosmos jerárquico tan severamente que las líneas de falla en el pensamiento y percepciones ahora se disparan en todas direcciones. En una cultura saturada de palabras y bombardeada de imágenes, tenemos cada vez menos y menos tiempo y capacidad de ver profundamente, y como resultado hemos venido a pensar crecientemente en signos en términos simplísticos. Asumimos que un signo es meramente un objeto que nos dice sobre algo o anota hacia algo adicional.

En el entendimiento Cristiano de la palabra, el significado pleno de los signos sagrados es que encarnan las cosas a las que anotan. En otras palabras, un signo sagrado participa íntimamente con la fuente de su vida. Más aún, revela un aspecto de esa fuente que de otra manera no hubiese sido inteligible a nosotros. Es por esto que, por ejemplo, los iconos sagrados de los ritos de la Iglesia Católica del Este y de las iglesias Ortodoxas nunca son considerados que sean instrumentos catequísticos, ni formas de arte religioso o decoración litúrgica. La teología del icono sostiene que el icono es una “ventana” sobre el infinito, un punto de encuentro con la presencia sagrada, un lugar donde la gracia puede fluir a través del mismo. El aspecto físico del icono no es un fin en sí mismo, nunca adorado; por otro lado, nunca es visto como un objeto neutral “letra muerta,” una señal de tráfico en la carretera o en libramiento del cosmos.

Considerar por ejemplo la Sagrada Eucaristía, el encuentro sagrado por excelencia entre Dios y el hombre. Hay en este sacramento un cierto valor de signo iconográfico; nos “habla” sobre muchas cosas verdaderas, tales como la Ultima Cena, la Encarnación, la naturaleza de la comunión y de la unidad, etc. Todo esto es de vital importancia, pero es el primer nivel de significado. Yendo profundo, vemos que Jesús está presente literalmente en una continuación del sacrificio del Calvario que envuelve al adorador en la eternidad de Dios. Aún más profundo; el Cuerpo, Sangre, Alma y Divinidad de Cristo entran en nuestra misma carne y toma residencia ahí en el tabernáculo interior del corazón. A este nivel, el “signo” del sacramento no es solamente una transferencia de información religiosa o el agitamiento de memorias y discernimientos. Este signo es una persona que está presente para nosotros, deseando una unión la cual es referida a través de la Escritura en los términos de un amor conyugal. Lo más impresionante de todo, esta persona es Dios.

Si Dios ha considerado correcto y bueno para nosotros vivir en un universo ordenado sobre tales líneas, si El se ha revelado a sí mismo como generoso inefable, rico y creativo, si El es un amante, entonces es perfectamente consistente que haya derramado la palabra con una plenitud de signos dadores de vida de Su amor.

Hace algunos años me encontré en una discusión informal con algunos amigos no Católicos, quienes intentaban lo más que podían, simplemente por que no podían entender la posición Católica sobre María. Como Católico le he dado el asentimiento a las doctrinas de la Iglesia y a los dogmas en relación a la Madre de Dios. Aún así, no pretendo entender totalmente estas enseñanzas y estaba fuertemente presionado por convencer a mis oyentes. Ellos tenían una particular dificultad con el dogma de la Inmaculada Concepción, y veían en él, una clara evidencia de que a pesar de todas nuestras protestas por lo contrario, los Católicos en verdad adoramos a María. Nada de lo que dije pudo cambiarlos de su convicción.

En aquel entonces yo no había encontrado todavía la famosa sentencia de San Agustín, “No entendemos primero para creer; debemos primero creer para poder entender.” Yo todavía estaba trabajando bajo la impresión de que el humano no puede fallar en ser convencido en cosas que sean propiamente explicadas. No había todavía llegado a la convicción de que los seres humanos son totalmente criaturas subjetivas y que hacemos nuestros juicios sobre prácticamente todo, sobre la base de impresiones -en nuestra percepción fundamental en como trabaja la creación.

Sintiéndome de alguna forma perplejo, decidí ir a trotar solitario a una playa arenosa. Corriendo descalzo, mi mente todavía se ocupaba en el debate, con los ojos fijos en el horizonte sin ver, estaba inconsciente del escenario que pasaba. Después de veinte minutos de correr me paré repentinamente, sin una razón aparente, a media sancada y miré hacia la arena bajo mis pies. Para mi horror, vi que mi pie derecho estaba balanceándose en el aire sobre las puntas de vidrio de una botella rota. Me eché para atrás rápidamente, exalando una oración de agradecimiento, por que por una fracción de segundo tendría que habérmelas visto con borbollones de sangre y tendones cortados a millas de distancia de cualquier ayuda.

Sintiéndome agradecido, pero dándome cuenta que se estaba haciendo tarde, rodié la botella y regrecé a mi casa al momento. Al minuto más o menos después, me pegó con toda fuerza la idea de que había dejado el objeto peligroso en la arena, y que el siguiente corredor descalzo no sería tan bendecido como yo. Me paré, regresé, cautelosamente recogí el vidrio y lo llevé a casa para tirarlo.

No analicé inmediatamente lo que había pasado y le di poca significado al hecho. Curiosamente, el recuerdo permaneció en mi mente, pasando una y otra vez durante las horas subsecuentes con un obsesionado sentido de urgencia, como si existiese algo de experiencia que estaba perdiendo. Tarde aquella noche me senté en la cama, repentinamente bien despierto y me di cuenta que el incidente con la botella fue un tipo de una dramática representación de la Inmaculada Concepción. Algo más allá de mi entendimiento y sentidos me había alertado de un peligro serio para mi vida y mi miembro, algo tan silencioso, que nunca le había dado un pensamiento hasta el momento mismo cuando se abrió el entendimiento a través de la masa de impresiones que habían hecho el día ordinario. Inodoro, incipido y silencioso, me sirvió mucho en mi gran agonía. Me sucedió por adelantado y me perseveró. Y también algo me movió para llevar a cabo el mismo servicio para los siguiente corredores que me seguirían. No tenía porque hacerlo, pero lo hice. ¿Qué fue lo que me movió para hacerlo? ¿No fue esto un reflejo pálido de la misericordia de Dios que se ha anticipado a la historia y preservado a María del pecado original? Como Hija de Adán y Eva, también estaba en necesidad de la redención de Cristo. El Padre, que está fuera del tiempo y es Señor de la Historia, escogió aplicarle los méritos del sacrificio del Hijo. La Inmaculada Concepción preparó el camino para que fuera la perfecta cooperadora con el Hijo en la Redención: la Corredentora. El no tenía porque hacerlo, pero lo hizo. ¿Por qué lo hizo?

Desde luego la analogía es imperfecta, y lo digo no con el propósito de ilustrar una doctrina. El punto que quiero llegar aquí es este: porque vivimos en un universo electrónico, Dios le habla al hombre total, no solamente a su intelecto o a su espíritu, sino también a través de las cosas materiales de su mortalidad. Con mucha frecuencia El nos enseña y forma a través de eventos tangibles de la vida, a través de experiencias que están cargadas de sentido. Entre más vamos madurando en el proceso de vida de asimilamiento de imágenes y palabras, un cuadro gradual de la realidad empieza a emerger. El diálogo entre la razón y la subjetividad dentro de nuestra naturaleza es más y más medido por las enseñanzas objetivas de la Iglesia, y por tanto crece nuestra percepción.

Solamente con los ojos de la fe podemos ver la “verdad total sobre el hombre.” Si las pequeñas historias escritas en nuestra carne y en nuestras historias personales tienen algo de informativo, ¿No será probable que Dios haya decretado un grandísimo e informativo drama en la vida de la Madre lo mismo que de su Hijo? ¿No será que nos está diciendo algo fundamental a través de Ella, no sólo como un indicador o un icono, sino como una epifania de su Ser?

El aspecto más dominante de nuestra experiencia como seres humanos, por mucho, está compuesta de nuestras relaciones con otros; la imagen de una madre, por ejemplo, cuando mira fijamente el rostro de su niño recién nacido. La imagen del niño que la mira fijamente. Cada uno está leyendo la cara de la realidad, cada quien está leyendo un mundo, un signo, una presencia.

En el caso de María y de Cristo Niño, la madre es la primera persona en la historia humana que clava su vista en los ojos de Dios, mientras pondera el insondable misterio de Su elección de ser enteramente dependiente en sus brazos. Su rostro es la primera imagen vista por el Dios encarnado recién nacido. El Hijo en su humanidad bebe en las palabras de amor y verdad en el rostro de Ella. Cada uno está ponderando un misterio; cada uno hablando y escuchando un lenguaje de amor en palabras que son silenciosas.

Si Dios ha escogido esta mujer para ser concebida sin pecado, para llevar la Palabra Encarnada en su propia carne, para nutrirlo en su vida oculta de Nazaret, para estar presente con El en la Cruz, para estar presente en Pentecostés, para ser asunta al Cielo, ¿Es tan indispensable que El le haya dado un rol que va más allá, aún mucho más allá de la habilidad de la razón humana para entender su propósito? ¿No es toda su vida un signo de contradicción, opuestas a las categorías ordinarias de pensamiento? ¿Qué vamos hacer entonces de Ella? ¿Cuál es la intensión de Dios en esta mujer? ¿Qué nos está diciendo El a través de Ella?

Puesto que Cristo es el nuevo Adán, revocando el pecado de Adán, está mucho en la naturaleza de Dios el derramar su escandalosamente pródiga generosidad en la mujer escogida para representar a la nueva Eva. Es dada sin decir que su rol en revocar el pecado de Eva se deriva enteramente del sacrificio del Hijo. Por ningún mérito de sí misma, es la primera beneficiada en la redención; por sufrir con su Hijo es, no obstante en ningún sentido subsidiario, la Co-rredentora. Dios pudo haber escogido revocar la victoria sobre el pecado y sobre la muerte totalmente por sí mismo, pero escogió compartirlo con la mujer y su hijo, el “linaje” de Apocalipsis 12:17, en donde la promesa hecha en Génesis 3:15 y encarnada en los Evangelios llega a su gozo pleno en la culminación definitiva de la historia humana.

Juan escribe en el Apocalipsis: “Una gran señal apareció en el cielo, una mujer vestida de sol, con la luna bajo sus pies, y una corona de doce estrellas sobre su cabeza; está en cinta, y grita con los dolores del parto y con el tormento de dar a luz… y el dragón se detuvo delante de la mujer que iba a dar a luz para devorar a su hijo en cuanto diera a luz. La mujer dio a luz a un hijo varón, el que ha de regir a todas las naciones con cetro de hierro; y su hijo fue arrebatado hasta Dios y hasta su trono. Y la mujer huyó al desierto, donde tiene un lugar preparado por Dios para ser allí alimentada mil doscientos sesenta días… entonces el dragón despechado contra la mujer, se fue hacer la guerra al resto de sus hijos, los que guardan los mandamientos de Dios y mantienen el testimonio de Jesús.” (Apo. 12:1-17)

Los críticos bíblicos modernistas han tendido a limitar este pasaje a una descripción de la Huida a Egipto o a una simbólica representación del primer siglo de Iglesia pasando por persecución. Haciéndolo así, intentan reducir la multidimensionalidad de la sagrada escritura (y la mente de Dios), a un tipo de tierra plana espiritual en la cual la salvación está vista como una dinámica puramente histórica, un proceso lineal, una cadena de casualidad natural, la cual por inferencia está lo mejor entendida (de acuerdo a sus pensamientos) en términos sociológicos, antropológicos y psicológicos. Solamente el primer nivel de significado en los signos se le acredita con sentido, disminuyendo, cuando no rechazando totalmente, el rol vital del “tipo,” y al mismo tiempo inhibiendo el futuro descubrimiento del sentido más profundo de la visión de San Juan.

En otras palabras, muchos exégetas bíblicos admiten el evento histórico (la Huida a Egipto o la persecución de la Iglesia), pero ignoran la dimensión del símbolo viviente, el “tipo” o gran icono (María como la Nueva Eva, María como Madre de la Iglesia), de ahí operando bajo el presupuesto de que el pasaje de la escritura puede significar cualquiera de las dos cosas pero no ambas, ¡y con toda seguridad no una tercera dimensión! No obstante, es precisamente este tercer nivel de consciencia de nivel espiritual hacia el cual los otros niveles del signo están tendiendo. Es en este entendimiento de la sagrada escritura que imbullo el pensamiento de los Padre de la Iglesia. Los Padres, para ponerlo simplemente, tuvieron una percepción más profunda.

Siempre que el significado de la interacción divina con la humana está compactada en, y neutralizada por, plantillas unidimensionales, la identidad y la misión evangélica de la Iglesia es gravemente debilitada. Cuando esto sucede, como ha sucedido en muchas iglesias particulares en el Oeste, tan dominada por el materialismo y el pragmatismo, muchos recursos vitales están en peligro de ser sofocados, y aún a estar peligrosamente cerca de ser echados de la vida de la Iglesia. En un cosmos “democrático,” nublado en una atmósfera de resolución de conflicto y de negociación, siendo cada vez más insensible al misterio y majestad del cosmos jerárquico, la voz profética de la Iglesia será relegada a sólo una opinión entre muchas otras, y en su mejor caso, a una filosofía del hombre o a una mitología interesante. Si esta trágicamente atrofiada lectura de la creación trabajara en su lógica política –la política de la manipulación y la manipulación de la política- y más ominosamente, “política eclesiástica,” sus primeros objetivos serán aquellas doctrinas que permanecen como signos de contradicción a la mente natural.

Juan Pablo II escribe en Signo de Contradicción: “Y así en el basto panorama de los tiempos en los que vivimos, en la era a la cual pertenecemos, la profecía de Simeón a Jesucristo como un ‘signo de contradicción’ parece sonar resonadamente verdadero. Sabemos que inmediatamente después de hablar aquellas palabras Simeón volteó a María, en una forma que ligaba la profecía sobre el Hijo con el de la Madre: ‘Y a ti misma una espada te atravesará el alma, a fin de que queden al descubierto las intensiones de muchos corazones.’ Con las palabras del anciano en la mente también volteamos nuestra mirada del Hijo a la Madre, de Jesús a María. El misterio de esta liga que la une con Cristo, el Cristo que es ‘un signo de contradicción’, es verdaderamente asombroso.” (Karol Wojtyla, Signo de Contradicción, p. 201. Seabury Press, 1979).

Unida al Hijo en la obra de la redención, María participa de una manera única y simultanea como la hija del Padre y la hija del hombre. En Ella, nos muestra lo que nosotros estabamos pensados ser “desde el principio” lo que nosotros íbamos a ser en Cristo.

Juan Pablo II anota que “María es parte de la historia de la salvación desde el principio, y permanecerá parte de ella hasta el final… La ´mujer’ del Apocalipsis representa a ambas a María y a la Iglesia –tal y como está aceptado por los eruditos bíblicos, teólogos y sobretodo, por la tradición Cristiana y el magisterio de la Iglesia.” Más aún, “dentro de las dimensiones del universo el Hijo de Dios, la Palabra eterna, el Señor de todos los tiempos por venir, es su Hijo y Ella es su madre. Por tanto, todo lo que sea para completar lo que legó –la obra de la salvación, el Cuerpo Místico de Cristo, el Pueblo de Dios, la Iglesia- corre por cuenta, y siempre lo será así, de Ella.” (Signo de Contradicción, p. 205).

Cuando Satanás hace la guerra a la mujer del Apocalipsis, el Hijo es llevado al Cielo y la mujer permanece para enfrentar a la serpiente en el desierto del mundo, acompañada por sus hijos espirituales, fortalecida por todas las gracias vertidas por el Cielo (Ap. 12:11). Es en este contexto que el asunto de la definición papal solemne del dogma de María Corredentora, Mediadora y Abogada se torna más entendible. En la lucha definitiva entre la Iglesia y la anti-Iglesia, entre el Evangelio y el anti-Evangelio, la Iglesia necesita gracias singulares. Aún así, Dios nunca forzará estas gracias sobre nosotros. En el gran diálogo entre Dios y el hombre, María intercede ante el trono de Dios por estas gracias, y al mismo tiempo nos súplica que las aceptemos. Todo está en espera de la elección libre del hombre. La liberación de gracias particulares depende de nuestro consentimiento. Al proclamar el dogma formalmente, el Papa irá con María frente al trono de Dios y dará el consentimiento en nombre de toda la humanidad, pidiéndole a El que nos entregue, a través de Ella, las gracias particulares que el Padre desea dar. En este diálogo, vemos la más íntima comunión de los corazones de la criatura hablando al corazón del Padre –cor ad cor-.

Continue Reading

Christmas Cake

Published on December 16, 2011 by in Christian Culture, December 2004

0

Suppose you live in a small town in the hill country, far from the big cities. And suppose that just down the road from you there lives a quiet sort of family about whom there isn’t anything outstanding, except that they are devoted to each other and are very devout in the practice of their faith. The dad is a carpenter who makes furniture in his shop beside their small house. The mother is a “home-maker,” a lovely person really. Their ten-year-old son is a polite sort of lad, helps his dad in the shop, is serious by nature, never says much but is ever-ready to smile at the drop of a hat. You meet him sometimes while walking along the country road or tromping through the bush; you turn a corner or step over a log and there he is kneeling beside a pond watching a beaver build a dam, or there he is gazing up into a tree branch listening to newborn robins chirping in their nest. That’s him—just listening, just looking. He notices you, smiles, bows a little, then seems to gaze at you as if you were as wonder-full as the world. He’s not shy, just quiet. Like his dad, he carves small wooden toys as gifts for the other children in the neighborhood. There’s something special about him, but you can’t quite put your finger on it.

[…]

Continue Reading

0

The astonishing success of the Twilight series of vampire novels written by Stephenie Meyer ranks second only to the Harry Potter series in publishing history, and the two films released to date also repeat this pattern. [1] Meyer’s series builds upon the foundation of older novels and cult films, themselves based on the European legends of vampires. The legends predate even these, for there is a long tradition in ancient religions of supernatural beings who are predators on humans, consuming the blood or flesh of the living, tales that can be found in Babylonian, Greek, Persian, Hindu, and Hebrew lore, as well as throughout Africa and the pre-colonial Americas.

[…]

Continue Reading

Pan’s Labyrinth

Published on March 20, 2010 by in Christian Culture

0

Most contemporary films are infected with some degree of symbol-erosion. A case in point is the Spanish language Pan’s Labyrinth (El laberinto del fauno, 2006), by the Mexican film-maker Guillermo del Toro, whose previous work includes Hellboy and Backbone of the Devil, films that draw on strange fiction, fantasy, and war themes. Pan’s Labyrinth is particularly interesting for its integration of fairy-tale, classical myth, horror, and political propaganda. Profoundly beautiful in parts, it is graphically brutal and subtly anti-Christian in its use of symbols. It won several international awards and three Academy awards and was listed in the top ten favorite films of many film critics.

The story is set in Spain, in 1944. The Spanish Civil War is over, but hidden in the mountains armed partisans (the Communists) hold onto shrinking islands of resistance. They are relentlessly being hunted down by the military forces of Franco’s regime. Throughout the film, the Communist partisans are all portrayed as kind, brave, self-sacrificing, warm-hearted men of honor and justicewithout exception they are truly humane. The people loyal to the regime are banal, greedy, cruel, hypocritical cowards, torturers, or murderersin short, gross caricatures of the political, religious, and social establishment.

[…]

Continue Reading

0

The conversion of traditional archetypes of evil into morally good ones makes a quantum leap in a film based on a novel by British author Philip Pullman. It is titled The Golden Compass, which is also the North American title of the first volume of Pullman’s fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials. {footnote} Volume one of the trilogy is published in Britain under the title Northern Lights (1995), followed by The Subtle Knife (1997) and The Amber Spyglass (2000).{/footnote} According to interviews with Pullman, the author’s stated intention is to reverse the traditional Biblical account of the war between heaven and hell. In his introduction, Pullman says that he “is of the Devil’s party and does know it” (a line adapted from a poem by William Blake).

[…]

Continue Reading

War in the Heavens

Published on February 20, 2010 by in Christian Culture

0

Where is the road of modern culture taking us? The real question is not whether there are intriguing, entertaining, and even edifying details along the route, but what is the final destination. Are we Christians asking this question as we consume contemporary cultural material? Or are we gradually losing our bearings, the moral compass spinning aimlessly?

What is the dominant terrain, the pitch of the slope? I believe it is heading downward, and the occasional bumps in the road that offer a sense of upward mobility (such as the “values” in the Harry Potter books or the Twilight series) contribute to an illusion. In order to see clearly the extent to which we have been absorbed by the illusion, we first must recognize how strong is the need in human nature for confidence in the world, and the instinctive aversion to the threat of “negativity” or “intolerance.”

For the time being, most Christians still maintain certain limits, vague lines across which hedonist culture cannot invade our personal lives. Though the limits are constantly probed and pressured, faint alarm bells still ring within us from time to time whenever there is too much violation. We overcome our fear of being “negative” or “intolerant” and rise to the defense. However, our response is often wavering, and rarely is it consistent.

It can be difficult for us to see this at first, and discernment is further complicated by the presence in contemporary neo-pagan fantasy of positive secondary values, some of which appear to reinforce good as understood by the Christian Faith. However, whatever survives of authentic morality in them is often no more than a residue of what it once was. Full of internal contradictions, the few positive values are dominated by subjectivity and impulse. Those Christians who emphasize these values, while ignoring the repeated violation of absolute principles, run the risk of straining out gnats and swallowing camels. As Mona Mikaël pithily expressed it in her monumental study of symbolism in the Harry Potter series, they “hold fiercely to the drop of honey and ignore the septic tank in which it dilutes beyond recognition.” (1)

One might extend the metaphor to ask whether it would be acceptable if the proportions were 50/50. Or 90/10? Perhaps 99/1? At what point does the presence of infection become “harmless”?

Imagine two mothers, or two fathers, having a discussion about what kind of cultural material is best to give their children: One parent is cautious about the way most contemporary fantasy mixes good and evil (and sometimes inverts them). The other parent has grown accustomed to the septic environment and is more trusting of the surrounding culture. When he tastes the mixture his tongue reassures him that it is honey.

“It is sweet,” he declares. “It is good. The virus, the bacteria, the toxin you speak of is a figment of your imagination, the product of your irrational fears about contamination!”

“Do not be deceived by the taste,” says the cautious parent. “It is better for people not to consume such mixtures.”

The trusting parent says with a certain tension: “So you want to quarantine your children, lock them away in an antiseptic environment!”

“Not at all,” replies the other. “Regardless of the exact ratio of healthy and unhealthy materials, is it not obvious that consuming any virus, toxin, or virulent bacteria is detrimental to health? I simply do not want to feed this particular honey to my children.”

“But by not giving them this honey you are harming your children.”

“Explain to me, precisely, how I am harming my children by abstaining from giving them infected food.”

“It is not infected! Besides, you’re going to isolate your children, make them strangers in their own culture. Do you want them to be weird?”

“But I just saw you dip your finger into a septic tank and lick it. That seems a little weird to me.”

“It is not a septic tank. It is a very large reservoir containing, admittedly, some unpleasant things, but also many good things. We need to focus on the good. You really have a problem with negativity, you know. It’s making you intolerant.”

“Yes, I am intolerant.”

A shocked pause. “Pardon me?”

“I’m intolerant of anything that will make my children sick.”

“Are you accusing me of making my children sick?!”

“I respect your right to make your own decision. I have no respect for the contents of the septic tank.”

“What?”

“I was making a distinction.”

And so it goes-the seemingly irresolvable, supposedly rational dialogues of the Western world as it loses its bearings, its sense of the actual moral order in the universe. The loss of that sense is due in no small part to the loss of our understanding of the power of stories as conveyers of truth or falsehood, the power of symbols over consciousness (and hence conscience), and beneath it our loss of the meaning of language itself.

To what degree have our judgments been influenced by the zeitgeist, the spirit of the times? Are we evangelizing, or are we being anti-evangelized? Are we succumbing to the age-old problem of assimilation? To what degree have we mistaken the assimilation by paganism for legitimate inculturation, that is, the adaptation of Christian culture to the “language” of the surrounding non-Christian culture? What, precisely, is a legitimate adaptation of non-Christian culture? Can we really “baptize” the symbols and activities of the realm of darkness without negative effects? These are particularly urgent questions, because we are no longer the early Christians cleansing a classical pagan temple and consecrating it as a church. We are “Late Western Man,” to use C. S. Lewis’s term, and we are in the midst of a social revolution that is assaulting the truly sacred and degrading it at every turn.

And what will another three generations bring into play if our moral sense continues to weaken? Dr. Russell Kirk, in a lecture on the moral imagination, warned that a people who reject the right order of the soul and the true good of society will in the end inherit “fire and slaughter.” When culture is deprived of authentic moral vision, he says, the rise of the “diabolic imagination” is the inevitable result. What begins as rootless idealism soon passes into the totalitarian sphere of “narcotic illusions” that end in “diabolic regimes.” (2)

Narcotic illusions

For more than 35 years of family life, my wife and I have not had television in our home, preferring instead to focus on reading and music and other forms of cultural life. Our children grew up to be imaginative, independent thinkers, capable of creating their own rich cultural life in their families. Even now, in late middle-age, my wife and I rarely see films in theaters (once every few years), and watch very few videos at home. From time to time, whenever I am exposed to the new media culture, I am always startled by the changes that have occurred since my last experience.

Recently we went to a movie theater complex with some friends, in order to see a film about which we had read good reviews. As we sat waiting for it in the darkened theater, we were subjected to four previews of forthcoming films, the sound system blasting us and the visual images pummeling us in rapid-paced, aggressive style. All four of the previews displayed supernatural themes in various warped manifestations, each combining horror, terror, and paranormal experiences. Sex, combined with violence and supernatural powers, were the antidotes to the threats in each story.

The final preview was the worst. In it, a group of people were under siege in a roadside diner (named Paradise Falls) by God’s angels, because, according to the plot line, God had run out of patience with mankind and had decided to destroy us all. The most sinister of the angels was introduced as “the archangel Gabriel.” He was opposed by the archangel “Michael” who had come down to earth to protect a young waitress from Gabriel (and from God). She was pregnant with a child destined to be a new Christ who would save mankind. Gabriel and his assistant angels, the “legion” of the title, were so monstrous and hate-filled their behavior resembled that of demons. The corruption of symbols was blatant. The messages: God is not omnipotent and is a mixture of good and evil; even the greatest of angels (Michael being the highest) can still rebel; the Kingdom of heaven is divided; those who obey God are evil; those who resist God are good. (3)

After this noxious diet of previews, the main feature began and it too was full of shocking surprises, horror combined with human violence. After a few minutes we got up and left. Hoping not to lose our ticket money, we wandered around the complex of 24 theaters, searching for an alternative. We slipped into several and read the posters for all and were surprised to learn that not a single film was without some objectionable content. Of course, we knew that the state of the popular culture is poor, at times sinking to low points, but always rising again, we had presumed. If I recall correctly, the 1980’s were a cinematic cesspool, though somewhat better in the 1990’s. Perhaps we stumbled into the “temple” of cinema at a bad time of year. Nevertheless, it was a revelation to learn the extent of the corruption, and we wondered what were the odds that this was purely chance. It sparked a good discussion on the long ride home (we live some hours drive away from the closest movie theater), and among several questions that arose was whether culture merely reflects the preoccupations of the society from which it emerges, or whether culture shapes and directs that society. We concluded that it was both.

(Page 2)

I remembered a film I had seen in 1996, titled Dragonheart. (1) This is the tale of a tenth-century kingdom ruled by a tyrant. When the king is killed in a peasant uprising, his son inherits the crown but is wounded when his heart is pierced by a spear; he is beyond all hope of recovery. His mother the queen takes him into an underground cave that is the lair of a dragon. She kneels before the dragon and calls him “Lord,” and begs him to save the prince’s life. The dragon removes half of his own heart and inserts it into the gasping wound in the prince’s chest, then heals the wound with a touch of his claw.

The queen says to her son, “He [the dragon] will save you.” And to the dragon she says, “He [the prince] will grow in your grace.” The prince recovers and grows to manhood, the dragon’s heart beating within him. The prince becomes totally evil, a tyrant like his father, and the viewer is led to believe that, in this detail at least, traditional symbolism is at work-the heart of a dragon will make a man into a dragon. But this is not so, for later we learn that the prince’s own evil nature has overshadowed the dragon’s good heart. When the dragon reappears in the story and becomes the central character, we are shown, step by step, that he is not the terrifying monster we think dragons are. He dabbles in the role the superstitious peasants have assigned to him (the traditional concept of dragon), but he never really does any harm, except to dragon-slayers, and then only when they attack him without provocation. Through his growing friendship with a reformed dragon-slayer, we gradually come to see the dragon’s true character. He is wise, noble, ethical, and witty. He merely plays upon the irrational fears of the humans regarding dragons because he knows that they are not yet ready to understand the higher wisdom, a vision known only to dragons and their enlightened human initiates.

The plot unfolds with the dragon more and more playing the role of protector and advocate of the people’s rights, rising up against the evil tyrant (the prince with half a dragon’s heart in him). Along the way, traditional Christian symbols and allegiances are overturned, scripture passages are mocked, and characters once-Christian find a more successful path to defend the good of “The People.” For example, a priest throws away his cross and takes up a bow and arrow and goes to war.

Then comes a crucial scene in which the priest shoots an arrow into the prince’s heart. But the prince does not fall; he pulls the arrow from his heart and smiles. Neither Christian myth nor Christian might can stop this kind of evil. Here we begin to understand the intention of the film-maker: The prince cannot die because a dragon’s heart beats within him, even though he, not the dragon, has corrupted the heart. The evil prince will die only when the dragon dies (compare this with the co-dependency of Voldemort and Harry, especially in volume seven of the Potter series). Knowing this, the dragon willingly sacrifices his own life in order to end the reign of evil. At this point we see the real purpose of the film-the presentation of the dragon as a Christ-figure.

Shortly before this decisive climax, the dragon describes in mystical tones his vision of the history of the universe: “Long ago, when man was young and the dragon already old, the wisest of our race took pity on man. He gathered together all the dragons, who vowed to watch over man always. And at the moment of his death, the night became alive with those stars [the dragon points to the constellation Draco], and thus was born the dragons’ heaven.” He explains that he had shared his heart with the dying young prince in order to “reunite man and dragon and to ensure my place among my ancient brothers of the sky.”

In the final moments of the film, after the dragon’s death, he is assumed into the heavens amidst heart-throbbing music and star bursts, and becomes part of the constellation Draco. The crowd of humans watch this cosmic spectacle, their faces filled with religious fervor. A voice-over narrator says that in the years following “Draco’s sacrifice” a time of justice and brotherhood came upon the world, “golden years warmed by an unworldly light. And when things were most difficult, Draco’s star shone more brightly for all of us who knew where to look.”

Yes, the gnosis that liberates, the higher knowledge of the initiates, those who know where to look. Few members of an audience would know that, according to the lore of witchcraft and Satanism, the constellation Draco is the original home of Satan and is reverenced in their rituals. Here is a warning about where conscious or subconscious gnosticism can lead. What begins as one’s insistence on the right to decide the meaning of good and evil leads inevitably to spiritual blindness. Step by step, we are led from the wholly good. Then, as the will is progressively weakened and the mind darkened, we suffer more serious damage to the foundation itself and arrive, finally, if we should lose all reason, at some manifestation of the diabolical.

When this process is promulgated with all the genius of modern cinematic technology, packaged in the trappings of art and mysticism, our peril increases exponentially. How long does it take for us to arrive at the mental and spiritual condition where we become indifferent to the words of Jesus: “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10: 17-20); and the vision of St. John in Revelation: “And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world-he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him” (Rev 12: 7-9); and St. Peter’s admonition: “Stay sober and alert, for your adversary the devil is prowling about like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5: 8-9); and Christ’s most sobering warning to the apostles at the Last Supper: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has begged permission to sift you like wheat” (Luke 22:31). How long until we find ourselves saying without any uneasiness or flicker of doubt, “Well, that’s our Christian myth. The world is full of myths, and each has its truth, and who can know which is the better?”

St. Paul prophetically warned the Christians of his times that in the future the Church would face many trials, and that chief among these would be not only persecutions originating outside the body of believers, but corruption of the faith from within:

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound doctrine, but, having itching ears and following their own desires, they will surround themselves with teachers to suit their own likings. They will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths. (2 Timothy 4: 3-4)

Indeed, the world has again become infested with myths, as it was during the most corrupt era of the Roman empire. The word myth derives from the Greek mythos, a traditional story that embodies a people’s view of the world and the cosmos. It can have the secondary meaning of a popular belief that has grown up around a person or thing. A third meaning is any unfounded or false notion. In modern parlance these distinct meanings can blend into one sense. In its primary meaning, however, the distinction made by J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, and G. K. Chesterton is that while Christianity is a myth because it fulfills many traditional elements of embodying the cosmic drama, it is at the same time a “true myth” because the events of salvation history recorded in Scripture actually happened. Yet in our era, due to our over-saturation in revived and new myths received from a steady diet of film and television drama, with their onslaught of imagery and symbols, our vision can blur and then we can succumb to the sense that all myths are more or less of equal value. Their contradictions are resolved in our minds by the belief that they each contain some truth pointing to an unseen higher truth.

As the consciousness of late Western man, the child of Christendom, slides back into paganism, it is inevitable that his world will make sense to him only in this way. What his ancestors once believed as fact is now comprehensible to him only as one of many symbol-systems-the best system, perhaps, says the gnosticized Christian, but one that should not exclude other systems. In this way, with the key of the “higher” gnosis, fueled by his emotional “experiences” and his intuitions about the matter, he considers the “Christian myth” as imaginative material that may be revised as long as the revisions serve his “higher truth.”

Star Wars or War in the Heavens?

What stands in the path of this rewriting of symbols about the real struggle in the universe? Only the Church, only its adamant, timeless insistence on the absolute authority of God, and on objective moral absolutes given to mankind by God. Which brings to mind another film, Revenge of the Sith, the 2005 episode III of the Star Wars series.

One of this film’s positive elements is its chilling portrayal of the psychological seduction of Anakin Skywalker (the young Darth Vader) into the world of evil, “the dark side of the Force.” The Star Wars universe is involved in an epic struggle between the latter and the “light side of the Force,” a cosmology that has strongly affected the modern imagination. Notice, for example, how the expression “The Force be with you!” has entered common parlance in Western culture. It is used as a half-humorous greeting, of course, yet it would not continue to be used so frequently if it were not in some way manifesting internal questions and unacknowledged doubts and fears in the heart of modern man. Whether or not he can articulate it, he ponders what good and evil really are, and what is their relationship with each other. More often than not, he intuitively “sees” good and evil as co-equal and balanced in a great tension-equilibrium in creation, little knowing that this is a doctrine often found in various New Age movements and the occult. It surfaces in various other forms, such as the now familiar symbol of yin-yang, behind which is the ancient Chinese belief in the interconnectedness and interdependence of opposing forces in nature and in man. It surfaces in philosophy in mutated, disguised forms such as Hegelian dialectic, and its offspring “dialectic materialism” (Marxism). It surfaces in culture in a thousand manifestations, for example, the Earthsea trilogy by Ursula LeGuin, which, like Potter-world, is about “good” and “evil” sorcerers who struggle to maintain the “Great Equilibrium.”

In a talk he gave in 1985, George Lukas said that he had consciously based his screenplay of the first film in the Star Wars series on the ideas of the mythologist Joseph Campbell. Influenced by Vedanta Hinduism and the Gnostic theories of Carl Jung, Campbell once wrote: “All religions are merely misunderstood mythologies.” For example, in his book, The Inner Reaches of Outer Space: Metaphor as Myth and as Religion, Campbell states that the concepts of God as Creator and Person, the resurrection of the body, Heaven, the Virgin Birth, and other Christian doctrines are “evident nonsense.” They are, he asserts, no more than projections of the human mind; they are metaphors and dreamlike “mythological forms” not based in objective historical reality. Campbell’s favorite theme is also to be found in his other books, such as The Masks of God and The Hero With a Thousand Faces.

If religion is only about imaginary “mythological forms,” then it naturally follows that novelists and film-makers are free to make of religious truths whatever they like. They can redefine the real war in the heavens according to the terms established by fictional war among the stars. A case in point is a scene in Star Wars’ Episode Three, a dialogue between Anakin and his former teacher Obi-Wan Kenobe that takes place at the climax of the film. Obi-wan is a Jedi Master, defender of the good, embodiment of the “light side of the Force.” Anakin-Darth has secretly become a Sith, an embodiment of “the dark side of the Force.” In their final debate Obi-Wan-the-good shouts, “Only a Sith deals in absolutes!”

At a time when the Church is seeking at every turn to stem the rising tide of evil by defending moral absolutes, one of the great cultural icons of Goodness, Truth, and Justice says, in effect, that only the most evil people speak of absolutes. We could dismiss this as a “minor” flaw in a film that has some points to make about courage and sacrifice. We could say, “It’s only culture.” We could say, “It’s just a movie.” We could say that George Lucas has given us no more than a bit of rollicking fun with a scrambled cosmology full of internal contradictions, but, oh well, that’s the way it goes with most things we watch, so let’s focus on the good in these films. The fact is, millions of young people leave the theaters pumped with adrenaline and impregnated with the thought (buried somewhere in their minds) that people who speak of absolutes should be regarded with suspicion and are probably up to no good. How can they think otherwise? Correction: How can they feel otherwise? Most people in this generation are unformed in their concepts of the moral order of the universe and have little or no objective measurement with which to assess such declarations. How many in the audience are capable of replying to our hero Obi-Wan, “No, it is the Sith who deny the existence of absolutes!” (2)

 

Footnotes (Page 1)

(1) Mikaël, Mona, Harry Potter et L’Ordre des Ténèbres, Editions Saint-Remi, France, 2007; abridged edition 2008; Editio Sanctus Martinus, Combermere, Canada, 2009. The abridged edition republished 2009, and original unabridged republished by Editio Sanctus Martinus, autumn 2009. These editions are currently available in French language only, with translation into English in progress.

(2) Russell Kirk, “The Perversity of Recent Fiction: Reflections on the Moral Imagination,” in Reclaiming a Patrimony, The Heritage Foundation, Washington, D.C., 1982.

(3) At this writing Legion is scheduled to be released in January, 2010.

(Page 2)

(1) This film is examined in greater detail in my book, A Landscape With Dragons: the Battle for Your Child’s Mind, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1998.

(2) Revenge of the Sith earned over $848 million worldwide. It was the highest grossing film of 2005 in the U. S. A. and the second-highest grossing film of 2005, worldwide, behind Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

Continue Reading

0

Christian parents everywhere are facing the dilemma of raising their families in the midst of a tsunami of cultural corruption-and extremely invasive corruption it is! We sense the dangers but so often do not know what to do about it. We know that our children are especially vulnerable to the spirit of the times, and that the older they get the more they must live with one foot in the family and one foot in the world around them. As they move outward from the foundation of the family into the wider community, which is a necessary stage in the process of maturing, they will need wisdom and grace in a way different than any other generation before them.

[…]

Continue Reading

A Gift Disguised

Published on December 19, 2009 by in Christian Culture

0

Our friend Susan has for the past twenty years been active in a full-time ministry to “street people” in Ottawa. A single woman in her early fifties, she has dedicated her life to serving those who are the most broken and rejected in our society—drug addicts, alcoholics, the mentally ill, homeless youth, street prostitutes—anyone who has fallen through the cracks of the consumer society. Much of her work involves practical nursing. Her patients are those unable or unwilling to avail themselves of the help offered by hospitals or charitable institutions. She works in a make-shift first-aid station (a janitor’s room provided by the owners of a downtown office building). She thaws out frozen feet, bandages wounds, washes the sick, listens, befriends, advises, and prays with her people. Everyone downtown knows her and trusts her.

Susan recently told us about a Christmas gift the Lord gave to her:

[…]

Continue Reading

0

Is this not the time for all to work together for a new constitutional organization of the human family, truly capable of ensuring peace and harmony between peoples, as well as their integral development? But let there be no misunderstanding. This does not mean writing the constitution of a global super-State.

— Pope John Paul II, Message for the World Day of Peace, 2003

Fighting poverty requires attentive consideration of the complex phenomenon of globalization. … The reference to globalization should also alert us to the spiritual and moral implications of the question, urging us, in our dealings with the poor, to set out from the clear recognition that we all share in a single divine plan: we are called to form one family in which all – individuals, peoples and nations – model their behaviour according to the principles of fraternity and responsibility.

— Pope Benedict XVI, Message for the World Day of Peace, 2009

During the past few centuries the theme of a “new secular order” has grown in public consciousness in the Western World, coasting on the magic carpet of the American dollar bill (novus ordo seclorum) and the more esoteric doctrines of secret societies. Interpretations of what it means, what forms this new order might take in the world, and how sinister (or not) it could be, range from the dire to the enthusiastic, and everything in between. It is often erroneously equated with, and conflated with, developments in globalization. The latter is a broad complex phenomenon that has more to do with the increasing interconnectedness of regional economies, and with the technological revolution in communications that has shrunk the barriers imposed by distances and time. It grows primarily through the increasing integration of markets, international trade, the flow of capital, ideas, people, culture, technology, and the development of transnational regulations.

[…]

Continue Reading

0

The following article first appeared recently on LifeSiteNews.com and is being shared here with the author’s permission.
—Asst. Ed
.

Dear Friends, 

From just north of the border, we Canadians, like other people throughout the world, are observing and praying for the coming federal election in the United States of America. I would prefer to keep private my counsel about political choices, because it is not my country. However, I am receiving letters from American subscribers and visitors to my studio website asking me some rather surprising questions about Barack Obama, related to one of my novels.

During the past year I have read a number of his pronouncements, and saw the smoke and mirrors beneath the rhetoric, but couldn’t understand why everyone south of the border (the other south of the border, the 49th parallel) was getting so excited about him, both pro and con. Then a few weeks ago a German friend called me immediately after Obama’s speech in Berlin, to say that the presidential candidate had mesmerized the crowds, and that a commentator on German television had said: "We have just heard the next President of the United States … and the future President of the World." My friend felt that Obama bore an uncanny resemblance to the fictional character of the President in my novel Father Elijah. I have received several other letters saying the same thing and asking what I thought about it.


[…]

Continue Reading

0

This summer marks the 40th anniversary of the publication of Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae. It is hard to believe that so many years have passed, more than a generation. How swiftly it has gone, and how changed is the face of our world. Let us not blame war or economic trouble or abortion for the current state of the world, for this would be to blame symptoms and ignore the source of the disease. It is, in fact, contraception that is destroying Western civilization.

[…]

Continue Reading

0

I live in Canada, which for half of the year is a cold country. For most of our thirty years of marriage my wife and I have had a large image of Our Lady of Guadalupe in a central place in our home, and her face has been a constant source of warmth and consolation to us. It is a mystery to me how her face seems to change from day to day. Some days there is a gentle grief in her eyes, and on other days she is smiling, on still others we feel a wave of quiet, steady love coming from her. Nothing dramatic, but always there. We see her as the Mother of our family. We know she is also the Mother of the Americas. She is also the Mother of all peoples, the Mother of all mankind, and at Guadalupe she is revealed as the Woman of Revelation, the one who will crush the serpent with her heel.

[…]

Continue Reading

0

The following excerpt comes from the May edition of Michael O’Brien’s monthly newsletter.

This month, I would like to share a few thoughts on gratitude. In a time of struggle—which is the situation for all those who seek to follow Jesus wholeheartedly—it is easy to get endlessly distracted and anxious about “survival.” For Christians this can translate into survival for the sake of doing good in the world. The motive is good, but the anxiety is not. Indeed it is a symptom of a flaw in the root of one’s relationship with God as Father. In any event, that is the case with me. The past month, I have been hearing in prayer a gentle but persistent word: “All good things are given from above.” And: “Patience.”

Yes, we must work on, often with little promise of success in worldly terms. If we do so, many interior qualities are strengthened, such as patience, perseverance, longsuffering—and even wisdom.

One can know this in the mind. But it is not so easy to integrate this knowledge with the deeper movements of the heart and soul. But how does the integration come? I am convinced that it comes only through persistent prayer combined with carrying the crosses that life presents to us—the normal daily ones and the extraordinary ones that are laid on our shoulders from time to time. […]

Continue Reading

0

A film based on a novel by British author Philip Pullman opened this month in theaters throughout the world. It is titled The Golden Compass, which is also the North American title of the first volume of Pullman’s fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials.

According to interviews with Pullman, the author’s stated intention is to reverse the traditional Biblical account of the war between heaven and hell. In his introduction, Pullman says that he “is of the Devil’s party and does know it” (a line adapted from a poem by William Blake).

Institutional religion is portrayed in the series as the oppressor of mankind. For example, Ruta Skadi, a witch and friend of Lyra’s (one of the two main characters) calls for war against the Magisterium in Lyra’s world, and says that “For all of (the Church’s) history … it has tried to suppress and control every natural impulse. And when it can’t control them, it cuts them out.”

Skadi later extends her criticism to all organized religion: “That’s what the Church does, and every church is the same: control, destroy, obliterate every good feeling.” By this part of the book, the witches have made reference to how they are treated criminally by the church in their worlds. Mary Malone, one of Pullman’s main characters, states that “the Christian religion … is a very powerful and convincing mistake, that’s all.” She was formerly a Catholic nun, but gave up her vows when the experience of being in love caused her to doubt her faith. […]

Continue Reading

0

It would be hard to find a book as timely and as helpful to our understanding of the spiritual phenomena occurring in our midst as this new work by Dr. Mark Miravalle, professor of Marian Theology at Franciscan University. As he points out in his introduction, there have been more reported private revelations during the past 200 years that have received some form of ecclesiastical approval than in any other period of the Church’s history. Sober reflection on the nature and purpose of private revelation, and on the criteria used by the Church in the discernment of authenticity, has become increasingly relevant for all those who seek to follow Christ. The issue needs close attention in an era that has seen a voluminous increase in truly Christian prophetic gifts, and at the same time seen increasing manifestations of occult activities, the “New Age” movements and the preternatural phenomena associated with them, as well as other forms of false prophecy. Contrary to what one might expect in an Age of Materialism, Miravalle points out, “mysticism” in general has increased, rather than decreased. And there is nothing more in need of careful discernment than mysticism.

At a time of history when the struggle for the future of mankind on this earth has entered a period of unique dangers and intensity, when the assaults upon the eternal value of the human person and upon the fundamental moral principles of civilization are increasing daily, God has chosen to pour out for us extraordinary graces of illuminating words, images, and entire messages of exhortation and warning, for the purpose of strengthening His people and for the conversion of all mankind. It is of utmost importance, therefore, that those who know, love, and serve Him be equipped to discern rightly between His authentic communications and those originating from naïve questionable sources or from less innocent, more willfully deceptive sources.

God continues to speak to his people in numerous ways: through the “living word” of Sacred Scripture, through the Magisterial teachings and tradition of the Church, through the Sacraments, through prayer, through his indwelling presence in the souls of other believers. Nor must we forget that he speaks through the beauties of natural creation, and through the mysterious unfolding of divine providence in each person’s life. Should we be surprised, then, that our Trinitarian God, who is a Person, also speaks to his children individually as persons?

He speaks continuously, but we so rarely hear; and even when we do hear, our imperfect human nature too easily interprets according to subjective understandings or desires, and in some cases distorts the original intention of the message altogether. Yet God does not cease communicating with us, and in this communication he also provides the graces for our healing and growth, that we might learn to understand his language of the Spirit, and become conformed more and more into the image of his Son. This is not accomplished in an instant—nor in a millennium. And that is why he has given us the Church, the Body of Christ in this world, so that all the graces and charisms of Christ might assist us in hearing rightly, and thus to respond rightly, becoming what we were intended to be from the beginning.

When considering the confusing array of private revelation in the contemporary world, it is tempting for some to regard the entire genre of Christian mystical phenomena with suspicion, indeed to dispense with it as entirely too risky, too riddled with human imagination and self-deception, as well as the potential for spiritual deception by our adversary the devil. That is one danger.

The alternate danger is to so unreservedly embrace any message that seems to come from the supernatural realm that one can slip into a habit of treating prophetic graces as if they were on par with Scripture. From there, the habit can lead a person to neglect of Scripture and Tradition while constantly seeking after apparitions and visionaries, reading the writings or listening to the messages of the seers, not so much to deepen his union with Jesus, but rather to mine for “information” that will bring him safely through these dangerous times. Thus, a kind of disguised Pelagianism can result, even a subconscious Gnosticism, a “baptized” fortune-telling (which is not only a contradiction of terms, but is also spiritually corrupting). Miravalle reminds us that according to the mind of Christ, that is, the mind of the Church, neither of these alternate approaches—wholesale rejection, on the one hand, and undiscerning acceptance on the other—are healthy. Rather, the authentic Christian approach to prophetic graces should always follow the dual Apostolic exhortations, in the words of St. Paul: “Do not quench the Spirit; do not despise prophecy,” and, “Test every spirit; retain what is good.” (1 Thessalonians 5: 19-21).

The author bases his book on the definitive study of private revelation by Pope Benedict XIV, De Servorum Dei Beatificatione et de Beatorum Canonizatione, written while he was Cardinal Prospero Lambertini, specifically the English-language translation, Heroic Virtue, which is a portion of the original five-volume work in Latin. Miravalle first examines the fundamental principles which should govern the discernment of all reported private revelation, and secondly, the nature of Marian private revelation during the past 200 years. In the former we learn the principles, and in the latter we see the principles “made flesh,” for the ecclesiastically approved apparitions of Our Mother have exemplified the truth that God chooses to send us messages through human messengers, that he is a Father who desires to communicate with his beloved children so that we may one day live with him in eternal communion. That he sends us his most singular daughter, She who is the Mediatrix of all graces, underlines the legitimacy of the prophetic gift, and does so in its purest form, reminding us of the gravity of the crisis now facing the Church, and all mankind.

It would be difficult to exaggerate the importance of this book, and I encourage everyone to obtain copies and give them to bishops, pastors, lay leaders … in fact to anyone who has a desire to learn what heaven is saying to us so consistently, and with such urgency.

Michael O’Brien, father of six, is a painter and writer. He is the author of several books, notably the best-selling novel Father Elijah and his examination of the paganization of contemporary children’s culture, A Landscape With Dragons: the Battle for Your Child’s Mind. You may visit him at his Web site www.studiobrien.com.

Continue Reading

0

“Grace never casts nature aside or cancels it out. Rather it perfects it and ennobles it.”
(John Paul II, On the Dignity and Vocation of Women)

I’ve been pondering recently, as I have so many times over the years, what Our Lady meant precisely in the messages of Fatima when she spoke about the offences through the clothing fashions that would develop in the years following the apparitions. Appearing to Blessed Jacinta Marto between December, 1919 and February, 1920, she said, “Certain fashions will be introduced that will offend Our Lord very much.” And “Woe to women lacking in modesty.”

Clearly, Our Lady is neither a repressive puritan nor a prude. It goes without saying that neither is she a libertarian. She is beautiful in heart, mind, body and soul. She is without sin and thus she is subject to neither unholy shamelessness nor to personal shame. She is prudent, modest, and wise about human nature. She loves with the fullness of indwelling divine love, which means that she loves with an eternal motherly heart, concerned above all with the ultimate good of each of her children. […]

Continue Reading

0

Although this article was written to commemorate the Feast of the Holy Innocents, its relevance becomes obvious as our country approaches the infamous anniversary of Roe v. Wade, and the national legalization of abortion. – Ed.

There are moments when our confidence in the ultimate goodness of life is strong. There are other times when confidence is shaken. Who among us does not prefer the former state? When we are confident we feel assured that we are safe from harm; we proceed about our daily affairs without giving thought to the dangers of human existence. Anxiety, fear, and doubt are kept at a distance by the power of our wits, finances, and entertainments. Happiness is within our grasp; the future is more or less assured and we are at peace. Besides, family life is just too busy an affair to brood overmuch on the “what ifs.” Right?

It is true, of course, that we are ultimately quite safe, for God does hold us firmly and tenderly in his hands, and nothing but our own unbelief or sin can tear us out of them. But God did not promise to shield us perfectly from suffering. Indeed, if He had done so He would have deprived us of the opportunity to grow and to become more and more like his Son on the Cross––and, it must be added, like his Son at the Resurrection. And so there is no hermetically sealed, sanitized, quarantined existence for us. It’s not all Cross and it’s not all Resurrection. He seems to want to give us as much of both as we can take. Why is that? […]

Continue Reading

0

Advent has begun and Christmas is approaching as I write this. The malls are packed with shoppers. They are, like me, trying to beat the Christmas rush or tap into the pre-Christmas sales, or maybe just get into the spirit of things early. You may have noticed that life in these times is somewhat tense, and who can be blamed for rushing the season of peace just a little. There’s a holiday feeling in the air: the potted pines and the shop windows are all decked out; the robot Santas and the synthetic jingle on the loudspeakers are jolly in about equal portions. As is usual at this time of year, people are more patient with one another, will allow complete strangers to enter elevators before them, will overlook the irritating behavior of the occasional aggressive bargain-hunter, and will smile more easily at mothers with small noisy children. It is the season of tolerance.

Perhaps, then, it would not hurt to be reminded that the Incarnation was, in fact, an act of colossal intolerance on the part of God, by which I mean to say that it was an act of immeasurable love. He loved us so much that he would not let us die in our sins. He was intolerant of our slavery and was born among us for the express purpose of doing something rather definite about it. […]

Continue Reading

The Gift

Published on December 15, 2006 by in December 2004

0

The following is a true story. Some of the names have been changed to protect the privacy of people involved. Our friend, Father Brian, died in Austria two years ago while giving a retreat on Divine Mercy.

The children are lying on the living room rug, their stomachs distended with turkey and Christmas cake. Our guest, Father Brian, turns a beaming smile on them, lights his pipe, and seats himself with a sigh on the old rocking chair beside the wood-stove. He is content just to soak up the family atmosphere and listen to our children’s after-dinner banter.

“Tell us a story, Father,” they cry before long. The priest has a reputation for stories. More than that, he has all the time in the world for children.

“What kind of a story?” he asks.

“A Christmas story!”

“Well,” he says, pondering, his eyes growing thoughtful, “I think I do know a true story about a gift that was given on a Christmas day many years ago. But no, it’s too strange.”

Now they’re hooked. “Yes, yes, that one! That one!”

“It’s full of grown ups,” he murmurs, “Nazis and war and things like that.”

“Yes, yes,” they squirm with anticipation.

His eyes go far away and his brow furrows. He rocks back and forth slowly, slowly, and the room grows quieter.

“I’m quite serious, when I tell you,” he says, “that this is a true story. I saw parts of it with my own eyes. I lived with the family to whom it happened.”

Then he begins…

During the Nazi era there lived in a small city in Germany a devout Catholic family by the name of Schmidt. They attended daily Mass and prayed the Rosary each evening after supper, and the day did not end without the father of the family, Karl, reading a psalm from the Holy Scriptures. Karl was the spiritual head of the family. He was a gentle, kindly man, noted for his subtle sense of humor and a love of youth. He was a high school teacher and was so well respected by his students that many of them accompanied him to Mass each morning before classes. He read to them the papal encyclicals against National Socialism and spoke strongly against the outrages committed by the Brownshirts. Then when Hitler was elected by a large majority, Karl was appalled. He pointed out to his students that only a minority of Catholics had voted for the new leader. Catholicism is a religion built upon objective truths, he taught them, and no Catholic is permitted to vote for an evil law or an evil ruler, even if they appeared to be lesser evils than, for example, economic or political instability. One cannot compromise a part of the Faith without the eventual collapse of the whole, he told them.

During the following years when the Nazi party penetrated to every level of life in the country, Catholics were continually challenged to pay the price of standing for their principles. Karl was warned by the local Gestapo that if he did not cease taking the youth to Mass he would be conscripted into the army and sent to the Russian front. He continued as before, and one by one his students dropped away from those early morning sojourns to the Bread of Life. Some of them, not many, joined the Hitler Youth. Others merely wished to avoid any potential conflict with the State. Karl was soon abandoned by everyone except his teenage children, who chose to accompany him to daily Mass well into the war years.

In that city there was a famous Dominican friar who was renowned for his fervor and courage. He had preached relentlessly against the Nazi ideology for many years, but he was so beloved by the populace of the city that the Gestapo had hesitated to arrest him. When he was eventually arrested and hung, the Dominican order begged for his body and the Gestapo grudgingly returned it. The priest’s body was covered with the marks of horrible tortures. The Order was warned that the funeral and burial must be a private affair. Public notices were posted saying to the effect that any of the public who attended would be interrogated. Karl Schmidt was known to be a close friend of the dead friar. He was personally warned that if he attended the funeral he would be arrested; if lucky, he would be let off lightly by being conscripted into the army and sent to the Russian front.

Needless to say, Karl attended the funeral Mass. The following morning he was arrested and found himself conscripted into the German army as a foot soldier. If he refused to go to the Russian front, they told him, his entire family would be sent, along with him, to a concentration camp. He went to Russia and not long after was captured by the Soviet Army. He remained in their concentration camps for seven long years, working as a slave laborer. There, he was subjected to a constant bombardment of political indoctrination. When the war ended he expected to be released, but Russia had lost so many men that she was suffering a severe labor shortage. The Germans were “invited” to remain as Soviet citizens upon condition of becoming members of the Communist Party. Karl refused. The political indoctrinators tried to convince the prisoners that their families in Germany no longer cared about them. Each Saturday they were ordered to write a letter home. During those seven years they received not one reply.

Some of Karl’s fellow prisoners became communists and stayed. Others refused to comply and, like Karl, they remained prisoners. His faith sustained him, especially his deep conviction that God would bring great good out of the tragedy which had befallen his family. He especially entrusted his life to the intercession of Mary, the Mother of God. His Bible had been confiscated and there was no priest to say Mass, but he prayed the Rosary daily. He taught others to pray, to trust, and to deny the temptation to despair. In the early l950’s he and other prisoners were exchanged for a group of Russians imprisoned in the West, and now found themselves miraculously liberated. They returned to their homes, and later formed an association of ex-prisoners. In comparing notes over the following years, they discovered that none of their families had ever received a letter from them while they were in the Gulag Archipelago. The entire correspondence had been a deliberate trick by their brainwashers.

There was one exception, however. Karl’s family had not received the fifty-two letters a year that he had written. But four times a year a letter of his would arrive at the Schmidt home. Invariably it was stamped with the date of a major feast of the Mother of God. Four times a year throughout those many years Our Lady made sure that Karl’s family knew he was under her care.

In the final weeks of the war, while Karl was in Russia, his teenage sons received notice that they were to be conscripted into the German army. They hid wherever they could. The youngest, fifteen year old Josef, ran to a swamp and stood waist deep in icy water for two days, avoiding capture. When he returned surreptitiously to the city he was overjoyed to find that it was full of Canadian soldiers, and that the German army was retreating towards Berlin. Arriving at his house he found his mother weeping and the family belongings in ruins.

“Gestapo?” he asked.

“No, Canadian soldiers,” replied his mother in anguish. “Because you boys and your father were missing they thought you were in the army or S.S. They broke things. They kept calling us Nazi’s.”

This was the cruelest irony of all for the Schmidt family.

“Why did they do this, Josef? They took many things, they even took your father’s camera.”

The family was heartbroken over the loss. The camera was Karl’s prized possession. If he had one weakness it was a passion for small ingenious gadgets. This was no ordinary camera. It was an experimental model with two apertures and many lenses which simultaneously exposed a photographic film from different angles. When the film was developed the resulting photograph could be placed in a special viewer, and it amazingly appeared as a three dimensional image. The invention was relatively unknown at the time and only a few models had ever been made of it. The soldier who had taken the camera did not understand its peculiarities, and because of that he neglected to take the viewer.

Here Father Brian stopped his story to relight his pipe and to recollect his thoughts.

“Father,” asks one of our more perceptive children, “Is this one of your true stories that never actually happened? You know, like the idea is true but . . . ”

He smiles. He has been caught before using one of his favorite literary devices. But this time he is not guilty. His face grows serious again and the children fall into silence.

“No, this is a true true story. Josef Schmidt is a friend of mine. We were in the seminary together. I lived with his mother and father while I was studying in Germany during the 1960’s. I saw the letters from Russia, I read the dates and I checked them. They were all great feasts of Our Lady. And the rest of the story I can vouch for, because I saw it with my own eyes.”

Not too long ago Fr. Josef Schmidt was visiting Fr. Brian at a famous Canadian university. Fr. Brian, who is a doctor of Theology, teaches there. They were joined in the faculty lounge by a well-known theologian. Fr. Brian had a great deal of difficulty with this man’s theories, and they had debated often. Father considered him a troubled soul. He took care to show respect to the man himself, but he was merciless with his ideas. As a consequence the famous theologian did not much like Fr. Brian.

Nevertheless, they fell into conversation after Fr. Brian introduced Fr. Josef.

“You are German, I see,” said the theologian. “You are a clever people. I must show you a marvelous invention that I got when I was in Germany after the war.”

He quickly departed for his office and returned five minutes later, smiling, with an imposing piece of glass, stainless steel, buttons and knobs. He showed it to them proudly.

Fr. Josef stared at it without a word. The professor described its mechanics and its optics with some enthusiasm.

“Where did you get it?” asked Fr. Josef.

“Oh . . . during the war I was with the Canadian army when we went into Germany. I stayed with a family there. We got to be fairly close. They gave this to me when I left.”

As Josef turned the camera over and over in his hands he asked the name of the city where the man had got it. The professor told him. It was Father Josef’s city.

“It’s a pity, though,” said the theologian, “This thing is a three-D camera and I guess they forgot to give me the viewer that goes with it.”

Later, when they were alone, Fr. Josef mentioned to Fr. Brian that his father had once owned a camera like that.

“That’s quite a coincidence,” said Fr. Brian.

“I think it’s not a coincidence at all. I think it is a God-incident. That is my father’s camera. There is a tiny brass plate on the bottom with his initials engraved on it. K.S.”

“What are you going to do? Should we go right now and confront him!”

“No, let’s wait a while and pray. I’m asking myself what my father would do. I must write to him. And there’s another question . . . what would Christ do in this situation?”

The children interject here. They bring Fr. Brian to a full stop with their protests and questions. They think that bad people, especially proud, bad people should get what they deserve. They want justice! They want the theologian punished for his theft and his lies. They want him shamed! Father Brian smiles. He has the children exactly where he wants them. He goes on with the story:

A few months later, the two priests were together once again. It was Christmas Eve and Fr. Josef had just arrived in the foyer of the college to pick up Fr. Brian. They were on their way that night to celebrate midnight Mass at a nearby convent of cloistered nuns. These ladies lived in a ramshackle house in what had become an inner-city slum. Their community was small, poor, and populated mostly by old women religious. They prayed many hours every day. They fed the poor. They were not intellectuals like most of the people in Fr. Brian’s world, nor like Fr. Brian himself. But they had the most extraordinary gifts of wisdom. Astounding, really, for most of them were rather poorly educated. Not a one of them had a university degree. But they were joyful people and very good at listening, though somewhat short on therapies or psychology. They had a curiously effective psychology and therapy of their own. If you told them something, they prayed about it. Things usually changed after you asked them to say a word to the Lord. The two priests loved them. These women’s lives were a banquet laid out for anyone who might want to come and celebrate. Few people did these days.

Fr. Brian had not seen Fr. Josef for many weeks. He asked him if he had done anything about the theologian and the stolen camera.

“I’ve done the really important things,” he replied, “I wrote to my father, and then I talked to the sisters. They know the professor quite well by reputation. They’re praying very fervently for him. They have been praying for his conversion for years . . . .”

Just then, the famous theologian bustled through the lobby, and with a wave of his hand shouted, “Merry Christmas.”

Fr. Josef called, “Do you have a moment, professor?”

The professor checked his watch and frowned, “Only a minute, Father, I’m on my way to a faculty party. I’m already late. Why don’t you come along? I’ll buy you a whiskey! God knows, we could use one! I’ve been driving hard all week with P and D sessions and inter-departmental warfare.”

The two priests nodded sympathetically.

“No, no thank you, we have to be on our way,” stammered Fr. Josef, “But I have something . . . .”

The priest’s hands trembled as he placed a small package into the hands of the professor.

“It’s for you,” he said gently, “The man who gave you the camera says to you, God bless you. He says that he forgot to give you the viewer that goes with it.”

With that, Fr. Josef bowed and departed without another word, leaving the professor to unwrap the gift.

And here Fr. Brian ends the story, leaving the children to ponder what it means.

Michael O’Brien, father of six, is a painter and writer. He is the author of several books, notably the best-selling novel Father Elijah and his examination of the paganization of contemporary children’s culture, A Landscape With Dragons: the Battle for Your Child’s Mind. You may visit him at his website www.studiobrien.com.

Continue Reading

0

On August 2nd a tornado hit Combermere, Ontario, the town where I live. Actually it is now estimated that three touched down, and two of them met in our village and worked mayhem. Such a natural disaster is an almost unthinkable event for us. We hear about Asian tsunamis, the hurricane in New Orleans, earthquakes here and there throughout the world, and we feel sympathy and send relief. But they remain somewhat abstract for us, because the worst that we suffer is a few power blackouts a year when spring and autumn storms blow a tree across a power line, or when a winter blizzard makes the roads difficult to drive for a day or so. We grumble and complain and then stop ourselves and thank God for a fairly clement climate in which to live. But actual disasters! Never! It could never happen to us! Tornados occur in the Midwest USA, we thought—not here! And certainly not three of them converging at once in a small community in the northern bushlands of Canada.

That evening my wife and I had driven to another town for a cup of coffee and a slice of cake to celebrate our wedding anniversary. It had been a long, incredibly busy day for us in a sweltering record-breaking heat wave. Our children were scattered all over the map, some working at evening jobs and some swimming in a nearby river. My 82 year old mother, who lives with us, was quietly reading at home. Though she is not in good health nor entirely steady on her legs, she firmly pushed us out the door telling us that in our busy lives we needed a little “couple time” and that she would be just fine “home alone” for a few hours. We also had to pick up two of our children at the end of their work shifts in the neighboring town where we were to have our date. […]

Continue Reading

0

The following article is Part II of Are We Living in Apocalyptic Times? by Michael O’Brien, which consists of the transcription of a provocative question and answer period that followed Mr. O’Brien’s presentation at St Patrick’s basilica, Ottawa, Canada, September 20, 2005. – Ed.

Question: I was reading a quote from John Paul II recently in which he says that our consciences are like fine musical instruments that need to be continually tuned. I’m particularly struck by our need to have child-like docility, the openness to the Holy Spirit that will allow him to fine-tune our conscience. Can you respond to that in light of what you’ve said tonight?

O’Brien: I wholeheartedly agree with what the Holy Father said, which he expressed better than anything I could say. The image of our conscience being tuned like a violin is apt, because the creation of human life is, like the creation of music, a co-creative process. In both fields we respond to a grace that is given from above. Our conscience always needs tightening up, like the tuning pegs of a string instrument, because the strings are always tending to get lax. It is the beloved instrument’s submission to the master composer and the master musician which is going to pour forth this beauty of music—the music of our lives—into the world. […]

Continue Reading

0

The question is a volatile one and leaves plenty of room for a vast amount of commentary and interpretation. Indeed, our times seem to be rife with wildly differing interpretations of the meaning of the book of Revelation. In addressing our topic in this article, I hope to make a contribution to what should always be a sober discussion, yet is so often otherwise. Even so, I suppose that everything I am about to say on the matter could be summed up in a single word: Yes.

Yes, we are living in apocalyptic times. But this needs qualification. The Church, the sacred scriptures, the saints, the approved mystical apparitions, all speak about the end times within the context I would like to lay before you. Turning to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in a section dealing with the return of the Lord in glory, we read: […]

Continue Reading

0

We are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus to live the good life as from the beginning he had created us to live it” (Ephesians 2:10).

Like many well-intentioned parents of our generation, my wife and I believed that child-rearing was largely a matter of finding the right method. Oh, we believed in prayer and grace well enough, and we knew there were variations in temperament that made some children a little more difficult to raise than others. But we were convinced that no child could resist the high-octane mixture of our faith, our affection, and our parenting skills.

Then the Lord gave us Ben. I will not belabor you with a long list of his crimes and misdemeanors. Only let me say that from the moment of his birth he was an utterly delightful, exhausting, exasperating, and fascinating phenomenon whom Heaven had decided to drop into our laps for the good of our souls. He was strong-willed, imaginative, utterly charming, very energetic and . . . and . . . […]

Continue Reading

0

In the storm of confusion and misinformation which has greeted the question of a papal definition of the dogma of Mary Coredemptix, Mediatrix, and Advocate, St. Maximilian Kolbe’s well known question regarding the Mother of God, “Who are you, O Immaculata?” takes on new poignancy and urgency.

Who is she? Who is she really, and what is God doing through this unique woman?

Mary is both Mary of Nazareth and “the Woman” of Revelation. But how can this be? Is she two persons? Alternatively, is she perhaps one person in two religious “costumes”? Is she only a model of fidelity, an exemplary disciple, a saint (albeit the greatest of saints)? Is she no more than a sign? […]

Continue Reading

Tiny Tim and King Herod

Published on November 26, 2005 by in Christian Culture

0

Advent has arrived, the time of waiting when we turn toward the coming dawn with renewed expectancy. Each year in the liturgical cycle we are invited to pray with the entire Church for the rebirth of Christ within the stable of our hearts, and for the graces we will need as we await his final coming. The scripture readings are about hope arising in the midst of darkness, of beginnings and endings and the eternal joy when there will be no more endings. Until that ultimate homecoming, we live in a world that is still in the process of being restored in Christ. The Christ Child is among us, and so is Herod. […]

Continue Reading

The Two Hearts

Published on September 10, 2005 by in Christian Culture

0

The Heart of the Mother suffers with Jesus from the moment of his conception, throughout his hidden life, his public ministry, and his final sacrifice on the Cross. Her unfailing love and her sorrows are poured out with him and for him—and for each of us.

The Heart of Jesus is poured out totally for each and every human soul. His heart is completely human and completely divine. He suffered on the Cross as God and Man and continues to suffer until the end of the world, offering himself unreservedly for our salvation. He is love—the source and fulfillment of all human longings for love.

“Behold the heart that has loved mankind so much.”

Michael O’Brien, father of six, is a painter and writer. He is the author of several books, notably the best-selling novel Father Elijah and his examination of the paganization of contemporary children’s culture, A Landscape With Dragons: the Battle for Your Child’s Mind. You may visit him at his website www.studiobrien.com.

Continue Reading

0

All of us are to some degree afflicted with a tragically stunted image of who we are. This tendency in human nature has never been so pronounced as in our times, when we are continually bombarded with false messages about the meaning of human life, the value of the human person and his ultimate destiny. Indeed, at every turn we are saturated in anti-words, false words. In Jesus we have been given the true Word made flesh, who shows us what we really are and points the way to what we are to become. He does this not only through his teachings, but also by the witness of his life. In Christ, God lays bare his heart in the total vulnerability of being fully human, to the point of permitting himself to be crucified.

He was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, as the prophet Isaiah says. He knew joy, but he accepted the suffering of our state in life. He accepted it because he knew that in the passage through the eye of the needle, a great secret is to be found. The priceless “secret” is that on the other side of the needle’s eye is a vast and beautiful kingdom—an infinite kingdom in which the beauty of God the Father is ever creating more and more beauty, more and more love. And even in this world we, created in the image and likeness of God, can reflect this. Like him, we must go through the eye of the needle and, following his example, through the Cross. For most of us this is a lifelong journey, with many trials and errors, and even some false trails. Yet, because Christ is who he says he is, because he is Love, he is always leading us back on the path that will bring us to the Father. […]

Continue Reading

0

Many of you will recall the controversy that arose in the world’s media a few years ago over the Harry Potter series of fantasy novels for young readers. Numerous articles appeared in the press praising the books as a breakthrough to a more literate form of culture for young people. They exalted its dramatic qualities, imaginative story-telling, humor, and promotion of “values.” Little serious reflection was given to the fact that the foundational element of the series is witchcraft and sorcery, which is glamorized and offered to the reader as normal, even a saving path. The central character, Harry, is a sorcerer in training. This is not the place to restate the arguments, pro and con; I have done this in previous articles, (1) which can be read in the archives of the Our Lady and Christian Culture menu of this website. However, I would like to re-emphasize here that few if any cultural works in the history of mankind have spread so far and so quickly as the Potter series. Indeed there are now hundreds of millions of readers. […]

Continue Reading

0

In part one of this series of articles on children’s fantasy literature, I wrote that we should always keep in mind a fundamental principle of culture: We must never forget that symbols in our minds exercise a certain power over us, though their influence is usually subconscious, and especially so in the minds of the young. Symbols are keystones in the architecture of thought, indeed in our perceptions of reality itself. If we lose symbolism, we lose our way of knowing things. If symbols are corrupted, concepts are corrupted, and then we lose our ability to understand things as they are, rendering us more vulnerable to deformation of our perceptions and our actions.

The Holy Scriptures are rich in the true symbols that are absolutely essential to a proper understanding of who we are and where we are situated in the Great War between good and evil—the war that will last until the end of time. Our Lady, for example, is the woman foretold in Genesis 3:15 who will crush the serpent’s head. In her role as Co-redemptrix with Christ on Calvary she is the promise fulfilled, and is further revealed as the Woman of Revelation, “the great sign, the woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” (Rev. 12:1). Satan is “the huge dragon, the ancient serpent known as the devil . . . the seducer of the whole world” (Rev. 12:9) who “makes war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the Commandments and give witness to Jesus” (Rev. 12:17). In the first and last books of the Scriptures, salvation history is revealed in these symbolic forms—symbols, however, that are no “mere” fantasies, for they represent real persons and forces that affect the eternal destiny of each of us. […]

Continue Reading

0

“A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. Because she was with child, she cried aloud in pain as she labored to give birth. Then another sign appeared in the sky: it was a huge dragon, flaming red, with seven heads and ten horns; on his head were seven crowns. His tail swept a third of the stars from the sky and hurled them down to the earth. Then the dragon stood before the woman about to give birth, ready to devour her child as soon as it was born” (Rev. 12:1-6).

The early Church Fathers taught that this passage has a manifold meaning. On one level it refers to Mary of Nazareth and the birth of Christ; on another it refers to the Church as she labors to bear salvation into the world. This child is, in a sense, every child and is the offspring of the Church. She is to carry this child as the image of God, transfigured in Christ, and to bring him forth into eternal life. She groans in agony, and the primeval serpent hates her, for he knows that her offspring, protected and grown in her womb, will crush his head. On still another level, the Woman of Revelation is Our Lady, the Mother of the Church, mother of all peoples and all individual souls. As such, she exercises a particularly urgent mission to preserve the young from the deceptions of the ancient enemy of mankind.

In our times a phenomenon is occurring that is unprecedented in human history. A complex and very powerful social revolution is reshaping human consciousness with great speed and force. It tells us at every turn who we are, what we are worth, what is good and evil, and does so with all the genius and power of modern media. Though it retains vestiges of a once-Christian civilization, it weaves truths and untruths into a strong delusion to which large numbers of people, including many believing Christians, have succumbed. By and large this redefinition of man has taken place through the vehicle of culture.

[…]

Continue Reading

0

Of the myriad phenomenal gifts which God gave (and will continue to give) to the Church and the world through John Paul II, one in particular stands out for me as especially significant for our times. He was a living icon of holy fatherhood. In this great apostle, priest, teacher, and chief shepherd of the flock of the Lord, we experienced an image of Christ’s love, and of God the Father as revealed in Christ Jesus. John Paul II embodied all that was best in human nature, irradiated with grace. An ardent priest, a philosopher, an artist, a sportsman, a man of sacrifice, a man of tender heart and nerves of steel, of wit and laughter and tears, he expressed the essential nature of what it is to be a fully-alive Christian—to be a person in whom Truth and Love are integrated. His qualities seem inexhaustible, his sanctity unquestionable, the legacy of his pontificate so rich that it will be centuries before we absorb it completely, if we ever do. The effects of this extraordinary generosity on the part of Heaven have already begun, yet there is more to come, perhaps centuries more, during which the light he brought to us “from above” will increase and not fade in memory. […]

Continue Reading

0

The following is a letter by Michael O’Brien in response to a mother who wrote to him regarding fantasy literature and its influence on her children. Though she is a person of strong faith, she is finding it increasingly difficult to resist the continuous influx of disordered fantasy and other corrupt cultural influences in her children’s lives. She notes two significant factors in her situation, ones which are probably shared by most families.

The first: despite all efforts to keep questionable material out of her home, her children are constantly exposed to it through their friends, extended family, neighbors, in libraries and at school.

The second: they are too young to fully understand why their parents object to this material, especially since it is in the forefront of young people’s interests at this time, including all the families with whom they are acquainted.

This woman’s family is strong in the practice of their faith, and she strives to provide good cultural material, especially reading, in the home. However, the children constantly pressure her to allow them access to objectionable books, films, and videos.

Mrs. Smith’s reply follows at the end of this article. […]

Continue Reading

0

You know the kind of splinter I mean. You are hammering together a homemade bunk-bed or carrying firewood, and it somehow drives itself deep beneath the surface of the skin. It’s a tiny black dot. By contrast, big splinters look like splinters, mean and ugly, but tweezers usually make short work of them. Not so with these little invaders. They are too small to extract, and too subtle to stop a project in mid-stride. “Later,” you think, “I’ll get it out later.”

But they have a curious way of being forgotten until you wake in the middle of the night with a throbbing, swollen finger, infected and useless. Just a tiny thing, but it can ruin a whole night and the following day into the bargain.

Certain sins are like that. “It’s just a little thing,” you say to yourself, “Later, I’ll deal with it later.”

“It’s just a venial sin,” you think, forgetting that even a venial sin darkens the mind and weakens the will. “It’s really harmless,” you think, “I’m not hurting anybody by it!” It took the death of a friend to teach me just how wrong I was.

Paul and Marie were members of our parish and they were the kind of people who are the heart of any faith community. In their late 30’s, they had five bright and beautiful children and worked hard to make a living on their small dairy farm. The family radiated warmth and strong faith. Quiet people, humble, very much in love with each other after ten years of marriage. They had recently suffered the loss of their only son, the eldest child, Dominic, an exceptional boy who had been a champion swimmer, good student, and devout altar boy. He had died after an excruciating battle against Leukemia. But Paul and Marie possessed the kind of faith that survives such fiery tests.

Marie was a fervent Catholic who since early childhood had prayed the rosary every day of her life. The family rosary was a cornerstone of their daily prayers. Paul was a convert who had embraced the Faith wholeheartedly. “We must praise God in good times and praise God in hard times!” he would often say. Their hearts had been broken by Dominic’s death, but now were mending. The Lord had blessed them not long after with the birth of a baby boy, David.

I admired Paul very much. I think most of the other husbands and fathers in the parish felt as I did, for he was a truly fine man. He was usually a silent person but when he spoke his words were the fruit of some deep perception and oftentimes wisdom. There was something in him that we all loved, though it escaped definition. It wasn’t exactly that integrity and quiet dignity of his which he never seemed to betray. Nor was it just the fact that he worked very hard to provide for his large and growing family. Nor was it because he was handsome and carried his looks without vanity. No one could describe it really. Perhaps it was his constancy and a solitude of soul which he radiated even in crowds. There was, you felt, a great physical and moral strength. This strength was respected but not feared. His power, exercised gently, contained a mystery. Above all, there was an atmosphere of virtue about him. Paul was good. Of the many good men I have known in my life, it seemed to me that Paul was most like St. Joseph.

I have no doubt that, being human, he had some faults. But they weren’t very visible. I do not wish to idealize him, but for many of us he was an image of Christian manhood, the ideal that we hold up within ourselves of what we should be. Without such ideals we would soon falter and lose hope.

The last time I saw him his children and mine were playing together in the swimming pool at the local recreation center. Paul and I stood neck deep in water making silly conversation about some day “rubber-tubing” across the ocean together. We joked about the dangers. In my last memory of him I can still see him laughing heartily at death.

The following Wednesday was catechism night. There was no Catholic school in our area, and the church building was small, so we rented classrooms at the local high school one evening a week. I don’t know why I felt so “low” that night, but maybe it was because just too many things had gone wrong during the past few weeks. There was an infestation of rats in our house, the foundation was rotting, the basement was flooded and we were broke. I was taking it all rather badly. Most of all I was upset that I was taking it badly. In addition, I had one of those nasty little splinters in a finger of my right hand (my working hand no less) and it was infected. To put it simply, I was resenting my lot in life mightily.

As I drove my children through the school parking lot to drop them off for catechism we passed Paul’s parked car. A flash of resentment boiled through me.

“It’s easy for you, Paul,” I thought angrily, “It’s easy for you to be noble and virtuous! Nothing ever goes wrong for you!”

The reader will note, perhaps, that in my selfish self-pity I had momentarily forgotten the recent death of his son.

It was just a small thing, a mean moment quickly come and quickly gone. A little resentment. “A bad habit, really. Not actually a sin,” I said to myself. I shook off the mood and went about my business.

Later, in the middle of the night I awoke from a dream about death. A strange dream, for I am not morbid by nature nor am I troubled by fear of death. I wondered if someone could be dying at that moment. So I got up and gazed out the window into a completely black night. I prayed for the soul of someone who might be dying out there. As I watched the dawn turn grey, the phone rang.

“Have you heard?” the voice said, “It’s unbelievable. Paul is dead.”

On catechism nights Marie usually piled all the children into their car for the ride to town. Once in a while, if baby David was sleeping, she would leave him in the crib upstairs, knowing that Paul was only a few dozen yards away in the barn. He was finishing up the milking and would return to the house shortly. That night it looked like they were going to be late for catechism, and everyone was rushing around looking for books, coats, and boots. David was awake and Marie bundled him into his car seat to accompany them on the ride to town. There wasn’t a spare minute to go to the barn to tell Paul she had taken the baby with her. Some time after their departure Paul looked out the barn window to see their old wooden farmhouse going up in flames. Realizing there was a chance David was still asleep in his crib, in a split-second of decision Paul bolted into the house and up the staircase. Overcome with invisible, deadly fumes, he collapsed in the hallway by David’s bedroom door. There he died.

The entire parish reeled in horror and disbelief: No! Impossible! How could this happen? How can Marie bear it? First Dominic, now Paul!?

People were stunned, angry, dismayed.

“How could God allow this?” they said. “There are too few good men as it is!”

“Maybe God wants to make Marie a saint,” someone else suggested.

“Why, why, why?” said others. “Maybe there is no God. Maybe we’re just blind worthless creatures ground down by fate.”

Our pastor, Father John, spoke of the anguish of Job and of the hurt cries of the Psalmist in the face of the unjust blows that life does deliver. That we cry out our human feelings to God, he said, reveals that we are people of faith, not of unbelief. God permitted His own son to die, he told us, and we should think about why He did that.

The grace given to many at the funeral Mass was a deep peace, even a light, beneath the roaring waves of the ocean of our grief. The grief of Marie and her children was of a different order, a very great cross. Yet Marie moved as if in a river of grace, filled with grace and carried by grace. Moreover, she showed us how to spread grace in the midst of disaster. Throughout the events of those dark days she carried a rosary in her hands, and constantly prayed it whenever she could. She spread her peace and grace to the rest of us.

Not long after, my wife and I had supper with Marie and the children. We had brought a gift for them, a small painting of St Joseph and the Christ Child which I had made years before as a gift for my wife. It was one of the most treasured possessions among our few belongings, but we were happy to part with it. Marie received it with joy, and remarked that St. Joseph and the boy Jesus in the picture looked just like Paul and Dominic. Though I had painted it long before we first met their family, it was quite true, the resemblance was uncanny.

“They’re looking after us,” she said, and I knew she meant both St. Joseph and Jesus and her husband and son.

As we talked on, it became clear that the harsh reality of raising a family without a father had set in, and she was struggling. But she kept that rosary wrapped around her hand, and whenever there was a gap in the conversation, her lips would move in silent prayer. Her faith remained unshaken. She told us that only a week before his death Paul had given her and the children miraculous medals of Our Lady, and that they all had been wearing them the night of the fire.

My wife then asked the question that was, perhaps, on everyone’s minds: Why had God permitted it to happen? Why had they not been warned?

Marie looked up at a crucifix on the wall and said quietly, “We were warned. When Paul gave us the medals, I remember putting the chain over my head, and something came over me at that moment. I had a strong sense that Our Lady wanted us to leave the house, to move out of it for a while until we could build a safer house.”

She paused and looked at us, a well of sadness in her eyes. “I shook it off,” she whispered. “I dismissed it as irrational.”

There was another pause. “We were praying,” she said. “We never stopped praying. But I think maybe we weren’t listening.”

I was moved not only by her insight, but by the peace in her eyes and her voice as she said it. She was showing us that the important thing is not so much that we make mistakes in life, but that we learn from our mistakes. It was not God’s primary will that Paul should die, but when he did die the Lord brought a different good from it.

For years afterward I wondered what good God could possibly bring from such a tragedy. It took time to see it. For Marie it was a long and often lonely path of deeper union with Christ crucified. Now, almost twenty years later, she remains a person of profound faith and wisdom who is a blessing to everyone who knows her. Her children are grown and making their way in life very well. David, her baby son, is now a strong young man studying for the priesthood.

And for those of us who knew him, Paul’s death was also a powerful instrument of growth. The hearts of many fathers in our parish and throughout the whole valley were shaken, and turned towards their own children. The hearts of all were reminded of the shortness and uncertainty of life. And for one person there was a hard lesson: Paul died at the very moment I was resenting him.

For the rest of my life I will wonder what might have happened if I had turned the temptation into a prayer for him. This is the only way for a Christian. It helps little to thrust the dark suggestions and impulses of our fallen natures back below the surface. It is even worse, of course, to give in to them. What, then, is to be done with them?

The answer is once again, prayer, prayer, prayer! What would the world be like if we were to turn every temptation into an opportunity to receive grace and to spread grace. If every invitation to sin were converted into a prayer, the darkness would quickly lose its power. The Resurrection would penetrate to every nook and cranny, every dark corner, every splinter in our souls.

O Mary, Queen of the family, teach us to pray, teach us to listen!

Michael O’Brien, father of six, is a painter and writer. He is the author of several books, notably the best-selling novel Father Elijah and his examination of the paganization of contemporary children’s culture, A Landscape With Dragons: the Battle for Your Child’s Mind. You may visit him at his website www.studiobrien.com.

Continue Reading

The Crown

Published on December 25, 2004 by in Christian Culture, December 2004

0

In the cold dark barren land,
stars and moon and the great star
that has appeared,
puzzling the wise and the low,
scatter diamonds upon the blood soaked snow.
The grieving earth awakes to its first groaning;
and men, grown weary of toil and fear,
cynical of love and despairing of truth,
bearing lamentations as if these were their only
birthright, look up at last. […]

Continue Reading

Our Lady and Smallness

Published on November 13, 2004 by in Christian Culture

0

Lately I have been pondering that mysterious quality our Lord called “poverty of spirit.” Perhaps it has been coming to mind more and more because I live in a community where the typical Catholic family has many children and survives on a single income. Ours is an economically depressed region of the woodlands of northern Ontario, where work is hard to find and not always steady when it is found. Among our people are genuine heroes who live the Gospels daily at great cost. Because they have chosen to build a culture of life in the midst of a society that is earnestly spreading the culture of death, the beatitudes are not abstractions for them. Day by day they struggle to do good, avoid evil, grow in virtue, overcome their personal faults and sins, and to fulfill the duty of the moment, which is to raise their families in a humble and happy manner. Though family life is generally considered “ordinary,” in fact it has never been more extraordinary than it is now; it is challenging and complex, considering the times we live in and the variety of human personalities that one finds in any given family. Add to this the confusion in the particular churches, government hostility to traditional families, the scattering of the extended family, and we have a recipe for suffering. […]

Continue Reading