Monday, June 16, 2008

The Body of Christ

Home now, after having to take a three hour detour yesterday because of Cedar Rapids and the devastation from flooding in Eastern Iowa. Please pray for those people.

But I thought one more post was called for.

It has struck me when I'm in the most Christian and selfless communities, those groups of people in full communion with the Catholic Church, such as EWTN, the Southwell Institute, and the American Chesterton Society, that this is how the Church ought to be. In fact, this is how the Church IS.

St. Paul tells us much about the Body of Christ, and I think I'm beginning to understand a little better what he means. The Body of Christ is Christ’s members on earth. He works through us sacramentally in building His Church. The Body of Christ is both Our Lord’s continued presence since the Annunciation and also the beginning of the transformation that culminates in his second coming, which is the Kingdom.

This means that the Body of Christ is holy, and since we are the members of his body, we must become holy; for in holiness there is more than happiness, there is joy. This is why we must all stay in full communion with the Body of Christ, so that we may receive him in communion at the Eucharist and bring him forth to others who are not blessed with full communion in his Church.

And so, Chestertonians, both those who were with us last weekend and those who were not – love our Gilbert, love the Society, love Dale and his writings, love all those wonderful people who make up this blessed group – Geir, Joseph, Fr. Dwight, Ann, Nancy, David, Peter, Dominique, Mary Ashley, Julian, Chuck, Laura, and so many more. We are none of us holy just yet, but when we join a group that serves the Lord, as the ACS does, we are part of Christ’s Body.

May we all strive to stay in full communion with his body, for the one thing that separates us from him is sin. Love one another, flee from sin, and keep serving the Word by reading the words that glorify his name.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

From Banqueting to Braving the Floods

My final report - sheer exhaustion kept me from hearing the last three speeches, though I was hearing good reports on all of them.

The banquet was tremendous! It was a combination banquet and 50th Birthday Party for Dale. A child prodigy Guitar Playing Latin Language Rapper was featured as was a wonderful poem by Shakespeare and David Zach which summarized the conference, and a surprise reading by Sean Dailey and Yours Truly of Clerihews from Dale's friends in honor of his birthday, including from many who could not make it to the conference. David has promised to send me or Nancy his poem for blog posting; meanwhile here's one I discovered - a lost poem by Belloc - which thrilled both Dale and the revellers in attendence when read aloud.

About a Don I told a tale,
Yet now I write about a Dale,
For as I trod my path to Rome
To seek some friends and find a home
O’er hill and dale I trod until
I found a Dale, now o'er the hill.

Dale good, Dale true, Dale fair and fine,
Dale bigger than life, Dale elephantine
Dale smart, Dale sure, Dale kind and keen
Dale gigantesque, Dale elephantine
Amazing Dale, Dale really nifty
Dale old and spotted, Dale now fifty
Eternal Dale, not of this gross age
Ancient Dale, Dale in his dotage
Dale lover of our GKC
And member of AARP
Dale by the works of Gilbert tutored
Dale decrepit, spayed and neutered
Dale faithful, firm; Dale brave and bold
Dale getting younger – scratch that - old

Dale different than that hill and dale
Encountered on our life’s travail
That spreads itself beneath our feet
As we in faith advance, retreat
That dale is a vale of shadows and fear
Depressed, a hollow, bleak and blear
A place without fraternity
A place we call modernity
But this Dale is the way I wend
For this Dale is a man, a friend
Who selflessly in love anon
Leads us to our Chesterton.


Thank God for this conference! And may we all be blessed with safe travel home.

As for Tom Leith, Colin O'Brien and I, we will be braving the floodwaters of Iowa on our way back to Missouri. And also braving the floodwaters of the suicide of thought in the modern world, now that we won't be on the high and dry island of Chestertonian sanity.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Flag of the World - Loyalty to Life

The challenge to any literary critic is how best to explain a great text to an audience. And with a book as tremendous as Orthodoxy, you've got a real challenge on your hands.

Today at 9 am Geir Hasnes did the best job of explicating the text of Orthodoxy of anyone I've ever seen. How? By using himself as the example of the Flag of the World, of the loyalty to life, that defeats the suicide of thought and the culture of death.

Geir told the story of his biological mother who was raped, and who in the rape conceived twins, one of whom was Geir. Abortion in the cases of rape was legal in Norway in those days, but Geir's mother refused to take the path of death. She brought these children, the fruits of the rape, to term. And despite a difficult labor that nearly killed her, she gave birth to Geir and his twin sister, who were immediately placed with their adoptive parents.

Geir broke down many times on the podium, and it was difficult to watch him struggle to tell his story. He ended, in tears, with Chesterton's poem "By the Babe Unborn", a masterpiece that ties in all the themes of Orthodoxy and all the themes of Chesterton - especially the lines

I think that if they gave me leave
Within the world to stand,
I would be good through all the day
I spent in fairyland.

My friends, this was the highlight of the conference and elicited an immediate standing ovation from a very appreciative crowd.

The powers of death dwell upon the suicide of thought; but loyalty to life, to the Flag of the World, will save us from this self-slaughter. "We are sent to this world to make good come out of bad," Geir said - which is the sacramental life.

Thanks be to God for this brave Norweigan who gave this wonderful talk! Thanks be to God for his brave and loving mother and to his adoptive parents. And thanks be God for Gilbert Keith Chesterton.

Heaven, Headaches and the Heterodox Heart

And then there was the party in the cordoned-off area - a much better gathering than anyone could imagine.

But how we men are prone to fall! Such brilliance! Such faith! And such ridiculous creatures, especially after a few drinks.

Chesterton says the frog's prayer is, "Lord, how you made me jump!"

And I add that a man's prayer is, "Lord, how I make myself fall." Which is a prayer of repentance. Lord, we try to serve You with all the gifts You have given us, but a few drinks and a cool Minnesota night and joy stumbles into an early morning hangover. I am the poet, you know, we all are - finding ourselves drunk in a ditch and unworthy of the princess who shows us mercy.

"I am in heaven, and I have a slight headache." - The Surprise Act II.

The Great Adventure

Enter Fr. Dwight Longenecker, Bob Jones fundamentalist turned Anglican priest turned Catholic priest.

Fr. Dwight took a creative turn at Orthodoxy. Since he was speaking on the Romance of Orthodoxy, he gave us, not a literary analysis or an academic parsing of the text - he gave us his own tale of romance. As anyone who has read Fr. Dwight's blog will tell you, this is a man with a strong literary gift and the heart of a poet.

Among Father's praise of Romance, we gleaned the following ...

"Heroes must take the risk to be admirable and laughable. Since all heroes are human, all heroes are like Cyrano de Bergerac, noble and ridiculous at once."

"The spell of the storyteller makes all of our cynicism happily melt away."

"Despair and depression come from the disappointment of losing the hope that truth, beauty and goodness are possible."

"Despair is the compliment paid to the romantic (for without frustrated ideals we would not despair)."

"When a heretic settles on Mere Christianity he should push on toward More Christianity."

"Heresy kills curiosity, not the cat."

"Dogma is not a goal, it is a map. The rubrics and doctrines are the map for the journey, the journey of the hero, the great adventure."

He quoted the Little Flower - the Little Flower of all saints! - who said, "Sanctity must be won at the pont of the sword," and "I will die with my weapons in my hand."

"The challenge [to essay forth into heroic adventure] comes to each individual in a totally unique way. But the challenge is always as Christ's was to Peter - to step out of the boat onto the water. This challenge may come in your life in a large thing or in small things. But the hero who steps forth will say, 'By God's grace I was able to take that step and everything has been Provided.'"

But the conference - and the great adventure - is not yet at an end.

Pearcing Comments on Shakespeare

Joseph Pearce was the keynote after-dinner speaker and was marvellous as usual.

He mainly summarized the arguments of his new book, The Quest for Shakespeare, which everyone on earth should read.

But along the way he came up with some great quotes and gave in passing the best overview of the theory of literary criticism that I have ever heard. When asked by an audience member what he thought of Claire Asquith's book which saw coded Catholic language in all of Shakespeare, Pearce said the following ...

"A work of art should not be looked at through a microscope as Claire Asquith does, studying a myriad of disconnected details; nor should it be looked at through a telescope as Fr. Millwood did when he read beyond a work to vast things the work was implying or aiming at. A work of art should be seen as a whole - a work of literature should be examined on the basis of its primary story, not its hidden message."

He went on, "And since the inspiration for a work of art comes from Grace or the Muse, and passes through the artist, who is the sub-creator, the purity of the gift is transformed by the prism of the artist. If the artist is twisted, he twists the inspiration and comes up with a perverse work; if he intends better things, then his work will shine forth some of God's glory. So to begin to study the work, one should study the artist."

Which is what Pearce has done with his case for the Catholic Shakespeare. In volume one, he examines the documentary evidence of whether Shakespeare was Catholic (and the evidence is overwhelming that he was); and in volume two he will examine several of Shakespeare's plays themselves for their Catholic point of view.

All in all, unlike the bulk of literary critics at work in the academy today, Joseph Pearce brings common sense to bear.

And thus, in reading as well as in writing (as any Chestertonian will tell you) the glory of God shines forth.

No Vacuums Allowed

But the fun didn't stop there.

James Woodruff followed Ross Arnold with a brilliant presentation on Chesterton and Pascal - "Not All Mathematicians go Mad". In his talk, Woodruff often referred to Aristotle's principle "Nature abhors a vacuum", a principle Pascal disproved, incurring thereby the wrath of the Jesuits.

Woodruff lives in Worcester, Massachusetts, a town between Springfield and Boston - which reminds me of a vacuum joke. Why is it so windy in Worcester? Because Boston sucks and Springfield blows. Hat tip to the unnamed source who gave me that joke.

In Woodruff's talk, he gave the overall argument of Orthodoxy, a brave thing to do. Woodruff said that Orthodoxy is about the human soul, which is the lock, on the one hand, and Christian doctrine, which is the key, on the other. Chesterton discovered that when you bring these two odd mysteries together, they fit point for point - and Christianity is the key to our lock. This great book is about how GKC discovered that this ancient faith was the only way to hold the paradoxes of our nature together; and that the paradoxes of the Faith were the paradoxes of life and of our deepest natures.

As Woodruff put it, "The God-shaped vacuum of our souls is filled by Christianity, the shape of God."

He said that both Pascal and Chesterton were astounded at "the sheer contingency of the world", which was a part of "The Ethics of Elfland" that Miss Overkamp also noted. Not only is this world glorious, it also need not ever have existed! But Woodruff said that while Chesterton responded to this contingency with joyful gratitude, Pascal found himself more unsettled. It alarmed him that the world was contingent, and his response was, in Woodruff's words, "proto-existentialist". He therefore placed Pascal with the great curmudgeons of the faith, Kierkegaard, Belloc, St. Jerome, those who add "the dash of bitters to the great cocktail known as the communion of saints."