May 19, 2005

A Question About the Four Last Things

Why do we refer to four last things?

Death, Judgment, Hell, and Heaven.

Now, everyone experiences the first two without exception--but the last two everyone experience only one of. Thus experientially they will be the three last things--Death, Judgment, Hell or Heaven.

Now one could say that there were five last things if we were counting this way--Death, Judgement-general, Judgment Particular, Hell, and Heaven.

It's just one of those curious anomalies that make me wonder. Probably the Medieval equivalent of one of Rev. Schuller's ubiqitous acronyms. The triads of the Island of Britain--Troiedd ynys Prydein were written for mnemonic purpposes and I suppose listing hell and heaven separately and counting all as four makes more sense from the mnemonic sense.

And then--speaking of mnemoics, what about the book of Proverbs that tells us things like, "These two things does the Lord despise, yea! these three things he will thrash eternally."

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Becoming Who We Are

from A Path Through the Desert
Anselm Grün

A brother asked Abba Agathon about fornication. He answered, "Go, cast your inability before God, and you shall find peace." Agathon 21

. . . Old father Agathon shows us another path. We are asked, simply to throw our inability to come to grips with the secual aspect of our nature before God. Then we will ceas to be dominated by it. We must not accuse ourselves, therefore, of not being able to come to terms with our sexuality. We must not grit our teeth and think we ought to master it completely. Our secuality is a part of ourselve,s and awe cfannot prevent it from raising its head: indeed, we must expect it to do so. But we must not dramtise it: rather, we should accept it as a fact and hold our inability out to God. This will give us peace.

It may be an exaggeration to say that every man in America (possibly in the world) struggles with his unruly nature. (I can't speak for women, not being Teresius.) However, if it is, it is not much of one. I don't think the struggle is all that tremendous in some--that is, there is never any real "danger point" that one would leave one's vowed spouse (more often enough because we keep the object of temptation someone or something unattainable--but also for other reasons). However, the point of temptation is that you cannot know for certain.

As men, we admire the beauty of women. Admiration can stray over the line when those we admire are closer to us than say, Halle Berry or Faith Hill or Shania Twain. We cannot know for certain that it will not happen.

Or, to quote Sponge Bob, can we? Agathon suggests a way to do so--that is, not to pursue the struggle ourselves, but to cast that whole passel of temptations onto the Lord. If we choose to pursue the struggle ourselves, we will unquestionably lose the battle. There will be no hope for us. But, if we choose not to engage in the struggle, to admit the attraction and to admit that the attraction presents danger, then we can offer that to the Lord who will use the sacraments, most particularly the sacrament of matrimony to strengthen our determination to do what is right. If we rely upon our own will power, we will fail. Without question, we will fail.

And this goes equally for those who are single or who are wrestling with other aspects of their sexuality. So long as it is our will power that we are relying on, we will fail. So long as we make this the defining limits of our lives, we will fail. So long as sexuality is our defining paradigm, we create for ourselves temptations and problems that could be abated by casting all these temptations before the Lord and asking Him to take them up. We don't need to constantly redefine ourselve sexually--we don't need to prove anything to anyone. We need to submit to God's will and to give Him everything that strays from His perfect will.

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O Felix Culpa

I hope these notes make sense to someone other than myself. This is a matter to which I have given a great deal of thought over the past few days, weeks, months, and years. And as always, I submit them respectfully to correction lest they be theologically incorrect and lead anyone astray--please correct their excesses.

Oh happy fault/guilt that wrought for us such a savior.

Let's start with a premise that I think will be acceptable to most Catholics--God is not stupid and He knew what He was about in the act of creation. All three persons participated as is evident from Genesis 1 and John 1--"the spirit moved upon the face of the waters," and "nothing that is was made without Him [the Word]." Father, Son and Spirit were all present at the act of creation and in the whole of creation.

So, God is not stupid and God knows all things. Thus, when he breathed life into humankind, when He made humanity an order of creation different from all other creation by making humanity self-aware, already was set in motion all of the events that would lead to His incarnation. That is at the moment God gave us the will and the mind to reject us, He understood and foresaw how we would use that gift.

I am overwhelmed by the love it would take to give a gift that would ultimately lead to the giver's rejection. Think about it--who among us could give a gift that would lead our children to despise us (I mean deliberately)? Who could give a valuable and important thing knowing that it would lead to rejection and hatred?

And yet, at the beginning, when God breathed His spirit into us, He knew already the end to which it would lead. He gave us the gift of free will precisely so that He could reveal to us the vastness of his all-encompassing love. He gave us a gift that gave us the power to reject Him entirely. He gave us a gift that gave us the power to kill Him when He came to us to ask us to return to Him.

The gift of self-awareness/free-will is inextricably bound up with the gift of Jesus Christ. The moment it was issued Jesus was taken in bondage until He would assume our form and break all chains forever. Our free will held God captive through the centuries. Our rejection of love increased His love until the time came when one woman did not reject Him.

I've often wondered how many times God knocked before Mary finally answered. The Bible does not tell us how many said no. Obviously, we don't know that anyone did. And yet through the lengthy captivity and especially in the 200 year silence between the testaments am I to assume that God simply fell silent, not speaking to His people? How many women did He send an Angel to, offering them the chance to be Mother to the Entire creation? How many said no?

Sheer speculation. But what is not speculation is that God gave us free will knowing what we could and would do with it. At the fall, we received Jesus Christ as our slave (although we did not know it.) God himself became nothing to serve His own creation. If that is not love, what is?

I think about this and I think that God knew what would happen and committed Himself to giving everything to ungrateful humanity. His love was so vast that he could endure the rejection of ages culminating in His own experience of Death. There really are no words to articulate the feeling this inspires within me. I can say nothing that makes any sense of the overwhelming realization of how much God cared for me and for humanity.

God loved us so much that He made us what we are despite what He knew would result. That happy fault gave us God Himself, whom we rejected and killed, and who, after all of that continued to love us.

Talk about Amazing Grace!

Posted by Steven Riddle at 06:55 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

May 18, 2005

Truly Frightening Answers to the Meme

1. Total number of books I've owned.

The answer to this question is truly frightening. The current accurate census is about 15,000 this does not include last week's bookstore runs. Or the nearly 200 children's books I have waiting for me to bring home. In my life, given the very high turnover rate of my library previously I would guestimate that I have owned very close to 25,000 books.

I should note that a goodone third or so of these are my wife's collection of contemporary Romances/romantic thrillers, etc. Catherine Coulter, Amanda Quick, Jude Devereaux, J.D. Robb, etc. etc.

2. Last book I bought.

A Jesuit study of the books of Luke and Acts, the name of which escapes me at the moment.

3. Last book I read.


4. Five books that mean a lot to me.


The Riverside Shakespeare

The two-fold gems of the English language--unsurpassed and perhaps unsurpassable. Sorry GBS.

Ulysses James Joyce--for two reasons--the professor who taught the course said one very provocative thing that sent me in search of the truth he knew (The Catholic Church), and Joyce himself convinced me absolutely of the truth of the Catholic Faith in the context of the novel. He didn't mean to, but he couldn't really help it--grace always prevails.

Wilfrid Stinissen's Nourished by the Word: Reading God's Word Contemplatively

Carter Dickson Night at the White Priory Not because it was the best of the Sir Henry Merrivale but because it is the only one I own in a first edition signed copy.

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One of the Wonders of Blogging

Blogging is wonderful in that it provides breathing space one would not have in ordinary conversation. (Of course it is problematic because it does not allow for expression of nuance one would have in the course of face to face social intercourse.)

I was just by a place where some slapped at me with an off-hand insult. I wrote a response to the core of what they were saying and then a zippy stinger to slap their hand but good. And then, humility interceded and asked, "Why do you feel the need to say this?" The amazing all in one browser back button (or was it window close) did away with one more instance of unnecessary nastiness. Now, this nastiness probably wouldn't have occurred in ordinary conversation as people tend not to be nearly as abrasive in person as they feel they have some right to be in a comments box. But nevertheless, and this is an important point, you can always reconsider your position!

Delete button--the commenter's best friend.

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On Atonement

Following on yesterday's post regarding how to look at sin, I had a brief e-mail exchange that resulted in the ideas of the previous post and in some odd notions regarding Jesus and the Crucifixion.

I should preface everything I say here by stating that wherever these statements deviate from the fullness of Church teaching on the subject, they do so not out of malice but out of ignorance, and I would gladly accept any forthcoming fraternal correction so that these thoughts, no matter how slight and poorly attended might not lead one of God's precious children astray.

Our conversation grew out of the sense that God did not so much need Christ to die as we needed Christ to die. I think of it in terms of what Jesus told the Jewish people regarding the law of divorce. It was not that divorce was a good thing, or even really an acceptable thing, but rather that it was a thing granted to them because of their hardness of heart. If there had been any other way to break the hardness of the human heart other than the death of God Himself, God would have used it. Indeed, through time He sent prophet after prophet after prophet to tell the people of Israel how much He loved them and how enduring His love was. They could not hear this--they killed the prophets or ignored them. The hardness of the human heart sets diamond to shame.

In a nutshell this is what I shared with my correspondent:

Before becoming a Christian in (mumble) standing, I was a semi-practicing Baha'i (a faith for which I still have deep love and respect). In the Baha'i faith Baha'u'llah was sent to prison as a result of his faith. Let me tell you--"Baha was sent to prison for your sins," didn't hammer home the truth that "Christ died for your sins." In other words, I've never thought that God needed Christ to die to forgive us (and I may be wrong in that) but that we needed Christ to die to believe it.

You know how you never trust something that is really cheap--cheap grace. Jesus went on trial for your sins is a kind of cheap grace. Death, though, we understand at the root and core of being. Christ died speaks to us. Yes I know there's the doctrine of the atonement, which, frankly I don't completely understand, I merely accept as the truth. But the truth in my heart is that someone loved me enough to die for me. That should provoke some sort of

In short, even if our sins could have been redeemed by anything short of the death of Jesus, we would not have accepted it. Heck, look around you today and see how many accept it. In fact, look at the Muslims, who have enormous respect for Jesus as Prophet--they cannot accept either his sonship nor the fact of his death on the Cross to redeem humanity.

The truth is that the stubbornness of the human heart is so great that only the greatest hammerblow of grace can even start to crack the façade of it. God may, in some mysterious way, require the death of His Son to achieve atonement; however, I think it is safe to say that we require it even more.

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On 2001: A Space Odyssey

A couple of days ago TSO expressed disappointment with 2001: A Space Odyssey. As the first movie I saw more than a couple of times in the theatre, 2001 holds a special place for me. But I think it is an important enough film in one filmmaker's opus that perhaps some explanation of what is going on (as I see it) might be in order.

According to the Internet Movie Database Stanley Kubrick, the director of 2001 has a surprisingly sparse but amazingly broad and penetrating film opus consisting of some 16 films, 11 of which could be considered "major." Starting with The Killing in 1956, Kubrick produced film after controversial film. 1957 saw Paths of Glory, an enigmatic statement about war and responsibility. This was followed up by the first "spectacle" in 1960's Spartacus. In 1962 Kubrick brought Lolita to the screen for the first time. Then, in 1964 we get the startling, amusing, but dark comedy Dr. Strangelove.This was followed by the work in question, 2001: A Space Odyssey in 1968, and immediately (in Later Kubrickian terms) by the stark, frightening, and alluring A Clockwork Orange. 1975 saw the bizarre and slow costume drama Barry Lyndon made from a relatively minor novel by William Thackeray. His opus ends with a progressively less successful threesome of films, The Shining, Full Metal Jacket, and Eyes Wide Shut.

Now, Kubrick appears to have a couple of major obsessions in his opus--one of these is the (mis)use of sexuality, the other is isolation. It is with the latter that 2001: A Space Odyssey deals most; and I think of all of his opus, this film is the most exacting delilneation of the nature of alienation. in his entire opus. If we watch his films, from Colonel Dax and Phillipe Paris in Paths of Glory ("Paths of glory lead but to the grave.") to William and Alice Harford in Eyes Wide Shut we see a string of character--Spartacus, Dr. Strangelove, Dave Bowman, Alex the Droog, Jack Torrance, and so on, all of whom are completely alienated from all of those around them. Sometimes, as in 2001, the alienation is dramatically physical, other times it is within the intimacy of the marital relationship. The "repair" of the relationship at the end of Eyes Wide Shut really amounts to a simple seal on the alienation implicit throughout.

Like Orson Welles, Kubrick was a Hollywood outsider. So much so that he made his last couple of films from a studio in Great Britain. He was an outsider in part because he refused to compromise the vision of his films--and that vision is a starkly cool, perhaps even cold and minutely scrutiny of the human condition.

What I like so much about 2001: A Space Odyssey is the way the appeal can grow. From the first time I saw it at a very tender age and was just tremendously excited about the whole science fiction aspect, to my most recent viewing, in which I noted the extraordinary effect of the Ligeti music creating an eerie sort of landscape for the monolith and the tongue-in-cheek use of Strauss waltzes to convey the sense of lightness and freedom that is carefully restrained in microgravity, the film has something for the casual or the careful viewer of almost any age. When you are young you tend not to notice the coldness of Kubrick's view. But when you begin to really investigate the relationship of the Hal 9000 with the astronauts, you begin to see Kubrick's point. Hal and the entire Jupiter Mission spacecraft are human endeavors--human endeavors to achieve a god-like end. As such they "create" an environment and the results of human creation are the direct consequence of the fallenness of human nature. Hal is insane, the ultimate in human calculation and self-protection. And yet the systematic dismantling of Hal the deconstruction of his own creation at the hands of the "god" who created it is startling, sad, and frightening. This is the end of any human endeavor not guided by God. When man's reach exceeds his grasp without a heaven then there is literally hell to pay. The creation of the human mind unaided by grace will always end in destruction. I doubt Kubrick would have expressed the end of his vision in these terms, but the end of the film, which seems so charming and amazing--the birth of the transcendent "Star Child," which makes absolutely no sense at all is left much more vague than the quite direct end of the book, in which the Star Child proceeds to provoke nuclear crisis on Earth by setting off orbiting nuclear stations and satellites. We have seen the works of fallen man and when he is given the power of a god, what can one expect but more of the same. Many saw the end of Kubrick's film as transcendent and hopeful. I think Kubrick was masterful in not going beyond the floating transformed Bowman--in leaving the audience to derive what they can from the end of the film. What I once saw--the promise of transformation and the good that could result, I now see as the terror of transformation and the havoc men will wreak upon the world.

In many ways, Kubrick's films must be "read" as a whole. 2001 does not stand outside the line of his vision, but is the most definitive statement of certain aspects of it. Humanity is untrustworthy, grasping, destructive, and out-of-control. It is hardly surprising that the next film in the opus is perhaps his greatest expression of the destructive potential of humankind set free from any circumscribing bounds. A Clockwork Orange is not necessarily, as many would have it, a polemic against the state rehabilitation of criminals. Rather, I think it is the ultimate statement that fallen man is a criminal who cannot be redeemed by any human means because such redemption would only lead to destruction in some other form.

The greatness of Kubrick's 2001 is not merely a greatness in isolation. It is one facet of Kubrick directorial vision and his vision of humanity, fiercely and plangently illuminated by the experience of physical isolation and the abnormality of circumstances. It is the melding of story, framing of image, music, and each individual element of the film that gives 2001 the deep resonance it has as a film. It is unsurprising that, like most of Kubrick's work, it tends to leave many adult viewers cold. That is precisely what Kubrick was aiming at. If there is any word to describe every element of his major opus, that word would be "cold." Kubrick looks at humanity with a fierce flame that burns with the freezing of catabatic winds.

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May 17, 2005

How to Regard Sin

from A Path Through the Desert
Anselm Grüm

Antony talks very soberly about sin and about the tempation that accompanies us throughout our life. He is not fightened by it. He holds it out to God. He does not keep circling around his guilt, but instead gazes on God's love. He does not condemn himself. His sin, rather, becomes an occasion for him to direct his gaze to God. He knows himself to be loved unconditionally by God. But he also knows that the experience of love is not something he can clutch to himself for in the very next moment he will again be confronted by his emptiness and his remoteness from God.

I don't know that I have ever thought about sin as an occasion for intimacy with God. Certainly when I become aware of God, I ask forgiveness, both personally and in the sacrament of confession. However, because of the way I was brought up there is nothing particularly joyful about this. One admits one's guilt before the authority and hopes to get off with a light sentence.

My image of God is colored by my image of justice and of mercy here on Earth. Thus justice and mercy are not something I actively seek out. However, I am wrong in this estimation. Justice and mercy are not human but divine and their only true image comes from the God who loves us. When we sin Our Father calls us back home to wash us off--not to lecture us with stern lectures, not to knock us around, not to berate us or even to stare at us with sad, soulful eyes. Rather, very matter-of-factly he takes us into His arms and into His and cleans us off. He loves us, unconditionally.

So, in fact, sin is an opportunity to turn and look God in the face, to say to Him, "It is ever thus when I am left to myself, please help me." It is a time to experience God's all-encompassing love. We must face the reality of Paul's question, "What then should we sin the more that God's grace may abound?" And, of course, the answer is no. However, once the fault has been committed, we should not hesitate to look at Him who loves us, admit our guilt and ask Him to wash us clean from it.

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A Quotation for the Day

"Corporate responsibility does not dilute individual responsibility."

This was said during the trial of one of those convicted in the Abu Ghirab scandal.

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May 16, 2005

A Minority Faction

I have considered a point brought forth some time ago by Tom at Disputations and have decided that he is right, although not necessarily for the reasons he proposes. Therefore I shall join him in eschewing "Great" attached to the name of our former Pontiff, John Paul II and shall use instead "Magnificent." It really is the proper term for a pope so fully devoted to the Blessed Virgin. Magnificat--Magnificent--it makes sense etymologically AND in fact.

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Hear His Voice

I have heard His Word as spoken early
in the day. I have followed in His Way
as He says stay, wait awhile with me. See!
I am God indeed, the very seed from
which springs life, all earthly things that sing His
blessed name, that same name that seals open
lips with His seal and the real song that brought
forth all that is is heard. His name is made
holy when all creation, fallen and
redeemed intones as one, at once a lone
and plural voice, calling to all--Rejoice!

© 2005, Steven Riddle

Please forgive me, work pressures and other requirements force me to brevity, and thus I share what I most treasure. I have a number of these in "production." And I have a great deal more to say about a number of other items. But I fear I shall not get to them.

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