Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Pain and Laughter

What a pity it is to be born a romantic. Try as you might, you can never escape the borders of fairyland. That is to say, you can never leave this world nor can you plunge across into Rivendell. You hang in the frontier country, always seeing your patria from the neighborhood over, but never crossing the street, and, in New Orleans, it is so easy to be a romantic, so easy to indulge in the in-betweeness of the wayfarer. On Sunday, when I found out that I would be evacuating once more, I made a point of wandering the streets of our great city, aimlessly making my way to Audubon Park, for that is the secret way of life for the natives of our town: to be passionately devoted to being nonchalant. When it comes to letting the good times roll, we roll up our selves and work at it (it is perhaps the only thing we really work at). We order life around parades, closing our schools and allocating their buses to the project. We set our schedules according to the festivals. Overtime is not something we do at our jobs and is only heard when discussing the (football) Saints. The (Church's) Saints have, historically speaking, come to our town to sing and party, not just pray and repent. And so, when I set out from my door going about the important business of getting lost, the only desire I had in my heart was that I should end up at a park and climb a tree.

Thus, I cannot say how I ended up in Audubon park, nor why I continued to wander there for many hours more, but I can say that it was utterly intentional when I finally mounted a half-naked magnolia missing limbs from a previous storm. With her remaining limbs, the tree wrapped me up and so that I might fall, not to the ground, but further in love with my home city. And, much as it is when falling in love with a woman, I found that she looked both more simple and more beautiful than she typically does. The air was dry and cool. There was a slight breeze. The Spanish moss tickled me delicately, draped from the trees' limbs. People talk about seductive women on Bourbon St., but I have never made it that far. I am always taken in by Dame Oak and Lady Willow long before I can make it to the French Quarter.

From within the arms of Miss Magnolia, I looked around at the elegant houses and even more elegant streets that, like my magnolia, still bore marks from Katrina. I reflected that, on the anniversary, we would once again be rebuilding. As I climbed down and walked home, I saw the water lines on the houses left from the last storm. Memories of that flood triggered a strange feeling to flood my consciousness. It was that pale, sickly feeling of helplessness that I first felt seven years ago on that same day. "Will I see this all again? How much will have changed when I walk this street next time?"
As I stated before, New Orleanians never plan their route. As such, we never know just when we'll be back on even the closest streets to our houses. Thinking that our city might change due to forces beyond our control was perhaps the most drab and sickening thought that lingered after Katrina. And oh, Change! How we hate that word! We like things done the same way again and again. Change imposes planning, and we perfer to expend that energy enjoying ourselves. We don't like the planning process. We perfer simple action. The party is in the performance. The devil is in the details. That is why we hate change.

This is one aspect of my citizenship that is always in conflict with my creed, where my affection for NOLA finds tension with my loyalty to Kingdom. For Christians are always concerned, even to the verge of paranoia, with the concept of conversion, with the concept of change. So I asked my God whether or not I would have to change again. And He laughed at my silliness. Change again? As if the change Katrina wrought could be repeated!? He made me remember my CS Lewis; "Things never happen the same way twice" said Aslan. Katrina was purification, and not all tears are evil. Isaac is laughter, and not all laughter is flippant. Sometimes laughter strikes with a pain more intense than purgatory, for laughter conceals in its heart the very essence of humility. Tears can be selfish, but laughter is never permitted to be. Because it depends on humility for life, arrogant laughter does not simply offend good manners: it violate the principle of non-contradiction.

Romantics know well the need for laughter, their need for Isaac. As I said before, we live on the border land. Its not that we are citizens without a country, but a people torn between two countries, delicately balancing the pleasures and pains of each. For the pain of being outside of heaven is more manifold than the pleasures of this world. Each of us bears this pain in a different way. Some call it Holocaust. Some call it War. Some call it Disease. Some call it 'the Storm,' but each of these pains produce in us a secret link between the world and the fairyland, between earth and heaven, that makes us a mediator like our Beloved Mediator. "Things never happen the same way twice." Every pain is as unique as the one who bears it, nay, it is more unique. Because it reveals not just the person at their most intimate, but the One more infinite in Good and Variety than all others, our humble laughter does not obscure, but rather enhances this manifold Goodness. Think how agonizingly repetitive merely mirthful moments are. Weddings, birthdays, graduations are redundant with an almost anarchistic similarity. God has to flood these events with His Goodness or we sinners would all grow bored with them. The real miracle, though, is that pain can produce laughter, and that laughter comes in the greatest variety, revealing the full spectrum of human goodness and metaphysical wonder. We leave home entirely uncertain of what trials we will endure, but confident that we will come to a party at the end. We are so confident, that we wonder as we wander and laugh as we set out in the serious business of losing ourselves. The greatest joke in the universe, the greatest act of irony, is that to save our life we must lose it. It was so worthy of Isaac, of laughter, that God Himself was more than willing to become the punchline, taking Isaac (laughter's) place on Mt. Moriah when He stayed the hand of Abraham. So do not fear the storm. Do not weep over what is lost. What is lost was good, but what comes later, like at the end of a joke, is a Punchline worthy of both heaven and earth.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Concupiscence, True Communion, and 'Friends'

I decided to repost my first thoughts posted on blog format. This post originally was written on Monday, June 30, 2008.
It does not correspond to the personal union or 'communion' to which man and woman have been reciprocally called 'from the beginning,' in fact, it is contrary to it, that one of the two persons should exist only as a subject of satisfaction of sexual urge and that the other should become exclusively the object for such satisfaction. Further, it does not correspond to this unity of 'communion'--in fact, it is contrary to it--that both the man and the woman should mutually exist as objects for the satisfaction of sexual urge, and that each of them on his or her own part should be a subject of such satisfaction. Such a 'reduction' of the rich content of reciprocal and perennial attraction among human persons in their masculinity and femininity does not correspond to the 'nature' of the attraction in question. Such a 'reduction,' in fact, extinguishes the meaning proper to man and woman, a meaning that is person and 'of communion,' through which 'the man will... unite with his wife and the two will be one flesh' (Gen 2:4). 'Concupiscence' removes the intentional dimension of the reciprocal existence of man and woman from the personal perspective 'of communion,' which are proper to their perennial and reciprocal attraction, reducing this attraction and, so to speak, driving it toward utilitarian dimension, in whose sphere of influence one human being 'makes use' of another human being, 'using her' only to satisfy his own 'urges.'
Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body by Blessed John Paul II
Friends was one of the big sitcoms in the 90's (you can hear the claps from the theme clap-clap-clap-clap). It had a lot of influence on my generation. Yet, this quote from John Paul II puts forward the basic weakness of the series.

There is a total reduction of the relationship between man and woman to one of sexual satisfaction. The two friends who ended up marrying each other began their intimate relationship with sex. When they hid the 'relationship' from the other friends, they where hiding the fact that they were having sex. To my knowledge, which is limited and finite, and possibly wrong, they didn't go out on a 'date' until it was public knowledge that they were dating.

A relationship which ended in marriage was based and grounded upon a sexual relationship, i.e. sand. This is what my generation saw each week, and it is what John Paul II called the utilitarian dimension, wherein the person of the opposite sex is an object for sexual gratification. The ideal in this dimension is mutual sexual gratification, which, to many nowadays, means a basis for a solid marriage.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Is Collecting Bad?: The Fountain Pen and Our Consumerist Culture

To "have" objects and goods does not in itself perfect the human subject, unless it contributes to the maturing and enrichment of that subject's "being," that is to say unless it contributes to the realization of the human vocation as such ... The danger of the misuse of material goods and the appearance of artificial needs should in no way hinder the regard we have for the new goods and resources placed at our disposal and the use we make of them. - Bl. John Paul II Sollicitudo Rei Socialis 28,29

These seem to be contrary statements, but are rather intended to moderate our use of material goods. We live in  a society that idolizes materiality. I feel like I'm preaching to the choir being that most of us realize this. Realizing it is one thing, and not participating in it, is another thing altogether.

Take myself as a poor example. Back in January, I fell in love with fountain pens (they write so much better than ballpoints). They're messy. They are really nice looking, and they leave you open to an endless possibility of inks.

I loved taking notes with them while in my final semester of classes. I actually no longer took notes on my laptop or iPad. Over the course of six months, I have purchased a total of ... 1, 2, 18 fountain pens. My latest purchase is a set with Benedict XVI's signature on it. I got caught by the collector consumer bug, courtesy of Amazon and eBay. 

Now, seriously Kyle what are you going to do with eighteen fountain pens? Well, I use this one for this and this one for that and that one for signing checks and that one for homilies. I still don't use them all. I gave one to my sister. A few ended up being duds and unusable (which in itself proves the point).

Pens hold a certain nostalgia to them. Some of them make really cool fancy lettering. Some of them just look cool (like the one second from the left in the picture that is made from olive wood from the holy land.) 

Pens can contribute, as Bl. John Paul II, to the realization of the human vocation. They can be used to write down thoughts (I write out my homilies because for me, typing requires less energy and less memory). Thoughts are very important in the realization of the human vocation. They can communicate truth and beauty. But "to 'have' objects and goods does not in itself perfect the human subject." In other words, I don't need 17 pens to write my homily. I only need one. 

Where is the line drawn (no pun intended)? Is collecting things a pursuing something that does not bring us closer to God? Are there moral justifications for collecting, whether it be baseball cards, stamps, or fountain pens? Does such a hobby build us up? Dear reader, these are questions for which I do not have an answer. Sound off if you so desire and let me and others know what you think.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Go to Confession and Go Out to the World

True conversion of hearts, which means opening ourselves to the transforming and regenerative action of God, is the 'motor' of all reform and turns into an authentic force for evangelisation. During Confession, the repentant sinner, thanks to the gratuitous action of divine Mercy, is justified, forgiven and sanctified. ... Only those who allow themselves to be profoundly renewed by divine Grace can internalise and therefore announce the novelty of the Gospel.
Bl. John Paul II Dives in Misericordia

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Contests Between Political Parties and What a Pope Thinks

To these evils we must add the contests between political parties, many of which struggles do not originate in a real difference of opinion concerning the public good or in a laudable and disinterested search for what would best promote the common welfare, but in the desire for power and for the protection of some private interest which inevitably results in injury to the citizens as a whole. - Ubi Arcano Dei Consilio Pius XI
This was written in 1922. It was the encyclical of the pontificate of Pius XI. This is part of what he had to say. I do not normally enter into the realm of politics when I blog, but I read this a few months back and was struck by the force of its truth as well as the appropriateness for our current political situation in the United States. I'll let him speak for himself.
Pius XI in his office (via Wikimedia Commons)