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In Praise of the Cat Path; or, I Can’t Save Me

Heaven help me I’m
Drownin’ and I can’t save me
Send some salvation
To keep me alive
–Anna Nalick, “Satellite”

On Facebook, posts with cats get lots of traffic.  Maybe the same will be true of my blog because of this post!  😉  Even if not, cats are never out of place….

Back here, I made reference to the Hindu concept of cat paths (or religions) and monkey paths.  Though I had originally encountered the term long ago–probably sometime in the 80’s–I couldn’t remember the original source of the metaphor (though I think it was in something by Huston Smith).  I did find a discussion of the concepts here.  Though I disagree with the blogger, an atheist, on a lot of things, his blog is very interesting, and I think he gave a pretty good definition of cat and monkey paths.

The poles of my religious life are Buddhism and Christianity.  I was raised in a vague and generic cultural Protestantism, without ever belonging to a church.  When I read the Dhammapada in my freshman year of college, it was the beginning of a long flirtation with and study of Buddhism, though once more I never actually took refuge or joined a sangha.  Eventually, I moved back towards Christianity, eventually joining the Catholic Church twenty-eight years ago and change.  Throughout all this time, and up to the present day, I have periodically practiced Buddhist forms of meditation and Catholic devotions.  It has been a sort of oscillation between the two ends of the spectrum, Buddhism and Christianity.

However, when I reread the Bhagavad Gita, I discovered that I was actually more Hindu than I thought.  Why that’s so I discussed here.  The point I want to make is that in some ways Hinduism does a better job of categorizing human religious thought and response than either Buddhism or Christianity manage to do.  This is probably because of Hinduism’s long-standing and in fact dizzying pluralism, coupled with its enormous antiquity and the availability of holy men and scholars who have analyzed Hindu thought for millennia.  These sages have long realized that human temperaments are varied, and that each relates best to the Absolute–i.e. God–in different ways.  Thus, despite my tendency to ping-pong around the poles of Buddhism and Christianity, I think that using Hindu categories will be most effective for this post.  Thus, I’ll put on my sannyasi robes and adopt a Hindu perspective for what follows.  Namaste, and let’s start!

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A Canticle for Leibowitz

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A Canticle for Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller, Jr., is a science fiction novel published in 1960.  The novel, divided into three parts, takes place between 600, 1200, and 1800 years in the future, respectively, chronicling a new Dark Age in the aftermath of a nuclear war.  As in the Middle Ages, the Church survives and preserves learning over the centuries until a new Renaissance can occur.  However, with the rebirth of knowledge and technology come the same forces at work a millennium earlier, and once more the world stands on the brink of nuclear destruction.  Wishing to avoid spoilers, I’ll leave it at that (you can read more in the linked Wikipedia article above).  I certainly encourage everyone to read it–no summary does it justice.  In my mind it’s one of the greatest science fiction novels of all time, and probably the greatest sf novel dealing with themes of faith and religion.  Despite this, I think anyone of any religious persuasion can enjoy the novel, and more importantly find food for thought on the topic of knowledge and whether or not mankind can use it responsibly.

Walter M. Miller, Jr. is a bit of an enigma.  He is considered one of the most important writers of science fiction of the mid-20th Century, and yet his output was small.  During World War II, he was part of the crew of a bomber that participated in a series of raids against the Benedictine Monastery of Monte Cassino.  Monte Cassino is the historic monastery founded by St. Benedict of Nursia, the father of Western monasticism, and as such the mother house of the Benedictine order.  During the Italian Campaign in 1944, British intelligence erroneously thought that the monastery was being used as headquarters for German troops, and therefore ordered the bombing raids against it.  The monastery was almost completely destroyed, with the only casualties being Italian civilians who had fled there for shelter, rather than Germans.  Ironically, German troops later did camp in the ruins of the monastery, which were good cover.  Miller was deeply traumatized by the effects of this tragic error, and the effects of this–what we’d now call PTSD–lingered for years.  After the war, Miller converted to Catholicism, which was to be a major influence on  his work.

During the 1950’s, Miller published many short stories and wrote scripts for television, winning a Hugo Award for his much-lauded short story “The Darfsteller“.  From 1955 to 1957 he published a series of novellas dealing with an order of monks dedicated to preserving human knowledge in a distant, post-apocalyptic future.  The novellas were originally titled “A Canticle for Leibowitz”, “And the Light is Risen”, and “The Last Canticle”.  In 1959, Miller substantially edited and reworked the material in the novellas and published them in novel form as A Canticle for Leibowitz.  The three-part structure was preserved, with the sections being renamed as “Fiat Homo” (“Let there be man”), “Fiat Lux” (“Let there be light”), and “Fiat Voluntas Tua” (“Let Thy will be done”).  The novel won the Hugo Award for best novel in 1961, and has been in print ever since.  After this, Miller never published anything again during the rest of his lifetime.  Despite his small oeuvre, Miller is widely considered to be one of the most influential science fiction writers of his time.

Sadly, as the years progressed, Miller became increasingly reclusive, avoiding even most of his family and refusing even to meet with his literary agent in person.  He struggled with depression and the aftereffects of PTSD.  Though he published nothing, he worked for years on the manuscript of a sequel to A Canticle for Leibowitz titled Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman.  “Sequel” is perhaps not quite the right word–the second novel takes place in the time between the events of “Fiat Lux” and “Fiat Voluntas Tua” in the original novel.  In any case, Miller completed some six hundred pages of manuscript over a period of many years.  By the 1990’s, though, he was in ill health and suffering from writers’s block, so he commissioned sf novelist Terry Bisson to complete the novel.  According to Bisson, the vast majority of the work had been completed, and he merely tidied up the text and tied up a few loose ends.  Tragically, in 1996, shortly after the death of his wife, Miller committed suicide.  Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman was published the following year.

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There Are Three Kinds of People….

There are two kinds of people–those who divide people into groups and those who don’t.

There are three kinds of people–those who can count and those who can’t.

Okay, enough with the rimshot-level bad jokes….  I do want to look at a particular way of dividing people into groups, though–three groups, to be precise.  I will explain why a little later.  The model I’m going to discuss is of Gnostic origin.  As regular readers know, I have a certain amount of sympathy for many Gnostic concepts, while remaining (mostly) orthodox myself.  I have, in fact, written a series about Gnosticism, to which this post belongs.  Many aspects of the Gnostic mythos have passed into contemporary pop culture, with some themes practically becoming tropes; e.g. the dichotomy between the illusory world of appearances and the true world as it is, the control of the world by sinister demiurgic or archontic powers, and the necessity of special knowledge (gnosis) to see the world as it is.  The theme I want to look at here is much less frequently discussed in the culture at large, although well-known, if perhaps not widely spoken of, in Gnostic circles.

To set the stage, let us rehearse, in supremely condensed style, the overall thrust of the Gnostic worldview.  Generally the Gnostic worldview sees the cosmos in strongly dualistic terms, divided between spirit, which is held to be holy and pure, and matter, which is held to be evil and tainted.  The True God–sometimes called the “Alien God”–is purely spiritual, and neither made the material world nor had anything to do with it.  His realm consists of the lower beings, pure minds, which the True God emanated from His own essence.  The combination of all these beings–usually referred to in Gnostic contexts as “Aeons”, but equivalent to what we’d call “angels”–along with God is the Pleroma–the Fullness.

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Prayers to St. Benedict

A Prayer to Saint Benedict for Protection

Dear Saint Benedict, I thank God for showering you with His grace to love Him above all else and to establish a monastic rule that has helped so many of His children live full and holy lives.

Through the cross of Jesus Christ, I ask you to please intercede that God might protect me, my loved ones, my home, property, possessions, and workplace today and always by your holy blessing, that we may never be separated from Jesus, Mary, and the company of all the blessed.  Through your intercession may we be delivered from temptation, spiritual oppression, physical ills, and disease.  Protect us from drug and alcohol abuse, impurity and immorality, objectionable companions, and negative attitudes.  In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Prayer in Honor of Saint Benedict

Dear God, we praise and thank You for Who You are: The Creator and Master of the Universe, and our Father who loves us and has sent Your Son Jesus to save us from our sins.

Dear Father, You provided your holy monk, Benedict, as a leader and master in the spiritual life for a countless number of followers.  Filled as he was with the spirit of all the just, You flooded him with the splendor of Your light.  In the intense radiance of this light his mind was freed of hindrance and he was able to discern how incomplete all things are here below.  Because of this the entire monastic company in every part of the world sings out its joy, and the Virtues on high, with all the angels, continuously praise Your glory in song.

Stir up in your Church, O Lord, the spirit that animated our Father Benedict.  Fill us again with Your Holy Spirit, in order that we may learn to love what he loved and practice what he taught.  As You filled Saint Benedict with the spirit of all the righteous, grant us, your servants, who celebrate his life and all the good You have accomplished through him, his followers, and his holy Rule, to be filled with his spirit, that we may faithfully accomplish Your complete Will.  We ask all this through Jesus Christ Our Lord, Who with You lives and reigns, one God, world without end.  Amen.

–courtesy of here.  Benedict of Nursia was the founder of Western monasticism.  Today is his feast day.

A Prayer to St. Maria Goretti

Saint Maria Goretti

Heroic and angelic Saint Maria
Goretti, we kneel before you to
honor your persevering fortitude and
to beg your gracious aid. Teach us
a deep love for the precepts of our
Holy Church; help us to see in them
the very voice of our Father in Heaven.
May we preserve without stain
our white baptismal robe of
innocence. May we who have lost
this innocence kneel humbly in Holy
Penance, and with the absolution of
the priest, may the torrent of
Christ’s precious Blood flow into our
souls and give us a new courage to
carry the burning light of God’s love
through the dangerous highways of
this life until Christ our king shall call
us to the courts of Heaven. Amen.

–Courtesy of here.  Today is her feast day.  A novena to St. Maria Goretti can be found here.

Prayers to St. Thomas the Apostle

A Prayer to St. Thomas the Apostle, for Architects, Builds, and Carpenters

Dear Saint Thomas, you were once slow in believing that Christ had gloriously risen; but later, because you had seen him, you exclaimed: “My Lord and my God!” According to an ancient story, you rendered most powerful assistance for constructing a church in a place where pagan priests opposed it. Please bless architects, builds and carpenters that through them the Lord may be honored. Amen.

A Prayer to St. Thomas the Apostle, for Faith

Almighty and ever living God, who didst strengthen thine apostle Thomas with sure and certain faith in thy Son’s resurrection: Grant us so perfectly and without doubt to believe in Jesus Christ, our Lord and our God, that our faith may never be found wanting in thy sight; through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

A Prayer to Saint Thomas the Apostle, for Spending Ourselves in His Service

O Glorious Saint Thomas, your grief for Jesus was such that it would not let you believe he had risen unless you actually saw him and touched his wounds. But your love for Jesus was equally great and it led you to give up your life for him. Pray for us that we may grieve for our sins which were the cause of Christ’s sufferings. Help us to spend ourselves in his service and so earn the title of “blessed” which Jesus applied to those who would believe in him without seeing him. Amen.

A Prayer to St. Thomas the Apostle, Pray for Me

Lord Jesus, Saint Thomas doubted Your resurrection until he touched Your wounds. After Pentecost, You called him to become a missionary in India, but he doubted again and said no. He changed his mind only after being taken into slavery by a merchant who happened to be going to India. Once he was cured of his doubt, You freed him and he began the work You had called him to do. As the patron saint against doubt, I ask him to pray for me when I question the direction in which You are leading me. Forgive me for mistrusting You, Lord, and help me to grow from the experience. Saint Thomas, pray for me. Amen.

Courtesy of here.  Today is his feast day.  A novena to St. Thomas the Apostle can be found here.

A Prayer for the Feast of the Visitation

The Feast of the Visitation–when Mary visits her kinswoman Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist (Luke 1:39-45)–is celebrated on May 31st.  In the liturgical calendar in use before the Second Vatican Council, though, it was celebrated on July 2nd.  Many Traditionalist groups, such as the Priestly Society of St. Peter (FSSP), still use the old calendar.  I’m not a Traditionalist, though I’m sympathetic to some of their perspectives (and unsympathetic to others).  Still, it’s a good excuse to post these prayers for today–they’re appropriate regardless of the calendar one uses.  Plus, in the icon above, St. Joseph’s hat really rocks! The prayers below are courtesy of here.

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We remember today the visiting of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth and the wonderful prayer of the Magnificat.

Prayer:

Reading Having begotten God in her womb, the Virgin hastened to Elizabeth, whose child understood the greeting and rejoiced with leapings as with songs, crying to the Mother of God:

Rejoice, O flower of unwithering stem! Rejoice, O gift of an incorruptible fruit! Rejoice, O fountain of the source of life, the lover of humanity! Rejoice, O Mother of the Son of God the Father! Rejoice, O field, a harvest of mercy! Rejoice, O banquet, a feast of purity! Rejoice, O flower, a meadow of delights! Rejoice, O guide, the harbor of souls! Rejoice, O acceptable incense of prayers! Rejoice, O purification of the universe! Rejoice, O goodness of God toward the dead! Rejoice, O boldness of dead toward God! Rejoice, O unwedded bride! (Akathist Hymn)

Responsory

Verse: When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, she said: Response: “Who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”

The Lord’s Prayer

Blessing Blessed be you, God of mercy and compassion, for you inspired Mary, the humble maiden of Nazareth, to visit her cousin Elizabeth and to assist her in her earthly needs. Help us, that following Mary’s example we may remain always open to the needs and sufferings of others. Strengthen us with the nourishment of this meal, and bring us one day to love’s eternal feast in your kingdom. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Prayer Source: Table Blessings: Mealtime Prayers Throughout the Year by Brother Victor-Antoine d’Avila-Latourrette, Ave Maria Press, 1994

Was It…SATAN??!!

The title, of course, refers to the catchphrase of Dana Carvey’s iconic 90’s Saturday Night Live character the Church Lady.  This post, however, is a little more serious than that.

I went to the vigil Mass yesterday, and the first reading, from Wisdom 1:13-15, 2:23-24, struck me (my emphasis, of course):

God did not make death,
nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living.
For he fashioned all things that they might have being;
and the creatures of the world are wholesome,
and there is not a destructive drug among them
nor any domain of the netherworld on earth,
for justice is undying.
For God formed man to be imperishable;
the image of his own nature he made him.
But by the envy of the devil, death entered the world,
and they who belong to his company experience it.

That got me to thinking about some of the themes I’ve discussed in this series, and indicated to me an actual Scriptural warrant, slim though it may be, for them.

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(Body) and Soul

 

“Body” is a concept with which few of us have a problem.  We all have bodies after all.  No one doubts this, except perhaps for solipsists and those who’d argue that we are actually brains in vats (or for Wachowski fans, that we’re connected to the Matrix, which is essentially the same thing)*.  For the purposes here, at least, we’ll consider such viewpoints in light of the commonsense perspective–that is, that they’re cracked!  Thus, what I want to look at is the idea of the soul.  I’m doing so in order to develop the groundwork for some ideas I want to explore in my series on polygenism, specifically, and more generally in regard to my series on the Fall.  Since this post itself is a sort of stand-alone, though, I’ll put it in “Religious Miscellany“.

I should preface this discussion by stipulating that I do believe that the soul, as an entity distinct from the body actually does exist.  Obviously, not everyone believes this.  Many of the philosophically materialist persuasion would argue that what is commonly called a “soul” is merely the complex interaction of electrochemical processes in the human brain.  The more radical would argue that the mind itself is no different from the brain, except perhaps in an analytical sense.  Some, such as Daniel Dennett (if I understand him correctly) would even go so far as to deny the existence of sense of self and personal experience.  In this post, I’m not interested in arguing against a materialist view of the comos. For those interested in such a defense, I’d refer you to C. S. Lewis’s book Miracles.  For now, suffice it to say that I’m taking the existence of a discrete, immaterial soul that is distinct from the body for granted.

We use the word “soul” all the time, and we all have a vague agreement on what it means.  In general, “soul” means the center of identity that makes a person who he or she is, and which is distinct from the body.  That is, our memories, thoughts, emotions–that which we consider to be our “self”, our “identity”, including but not limited to the mind, is the soul.  The soul is in some sense “in” the body (though the spatial term “in” is really a metaphor) and interacts with and is affected by the body–for example, if the body becomes tired enough, we become unconscious, and things such as drugs can affect our minds.  Despite this, the soul is distinct from the body, and is usually held to be separable from it, and to survive the body’s death.

Further, as is popularly conceived, though not always clearly articulated, the soul is not only the locus of the true self, it is the self.  We speak of having a soul, like we have a car or a television.  However, as the term is usually understood, it’s more accurate to say that we are souls.  This follows the ideas of Plato, notably in his dialogue Phaedo.  In effect, the true person is the soul, which merely “wears” the body as one would wear clothing.  Thus, while we may identify with our body, there is still a sense in which we do not consider it equivalent to ourselves.  We speak of “my” hand or kidney or hair, as if these things are not actually part of us, any more than “my” book or computer is.  We say of a departed one that “he” went to Heaven (or perhaps Hell), or that “he” was reincarnated.  Since his body remains, it is evident that the “he” to which we refer is the soul.

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The Bible: Updates and Current Events

Not updates to the Bible itself, of course….  Way back here, in my first post in my series on the Bible, I had this to say:

In Lent of 2009 I decided I’d start reading the Bible from beginning to end for a third time.  I’d tried that a couple of times in the past, never having got past Genesis, or once the very beginning of Exodus.  This time, I vowed, I’d do it.  I began reading it.  Two and a half years later, I’m still at it.  At least I’ve finished through the end of Joshua, and I am confident that I will indeed finish the whole Good Book again eventually.

Alas, it is now almost seven years since I wrote that post, and over nine years since I began re-reading the Bible, and I just ran out of steam.  I have, however, started back, in a bit of a roundabout way.

This past Easter (2018) my wife, after eighteen years of marriage and twenty-one years together, entered the Catholic Church.  This was a cause of celebration in our family.  During Lent, she began using a Catholic app on her phone to read the Douay-Rheims version of the Bible.  For Easter I bought her a hardcopy, as well as getting the Kindle version for her Kindle Fire.  Since we use a common Amazon account, I put the Kindle version on my Fire, too.  I have no idea why she decided to read that particular translation.  However, since I now had it on my Fire also, I decided that I’d just jump in and start reading it, too.  It wouldn’t be bad to be rereading the Bible (again); and by reading the specific version my wife was reading, I’d be better equipped to answer any questions she had.

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