De Hilaritate

My dear readers, unfortunate gravity and perfectionism have seized and bound my pen of late.  The desire to write well has stymied me from writing at all.  As the Italian proverb has it, “The perfect is the enemy of the good.”  The only solution, since I cannot convince myself that I write well, lies in writing badly.  After all, Theodore Roosevelt advises that the best thing to do in any situation is the right thing, the next best is the wrong thing, and the worst is to do nothing at all.  This advice may actually be false in regard to politics, but in the realm of writing it bears certain truth.  And so, I have proposed to myself to write one post per diem–not necessarily on this blog–for a fortnight.

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The title of this post, “De Hilaritate,” is the closest I could translate “On Levity” into Latin.  If I had written “De Levitate” instead, the present article would be praising fickleness or changeableness, which deserve no praise at all.  When I speak of levity, I speak of that virtue related to cheerfulness and humility, which all the saints have and often reveal in the most dour of times–as when the martyr St. Lawrence, as he roasted alive over a grill, said: “I’m well done on this side.  Turn me over and eat!”  At the same time, the excess of gravity, rooted in pride and despair, is shared by all the citizens of hell.  This might strike many of you with surprise as many religious types, myself included, have a tendency to face life with a serious countenance, as seems reasonable considering an eternity of heaven or hell awaits us depending on how we have lived.  However, the devout always carry joy in them–the joy of being united to Christ, and extra seriousness at the beginning of conversion must give way to levity as our faith in God’s goodness and salvific will increase.

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Jinbee Tsukishima as a Model of Sainthood

The more I read the Mushibugyo manga and watch the anime based on it the more fond of it I become. One of its greatest moments occurs in chapter 33 of the manga–covered within episode 8 of the anime. Our hero, Jinbee, discovers that Mitsuki has abducted Haru, his love interest, in order to draw him into a trap. Once Mitsuki has him inside a cavern crawling with giant bugs and lined with debris and buildings from a destroyed village, Haru finds a way to escape her bounds. But, Mitsuki still intends to crush both of them by bringing down the house on them–literally dropping houses from the cavern’s ceiling! Rather than lament his predicament, Jinbee quickly hits upon the plan of using the houses as a means to ascend to the top and escape! Not only does he not utter a single lamentation for his situation, but he even excuses Mitsuki of any wrongdoing–claiming that she must be being manipulated somehow!

Falling House

How many lessons this short chapter holds for a Christian! Those of you familiar with the series know that Jinbee and Haru are not the sharpest knives in the drawer, but their very simplicity allows them to act without hesitation. Curiously, intelligence can actually produce barriers to right action. Dostoyevsky’s underground man states that a truly intelligent man would never do anything. A man of action must be stupid. Why? The intelligent man tends to overanalyze and complain because their very intelligence allows them to see more difficulties. The knowledge of these difficulties stymies action. In Jinbee’s case, on the other hand, he seizes upon what he considers the best course of action and follows it without hesitation.

Great Idea

Some of the best Christian saints were also some of the simplest people. Sure, Christ has need of intelligent people, and the ranks of the Doctors of the Church are filled with them. Also, few religions have placed the same emphasis on learning as Christianity. However, when God needs something done, he often turns to the simplest individuals. Once God showed St. Francis of Assisi a room filled with thousands of swords and spears, and told him that he should win as many swords for God. The next day, St. Francis immediately bought some armor and set about to raise a company of soldiers for the Crusades! Fortunately, another dream that evening described that St. Francis would be responsible for raising spiritual warriors rather than Crusaders to the Holy Land. Like the good and single-hearted man St. Francis was, he returned to Assisi and set about creating the foundations for the Order of Friars Minor.

Happiness in Struggle

Neither St. Francis nor Jinbee allowed the struggles to daunt them from achieving their purpose. Haru also immediately consents to the plan of house climbing. If we take houses to symbolize temptations and difficulties, should not their ascent indicate walking the royal road to paradise? Temptations and obstacles ought to be met with cheer because overcoming them causes growth and sanctification. God permits temptations and obstacles in our lives so that we can triumph over them. As much as it may appear to the contrary, God would never permit temptations so great that we could never overcome them. We have no reason to be angry with God for the difficulties in our lives–though God is understanding of our frustration.

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For that matter, we should avoid becoming angry at the people who place stumbling blocks and temptations before us. As Mitsuki sends houses crashing down on him and giant bugs after him, Jinbee claims that she must be being forced against her will. Flabbergasted by these excuses and the cheerful attitude of Haru and Jinbee–they essentially treat the attempts to kill them as a game, she vehemently asserts her malevolence, which produces more resolute denials of her wickedness from Jinbee. In a like fashion, Christians should make excuses for the people that wrong them and remember both that Christ died for that person and that their enemies possess the spark of divinity as creatures made in the image and likeness of God.

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Lastly, we cannot ascend to heaven on our own strength. No one is saved alone. At times, we must like Haru accept help; at other times, we must like Jinbee help others for the increase of our charity. John Donne puts it very well in his seventeenth Meditation:

…for affliction is a treasure, and scarce any man hath enough of it. No man hath afflicion enough, that is not matured and ripened by it, and made fit for God by that affliction…Tribulation is treasure in the nature of it, but it is not current money in the use of it, except we get nearer and nearer our home, heaven, by it. Another may be sick too, and sick to death, and this affliction may lie in his bowels, as gold in a mine, and be of no use to him; but this bell that tells me of his affliction, digs out, and applies that gold to me: if by this consideration of another’s danger, I take mine own into contemplation, and so secure myself, by making my recourse to my God, who is our only security.

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But, other people and our own efforts can only help us along so far. Our good deeds and patient suffering increase our merit and fortify our good will, but God Himself must draw us up to heaven as heaven is so far above our deserts. We often sin and must have recourse to God in straightening out our crookedness or indeed even infusing supernatural charity back in our souls after we do a grave wrong. And, we might say that that ever-present need of God’s salvation is symbolized by Jinbee’s associates breaking into that chasm to rescue Jinbee and Haru from Mitsuki, who would surely have killed them had not the warriors of Mushibugyo dropped in at the right time.

To the Rescue

Sometimes, samurai anime can be remarkably fruitful for contemplation!

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!  Natale Christi Hilare!  Καλα Χριστουγεννα!  Joyeux Noël!  And since this is an anime blog, I cannot forget:

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inuyasha_kagome_holiday-CopyMy father gave me a beautiful Pelikan Fountain Pen this year.  I almost broke the thing before I figured out its unusual design: it does not take cartridges, but uses the end of the pen as an extractor.  Attached to it was some blood red ink, fittingly named after the bloodiest day of the Civil War–Antietam.  I also received a brilliant translation of St. Thomas Aquinas’s Catena Aurea (The Golden Chain), in which he compiled the Church Father’s commentaries on the Gospels.  A beautiful work!  I might also mention the other nice gifts I received, but they are a little less relevant to the blog.

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But, Christmas is more than gifts; though, one might say that God bestowed on us the ultimate gift at Christmas: Himself.  Joy attaches itself into the season, which I found difficult to enter into both this year and last year.  (I think that article marks me as a stick in the mud, but oh well.)   My Christmas felt more red than green, you might say.  This year, I found it easier to get in the spirit of the holiday.  (I hope the introduction of this article makes that clear!)  But, I confess that I rather needed to work myself up for it: cheerfulness is a virtue rather than something which comes naturally.

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Anyway, the life of a believer hardly counts as all rainbows and sunshine.  One must often find joy in carrying the cross, by which we are drawn closer to Christ Jesus.  One might even need to find joy while the horrifying idea that God has abandoned one crushes the soul.

Yet, we must keep in mind that God died for us.  He loved us first and chose us to be in paradise with Him forever.  We did not first choose Him, but He chose us knowing beforehand all our flaws and sins.  And He came down to earth and accepted not only of the ordinary sufferings of human life but also unfathomable suffering and isolation to redeem us.  He suffered all this to free us from slavery to sin so that we might become His friends for all eternity.  This desire of God stands unchangeable as God Himself.  Thinking about God’s Eternal Love cannot but make one cheer: “Merry Christmas!”

The most beautiful picture of the Nativity I ever found. and it hangs over my bed!

The most beautiful picture of the Nativity I ever found. and it hangs over my bed!