Two Small Spiritual Books

A couple of days from the Feast of Divine Mercy appears apropos for writing a couple of reviews on spiritual books, which I distinguish from theological works by their focus on devotion rather than discerning doctrinal truths.  Don’t forget to obtain a plenary indulgence this Sunday!  (It’s not often that I get a chance to link back to the third post I ever wrote.)  After all, the more mercy we receive from God the more our confidence in God and generosity to others grows.  The less mercy we obtain, the less time we spend in prayer and the fewer our occasions of receiving the sacraments–especially the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the less confidence we place in God.  I have come across a few people who claim that they cannot enter a Church lest it burn down!  I know that they jested, but it does reveal a lack of confidence if nothing else!  Instead of being struck dumbfounded on these occasions, would that I had told them that their sins were the only things which would burn up upon entering a Church!

Divine Mercy

But, the spirit of confidence in God’s mercy imbues both St. Alphonsus de Liguori’s How to Converse with God and St. Francis de Sales’ The Art of Loving God.  De Sales wrote during the Counter-Reformation, while de Liguori wrote during the 18th century; but, de Liguori’s works have the savor of the Counter-Reformation, especially Prayer: the Great Means of Salvation and of Perfection.  Unlike the aforementioned book and St. Francis’ masterpiece, A Treatise on the Love of God, the two books in question are both very short.  De Liguori’s book is the size of a Lenten devotional one might pick up from church.  De Sales’ The Art of Loving God fits easily into a jacket pocket.

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On Drawing Religious Messages from Anime

In any meditation on anime and religion, my major premise is the following: all men, whether they realize it or not, are seeking Jesus Christ.  In St. Gertrude’s revelations, Our Lord remarks to the saint that he looks fondly at people who read books, because He believes that they really wish to find Him among their pages.  This leads us to the question of how to find Christ through fiction.  People have been turning to novels since the 19th century for religion (which you shall indeed find in the best of them: Alexandre Dumas, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and others), but can one also discover God in cartoons from the Land of the Gods?

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The first thing to note is that not every anime cleaves to a pagan worldview.  For example, Wolf’s RainArpeggio of Blue SteelBlassreiterMardock ScrambleTrigunLe Chevalier D’Eon, and Glass Fleet either use Christian elements effectively or derive from a Christian author.  When I write about these shows, Christian themes are there for the taking: this is how I can meditate on Our Lord and Our Lady through Wolf’s Rain.  Nevertheless, such articles usually do not come to me so easily, because the majority of anime adheres to a pagan worldview.  How is one to discern Christ in a story whose author does not  know the Lord?

Kiba and Cheza_2

The answer lies in allegory and symbolism.  However, ancient peoples understood allegorical reasoning much better than moderns (as is shown by students’ constantly complaining about analogies on tests); but, this form of reasoning is essential to understanding religion.  Words inadequately convey spiritual realities.  For example, we call God Lord.  This same word can be applied to Genghis Khan, Charlemagne, or King George III.  The word lord was originally used to apply to figures like these, but how can they compare to the Lord of the Universe, Who rules all things spiritual and material with complete knowledge of all that happened, occurs presently, and will be in the future?  We also refer to God as the Architect of the Universe.  But, how can someone who draws diagrams of a house be compared to the One who has designed the cosmos?  We can only describe God and other religious concepts by analogy, where words stand as metaphors for something greater than they can express.

Eleonore at the Gate

To see how this becomes applicable to anime, let us take the beginning of episode two of Madan no Ou to Vanadis.  *Many spoilers from episodes two and three ahead!*  Tigre attempts to exit (it cannot really be called escape, can it?) Eleonore’s castle, only to be stopped by Eleonore herself.   What allegories to Christianity might we find in this example?  First, let us note Tigre’s utter destitution and powerlessness compared to Eleonore, the lord of the castle and leader of an army.  Compared to God, people are poor and weak.  We must rely upon God for everything.  In regard to our hero and heroine, Tigre has no hope of defending his fief from enemy attack, but wishes to return home anyway despite certain death.  This contempt for his life enrages Eleonore both because Tigre is participating in an exercise of futility and because he neglects to rely upon her. In the same way, people often rely upon themselves instead of God and rush headlong into certain failure.  If only they had sought God’s aid, they might have succeeded in their endeavor.

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But, for various reasons, people are either neglect or are afraid to approach God.  One way of overcoming the fear of approaching God is to approach Him through intercessors.  (An important thing to remember on All Saint’s Day!)  Yet, nothing delights Our Lord as being approached directly and with full confidence in Him.  On what does this confidence rest?  Knowing that God loves us and wishes for our happiness.  After all, Jesus Christ has been described as the Bridegroom and the Church as the Bride.  The love of man and wife becomes symbolic of Christ’s love for the Church.  Bride and bridegroom denote newlyweds in particular, and one cannot imagine newlyweds being inclined to refuse each other anything.

This was a great shot, by the way.

This was a great shot, by the way.

Well, dear readers, you see where I’m going with this, don’t you?  Though their sexes do not match their roles, this symbolism works very well for Eleonore and Tigre.  (Also, unless something untoward and horrendous happens, they are certain to get hitched.)  Tigre boldly asks for an army from Eleonore, who bursts out laughing with delight and happily gives him the army with a few conditions.  These conditions bind Tigre more closely to her, as occurs when we receive anything from God.  As St. Bernard of Clairvaux says, the reward for loving is to be able to love more, and the opportunities for loving increase the more closely two people are bound to one another.  And so, Eleonore not only gives Tigre the gift of her army, but even joins it in order to defeat the most powerful opponents herself.  In a similar way, God delights not only to give us what we ask for but more besides.  Though we are expected to continue in the firm desire to do the right, God truly brings about our triumphs–only requiring that we have a firm and complete confidence in Him.

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At any rate, that is how my mind draws connections between anime and religion most of the time.  One cannot be afraid to think a little outside the box and reconcile imperfect analogies!  May this help other people use literature and film to think about their faith.

Doubt and the Mind of the Believer

In my reader, I stumbled across this piece on famous people who were admitted into an asylum.  The case of John Thomas Perceval interested me most, both because he wrote a book which was helpful to the field of psychology about his time in the asylum, and because the man suffered from a religious mania.  I was curious about the specifics of this religious mania.  One example of religious mania I read about prior to this occurred in a friend of Samuel Johnson, who would pray at random moments during his day, even in the middle of a public square.  Johnson felt that there had been no need to incarcerate him because the insanity was rather harmless.  He also opined that people who did not pray at all were more crazy.

Samuel Johnson.  According to Boswell, the coolest cat in 18th century London.

Samuel Johnson. According to Boswell, the coolest cat in 18th century London.

Anyway, back to Perceval.  His insanity centered around hearing voices which offered him two choices.  One of which was alleged to be the voice of the Holy Spirit; yet, making a choice between the two or refusing to do either was always represented later to him as wrong and evidence of his ingratitude to God.  He would hastily act or speak at the prompting of these voices.  For example, he would hear the voices say “That is Samuel Hobbs if you will.  If not, it is Herminet Herbert.” In his book, he says that he began to realize that his inability to accept doubt was part of his malady.  He learned to wait for someone else to confirm the person’s name.  Three years of treatment, the most effective remedies of which came from within, cured him.  Here is his story.

St. Bartholomew is the patron saint against nervous and neurological disorders.  Also, ironically, the patron saint of tanners.  Read about him to understand the irony.

St. Bartholomew is the patron saint against nervous and neurological disorders. Also, ironically, the patron saint of tanners. Read about him to understand the irony.

This leads to the question of what part does doubt have in the life of a believer.  The tragic flaw of Shinji Ikari in the third Evangelion Rebuild movie comes to mind. (*Spoiler Alert*) Against the command of Misato, he comes to the conclusion that he must pilot an Eva.  Furthermore, he doggedly holds to his final mission in the movie despite the doubts which form in his co-pilot’s mind–who actually convinced him to undertake the mission in the first place–and the urgings of Asuka.  His co-pilot’s doubts turned out to be well founded, and Shinji’s perseverance on the wrong course produced dire consequences.

Should have connected, Asuka.

Should have connected, Asuka.

The Desert Fathers have named pride as a cause of insanity.  Doubt seems to then be part of humility.  Our ignorance is abysmal–even in the case of those deemed brilliant.  And so, we rely upon others’ advice and the learning process never ends.  However, how is doubt reconciled with faith?  Many atheists probably think that believers practice a Shinji-esque stubbornness, but this is not actually the case with faith.  Believers often have doubts.  Once during the sacrament of Reconciliation, a certain young man humiliated himself by admitting that he had doubts concerning God’s goodness.  Curiously, the perfection of the priest’s advice coupled with that confessor’s subsequent inability to console his soul convinced him that Our Lord Himself had borrowed the confessor’s lips at that moment–as priests admit occasionally happens.

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The point of this anecdote is that God himself acts to remove one’s doubts.  Can one imagine how the young man’s confidence was restored by this intervention?  God, curiously, wants us to trust Him even when we have no confidence in Him.  Our Lord told St. Gertrude that a lack of confidence prevented in no way prevented one from praying “Even if God cast me into hell, He will save me” or “Even if He slay me, I will trust in Him.”  This almost seems cruel; yet, it is impossible that the Heart of God can be cruel.  Everything will be clear one day.  I suppose, as the song goes, one needs to be cruel to be kind sometimes.