The Duluth Pilgrimage, pt. I

I mentioned to Luminas in my post on superstition that I would tell about my pilgrimage to visit the relics of St. Maria Goretti.  For a change of pace, I opted for a narrative form in writing about this trip, which I hope pleases my readers.  Since the narrative is long, this story will be told in two parts.

St. M. Goretti

When October with her cold rain smotes the hard asphalt, then do  Americans long to go on pilgrimages.  At least, so I thought as I lunched during my early shift on October 27th.  The news reported that my area and the whole route along the four hour drive to Duluth, Georgia would be immersed in the fringe of a tropical storm.  This made me begin to doubt the wisdom of my pilgrimage to see St. Maria Goretti’s relics, which were then on tour in the United States–a fact I had only learned of four days before.  But, I reflected on a few things: 1) this was a once in a lifetime opportunity; 2) my parents had generously provided the funds I lacked for the trip; and 3) inclement weather ought to prevent neither the worship of God nor the veneration of His friends, the saints.  Did torrential rain stop the pilgrims from reaching Fatima on October 13, 1917?  Moreover, did it prevent me from making my tearful first confession after a five year break from the Sacrament of Reconciliation?  (Confession had been mandatory in grammar school, but I soon avoided the sacrament when it ceased to be required in high school.)  Negative in both cases!  So, I affirmed my resolve to go.

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Off on Pilgrimage

My first day of vacation starts tomorrow.  I put pilgrimage in the title because Montreal includes part of this vacation, and I cannot imagine that we shall visit that fascinating city without stopping by St. Joseph’s Oratory.  This oratory was made famous by the miracles produced there and its association with St. Andre Bessette, who might have called himself St. Joseph’s doorkeeper.  He was famous for thousands of miraculous cures, which he attributed to the intercession of St. Joseph.

Since it is late, and I do not want to spend too much time writing (I wake at 3 AM on the morrow–four hours from now!), I decided to briefly list some highlights of my anime hobby and spiritual life.  I hope you find some of them interesting.

  • Watched Girls und Panzer: This is the Real Anzio Battle.  I greatly enjoyed it.  It felt like a longer TV episode but still had a great tank battle.  The following is my favorite quote from the OVA:
Only in a perfect world!

Only in a perfect world!

  • Akame ga Kiru stands as a faithful adaptation of the manga.  Things will really pick up once Esdese appears.  (I prefer the fan naming system and will stubbornly stick to that until the official naming system becomes more universal.)  The great thing about Akame ga Kiru is that it essentially turns shonen on its head: we have the same kinds of happy-go-lucky and quirky characters, but they’re thrown into a really corrupt, dark, and bloody world.  This is why so many people like myself enjoy the show.
  • The first three episodes of Aldnoah.Zero really took the cake in terms of the setting and action.  I hope that the quality of the characters catches up soon.
  • I’m somehow still finding the motivation to fit in an episode of El Cazador de la Bruja here and there.  It’s a rather mediocre show, but the characters are enjoyable enough that I find myself continually drawn back to it.  It will probably take me as much time as I took for Bodacious Space Pirates for me to complete.
  • Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun is one of the best comedies this season.  The oddball characters are splendidly amusing to watch, and I like the fact that the hero is a shoujo manga artist, which makes many of the episodes’ plots revolve around him finding material for his comics.

No law Breaking

  • Gintama is one of those shows which I can put down for a while and then pick up again.  The quest to capture the aliens who were running amok turning people’s bodies and body parts into screwdrivers didn’t grab me, but the arch where Shinpachi gains a pen pal was more hilarious.  This show goes everywhere from toilet humor to maudlin to boring to hilarious to epic.  One just needs to wait for the best stories.
  • Many bloggers loved the first season of Hamatora, and I’m enjoying the show thus far.  Episode four, where the desire to own a gun was portrayed as rooted to evil desires, irked me to no end.  Cannot people get that some people love tools?  Especially men?  Guns are tools and a lot of fun to shoot.  People enjoy shooting at paper targets, cans, bottles, abandoned houses, cardboard boxes, etc.  Wishing to have a gun by itself in no way means a person is inclined to violence.  Just watch this video if you don’t believe me.
  • For some reason, I’m really enjoying Hanamayata.  I suppose my identification with Hana (she’s also from NJ) goes a long way, but somehow I find this slice of life comedy still a lot of fun.  I have a an article in the works for it.
  • Did you know that Mushibugyo has an anime adaptation?  I didn’t, and this decently animated adaptation is a lot of fun to watch.  Perfect for a lover of samurai shows.

Jinbee strikes

  • I’ve kind of stalled Nadia: Secret of the Blue Water.  At this point, Nadia, Jean, and Marie have met back up with Senora Grandis and company, which means the action should improve.  Man, the Island arc was exhausting!
  • I don’t exactly know how, but a friend of mine finagled me into watching Nisemonogatari.  I couldn’t even finish episode one of Nisemonogatari the first time around, despite being a fan of Bakemonogatari.  But, I find myself at episode four and wanting to know more.  (By the way, Nisemonogatari essentially decided to put Holo in its story via Shinobu.)
  • Many bloggers like despising Rail Wars!  But, I’m enjoying how the characters deal with the obstacles each episode.  It reminds me a lot of You’re Under Arrest, and even if it doesn’t hold a candle to season one of You’re Under Arrest, it’s certainly better than season two thus far.
Aoi losing her gun has to count as one of the saddest moments in the show thus far.

Aoi losing her gun has to count as one of the saddest moments in the show thus far.

  • Sabagebu! stands as one of my favorite shows this season.  This is pure comedy gold.  The action can get rather nuts; but if you liked Full Metal Panic! Fumoffu, Azumanga Daioh, Excel Saga, or Pani Poni Dash, I can practically guarantee you’ll love this show.
  • Concerning ARGEVOLLEN, the show is nothing special, but I’m enjoying it, and there always exists the chance that it will get better.  Basically, if I drop anything this season, it will be this show.
  • Tokyo ESP‘s not bad.  It’s doing everything well so far, and it feels a little similar to Samurai Flamenco‘s first half so far in that we have ordinary people who suddenly conceive that they have a duty to repress the darker elements of society.  However, it still has a long way to go in order to surpass Ga-Rei Zero, in which series’ world Tokyo ESP exists.  And I love how Leonidas has a cameo role. xD

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  • Somehow, I haven’t been able to get into Zankyou no Terror.  I loved how they referenced the Sphinx and the fact that there are two riddles according to mythology.  (Actually, I’m pretty sure “What walks on two legs, then four, then three?” was an invention of later writers.  Classical authors loved to mess around with mythology and add their own improvements on the canonical version.)  Yet, somehow, the story doesn’t grab me.  Like Sky Crawlers, it’s probably too intellectual for my tastes.

That sums it up for my anime watching.  I still owe you guys some manga reviews, so expect that around St. Edith Stein’s feastday (Aug. 9th).  Speaking of saints, I find St. Thomas Aquinas’ Catena Aurea a constant source of inspiration.  There are almost four hundred pages of commentary on Matthew before I can move to the Gospel of Mark, but St. Thomas Aquinas’ ability to draw so many relevant Church Fathers on each passage of Scripture is nothing short of amazing.  Also, I’m reading George MacDonald’s The Seaside Parish.  George MacDonald is a genius of the spiritual life and every page contains something quotable.  Why don’t people read him anymore!!?  I’ll be right alongside C. S. Lewis in thanking George MacDonald for his works when I get to paradise.

Until August 9th, you’ll be seeing no more articles unless I am so lucky as to find a wi-fi hotspot.  But, I should be able to respond to commentary.

Day Six of 10 Days to 300: My Neighbor Totoro

Watching this film makes me see why it is such a beloved movie!  The feeling one gets from watching it is akin to reading a good myth or a George MacDonald novel.  If you have yet to read George MacDonald, be sure to place his Phantasies and Lilith on your reading list.  Here’s some stuff I’ve written about his influence and I have mentioned him here, here, and here.

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The feeling which I’ve alluded to above is the feeling of touching the sublime or the fantastic.  In My Neighbor Totoro, we follow the wanderings of of two girls, Satsuki and Mei, who move to the country with their father.  People accept the world of fantasy as a matter of course, and the best human attitudes to its existence are playfulness and enjoyment.  For example, Mei’s response to finding totoro, a giant creature which combines the traits of a bunny and a bear, is nothing less than giggling delight.  Similar scenes and reactions to the fantastic make this a very heartwarming film.

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At the same time, the film does note that Japanese folklore can be pretty dark as well.  This darkness is especially well conveyed when Mei becomes lost in her desire to visit her sick mother.  The searchers find a small shoe in a body of water and try to uncover her body therein.  How much does one want to bet that, if Mei should have been found dead, the villagers would have claimed that a kappa got her?

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Then again, the movie displays superb animation and a wonderful family atmosphere.  You can see how tightly knit the family is from the way the children interact with their father, particularly during their bath together when they laugh and scream away their fear of the the storm raging outside.  I mentioned that Satsuki and Mei’s mother was ill earlier.  Other than play with Totoro, the children desire their mother’s return more than anything else.  This lends just enough tension to atmosphere of the film.  And so, I gave it a full five stars.  You might think that a bit generous, but My Neighbor Totoro is a wonderful film.

Arpeggio of Blue Steel: A Spy Anime?

If you have not watched Arpeggio of Blue Steel, I might advise you not to read any further.  Not only because this article is chock full of spoilers, but because I think that such shows are best enjoyed without one perceiving their purpose until the end or even upon another viewing.  But, if you have my own nonchalant attitude toward knowing all about a story before watching or reading it (in my case, an attitude fostered by the study of the Classics), read on by all means.

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Anyway, Arpeggio of Blue Steel stands as the latest “spy anime” if you will.  This has nothing to do with espionage of the Cold War sort.  Thompdjames, a close friend of mine and blogger of Dusty Thanes, once told me about term “spy novels,” which he defined as novels which were clandestinely Christian in order to be read by the general public.  Selling around 150 million copies, The Lord of the Rings stands as the most successful novel of this type.  Few on the first reading would realize that it is a Christian fairy tale.  I wish to argue that Arpeggio of Blue Steel is of the same class.

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Now, not everything in this series is explicable through the lens of the Bible.  In particular, I have no idea how to explain the initial scenario of intelligent robots coming down to earth and taking over the seas.  This scenario merely offers a field for Christian ideas to play out.  If anyone thinks the coming of the Fog refers to the fall of the angels, I wish instead to argue that the Fog represent the Jews.  This claim has neither to do with the origins of the Fog nor their being ships.

Maya never looks that cool in the anime.

Maya never looks that cool in the anime.

So, how do the Fog represent the Jews?  They run their careers according to a series of orders, which stopped coming at one point.  This is similar to how the Jews have 613 Mizvot, to which they have neither added or subtracted since the times of Moses if they are Orthodox.  And so, the Fog symbolizes humanity under the Old Covenant.

This is not a bad place to be; however, it cannot compare to the Law of Love found in the New Covenant: “This is my command: love each other” (John 15:17).  The New Testament requires love as the basis of our relationship toward God rather than strict justice, though love is both just and yet goes beyond justice so that our “righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law” (Matt. 5:20).  This is because under the Old Covenant people were slaves of God, but the New Covenant makes people friends of God: “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you” (John 15:15). 

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Gunzou, the Christ figure of this anime, illustrates this concept that Christians are joined in friendship with their Lord.  Gunzou assembles a very diverse group of friends who are all one in his group: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).  Whether playing at the beach or fighting against the Fog, one sees that friendship binds them together.  Also like Christ, Gunzou brings division: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matt. 10:34).  But, is it Christ’s fault that He brings division?  That most amiable and lovable of persons who strove to reconcile all human beings with God?  Of course not!  One who seeks to reconcile people cannot be the cause of discord.  The enemies of Christ rage against the Cornerstone and are crushed (Luke 20:18).  In the same way, U-400 and U-402 strive to sink Gunzou’s ship and are lost themselves.  Gunzou’s near sacrifice of himself for Iona is reminiscent of Christ’s death on the Cross.  Lastly, the fact that Gunzou is the Captain of the U-401 mirrors the relationship of Christ to the Church, as Christ is the Head of the Church.

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Indeed, the amount of resistance among the Fog to Gunzou’s desire to reconcile them to humanity resembles the resistance of the Jews to the message of Christ.  In particular, Kongou’s resistance to Gunzou’s offer of friendship reminds one of the Pharisees’ refusal to accept Christ due to their hardness of heart (Mark 3:5)–if we take the mental model’s cores to symbolize their hearts, what else is Kongou’s leaving her core aboard ship but the refusal to give Gunzou her heart?  One almost imagines Kongou, after seeing how much Gunzou’s crew is enjoying themselves, asking: “Why do we and the Pharisees fast oft, but thy disciples fast not?” (Matthew 9:14)  Like the Pharisees toward Jesus, Kongou finds herself attracted to Gunzou, but prefers the old wine of the law to the new wine of friendship (Luke 5:39).

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Shortly thereafter, we see the collusion of the Fog to kill Gunzou, which reminds one of the Sanhedrin’s plan to assassinate Jesus Christ.  Interestingly, Kongou ends up chained for her zeal in desiring U-401’s demise.  Who else is Kongou like except St. Paul, whose zeal for the traditions of his fathers and led him to “[breath] out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples” (Acts 9:1).  The genius of having such a Pauline character makes the series.

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Unlike St. Paul though, Kongou breaks of the chains of the Fog’s directives but without accepting the friendship of Gunzou.  What has she done?  With neither the Law nor Love to steer her course, her own envy drives her quest to destroy U-401.  She even goes so far as to destroy her allies ships so that she can gain all the glory of destroying the U-401.  This reminds me of how the enemies of the Church are attracted to what the Church has and yet wish to destroy it at the same time.  As George MacDonald wrote in his Weighted and Wanting: “The world had given her the appearance of much of which Christ gives the reality.  For the world very oddly prizes the form whose informing reality it despises.”  Those outside the Church have no idea how happy the treasures of faith would make them.

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This event leads to the final confrontation between Kongou and Iona.  Iona gives her all to save Kongou from her envy.  The vast battery of firepower unleashed on Iona to prevent her approach imitates the way worldly people attempt to drive Christ away from them.  The frosty blades with which Kongou attempts to cut down Iona and the force field placed around the Fog’s place of meeting all show the hardness and coldness Christ is shown by the same people.  Yet, it is not Gunzou, whom I referred to as this series Christ figure, who approaches Kongou on this occasion, but Iona.  This refers to the fact that Christ acts through his members to bring people to salvation.  I am not sure whether it might be more appropriate to say that Iona is a Marian or apostolic figure.  She is certainly Gunzou’s most perfect follower.  Yet, we view St. Mary as being a more quiet and contemplative figure; yet, in the orthodox and medieval tradition of the Church contemplation and prayer considered far more active in bringing people to Christ than missionary work–though, we obviously need missionaries.  Why?  Because contemplatives have chosen the better part with another St. Mary (Luke 10:42): love purely focused on Christ.

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Be that as it may, Iona is sent as a lamb to a wolf (Matt. 10:16).  Kongou has become truly warped by her hatred of Gunzou, which leads to such hatred of herself that she warps the form of her ship and even wishes to destroy herself along with Iona.  Her envy is such that she cannot bear to see another person happy, since she believes that happiness does not lie in store for her.  But, Iona manages to touch Kongou’s heart, and thus they are saved, which reminds us of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s assertion that no one is saved alone.  The salvation of one always means the salvation of others.  To further the Pauline theme in the case of Kongou, recall Timothy 1:15-16: “The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the foremost.  But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life.”  And so, Kongou’s darkness dissipates, her animosity toward Gunzou and his crew vanishes, and her Death Star-like airship returns to her true battleship form, events which show that she loves others now and loves herself truly.

Remember!  One can't properly love others unless one loves oneself.

Remember! One can’t properly love others unless one loves oneself.

So, what do you think of my evidence for Arpeggio of Blue Steel as a “spy anime”?  Am I correct or did I read too much into the show?  I think this might be the longest article I’ve ever written outside of the papers for school I have posted here!  I hope that everyone got to the end!

The Pride of Despair and Humility of Hope in Claymore

My last article comparing Attack on Titan and Claymore spurred me to re-watch the latter–the lackluster quality of much of recent anime helped me along too.  At this point, I have reached the siege of Pieta, where some of the most desperate fighting in the series occurs.  The anime brings us one poignant moment when Miria, the Claymore ranked #6 in the organization and leader of the desperate band of Claymores, utters a prayer that all the fighters might survive.  Then, she undercuts this prayer by chiding herself for thinking that there is a God.

Miria

Interestingly, this points to a possible rift between the conscious mind and the spirit.  Hopeless conditions and misfortunes may overwhelm the mind such that it can barely or not at all cling to the the belief that God exists, but there exists something in the spirit which refuses to accept a Godless universe.  Or, the thought might even come that God does not listen to us, that we have been rejected by God.  Brother Lawrence, the famed subject of The Practice of the Presence of God, thought for two years of his life that he would be damned.  Can there be a worse feeling than this for a believer?   Yet, he entrusted his cause to God and the feeling dissipated.   In such darkness, we do not even want to pray anymore, but the cries still come, “God have mercy on us!” or “Lord, you are in the midst of us and we are called by your name.  Do not forsake us!” (Jeremiah 14:9)  We doubt the rationalism of such acts, but the deepest part of our soul nourishes the hope that these words mean something.

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Hope is the operative word: for, if God is infinitely good, we need not fear whatever happens to us.  He is a loving Father with infinite care for all His children, as George MacDonald loved to repeat.  Speaking of George MacDonald, he penned this interesting phrase in Weighted and Wanting: “The pride of despair and the despair of pride.”  Despair can only come from pride and placing our hopes in our own strength rather than in God.  If we trust in God despite our misfortunes, then we possess the humility of hope.  And, as Jesus Christ emphasized to that great apostle of Divine Mercy, St. Faustina, humility is truth.  So, we keep slogging on despite the darkness.

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Perhaps, the connection between hope and humility is best exemplified in the duel of Clare and the Awakened Being Rigaldo.  Rigaldo had just killed four of the five captains in Pieta, leaving Miria as the sole survivor.  Those familiar with Claymore know that Clare is ranked as the lowest Claymore, despite having some great abilities.  Rather than give up, she keeps striving to use her power with greater precision and refuses to accept defeat, despite being beaten down several times and being obviously outclassed.  A proud soul would have just accepted this disparity and surrendered.  But, humility forces her to keep trying, telling her that not every last resource has been exhausted–that her heart yet beats and that is sufficient reason to persevere.  The truly humble man can never despair.

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Encore Une Autre Raison D’Etre Pour Fiction

Excuse the French title, dear readers, but this article is related to another rather popular article on this site titled Fiction’s Raison D’Etre. The title was proofed by the former French teacher who resides next door to my room, so you may be assured of its grammatically correct nature. (It’s so nice living next to a former French teacher. I’ll have to try my best to benefit from this propinquity in order to master French before he leaves us next semester.) Beginning to watch Hell Girl again and reading George MacDonald’s Weighted and Wanting have prompted me to write this article. Both works have certain Christian themes—especially this novel of George MacDonald, who was also a great influence on C. S. Lewis—which helped to highlight the other reason to read fiction: repentance.

First, I shall summarize the basic premise of Hell Girl, the eponymous young heroine of which is also known as Enma Ai. Enma Ai was cursed with the eternal duty of aiding those who were seeking revenge by dragging their tormentors to hell. The sufferers contact her through a certain website called the Hell Link, at midnight—merely typing in the name of their tormentor. She appears to them holding a doll with a red string, pulling which string seals this contract: she’ll send their tormentor to hell with the catch that the person who initiates the contract must also go to hell upon their death. (A surprisingly large number of people agree to such terms.)

You wouldn’t have guessed, but this girl was one of the most eager to pull the red string.

This premise provides us with some great scenarios for character study, a favorite genre of the Japanese. As I mentioned in the prior article on fiction, character study aids us in understanding other people. On the other hand, it is a more useful tool in bringing us to understand ourselves—especially in cases where we cannot see our faults. How can we repent unless our shortcomings are present to us?

That’s unrepentant for you.

Hell Girl excels at bringing to light various faults, particularly since all the episodes employ modern settings with commonplace situations. This makes it highly probable that we shall find ourselves in one of the antagonists. (As I did in episode ten of the second season. Despite its edifying nature, watching how Tetsuro Megoro’s lack of constancy led to his demise was rather painful to watch.) People often possess faults of which they are unaware or faults in which they have justified and excused themselves for so long as to produce hardness of heart, i.e. they no longer see a need to change. By holding fictional characters with the same faults before our eyes, our identification with them will hopefully reveal how we have gone wrong and the necessity of our repentance. Otherwise, we shall be like the tormentors in Hell Girl, claiming our innocence despite the heinousness of our offenses and dying with final impenitence on our souls. (From which, may God preserve us!)

So says the detective who used his position to stalk and harass a high school girl, attempt to murder her, actually murder his partner, critically wound the girl’s father, and is presently attempting to finish the job.

It is interesting to note that all the antagonists are offered the opportunity to own up to their guilt: final impenitence in grave sin—at least, according to the Catholic Faith—is the only way to be damned. Perhaps, Ai would be unable to fulfill the contract should the sinner admit his guilt. One imagines God intervening on behalf of the repentant lest such a one be eternally damned. We never know if such would be the case, because no one ever repents in the show at that point; though, I do remember a few rather inoffensive people being condemned—perhaps to cast doubt on Ai’s role as the savior of the oppressed.

The last thing they see before falling headlong into perdition: flowers.

Weighted and Wanting so far is less drastic in the consequences for people’s faults, which tend to be various forms of worldliness and vanity. But, the fault of mine with which I am reminded in this work recalls part of a lecture given at my old Alma Mater by the renowned Dr. Justin J. Jackson (if you care to hear give a beautiful convocation speech, click here):

“And how do we treat our families?”  When no one ventured to give an opinion, he replied for us: “Horribly!”

Needless to remark, no one gainsaid this opinion. But, does this shock any of my dear readers? Is there not a tendency to fear offending our families less than offending our friends, because forgiveness is so readily available? Instead, we ought to be less inclined to offend our family members due to their readiness to forgive us.

n.b. this is George MacDonald, not my former English Professor.

George MacDonald portrays the elder brother in the Raymount family, Cornelius, as suffering from this defect in regard to every member of his family save his father, who governs how his children shall inherit his property. Cornelius enjoys deriding his sister Hester at most every opportunity, though Hester isn’t perfectly innocent of this defect herself, and, on the whole, treats his friends and business associates better than his family. Yet, Cornelius is rather intelligent in a way: if we treated our friends the same way as we treated our family, we should only have the latter left to us. However, one cannot be too hard on oneself: the members of our families often take our good will for granted, increasing the chances of us sinning through impatience or wrath itself!

Illustration from one of his works. MacDonald was most famous for his fantasies.

So, one walks into the confessional with more offenses against one’s family than against one’s friends. But, cognizant of this fault and with the help of God’s grace, we can work to overcome it. Having been patient with the defects of my friends and associates, we can attempt to apply the same patience to the defects of my family members. Depending on the vision of George MacDonald, Cornelius’s lack of respect for his family and inability to consider this a fault may lead to his downfall.

Therefore, the next time one feels moved to deride another person or even a fictional character for their faults, one ought to first consider how oneself may be guilty of the same fault.