Pride and Virtue Mix Like Oil and Water

Watching Chain Chronicle has proven quite fun so far. This classic fantasy provides the viewer with a bevy of strong heroes, implacable foes, beautiful warrior maidens, and a Luke Skywalker-ish hero for its viewers to engage in “egocentric castle building,” as C. S. Lewis termed it in An Experiment in Criticism. This is a fantasy fully in the spirit of Dungeons and Dragons. It’s fun, but nothing within the story thus far has struck me as uncommon.

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Bruckhardt’s fall from grace counts as the most interesting event of the story thus far. From the first, my ears heard “Blackheart” when the seiyuu pronounced the knight’s name, and episode three revealed his transformation to a Blackheart indeed. The twin scourges of pride and melancholy oppressed him on account of the preferment Yuri gave to Aram. This allowed him to fall easy prey to the evil influence of the Black King’s demon. There is no faster way to hell than pride: the way Lucifer fell and the chief fault of Adam. Even the early Church Fathers wrote that pride alone suffices to send one to hell, even as humility provides the surest means to salvation among the virtues.

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Spiritual Books for May

Those of you who remember my Candlemas Resolutions, recall my wish to write a review of one religious book per month.  Spiritual reading is of great necessity for Christians.  The Bible holds first place, but the Bible has been called “God’s Hidden Book” with good reason: it can be hard to understand, and the reader needs the special grace of the Holy Spirit to properly learn from it.  (Happy Pentecost, by the way!) However, there are three things which shed light on how to apply and understand Scripture: 1) the lives of the saints; 2) theology; and 3) devotional/spiritual books.

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I said that I wished to concentrate on theological works in that past article, but they are slow reading.  I’m still not finished with Peter Kreeft’s Practical Theology, which was reviewed in February of last year.  (Mostly due to laziness, it is true.) Now, my theologically heavy book is Matthias Joseph Scheenben’s A Manual of Catholic Theology.  It’s very interesting, but don’t expect a review of it any time soon.  In any case, I hope that one of the following three books, two saint’s lives and one devotional work, peaks your interest and enriches your life.

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1) Humility of Heart by Cajetan Maria de Bergamo

This book was written by the esteemed Capuchin missionary Cajetan Maria de Bergamo.  This might be the only work of his to have been published in English, even though his eulogist praises him as “second to none in religious life and easily first in all types of writing” and Pope Benedict XVI claims his work as equally satisfying the heart and the mind.  So, it should come as no surprise that his work on humility is considered one of the best on the virtue.

Humility of Heart does its best to paint a picture of how beautiful humility is and how ugly is its opposite, pride.  He uses many apt examples, especially from Scripture.  Most striking for me is how he reminded us that if humility is enough to move God to save us, then pride alone can cause damnation.  Indeed, that unforgivable sin against the Holy Ghost, refusal to repent, is rooted in pride; and many persons who are considered decent or even virtuous go to hell because they refuse to let God in their lives. 

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Examining Old School Anime: Humility in Approaching Scripture

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Here is my latest post for the column “Examining Old School Anime” on Beneath the Tangles.  Galaxy Express 999 again proves to be an inspiration for this column.  Indeed, it’s really too easy.  For my next post, I intend to use a different anime.

Examining Old School Anime: Humility in Approaching Scripture

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.

The Catena Aurea and the Importance of Authority in Biblical Interpretation

Having read five chapters of commentary on the Gospel of Matthew,  I would like to recommend St. Thomas Aquinas’ Catena Aurea to my dear readers.  This work was perhaps the best present I received around Christmas, especially since Scripture somehow seems less enlightening of late.  (The fault lies with my own pride.)  The Catena Aurea parses passages of the Gospels with passages from the Church Fathers on the Gospels and doctrine.  The doctors St. Thomas Aquinas draws from most frequently are St. Augustine, St. Jerome, St. John Chrysostom, St. Hilary of Poitiers, St. Remigius, and St. Leo the Great–my Confirmation patron.

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I mentioned that my perusing of Scripture has not been as penetrating as formerly, which reminds me of how the Bible has been called God’s “Closed Book” while nature is God’s “Open Book.”  This derives from the fact that the meaning of the Scriptures must be revealed by the Holy Spirit.  One might believe that they can gain a literal understanding of the Scriptures without the Holy Spirit; but how often does one hear things like “I stopped believing when I saw that Scripture passages contradicted themselves” or that someone takes a literalistic view of scriptures and does something that Scripture did not intend–such as when Origen castrated himself so that he might enter the kingdom maimed rather than tossed whole into everlasting flames.  The best thing that a Christian can do in order to perceive the true meaning of the Scriptures is to follow the pronouncements of established authority.

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The Christian faith, unlike philosophy, relies on authority.  The great difficulty of Protestantism is that it acknowledges an authoritative work–the Bible, but has no authoritative interpreters.  Once when I boasted to a Lutheran friend of mine that I should have no trouble passing myself off as a Lutheran by merely agreeing with Luther, he countered that I would be discovered right away: a good Lutheran holds points of contention with the founder, and my friend thought the very name “Lutheran” actually misleading.  But, even among Protestants, there are recognized authorities, even if they might be cast off should they conflict with one’s personal interpretation.

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Never thought you’d see a picture of Martin Luther on this site, did you?

Catholics have it easy: the Church councils, the pope speaking ex cathedra, and the bishops acting in concert and in communion with the Pope have infallible interpretative authority.  They are guided by the Holy Spirit in such a way that they cannot err.  In order of authority, the Doctors of the Church come after this.  These men strove to uphold the truth of Christian doctrine and remain loyal to the Church.  By adhering to authority, they tended to be on the side of the right, though they were occasionally wrong when the Church had not clarified doctrine completely or needed to confess ignorance on certain questions.  Most famously, St. Augustine was unsure whether original sin was placed on newly created souls by God, passed on by the souls of the parents, or derived from the taint of lust during conception.  Now, we know that the first view is correct, but this remained an unsettled question during the time of St. Augustine.  Next in authority come other saints, clergy, theologians, religious teachers, and lastly us ordinary lay people.

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That’s right.  If you’re reading this, you’re probably with me on the bottom of the totem pole as the least reliable interpreters of Scripture and doctrine.  For example, I imprecisely held that baptism removed original sin from the soul.  Rather, it removes original guilt from the soul, i.e. we still suffer from the effects of original sin (concupiscence), but are no longer denied entrance into heaven.  Of course, I knew that concupiscence existed, but I thought that this derived from the fact that we have physical bodies in an imperfect state.  Live and learn!  Unless we subscribe to an authority, especially the most perfect authority of the Church, we ought to always keep in mind that our understanding of Scripture and doctrine might be incorrect.  Humility is God’s favorite virtue, and we should quickly become proud should we believe in our own infallibility.

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People joke that Catholics do not read the Bible, but Catholics do read works written by people adept at Scripture and have a pastor interpret the readings of the Mass every Sunday.  This priest himself relies on the Office of Readings, other theological works, and a period of education and training typically lasting from 6 to 12 years.  (Priests called “lifers” go to high school seminary, college seminary, and then theological seminary.)  Even more than Newton, Christian teachers must stand on the shoulders of giants, especially the colossal figures of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas.

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Then again, there is a second kind of authority important for the ordinary Christian: the lives of the saints and servants of God.  By looking at how they applied Scripture and doctrine to their lives, we can apply the precepts of Scripture more accurately to our own.  The Golden Legends stands as my favorite collection of saints’ lives, but Butler’s Lives of the Saints probably has a wider following and contains fewer passages requiring one to take a grain of salt.  For more modern examples, the lives of Padre Pio, Mother Theresa, St. Guiseppe Moscati, and Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati are remarkably edifying.

Feeling the weight of my own ignorance upon me, I shall probably decline from writing spiritual articles for a while.  However, I shall work on expanding my understanding through the clear vision of the Fathers and might write an article with stuff I steal borrow from them.  My the Holy Spirit enlighten the minds of us all!

Kill La Kill and Putting on the New Man

Watching the conversation between Matoi and Senketsu in episode 13 of Kill la Kill reminds me of how Christ might speak to a Christian who has fallen into a vicious cycle and can’t seem to bring himself up.  From the above statement, you probably figure that the allegory is tenuous; but, let’s see how far we can take it, shall we?  First, my dear readers, let’s start with Matoi’s status as a hero.  People look up to her.  Then, she loses her cool, her kamui devours her, and she is saved by someone who hardly counts as a fighter–Mako.  This might be analogous to a young man or woman who strongly practices the faith, which always leads people at least to marvel at them for not skipping church and disobeying the other precepts of the Church as most of their colleagues do.  But, such people always endure the sharpest temptations: they are scoffed at by the majority and weighed down by the desires of the flesh.  If none of these bring them down, then the devil tries to bring darkness and confusion into their lives.  Against this onslaught of evil, it is not surprising that some fall and even fall so deeply that they do not want to get up.

Matoi sleeping life away.

Matoi similarly does not want to rise–even from her bed.  (How I know that feeling!)  She dares not to put on Senketsu and even feels embarrassed to speak to him.  She has witnessed how monstrous her nature and lack of self-control can be.  To compare her to a Christian, imagine someone who had immense confidence in Christ, but forgot the limitations of human nature and fell.  What they thought was confidence in Christ turned out merely to be confidence in themselves.  Is Christ to be blamed for this deplorable state of events?  Of course not!  “Pride goeth before a fall.”  Whenever people fall greatly, they have forgotten humility and the fear of God.  Pride inhibits the working of grace, which is why St. Augustine told someone that the three main virtues of Christianity are “humility, humility, humility.”

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Curiously, Senketsu hanging on the closet reminds me of a crucifix.  Many Catholics have them hanging in every room.  Negatively, this means we cannot avoid suffering.  Positively, this means that we cannot avoid Christ who is always aids us in our suffering.  Perhaps, the line of Matoi’s which most easily brings one’s thoughts to the crucifix are when she tells Senketsu that the memory of Senketsu’s tears brought her the most pain.  In perfect repentance, a soul repents not merely for the punishment due their sin, but most especially for the pain and disappointment their sin caused Jesus Christ.

The Bed and the Cross--so to speak.

The Bed and the Cross–so to speak.

What is the result of a soul falling into such sin?  They might not feel the confidence of faith as they once did, and Jesus Christ finds that he needs to knock on a door which was once always open to receive Him.  Excuses are tendered.  Self-accusations of unworthiness are offered to avoid having to do God’s will.  Even the accusation that God let one down might be said–but who really believes that?  One wants to ignore the fact that there is a war waging between good and evil and that losing means nothing less than than losing one’s own soul and harming the souls of others.

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But, Jesus Christ is patient because human beings are so weak and ignorant.  Like Senketsu, Jesus might remind us that He “was born in order to be worn by [us].”  For, what else is the Christian religion but putting on Christ, the New Man, and fulfilling the works he would have us do so that we might crucify the Old Man, our sinful selves?  We all have particular trials to undergo for the love of God.  Christ ardently desires to be with us every step of the way: we must simply put Him on and run our course.

Now, Matoi is saved by her greatest rival.

Now, Matoi is saved by her greatest rival.

Even after agreeing to run again, we might find that we fall to that formidable temptation over and over again–as Matoi fell in battle soon after putting on Senketsu again.  But, St. Theresa of Avila confessed that she even fell occasionally into mortal sin after entering the convent, but she became a great saint through perseverance, i.e. always trying to put on Christ.  Likewise, Christ shall lead us to become great saints as long as we don’t stop trying.

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Dusk Maiden of Amnesia and the Problem of Pride

One of the things which I admire about anime is that when one feels like one has seen the same plot a million times over, the same characters ten million times, and the same school classrooms a hundred million times over, a show will surface to blow one’s expectations and remind one why anime was so appealing in the first place.  This little one season show, Dusk Maiden of Amnesia, stands head and shoulders above most anime for the profundity of its message.  I feel an eternal debt of gratitude toward Marlin-sama of Ashita no Anime for intriguing me enough to pick it up.  Among its themes, the refusal of its heroine to acknowledge her dark past and believing that she should be loved less if the hero discovered it reminds me of the folly of pride which believers can enmesh themselves in relation to God.

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Dusk Maiden of Amnesia has an interesting portrayal of pride in the mind of Yuuko, the ghost for whom Niiya, the protagonist, falls in love.  She has a light side which has expunged all the memories of suffering, bitterness, and hatred which she suffered in her past, and a dark side which remembers only these painful moments and can only feel these negative emotions.  This split is so complete that they appear as different persons.  We, dear readers, similarly have darkness and light within us; but most of us, however much we may minimize this darkness, never fall into that greatest temptation of pride: to cast off this dark side from our consciousness and to distort reality to the extent that we consider ourselves angels.

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But, Yuuko does have more of an excuse than most of us.  After all, she was sacrificed by superstitious pagans so that an epidemic might cease. (Perhaps superstitious is an unneeded modifier.  Can one truly be a pagan without being superstitious?  Oh, well.  That’s a question for another blogger.)  Nor was this a quick death: she was left to die alone of suffocation or of starvation in pitch blackness while suffering the agony of a broken leg at around 15 or 16 years of age.  All of this while thoughts of envy toward her best friend and hatred toward those who abandoned her there swirled in her mind.  That’s a memory I’m sure most of us would desire effaced!

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Yet, we are not walking according to the truth if we disown our suffering, evil thoughts, and dark deeds.  And do we not own our dark side more truly than than our good side?  After all, we cannot maintain the least virtue, perform a single good deed, or have one good thought apart from God, who aids us by His own divine life.  On the other hand, we can do all sorts of sins on our own and would even plummet into utter vileness if not prevented by His grace.  St. Philip Neri once remarked as he saw a condemned man passing him on the road: “There goes Philip Neri but for the grace of God.”  Nor is this arrangement unfair: how many sins have I myself committed despite receiving the grace to will otherwise?  How many times have I consented to sin without lifting up a single prayer so that I might will good instead of evil?  Or did pray, but never wanted to form the wholehearted will to shun what might be more delightful to the senses or sweeter to my ego?

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At any rate, Yuuko further compounds her darkness by believing that Niiya won’t love her if she has any darkness or suffering in her.  This is not true: we are all loved by the people in our lives in spite of our defects.  How much more ought we trust that God loves us in spite of our wickedness?  As believers love to repeat, God’s love is unconditional.  Even in the midst of mortal sin by which we deserve to be sent straight to hell, God does not cease loving us and strives to turn us to repentance.  Yet, I believe people growing in goodness are more susceptible to this form of pride than outright sinners.  Somehow, the delusion intrudes that God loves us because of our good deeds rather than simply because He made us and thought it delightful that we should be with Him in paradise forever.  Then, we start forgetting our wicked deeds or minimizing them under the delusion that God somehow loves us more infinitely for being good!

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Yuuko’s desire to forget her painful past becomes so extreme that she further effaces her memories of Niiya.  You see, Niiya had absorbed the dark side’s, Shadow Yuuko’s, terrible memories and Yuuko cannot help reliving them when she touches Niiya.  Therefore, she blocks Niiya’s presence from her vision.  Even though she strongly desires to see him again and stays in the same vicinity as him, she cannot see him.  At last, the only way that they can communicate is by writing notes to each other in a notebook.

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Is this not rather like a Christian who in his mad drive to forget the memory of his sins even avoids the sight of a crucifix?  I think it no accident that in one episode we see two images of a cross: one made by Niiya and Kanoe’s shadows crossing and the other one of light.  For, the cross is painful because we see our sins in the wounds of Christ, but these very wounds bring us in the light of Christ’s presence.  And Niiya and Yuuko exchanging notes is rather like how a Christian soul, when frustrated at not feeling God’s presence, will turn to the Scriptures–all the while yearning for the embrace of the One who loves her.

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Then, that beautiful scene occurs in their club’s room, the Paranormal Investigation Club.  Niiya takes a bat and begins shattering everything in the room in order to get Yuuko’s attention.  Furthermore, his actions bring Shadow Yuuko into focus for Yuuko at the same time.  This is reminiscent of St. Augustine’s Confessions:

You called and cried out loud and shattered my deafness. You were radiant and resplendent, you put to flight my blindness. You were fragrant, and I drew in my breath and now pant after you. I tasted you, and I feel but hunger and thirst for you. You touched me, and I am set on fire to attain the peace which is yours.

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In this scene, we find that Niiya wishes especially to speak to Shadow Yuuko and embraces her, saying that he loves Shadow Yuuko too, because Yuuko and Shadow Yuuko are the same person.  In the same way, though Jesus hates the least speck of sin in our souls, He loves us entire.  He wishes to love us in pain as well as in joy, which is so plainly figured in the cross as Jesus endures all the pain caused by pain and suffering in our lives out of pure love for us.  The confession of love by Niiya allows for both halves of Yuuko to come together, forming Yuuko into a complete person.

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Since God loves us as a complete person, there is no need to attempt hiding our sinful selves from Him.  Rather, let us contemplate the Crucifix in which we clearly see our sins in the holes in Christ’s hands and feet, the pierced side, the crowning of thorns, and the anguished expression on His countenance, knowing that it is through means of these wounds that we are bound to Him forever.

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Speaking of forever (Big spoiler coming!  If you’re the kind of person who absolutely cant’s endure them, don’t read on!), I expected Yuuko to disappear in the last episode–the natural end for ghost stories like this.  And indeed, with her regrets being solved and the integrity of her person, she does disappear for a while, leaving Niiya in great sorrow.  Does this not remind us of how we desire heaven, where we shall be reunited with our loved ones and love shall endure in perfection forever?  It seems, however, that Niiya’s last kiss produced a new regret in Yuuko: she now desires many more kisses.  Truly, love is never exhausted!  Since this is a love story first and foremost, Catullus 5 powerfully comes to mind:

Let us live, my Lesbia, and let us love,
and let us judge all the rumors of the old men
to be worth just one penny!
The suns are able to fall and rise:
When that brief light has fallen for us,
we must sleep a never ending night.
Give me a thousand kisses, then another hundred,
then another thousand, then a second hundred,
then yet another thousand more, then another hundred.
Then, when we have made many thousands,
we will mix them all up so that we don’t know,
and so that no one can be jealous of us when he finds out
how many kisses we have shared.

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How to Imitate the Good Thief

Happy Palm Sunday, dear readers!  Here’s an article on a different subject than which I had promised earlier, but today’s reading on the Passion of Christ struck me so forcibly  that it would be a crime not to write about it.  The part in particular which struck me is the story of the Good Thief.  Now, I claim this to be my favorite story in the Bible; yet, my ignorance of all the implications of this story was very clearly laid out to me.  Let’s quote it here in full:

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35 And the people stood by, looking on. And even the rulers were sneering at Him, saying, “He saved others; let Him save Himself if this is the Christ of God, His Chosen One.” 36 The soldiers also mocked Him, coming up to Him, offering Him sour wine, 37 and saying, “If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself!” 38 Now there was also an inscription above Him, “THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.”

39 One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” 40 But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” 43 And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:35-43)

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You notice that I quoted a little more than the story of the Good Thief.  This shows the general trend of people mocking Jesus, saying “Are you really the Messiah?”  I opine that the crowds, soldiers, and synagogue officials represent those people nowadays who are outside of the Church and refuse to believe.  Not only do they refuse to believe, but they even ridicule the idea of a Crucified God.  If only they would stop ridiculing Him, they might be converted like the centurion who says after Jesus breathes His last: “This man was innocent beyond doubt.” (Luke 23:47)

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But, I really do not wish to focus on the figures above, but rather the two thieves crucified with Jesus, who represent two kinds of Christians.  I say represent Christians because all Christians were baptized into the Passion and Death of Christ as well as into Our Lord’s Resurrection to new life.  So, we have to carry our crosses and be crucified on them eventually.  Note how the Bad Thief speaks to Our Lord: “Are You not the Christ?  Save Yourself and us!”  I feel that for the past while I had imitated the bad thief, and those who are troubled by the Problem of Evil or the Problem of Pain are rather similar.  Christians like this say: “Are you not all powerful?  Why do I have to suffer so much?  Is it really possible to suffer this much?  Take me down from this cross and just give me the Kingdom without a cross!”

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Then, there are humble Christians who realize that we must follow our Master all the way up Mt. Calvary, and say, like the Good Thief: “Justly do I suffer these things!  If I had not sinned, this would not be happening to me!  If I had not so much pride, this would not be happening!  Jesus suffered more than the human mind can fathom, and He was a pure and unblemished Lamb.  Ought I not to drain the cup my sins have merited?”

Jesus Speaks to the Good Thief.

Jesus Speaks to the Good Thief.

Then, instead of turning to Jesus and begging to be taken down from the cross, the Good Thief asks: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”  The Good Thief is not asking to be taken down from his cross; instead, he asks for salvation.  This salvation does not require freedom from suffering, but freedom and purification from sin and the promise of eternal life.  We should all try to imitate St. Augustine, who begged not to be spared pain in this life so that he might suffer less after death–referring to purgatory, I suppose.

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Then, by imitating the Good Thief, we shall receive words of consolation from God.  Jesus spoke to neither the crowds nor the bad thief because of their lack of faith.  But, if we have faith and do not blame God for any evil which befalls us, then Jesus shall speak to us and console us in our sufferings.  By continuing in this attitude, we shall one day hear the most consoling words of all: “Truly I say to you, today, you shall be with me in paradise.”

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De Admiratione vel De Stupore?

Since I wished to write an article on the necessary virtue of wonder, I thought to be Classical in the choice of my title by using Latin.  To my chagrin, the two Latin words Casull’s Latin Dictionary offered for wonder either go too far (stupor) or fall short (admiratio).  What else am I to do?  I suppose that I could have searched for an Ancient Greek word, since Greek has such philosophical and literal accuracy; but, Greek has never been my strong suit and Latin is much preferred.  So, I am left with two words which might be legitimately translated as admiration or stupefaction rather than wonder.

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The quotation on which my cogitation centered derives from Socrates: “A feeling of wonder is what marks the philosopher, and philosophy begins in wonder.”  To relate it back to my Latin title, it may indeed begin as admiratio but become stupor when one realizes the vast extent of knowledge which one shall never obtain–not even if one had five lifetimes!  A philosopher is one who loves knowledge, knows that he has very little, and continually searches for it.  In this way one is continually amazed by the new material coming into his mind.

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A certain professor of philosophy named Dr. Graham McAleer exemplified this quality for me this semester.  On one occasion, I corrected him when he said that St. Bonaventure must have written The Journey of the Mind to God long after St. Francis’ death since St. Bonaventure was the seventh General of the Order.  I responded that the distance separating them was not long at all because St. Francis gave St. Bonaventure his name when that person was born  (I think that the original story is slightly different–but, that’s what I said, and it was St. Francis who gave St. Bonaventure that name), predicting a happy life for St. Bonaventure, whose name means “Good Journey.”  To this Dr. McAleer’s eyes widened in amazement.  His astonishment was such that it frightened me!  Here was someone who taught Bonaventure and philosophy for such a long time and he could still experience amazement concerning a short work whose pages he has made opaque with marginalia!  I cannot think of a more perfect example of a man with the quality of wonder.

In this picture, Charlemagne is commending the poor children who studied hard, while rebuking the sons of nobles who made poor progress in their studies through negligence.

In this picture, Charlemagne is commending the poor children who studied hard, while rebuking the sons of nobles who made poor progress in their studies through negligence.

The attitude of wonder leads to openness and humility, which has its opposite in pride, close-mindedness, and being domineering.  Many people pride themselves as thinking that they can control their own lives, that they know all they need to, and can put people into boxes to be manipulated or judged at will.  The last is particularly prevalent.  We know someone for a few months and believe that we know all their idiosyncrasies.  We expect them to act and react in certain way.  Rather, we should refrain from putting people in boxes–even when it seems tempting–so that we might continue to marvel at them.  This produces more charity and better relationships between people.  I wonder whether the cause of so many unhappy marriages is that spouses have placed one another in a box and lack interest in them, because they feel that they already know everything about their spouses.  And boredom equals disinterestedness, which ferments annoyance, which flames anger, which pours out divorce.

The father and mother of St. Therese of Lisieux, who happen to both be beatified!  By that, you can surely discern a happy marriage!

The father and mother of St. Therese of Lisieux, who happen to both be beatified! By that, you can surely discern a happy marriage!

But, perhaps the most common ways in which people box one another are in the realms of politics and religion.  How is it that knowing one or both of these things permits us to neatly package up another person and be done with them?  I suppose the most obvious answer is that these ways of thought have consequences in real life and people of these ideologies act in unison.  If Liberals are in power, gun laws are emplaced or guns taken away, abortion florishes, welfare programs increase, business taxes increase, government spending increases, less money is spent on the military, etc.  With Conservatives, the exact opposite occurs.  However, people are much more complex than the ideologies they belong to–and even the ideologies more complex than we imagine!  I doubt very few people are exact caricatures of the ideologies they serve.  This holds even more true in the realm of religion: the practices of religion and each person’s relationship with God vary so much because of the more personal nature of religion.  As St. Faustina said, people are worlds.  Don’t place people in boxes!

Pappy-plane

I had a vision of this while reading Col. Gregory “Pappy” Boyington’s memoirs of his career in the Pacific theater during World War II, Baa Baa Black Sheep.  First, the man in general is difficult for me to understand.  Then, the people he meets are of the same class.  In particular, this passage when over my head, but will likely be understood by some of my dear readers:

                       Thought of seeing the ground crew, and the few of the staff who had waved farewell as we had taken off, came through my mind.  On most of them I had interpreted this wave to mean: “I hope you get back alive.”  I assumed that a few were thinking: “I hope you never get back.”  But to hell with them.  To hell with them all.

I would have understood this had he been referring to the second class of people, but I cannot understand his vexation with all of them.  This condemnation went well above my head.  No doubt, my acquaintance with Pappy Boyington will prove most fruitful.  May you all have someone rather translucent in your lives!  (I avoid saying opaque because–even though one can certainly marvel at a person one has no understanding of–one cannot really have a relationship with someone unless they understand at least a little about them.)

President Truman Presenting the Medal of Honor

We even go so far as to put our own selves in boxes: either we strive for something we’re not or we make ourselves less than we are.  This is all due to our controlling, know-it-all natures.  We ought to rather imitate Padre Pio, who said: “I am a mystery to myself.”  This does not contradict the dictum to know ourselves; but perhaps that our own efforts to understand ourselves ought to lead us to greater wonder concerning ourselves.  With this kind of openness, i.e. not trying to control our own lives but being open to where our gifts and talents lead us, God can take control of our lives and draw us to situations and places we would never have thought possible for us.

St. John of God led a particularly fascinating and varied life.  A great example of humility.

St. John of God led a particularly fascinating and varied life. A great example of humility.

So, do not judge, do not condemn, and forgive all offenses.  And remember St. Gregory of Nyssa’s famous advice: “Concepts create idols, only wonder understands.”

Kenshin as a Christ Figure

Recently, the desire to write about how Kenshin Himura of Rurouni Kenshin fulfills the role of a Christ Figure has been swirling in my mind.  I am unfamiliar with another article delving into the similarities between the two, though several forum goers and bloggers have touched on this idea.  The two published articles I have read which discussed Kenshin’s character, Brian Camp’s in Anime Classics Zettai (every otaku should own this book) and another one in Otaku USA, both remark on the extreme nobility of Kenshin’s character.  Here’s a quote from Brian Camp’s article: “In fact, Kenshin is so likeable and perfect that he runs the risk of being a little too abstract to be entirely plausible, but it’s the small human moments with the others that bring him down to earth and anchor the series in a kind of reality” (324).  In a similar way, Jesus Christ stands infinitely above everyone, but loves the company of little children and performed that most human of miracles at the wedding feast of Cana.  (Might as well point out here that Kenshin also loves children very much and often plays with Ayame and Suzume, Dr. Gensai’s granddaughters.)  The more I consider the similarities, the more I am convinced that Kenshin Himura was not based principally on Kawakami Gensai, despite Nobuhiro Watsuki’s claim that he based Kenshin on this assassin of the Meiji Era.  The physical design of Kenshin’s character may have been, but not his personality.

One might as well start with the most apparent connection: they’re both wanderers.  Kenshin wanders Japan, while Christ wandered Israel.  Of course, we run into the difference that the former traveled in order to learn and hide from his notoriety, while the latter, the source of all wisdom and knowledge, went about publicly in order to teach.  But, you can say that they were both impelled by humility: Christ humbly obeyed the will of His Father and imparted spiritual wisdom from his meek and humble heart; on the other hand, Kenshin, as a mere man who may be mistaken about his opinions, prefers to learn and encourages others to find their own way.  Interestingly, the main topic on which they preach is repentance.  Kenshin, a sinner like the rest of us (Few people will create a Christ figure who’s entirely flawless, after all), usually confines himself to elaborating on why he goes about repenting; but, to certain villains who are obviously in need of repentance, he’s quick to advise them to practice it themselves.  The Heart of Jesus, infinitely good and perfect and therefore having no need to repent himself, constantly advises others to repent so that they might find happiness.

Happiness itself is another theme about which both often speak.  One might say that the ultimate goal toward which the advice and teachings of these persons is happiness; however, the philosophy of Kenshin tends toward Epicureanism.  Oddly enough, this Epicurean form of happiness, at least shares a few features with Christian happiness, such as disinterest in wealth, hatred for the world, and a clear conscience.  The poverty of Rurouni Kenshin‘s heroes, the disdain shown by all toward the millionaire Takeda Kanryu, and Kenshin’s lecturing Misao about the wrongness of theft–even when one is in poor circumstances–stand as sufficient examples of idea of wealth’s unimportance.  Especially in Kanryu’s case, where his downfall makes it evident that “Wealth is useless on the day of wrath, but virtue saves from death” (Proverbs 11:4).  As for hatred for the world, the series has several examples of people who become corrupted through their desire for power, whether it be through physical strength or political power, and the time when Kenshin refuses General Yamagata’s offer to make him a government official show how much the characters wish to remain unstained by the world.  Most of the villains who disturb Kenshin’s idyllic life at Kamiya dojo have a lust for power, and desire for power always leads to a bad end.

The necessity for a good conscience is perhaps shown most clearly in the duel between Kenshin and Soujiro.  Soujiro becomes angry with Kenshin because he thinks that Kenshin is deluded in his desire not to kill.  Because delusion is a sort of disease, it truly ought to make Kenshin an inferior swordsman.  According to Zen Principles, any sort of delusion or anything which would disturb the purity of one’s mind should prevent the execution of good swordsmanship–especially the superior kind which Kenshin possesses!  But Soujiro’s frustration at the idea that he himself might be in the wrong prevent him from overcoming Kenshin, who believes himself to be in the right.  I suppose that it would be superfluous to provide examples of how Jesus advises us not to serve mammon, to avoid worldliness, and practice virtue in order to maintain a clear conscience, right?

Then, we have Kenshin’s vow not to kill which reminds me of this verse: “The Son of Man did not come to condemn the world, but to save it” (John 3:17).  In a similar way, none of Kenshin’s antagonists die by his hand, but rather by their own refusal to turn from their evil deeds.  The two best examples being Jin-e Udo’s suicide and how Shishio’s stubbornness works his own death.  As St. Faustina avers in her diary, whoever goes to hell, goes there by their own will, not because Jesus Christ wishes anyone to perish (cf. 2 Peter 3:9).

And in the second season, is not Kenshin’s journey to Kyoto reminiscent of Jesus’s journey to Jerusalem?  Even the true object of the journey is rather similar: just as Christ wished to put the old man to death in us so that we may have life in Christ, Kenshin wishes to put the man slayer side of himself to death.  Also, Shishio is pretty much Satan, whom Christ defeated by His passion and death.  Then again, Kenshin’s friends constantly remind us in this arc especially how he tries to carry everyone’s burdens on his shoulders, which–though it stands as manner he resembles Christ–is actually a fault in his case.  Only God can bear everyone’s burdens.

A picture of Kenshin from his days as an assassin in the Meiji Revolution.

But, this is my favorite line exhibiting the similarity between the two because many are apt to miss the connection, but it really slams the fact that Kenshin is a Christ figure on one’s head.  Sanosuke says: “Kenshin isn’t using the weak as food to feed his power like you [Shishio] are.  He’s willing to protect their happiness and become food for their power.”  This is about as inspired a line as one can find in anime.  (Surprisingly, it is not found in the manga.  I checked.)  Essentially, this is Eucharistic imagery!  Shishio, like evil, consumes those who fall prey to him; on the other hand, Kenshin is being described as food for the weak, and Christ feeds us weaklings with His body and blood each mass so that we remain in Him so “that My joy may be in you and your joy may be complete” (John 15:11).  If not for Christ offering Himself as food for us, we should all fall to sin.

Well, I hope that this little discussion of how Kenshin’s character compares to Jesus Christ will deepen your experience of the show!