Easter and Divine Mercy Sunday Approaching

We celebrated Laetare Sunday this week, laetare being the Latin word “to rejoice.” Similar to Gaudete Sunday of Advent, we rejoiced that the Lenten season was coming to a close.  We have about three week to go until Easter (March 27).  A week afterwards, we shall celebrate the still lesser known Feast of Divine Mercy or Divine Mercy Sunday.  In the ancient days of the Church, the newly baptized would wear their white baptismal robes for a week after Easter and finally doff them on the Sunday following Easter.  This custom eventually fell into disuse, but, through a series of visions to St. Faustina Kowalska of Poland, Our Lord restored the significance of the day, desiring it to be a feast day dedicated to the Mercy of God.  He also gave St. Faustina a new icon to recall His Mercy, which displays the blood and water which poured from Christ’s side as beams of red and white light:

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The original icon St. Faustina directed an artist to paint.

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The Final Temptation of Jeanne D’Arc

In watching Shingeki no Bahamutsine dubio the best show of the past season, the temptation of Jeanne D’Arc struck me enough to produce the present article.  Their portrayal of demons and how they tempt people advancing in virtue is very true to reality.  Note well, the devil does not tempt everybody in the way that Jeanne was tempted but only the virtuous.

Jeanne at the stake

According to Aristotle, there exist four kinds of people in the quest for virtue.  Well, Aristotle does list two more; but one is a worse state of the vicious man, and the other is lukewarm.  Neither are especially important to my arguments here or to Aristotle himself.  The four classes consist of the vicious, the inconstant, constant, and the virtuous.  The vicious freely and painlessly commit sins out of habit; the inconstant fall often though they intend to do the right and are pained by their sins; the constant avoid wrongdoing even though the practice of virtue feels painful to them; and the virtuous joyfully and often painlessly do the right thing.  The devil does not bother to tempt the vicious, sometimes finds it necessary to tempt the second, fights against the progress of the third, and–in his bitterness at their good fortune–wages total war against those sane individuals who love the practice of virtue.

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Most of us are slightly insane in believing that sinful deeds are good for us.  We believe so either because of the pleasure obtained in the sinful act (occasions of lust, sloth, or gluttony come to mind) or because sinning appears to be to our advantage (e.g. theft or destroying a personal enemy’s reputation through slander and detraction).  On the other hand, the virtuous make for very difficult targets for the devil, because not only do their minds and will tend toward the right but even their affections and emotions.  Every sin repulses them, no matter how apparently advantageous or pleasurable, while the thought of any good deed spurs them to action no matter how arduous, self-effacing, or painful.  They possess true wisdom and solid good habits.  So how does the devil make war on them?

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We see the answer in Jeanne D’Arc’s temptation, which spans episodes nine and ten: the devil assaults them with darkness in order to take away their wisdom.  Not only does Martinet try to make the sinful desirable for Jeanne but even persuades her that goodness itself does not exist.  Martinet mocks her belief that she is a holy knight and states flatly that the gods have abandoned her.  Jeanne makes the fatal mistake, which everyone makes, of actually talking to the devil and engaging with his ideas instead of treating them with contempt.  Demons lack all wisdom and deal exclusively in lies–no matter how persuasive their words or how close they seem to match reality.  By engaging with them, we only become entangled and influenced by them.  Our Lord provides the perfect example of how to deal with devils when He does not permit them to speak (Mark 1:25 and 1:34).

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Shingeki no Bahamut‘s gods are finite beings; therefore, they did indeed abandon her.  However, when the devil tells us that God has abandoned us, we ought instead understand that the devil is panicking in seeing that God works ever more strongly in perfecting our souls.  In Jeanne’s case, Martinet even resorts to impersonating the gods in order to induce despair into her soul.  I can think of two saints against whom the devil has impersonated Our Lord: St. Martin of Tours and St. Padre Pio.  The people of St. Martin’s time esteemed him as equal to the apostles.  Padre Pio is the greatest saint of modern times.  Both saw through the devil’s schemes.  The more hotly pursued we are by evil, the more tightly God binds us to Himself: “My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (John 10:29).

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Sadly, Jeanne allows her mind to become so disturbed by the abandonment of the divine and the problem of evil that she drinks Martinet’s poison.  Similarly, if we allow despair and distrust of God to guide our choices, we shall doff our wisdom, imprudently indulge our senses, and eventually drink the poison of the vices.  Fortunately, such failings do not turn us instantly into demons!  But, how shameful for someone who has been given so many graces and the honor of participating more in Christ’s Passion than other people to not only distrust God but to show Him scorn!  Surely, God will bring down many punishments upon such people and abandon them to the deepest hell!

Our Lord Jesus Christ descending into hell on Good Friday.  He grasps Adam by the hand in order to lead him to paradise.

Our Lord Jesus Christ descending into hell on Good Friday. He grasps Adam by the hand in order to lead him to paradise.

No, God is infinitely more merciful than even St. Michael in Shingeki no Bahamut.  As St. Bernard of Clairvaux writes, “When we fly from Thee, Thou pursue us; when we turn our backs, Thou present Thyself before us; when we despise Thee, Thou entreat us; and there is neither insult nor contempt which hinders Thee from laboring unweariedly to bring us to the attainment of that which the eye has not seen, nor ear heard, and which the heart of man cannot comprehend.” People are weak and ignorant, stray from the truth, and sin.  However, God is ever faithful, even if we are unfaithful: “If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself” (2 Timothy 2:13).  God Himself restores the light lost amidst darkness and the faith lost in bitter trials.  This restoration may take a long time, but we are assured to be more blessed then than we were before–as was the case with Job.  No matter how dark and bitter our present circumstances, God never swerves from being generous, good, merciful and caring.

Hamatora’s Anti-Christ

As well as being a very enjoyable story, Hamatora asked a few interesting questions.  In particular, the way Moral framed his obsession with strength intrigued me because he used similar arguments to Dostoyevski’s Raskolnikov.  In both Raskolnikov and Moral’s understanding, only the weak are bound by morality.  The strong are not bound by moral laws–what C. S. Lewis or Lao Tzu would call the Tao.  Moral finds the order of the universe–that there exist strong and weak–inherently unjust, especially with some people in Hamatora being able to advance farther than their fellow men through having special powers.  His solution revolves around eliminating the weak through giving all people special powers.  Moral believes himself to be the Messiah, except that his mission and methods turn him into a mere anti-christ–and St. John the Evangelist tells us that many of them exist.

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Yet, one does wonder whether a central tenet of Moral’s ideology is correct even though his methods are heinous: that weakness must be eliminated.  After all, human beings do spent a great deal of time eliminating their weaknesses: exercising, studying, practicing skills, and practicing willpower.  People tend to hate weakness both in themselves and others.  A villain in Claymore even went so far as to say “Impotence is a sin.”  But if yet another villain agrees that weakness is so horrible, it implies that despising weakness and the weak is a quality of villains.

Demand Power

Moral’s problem comes in making strength and the elimination of weakness into an ultimate value.  Even if he attempted to do this without resorting to villainy, he would still be in the wrong.  A society with strength as its basis lacks charity.  Due to regarding usefulness and strength as the most important qualities, Spartans exposed sickly or malformed infants, and the ancient Indians killed their sick.  The fact of the matter is that God established certain strengths and weaknesses in everybody.  As God told St. Catherine of Siena, this forces us to practice mutual charity.  The same lesson can be gleaned from the Scriptures in St. Paul’s passages on each being given diverging spiritual gifts and the Church as a body (1 Corinthians 12).  The Middle ages in particular has a unique understanding of each member of society forming an integral part of the whole.

An Angry Three

The very strong physically are often weak mentally and vice versa.  This often comes of people discerning their gifts and pursuing them in despite of other parts of their humanity, but it reminds one that we need others.  Moral’s system would destroy the links between people and all need for chivalry or charity.  It is in this way that Moral acts as the anti-christ: claiming that certain people are not needed and thus subverting the order established by God.  One must ever be suspicious of people who wish to change the natural or even traditional order of society!

Nice is speaking for all of us here.

Nice is speaking for all of us here.

It is even the case that we must tolerate the moral foibles of our fellow men.  How would we win the crown of patience if we did not have to deal with quick-tempered Irene, the stubborn Brad, the avaricious Jean, the arrogant Claude, the slothful Clarissa, or the air-headed Desmond?  (These are not real people, by the way!)  We stand culpable for moral faults, but we must bear with them in ourselves and others until God sees fit to change them–knowing that we ourselves have placed obstacles to uprooting these vices in God’s way.  Love stands as the essential Christian virtue, and love is made like unto God when we not only love saintly, strong, beautiful, and smart people but also weak, poor, sinful, stupid, and ugly people.  Our goal is none other than to fulfill the New Commandment: “A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another,” (John 13:34).  A system which would eliminate the difficult to love is anti-christ.  For, God made us all and for all to love one another.

Taking a bite

Nisemonogatari and Being a Phony

fake justice

I mentioned in my post before I traveled across half the country that I was watching Nisemonogatari, which might be translated as “Tale of the Fakes” or “Tale of the Phonies.”  Watching through episode seven made me ponder just what a phony was in Nisemonogatari’s book.  The ideas surrounding the issue reminded me of this great passage from Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment.  Razumihin begins berating Raskolnikov by saying:

“Well, go to hell then,” he said gently and thoughtfully. “Stay,” he roared, as Raskolnikov was about to move. “Listen to me. Let me tell you, that you are all a set of babbling, posing idiots! If you’ve any little trouble you brood over it like a hen over an egg. And you are plagiarists even in that! There isn’t a sign of independent life in you! You are made of spermaceti ointment and you’ve lymph in your veins instead of blood. I don’t believe in anyone of you! In any circumstances the first thing for all of you is to be unlike a human being!…And if you weren’t a fool, a common fool, a perfect fool, if you were an original instead of a translation…”

Only Dostoyevsky could pose this problem so well: “If only you were an original instead of a translation…”  The reason Raskolnikov stopped being human is because he murdered an old woman for money and a sense of power.  His crime destroys his humanity.

Kaiki

One character in Nisemonogatari who fits the same description is Kaiki the con artist.  Sin detracts from our humanity and thus from our originality.  Of course, “errare est humanum,” but sins are sins because they make us less than who we were meant to be.  Our Lord came to deliver us from sin, and we slowly walk, slip, fall, and stand back up again on the way of perfection until we see the image and likeness of God made perfect in us in heaven.  In our perfection according to God’s image and likeness lies our originality.

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But, I do think Nisemonogatari distinguishes between two kinds of fakes: the completely fake and the almost original.  Kaiki, because of his preference for money over the service of God and his fellow man, is a complete phony.  He introduces himself as Kaiki with the kai spelled as the clam/kai in “a mound of clams” and the ki as the ki/tree in “a dead tree.”  This brings to my mind Our Lord’s cursing of the fig tree.  The fig tree did not produce fruit when our Lord needed it, so it was cursed with barrenness.  Kaiki imitates the clam in its refusal to offer itself: Kaiki refuses to offer his talents for the good of his fellow man.  Also, like a dead tree, he bears no fruit.  A perfect name for a villain!

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Yet, a different sort of fake is symbolized by Karen Araragi.  She is almost original in that we see her using her talents for the good of others.  Where she lacks originality, as her brother aptly notes, is that she has appropriated other people’s desires and does not know what she really wants.  She merely plays.  But, her play reveals that her talents are genuine, which indicates that her true calling is not far from her play.  One day, she shall discover the true purpose her martial talents and give up her play as a seigi no mikata–ally of justice.

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And the majority of humanity undergoes the same struggle as Karen in finding their true purpose.  People try to advise us to take one path or another, but we can ever only truly find our path through looking at our own hearts and praying to the God who made us all originals.

On the Communion of Saints

I’ve tried twice to write the present article.  Neither scribbling quite satisfied me, and so I just decided to ramble and hope for the best.  Through the prayers of St. Ignatius of Loyola, whose natalis we celebrate today, may this ramble on the Communion of Saints benefit my dear readers!  Speaking of my dear readers, thanks to those who commented on my last article and made me think more deeply about the points I tried to make.  Your thoughtful observations rendered the comments section more interesting than the article itself!

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At any rate, how are Christians benefited by the Communion of Saints?  And who makes up the Communion of Saints?  All the Faithful make up this body, whether on Earth, in Heaven, or in Purgatory.  (Protestants and Orthodox included, as to be baptized is to be made one with the Body of Christ.)  The Communion of Saints forms a bulwark against worldliness.  Meditation on the example and desires of the saints insulate us both against worldly desires and the despair which often threatens us during grave trials.

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That the Communion of Saints keeps our eyes fixed on the King of the Saints, Our Lord Jesus Christ, may especially be seen in the life of St. Ignatius of Loyola.  Those familiar with his life know that chivalric literature influenced St. Ignatius as a youth to seek military glory.  His brave career as a soldier ended at the Battle of Pamplona, where a cannonball wounded him in both legs.  This led to a long period of recuperation and agonizing surgery, which he endured most manfully.  While convalescing,  he wished to read more books on chivalry, but was told by his caretakers that they place where he stayed only had the Bible and the Lives of the Saints.  He read these and soon found himself fired by the love of God and the desire to imitate the saints.  He wrote down the words of Jesus Christ in a red pen and the words of St. Mary in blue in order to make them a constant meditation.  Upon recovery, he forsook a life in the world in order to pursue one of prayer, fasting, and poverty.  Eventually, St. Ignatius founded the Society of Jesus, whose members, the Jesuits, stand as one of the most prominent religious orders in the Church.

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We, like St. Ignatius, are born into the world and find ourselves influenced by it.  It is very easy for us to become enmeshed in mere daily living and worldly desires.  The end result is losing all taste for religion.  After all, does not BIBLE stand for Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth?  Heaven can wait.  We have decades before we need to meet our Maker!  We can put off prayer, fasting, and almsgiving for later.  A person with such attitudes has already been enmeshed in the world, and stands the chance of losing eternal life.

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After St. Ignatius’ conversion, he never looked back.  The reason is because he took up the desires of the saints.  The saints’ desire for holiness and eternal life replaced his desire for worldly glory.  Though the latter part of his life was spent in society (Ignatius lived as a hermit for a short while), keeping mindful of God and the Saints preserved him from adapting the desires of secular persons.  As he writes in his Spiritual Exercises:

Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul.

The other things on the face of the earth are created for man to help him in attaining the end for which he is created.

Hence, man is to make use of them in as far as they help him in the attainment of his end, and he must rid himself of them in as far as they prove a hindrance to him.

Therefore, we must make ourselves indifferent to all created things, as far as we are allowed free choice and are not under any prohibition. Consequently, as far as we are concerned, we should not prefer health to sickness, riches to poverty, honor to dishonor, a long life to a short life. The same holds for all other things.

Our one desire and choice should be what is more conducive to the end for which we are created.

Ignatius always remembered that he was a child of God with an eternal inheritance.  In comparison to eternal life, all else is dross.

Though intimate with the King and noble society, St. Thomas More valued riches and status as nothing compared to God and the Truth.  A great example of living in the world but not being of it.

Though intimate with the King and noble society, St. Thomas More valued riches and status as nothing compared to God and the Truth. A great example of living in the world but not being of it.

The whole trick to living in the world but not being of it resides in remembering to which community we belong.  Though we love and respect our secular friends and wish for them to gain the same end we hope for, it is necessary for us to avoid falling into the same errors as they do–especially the error that religion holds no relevance to everyday life.  The words and deeds of the saints–and indeed the saints themselves–can be brought into our daily lives.  In our imitation of the saints, the charity and virtue we show may even be instrumental in drawing secular persons to our society.

May St. Ignatius pray that we all arrive where he and the other saints praise Our Lord through the ages of the ages.  Amen.

Plenary Indulgence This Sunday!

This is a last reminder that this Sunday, Divine Mercy Sunday, offers the Faithful a chance to gain a plenary indulgence.  The conditions are described as follows:

The plenary indulgence is granted (under the usual conditions of a sacramental confession, Eucharistic communion and a prayer for the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff) to the faithful who, on Divine Mercy Sunday, in a spirit that is completely detached from the affection for a sin, even a venial sin, recite the Our Father and the Creed, and also adding a devout prayer (e.g. Merciful Jesus, I trust in you!).

So, go to confession this Saturday or that Sunday if your Church offers it then, receive communion, have a strong resolution to turn from sin, pray the Our Father, the Apostles’ Creed, and “Jesus, I trust in you.”  Should you die immediately after that, you’ll go straight to heaven without a moment of Purgatory.

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How many of my dear readers balked at this bold assertion?  A villain becomes a saint in the space of one or two days?  And quite painlessly?  No, they should have to suffer more!  Forgiveness should be more difficult!  But, we are forgetting the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, where those who worked one hour are given the same reward as those who bore the day and the heat.

We forget one more thing: mercy is unearned.  At least, mercy was not earned by us.  It was earned by Jesus Christ for all that would receive His mercy.  Either through the instrument of His Church or without the instrumentality of His Church, Our Lord can apply mercy to whomever He wishes.  Our very willingness to receive mercy, our tenderness of heart, is something Jesus Christ earned for us.  Therefore, we have no right to be like the Prophet Jonah and sulk because Our Lord shows mercy in a manner which doesn’t meet with our human values.

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But, we are so quick to doubt God’s Mercy and Love for us!  In the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the Father does not have the wayward son weep for a week outside of his door and fast on bread and water before taking him into His house.  Rather, He does so immediately.  To use an example from the life of St. Gertrude, she once wished to gain a plenary indulgence, but illness or business kept her from being able to obtain it.  The Lord asked her if she wished to have it, to which she responded yes.  After the Lord’s blessing, she doubted the very purity which she felt in her soul.  Knowing her doubts, Our Lord recalled to her that the sun can bleach dyed cloth to a pure white.  Our Lord said to her: “If I have given such power to a creature, how much more can I purify souls?”

And so, let us allow the Lord to shine down as much mercy as He wishes upon us two days from now on Divine Mercy Sunday.

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Thoughts on Noragami and Witch Craft Works

The realization that I have not written about either Noragami or Witch Craft Works since writing Renuntiato Brevis struck me.  Yet, these are my two favorite shows from the winter season.  Now, that they have ended and the Spring season is impending, the time to write a few final thoughts on these shows is more than ripe.  The following article is a nicotine powered ramble I wrote while enjoying a blend of Latakia, Virginia, and Cavendish pipe tobacco on a beautiful, sunny day.

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The most surprising thing about Noragami is how many of its themes one can tie into Christianity despite its Shinto background.  As a minor example, we have the fact that Yato only takes 5 yen coins for his services.  Spiritual gifts are priceless.  Since they cannot be equated in any way with material goods, money given to religious institutions are rather tokens of good will than amount tendered for particular services.  All the money in the world would not be the equivalent of a single drop of holy water.

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Then, the progression of sin which we see in Yukine follows a very Catholic understanding.  First, he commits slight faults because of his attachment to earthly things.  The effects of his peccadilloes are seen in the small blight produced on Yato, the god to whom he is attached, but this can fortunately be removed by pouring holy water on them.  In the same way, prayer, holy water, and penance remove venial sins through the grace of God.  Then, Yukine moves on to greater offenses until he does something so terrible that Yato is rendered prostrate.  Who can forget that those who do grave sins “are crucifying once again the Son of God” (Hebrews 6:6)?  His offenses lead to him hardening his heart toward Yato so that he needs to be forced to undergo the absolution ceremony, which requires confession.  In the same way, sin hardens our hearts to God and constant mortal sin produces a hatred of Him.  Similarly, absolution must be accomplished with confession in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  I was more than a little surprised by all these parallels.

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Might I add that the final battle is spectacular?  The conflict between Yato and Rabo borrows heavily from Rurouni Kenshin.  After all, Yato is trying to escape his past as a god of calamity by doing good deeds and Rabo’s desire to make Yato a god of calamity again reminds one of Shishio’s wish for Kenshin to revert to his manslayer self.  Well done!

Chronoire Schwarz VI

My favorite character in the series. It helped that Rie Kugimiya voiced her.

Witch Craft Works is as flawed as a Sir Walter Scott novel but about as much fun!  The plot meandered until the end, and the revelation about Takamiya’s condition and the state of the world was scattered as randomly as buckshot throughout the show.  Yet, from Tanpopo Kuraishi to Kasumi to Chronoire Schwarz VI to Kagari, the characters stood as some of the most likable of any show I’ve seen.  Might I add that the end featured a great villain?  Our heroes must have been as tenderhearted as God to let her live!  They could make six or seven more seasons, and I should probably watch all of them.

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To tell you the truth, I even liked Takamiya.  He’s a hapless dope, but his heart is in the right place.  One of my favorite moments from the Winter season occurs when Evermillion asks Takamiya for his eyes as an exchange for dispelling the petrification spell on Kagari.  Takamiya heartily agrees–happy that he can undo her spell so easily!  Of course, Evermillion admits that she is jesting, but this “I love you more than my eyes” scene touched the Italian part of my soul.

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For one more religious allegory, Takamiya and Kagari’s relationship reminded me of a cradle Catholic with the Lord.  Most Catholics are baptized as infants.  Similar to Takamiya’s arranged betrothal, these Christians are not consulted as to whether they want to be joined with Christ’s Body.  Yet, once introduced to Christ at a later age, we become so enamored of His goodness that we accept this relationship, the initiation of which we had no say.  In the same way, Takamiya finds himself ecstatic to be loved by the beautiful, intelligent, and caring Kagari.  But, how lucky we all are to be loved by the infinitely Beautiful and all-Loving Source of Wisdom and Knowledge?

Let’s see whether the new season will provide us with shows this great.

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.

De Liberalitate et Peccato

While pleasantly smoking a pipe today, meditations on human nature and sin came to my mind.  This meditation came to my mind while I was thinking of my response to a Scrooge who said that it would be smarter to save my money by not buying anyone Christmas gifts.  I responded that I should be unhappy with myself if I took his advice.  Indeed, I’m not sure whether I could live with myself!

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But, why should I have phrased my response “be unhappy with myself”?  Surely, I could buy myself more books, anime, tobacco, wine, and other things which generally please me?  Though these things do please me, the fact that I should be depriving myself of the chance to make someone else happy would remove the pleasure I had in these things.  That is because, as Bl. John Paul II beautifully wrote, we are called to be self-gifts.  Indeed, the enjoyment of the above four goods could only be increased if I shared either the objects themselves or even my knowledge of them.

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But, sin enters the picture, which is essentially selfishness.  Fortunately, Our Lord entered the picture and bestowed on us the greatest example of self-gift: His Father becomes Our Father, His Spirit becomes the Spirit leading us into all truth, wisdom, and goodness, his mother becomes our mother, His divine Life becomes our divine Life, His Body no longer refers only to Himself but to the Church, and His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity–His whole Being–becomes incorporated in us through the Holy Eucharist.  Who could imagine grater gifts than these?  Before Christ came down as the perfect revelation of the Father, this generosity would have been beyond the mind of man and produces mute wonder and utter astonishment in those who believe.

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Yet, we still fall short of our election by sinning.  In addition to selfishness, there is another cause of sin: frustration.  That’s why “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, And he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city” (Prov. 16:32).  The impetus to offer oneself as a gift can easily lead people to doing so in the wrong way.  Think of a strong man who, instead of waiting for the right opponents, takes to preying on whoever takes his fancy or a beautiful woman who lies with the first young man to take her fancy rather than having her husband as her first.

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Sir Breunor le Noir and his bride. The former is one of my favorite characters and one of the most interesting knights in Mallory’s Le Morte D’Arthur.

However, the price of acting out of frustration is more frustration, because nothing is communicated by sinning–there is no generosity.  Someone may say, “But, an evil is communicated at least.”  But, evil is the absence of being and therefore nothing.  Rather than joining people together, sin separates them as it separates the people who sin from their true selves.  Instead of being a warrior, like King Richard the Lionheart, the strong man becomes a forgettable punk.  Instead of becoming a wife and mother of distinction, like Frances Cleveland (the wife of Grover Cleveland), the beauty becomes a body.

Therefore, let us exercise patience in our generosity and above all avoid the selfishness of sin.

Anton Chekhov and Suicide

A while back, I took out a Signet Classic edition of the major plays of Anton Chekhov.  Having read the first two in the collection, Ivanov and The Sea Gull, these plays surprised me *EPIC SPOILER WARNING FOR THOSE WHO CARE* by both ending with a suicide.  In each play we have someone suffering from melancholy, who decides to end his own life with the pull of a trigger.  The first, Ivanov, loses his love for his wife, love for living, finds himself gravely in debt, can’t stand being home, suffers the loss of his wife to consumption, and is about to be married to a young lady who has taken pity on him–who at the same time is unsure whether or not she loves him or can make him happy.

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In the second, Trepelev, the twenty-five year old son of a famous actress, writes unconventional plays with an Eastern feel, i.e. they rely upon imagery rather than intellectual motifs–as we might find in a Noh play.  (They also have a shockingly Manichean flavor, as his first play calls the devil the father of matter.)  Anyway, his sole happiness is in his love for Nina, an actress, which brightens his impoverished and useless existence: his mother, despite having 70,000 rubles in the bank, cries at the thought of lending him anything with the result that Trepelev hardly leaves the house and gads about in a threadbare coat.  Trepelev furthermore feels down on himself because society frowns upon his literary style.  This coupled with Nina leaving him for a more famous writer led to his first suicide attempt.  Then, Nina returns two years later to Trepelev after having an affair and a child with the other writer before he tires of her.  Unfortunately, Trepelev’s assertion that he still loves her and has been waiting for her falls on deaf ears.  This destroys Trepelev’s last hope and leads to a successful reattempt on his life.  (The moral of the story is not to place one’s hopes on an actress, a profession which at one time was esteemed only slightly higher than a prostitute’s.)  By the way, the former play is described as a drama and the latter as a comedy!

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But, these two characters had striking similarities in personality to myself.  Presently, I find myself quite broke, sometimes cannot stand staying in the house, and my existence tilts toward the useless side.  Also, despite my earnest striving, the world and the people in it have felt distant and unlovable–as if there were an unscalable wall between us–and an insufferable egotism afflicted me, as if my mind were some kind of prison impeding my soul’s freedom.  Thanks be to God that these latter two symptoms are mostly gone!

There's something rather curious about this picture of St. Jerome wearing glasses.

There’s something rather curious about this picture of St. Jerome wearing glasses.

Yet, why did I not pull a trigger?  Or even ever seriously consider it?  One could take a rather banal explanation that I believe suicide to be a mortal sin unless preceded by extreme mental stress or extreme fear of physical suffering.  It would not feel comfortable arriving before the judgment seat of Our Lord and Master saying, “Well, I calculated that my stress was such as to make this action a rather serious venial sin than something worthy of hell  So, please just give me some time in purgatory.”  But, I do suppose that my relationship to God is what would prevent any serious consideration of suicide.  After all, I have shown God far too much ingratitude and would like to do at least something in return for His great blessings.  Of course, I can never adequately pay God back for all His blessings, but I would at least like to do so super-abundantly–which sounds absurd and can only be possible through the grace of God.

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Three other thoughts would also come in the way: 1) I deserve what’s coming to me either because of my sins or personal faults and mistakes; 2) God both lowers us into the dust and raises us up; and 3) God foresaw all this suffering from the beginning.  Therefore, all I need to do is progress as best as I can in full or as full as possible knowledge of my sins and weaknesses, hoping in God’s mercy.  The only outcome for one who perseveres is to be brought out of one’s misery either by one’s appointed death or that joy in living will be found again.  In either case, “Blessed are those who weep, for they shall know joy.”

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Yet, I think that neither of the protagonists of the plays were able to continue living because they had removed God from the picture.  The Sea Gull says this very plainly in the case of an old man named Sorin who is looking toward the grave, whom a friend claims is not religious; therefore making fear of death merely animal fear.  In the case of the suicides, they also seem to remove other people from the picture and have an unhealthy concentration on themselves.  People were meant to be happy in community–not isolation!  Even the hermits of early Christianity knew this as they read Scripture, prayed to God and the saints, offered sacrifices and prayers for poor sinners, and rejoiced to serve the rare visitor or traveler.

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As a matter of fact, The Sea Gull‘s happiest character happens to be a poor school master named Medvedenko burdened with serving his younger siblings and aged mother.  After he married Masha, Trepelev’s sister, he in addition must care for their newborn child.  Though, it does seem that Masha now wishes not to have married Medvedenko or to be a mother.  The folly of people!  When one is surrounded by people who have made themselves unhappy through selfishness, why not imitate Medvedenko, whose only riches are the people in his life?

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Egotism kills, especially if exacerbated by preoccupation with one’s faults.  This was the case especially with the eponymous hero of Ivanov.  Indeed, he has many faults: he’s in debt, doesn’t love his wife, is irritable, can’t stay a night at home, has lost all his dreams, and is obsessed with his failures.  But, why torture oneself with all these things?  He’s a man, not an angel!  When grieving over one’s faults leads to self-torture rather than a change of life, it is time to stop grieving for a little!  Over how much does man have control?  Before her death, Ivanov should have tried to hang out with his wife, curbed his spending little by little, and tried a few new lucrative projects!  But, when one has done everything one can, there’s nothing else to do but look with hope at a crucifix.

Well, this has been a rather reflective and meandering article, but may it have been of benefit or amusement to my dear readers!

The End of Samurai Deeper Kyo: All About Heart

The extent to which the Samurai Deeeper Kyo manga has captivated me is well known to my dear readers from my last article on the subject.  I must say that no manga ending in recent memory has quite satisfied me as much for all the time and effort that went into reading it–I’ll likely take up this 308 chapter manga again!  Unlike so many series, one can see that the author had a clear ending in mind.  This prevented the series from wandering due to a lack of focus prevalent in so many manga.  (One Piece, Bleach, Naruto, I’m pointing at you!)  The ending in particular, for all its catering to the fans, possessed many interesting themes running through it: so much so, that I doubt having completely understood it.

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Anyway, let me begin my only slighly spoilerific discussion of the manga–with the exception of the last paragraph, anyway, which contains the biggest spoiler in the work.  One of the most interesting facets of the manga is the clever use of Christian imagery–the cross in particular.  The use of such symbols tends to make the Christian otaku/anime junkie (whichever you prefer) a little nervous considering  the Japanese inclination to scatter random Christian symbols throughout their works.  However, one perceives a purpose to the use of this symbol throughout SDK.  The fanservice and downright roguish characters rather obscure this, but one see how the themes of love, self-sacrifice, and suffering out of love run through this manga–more so as one approaches the end.  (This is not apparent in the anime and must be considered the reason for its lackluster performance.)  I almost wish to label Demon Eyes Kyo a Christ figure, but his lack of decency causes me to hesitate–someone else may make the connection if they like.  Interestingly, this manga is one of those which refuses to paint black black or white white: one must carefully consider the person or matter at hand before labeling anything.

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The ways Kyo approximates Christ lies in his strong loyalty toward his “servants.”  Kyo himself tends to take up the lion’s share of combat unless one of his friends absolutely insists or he finds himself too weak for fighting.  At which point, he refuses to lend his companion a helping hand–no matter how poorly the fight turns out for that guy.  In order to refer this quality to Christ, let us remind ourselves that, although we cannot do anything without God’s grace, He sometimes wishes us to triumph in situations where He appears absent and in agonies which require all our effort–though, it is not really we who conquer, but Christ in us.  This affords an opportunity for growth–if Christ pulled us out of all our difficulties by overwhelming force, we could neither develop the virtues of fortitude, faith, hope, and love, nor nor understand how weak we are in ourselves.

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Then, one is struck by how much mercy and compassion the protagonists show toward their fallen foes: by the end, only one enemy, who appears to lack any kind of empathy or compassion, is willfully killed–nevermind, one other person of a similar caste met the same fate.  Often, our heroes will mourn over the deaths of certain foes or convert their foes into allies in their quest to bring down the infamous Mibu clan–thus, showing the triumph of charity and a good-will.

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The main villain, the Aka no Ou or Crimson King, is deluded rather than truly evil.  He wishes to create a paradise free from suffering through the means of a violent conflict.  But suffering, at least in the current version of reality, is inseparable from love.  On the more humanist side, Schopenhauer claimed that compassion derives from us suffering and therefore being able to understand the sufferings of others.  And indeed, people who have kept themselves from suffering are often those least able to empathize with others.  Our Lord, the Man of Sorrows, revealed the fullness of his love during His Sacred Passion.  We even see an essential transformation in Kyo: as the manga progresses and Kyo suffers more with the other characters, his love increases toward them, and he risks himself more for them.

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But, the very end contains a striking symbol of love (the whopping spoiler to which I refer): the treasure which the Mibu had been closely guarding was the Crimson King’s heart, which he had removed from his body.  Kyo’s final victory over the Crimson King convinced the king to place his heart back in his chest.  Not only is his treasure a heart, but it has a cross engraved upon it.  This displays the truth that some things cannot be understood save through the heart, especially a heart that has suffered.  So, the Crimson King is persuaded to abandon his idea of a painless Utopia, since a Utopia as he envisions would be a loveless place–perhaps, even because people would not be able to suffer.  And the cross upon the Crimson King’s heart cannot but recall the Sorrowful and Sacred Heart of Jesus, which comprehends all things.

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So, do you know of any Christ figure in anime or any anime which uses Christian figures well, my dear readers?

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Mirai Nikki: The Heretic Successor of Elfen Lied

Well, dear readers, I finally broke down and decided to watch Mirai Nikki due to my sister’s insistence.  I have seen about thirteen episodes of this well known series thus far, and find it rather enjoyable.  The first thing to strike me was how similar it seemed to Elfen Lied: the insane, pink-haired, crazed killer, many violent, bloody deaths, and the abnormal fighting abilities of the contestants.  Despite these similarities, there is a difference in mood between the two shows, which boils down to the variance with which they treat the concept of evil.  (I can see it all now: people who consider Elfen Lied a vacuous show are going to hate this article.)

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Haven’t you noticed this yourselves?  The plot of Mirai Nikki is centered around a game prepared by “the god of time and space” in which the contestants annihilate each other in order to gain the god’s title.  Creating the setting of a game does much to minimize the effect of the atrocious crimes committed therein.  All the casualties become pawns in a chess game.  This takes away from the impact of say killing scores of school children, taking invalids hostage, wretchedly treating prisoners, and even creating a twisted young child to be killed for the purposes of the game–I’m referring to a diary holder.

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Conversely, Elfen Lied causes us to feel sorrow whenever someone is slain or even when they are merely struck.  The sinfulness of the action strikes us.  I believe this involves the fact that Lynn Okamoto was probably influenced by the religion of the Lutheran minister who wrote the eponymous poem.  So, we are struck by a sense of sin pervading the show.  Lives are lost; but, the wickedness of these acts are not lost on us, as they tend to be in Mirai Nikki.  So, the main divergence between the two shows appears to be religious: the Christian God in Elfen Lied–albeit, with the Lutheran conception of the depravity of man tainting the world–vs. the rather Assyrian god of Mirai Nikki, who enjoys playing with other people’s lives.

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The curious case of #9, Uryuu Minene, offers the most striking example of how Mirai Nikki‘s world misunderstands the problem of evil.  We are introduced to this character as a monster who’s willing to sacrifice school children in order to achieve her goals.  To speak plainly, she’s rather loathesome, right?  Then, she fails in her object due to Yukiteru taking out her eye, she suffers greatly in making her escape from the police, and endures humiliation, pain, and betrayal from the “justice” besotted contestant (the conception of justice held by this character makes one fear for how the manga-ka views justice himself), and goes on to become perhaps the most likeable character in the show–at least, in my case.  (Could it be a perceived resemblance to Revy of Black Lagoon?)

Then again, I might be reaching too hard or nostalgic for an old favorite.

Then again, I might be reaching too hard or nostalgic for an old favorite.

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How is it that we can so easily warm up to a character who’s first shown us committing heinous crimes?  The suffering which followed her debut might be said to partially atone for her wrongs, but can they really be enough?  Her character even undergoes a change as she becomes level-headed, and we only rarely glimpse her maniacal smile.  And so, evil seems to result from insanity rather than malice.  We cannot really hold an insane person guilty, therefore no need for atonement.

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By the deep seated guilt of many of the characters, Elfen Lied acknowledges that, no matter what evil influences have twisted a person’s personality, they still sin by their own free choice.  This visibly taints their souls and places a burden of judgment upon them.  We, the viewers, sense this and develop true antipathy toward certain characters.

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An exception to this rule in Elfen Lied is Lucy herself.  Her very guilt makes her sympathetic.  She would like to obtain forgiveness, and Kohta tries to give it to her.  However, Lucy knows in her heart of hearts that murder cannot be taken back, that the blood tainting her soul can’t be brushed aside or blamed on anyone else.  The only person who can erase such a thing is found in the lyrics of the opening song to that show: “O Lord, O Sacred Fire, have mercy!”  For God alone can forgive sins.  Excuses based on one’s mental state or tragic background don’t cut it.

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Ultimately, Elfen Lied‘s biggest failure in understanding human nature is the doctrine of total depravity which runs through the show.  But, it still knows human nature better than Mirai Nikki.  This makes it the better show of these rather similar works.  So, what do you think, my dear readers?  Which show really has a better perception of human nature and the mystery of evil?

Found a Great Page on Padre Pio

It seems that everyone except me is busy posting this time of year.  (The certain result of my lazy nature.)  I don’t know where I’ll find the time to read them all.  At any rate, I’d like to share a page on Padre Pio which I found recently.  It has more pictures than I thought possible of this great saint as well as several amusing stories.  I confess that sometimes when I’m feeling particularly down, seeing Padre Pio often brightens my day.  It makes me wish we had photographs of more great saints, and wonder how great a consolation it would be if we even had one photograph of Our Lord.

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Anyway, I got to work on a paper now.  Hopefully, I’ll have an anime article up by this evening.

Prayer Maxims from a Novice

A sense of inadequacy comes over me each time I attempt to write the next article on prayer.  Either too many important things are left unsaid or I ramble about trifles.  My ineptitude has convinced me not to go forward with that series of articles lest I warp someone’s mind.  At least the article on prayer’s necessity was posted, because praying itself is the most important thing we can do.  Even if one is making every possible error, God can lead a person who prays to right these faults.  But, I do realize that some of my dear readers were waiting for the next three articles.  In lieu of them, please accept this little collection of unoriginal maxims and explanations of them from yours truly.

  • Begin in thanksgiving, proceed in contrition, lift your voice in praise, and end in humility.

One should always consider one’s littleness when approaching God, our utter reliance on Him, and how great He is.  By thanking Him, we acknowledge our reliance on Him.  By sorrowing over our sins, we recognize that all the grace He has given us was completely unearned, realize His unfathomable goodness and mercy in pardoning our sins, and understand that He treats us so much better than we deserve.  By praise, we offer a fitting, though by no means adequate, return for His goodness and meditate on God’s greatness.  By keeping mindful of everything above, we humble ourselves and please God through our efforts to be humble.

  • Worldliness chokes prayer.

We draw toward those things about which our minds contemplate.  Always thinking about one’s daily life or those good things which we desire cause these things to follow us into our prayers, making prayer difficult or impossible.  Striving to consider God as the last end of our work and leisure and avoiding excessive desire for pleasurable goods makes prayer easier.

  • A simple mind speaks many prayers.  A complex mind can pray but one word.

As noted in the prior maxim, always seeking God makes prayer easy.  Such a person may complete devotion after devotion with ease and recollection.  (Though, it is generally inadvisable for most people to engage themselves in many devotions.  Stick to a few for your daily regimen and perhaps celebrate feast days as they come.)  Often, someone who is very busy, bombarded with temptations, or immersing himself in pleasurable goods will find that he can barely pray.  In such a state, it is best to unite oneself with the groanings of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:26) by repeating the word “God” or “Jesus.”  (The Catholic Catechism does say that the Holy Name of Jesus is the basis for all prayer.)  By constantly repeating this word, all our other concerns or desires fall from the mind until it becomes pure enough to pray at length.

  • Neglect not your mother

In giving St. John the care of His mother, Jesus also made her the Mother of all men, and she, after God Himself, is most solicitous for the salvation of all men.  Also, if God especially hears the prayers of good men, how much more will he hear prayers uttered from the Immaculate Heart of Mary which never knew sin?  How foolish we would be not to beseech her intercession before the throne of Jesus Christ!

  • The names of St. Mary, St. Joseph, and St. Michael are on the tongues of all.  After them follow those who bear our own names, and lastly those whom our personality and experience select.

Among the saints, everyone should seek the assistance of St. Mary, St. Joseph, and St. Michael.  Then, one will feel closely attached to those who bear their own name.  Afterwards, one makes acquaintances among the saints through their spiritual reading and experiences, choosing the ones which most appeal to them.  Each person may decide the degree to which they venerate these saints, but short prayers expressing one’s needs are sufficient–especially concerning the virtues one lacks or needs help in perfecting.

  • In spiritual darkness, the friends of God offer lamplight to the soul.

God sometimes withdraws his tangible presence from souls in order to purify them through suffering.  Even though we live, move, and have our being in Him, it sometimes happens that we find it difficult to perceive God, and our prayer time is completely arid.  God will not allow us to suffer beyond what we are capable; however, during this period of darkness, he allows the saints to offer us some consolation.  In the same way, the souls in Purgatory are deprived for a time of the vision of God, but consoled by St. Mary, St. Joseph, their guardian angel, and others.

  • Contemplatives may have a dozen devotions, but a few are sufficient for those leading an active life.

Most of us, leading very busy lives, do not have the same amount of time for prayer and contemplation which is available to religious.  However, many people are drawn by either love of God or the delight they find during prayer to continue adding devotions, the multitude of which will eventually cause them discouragement and loss of discipline in prayer once they hit a point of spiritual dryness.  Saying the rosary, often saying brief prayers to Our Lord throughout the day, praying short prayers to the saints mentioned above, and reading a few chapters of the Bible everyday should be sufficient for most.

Of course, if you’re not married and you find delight in prayer and little delight elsewhere, the religious life’s probably for you.

Guiseppe Moscati. Doctor, University Professor, and Saint.

  • Prefer sorrow to joy in meditation.

As human beings, we often fall into sin.  Jesus had to pay for all of these sins in His Passion, so it behooves us out of gratitude to often meditate on His sufferings.  By considering the pain which our sins cause Him, we are less inclined to repeat them.  Also, Jesus looks with great mercy on all who meditate on His Passion with feeling and pours forth many graces on them.  It is a good thing to meditate on our goal, Heaven, but not as much as the Passion.

  • Fill the morning hours with prayer.

One mistake people make is that they reserve most of their prayers for the end of the day.  It is much more profitable to perform our devotions in the morning so that our minds are focused on serving God from the very beginning.  Of course, some people’s schedules do not admit that, but say at least an Our Father and a Hail Mary before preparing yourself for work.

  • Invoke God constantly throughout the day.

This practice prevents us forgetting that our purpose in life is to know, love, and serve God in this life and the next.  Using these brief invocations causes the thought of God to be constantly on our minds, which prevents us from falling into sin or missing opportunities for good works.  One can use any of these ejaculations or lines from certain litanies.  The author tends to use: “Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner!” or “Heart of Jesus, King and Center of all hearts, have mercy on me!” or the one beginning “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, I give you my heart and my soul.” or “Dearest of Mothers, pray for us!” or “Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us who have recourse to thee.”

  • Do not neglect spiritual reading.

You are what you eat, and reading offers food for thought.  Only reading worldly books causes the soul to become worldly.  But reading spiritual books keeps us mindful of what is of true value.  The Bible ranks highest on the list of books to read followed by The Imitation of Christ, The Rule of St. Benedict, and various other works.

  • Do not vow to say prayers.

If one vows to do anything for God, He will expect us to fulfill it.  While a priest or religious vows to recite the Divine Office, I don’t think that a layman–since the business of the day may prevent him from praying or meditating to the extent which he would like–ought to vow anything, lest one sin through negligence.

Well, I hope that these maxims provide a little guidance for everyone.  Of course, the Philokalia in particular and several other devotional books, like St. Francis de Sales’ The Introduction to the Devout Life, have more thorough advice and proverbs for you to follow.