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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Two Small Spiritual Books

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

Divine Mercy

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

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Medieval Otaku’s Third Anniversary

On this Easter, both this site and myself age one year.  This is the only time I can recollect my birthday has falling on Easter.  Does this coincidence mean that Medieval Otaku will gain a fresh breath of life?  That I shall set a new and vigorous posting schedule for my third year as a blogger?  No, I’ll probably continue writing on random themes which usually touch upon the Middle Ages, Catholicism, or anime as my dear readers are accustomed.  Thank you to all my dear readers who have enjoyed reading these posts over the past year.  As I always say, you need to struggle through many mediocre posts before finding the few gems which fall Deo iuvante.  Let me give you the low down on the posts you shall be seeing on here in the near future.

Samurai Hat

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Rejoicing in Being Defective

For a while now, the old anime Saber Marionette J has excited my curiosity.  On the one hand, the show exudes mediocrity; on the other hand, I’m an avid enough fan of 90’s anime to pass over many flaws in anime from this era.  The basic premise for this show lies in a space ship crash landing upon a deserted planet, killing all the female crew members.  This necessitates the population of this world to come about through cloning (somehow, their best efforts to clone women from male genes failed); yet, the memory of the fair sex is kept alive through creating androids or marionettes in the form of women.  These androids are inferior to real women in many ways, especially because they lack volition and emotion.  (You can tell this anime is a commentary on the state of women in Japan, and you might expect an article from me in this regard by a certain point.)

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However, our hero, Otaru, discovers a marionette named Lime who has both will and emotions.  His neighbors initially deem Lime a defective product and attempt to destroy this rambunctious robot.  (She does kind of rob all of them of their breakfasts.)  However Otaru saves her by begging for her life.  Afterwards, the neighbors come to a good opinion of Lime, claiming that sometimes the most defective products are also the most lovable.  At which point, Lime knuckles her forehead and says: “Ha, ha!  Yeah!  I’m defective.”

SMJ

In a similar way, we ought to consider our own defects with good cheer.  Rather than letting these bring us down, we ought to laugh with Lime at our own defectiveness.  St. Francis de Sales does aver that we should “rejoice in our abjection,” but few find their own weaknesses as something to rejoice in–especially if these happen to be sinful proclivities.  Yet, even more than Otaru’s neighbors finding Lime lovable in her crazy antics, Our Lord loves especially those who are weakest and most in need of His mercy.

Jesus - Lost Sheep

We seem to have more cause to weep over our defects than to rejoice over them; but, our very mourning becomes beatitude when seen in the light of Our Lord’s Passion: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matt. 5:8).  Sorrow over sin inevitably raises the mind to the Passion of Christ, of Our Lord who suffered for the forgiveness of our sins.  When we look at God, God looks at us.  In seeing our confusion and sorrow over the wounds our sins inflicted upon Himself, Our Lord presents His wounds for the healing of our souls to God the Father.  The greater our sorrow and focus upon God, the purer our heart becomes and the greater God refines our souls from the dross of sin.

St. Margaret Mary Alacoque receives the vision of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

St. Margaret Mary Alacoque receives the vision of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

As such, we ought to view our sense of abjection as a gift from God.  If we felt that we were alright, we would not seek God.  Because we know that we are broken and defective, we focus more on the Great Physician, who heals us the more as we bind ourselves to Him by remembering Him always.  Even though conscious that the wounds we see upon Christ Crucified represent our offenses and sins, we become yet more conscious that God took these wounds upon Himself of His own free will out of love for us.  And so, the more we focus upon Christ’s wounds and sufferings, the more apparent God’s infinite Love becomes to us.  Indeed, the most sinful, weak, and defective become the most beloved of God.  As Jesus told the Pharisees: “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you” (Matt. 21:31). 

St. Matthew, one of the tax collectors whom Jesus saved.

St. Matthew, one of the tax collectors whom Jesus saved.

But, I suppose that the knowledge that God appears to love those who caused Him the most suffering more than those who live decent lives is not enough for us.  We want to be just!  We want to cease being the thorn in Our Lord’s Sacred Heart!  But, have we not fulfilled the fourth beatitude in our desire for justice even if we see ourselves falling often every day?  Our very abjection fulfills the first beatitude.  Our knowledge of human weakness and our own poverty lead us to be gentle towards our brothers and sisters, fulfilling the second beatitude.  Our sorrow for sins and seeking righteousness increase our purity of heart or single-mindedness on God.  Our focus on God reminds us of the constant need we have for mercy, and so we become merciful to our brothers and sisters–desiring them to be happy even if we suffer temporal losses.  Our focus on justice, mercy, and purity make us excellent peacemakers, by which virtue the children of God are known.

St. Longinus at the Crucifixion

Then, once we have been filled with such blessedness, we shall be worthy to be persecuted along with our Lord and thus fulfill the highest and eighth beatitude.  Such a soul is so conformed to its Lord and filled with God’s Spirit that, as in the case of St. John Vianney, someone might exclaim “I have seen God in a man.”  All the saints have meditated often on Our Lord’s Passion and drawn strength from it as well as from the sacraments.  Though grace so wonderfully perfected the nature of these saints according to the image and likeness with which all human beings are created, they never forgot their utter need of God, their sinfulness, and how reliant they were upon His sufferings.

All this from knowing our utter misery, wickedness, and need of God!

The Spirit of St. Francis de Sales

I just had the pleasure of reading The Spirit of St. Francis de Sales by Jean-Pierre Camus.  Whether this Camus is a distant relation of the more famous Albert Camus, I know not.  His style of biography is reminiscent of Boswell’s Life of Johnson.  Like Boswell, Camus was a constant companion of St. Francis and recorded his habits with great exactitude.  Their friendship began around the time St. Francis, as Bishop of Geneva, consecrated him Bishop of Belley.  Camus’ remarkable frankness and memory make this a particularly interesting character sketch of the saint.

St. Francis de Sales

For those unfamiliar with the history of St. Francis de Sales, he served in the diocese of Geneva at the beginning of the Counter-Reformation.  In particular, he was a missionary to Chablis and had to deal with the Calvinist heresy there.  Calvinists held the majority in the place, and proprietors would often refuse even to give St. Francis a place to sleep.  With the incredible patience which was his chief virtue, he preached the Faith through public speaking and spreading pamphlets–many of which we have to this day.  Occasionally, while he said Mass, the attendants would get up and leave during the middle of it, and St. Francis would continue the Mass in an empty Church.  His patience and perseverance made him eventually beloved of the people, and Chablis became a mostly Catholic area by the end of his life.

St. Francis describes his method of religious debate as patiently listening to his religious opponents without either showing contempt or superiority and then relating the truth of the Catholic faith without contentiousness.  Here are his own words on the subject, which is one of my favorite passages in the work:

“All the external proofs which can be brought to bear upon our opponents are weak, unless the Holy Spirit is at work in their souls, teaching them to recognize the ways of God. All that has to be done is to propose to them simply the truths of our Faith. To propose these truths is to compel men to accept them, unless, indeed, they resist the Holy Spirit, either through dullness of understanding, or through uncircumcision of the heart. The attaching over much importance to the light of natural reason is a quenching of the Spirit of God. Faith is not an acquired, but an infused virtue; it must be treated with accordingly, and in instructing heretics we must beware of taking to ourselves any part of the glory which belongs to God alone.

 “One of the greatest misfortunes of heretics is that their ministers in their discourses travesty our Faith, representing it as something quite different from what it really is. For example, they pretend that we have no regard for Holy Scripture; that we worship the Pope as God; that we regard the Saints as divinities; that we hold the Blessed Virgin as being more than Jesus Christ; that we pay divine worship to images and pictures; that we believe souls in Purgatory to be suffering the selfsame agony and despair as those in Hell; that we deprive the laity of participation in the Blood of Jesus Christ; that we adore bread in the Eucharist; that we despise the merits of Jesus Christ, attributing our salvation solely to the merit of our good works; that auricular confession is mental torture; and so on, endeavoring by calumnies of this sort to discredit our religion and to render the very thought of it odious to those who are so thoroughly misinformed as to its nature. When, on the contrary, they are made acquainted with our real belief on any of these points, the scales fall from their eyes, and they see that the fascination and cajolery of their preachers has hidden from them the truth as to God’s goodness and the beauty of God’s truth, and has put darkness before them in the place of light.

 “It is true that at first they may shrug their shoulders, and laugh us to scorn; but when they have left us, and, being alone, reflect a little on what we have told them, you will see them flutter back like decoyed birds, saying to us, ‘We should like to hear you speak again about those things which you brought before us the other day.’ Then they fall, some on the right hand, others on the left, and Truth, victorious on all sides, brings them by different paths to know it as it really is.”

Daughters of the Visitation

I don’t know of a more perfect method of preaching the truths of the faith than this, and so I felt compelled to quote it in full.  At any rate, I encourage my dear readers to pick up this work.  St. Francis de Sales is a great personality among the saints and this work does a marvelous job of sketching his personality–and it’s available for free!  Some passages are edifying, some dry, some humorous (like when Camus drilled holes in the walls of St. Francis’ room so that he could observe him therein), but all are brimming with the Spirit of Christ.  I hope that many modern pastors have been influenced by the model offered by St. Francis de Sales.

Be an Erza-like Christian This Lent

While reading The Spirit of St. Francis, one particular conversation between St. Francis de Sales and Bishop Jean Pierre Camus, his spiritual son, struck me.  Camus claimed that reading Plutarch and Senaca helped him to aspire to virtue in his younger days.  Whereupon St. Francis de Sales responded that Seneca’s understanding of virtue was quite against Christianity’s understanding of it.  For Seneca, virtue comes from within.  In reality, virtue comes from without through God’s grace and love entering the soul.

Erza-erza-scarlet-32924941-100

Perhaps Erza of Fairy Tail is most representative of this attitude.  Everyone in the guild looks up Erza for her strength, but we discover in her difficult fight with Azuma on Mavis’ island that she relies on the strength of others.  She can only be so strong because others are there for her.  Shortly after her victory, she helps a member of Fairy Tail (Gray, I think), who comments that he is always being saved.  Whereupon, she responds “me, too” or something like that.

Erva vs. Azuma

The guild of the Christian is the Church.  We are all on the same side, whether we are struggling in the Church Militant, undergoing purification in the Church Suffering, or perfect in the Church Triumphant.  It is certain that God distributed His virtues and talents among the faithful to differing degrees: one is more just, another more temperate, another more patient, etc.  Yet, all are made in God’s image and likeness and called to perfect this likeness.  To this end, God both abundantly pours forth His grace and provides models of imitation, especially through Himself in the most divine life of Jesus and through St. Mary’s perfect adherence to God’s will.  It is a common phenomenon that people imagine that they have a virtue after reading or hearing about someone who displays the same virtue.  Rather, they have the model of the virtue which they are on fire to bring to life in the world.  They love the virtuous man and want to become close to them through imitation.  Thus, we are drawn to Jesus and Mary by learning their deeds and trying to imitate them.  In this way, virtue is imposed on us from the outside: we ardently desire to be like someone we know and the grace of God works within us to help us produce this likeness to the virtuous person, which is a likeness to God.

Here's a great Catholic meme.

Here’s a great Catholic meme.

For this purpose, God has established many saints and great men so that we are drawn to virtue.  St. Joseph makes us love obedience, silence, and diligence; St. Anthony of Egypt faith and courage; St. Leo the Great theology and compassion for the poor; St. Ignatius of Loyola nobility of aspiration and obedience to the Church; St. Magnus justice and love of family; the Prophet Moses humility and meekness; St. Bartholomew simplicity and cheerfulness, St. Therese of Lisieux purity and lowliness, and St. Francis de Sales patience and sweetness towards enemies.  God tells us to be like little children.  Little children are always imitating their elders.  In the same way, we should treat the saints as the elders in our guild and imitate them so that we can gain Christ-likeness.  Even virtues which are arduous or not particularly wanted–think of St. Augustine’s understanding of his prayer for chastity really meaning “Make me chaste, Lord, but not yet.”–become sweeter and more desirable when we see them shining in the person of a saint.

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So, perhaps the best way for us to make progress this Lent is to study a saint possessing the virtue we want.  Perhaps the saint struggled with it also, and his conquest of the opposing vice will give us hope of doing the same through God’s grace.  Like Erza does in Fairy Tail, let us form relationships with those in the Church past and present and then tighten these bonds through imitation of the Master.  Do not forget that God loves his saints greatly, and rejoices when we take an interest in them–even telling St. Gertrude that He gives whoever thanks Him for a saint that very saint’s virtues.

Have a happy Lent and most penitential Ash Wednesday, my dear readers!