The Importance of a Personal Philosophy

The latest episode of 91 Days inspires this topic, especially in light of what happened at the end of that episode.  Angelo has lived without purpose for the seven years following the murder of his family.  He exists in a cheap apartment with no signs of individuality and makes a living through theft.  He constantly thinks about his one great treasure, his deceased family, and has no desire to really live.  This makes him easy to manipulate as Angelo becomes embroiled in the power struggle within the Vanetti mob.  While he shows himself resolute, resourceful, and tough, he soon becomes a pawn barely able to exercise his own will.

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The above shows the importance of having a personal philosophy and of being true to oneself.  Indeed, one cannot ever be true to oneself without some personal philosophy.  The most warped mindset is that of relativism, and the relativist stands as the most miserable of all men, because his stance changes with the zeitgeist.  In terms of mindset, a racist imperialist is superior to a relativist.  Sure, it’s an awful thing to judge other men purely on external characteristics and to support a program of conquest for the benefit of the fatherland.  But, the relativist can morph from a classical liberal to a socialist to a monarchist to a democrat depending on what the majority prefers.  In England, the relativist abhors female circumcision; in Indonesia, he deems it a cultural practice worthy of toleration.  Contention and ostracism are feared above all.  At least, the racist imperialist has objective standards which he is willing to fight for.  Also, because he has objective standards, the racist imperialist can be convinced that his objective standards are not true and be brought closer to the truth.  The relativist blows with the winds of expediency.

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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.

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The Low Down on Peter Kreeft’s Practical Theology

Having read through one hundred and twelve of the topics in Peter Kreeft’s Practical Theology: Spiritual Direction from St. Thomas Aquinas, an accurate enough opinion of it has formed in my mind.  The book–as anything written on St. Thomas’s theology–is quite dense, so I abandoned my hope of reading through its 366 pages in a month.  I cannot help but admire how Kreeft either draws passages from the Summa Theologica easily applicable to everyday life or shows the relevance of more esoteric theology to living a good life.  The prose and philosophy are both clear and direct, as may be expected from a Thomist.  Besides St. Thomas, Kreeft quotes a wide variety of other Christian thinkers on these topics, especially C. S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton, and George MacDonald.  He also seems most at home with the ancient philosophers Plato and Aristotle.

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Though, in regard to Plato, Kreeft often harps on a fallacy in Platonic philosophy: the idea that sin is only caused by ignorance.  Plato believed that if ignorance were removed from a human being completely, he would not sin.  We even see this idea a little in medieval philosophy when St. Bonaventure writes that Christ was like us in everything “except sin and ignorance” (See St. Bonaventure’s Tree of Life).  However, Kreeft remarks that people sin despite knowing that it will make them miserable.  Ignorance of goodness is not the only cause of sin.  As Kreeft points out, we are all a little insane in cleaving to those things which cause us misery.  Eliminating ignorance by doing things like reading philosophy and theology only goes so far: we need grace and the practice of virtue.

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A Limited God and Christian Intolerance

I have begun reading Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley and have run into a familiar pagan conception.  Viviane, the Lady of the Lake, says that no god could be great enough to create or run the entire world.  To reference anime, Holo of Spice and Wolf claimed the same thing.  The idea of an Infinite Being baffles the pagan mind.  I will say that even though we Christians believe in such a Being, we understand terribly little about Him.  We understand enough to be saved, but not even an eternity is enough to fathom all of God’s thoughts.  This prompted one Church Father to say that anyone who knew the least thing about God was a great theologian.

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Merlin, Igraine, and Viviane claim that Christians are foolish in denying the existence of other gods.  Indeed, in St. Justin Martyr’s opinion, these gods are really demons; in St. Augustine’s, they are nought.  But, these pagans remind me of the Ancient Israelites, who believed that other gods existed, but they were nothing compared to the God of Israel.  It is not until later in the Psalms that we see the assertion that no god exists besides God.  This suggests an evolution in thought: God is not limited, but ever-present and all powerful.

67184_maxAnd so, why not wipe out the pagan gods who are either demons or nothing at all?  Viviane makes the further accusation that Christians only want to spread their wisdom and to suppress all other kinds.  If this were the case, why has so much pagan mythology and literature survived?  Who do you think preserved it?  Monasteries and Christian schools!  Christians have always recognized wisdom where they saw it.  God ever worked for the salvation of all men, so one should not be surprised at finding wisdom in other cultures!

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Christianity does not wish to wipe out wisdom, but only the worship of pagan gods, which must surely be accounted utter foolishness since they do not exist.  At one time, it might have been virtuous for pagans to worship gods, especially if they accounted them good, just, and holy–as Cicero and Socrates did.  But, Christ has come to remove the veil of ignorance, teaching about salvation through one Infinite God.  But, what a widening of the mind early pagan converts must have had to change their idea of God from a creature-like form to a formless and limitless Creator!

The Pride of Despair and Humility of Hope in Claymore

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

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

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

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

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Forgetting One’s Sins

Dear Readers, the idea for this article came from my reminiscences about my Alma Mater, Hillsdale College.  I feel that I was too shy to take proper advantage of the great minds and personalities which surrounded me there.  Among my reminisces, one professor stands out: Dr. Reist.  He was a hoot.  A professor not easily forgotten.  I’ll never forget the first time he walked into my classroom:

He says: “My wife broke her leg.”  The students collectively gasp.  Then, Dr. Reist says: “I told her having sex standing up was dangerous.”

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That’s a masterful way to break the ice!  One day, when he noticed people were not participating or had not done the readings, he told us that we weren’t free.  Which is an interesting way to put it!  And sealing one’s lips as one looks down at an unfamiliar text hoping that the professor won’t call on one may be compared to slavery.  After all, how much more preferable is it to be able to gaze steadily upon the teacher confident in being able to provide an answer to any question and being free to participate or not as you list?

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This professor, a fellow New Jerseyan, had once been Catholic but converted to a variety of Protestantism–even became a minister.  I suspect the reason for his conversion lay in that he felt Catholicism’s emphasis on faith and works placed too much emphasis on personal merit than on God’s election.  (But, even our merits are God’s gifts to us.  The idea of cooperation between grace and free will tends to overcomplicate matters from most Protestant perspectives.)  However, he seemed grateful for many of the lessons he learned as a Catholic.  For example, he once told us: “Do you know that it’s a sin to forget your sins?”

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And it certainly is: the sin of pride.  In our unending process of repentance, we ought always remember where we have been and all the patience God has shown us and continues to show us despite our iniquity and lack of amendment.  Even if we claim that we have progressed far from where we once were, that does not cancel out the fact that we did not deserve to be extricated from our wicked ways of living–that it was pure Mercy which brought us out of each vicious circle.  Even after confession where our guilt is washed away, can we ever stop mourning for the wounds we have placed on Christ’s body or forget that we still deserve temporal punishment and have deserved everlasting flames?

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So, whenever a non-believer claims that Christians have a nonchalant attitude toward sins because God is so ready to forgive, you can tell him that this is the attitude of the proud or the ignorant.  An educated Christian knows that he ought never stop pouring tears into his pillow or cease remembering the wounds of Christ until Christ himself has wiped away every tear  and welcomes us into Our Father’s house.

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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St. Leo the Great’s Sermons

A while ago, I took out a copy of St. Leo the Great’s sermons from the library, and found them a real treat to read.  Unfortunately, my studies prevented me from finishing my patron’s works, but I have read enough to gain a feel for his style.  St. Leo may be described as having a wonderful imagination and a virile and a confident Christianity.  Though employing a very traditional spirituality, St. Leo’s emphasis on mercy and gentleness make him very accessible to a modern reader.

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He especially focuses on the fundamental religious acts of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.  Of these, he emphasizes almsgiving the most with fasting taking second place.  This may partially be due to the terrible plight of the poor at Rome, but St. Leo makes the excellent point that fasting without charity may be a form of greed: one abstains from indulging in food so that he may indulge himself elsewhere with the money he might have spent on these meals.  Fasting cleanses our soul by enervating the power vices have over us, particularly gluttony and lust; yet, it ought to be further cleansed of greed, envy, and pride by almsgiving.  (This is how I see these two actions destroying the vices.  If anyone can tell me how fasting and almsgiving also destroy anger and sloth, I should be happy to hear it.  But, overcoming these seem to require prayer and hard work–ora et labora.)

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St. Leo often reminds us that we are constantly at war with our foes, the devil, the flesh, and the world.  Our battle with the evil one is portrayed with wonderful drama, especially in one of his Christmas sermons.  Toward the end of this particular sermon, the beauty of God taking human flesh and defeating the devil in the very nature which the devil had defeated in the Garden is more vividly and thrillingly portrayed than anywhere else I have seen.  C. S. Lewis once commented that Christianity makes for a poor story compared to the pagan myths, but, in St. Leo’s hands, Jesus Christ stands head and shoulders above all the pagan heroes, and his glory and valor render paltry even the most interesting tales of the pagan mythology.

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So, I highly recommend St. Leo to you all if you want some solid advice on the spiritual life or a truly exciting vision of Christianity.

Samurai X and St. Bonaventure

This is interesting.  I got the option to combine Anime and Philosophy on a paper a while back.  Despite a certain stuffiness of style inherent in all such work, some of my dear readers might appreciate it.  Especially how it remarks on the Christian themes found in Samurai X: Trust and Betrayal.  You might want to read St. Bonaventure’s Journey of the Mind to God before reading it, and I congratulate beforehand anyone with the stamina to go through it all.  : ) Let me just remark that much of St. Bonaventure’s work relies on the idea of steps leading the mind up to God as symbolized by a six-winged Seraph bearing a crucifix.  Each of the wings is a different step with the Cross, or the Mercy-Seat, being the highest step.

Here’s to a long academic article with pictures!

Turning one’s countenance to the Mercy-Seat: A Bonaventurian Reading of Samurai X: Trust and Betrayal

This essay will concern the Bonaventurian theme of the importance of the Mercy-Seat between the two Cherubim and meditation on the Passion and Death of Christ in healing the wounds in our nature as found in the movie Samurai X: Trust and Betrayal. Set in the last days of the Tokugawa Shogunate just before the onset of the Meiji Era (circa 1864), the film begins by presenting the problem of evil and questioning how to cure it. The two divergent paths offered by the characters for curing the ills afflicting society are justice and mercy. Overall, the film offers mercy and forgiveness as the best ways to overcome the wounds caused by evil. Specifically, it points to the reconciliation brought about by Our Lord’s sacrifice on the cross as the best and only way in which this is effected. The main problem with justice is that it relies on human beings who have flawed notions about how to distribute justice. Ofttimes, murder passes for justice in certain cases, particularly in our hero’s mode of being an assassin. Instead, mercy is more effective and more divine, the last attribute being made most apparent by the film beginning with a cross and ending with a cross.

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The very first words of the film, spoken by Kenshin’s master shortly before they meet, are “They are sick, the times and men’s hearts.” He goes on to lament that not even a man of colossal power could fix it, which I believe begins to point to the fact that only God can bring salvation. While Bonaventure does not delve much into the fallen state of the world, he does note the personal sins and vice affecting men’s souls and how it is necessary to polish them in order to enter contemplation: “Wherefore, it is through groans of prayer through Christ Crucified, in whose blood we are cleansed from the filth of the vices, that I first of all invite the reader.”1 The film powerfully shows the corruption afflicting mankind at the same time as Kenshin’s master laments it. Bandits slaughter the caravan in which Kenshin travels during this monologue, and Kenshin’s master only arrives in time enough to save Kenshin himself.

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The wounds on the people seem to reflect the wounded nature of men’s souls and the ugliness of the wounds clash with the beauty and goodness with which nature was created. To highlight this, this animation contains many views of beautiful scenery, which the characters often praise and which are sometimes juxtaposed to the murders which happen against this background. For example, when Kenshin joins the revolution as an assassin, he cuts down his first mark amidst a beautiful forest on a sunny day. This seems to deliberately attempt to show that men’s sinfulness goes against the goodness of creation. To highlight the discordant nature of the act, this scene is accompanied by some rather mellow music. (This is the case in the original soundtrack: the American release often dubs in music which are more in accord with the darkness of the action than the nature of the scene.) This ties into Bonaventure’s theory on the musical nature of the universe—drawn from St. Augustine’s work, which is found in chapter two of Journey of the Mind to God. God creates the world as a beautiful symphony, and men are supposed to align themselves within this symphony.

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In the case mentioned above, to a comrade’s praise for for not cracking during his first kill. Kenshin responds by saying that he does not feel anything. Rather than allowing the beauty of nature around him to understand the ugliness of his action, he hardens his heart against this inclination, which shows how contemplation does not suffice for bringing people to conversion.

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To return to Kenshin meeting his future master of swordsmanship, the wandering master leaves Kenshin to find a family to adopt him—a rather callous thing to do to a young boy. Yet, the master returns one week later to this same area in order to bury the bodies of the slain to find a field of crosses at that place. Kenshin decided on his own to bury all the slain, peasants and bandits, without exception. Not only did he owe nothing to the bandits, but he was actually a slave to those in the caravan. The sword master is so impressed by this act that he decides to adopt him as his pupil. This scene is the first time we see the cross, the Mercy-Seat, and it is accompanied by an act of mercy. This kind of mercy and forgiveness can heal whatever rancor Kenshin felt against both parties. His master will often remark on how pure Kenshin is during their years training.

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Unfortunately, Kenshin forgets the superiority of mercy and walks down the road of justice—or, more properly speaking, human justice (jinchuu in Japanese). At this point, Kenshin is a capable swordsman of about fourteen. (Very young, but it must be remembered that in American colonial times fifteen was the age one entered the militia.) In a scene reminiscent of the story of the prodigal son, he urges his master to let him participate in the conflict against the oppressive Tokugawa Shogunate. His master tries to dissuade him, noting that he shall become a pawn for one of the factions in this battle and that they shall use him for murder. Kenshin still insists upon how joining such a faction would help the suffering, and so his master lets him go.

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It is interesting to note that this training took place on a mountain top, and that Bonaventure’s contemplation of St. Francis’s vision of the six-winged Seraph took place on a mountain, and he often refers to mountains as a place for contemplation: “the mountain height where the God of gods is seen in Zion.2 Kenshin goes wrong when he decides to leave from the mountain, and it is not until later, when he has stained his hands with the blood of so many of his political opponents, that he again ascends a mountain and arrives at a level of peace in his soul and the realization that he had been doing wrong. Both the film and Bonaventure place a high regard on contemplation and removing oneself from the press of daily life. But, the methods of contemplation employed by Kenshin never goes beyond the second wing of the Seraph, which points to its insufficiency in completely healing his soul as I shall speak of later. Rather, he must perceive his wounded nature and bring it to the cross.

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After a while at this work, Kenshin runs into a target with a couple of body guards during the midst of night. The last one of them alive, a young bodyguard who is betrothed to a girl in his hometown of Otsu, wounds Kenshin on the cheek before succumbing to Kenshin’s prowess. Two remarks from the film are notable concerning this wound, both of which are delivered by the person in charged of cleaning up the scene of the crime. In the first, he remarks that he had never thought to see a wound on him. This wound symbolizes the interior wounds he has and will lead him out of the self-assurance he has that he kills justly. This is not the kind of attitude one must bring to meditating on God’s goodness, which must be sought by “the humble and pious, the contrite and devout.”3 Kenshin severely lacks any of these qualities in his current state, two years into Lord Katsura’s service.

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The first motion we have of Kenshin’s interior change comes when his associate says his second remark. When Kenshin’s wound randomly reopens, he tells him that superstitious people would say that the spirit of the bodyguard is seeking revenge. Kenshin’s eyes widen, and for the first time we see that he is capable of fear—fear that he might have done something worthy of punishment. This salutary fear may be compared to fear of God, which is the beginning of wisdom. If the seven chapters of Bonaventure relate to the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the first of which being the fear or awe of God, then Kenshin has finally reached the first step in the ladder of divine ascent.

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He reaches the second when he meets the heroine, Tomoe, for the first time. They meet right as Kenshin kills an assassin who had been sent after him, causing blood to fall on her apparel. In a state of intoxication, she tells him that he made the rain bleed. This seem to be an reference to how the fall caused nature itself to be corrupted, and Kenshin, by sinning in Adam, has further added to the fallen nature of the world. At any rate, Tomoe passes out and Kenshin charitably decides to bring her to the inn where he states, where she soon finds work and they develop a rather stiff relationship—Kenshin is not the most approachable individual.

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After his faction loses power in Kyoto and all the member must go into hiding, Kenshin and Tomoe are asked by Lord Katsura to escape the city and reside far in the country pretending to be husband and wife. Tomoe, who had left her family in Otsu, agrees. Through living in the country upon his mountain home and performing an honest living, Kenshin gradually begins to hate the life he had led, and promises to quit the life of an assassin. At the same time, the pseudo-couple falls completely in love. While love is not expressly named as a step of contemplation, it is surely the fastest way to having a fuller understanding of God, who is Love and who’s very Love led him to die for us on a cross.

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At this point, the stage is set for the Passion. Purification cannot be complete without contrition and meditating on the Passion. One morning, Kenshin awakes to find that Tomoe has left and his comrade waiting for him at the door of their cottage. This comrade had actually turned traitor ere this point and is now working for the Shogun. He tells Kenshin that Tomoe was the fiance of the bodyguard who wounded Kenshin. Upon learning this, Kenshin’s wound opens up again—as if to say that no amount of spiritual healing is complete without the blood of Christ. And so, he sets off to find her.

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At the same time, Tomoe, who has long since forgiven Kenshin’s crime, reports to the Shogunate soldier who is responsible for Kenshin’s dispatching that Kenshin is still as formidable as ever. (They had been hoping that his skill would worsen during this time with his lack of practice and the softening of his heart.) This particular soldier refuses to believe her, and Tomoe fails in her attempt to kill him with a dagger she carries about her person.

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In a scene reminiscent of the Agony in the Garden, the Shogunate official reminds her of the justice owed her fiance and how the strict order imposed by the Shogunate, which restrains man from acting on their baser self, needs to be preserved through killing its opponents. And so, we see how the other side of the political spectrum also resorts to a flawed idea of justice. He eventually leaves her in the Shinto shrine where they had met, where she is tormented by visions of her former fiance, which seem to demand justice.

At the same time, Kenshin undergoes his own suffering as he feels betrayed by Tomoe and seems to relive the past on his march to where the Shogunate official has set his trap. This march is reminiscent of the Agony in the Garden due to his mental anguish. Also, at the end of it, he shouts, “Let’s go to Otsu!” This indicates that he does not wish to avenge himself on Tomoe, but to be reconciled not only with her but even perhaps with her family. So, we have the beginnings of the triumph of mercy over justice. This symbolizes the mercy which heals men’s souls.

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After taking wounds defeating the henchmen who ambush Kenshin on the way, he finally meets the powerful Shogunate soldier in a duel and almost loses. He puts all his strength into one final, blind, and futile strike. What saves him from certain death is that Tomoe rushed in front of the dagger heading toward Kenshin to block it and is unfortunately cut down by Kenshin simultaneously with the Shogunate soldier. We are left with two more images of the passion as Tomoe lies in Kenshin’s arms in a way recalling the Pieta and Tomoe, as her final act, makes a cross on Kenshin’s cheek by cutting perpendicularly to the cut made by her fiance. At the end of the film, Kenshin vows to live a life repenting for his misdeeds.

In conclusion, the film seems to showcase Bonaventurian ideas pertaining to the necessity of penance and meditation on the Passion before the soul stained by sin can meditate on the natural world and arrive at a true understanding at the nature of things. While justice is important in ruling individual lives, preference is given to mercy in restoring the order of creation, which had been damaged by sin. Thus, the Mercy-Seat holds the prime place in both the philosophy of St. Bonaventure and the creator of Samurai X.

1St. Bonaventure. Journey of the Mind to God, (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1993), 2.

2Ibid., 8.

3Ibid., 2.

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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Suffering and Christmas

Well, this blog has been full of the Christmas spirit, hasn’t it?  To tell you the truth, I think that sweetpea616 succeeded more in immersing herself in the Christmas spirit than I did–and she’s pagan!  At any rate, I think that it will be worthwhile to write about how suffering relates to the holiday of Christmas.

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I can already hear someone asking: “How can suffering possibly relate to such a joyous holiday?  What a morbid, moribund, and melancholy person!”  (And I can tell that this speaker does not know me personally.)  But do not forget that the colors green and red symbolize the Christmas holiday.  Green obviously symbolizes rebirth and renewal–and how did Christ accomplish our rebirth?  By pouring out His red blood on the Cross.  Verily, He was born in order to die.  We Christians celebrate the Invincible Love of God in sending His only Son so that Jesus Christ would redeem us through a painful death upon a cross and give us new life by His Resurrection.  In the same way, Christians are baptized into the Passion of Christ and reborn into His Resurrection.  Since “the disciple is not above his master” (Lk 6:40), we must suffer many things and courageously bear the cross God gives us so that we may be steadily transformed into the image of Christ until we reach that perfection which God has destined for us in Paradise.

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The Church calendar seems to reinforce the idea of suffering even in the midst of this joyful time of year: the day after Christmas we celebrate the martyrdom of St. Stephan, the feast of the Holy Innocents today, and tomorrow recalls the murder of St. Thomas à Becket.  Only St. John the Evangelist seems not to fit in until we remind ourselves that he suffered a white martyrdom.  How could it be otherwise?  In support of this idea, we have all the suffering John endured in spreading the Gospel and his gospel itself, which enters more fully into the divinity of Christ than any other gospel.  John’s gospel evidences his suffering because no one can understand God so fully without meditating on and participating in Christ’s sufferings daily.  How much grief must have filled St. John’s soul in recalling those three interminable hours at the foot of the Savior’s cruel cross?  To always have before his eyes the visible memory of Christ’s wounds and the sorrowful last words of Christ ringing in his ears?  And on the thirtieth, we celebrate the feast of the Holy Family: after Christ’s whose sorrows are meditated on more frequently or were more severe than St. Mary’s and St. Joseph’s?  These two saints have more glory in heaven than all the rest because they both played a larger role in Salvation History and suffered more greatly than all the other saints combined.

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So, suffering, doubts, anxiety, grief, and pain do not seem out of place this time of year.  In my case, I lack a certain talent to suffer–if I may call it so.  Suffering has the propensity to make us focus inward, to disregard the people around us, and overly seek consolations for oneself–anything to cause us to forget or diminish our pain or angst.  But, the talent or skill which one should strive to attain is to ignore our miserable condition and manifest joy to the world–especially around Christmas.

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The most memorable scene from Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, the meeting of Jesus and His Mother on the Way of the Cross, demonstrates this attitude perfectly.  What does Our Lord say to His Mother?  After being insulted and beaten constantly, being mocked, unjustly condemned, scourged, crowned with thorns, and even to this point being shown every form of contempt and disdain?  “Behold, I make all things new.”  This carries the idea that Christ’s attention was focused mainly or even purely on the good his sacrifice would do humanity rather than all the evils humanity was pouring on him–even though these sins pierced His Heart like the crown of thorns did His Brow.  Rather than indicate any pain, He joyfully boasts of the salvation He brings to the human race.  For, not even an ocean of sin can extinguish the Love of God.

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Remember what the red and green symbolize when you look next time at a Christmas wreath.  There is joy because Our Savior has come to restore the human race; on the other hand, He restores it through His Sorrowful Passion.  Neither pain or sorrow is out of place in this holiday nor ought one to forget the Passion of Our Lord in this or any season.  So, one must rejoice in spite of suffering, since Christ has come to save poor sinners–us–and these very sufferings, especially when we strive to suffer with love, bring us closer to Christ.  This quote from G. K. Chesterton seems appropriate here: “He is a sane man who can have tragedy in his heart and comedy in his head.”

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Kiba and Cheza’s Love as Symbolic of Jesus and Mary’s

While watching Wolf’s Rain this time, the utter delight Kiba and Cheza had in each other’s company struck me.  Those of my dear readers familiar with Wolf’s Rain know that this show is essentially a Christian allegory.  Though, I must confess to being so obtuse that I actually missed on this obvious connection the first time; but, this only proves how well it works as an allegory: the symbolism works such that it falls short of being blatant, which marks a perfect allegory.

Of course, one of this pair of characters might be conceived of as the Church rather than Mary, as the love of Our Lord for the Church is unfathomable; but, traditionally, many places in Scripture which some say refers to the Church, others say refer to Mary–the Song of Songs being a perfect example.  This is due to Mary being the most perfect disciple of Our Lord.  (Feminists please note that this honor was not given to a man, nor the honor of being the most powerful intercessor among the saints, nor did any other saint have as important a role in the history of salvation, nor is anyone else’s heart so like the Sacred Heart.)

I wrote “one of this pair” above because I hesitate to name either Kiba or Cheza as definitely Jesus or Mary.  If we were to assign them by gender, Kiba would symbolize Jesus and Cheza Mary; yet, Cheza has healing powers, is the one being sought by the pack, and is depicted as if crucified.  On the other hand, Kiba needs to save Cheza, is gravely wounded especially toward the end, and is the obvious leader of the pack–despite his unwillingness to be recognized in that role.  But this similarity brings out a fine point: the better a believer becomes, the closer he approximates Our Lord.  We have the examples of those people who seem so sweet and filled with goodness that we never wish to leave them.  Some people approach Christ-likeness so perfectly that they become an image of Him, as in the Orthodox idea that icons of Christ point to the Father as icons of the saints point to Christ.  Once when someone saw Padre Pio at prayer, he believed he saw Jesus Christ praying.

Also, I remember Louis de Montfort’s claim that it is easier to separate Our Lord from all created beings and things than to separate Him from Mary.  This is similar to Kiba and Cheza’s love.  When Cheza is present, Kiba is always at her side.  When she is absent, she’s all Kiba thinks about.  When Cheza thinks about the pack or feels that the wolves are near, Kiba is the first name that comes to her mind.  At the end of the series, when everyone else has perished, Kiba and Cheza hold each other in a firm embrace.

But that last scene reminds me of a symbol of how Christ is united to his Church, which I cannot pass without remarking: the blood pouring from Kiba and Cheza’s wounds changes into water as it flows out into the sea.  At Mass, a little water is mingled with the wine before consecration.  The water symbolizes the Church, and the mingling with the wine means that Christ is always united with His Church.  And this perpetual union I wish for you all.

Seeing this show again also makes me wonder whether it would have been better to have ended the show at episode 26 rather than creating another four episodes.  After all, the person symbolizing the devil has been destroyed and good victorious.  Even though one may say that the show doesn’t seem complete since the wolves haven’t found paradise, do we not experience the same thing in our lives?  Christ has conquered sin and death, but we still struggle with living virtuously, and, though we possess the Kingdom (“The Kingdom of God is within you” Luke 17:21), we do not yet enjoy the Beatific Vision.

So, what do you think?  Would it have been better to have ended Wolf’s Rain at episode 26 or does the addition of four more episodes make for a superior ending?

Sharing the Faith and the Sacred Heart

Well, dear readers, a certain level of ignorance has been lifted from my mind this day.  You see, my spiritual life has been not only stagnant but even painful for the past while.  In my incredible ignorance, I could not perceive how I strayed from the right path; but, God has mercifully waited upon my understanding, which may be likened to an abyss of ignorance, to be opened.  Perhaps the greatness of our ignorance and misery move God to show more mercy than the human mind can conceive.  Here’s a little story given by a deacon in a homily which adequately illustrates my fault.

God gave a certain mystic a vision of heaven and hell.  God led the mystic to two doors.  Upon opening the first, he saw a round table which held a pot of stew whose aroma caused the mystic’s mouth to water.  Seated around the table were a bunch of miserable individuals having very long spoons strapped to their forearms.  While these spoons were capable of reaching the pot, they could in no wise bring the stew to their lips.  And so, they sat around the table starved and miserable.  God informed the mystic that this was hell.  Then, God brought the mystic into a second room, in which there was the same table and pot of stew.  Only, everyone was happy and well-fed and yet they all bore spoons in the same way that those in the first.  The mystic began to wonder how these people were so well-fed.  Upon asking God, God informed him that all the souls in heaven fed each other, a concept beyond those in hell.

This allegory is particularly apt for the point I wish to make.  What may the stew be likened to except God?  The greatest torment of hell is eternal separation from God, who is Love itself.  The damned lost God because they were unable to love their fellow men.  Is not every good work a kind of sharing of God’s love?  This makes it abundantly clear to me that the Christian must share the knowledge and love of God with his fellow men.  God wishes the Kingdom of God to grow and encompass the whole world, like the mustard seed which “grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches” (Luke 13:19).

One must be careful that one does not attempt to shrink the Kingdom of God by either providing a bad example or not speaking of it.  By acting in this way, a Christian seems to reduce the Kingdom of God, which is supposed to be a mustard tree, to a sad, twisted bonsai tree, which cannot grow because every effort of its roots to expand is cut off.

And this was my error: not sharing the faith enough.  I did not realize this until during a drive with my younger sister.  I tried to describe how important living a Christian life focused on serving God is, clearing up certain misconceptions, speaking about the mystery of the Cross in our lives, and explaining certain sayings of Padre Pio.  After which I felt much better.  At which point, it hit me that I had not been doing enough to serve God.  That I had been keeping whatever I had learned about God, all my riches, to myself rather than offering these riches to others.  In other words, I acted as the servant who buried the talent, and various sufferings quite rightly fell to my lot.  One must try to remember that God is always giving, and one of the ways to fulfill the command to “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48) is by giving of oneself–whether it be talent, time, or treasure.

St. Martin of Tours seeing Our Lord clothed in the part of the cloak which St. Martin had given a beggar earlier that day.

And so, I would like to share with you some thoughts about Our Lord’s sufferings, especially as he suffered in his Sacred Heart.  First, consider the immense love of God–a being who has perfect happiness and is free from all suffering–in taking on a human body in which He could suffer, and that these pains were rendered even more acute by the tenderness of His love.  Even now that His Passion has ended, He still suffers in His Sacred Heart over the loss of poor sinners–as he revealed to St. Faustina, in whose heart He would try to find relief from the mortal anguish caused by the loss of souls.

Imagine what this most perfectly tender heart suffered during the time before the Crucifixion.  The crowds constantly misunderstood His message.  How painful this must have especially been after the feeding of the five thousand.  He reveals His flesh to be true food and His blood true drink, but people only want some bread loaves.  He expresses His desire to give His very self to them for their sake, to be their best and greatest Friend, and they only want to use Him for meals.

Not only did this suffering extend to being misunderstood by the crowds, but He was often misunderstood by His Apostles.  How truly alone He must have felt to not have one friend to whom He could relate.  Remember a time when you found yourself in a crowd of people with whom you had nothing in common, and you will have only scratched the surface of the alienation felt in this Heart which is more tender than a mother’s.

I’ll try to think of more ways to meditate on the Love of God in the future, but may this provide good material for contemplating the Sacred Heart for you.

Learned Something about Modern Atheism

Well, dear readers, here’s my first crisis: I have a mere 42 minutes to keep my promise to post everyday.  Fridays are the busiest days for me, so I have been effectively kept from writing until now.

In class today, I felt like I had my eyes opened at little concerning the roots of modern atheism.  The attitudes of modern atheists seem to have their philosophical roots in Feuerbach and Sartre.  Feuerbach was the son of a Lutheran minister who turned athiest.  (My professor joked that the reason Catholic priests don’t marry is because minister’s sons always–at least the famous ones–become atheist.)  He adopted Hegel’s theories of alienation into his own, but he added the nuance that man was most alienated by the religious ideas which he holds–which Feuerbach also posits are the result of human beings’ own thoughts.  For Feuerbach, religion limits man’s ability to be a free agent by the idea that things occur according to God’s will, which inclines man to use his freedom less in imposing his will on the outside world.  Instead of praying, man should roll up his sleeves and work.  Interestingly, this line of thought was also pivotal in changing attitudes of modern religious people: even though things still happen according to God’s will and prayer is of great necessity in the believer’s life, one ought to be more active in doing good works and trying to help people.

Sartre felt that the existence of God would prevent man from having freedom.  In order to be free, God must not exist.  You see, he had this idea that things were either “pour-soi” or “en-soi.”  (French phrases meaning “for itself” and “in itself” respectively)  Human beings, considered in themselves, are pour-soi or ends in themselves; though, people have a nasty habit of turning people into en-soi or objects.  (Think of Kant’s differentiation between viewing people as ends or means.)  If God exists, people become en-soi in regard to God: “just another object in God’s field of vision.” (courtesy of Father Robert Leavitt’s instructive summation of these philosophies)

While Feuerbach was right in pointing out that believers of his day were too passive, he is wrong in believing God to be of human invention.  God excels everything a human being can imagine, which one especially sees in God’s superabundant mercy.  Human beings always want justice to be done–except when they are the debtors, anyway.  I remember speaking to a lapsed Catholic about how God was so merciful that he would forgive a mass murderer or Hitler merely for that person experiencing true contrition on the point of death.  Of course, such sins would require a great deal of time in purgatory before such a soul was ready for heaven.  He did not like this idea of mercy at all.  In his mind, even if that person truly repented then, it would be to late for that person to ever enter paradise, even if he stayed in purgatory until the end of the world.  He said that he might see God forgiving such a person after they spent many years performing penance.  So, God’s mercy surpasses what finite man can imagine–at least, a finite man thinking reasonably.

In answer to Sartre’s problem about whether human beings can be free if there’s a God, I’m reminded of John 16:11: “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.”  Following our own will leads either to unhappiness or a false kind of happiness.  People will be stuck in a cycle of sin, which is slavery.  It needs God’s grace to be freed from this cycle and to possess virtue, without which no one can be said to be happy.  God gives us the greatest degree of freedom by uniting us to the freedom He has in Himself.

(Posted at midnight exactly!  I’d say that it counts as Nov. 2)

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!

Advice on Prayer: Necessary for Salvation

As I mentioned in the introduction, thoughts about why people fall away from the faith led me to write this series of articles.  I arrived at the answer that all people are justified and preserved in faith through the action of God’s grace.  So, anyone’s perseverance in faith may be attributed to God’s grace and providence acting on the human intellect and will with such precision as to prevent that person from either losing faith or otherwise dying in a state of mortal sin.  So, all the elect owe their salvation to God’s mercy.

But, the thought still comes to me that there must be something we can do to contribute to God’s efforts: “…work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phillipians 2:12-13).  He did give us free will after all, and it is certain that no one is saved against one’s will.  However, we do require His grace to will anything good.  Each sin is a refusal to act according to the grace given to us.  But if all good thoughts, good words, and good deeds both originate in God and are carried to completion through His grace, it seems that a human being can do nothing to advance his salvation.

But, if that were the case, then God would also be the cause of the damnation of the reprobate rather than this occurring through their own sins, which–with due deference to any Calvinists who may be perusing this–is the blackest heresy.  So, I shall say along with St. Alphonsus de Liguori: “Whoever prays is certainly saved. He who does not is certainly damned. All the blessed (except infants) have been saved by prayer. All the damned have been lost through not praying. If they had prayed they would not have been lost. And this is, and will be their greatest torment in hell: to think how easily they might have been saved, just by asking God for His grace, but that now it is too late – their time of prayer is gone.” (From The Great Means of Salvation)  Even if virtue, faith, or perseverance is not present in us, God always gives us the grace to pray for these things.  And from employing this one grace, which he does not deny to any, the grace to persevere in faith or virtue will be obtained.  Remember that the unassisted human will or intellect will fall without God’s aid.  So, all serious falls may be attributed to people trusting too much in themselves or being too proud to beg.  (The Latin verb for to pray, orare, also means beg.)  Remember Martin Luther’s last words: “We are beggars.  This is true.”  And especially in our reliance on God, nothing is more true.  Nor should we despair of gaining the object of our prayers, especially if we pray “(1) for [ourselves]; (2) things necessary for salvation; (3) piously; and (4) with perseverance.”  (From St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica Second Part of the Second Part, Question 83, Article 15)  Did not Christ say: “And of which of you that is a father shall his son ask a loaf, and he give him a stone? or a fish, and he for a fish give him a serpent?  Or if he shall ask an egg, will he give him a scorpion?  If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?” (Luke 11:11-13)

Perhaps this seems too simplistic to some of you.  Perhaps many of your prayers have gone unanswered.  But remember the four conditions above: you must be praying for yourself, things necessary for salvation, piously, and with perseverance.  Sometimes, God does not answer prayers because they do not further our salvation, we demand rather than beg, we want things done in our own way, or we do not ask with perseverance.  The latter three are perhaps the most common reasons why certain former Christians, even though they were praying for faith, were unable to retain their faith.  So, I advise those of you who find themselves of this category to resume praying for faith so that God may grant it to you.

“But,” you may say, “how can I even pray without faith?”  Remember the story of the father whose son Jesus cured of an unclean spirit in Mark chapter 9?  The father said: ‘”But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”  And Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.”  Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”’ (Mark 9:22-24)  Jesus was able to heal his son with a word.  I wish to contrast this with the passage in Mark where Jesus is rejected at Nazareth.  The end result: “And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them.  And he marveled because of their unbelief” (Mark 6:5-6).  So, it does not seem that unbelief, as merely a state of not being sure, can prevent the action of God’s grace.  Rather, only the willful refusal to believe hinders the action of God’s grace.  That’s why Jesus was able to help the father, even though he was in a state of doubt, while he was unable to help his neighbors in Nazareth.

And, when one considers human misery–how utterly ignorant we are of some things and how powerless we are to do certain things which we would like or prevent those misfortunes which we would wish, why should the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, who did not spare himself for the sake of poor sinners, not have compassion on people who would like to believe, even though they find it impossible at the moment?  There was one section of St. Faustina’s Diary, Divine Mercy in My Soul, where Jesus temporarily removes some graces from her soul, and she wrote that she felt extreme difficulty believing even some of the most basic precepts of the faith until He again restored these graces.  This increased her fervor to pray and to make sacrifices for poor sinners.  But, if such a great soul as St. Faustina’s almost fell into disbelief, how much more do we require them?  Pray like this:

“Eternal Father, I offer You the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Your Dearly Beloved Son, Our Lord, Jesus Christ, in atonement for my sins and to receive the gift of faith.”

Even someone with great doubts may pray in this manner, and I doubt that anyone who seriously recited it everyday would fail to attain salvation.  But, if it is impossible for one either to pray this or to pray this seriously, one can always ask a friend or relative to pray for them.  Our Lady of Fatima says that too many souls perish for lacking someone to pray for them, implying that even this may be sufficient to effect a person’s salvation.

Yet, someone might still be scoffing at the idea of prayer’s necessity: “Surely, reason alone ought to be all that’s needful to convince someone of the truth or falsity of religion.  Whichever side has the stronger argument will naturally prevail.”  Of course, such a person believes that religious people are ignorant, stubborn, or arrogant.  The scientific worldview and modern philosophy has done enough to discredit belief in a Supreme Being.  But, is that the real reason behind certain people having religion and others being without it?  But then, one would expect that people with the same background, intelligence, education, and experience would have the same opinion on the matter.  However, the truth stands that: one intelligent man believes, a comparably intelligent man does not; one rich man believes, another does not; one poor man believes, another does not; one person with X personality type believes, another X type does not; one scientist believes, another does not; one fisherman believes, another does not; one man of integrity believes, another virtuous man does not; one person raised in a religious family cleaves to the faith, another falls away; one person raised as an atheist converts, while another does not; one person raised in a lukewarm household becomes fervent, another remains lukewarm; etc.  When one considers that none of these things by itself induces perseverance in faith or perseverance in disbelief, it becomes apparent that a person’s talents, background, good fortune, experience are almost immaterial.  Even if we found two characters extraordinarily similar in most respects, they might still diverge on the matter of faith.  God’s mercy and grace alone allows the Faithful to remain true and non-believers to convert.  The infallible means open to all persons of obtaining grace is prayer.

Now to deal shortly with how prayer prevents us from falling from grace or at least of regaining the grace of justification should we fall.  Let me here note that no influence can force the will to decide one way or another; however strongly a habit of vice or virtue inclines the intellect toward a certain set of actions.  Yet, once a habit of vice has been established, it is only God’s grace which can deliver anyone.  After the danger of dying while in a state of grave sin, the dangers of constantly giving in to such sins are lukewarmness, i.e. losing the desire to amend, or losing faith altogether, especially if one has struggled for a long time to overcome a particular sin.  They reason that, if God existed, God could surely prevent them from falling.  So, continued falling into grave sins and getting worse for them can only be attributed to God’s absence.  And so, their own sinfulness leads to them losing faith.  Truly, it is only by resisting the passions that we are set at peace and confirmed in our election.

One of the least lascivious images of St. Anthony the Great’s temptations.

One must see this conflict between virtue and vice as a battle with our foes, the demons, who constantly try to lure us away from Jesus Christ by love of the world or the flesh.  Often when we give in to base desires, instead of thinking of this as the battle it is, we think about the “benefits” or “advantages” which an evil act will bring us.  By looking at the immediate “gain” which the sin will bring, we put off all thoughts of the Just Judge from our minds.  For, who would sin thinking that they would surely go to hell in the next instant?  Even if this thought comes to our minds, we then say “Surely we’ll have time to repent” or “But I  just can’t resist” or “I don’t like the consequences of not sinning” or “This person has it coming to them.”  And then, we fall.  The good news I have for us is that only those who cease repenting, who cease continuing to fight, are lost.  For, Christ is infinitely merciful.

These vices may only be conquered through mortification, avoiding the occasions of sin, the sacraments, and prayer; full and frequent confession is particularly salutary since absolution makes us desirous to preserve our souls’ purity and Jesus adds special graces to the absolution for us to persevere in virtue.  But, how difficult is it to deny oneself after constantly giving in to oneself?  To avoid occasions of sin when we’ve been seeking them?  To pay not heed to all the phantoms and fears the devil throws at one in order to prevent one from confessing one’s sins?  And if we do not confess, how shall we eat the Bread of Life, the Life of Souls?  All the grace necessary for us to overcome this habit of vice is available in prayer.  Prayer produces true repentance in the soul and leads one to the confessional and then to the Holy Eucharist.  God, now dwelling in  the person’s soul, enables it to hate sin and persevere in good works.

The battle continues after this point, and our foes may strike at any time.  Virtue and Prayer are our chief methods of fending them off, but the former is not fully formed in the newly repentant, and even those who have long persevered in virtue may find themselves hard pressed.  Especially consider times when we seem to be in the throes of a temptation, and our minds are deluged with the “advantages” and “benefits” of sinning.  If we dally only with these evil thoughts, our will shall eventually give way.  To escape, we must turn to God in prayer, begging Him to deliver us from evil, thinking of the heavy punishment awaiting those who commit these crimes, and considering that every sin of ours increased the suffering of Our Lord during His Passion.  Often, people try turning to an earthly remedy when combating these passions, but God alone “is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold” (Psalm 18:2).  Any remedy outside of or without prayer is certain to fail.  St. Anthony the Great, whenever he had to suffer many temptations, would often pray the Psalter for days without sleep until his enemies broke down in tears and admitted defeat.  But, grace alone gives us this resolves and prayer is often the only means we have available to beseech God to pour sufficient grace into our hearts.

On the scroll, it says that St. Anthony saw the traps of the devil spread out on the ground. When he wondered how anyone could escape all these traps, he heard a voice say “Humility.”

But more will be said on how to pray in later articles.  Pray without ceasing!

Advice on Prayer: Introduction

Well, dear readers, I’d like to give a little introduction to the series of articles which will be posted here.  For a little while, my thoughts dwelt on why so many people either fall away from the Faith or become lukewarm.  In the modern world, things like fear of man (aka human respect), being brought up in a religiously ambivalent environment, and either having a poor religious education or being seduced by secular ideologies tend to be some of the most prominent culprits.  But, greatly influenced by St. Alphonsus de Liguori’s The Great Means of Salvation, the greatest error of those who have fallen away is that they did not persevere in prayer.  Of course, you might be better served by reading that wonderful work; but I must warn you that, besides encouraging the Faithful to pray, this book is a work of Counter Reformation apologetics, including many arguments against the Martin Luther’s and John Calvin’s theologies.  If you would be put off by all those arguments to which St. Alphonsus adds the backing of several Fathers of the Church, stick with my series of articles.  Despite being written from a Catholic perspective, they should prove useful to all Christians and even other Monotheists.  My articles wish to show:

1) The Necessity of Prayer

2) How Not to Pray

3) What to Pray

4) Troubleshooting, or How to Overcome Certain Obstacles in Prayer

Feel free to pick and choose from the advice I give.  For example, however much I should wish it, Protestants are not going to pray to saints.  (Though, might I encourage you to speak to your guardian angel sometimes?  God did provide them with the mission of watching over us, and they deserve some acknowledgement!)  Also, I might just plain be in error on some points, so listen to the advice of someone older and wiser if possible.

Devout persons, people who barely practice religion, those in a state of doubt, and those who would like to believe form my target audience.  For those who are happily atheists, agnostics, and apathiests, please do read the first article then consider whether you arrived at your respective conclusions rightly.  If yes, read no further.  If no, read on.  And comments about how I could improve my arguments will be greatly appreciated.  But, the main thrust of them will be that people are saved sola gratia, “by grace alone,” and that “Prayer is the key which opens the Heart of God” (Padre Pio).  I hope that you enjoy these articles!

Review of The Life and Revelations of St. Gertrude

The Life and Revelations of St. Gertrude is a compilation written by St. Gertrude and certain nuns in her abbey about her mystical experiences.  Most of them concern conversations with Jesus Christ, who greatly loved this soul.  (God loves all of us with an infinite love, but few possess enough purity to have conversations with Our Lord in this life!)  St. Gertrude (1256-1302) entered the Benedictine Abbey of Rodersdorf at the age of five years old!  That’s one way to ensure that one avoids the dangers of the world!  Her mystical experiences began when she turned twenty-six and continued until the end of her life.

What sets this set of revelations apart from other revelations given to mystics?  I have read some of The Showings of St. Julian of Norwich, St. Faustina’s Diary (which will be the subject of a later review), and excerpts from St. Bridget (or Birgitta) of Sweden’s revelations.  The difference has to lie in that Our Lord Jesus Christ appears most tender and compassionate in these revelations to St. Gertrude.  Indeed, the subheading for this book reads: “A Classic from the Middle Ages Revealing the Love and Mercy of Jesus toward Souls.”  Passages at the end of the work, even show Our Lord pressing it to His Sacred Heart so that it might be penetrated with His Divine Sweetness and that it profit whoever reads it devoutly.  In terms of bringing consolation to the reader, only the Bible supersedes this work.

Of course, some doubt might be expressed by some about the veracity of these revelations, but two things argue in their favor: 1) the perfect humility of both St. Gertrude and the other writers who compiled this work and 2) the fact that nothing in it conflicts with the teaching of the Church.  If these revelations were written for their own aggrandizement, their pride would be evident therein.  Instead, Christ often has to instruct them because they lack understanding, and they often acknowledge their own unworthiness.  Naturally, if these revelations resulted from the authors’ cleverness in crafting stories, we would find instances where they contradict the teaching of the Church.  Pride always leads to error.  For example, a woman in California claims that St. Joseph is the incarnation of the Holy Ghost and that she is the greatest thing to walk the earth since Jesus Christ.  How sad that she has a following!

One of the greatest lessons we learn from St. Gertrude is the height of our pride and the great need we have of humbling herself.  She does not express this directly for us.  Rather, when we read about one whom Jesus speaks to intimately and about whom Jesus tells others that–after the Blessed Sacrament–His favorite place to dwell on earth is in her heart declare that she is not worthy of these graces and that she is nothing but dust and ashes, how vile must we be!  Ah!  One can never be properly humble in this life!  Also, over what we would consider little acts of negligence or times when we must necessarily give in to human weakness, she heartily repents of and begs Christ’s pardon and grace so that she might not fall thus in the future.  How ashamed of ourselves should we be when we console ourselves on certain occasions by saying, “Well, it was only a venial sin.”  If we shall have to give an account for our negligence and every idle word, how deeply we should grieve over all sins–no matter how small!

This collection of revelations excels as a treasury of spiritual practices.  For example, Jesus Christ advises St. Gertrude for one week of Lent to pray the Our Father thirty-three times in honor of each year of His life and to offer the merits of His most holy life for the salvation of men and His glory.  It also provides a great devotional practice of saluting St. Mary by saying: “Hail, White Lily of the Blessed Trinity and Vermillion Rose of Heaven!”  (The lily symbolizes her immaculate soul which sin never tainted, and the rose symbolizes that she is the Queen of the Martyrs.)  St. Mary has promised to those who frequently greet her thus that they will see how she, the greatest intercessor among the saints, conquers through the Omnipotence of the Father, Wisdom of the Son, and Love of the Holy Spirit, which she approaches more closely than any other created being.  This post would never end if I listed all the devotional practices contained herein.

Another important aspect of the work is how it reveals how intimately concerned the Church in Heaven is with the one on earth and how important are our prayers and good works for the souls in purgatory.  It reveals how the saints aid those on earth, particularly by obtaining graces for the Church Militant through communions taken in honor of them on their feast days.  It also relates how certain saints are honored by God after death by their ability to gain particular graces for those who invoke them, such as St. James the Great being able to obtain conversions for those who visit his tomb.  God granted him this grace because of his zeal for souls and the fact that he died before seeing the conversion of people whom he instructed in the faith and for whom he prayed.  St. Gertrude devoted herself to praying for the souls in Purgatory and offering Masses for them.  So much so, that Christ would show her various souls to pray for, and they would be greatly helped by them.  So, if you ever wondered what the “communion of saints” looks like, this is an excellent work.

Are there any reasons why someone would decline to read this work?  Yes.  I will list a few of them here.  The vocabulary and grammar tend to be at a high level, and certain passages require taking some time to understand.  I lent this work to one person, who returned it to me for those reasons.  Also, having a smattering of Latin, particularly the kind of Latin you would run into at a Latin Mass, is helpful in reading this, because several short Latin phrases go untranslated.  Naturally, Protestants will not care for passages about purgatory or the saints, which might indeed make them suspicious about the content of the rest of the work.  But as long as one’s Protestantism is not too rigid (rigid as in believing the widespread practice of  true Christianity ended sometime before 325 A.D. and began again in the 16th century), a Protestant can still obtain benefit from these revelations.

Yet, the accounts showing the tenderness and greatness of God’s love stand as the foremost reason to read this work.  I might as well end this review with how Our Lord blessed the work: “I have placed this book thus upon My Heart, that every word therein may be penetrated with Divine sweetness, even as honey penetrates bread.  Therefore, whoever reads this book devoutly will receive great profit for his salvation.”