Guest Post from Kevin O’Brien on Don Quixote

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My friend Kevin O’Brien over at Waiting for Godot to Leave, has kindly given me permission to cross-post his excellent essay “Approaching what is Real: Don Quixote, God, and the Rest of Us.”  I have covered the here the differences between true and ephemeral chivalry before.  But it is extraordinarily important and I very much appreciate Kevin’s perspective.  Reality is our friend as much as it hurts us to admit it.

For they had bartered the reality of God for what is unreal, and had offered divine honors and religious service to created things, rather than to the Creator–He who is for ever blessed. Amen. (Rom. 1:25)

As we drive around the country performing murder mystery dinner theater shows, my actress Maria Romine and I listen to audio books.  We’ve lately been listening to Don Quixote, the unabridged version, read very well by George Guidall.

It’s a 40 hour long production, and we’re only about five hours into it.  But we’re listening to parts that I’ve never read (my printed version is abridged).

We’ve come to the “pastoral interlude” where Don Quixote and Sancho Panza are spending time with some shepherds.  We are beginning to learn that Don Quixote is not the only madman who’s a bit too idealistic for his own good.  While Don Quixote has been inspired to become a knight errant, a group of well-fed suburban yuppies have been inspired to become shepherds and live out a kind of pastoral romance while not at the shopping mall.

In this interlude, we hear Don Quixote wax eloquently on the “golden age”, a mythical era of chivalry that sounds as if it is set in the Garden of Eden before the Fall.  Then we hear one of the yuppies who’s living as a shepherd wax eloquently on his “lady”, the disdainful woman he’s pursuing, whose scorning of him leads literally to his death.  We also hear from the pursued lady herself, and while Don Quixote bravely rushes to her defense, her own idealism – a kind of haughty virginity, a sort of smug isolationism – is as strained as the rather contrived love of the yuppie shepherds who dote on her.  Their romance is not quite love and her celibacy is not quite purity.

And that’s the way we often are, even when we’re at our best.  The reason this novel is brilliant is that it examines the complexities of idealism and cynicism.  Don Quixote, the yuppies, their lady – all are really quite mad in a way, and yet all are following ideals – ideals that they can’t quite seem to make work in the real world.  (Kind of like all of us!)  And somehow everyone around them gets sucked in to the yarns they’re spinning – and yet this is not entirely a bad thing.

What does this have to do with the Faith?

I write a lot on about Unreality.  This is my word for our proclivity to live a lie, a comfortable and apparently controllable lie, rather than living the truth.  We know what it means to “get real” with someone; getting “unreal” is just the opposite.  Unreality is marked by things that are contrived, artificial, and somehow dishonest or untrue.  Examples are Oregon Catholic Press music at Mass, bad art and architecture in the churches, the extremely artificial and contrived weirdness of “Christian Courtship“, the false camaraderie of certain groups, cheesy literature and drama (such as Hallmark movies and certain self-consciously Christian films) – and also so much of what we see in the secular culture, especially our favorite fantasy that sex and gender are whatever we choose to make of them, our insane insistence that sex has no correspondence with nature or with reality – and our illusion that meaning has no correspondence with life, that meaning is imposed on life, not discovered in life, etc.

This is all dreadful stuff.  And in a way, Unreality is simply a word for sin.  Indeed, the Laws of Morality and Faith that God has revealed to us are simply the roadmap to Reality (and Heaven) and the Commandments are the “Do Not Enter” signs to prevent us from taking the road to Unreality (and Hell).

Adultery, for instance, is an example of an act that’s dripping with Unreality and that always, somehow, leaves a bit of Hell in its wake.  Love and sex between a man and a woman are designed in such a way that sacramental fidelity and self-sacrifice over the long haul bring untold contentment as well as new life.  Fidelity leads to Reality (and, in a way, to Heaven) because God has made Fidelity at the heart of what is Real.  Therefore cheating, though fun, will end up in shipwreck and misery (in other words, Hell) – for someone, at least, is bound to suffer the consequences of the Unreal – even if it’s the innocent children who are caught up in it all.  In other words, something like adultery is our way of denying the way things are actually made (Reality) and asserting our own fantasy against it (Unreality), and the pain we suffer (the Consequential) is simply the symptom that we’ve been doing things wrong, going the wrong way down a one-way street.  God’s “judgment” is simply the consequence of denying the Truth and Living a Lie.  Unreality is always, then, a form of sin; and sin is always an assertion of a kind of Unreality.

But, as the book Don Quixote shows us, we are made to spin yarns and to imagine great things that never were, like the golden age of chivalry.  If we were all “realists” or cynics, we would all be materialists and atheists, for it takes a kind of poetic vision to see the reality of God and of His Kingdom.  Our capacity for Unreality may be the misuse of our creative and imaginative function – but without that capacity, we would not be able to apprehend the image of God: not because God is Unreal (He is, on the contrary, the source of all that is most Real), but because our imaginative function is our spiritual “nose” as it were, our ability to sense that which is beyond the immediate.

Fiction is made to lead us to Fact.  But as fallen men, we often misuse our fictive function, for we’d rather become gods than serve one.

Indeed, we often misuse the three major gifts that God has given us that separate us from the beasts – Will, Reason and Imagination.  This trinity of gifts – Will, Reason and Imagination (by the term “Imagination” I mean to include what Tolkien calls “sub-creation”) – this trinity of gifts corresponds with the trinity of reality: the Good, the True and the Beautiful.  It is the business of our Will to conform what we do to what is Good; it is the business of our Reason to conform what we think and understand to what is True; and it is the business of our Imagination to conform what we dream and desire and make to what is Beautiful.  All three functions support each other, since the objects toward which they are designed are inextricably interconnected.  What is True is always Good, what is Good is always Beautiful, what is Beautiful is always an aspect of what is True, etc.  We are not ourselves designed to negate this design.  We are not made to use our Will to assert ourselves against the nature of morality, nor are we made to use our Reason to misunderstand the truth that surrounds us, nor are we made to use our imaginations to invent things to fulfill the desires of our hearts that are merely shortcuts or sops, things that give us passing pleasure but that are untrue, unreal.  God gives us these gifts – Free Will, Reason and Imagination – to be ordered to Him – for even though we may misuse them, without them we cannot truly serve Him.

So let me sum this up by speaking in a quixotic manner – and I think, perhaps, I am speaking for many of you.

Sometimes in pursuing my most ardent ideals, I find that I am merely tilting at windmills – or worse, I am hurting others by holding them to the impossible standards that I myself cherish, but that I myself fall shy of, too.  In addition, I waver between cynicism and idealism.  I am often tempted to see my steed as a broken down nag, my lady as the more or less compromised streetwalker that she is, my daily devotion to theater as the rather sordid performances in wineries for drunks and rednecks that these performances often are; or vice-versa, I see in my broken down nag the steed she really is; I see within the streetwalker a hidden lady of dignity and glory, and I see in my drunken audiences immortal souls being lifted up in laughter, being raised for a moment a slight bit closer to the One who made them.  And somehow all of this is true – the dreary reality on the surface and the stunning Reality behind and within it.

And so we pray

Dear God, may we always long for You as the hart longs for water (Ps. 42:1), seeing in You the source of the living water for which we truly thirst (John 4:10).  Do not let us fill ourselves with that which is unreal and which will not sustain us.  Show us our sins that we may repent of them and turn toward You.  Give us the grace “to turn from these unreal things, to worship the ever-living God” (Acts 14:15) – for thy Kingdom is always more real than the false and haughty man-made towers we build (Gen. 11:1-9).  Purify our Will to do what is Good, our Reason to see what is True, and our Imagination to desire what is Beautiful and holy.  And always remind us that the world we are tempted to love too much is also a bit less than fully real, that all of creation is but a “shadow of the things that are to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ” (Col. 2:17).

Rest in Peace, Brother Martin

I want to take a moment to ask for prayers for the repose of the soul of one of our earliest and most faithful tertiaries in the United States, Brother Martin, a.k.a.,  Alex DeMaio.  He has several cousins who are also Tertiaries.  Please remember his children and family in your prayers as well.

Brother Martin, was “old faithful.”  A quiet man, whose presence could be counted on, early every Third Order Sunday and every Day with Mary.  He was always cheerful and always kept the faith.  He was always an example of what was best about our third order.  He was as all franciscans ought to be: “a thoroughly Catholic and apostolic man.

I will miss the kindness and support he offered to me, personally, and I know others will as will.  He was a pillar of the Institute in Connecticut.

We need your prayers as well, Brother Martin!  Don’t forget us.

Roman Communiqué

This is just to let those who might be interested that I am still here.  I am studying for my licentiate in theology at the Angelicum and have taken a pretty heavy load.  I just don’t have time or mental energy to blog right now.

Please keep me in your prayers and I will pray for all of you.

Read Kevin O’Brien’s reflections on Don Quixote.  They are right up the Mary Victrix alley.

God bless.

The Spirit(s) of the Synod

That Pope Francis would have executed the synod in the manner in which he did was predictable from many things he has said over the course of his papacy, including Evangelii Gaudium, esp. 32-39. From what he says there, especially about the “conversion of the papacy,” it seems he is not adverse to critique, as long as there is ultimate unity with Peter and under Peter (cum Petro et sub Petro).

One ought to make a distinction between legitimate but respectful criticism from those who are genuinely concerned about the preservation of the deposit of faith, and the radicalizing tendencies of certain factions who will use anything to promote their own interests. One group uses Francis’ openness to sinners as an excuse to justify the unjustifiable, and the other is bent on using the synod to prove that everything since Vatican II was a mistake. Continue reading

Bloody Pirates on the Bark of Peter

I wrote about ninety percent of the following essay more than half a year ago and then left it unfinished for some reason, which I don’t remember.  I thought it worthwhile to finish and publish at this time.

The age of chivalry was characterized—at least according to its ideals—by courtesy in warfare, that is, by a standard of fair play. Prowess was not pure aggression, and courtesy was not mere manners. Both were informed by fidelity and honesty, that is, by religious faith, human justice and sincerity. That was the Christian ideal anyway, not always realized, but as an ideal it created positive peer pressure that served to both perfect the arts of the warrior and check his ferocity.

Anyone who has heard or read anything I have to say on chivalry knows I say this often. It is fundamental.

In the last decade or so there has been a very happy resurgence of interest in that character of the Church we call “militant.” However, the peculiar keynote of Christian militancy is not the violent death of our earthly enemy, but the violent death and resurrection of our King, which puts death itself to death, and conquers our real enemy, the Prince of this World. Thus, the methods of alinskian secularism or of jihadist religion cannot be our methods. To put it another way, the belligerence of the pirate cannot be reconciled with the chivalry of the knight. Continue reading

Mary Victrix, Our Fortress and Defense

A blessed Feast of Our Lady of Victory.

On the Solemnity of St. Francis the seminarians and I went to the prayer vigil of the Holy Father in preparation for the synod, which has now begun.  Afterward, we moved into the new building that the Holy Father has provided us.  I can walk to the Angelicum in a half hour.

Here are a couple of photos of our new surroundings.  More to come.  Click on photos for larger view.  There is a bit of distortion due to my use of the pan setting.

The gate you are looking at is Porta Tiburtina, after which our street is named, otherwise know as Porta San Lorenzo.  The gate was constructed to commemorate a Roman victory.  But our victory is found in the Gate of Heaven.

I post my yearly tribute to Mary Victrix:

I cast myself before Thee, Thy bondsman and fool;
Thy patronage is freedom, Thy slavery my school.
I offer Thee my sword hilt and wait for Thy command
To serve among Thy servants who pledge to take a stand.
That I might die in battle, a victim of Thy love:
My wish, my prayer, my promise, thus written in my blood.

I saw the bark of Peter ride dark into the sun,
But darker still the marking of crescent, hoard and gun.
Her sails lay flat and mellow, Her men had pledged their troth,
Left hand on beaded psalter, the right to keep their oath.
The haughty fiend had counted on fear to win the day,
But Thine own breath has countered to turn the wind their way.

My Queen, to Thee be honor and praise through all Thy knights
Who toiled and bled and parted Thy martyrs robed in white.
All courtesy and prowess, all strength and gentleness,
Thy heart a pyx of virtue, Thy face all loveliness.
Then at the hour of judgment my colors Thou may see,
Thy Son upon His white steed, Thou pray to come for me.