Naught for Your Comfort

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This comment epitomizes the reasons why I have not wished to be identified with the traditionalists (qualifiy that as you like, “radical traditionalists,” “Catholic reactionaries, etc.; my definition is here.)  Unfortunately, the whole effort to extricate ourselves from this mess, has only confirmed the reasons why we wanted to free of the problem in the first place.

The commenter writes:

How do you show that no conspiracy exists? Easy you let people whom the conspiracy theorists (for want of a better term) trust to go in and show that there is no conspiracy,

That really sums it all up.  “Conspiracy theorists” is actually the precise term.  Innuendo becomes plausible theory, which immediately becomes probable fact and the lack of evidence along with the number of times the innuendo is repeated turns into the “modernist reeducation project of the See of Peter against the unimpeachable Friars of the Immaculate.” Continue reading

Keven O’Brien on Chivalry

Aside

Stand up for yourselves.  Don’t settle for loser boyfriends who can’t bring themselves to pop the question because they’re either too busy “discerning” or they’re secretly gay or hooked on porn.  Don’t settle for girlfriends who manipulate or tease you or who can’t be trusted or who won’t be there when you need them.  Don’t settle for turning your vocation into an avocation, for jobs that simply fill space and make your life comfortable but that don’t give you the chance to do what God has made you to do.  Don’t settle for an education that doesn’t force you to grapple with the deepest elements of Truth, Beauty and Goodness.  Don’t settle for a Mass that’s contrived, filled with bad music and insipid preaching.  Don’t settle for a parish that’s more anti-Christian than Christian.  Don’t settle for the safety of living in Mom’s basement. And don’t let anyone mess with your shows. When you find what you love, defend it, fight for it, die for it – and (most challenging of all) live for it. *** The greatest writer of the 20th Century, my patron in heaven, put it much better than I ever could (my emphasis) 

In every romance there must be the twin elements of loving and fighting. In every romance there must be the three characters: there must be the Princess, who is a thing to be loved; there must be the Dragon, who is a thing to be fought; and there must be St. George, who is a thing that both loves and fights. There have been many symptoms of cynicism and decay in our modern civilization. But of all the signs of modern feebleness, of lack of grasp on morals as they actually must be, there has been none quite so silly or so dangerous as this: that the philosophers of today have started to divide loving from fighting and to put them into opposite camps. [But] the two things imply each other; they implied each other in the old romance and in the old religion, which were the two permanent things of humanity. You cannot love a thing without wanting to fight for it. You cannot fight without something to fight for. To love a thing without wishing to fight for it is not love at all; it is lust. It may be an airy, philosophical, and disinterested lust… but it is lust, because it is wholly self-indulgent and invites no attack. On the other hand, fighting for a thing without loving it is not even fighting; it can only be called a kind of horse-play that is occasionally fatal. Wherever human nature is human and unspoilt by any special sophistry,there exists this natural kinship between war and wooing, and that natural kinship is called romance. It comes upon a man especially in the great hour of youth; and every man who has ever been young at all has felt, if only for a moment, this ultimate and poetic paradox. He knows that loving the world is the same thing as fighting the world. – G. K. Chesterton

The Spirit of Mary Victrix

The Spirit of Lepanto is greater than the history in which it is rooted. The recounting of the historic of battle that took place on October 7, 1571 lends itself to the genre epic literature.  The events of that day call for a bard like Chesterton to cast words into the cadence of drum and cannon:

Don John’s hunting, and his hounds have bayed—
Booms away past Italy the rumour of his raid.
Gun upon gun, ha! ha!
Gun upon gun, hurrah!
Don John of Austria
Has loosed the cannonade.

And I still get chills, when for the thousandth time I read the words:

. . . O Lady of Last Assurance,
Light in the laurels, sunrise of the dead,
Wind of the ships and lightning of Lepanto
In honour of Thee, to whom all honor is fled.

I pray that what gives me chills is the true Spirit of Lepanto, and that it does much more than give me chills.

I have always secretly lamented the fact that the Feast of Our Lady of Victory was changed to the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary and that the language of even the traditional collect for the present feast is void of the bellicose.  We are all familiar with the prayer.  We use it every time we pray the Holy Rosary.

I have much preferred the collect for the Mass Contra paganos (against the heathens), euphemistically englished in the hand missal “Mass for the Defense of the Church”:

Almighty, everlasting God, in whose hand are the strength and man and the nation’s scepter, see what help we Christians need: that the heathen peoples who trust in their savagery may be crushed by the power of Thy right hand.  Through our Lord Jesus Christ. . .

I really don’t question the wisdom of Holy Mother Church in this regard, but I do think that in this feast we have an opportunity to consider with a contemplative mind the Spirit of Lepanto or what Professor Roberto de Mattei calls a “category of the spirit”:

As heirs of Lepanto, we should recall the message of Christian fortitude which that name, that battle, that victory have handed down to us:  Christian fortitude, which is the disposition to sacrifice the good things of this earth for the sake of higher goods—justice, truth, the glory of the Church, and the future of our civilization.  Lepanto is, in this sense a perennial category of the spirit.

It seems to me that this category of the spirit is transhistorical.  It is the recapitulation of the protoevangelium:

I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel.

It is all right there.  That is why Genesis 3:15 is called the first gospel (protoevangelium).  Everything that comes after is all fulfillment, partially at first by way of types (Judith, Esther and the Ark, for example), and then in the fullness of time the Woman and Her Seed bring all things to fulfillment, waging war against the Dragon on the top of the world in the greatest eucatastrophe of all time.

St. John’s vision on Patmos of the Woman gloriously arrayed with the lights of heaven, but militantly in travail, projects into the past, present and future the tribulations of the People of God.  The birth pangs are not of Bethlehem, but of Calvary.  It was only at the foot of the Cross that the Virgin suffered in the throws of delivery.  But surely there is an intimation of Bethlehem in this reference to birth, just as there must be an allusion to the flight into Egypt in the words And the woman fled into the wilderness (v. 6), though the primary reference is the cosmic battle with Satan and the rest of the fallen host.

But St. John was also speaking to the churches of his own time that were suffering persecution and were plagued by heresy.  In the breathless voice of the Holy Spirit, the Apostle proclaims: He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches.

But it is more than that.  The Woman is the promised Victrix, Mary the New Eve, dolorous and glorious, in Her earthly adventure and in Her heavenly reward.  She also represents the churches, the direct recipients of St. John’s revelation, addressed directly in his cover letters to the seven churches.  But She is also the Church Militant of every age that suffers persecution and is plagued by heresy.  Further still, the macrocosm of the Church Militant is reflected in the microcosm of each and every soul, where the Woman and the Dragon contest each other’s dominion.

Lepanto is a parable, a recapitulation of the protoevangelium, just as are the history of Judith and Mary and the churches which St. John addressed.  But so are the chronicle of the Battle of Viena, and the Epics of Tepeyac and Rue du Bac, and more poignantly for our own day, the prophetic history and parable of the Acts of Our Lady of Fatima.  These are the macro-eucatastrophes of the ages, which spell out in the sky, in the medium of light and miracle, the even more fundamental reality of the micro-eucatastrophes (hopefully) going on within our moral and spiritual lives.

The hateful spirits of, pride, greed, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, and sloth claw at the doors of our hearts, or worse, live within them.   We are kingdoms under siege or kingdoms fallen.  We make so much of the macro and so little of the micro and for that we are recipients of the terrible apocalyptic reprimand:

But I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first charity. Be mindful therefore from whence thou art fallen: and do penance and do the first works. Or else I come to thee and will move thy candlestick out of its place, except thou do penance (v. 4-5).

Perhaps I am all washed up for my secret regret.  Perhaps the Church knows better than I.  Of course she does!  The collect for today’s feast and for every Rosary asks for the grace to transform the vision of truth seen through the eyes of the Victrix into Her very life within us:  that meditating we might imitate.  That is the fundamental art of war upon which all strategies and tactics depend.  Perhaps the bellicose language has been pealed away from the orations because we tend win a few of the battles we do see, while loosing the war we do not see.  The Third Part of the Secret of Fatima is bellicose and macro enough, but it all hinges on individuals, and therefore on praying and living the Rosary more than anything else.

Both St. Pius V and Don Juan prayed the Rosary.  Together they were victorious, inside and out.  Men of Prayer and Action, yes, but in all in its proper order.  The Third Part of the Secret at Fatima refers to realities both micro and macro and in that order.

The Spirit of Lepanto is the Spirit of Mary Victrix.  It (She) is a living ideal that communicates itself (Herself) from Heart to heart.  It is vital and preeminently dangerous, boundless and indomitable.  It is also the Spirit of the White Horse, upon which rides the KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS, whose head is crowned, whose eyes are fire and out of whose mouth comes a sharp two-edged sword.  The Woman of chapter 12 is the Lady, who girds of the Knight in chapter 19 of St. John’s revelation.  And together they constitute a power, beyond which cannot be conceived.

The great prophetic grace of our age is the message of the modern Marian apparitions, which, as already said, are recapitulations of the protoevangelium, but with this twist:  we live in the most apocalyptic age and the urgency of the prophetic plea for devotion to Her Immaculate Heart is the voice of the Spirit speaking to the churches right now!  St. Louis de Montfort says of the Marian Apostles of the Latter Days that

[t]hey will be ministers of the Lord who, like a flaming fire, will enkindle everywhere the fires of divine love. They will become, in Mary’s powerful hands, like sharp arrows, with which she will transfix her enemies (56).

The enemies of Mary are, in a sense, transfixed with the same sword that has pierced Her heart.  Her apostles know the point of that sword all too well, with memories both bitter and sweet.  It is swordplay that is well-landed upon both friend and foe.

Fatima is a modern-day apocalypse.  No wonder there in October the Woman revealed herself to be Our Lady of the Rosary and was clothed with the whirling sun.  It’s spirit is the Lepanto of our age, that transhistorical category of the spirit that is both the first promise to mankind and the patrimony of this last age.  However we name this Spirit, it is bigger than the histories in which it enshrined and deeper than the hearts in which it works itself out.

We can continue to bang out solutions of our own contriving that satisfy our egos, like clever soundbites and slogans, and rely on rhetoric and imprudent zeal, or we can look into the skies, indeed, into the Temple of God and make all things according to the pattern shown us on the mount (cf. Hebrews 8:5).  If we do not see this vision and strive to embody it in our own lives, we have not understood, or have refused to understand the parable of Lepanto and the spirit of this feastday.

If you have not made the consecration to the Blessed Virgin, I pray you do, and soon.  Don’t only pray the Rosary, live the Rosary.

Oremus pro invicem, and sing

I cast myself before Thee, Thy bondsman and Thy 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.

Happy Feast of Mary Victrix.

Getting Something Done this Lent

On Ash Wednesday our lives round the bend on the road to Jerusalem only to find the hordes of Babylon blocking our way. We are marked with the cross and there can be no avoidance of the fight.  This is the imagery used by the nineteenth century Anglican, Father Congreve, SSJE to describe the “advance of Lent.” I can hardly think of anything more appropriate for our meditation:

Lent awakens spiritual hope in us, just as the sight of the enemy awakes the spirit of an army. They were lagging just now, tired with the march, dispirited; but a sudden signal, one turn in the road, shows them the enemy’s lines stretching right across their way. How the men’s hearts leap up: who is [wearied] now? So Lent awakes the energy of hope by showing us our enemy, the reality of the battle of life, of our conflict with evil. We all know that our fifty or seventy years in this world were given to us for a great achievement–to conquer the world, the flesh, and the devil, to win holiness for eternity; but we easily forget this, and slip out of range. But Lent rallies us, reminds us of the seriousness of our moral life, of the reality of sin, of bad tendencies of our childhood not conquered yet, of the strength of sins of the flesh, of pride and temper, of love of the world, of cowardice in confessing Christ, of sloth and depression, of neglect of prayer and the sacraments.

The Two Standards

Though Congreve was not Catholic, his imagery reflects one of the most important metaphors used by St. Ignatius in The Spiritual Exercises, namely, the two standards.   Christ and Satan are captains of two immense armies that rally around them in the respective regions of Jerusalem and Babylon.  For St. Ignatius, this a fundamental image of the spiritual life: mortal strife, that can have only one of two outcomes, heaven or hell.

The strategy of Satan is as simple as it is deadly.  St. Ignatius tells us that the demons are sent forth by the Prince of Darkness to tempt us with love for the world:  a “longing for riches,” “vain honor” and “vast pride.”  He says that it is this love for the world  by which he opens the door to every other vice.

But the assets laid to bear against Satan by the Lord are more powerful: “highest poverty,”contumely and contempt, and “humility.”  As with the “beatitudes.”  This is an inversion of values, the paradox of the gospel:  life through death, going up by being brought down.

The Hardest Road

How is a man to in the word but not of the world? How is a man to be a soldier, a knight, and a courageous man without the arrogance and pride that are the tools of Satan? How are we to fight Satan without capitulating to his manipulative and dishonorable methods? In a word, how are we to be wise as serpent and simple as doves? (cf. Mt 10:16).

The first step consists in recognizing that the road that Our Lord took is the hardest road.  He remained in the fight to the end and at the same time never sought His own glory and good, but glory of His Father and our salvation.  This is the humility of which St. Ignatius speaks.  Here is Father Hardon’s commentary on the two standards in which he recommends humility, calmness of spirit and the discernment of spirits as the particular means by which we fight under the standard of Christ and overcome the devil.

Our battle is first of all one that must take place within, but for it to be brought to a victory for Christ, it must be extended to the ends of the earth.  It is a fight that we must never concede.

The Abomination of Desolation

Anthony Esolen has written an excellent article, entitled, Where the Battle Was Not Fought, in which he chronicles the woes of the Church in Canada. (Not to pick on Canada, we have our own similar problems in the U.S.) Esolen notes that there is really no place for men, because no one wants to fight, and because virtually no effort has been made to attract men to the faith, let alone to the priesthood.

The spiritual apathy of men, and by which men no longer have a place in the Church—a fight conceded or never fought—leaves us in a desperate situation.  For far two long our leaders have largely derelict of their duty, and we are left with the extremes of effeminacy and bravado.

Battle Scars

The solution consists in the rigors of an examined life that is bold enough to make mistakes and get hurt, and humble enough to reassess and revise in order to get it right.  This has to happen both spiritually and externally.

Recently, Dawn Eden and William Doino wrote a piece for Busted Halo, in which they called into question the adaptation of Saul Alinsky’s radicalized activist philosophy by conservatives being used against the expert liberal practitioners of that philosophy.  In particular, the writers criticized activist James E. O’Keefe for his syncretistic melding of the ideas of Alinsky and that of G.K. Chesterton, and for his practical application of that thinking which included the questionable participation of a young woman who posed as a prostitute in his ACORN exposé videos.  Eden and Doino, underscored the utilitarian ethics at the heart of O’Keefe’s methods, taken right out of Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals: “in war the end justifies almost any means.” In a subsequent interview Dawn Eden did not fail to mention that the work of Lila Rose, with whom O’Keefe has also collaborated, and who has been given favorable treatment on AirMaria, is not above critical review.

In response, Christian Hartsock, has penned, or should I say, slashed a rather purple piece of vitriol worthy of Keith Olbermann, in which he ostensibly adopts another rule from Alinsky’s playbook: “ridicule is man’s most potent weapon.”  A comparison between the Eden/Doino essay and that of Hartsock, is the difference between a consideration of principles in view of success and a disregard of them justified by success.  We can leave everyone free to consider the question, but that the question ought to be considered, seems a difficult thing to reject.  That certainty may be something that Alinsky would ridicule, but it is not something that Chesterton would make fun of. On the contrary, for Chesterton such philosophical considerations belonged to the most practical order:

But there are some people, nevertheless—and I am one of them—who think that the most practical and important thing about a man is still his view of the universe. We think that for a landlady considering a lodger, it is important to know his income, but still more important to know his philosophy. We think that for a general about to fight an enemy, it is important to know the enemy’s numbers, but still more important to know the enemy’s philosophy.

The Philosophy of Light

For Chesterton, this consideration of his enemy’s philosophy was not merely a tactical necessity, but a metaphysical and moral requirement, as he infers when he considers the philosophy of George Bernard Shaw.  He says that while his intellectual enemy was  genuinely “brilliant” and “honest,” his philosophy was “quite solid, quite coherent, and quite wrong.”  A man’s philosophy has consequences in the practical order, and so the practical thing to do is

. . . revert to the doctrinal methods of the thirteenth century, inspired by the general hope of getting something done.

Activism, or better, Catholic Action, will ultimately be fruitful only if it is an examined energy, like our own moral lives.  It is the hardest road.  It is not the merely the rough and tumble road of unchecked prowess, nor is it comfy road of the false courtesy of human respect.  It is the hardest road of Christian chivalry.  And it is the only way of  really “getting something done.”

This is the road we find ourselves on this Ash Wednesday, and the hellish hosts from Babylon will not part and let us pass unmolested.  The fight is on, but it begins, continues and ends first within our hearts.  Yet, it is always to be fought in the midst of the world that must be conquered for Christ.

Almighty Humility

Tomorrow night I will be speaking to the men’s discussion group about the mystery of Christmas, in particular about how omnipotence and humility come together in what Anthony Esolen calls Child Everlasting:

But can we see the wonder from the other direction? It may be that the child Jesus does not conceal omnipotence so much as reveal what it really means to be omnipotent. That’s because the Word through whom were made the heavens and the earth was from before the foundations of the world the Word who would be made flesh: It is a world made to be redeemed by that child.

Perhaps Esolen is playing on Chesterton’s Everlasting Man:

Bethlehem is emphatically a place where extremes meet. Here begins, it is needless to say, another mighty influence for the humanization of Christendom. If the world wanted what is called a non-controversial aspect of Christianity, it would probably select Christmas. Yet it is obviously bound up with what is supposed to be a controversial aspect (I could never at any stage of my opinions imagine why); the respect paid to the Blessed Virgin. When I was a boy a more Puritan generation objected to a statue upon my parish church representing the Virgin and Child. After much controversy, they compromised by taking away the Child. One would think that this was even more corrupted with Mariolatry, unless the mother was counted less dangerous when deprived of a sort of weapon. But the practical difficulty is also a parable. You cannot chip away the statue of a mother from all round that of a newborn child. You cannot suspend the new-born child in mid-air; indeed you cannot really have a statue of a newborn child at all. Similarly, you cannot suspend the idea of a newborn child in the void or think of him without thinking of his mother. You cannot visit the child without visiting the mother, you cannot in common human life approach the child except through the mother. If we are to think of Christ in this aspect at all, the other idea follows I as it is followed in history. We must either leave Christ out of Christmas, or Christmas out of Christ, or we must admit, if only as we admit it in an old picture, that those holy heads are too near together for the haloes not to mingle and cross.

There is something momentous to be learned by men from the God of hosts who chose the path of childhood as the expression of his omnipotence.  Kings from far away bow down, and the king in whose jurisdiction He is born fears him and sends soldiers to kill Him.  What is it about the Virgin Mother and the stable of Bethlehem that reveals so much of what it means to be the King of Kings.

How can men surrender to the mystery of Christ’s condescension without surrendering their dignity, responsibility and strength as men, husbands and fathers?

Mystics, Martyrs and Rhetoricians

Soap BoxOr the Theology of the Soapbox

What follows in another one of my long expositions on the Theology of the Body.  I have to give a loud content warning at the outset.  There is some frank talk here about sexuality, or rather, my complaints that there is too much frank talk about such matters.  I would have asked Dawn Eden to publish this one, but she has very courageously retired from blogging.  I have to commend her on her decision; however, it is not without regret on my part.

I again want to let those I disagree with know that my intentions are honorable and I do not question their integrity or commitment to the faith.  I can take my lumps if I deserve them.

In a recent apologia for Christopher West, Father Thomas Loya makes grand assertions:

Christopher West is a bit of a mystic—in the best sense of the word. His work, which seems strange to some, is actually that of a pioneer. And like all pioneers, West is taking a lot of arrows for his courage. In the face of much resistance, West is courageous enough to invite all of us to do just what John Paul II invited us to do: to think and talk in spousal categories. Continue reading

First Knights

I here re-post my entry for July 2, 2008 on this the first anniversary of Thom Girard’s passing.  The accident occurred on June 30, but Marc survived into very early in the morning of July 1.  May our good knights rest in peace. I offered Mass for the repose of their souls this morning.

And when the last arrow
Was fitted and was flown,
When the broken shield hung on the breast,
And the hopeless lance was laid in rest,
And the hopeless horn blown,

The King looked up, and what he saw
Was a great light like death,
For Our Lady stood on the standards rent,
As lonely and as innocent
As when between white walls she went
And the lilies of Nazareth.

*******

Thom was one of our finest knights and a first rate example of all I wanted the knights to be: courageous, committed, kind, genuine and loyal.  Mark was his father’s son.

Thom has been the Grand Master of all our encampments, both last year and this year.  He had many years experience as a scout master, but more than that he had really imbibed the Spirit of Lepanto and understood how to communicate it to others.  He really was what I wanted all the knights to be.

Marc was inducted into the Knights at the spring encampment this year, after having been among the squires since we began the Knights several years ago.  When Thom became distressed as he was swimming with his daughter Hanna, Marc, who was swimming with his younger brother Lucas, told his brother to continue to the other side, went to the rescue and saved Hanna’s life and then attempted to save his father also.  Marc died a hero, a true knight.  He was his father’s son.

Please pray for the repose of their souls.  The one consolation I keep returning to is that now we have two knights who, in the words of St. Maximilian, have both hands free.

Thom and  Marc leave behind Carol, wife and mother, Jacqueline, daughter and sister, Adam, son and brother, Lucas, son and brother and little Hanna, daughter and sister.  Please pray for them also.  They are strong, full of faith and hope, but their suffering is hard to imagine.

Thom wrote an elaborate knight’s “ritual” by which we could induct the older boys into the Knights of Lepanto.  We have used it only once, for the induction of Marc back at the Spring Encampment.  I reproduce part of it here.  The words of the “Father” were pronounced by me, but the whole “ritual” was written by Thom.  This was a dialoque between father and son:

The Candidate then kneels before the priest.

Father:  In days gone by, there existed many orders of knighthood which recognized the skill and honor of their members.  In the service of their King, and in the defense of the noble ideals of chivalry, embodied in their Queen, did these orders achieve their exalted ranks. . .You have now been brought face to face with the Order of the Knights of Lepanto and have been adequately impressed with the seriousness of this obligation which you are about to take upon yourself.  As God is our King of Kings and Mary our Queen are you prepared to take the vow of the brotherhood?

Candidate:  In the name of God, I am.

Father:  Guards remove his penance . . .[after the penance is removed]  Will you be loyal to the Catholic Church, the Pope, to the Order of the Knights of Lepanto, and your brother Knights?

Candidate:  In the name of God, I will.

Father:  Good Brother, in our company you must not seek lordship or riches, nor honor, nor bodily ease.  You must seek three things:  to renounce and reject the sins of this world; to do the service of Our Lord and Our Lady; and to be poor and penitent according to your means.  Will you promise to God and Our Lady that henceforth, all the days of your life that you will do these things?

Candidate:  In the name of God, I will.

Father:  That you will live in chastity according to your means in life?

Candidate:  In the name of God, I will.

Father:  That you will uphold the good customs of this house?

Candidate:  In the name of God, I will.

Father:  That you will never leave the Order, neither through strength or weakness, niether in worse time or better?

Candidate:  In the name of God, I will.

Father:  In the name of God, of Our Lady, of St. Francis and St. Maximilian Kolbe and of our father Pope Benedict XVI, from its beginning and until its end, we accord you all the benefits of this house.  We promise you bread and water, hardship, work and the poor robe of this house.  Knight of the Patrocinium, bring forth the Great Sword of our order. . . .

Father: [holding the sword as the cross in front of the candidate] Acknowledge this sword, its brightness stands for faith, its point for hope, and its guard for charity.  Remember well that the sword of Chivalry should be drawn only in defense of God, or of those weaker than yourself. Do you acknowledge the values of this sword?

Candidate:  In the name of God, I do.

Father:  [returning the sword] Let the scroll be read.

Herald:  To all who can hear:  Whereas Marc has dedicated himself to high and noble service to God and the Kingdom of Heaven in war and in peace, we are minded to enroll him into the Knights of Lepanto.  We do hereby elevate and affirm Marc for his unique talents soon to be known throughout the world.  To which we set our hands this 24th day of May, as Christ is our King and Mary our Queen.

Thom gave all the speaking roles to the other knights and to myself during the ritual, but all the words were his, and it was all meant for Marc.

When we performed the induction of Mark, I had only had the time to glance at the ritual very quickly.  I had  complete trust that what Thom had come up with would be appropriate.

But when I read the words out loud to Marc:  “as God is our King of Kings and Mary our Queen are you prepared to take the vow of the brotherhood?” I thought to myself, “I hadn’t planned on anyone taking a vow right now.”  And then when I heard myself saying: “Will you promise to God and Our Lady that henceforth, all the days of your life that you will do these things?”  and Marc said yes both times, I thought, “I will have to revise this for next time.”  In any case, I figured that it was all intended in the right spirit, and expressed the Spirit of Lepanto so perfectly, so I said nothing.

Little did I know that Thom and Mark had providentially entered into the Knightly order together and were to seal their promise in this tragic and yet heroic event.  Thom and Marc used exactly the right words and they meant what they said.

Thom will be buried with the Great Sword of our order.  Similar arrangements are being made for Marc as well.  They promised to be true knights of Our Lady, and,

In the name of God, they were.

Seven in the Heart, One in the Hand

king_alfred

One commenter pointed out that in my exposition of the Blessed Mother’s courage (“Damsels in Distress“), that my distinction between the masculine courage of action and the feminine courage of suffering, according to St. Bonaventure, did not sufficiently take account of the many biblical images, nor of the great Chesterton’s “The Ballad of the White Horse.”  She is right, of course, that discussion about passive courage does not do enough to account for the Blessed Virgin’s active role in the redemption of mankind, or of women in general throughout history.  I have no disagreement with the commenter.

In fact, I have have written on the subject Our Lady’s presence in “The Ballad of the White Horse” in a paper I delivered at our international symposium on the Coredemption in England, 2001, entitled “Seven in the Heart, One in the Hand:  The Mediation of the Immaculate in the Poetry of Hopkins and Chesterton” (Mary at the Foot of the Cross II:  Acts of the International Symposium on Marian Coredemption, New Bedford:  Academy of the Immaculate.  395-439).  I am attaching here a pdf of the complete paper for those who are interested.  Also, FYI, there is an excellent reprint of the 1928 illustrated edition of “The Ballad of the White Horse,” published by Ignatius Press, that also includes a very helpful introduction and endnotes by Sister Bernadette Sheridan.

Since I have been studying the Theology of the Body lately, I would like to suggest that one of John Paul II’s insights–one that is thoroughly traditional–would be helpful here.  There is no question that man is characteristically the “giver” (“the one who loves”) and woman the “receiver” (“the one who is loved”; cf. TOB 92.6); however, the Holy Father also  says:

The two functions of the mutual exchange are deeply connected in the whold process of “gift of self”: giving and accepting the gift interpenetrate in such a way that the very act of giving becomes acceptance, and acceptance transforms itself into giving (TOB 17.4).

By way of analogy, I think we can say that the “giver” is also the “defender,” and the “receiver” is also the “defended,” but this does not preclude a mutuality, though the courage of action in a woman, such as in the case of Judith or St. Joan of Arc is particularly marked by empathy and uniquely maternal characteristics.

I think of St. Joan, in particular, who received the ability to ride a horse, to formulate military strategy, especially the placement of artillery, as an extraordinary grace.  She was not merely a figure head of the French army; nevertheless, she never raised her sword against a man.  It was merely enough for her to get to the enemy castle and touch it with her banner.  I also recall how she nursed the dying, including the English, and shed tears over them.

I include below an apropos excerpt from my paper.  Without burdening this post with too much back story, one should at least know that at the beginning of the ballad, King Alfred, who is leading the Saxons against the invasion of England by the Danes, receives a vision of Our Blessed Lady in an hour when he has all but lost hope.  In desperation he asks Her:

“When our last bow is broken, Queen,
And our last javelin cast,
Under some sad, green evening sky,
Holding a ruined cross on high,
Under warm westland grass to lie,
Shall we come home at last?”

Her answer is paradoxical:

“I tell you naught for your comfort,
Yea, naught for your desire,
Save that the sky grows darker yet
And the sea rises higher.

“Night shall be thrice night over you,
And heaven an iron cope.
Do you have joy without a cause,
Yea, faith without a hope?”

Alfred then goes onto gather his chiefs and army in order to enter into a battle and quest in which he is offered no promise of victory.  Here is the excerpt from my paper:

King Alfred, after an initial victory in battle (Book V), and then the eventual slaying of all three of his chiefs (Book VI), was left in a predicament very much like the one he had been in when he had seen Our Lady, although his later doom and England’s was far more imminent.  The Battle of Ethandune was all but lost.  In a long speech Alfred convinced what was left of his army that “death is a better ale to drink” (bk. 7, 119) than to drain the cup of surrender to heathendom.  Convinced by their captain, the soldiers “stood firm” and “feeble” (153).  Alfred blew his horn calling his men to the hunt, and “The people of the peace of God/ Went roaring down to die” (184).  But in the desperation of the situation the Immaculate was present in Her causeless joy and hopeless faith:

And when the last arrow,
Was fitted and was flown,
When the broken shield hung on the breast,
And the hopeless lance was laid at rest,
And the hopeless horn was blown,

The King looked up, and what he saw
Was a great light like death,
For our Lady stood on the standards rent
As lonely and as innocent
As When between white walls she went
In the lilies of Nazareth.

One instant in a still light,
He saw Our Lady then,
Her dress was soft as western sky,
And she was queen most womanly–
But she was queen of men.

Over the iron forest
He saw Our Lady stand;
Her eyes were sad withouten art,
And seven swords were in her heart–
But one was in her hand. (185-205).

In the moment of supreme sacrifice, the Mother of God interceded on behalf of Her children.  The seven swords of Her own heartfelt sorrow, became one which She wielded in hand on behalf of those for whom She suffered:  In the first vision of King Alfred Mary had said to him:

“But you and all the kind of Christ
Are ignorant and brave,
And you have wars you hardly win
And souls you hardly save” (bk. 1, 250-53).

Thus we are shown how this intercession of the Immaculate in temporal war is also connected to a greater war for the salvation of souls.  These wars hardly won and souls hardly saved are remarkably juxtaposed in another of Chesterton’s poems whose theme is along the same lines, viz., “The Queen of the Seven Swords.”  That poem is actually the introduction to seven monologues delivered by seven saints of Western Europe, who, as Chesterton notes, “have no connection with the historical saints” that “bore their names,” but rather are types of the different nations, viz., St. James of Spain, St. Denys of France, St. Anthony of Italy, St. Patrick of Ireland, St. Andrew of Scotland, St. David of Wales and St. George of England.  There, in “The Queen of the Seven Swords,” Chesterton records a dream in which he saw Europe as a waste land, and after surveying the panorama of desolation said:  “There is none to save.” It is obvious from his descriptions that the wasteland is typical of moral desolation.  In the gloom, however, he saw a source of hope:

I saw on their breaking terraces, cracking and sinking for ever,
One shrine rise blackened and broken; like a last cry to God.

Old gold on the roof hung ragged as scales of a dragon dropping,
The gross green weeds of the desert had spawned on the painted wood:
But erect in the earth’s despair and arisen against heaven interceding,
Whose name is Cause of Our Joy, in the doorway of death she stood.

The Woman who had asked of Alfred “Do you have joy without a cause?” is in fact the Cause of His Joy, and this as She stands in the “doorway of death.”  Thus we begin to understand that the doom of Alfred is not a joy strictly without cause, but one without any natural explanation, for his joy has its source in the Heart of the Queen of the Seven Swords.  Chesterton goes on in “The Queen of the Seven Swords:

The Seven Swords of her Sorrow held out their hilts like a challenge,
The blast of that stunning silence as a sevenfold trumpet blew
Majestic in more than gold, girt round with a glory or iron,
The hub of her wheel of weapons; with a truth beyond torture true.

That truth which is beyond torture true is that faith which saves, not in spite of suffering, but because of suffering.  Hence we understand what the Lady meant when She asked Alfred “Do you have faith without a hope?”  Not a natural hope, or a conviction that things will get better, but a conviction that God is faithful to His promises.  In “The Towers of Time,” Chesterton says that “the heart of the swords, seven times wounded,/ Was never wearied as our hearts are.” And in the poem “In October,” honor is due to Mary, because Hers was “The broken Heart and the unbroken word.” Is this not why in his Encyclical, Redemptoris Mater, the Holy Father compares the Blessed Virgin to Abraham, saying with St. Paul that in hope believed against hope, She is blessed for Her unwavering faith?

Damsels in Distress

kill-bill

I started on this post more than a year ago and have come back to it from time to time.  While I am up at Mount St. Francis, hiding in my cave and working on my paper for our Coredemption conference in July, I thought I would finally knock it out.  I shot a video on the same topic  a while back.

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As one interested in helping to bring about a revival of Christian Chivalry, I have thought fondly of the image of the “damsel in distress” as being both iconic and inspiring of the chivalric ideals. I was horrified, then, to see such an honorable term being disparaged by those otherwise promoting the ideals of chivalry. Call me naive or nostalgic (or worse), but I cannot for the life of me see anything wrong with it.

I will admit, if we understand “damsel in distress” as it is caricatured, for example, by the film image of the pretty woman being tied screaming to the train tracks by Dastardly Dan and then being rescued by Agent Jim West, then there is much to be disparaged. The poor helpless thing is abused by one womanizer only to be rescued by another, and all the while is oblivious to everything but the attention she is getting. The ideals of chivalry have always been partially obscured by the cult of “courtly love.” There is nothing new under the sun.

Television and film have that curious ability of turning unalloyed gold into lead, and contrariwise, of cultivating a fondness for the most obvious absurdities. We have learned to despise feminine vulnerability and celebrate the wonders of the Bionic Woman.

So what is the “damsel in distress,” and why should her place in the venerable history of womanhood be preserved and honored? To answer this question we must first examine the contemporary feminist trend to idolize the Amazon.

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When the business man rebukes the idealism of his office-boy, it is commonly in some such speech as this: “Ah, yes, when one is young, one has these ideals in the abstract and these castles in the air; but in middle age they all break up like clouds, and one comes down to a belief in practical politics, to using the machinery one has and getting on with the world as it is.” Thus, at least, venerable and philanthropic old men now in their honoured graves used to talk to me when I was a boy. But since then I have grown up and have discovered that these philanthropic old men were telling lies. What has really happened is exactly the opposite of what they said would happen. They said that I should lose my ideals and begin to believe in the methods of practical politicians. Now, I have not lost my ideals in the least; my faith in fundamentals is exactly what it always was. What I have lost is my old childlike faith in practical politics. I am still as much concerned as ever about the Battle of Armageddon; but I am not so much concerned about the General Election. As a babe I leapt up on my mother’s knee at the mere mention of it. No; the vision is always solid and reliable. The vision is always a fact. It is the reality that is often a fraud. As much as I ever did, more than I ever did, I believe in Liberalism. But there was a rosy time of innocence when I believed in Liberals.

By Liberalism Chesterton means the doctrine of self-governance.

Armageddon, indeed.