Thoughts from the November Gloom

Naturally, the title of this posting only applies to those living in the northern hemisphere. The heavenly cycles go their way as predictably as a clock as it measures the cycles of time that mark our life and death in this world.

Since writing my previous post touching upon the miseries of those clinging to the Roman Catholic Church for some vestige of truth, security and authority, I find a whole tendency of articles. My friend JV has published Perspective during ecclesiastical twilight and Refugium Peccatorum. His feed of links gives Why I Cannot Be a Post-Evangelical, Post-Denominational, etc., Christian by an Orthodox priest in America. All three need to be read.

There is little to add to my previous reflections, but we all have short memories, suffer from cognitive dissonance and yearn for something more than the bleak reality we face in the local parish church near our homes where the priest and people continue in their ways of life. They seem so oblivious to anything outside what is most familiar, and we see that we are just about all the same. We have to be.

The internet to some extent has given us an illusory notion of the Church’s universality in a world where the massive majority of people are materialists or claim some other philosophy of life to justify their individuality and existence above the morass of humanity. Someone living in a city can wander in the streets and contemplate the spires and bell towers of the church buildings, witnesses of another era. For us in the country, the villages churches and wayside calvaries are still there, some lovingly tended by simple and devoted folk hoping and waiting for more spiritually enlightened times. Home in closer, and what we find in the church are generally signs of decay and death. The Platonic universal idea of a Church is expressed in something that is dying or already no longer exists in the place where we look for it.

In terms of the Church, many of us find ourselves in a situation like in the late 1790’s. The murderous tyranny of Robespierre is over, but even more forgotten is that age of light and reason from more frivolous days that has failed the innermost desires of us all. Already, last November, I posted Byron’s Darkness, a vision of the world destroyed by disease, something from outer space hitting the planet or some terrible human conflict. It is the Dies irae, the Eschaton we all fear and anticipate in these gloomy pre-Advent days.

We are all going to react in different ways. The mind of an idealist would project his desire on reality to bring about the dream, at least partially. I have moved far from my Thomist and metaphysically realist seminary days, and see hope in some of the flashes of information we get about quantum physics. Reality is a hologram, and it can in some way be changed by consciousness, information and energy. It all sounds crazy, but these discoveries and theories offer us a modern alternative to brute materialism.

The problem with most churches is that they have failed us. They leave thinking and profound people disappointed. Some churches are able to survive either by providing entertainment, some kind of social fulfilment for otherwise lonely souls or expressing ideologies that affirm egos and our base instincts. If Christianity is true, or if it has something to offer, then it is elsewhere from the decaying fish-heads of churches. This is no theme to write on. Churches have always been powerhouses of spirituality and prayer, or expressions of human sin and mediocrity.

Some of us are more privileged than others: living in a city where there is a church offering an uplifting liturgy and a sense of fellowship and prayer, having a car so as to be able to drive out to that monastery in the fields and attend the monks’ Office and Conventual Mass. I am a priest and have my own chapel, and am thus responsible to do my tiny bit for the canonical Church that confers my mission as a priest. There is only so much a man can do alone.

Many atheists criticise Christian and other “irrational” believers in terms of our seeking security in a hostile environment in which we have to compete against others just to break even. Claiming to be a member of the “right” church gives an illusion of being above the struggle for survival. Perhaps it becomes so for some, but not for all. We all have our demons in the closet, which would follow us even to the Pacific Islands or a skete in the rocks of the Isle of Patmos. Admittedly, being away from the bestial struggle, or what modern humanity calls the Rat Race, is more conducive to finding the Spirit within us.

We return to the so-called Benedict Option. It is within each of us and within the reach of us all – that is if it isn’t a fantasy of trappings, but a real life lived within and with complete sincerity. There was once a priest in our Diocese who aspired to monastic life. He put on a habit and called his home a priory. He then called himself a prior and fancied himself as a mitred abbot. The question was – Of what? Later, he turned to alcohol and joined another marginal church (or rather a group of bishops-of-nothing) and himself became a bishop of nothing. This illusion is so tragic and has to be a lesson for us all.

The real Benedict Option is invisible and unknown. It exists wherever someone opens an Office book, says Mass, lights a candle and prays, does something kind to someone in need, all the intimate little things written in the New Testament by people like St John. There is an ideal fuelled by our deepest desires and sense of God’s calling, and it has to live underground, in the catacombs allowing rays of light out into the world for those few who have ears to hear and eyes to see. It is so subtle and so simple.

But all that is blown away by pride and pretence to be something other than ourselves in our limitations and insignificance.

He hath put down the mighty from their seat : and hath exalted the humble and meek.

He hath filled the hungry with good things: and the rich he hath sent empty away.

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2 Responses to Thoughts from the November Gloom

  1. Joseph V. says:

    “The problem with most churches is that they have failed us. They leave thinking and profound people disappointed.”

    It is the stalwart resistance to this premise on the part of most churches that leaves me bewildered. My sense is that those who want to retain some connection to “the Church” but accept the premise that the churches have failed people is destined to remain a minority position. Institutional structures are not particularly prone to such thinking, or there analysis is almost always facile and designed to save some segment of the institution from criticism (see: Francis, Pope).

    I used to think (and suppose I still do) that Ratzinger was fairly attuned to the Roman Church’s failures, particularly in recent history. I’ve toyed with the idea that this was the principle reason why his successor was intended to be rebuke of his papacy – Ratzinger was willing to cast doubt on the forced optimism the Roman Church has made into an almost dogmatic requirement since Vatican II.

    • J.D. says:

      That’s an interesting take on Ratzinger,and one that sounds plausible. I always love your deep an interesting analyses of things. “Forced optimism” is a good way of putting the situation in much of modern Rome at the level of the hierarchy.

      Also,your take on Ratzinger on your blog was good. You objectively try to see him for who he was without the ideological lens that many Catholics had of him.

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