Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Ask Thugfang: Ex-Catholic in the Bag?

His Right Dishonourable Loathsomeness, Master Thugfang, is a demon of great infamy among academic circles. He is a frequent columnist for “Tempter’s Times”, an assistant editor for “Wickedness Weekly” and current chair of Tempter’s Training College’s Department of Defense Against the White Arts, after the sudden disappearance of the most recent head under mysterious circumstances. Now, His Right Dishonourable Loathsomeness takes your questions. Having problems with a particularly troublesome patient? Meddlesome enemy agents stymieing you at every turn? Don’t wait, write immediately to “Ask Thugfang” C/O “Underworld Magazine.”

Dear Master Thugfang, I read with great appreciation your recent column on the use of family to corrupt infants before they reach the age of reason, and I thought I would write in to provide my own testimony. My patient is an ex-Catholic in her late twenties. Due to the abusive, repressive atmosphere I was able to establish in her home she rejected the Catholic Church entirely when she left home. Now she tries to tell all her Catholic friends how wrong and perverse the Catholic Church is, she never receives the Sacraments. She did try to go to Mass once, but she had an anxiety attack and left right away. That was five years ago. She is so completely insulated against the Faith that nowadays I barely even have to work at all. Yours Truly, Success Story.

My Dear, Darling, Wonderful Success Story,

Please allow me to join you in telling you how amazing you are. As you know (because you tell yourself this constantly) you are undoubtedly the greatest tempter the world has ever seen. Why don’t I promote you to undersecretary of a department, and let you write this column and teach all my lectures? Oh, I remember…

It’s because you are an arrogant little sprite who still thinks anxiety attacks are great fun. The mark of an immature palate is the over attention paid to cheap, passing torments. What can you know of the nuanced, subtle complexity of an entire human life drowned in misery, despair and sorrow? Nothing. You’re too busy with pranks. And you are lazy to boot. By your own admission you are not pressing your advantage on this patient. Not only did you admit it, you boasted!

Do you not understand we are at war here? Or did you think that the Enemy will abandon that patient the way you apparently have? I promise you, in your absence while you were fondly imagining that your work was done for you, the Enemy has not been absent for a moment. His agents never sleep. No matter how far she has run, I guarantee this patient has not closed herself off to them completely. Hardly any of them ever do before death.

Do you congratulate yourself on the work so far? Yes, there have been some successes, but not so deep or so permanent as you blissfully imagine. The patient has rejected “the Church” has she? Fool! She never knew the Church! Not the Church as we know it, that damnably tough bastion of human happiness, freedom and virtue. We see the spiritual reality spread out through the millennia, an agonizingly bright cavalcade of martyrs, poets, philosophers, saints, and millions upon millions of souls forever and ever, eternally, achingly lost to us. Do you for an instant believe that Church is what she rejected? Ha! She hears “Church” and sees her mother yelling at her about her neckline. That is what she rejects. Her “faith” was hardly worth the effort of destroying. Essentially you spent the first seventeen or eighteen years of her life telling her lies about what the Church was. First chance she got she rejected that shadow church outright. Does that put things in perspective for you, you insufferable little know-it-all?

Now, she still believes those lies, to some extent. She really thinks the Church is oppressive and self-contradictory. You had better hope she never learns the truth, because if she does it will cut through all your claptrap like a lighthouse through fog. This brings me to the biggest fault I find with you, given the very limited information in your letter. She tries to convince her Catholic friends to leave the Church. May I ask what the Heaven you are playing at? If you don’t want to lose that soul, you had better put a stop to that quick. Is it not obvious to you that the very fact she tries to argue people away from the Church is because she still really cares? Deep down inside she cannot quite get away from the haunting need to belong to whatever little bit of the real Church that touched her. Even hatred of the Church is not so useful as you might think, and I don’t think she really hates it. It might even be that she really cares about her friends and wants to rescue them from her nightmares. That really is the height of incompetence, to allow anything done from love to continue. Any love, even misguided love, is the Enemy’s territory.

Besides, hasn’t it occurred to you that talking about the Church at all with her Catholic friends is the best way I can think of to endanger all your lies? Don’t you see that it’s only a matter of time before she runs into a Catholic who actually does know a thing or two about the real Church? What do you think will happen then? You’ll be facing a long, long time in a very dark place, that’s what. It is only our unrelenting work within the Catholic Church that has saved your neck thus far. The general mediocrity among Catholic humans in her society is entirely the work of wiser and more motivated demons than yourself. That is what you have to thank for her continued ignorance, not your own skill.

Argument in general is not something I would rely on. Oh sure, it can be an opening for our own particular brand of argument. A flurry of half-baked ideas and barely hidden resentments clothed in cheap rhetoric, that is the closest you ever want to get to real argument. Real argument teaches her to ask whether this thing is true or not. Truth is something we don’t believe in here in Hell. You had better curb the idea in your patient as well, or she will never get here, and then… well… let’s just say we won’t be going hungry.

Not to mention that if she does find her way back in it is likely to be a more serious thing than you are ready for. What I mean is, the new faith she finds through hard searching is likely to be a real faith, chosen in her will, based on her intellect. It is not going to be something forced upon her by anyone. She will have had to face up to her fears and overcome them. She will have had to look your lies in the face and see through them. Hence she will value her new faith. She will also be poignantly aware of the difference between “The Faith” and the distortions and abuses that can creep in, so she will be on her guard against them.

Forget the argument. Put a stop to her even talking about the Church. We aren’t trying to reason her away from it. What you really want right now is a really solid vice or two to saddle her with, something that will distract her and absorb her. Maybe it doesn’t even have to be a vice. Save the Whales will do, as long as it takes up her time and attention away from her need for conversion and repentance. But I think while a cause or a hobby is all right as a distractor if you have to use it (the more vacuous the better) I think you’ll get more mileage out of a vice in the long run. You want something that will call up all that old, half-forgotten shame and guilt she associates with the very mention of the Church, which will cause her to resent the mention of it, and will cause her to insulate herself from those who will mention it. That’s how to get the patient to do your work for you. The sicker she gets, the more she will run away from the only medicine which might cure her. But don’t for a second dare to think you can stop chasing her. Temptation duty is not a vacation.

I have your file in front of me as I write. Perhaps, on second thought, we should meet.

I promise, if you don’t stop slacking off and bring us some results, you will be called back. You don’t want that. I don’t even want that. Really, all I want is to help you do your job better.



Friday, May 25, 2012

Offer It Up!

Quit whining and offer it up!
If you ever saw the family dog whimpering in fright at a thunderstorm and told her to offer it up, you might be a Catholic homeschooler. If your Uncle told you that he was too tired to push you on the swing and you told him to offer it up, you might be a Catholic homeschooler. The Catholic homeschoolers know what I mean. That phrase that often sounded suspiciously like parent-speak for, “I don’t want to hear your whining. Keep it to yourself,” was handed out like candy for any and all hardships, grievances and complaints. Did you hate doing the dishes? Offer it up. Were you hungry an hour after lunch? Offer it up. Schoolwork getting you down? Offer it up. I think my Mom could have written a book on the subject. The Offer-it-up Lexicon: From Abrasions to Zucchini.

For the uninitiated, what does this strange phrase mean? Well, there was the kid understanding of it, which ranged from “If I offer it up to Jesus He’ll take me to Heaven,” to “You don’t understand me and you never listen!” Never having been the parent myself, I can only guess at what they meant by it, but I suspect there were levels of meaning even for them. The basic idea, as I came to understand it as a child, was that by offering our sufferings to Jesus we could obtain graces from Him, either for ourselves or for our beloved parents, (or anyone else we chose to benefit.)

What always intrigued me, however, were the mechanics of “offering it up.” It was not really covered in great detail in the Baltimore Catechism (yes, I am a product of that system.) I remember getting the vague notion that we would give our prayers and sacrifices to God, He would like them and give us graces in return. As you can easily see, that was only about two and a half very fine shades of gray away from believing that we could earn grace. It is even closer to the belief that the harder, tougher, less pleasant or less comfortable way is always automatically the morally superior way. In other words, I was not far off believing (not in so many words) that God expected us to be as miserable as possible in this life, and that the greater the degree of misery you could subject yourself to, the greater the reward would be.

I’m not sure when it was that I really started digging into that belief. It was inevitable that I should. I dug through everything else I was handed in order to figure out what I believed and why I believed it. It was only a matter of time before I had to take a look at that idea of meritorious suffering. I think it probably started when I went to Selection for the second time. I was old enough and mature enough to have started forming (or reforming) close relationships with people, and I was getting to the point in my career where suffering was about to occur. I remember in Airborne school, without any thought or deliberation, I found myself frantically offering up all the fear (I am terrified of heights) for the people I loved. It was the only way I could handle it, with the thought that somehow my hanging through it was doing someone else some good.

Over the years since then I have been blessed with plenty more things to offer up, and have put much more thought into how it works.

The first thing, obviously, was to get rid of the subconscious notion that we “trade” our sufferings for His favor. That’s the first thing, of course, but not an easy thing. As I said, it wasn’t a logical thought out conclusion, it was a subconscious attitude. To state the idea in plain English is all the refutation it requires, but the subconscious is a much tougher nut to crack. The problem with this attitude is that it tends to portray God as something of a cosmic ogre. Anything you really desire must therefore be bad, or “Not-God’s-Will-For-You.” Some people take this to such an extreme that for them there is only one real sin: the sin of enjoying things. Jokes, parties, alcohol, deserts, movies, secular songs, anything that isn’t obviously and explicitly religious are at best concessions to the weakness of our fleshly nature. Maybe they might not be technically a sin, but wouldn’t it be better if we gave them up instead?

Whether or not it might be better to exercise restraint is a question to be decided on its own merits, but the idea that the good things of earth are a concession to the weakness of our nature is something else entirely. It overlooks the fact that God Himself created that physical nature with its physical needs, not as a limitation to be overcome, but specifically as the mode by which we are supposed to encounter Him. Not only that, but apart from sin our lives would have been not less pleasurable, but infinitely more pleasurable. (Witness the wedding feast at Cana and the multiplication of the loaves and fishes.) God gave us pleasures galore, we are the ones who have abused them. God did not invent suffering!

So any discussion of “offering-it-up” must begin with the fact that suffering was never God’s will for us. It is the result of sin. Offering it up is our response to something that is unnatural, which should not have been in the first place.

Of course our ability to recognize that suffering can be anything other than something to avoid if possible, or endure if not, is itself a gift. It is only possible to us because of the redemptive work of God Himself, whereby He acts to restore our nature and the nature of the entire created universe. God’s work comes first, ours is a response to that work and a participation in it. Based on this I can recognize three modes in which “offering-it-up” is such a response, but it would take too long to go into all of them. So another time.

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Power of the Powerless

I remember reading a story about a rather wealthy Indian lady who volunteered to work for Mother Teresa for a day, back in the years before Mother Teresa was an international celebrity. This Indian lady arrived at the clinic, which was a house for the dying, and was instantly overwhelmed by what she saw, heard and smelled. I know how she felt, too. Walking into a place like that is an instant sensory barrage of horror and evil. The evil, ugliness and pain are all very sensory phenomena, with their accompanying groans and screams, odors and wounds. The peace and love that the patients experience for the first time in their lives is much harder to see. The sight of raw flesh of a beggar who got run over by a truck is easier to notice than the fact that his wounds have been painstakingly cleaned of dirt, maggots and infection;  emaciated arms and ribs of a man who should weigh 70 kgs but instead weighs barely 30kgs hide the fact that he has just received the first good meal of his life, spoonfed by a woman who has dedicated her life to loving him; the smell of a human being in total kidney failure when his uric wastes are oozing through his pores on his skin disguises the fact that he has just been bathed today for the first time in his life. All of these things are a shock to the system. Even a trained and experienced medical practitioner can be overwhelmed walking into such a scene. Where do you start? What do you do? But this rich lady was a lay person, just an upper caste woman who had a kind urge and decided to volunteer for a day. I can only imagine what she must have been feeling as she stood there, surrounded by the obvious horror of human suffering. She must have been terrified, bewildered, filled with sorrow and helplessness. She must have wanted to turn around, run right back out the door, and never come back.

Fortunately there was something else at work, subtly, quietly, faithfully hidden under the obvious horror. Mother Teresa took this lady by the hand and led her to the most heartbreaking patient of all. A newborn infant was lying on a cushion, alone. Perhaps his parents had abandoned him, or perhaps they were dead. This was not a healthy baby. He was lethargic and emaciated. He did not cry or flail his tiny arms around. He did not startle the way a normal baby should, or grasp with his hands, or even suckle when a nipple or finger was put to his lips. He just lay there with his arms and legs spread out limply around him, breathing with the halting, abrupt, shallow gasps of a baby for whom simply breathing takes too much energy to be worthwhile.

Mother Teresa led the rich lady to this baby and told her simply to pick the baby up and hold him and love him for the few minutes or hours he had left to live. The rich lady protested that she couldn't possibly do that. It would surely break her heart. Mother Teresa only repeated her invitation, and went about her work. Left there in front of the dying infant the rich lady made a choice. She reached down and took that baby in her arms and held him. For the rest of the day she did nothing but love that baby as hard as she could until finally he died in her arms. And her heart broke, but not with anguish as she had expected. It broke with love.

I read this as I was in the first half of the SF medic training course, and it forever changed my view of medicine and healing. As healthcare providers we are trained to save lives. Our thought and energy are bent on staving off death for as long as we can, prolonging life, reducing pain, preventing or mitigating disabilities. All true healers have this goal, but all of us inevitably face the truth that our patients are going to die. Put it off as long as we can, prescribe what we will, in the end death will win. We can only delay it. Sometimes we can delay it for years. Sometimes only for minutes. Sometimes the patient is already dead, but their body just hasn't figured that out yet.

Faced with this truth, each health care provider, from the lowest EMTB to the Surgeon General (who generally does very little surgery from what I hear) has to find his own way of dealing with it. Some choose to ignore it. Some simply shrug their shoulder and move on. Some stop caring eventually. But in Mother Teresa's radical and almost unforgiveable request I believe I have seen the only true way forward. We must look deeply into the horror of death and see past it to the subtle, patient, silent work of love which is operating underneath the horror and pain, stronger and older and wiser than them. In the truly authentic Catholic approach to healthcare there is the acknowledgment that the patient will die, and the deeper knowledge that love is stronger than death. Even if the patient will only live for a few seconds, those few seconds can be lived with dignity. They can be filled with life and love and peace, if someone is brave enough to let God use them to be that gift. Such moments are never wasted.

All of this went through my mind when I saw this video by Tammy Ruiz a Registered Nurse who specializes in Perinatal Bereavement and Perinatal Hospice. I am not at all ashamed to admit that I couldn't watch the full video without tears in my eyes. The work she does is beautiful, heroic and necessary, and alas, all too rare.

Please watch the video and pass it on particularly to any medical proffessionals who are involved in birth and perinatal care. Pray for Mrs. Ruiz and the continuation of her vocation, which is truly a call within a call. Take the time to celebrate life in whatever way you can. This is a solid, concrete answer to the culture of death and a joyful affirmation of the infinite value of every single human person, no matter how small.

Go here to read Mrs. Ruiz's own words on her work.

(The Title of this post is taken from the title of the amazing book by Christopher De Vinck.)

Monday, May 14, 2012

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Ask Thugfang: The Games

His Right Dishonourable Loathsomeness, Master Thugfang, is a demon of great infamy among academic circles. He is a frequent columnist for “Tempter’s Times”, an assistant editor for “Wickedness Weekly” and current chair of Tempter’s Training College’s Department of Defense Against the White Arts, after the sudden disappearance of the most recent head under mysterious circumstances. Now, His Right Dishonourable Loathsomeness takes your questions. Having problems with a particularly troublesome patient? Meddlesome enemy agents stymieing you at every turn? Don’t wait, write immediately to “Ask Thugfang” C/O “Underworld Magazine.”

Dear Master Thugfang, My patient is a single worker in his early twenties. I had been handling him nicely with the World category of temptations. He was quite the party animal, strip clubs, alcohol, casual drug use, fornication, social lying, gossip, everything, a really textbook case. Things were going along nicely until he suddenly stopped all of that. One of his friends introduced him to online gaming and now that’s all he does every waking minute he’s not at work. Should I be worried about this new development? Or is it just a phase? Yours Truly, Worldly Wise.

My Dear Worldly Wise,

This is a new development, of course, not only in terms of your patient’s personal history, but also in terms of our campaign in general. The computer game, as such, is a new weapon, but that is still no excuse for your ignorance. Do you have any idea how much research we’ve invested in this subject? Have you read even a single one of the scholarly articles written about it recently, or have you been wasting our time writing overly wordy and transparently self-congratulatory letters to diabolical periodicals? And in what possible way is this in my area of expertise? I am a Master of Defense Against the White Arts. Petty questions like this are so far beneath my notice, they are insulting.

Worried? Why in the name of Hell should you be worried? You, and all those devils like you, think so shallowly. So he isn’t committing all those sins you had been spoon feeding him for so long? No more lustful glances at that stripper up on her pole? No more boastful lies to his buddies about that girl he wanted to sleep with? No more weekend benders? Instead he is wasting his time with some harmless entertainment. The fact that you even ask if it is “just a phase” tells me that you are hoping it will pass so you can get back to the real business of shoving the world down his throat. My dear, poor, ignorant befuddled demon, never shove a temptation down a patient’s throat. They only end up throwing it up in the end. Let the darling creatures choose their own temptations. This patient has, for now, left the world. Never fear, the habits are still there, and you can call on them if the occasion ever arises. Your thought should now be absorbed in deciding how this new development is to be used.

The problem I have always had with the World, as a main line of attack, is that it is too human. That is, there is always human interaction. Of course our business in the World is to poison, twist, and stunt human interaction so that it takes place only on the shallowest levels, and is limited to exploitation and abuse. When that process is firmly established, I grant you the results are quite gratifying. However, I have seen some sad cases (not mine, but unfortunate acquaintances I used to have). You see, in the World there is constant interaction with people, and people are always other. It requires constant vigilance to ensure that the patient never sees them as people because if he did he would look for something deeper. The Enemy has a teaching that persons should give of themselves to each other and that somehow this will make them more full, instead of more empty. He calls it “relationship.” According to their doctrine, Heaven is Relationship. (You will, of course, recognize the twist on my beloved acolyte, Jean Paul’s famous saying that “Hell is other people”.)  To the Enemy and His agents, Heaven is the fulfillment of all relationships.

That dogma is, of course, heresy to us, but we use the word as shorthand for whatever-it-is-that-is-really-going-on-there. In any event “relationship” is purely the enemy’s territory. The last thing we want our human to have is a relationship. In my mind, the perverted shallow relationships of the World are really only a concession. In the end, in Hell, there will be no such thing as even the tiniest vestige of relationship. All will be turned in upon self in an eternal, crippling self-adulation and hatred. We want to begin the work as soon as possible since The Enemy created the little vermin and His calls are deep inside them and hard to eradicate. The human interactions which we must allow them for now are our concessions to this weakness in them, which we slowly wean them away from over time.

If you’ve been able to comprehend what I have so clearly explained above, then you should be able to see why I am so frustrated by your short-sighted ignorance. Don’t wait for this “phase to pass.” Use it.

Let us first establish what we do not want to have happen. Male humans will often gather together in one of their homes to play video games, often combined with beer and pizza. This we absolutely do not want. Of course we have ways of exploiting even this, but the combination of human interaction, food and drink, harmless high spirits, and the phenomenon of “fun” renders the event, on the whole, less than favorable to us. At least they aren’t coming together for virtuous pursuits, you say? True, and if that’s all I could get I would take it, but on the whole I say, when the games draw humans together at all it rather defeats their whole purpose.

Some experts on the subject advocate sex and violence in video games, and we have made great advances on those fronts. I am dubious about how much harm they really do to adult humans, but as an indicator of what the human’s real longings are they are invaluable. After all, he wouldn’t be playing at buying prostitutes and then killing them if that idea didn’t have a certain attraction in his heart. And as a part of our overall flooding of society with those two themes, it is of course only natural.

But to me the real genius of the games is isolation. Let him sit in his house alone, to play them. If he plays with people he knows online, so be it. Sometimes a little dose of interaction is better than nothing. It makes them feel like they are in relationship so it is a vaccination against the real thing. Let him spend all those longings for adventure and accomplishment on a series of ones and zeros in a computer program somewhere.

Does he use them to escape human interaction, that is the question? When the moment of truth comes, which does he choose, his game or the other person? To this end, you want to keep that moment of truth as fleeting and as low key as possible. He should not even know that it is a test with eternal repercussions when it happens. The moment of truth does not look like a messenger from the enemy with a flaming sword. Far more often it looks like a snot-nosed little human brat asking Daddy to read a book. It might look like a text message from a friend inviting him out. You, of course, can see the weight of consequence hanging on each of these choices. (At least you should be able to. From the letter you sent, however, I have my doubts.) He, almost certainly, cannot, and your business is to blind him more and more until all he can see is the image on his screen.

 Can you take the games from being part of his real world, and make them the whole world? If you can, then you have successfully illusioned him. It is excellent preparation for when they arrive down below, where never again through all eternity will any reality ever intrude itself upon their shrinking souls. The human who voluntarily chooses that while still alive is already half-way to hell. He just doesn’t know it.

The question is, my dear Worldly Wise, can you teach him that his fantasy world is more important than The Enemy’s real world? If not, then do let me know, and I will be happy to arrange for a more intimate refresher.



Wednesday, May 9, 2012


It's a testament to the state of my life right now that, although I originally thought of this post two, almost three, weeks ago, I haven't had a chance to write it down until now. That, in itself, is not that unusual. I often take a long time to finish a thought, even in face to face conversations. It is not unusal for me to think about a blog for weeks before I actually write it out, and I wish I could say that was the case with this one. However that is not what happened. What happened was I got the idea, sketched out a brief idea in my head, and then forgot about it for two weeks because I simply didn't have the time to think. Or rather, I had time for thinking, but other things took priority.

But tonight I am back at the house before eight, my e-mails are caught up, tomorrow's lunch is packed, and my stomach is full so let's see if I can't write something.

About two and a half weeks ago I went out with some friends to a lecture on Benedictine Spirituality (it was a lot more fun than that makes it sound.) The Benedictine order has a tri-fold vow that they make, which is slightly different from the typical religious vow of poverty, chastity and obedience. Benedictines vow obedience, conversion of life, and stability and it was the vow of stability that made up a good portion of the talk. Considering that the audience was primarily young adults there is a certain irony in that.

Stability in the Benedictine order means that the monk makes a choice to remain with his monastery for the rest of his life. He cannot even go to visit another monastery without permission from his abbot, and he can never move out without breaking his vow. Even to work outside the monastery requires special permission. Perhaps the reason why this concept stuck so strongly with me is because it is the complete antithesis of our modern culture, especially among my generation. In America things are made to wear out. When it does wear out you throw it away and buy a new one. We try different jobs or college majors looking for the perfect fit, by which we usually mean something that will never get old or be boring or require us to get up early on a monday morning. If something doesn't stay as fun and fresh as it looked in the brochure we discard it and try something else. We take up one relationship after another, looking for one that will stay interesting and spontaneous. When our own humanity interferes with that fantasy we fight, break up, and go out looking again. We live in an unstable and disposable culture, and against that background the stability of the Benedictines stands in sharp, formidable contrast, like a mountain.

A few days after this talk a close friend of mine pointed out that my life is almost exactly the opposite of the Benedictine vow. Since I left home at 17 I have lived in Texas, New York, Korea, Kansas, Iraq, Afghanistan, North Carolina and Washington State. The longest I have stayed in one place was two and a half years in North Carolina. The second longest was fifteen months in Afghanistan. Interspersed with that has been a string of short stops at various places for schools and a short trip to Thailand. Truthfully, there has been very little stability in my adult life. It's odd, however, that it took someone else looking at me from the outside and pointing it out before I saw that. It puts into context my growing desire to put down roots somewhere and stop moving every couple of years. My books are getting harder and harder to lug around.

That lack of stability, however, was not apparent to me because in reality it is somewhat superficial. I don't really define myself in terms of place, but in terms of character and relationship. My priority for most of that time was not my job or the unit or my career. Instead I was focused on developing my character. I had a very clear idea of the sort of person I wanted to become and that provided a context for everything that happened outside me. Every change, or move, or event was simply one more thing shaping me, but it was the shaping that I was interested in, not the things themselves.

As I got older I did not become any less focused on that interior life, but it took on a new dimension. It became a relationship, rather than a solitary pursuit of an ideal. I began to see how God was the one shaping me, or to put it another way, calling me, and began to recognize His immediacy and His stability. At the same time I was also recapturing, or maybe developing for the first time, a real, solid appreciation for my family. I realized that, no matter how long I was in the Army it was not a permanent thing. It is designed not to be permanent. It is the kind of job that you can do only for a certain portion of your life. Even within that time you change units and duty stations every few years. But God and Family, they do not change. God is the constant upon which all true constancy rests. He has been with me, leading and guiding, calling and shaping, every moment since I was formed in the womb. And the tool that He used to form and shape me was my family. My parents will always be my parents, in this world and in the next. My siblings likewise, and my cousins and aunts and uncles and grandparents, etc. The relationships exist outside of the narrow confines of time. That is what is important, that is what is real and stable. That is what has provided the constancy in my crazy life, even when I was too dumb to see it.

The Benedictine vow of stability is not a norm but a witness. In voluntarily tying themselves to a single geographic location for their entire lives they bear witness to the rest of us that we are meant to do the same, spiritually. We are meant to choose freely to belong to something (say rather Someone) that will last. Love, then, is our bedrock. Goodness, truth and beauty are footprints of that love, but more than the footprint is offered us. We are told that we may learn to possess that very Love Himself, for He longs to give Himself too us. That is our permanence, our stabilty, our constant endurance. All else is but a ripple.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Ask Thugfang: Family Matters

His Right Dishonourable Loathsomeness, Master Thugfang, is a demon of great infamy among academic circles. He is a frequent columnist for “Tempter’s Times”, an assistant editor for “Wickedness Weekly” and current chair of Tempter’s Training College’s Department of Defense Against the White Arts, after the sudden disappearance of the most recent head under mysterious circumstances. Now, His Right Dishonourable Loathsomeness takes your questions. Having problems with a particularly troublesome patient? Meddlesome enemy agents stymieing you at every turn? Don’t wait, write immediately to “Ask Thugfang” C/O “Underworld Magazine.”

Dear Worshipful Master Thugfang, I have been assigned to a patient who is still an infant. Of course this leaves me with a lot of time on my claws so I was wondering if there was anything I could do until the patient reaches the age of reason and I can begin tempting it. Are there any correspondence courses you would recommend? Perhaps your worshipfulness has produced some manuals for tempters in the field to study? I know all of us would be extremely grateful for such condescension. Yours Truly, Admiring Fan.

My Dear Admiring Fan,

It was ever so nice to receive a respectful and appreciative note among the general onslaught of arrogance, ignorance and incompetence I see crossing my desk constantly. The demon who sent that respectful note was not you! Not only are you a fulsome flatterer, a sycophantic suck-up, and a transparent turncoat in the making (Oh I know your type, all right. Don’t think that I, in my position, haven’t received such hollow praise before.) You are also an unforgivable bungler. Time on your claws? Something to do until your patient reaches the age of reason? Until you can begin tempting?! I have half a mind to track you down and arrange for some one-on-one time with one of our best re-educators.

Have you no idea how crucial the time this human is going through right now will be in its development? Granted the creature is incapable of what the Enemy calls “Sin”, but from your note one would think that tempting humans to commit sins was our most important business on earth. It sounds as if you’ve been listening to some of the humans’ own thinkers of the shallowest school of “Fire and Brimstone” preachers. We’ve made good use of them on earth, convincing millions of humans that The Enemy is simply waiting up there for the slightest infraction of any one of His innumerable rules, and that at the slightest excuse He is liable to send them kicking and screaming to Hell. As I say, it’s a lie we’ve made good use of, and you seem to have swallowed it whole.

Ah, if only it were true. If only it were possible for souls to be dragged into Hell kicking and screaming. If only that’s what the Enemy was all about, but alas, it is not. Unfortunately quite the opposite is true. The Enemy is all about dragging souls into Heaven, and most of them do a fair amount of kicking and screaming on the way. He won’t quite force them, of course, but the truth is He is so cunning and backhanded about it that it really takes an unbelievable amount of work to get any soul into Hell at all. An unbelievable amount of work for us, of course, and a good amount of work for the human too. They really have to want Hell to get there. It’s not somewhere you end up by accident.

What does this have to do with your infant patient? Everything! You currently seem to think that your work doesn’t begin until you can start tempting this creature into breaking some of The Enemy’s rules so that the Enemy will give up on it and relinquish it to our custody. You are a fool. Temptations are the fruit of our labor, and the means by which our goals are accomplished, but the real root of it is so much deeper. I am not the least bit interested in individual sins, which can and will be forgiven if the human asks. I want a human who will not ask, and who eventually cannot ask. This starts now.

Where does it start? Can you be such a dunce that you cannot see? It starts with the very institution The Enemy has established to lead this creature to Him: the Family! That’s right, I said the “F” word, and you had better take a good hard look at this creature’s family. Is it close and loving? Break it up! Smash it! Everything that goes on in that home right now is laying the groundwork for those “temptations” you so fondly look forward to. Unless you do something to corrupt that family now, your precious temptations will be much harder and less successful. I suppose it never occurred to you to take a look at our strategic level battle plans for the current phase of the war? What in Satan’s name do you think was the point of us doing so much work with the human males, if not to destroy the family? What was the point of our centuries long campaign to set the conditions for contraception, abortion and divorce if not to strike these little human vermin at their very root? We want the rats born into a toxic environment and have been working at making that the norm longer and harder than a half-rate neophyte like you could begin to imagine.

Now, don’t be a fool and start working against the tide. Work with what you have. I keep preaching that first spiritual maxim until I am hoarse, but no one listens. Raw material. Humans exist to be used. They and everything about them are raw material. What is this patient’s family like? Is it broken? Good start but don’t rest on that fact. You must encourage the brokenness. We don’t want simple separation, we want resentment, broken responsibilities, taking sides, name calling, subtle manipulation. Is it tight and close? Again, raw material. Harder to work with but not impossible. Let that closeness be an idol. Let the parents sacrifice every trace of individuality in their children for an illusive ideal of the “Perfect Christian Family.” That kind of “love” is the kind we want to encourage. Let the children be smothered with that kind of “love” and it becomes the most effective insulation against the Enemy and His Church we have yet found. On the other hand, are the parents distant and permissive? Encourage that. Let them think that any idea of teaching truth is repressive, and not allowing their children to find “their own truth.” The principle is imbalance. You want the parents imbalanced towards their children. Let the mother be so enthralled to the little rat’s every whim that she neglects her husband. Let the husband be so intense about providing for his offspring that he never actually meets it.

Find out which way the parents lean, and encourage that. If they lean different ways, instead of letting that be a healthy source of balance in their mutual lives, turn it into a source of unrelenting antagonism and resentment.

The family, idiot, the family! That is the key to your future success or failure with this offspring. Any slackness now will cost you eons of work to overcome later. On the other claw, a solid foundation of fear, or insecurity, or guilt, or stubbornness laid now, while not a guarantee, will certainly go a long way towards smoothing your path later on. Hopefully it will also smooth the path that this darling little bundle of life will take, right down the smooth, slippery path to Our Father’s House below. I long to cuddle that little thing in an eternal embrace!

Do you understand now, you blockhead? Nothing to do? You had better be working your forked tail off or by all that is foul I will personally speak to my good friend Grubtongue on your behalf. You may have heard of him? If not, ask around among those of your friends who have been through a recertification program recently. They will be delighted to fill you in.



Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Through the Gate

“Truly, Truly I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in another way, that man is a thief and a robber; but he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” John 10:1-3

This passage has been on my mind since Saturday afternoon. I read it after confession on Saturday, again at Mass on Sunday, and again at Bible study last night. I didn’t really start forming any opinions about it until last night. I was trying simply to listen to it (the actual passage I had read was much longer, going all the way to verse 18.) After listening to all the points of view at Bible study last night I am full of amazement at this passage. It is so deep, so rich, so multi-layered. On the most obvious level there is the message that Jesus was conveying directly to the Pharisees and elders of a synagogue (see chapter 9). He was calling upon the rich religious and covenantal significance of the word “shepherd” and the image of the people of Israel as God’s chosen flock. He was tying together three themes from the Old Testament:

1)    God as the Shepherd of His people, (example Genesis 49:24, Psalm 23:1, Psalm 80:1, Ezekiel 34:11-15)

2)    The priests and prophets as the shepherds of Israel, (example Jeremiah 23)

3)    The ruler (especially David) as the shepherd of Israel, (example 2 Sam 5:2, 7:7, Psalm 78:71)

Jesus draws all of these themes together and unites them in Himself, casting his pharisaic listeners as the false shepherds of Israel declaimed by Jeremiah and Ezekiel, and Himself as the Good Shepherd foretold by Ezekiel and Micah (Micah 5:2-4).

Jesus is never simple, though. If it were simply a message meant strictly for his immediate hearers it would never have been recorded since, presumably, the Pharisees never read the New Testament. It was recorded for our sake and so Jesus spoke with me and my friends specifically in mind. It is also a parable about the Church. We are the sheep, He is the good Shepherd who calls each of us by name. The sheepfold is the Church, but it is also the kingdom of Heaven. Any attempt to force our way into Heaven on our own merits is doomed to failure. Worse, we are thieves and liars if we try it. We are no different from Adam and Eve, reaching out to grasp and take what has not been freely offered. We must go in and out through the gate.

The idea of the gate, though, has been turning over and over in my head since last night. Some people might consider a gate a symbol of enclosing and limiting, but it isn’t. It is an image of freedom, specifically the only true path to freedom. It is a symbol of consent. When Jesus speaks those words about entering by the door and calling His own by name, the most powerful association in my mind is with the Song of Songs.

You are a garden locked up, my sister, my bride;
you are a spring enclosed, a sealed fountain.
Your plants are an orchard of pomegranates
with choice fruits,
with henna and nard,
nard and saffron,
calamus and cinnamon,
with every kind of incense tree,
with myrrh and aloes
and all the finest spices.
You are a garden fountain,
a well of flowing water
streaming down from Lebanon. Song of Songs 4:12-15

These are the words of the bridegroom, who is variously either a human lover of a human woman, or Jesus, the lover of souls. Throughout the Song both interpretations are ever present, and in fact, inextricably united. One does not exist without the other. But for now let this be the voice of Jesus, calling His own by name.

She responds:

Awake, north wind,
and come, south wind!
Blow on my garden,
that its fragrance may spread everywhere.
Let my beloved come into his garden
and taste its choice fruits. Song of Songs 4:16

And again He speaks:

I come to my garden, My sister, My bride,
I gather my myrrh with my spice,
I eat my honeycomb with my honey,
I drink my wine with my milk. Song of Songs 5:1

No matter how many times I read through the Song of Songs it never ceases to amaze me. Amaze is the wrong word. It never ceases to captivate me.

This is the most amazing thing about our God. The image of the sealed and locked fountain (whether the soul that Jesus longs to enter or the heart of the woman the man in the poem loves) is an image of something that is unattainable; something that, no matter how hard you try, can never simply be achieved. I can achieve many things by my own efforts. I can learn a language, or a martial art, or a recipe. If I wanted to I could earn a million dollars, or save up to own a Ferrari, or a cabin in the woods, or a mansion by the sea. What I can never do, however, is achieve love. I can never compel someone to love me. I can only ask permission. It will be either given or not. If it is not free it is not love. If it is truly love that I want then that freedom is the only possible condition for it to exist.

This should not be surprising for me, a mere human, but for God? God is the creator of the universe, of All That Is! How is there anything that He cannot achieve simply by willing it? And yet, there is. In His love He has created something that is forever beyond the reach of even His power: the human heart. He cannot force entry into it. He cannot climb the fence, for that would destroy the very thing that He longs for, which is love. Love, by its very nature exists only when it is given freely. Unfree love is simply a no-thing, a thing which is not. So He does not force entry, or climb the walls, or dig under the fence. He stands outside and calls. And we answer. Or not.

“I slept, but my heart was waking.
Hark! My Beloved is knocking.
‘Open to me, my sister, my love,
My dove, my perfect one.” Song of Songs 5:2.

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. Revelations 3:20

There is so much more here, but this blog is already too long.