Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Devil is Sterile

My son and I spend Sunday evenings watching classic films. Recently we’ve seen "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre," “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb,” and “They Made Me a Criminal.” The idea here is not just to see old films, but to see cinematically important films, and so, when my son suggested “Rosemary’s Baby,” I went right down to the library and got it. It’s important for several reasons; it’s the first “Hollywood” film by Polish director Roman Polanski, it’s one of the first films that combines psychological horror (like “Psycho”) with actual supernatural events (like “Dracula”), it’s the last film produced by William Castle, it features notable performances by John Cassavetes and Mia Farrow.

The whole trick of the film is that you are not supposed to be sure what the witches are up to until the end of the film. Most of the evidence is that they want to offer up Rosemary’s baby as a human sacrifice but, if you pay close attention, there is also the possibility that she is going to have the Devil’s child. Pod-Man, being a very close viewer of film (and, ever since seeing "The Battleship Potemkin," especially of montage sequences), picked up on the unmistakable clues that it was to be the Devil’s child. So, when I asked how he liked it, he replied, “I figured out the secret twenty minutes in and, since I knew that could never happen, I wasn’t ever really scared.” Now, you might think that the Devil could never impregnate a woman because he doesn’t exist, but this wasn’t Pod-Man’s meaning. He, being a well catechized Catholic boy, knows that the Devil, like all of the angels, is a purely spiritual being who may only take on the appearance of a physical form. Though he is a person (in the sense of a rational being), he is not a body and cannot impregnate a woman. Go screw him all you like: he can’t knock you up or even give you a disease!

And this just burns him up!

He knew that Adam and Eve could participate in God’s creativity and that’s why he tempted them, out of jealousy. He knows too, that we are at our most Godlike when we create life (within marital union, of course) and so he does everything to poison this. Birth control, abortion, homosexuality, pornography are all about turning our healthy instinct for creation towards sterility, sin, and indulgence. Feminism, as it denigrates motherhood and exalts sexual consumerism, is perhaps his most perfect creation.

I was recently at the wedding of a friend. He’s a lawyer and his wife is also a professional, they are young, healthy, intelligent, good looking, honest, hard-working, decent people. Just exactly the sort of people you expect to be good parents. Yet they have no desire for children. I put this down to their being secular, since I know of no genuinely pious people who desire marriage without children, and I take it as one of the most powerful condemnations of godlessness that in a secular society it is the very best elements of the population who fail to reproduce.

Contrast this, if you will, to another friend of mine who is due to be married in August. She is deeply in love and has been engaged for some time, yet has had to delay her wedding for several years because she has lupus. When her lupus acts up she experiences crippling arthritis and must take powerful steroids just to function on a normal day-to-day basis. Unfortunately, these steroids make horrific birth defects not only possible, but probable. Of course, her doctor simply recommends that she use birth control and then abort if this fails, but my friend will have none of this. Recently, however, things have begun to get better for my friend. She has been weaned off the steroids and is only experiencing slight symptoms. She will be clean of the medication and ready for pregnancy in August and she just can’t wait! The chance to be fully one with her husband, and to share in God’s creativity with him, represents the fulfillment of her every ambition. She’s even plotted out her fertility and discovered, to her utter delight, that it will be at its very peak on her wedding night. She is saturated with happiness at this development and it is such a delight when she calls me with more good news.

Can you imagine how green with envy the Devil must be at this?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Why say the Holy Rosary?

I have a friend who became a Catholic about five years ago. She was totally secular before that and, as this is similar to my own background, right from the start she would seek my advice about how to live a really Catholic life. I told her all of the usual things (e.g. keep close to the sacraments, pray several times a day, examine your conscience every day, root for the Sox, etc.) and, as she knew me and trusted me, she simply took my advice and did her best at trying to live as a good Catholic in this messy world. And for her, it worked. She has a sense of inner peace and well-being that had eluded her in her former life.

Over time, however, people would challenge her on these things and so she would come to me once again to find out how to answer her critics. We ended up having long, and enjoyable, conversations on the efficacy of the sacraments, the role of women in the church, sexual morality — in short, the “why” of being a Catholic. I have always felt that, being forced to defend my views intellectually in these conversations, my faith is deeper and richer as a result. Many of my posts on this blog are a direct result of these conversations and I will often get a morning after call from my friend saying that she’s forwarded my blog entry off to whoever had been pestering her about things in the first place.

About two years ago, my friend became engaged to a fellow who was just as secular as she had been. Naturally, as she loved him and wanted to see him in Heaven one day, she wished for his conversion and asked my advice in the matter. I told her that usually working for conversion was like pushing on a string, and that more souls have been saved by the example of the saints than by all the words of preaching, so the thing to do was to live as a good Christian example for him. Well — it worked. Two weeks ago her fiancee was accepted into the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church and my friend is about as happy as can be.

So, my friend has a new question. Her fiancée thinks that the Rosary is repetitive and pointless. Why should he say the Rosary? Here then, are the best reasons I can think of:

1] It’s boring and repetitive. I know this sounds like a bad reason, but upon reflection you will see that there are many times in your life when something boring and repetitive can be an absolute relief. When we thought my son had broken his leg, and he was being taken off for X-rays, a nice boring, repetitive Rosary was simply the best way of dealing with my anxiety. When the troubles of the day won’t leave you alone and you just can’t sleep, the rhythm of the Rosary can be your lullaby. All spiritualities around the world use chanting as a way of clearing the mind and calming the soul; you can use the Rosary as your own chant.

2] It can be an aid to meditation.
Unlike Eastern Spiritualities, where “meditation” means something akin to self-hypnosis, meditation actually is an exact synonym for “thought.” Sometimes we need to keep from thinking, simply to surrender ourselves to God as I mentioned above, but just as frequently we need to think about God, his plans for us, and our relation to him. The Mysteries of the Rosary are a rich treasure that are not only worthy of our contemplation, but can also speak to us. Recently, when I was out for my evening walk with the Rosary, the Second Joyful Mystery (the Visitation) made me think of how, when my friend told me that she would be getting married in August, the hairs had stood up on the back of my neck. That was not only such good news to hear, but it was so pleasing to see them doing everything the right way (they are chaste, plan on using NFP, have a deep commitment to each other, have learned how to work out their differences, are not concerned with material success), and it was thrilling to think of the many blessings marriage would bring to them (an even deeper commitment, children, a partnership lasting throughout life). I thought of how this good news was a Visitation in my life, and of how all of the Mysteries show up again and again in our lives, and how we can’t let these chances for spiritual growth pass us by. How each Joyful Mystery is a chance for thanksgiving, how each Sorrowful Mystery is a chance to offer our sufferings up to God, and how each Glorious Mystery is a chance to surrender ourselves to God.

3] It pleases God and Mary.
It’s the gift that’s sure to please. Worried about your son’s broken leg? Give Mary a Rosary and she is sure to join in your prayers for him. Praying for the conversion of godless communists? The Rosary is too powerful a weapon to neglect. Just too many troubles in your life to even begin thinking about? Take the time to say the Rosary and, by doing something for God, you will feel you’ve done something valuable.

4] It’s a good example for your kids.
My kids know that I say the Rosary every day after dinner and so they know that prayer is as much a part of my life as eating or drinking. When my little Bean-Girl is sick, she comes to sit on my lap when I say it. When Pod-Man is in the dog-house, he knows that he’ll get out all the faster if he comes out on the back porch and says the Rosary with me. They see that prayer is a habit that you must have if you would be close to God.

5] It’s so manly!
Since the very day Our Lady gave the Rosary to Saints Dominic and Hyacinth for use against the heretics, real men have taken the Rosary as their weapon. Dominic himself marched into the thick of the battle of Muret in 1217 armed only with his Rosary. The battle of Lepanto was won by Don Juan of Austria because he had the drummers in his galleys set the rhythm for the oarsmen by reciting the Rosary. (The feast of the Rosary is on the anniversary the battle, 7 October 1571.) Warriors engaged against the infidel Moslems have been particularly devoted to the Rosary, not merely Don Juan, but also John Sobiewski who relieved Vienna from the Turkish siege, and Eugene of Savoy who again defeated the Turks at Peterwardein as well. Marshal Foch, Generalissimo of all Allied Armies during WW1 said that he never missed a day. During the English occupation of Ireland men willingly went to the scaffold rather than give up their Rosary. It is a militant prayer for a manly faith!

6] It has dignity. A few days ago a bicyclist was hit and killed by a car in a freak accident around the corner from my house. The day after he was hit, his co-workers put up a “Ghost Bike” for him (a bike painted white and locked permanently near the place where the accident occurred). After dinner that night, I took the kids for a walk to see the “Ghost Bike.” There were about ten people standing around, four or five co-workers, two or three of my neighbors, several people who were just curious. We didn’t approach as close as the others, standing about twelve feet away so as not to bother anyone, and we said the Rosary. Very quickly the crowd fell silent and looked at us. They were glad we were there. They were glad that someone who knew how was praying for that poor boy. The Rosary commanded their respect because it has dignity.

Monday, June 16, 2008

He Put a Rosary in R.F.K.'s Hand

From a column by Steve Lopez in the Los Angeles Times:

"People were six and seven deep," Juan says, but he got close enough to stick out his hand. As Kennedy grabbed it, Juan heard a bang and felt a flash of heat against his face. Sirhan Sirhan, the assassin, had fired from just off Juan's shoulder.

"I thought it was firecrackers at first, or a joke in bad taste," says Juan, but then he saw Kennedy sprawled on the floor and knelt to help him up.

"He was looking up at the ceiling, and I thought he'd banged his head. I asked, 'Are you OK? Can you get up?' One eye, his left eye, was twitching, and one leg was shaking."

Juan slipped a hand under the back of Kennedy's head to lift him and felt warm blood spilling through his fingers.

"People were screaming, 'Oh my God, not another Dallas!' "

Ethel Kennedy knelt down at her husband's side and pushed Juan away. Juan looked on, angry and stunned, fingering the rosary beads in his pocket.

"When I was in trouble, I would always go and pray to God to make my stepfather forget what I'd done, or to keep me out of trouble the next time. I asked Ethel if I could give Bobby the rosary beads, and she didn't stop me. She didn't say anything.

"I pressed them into his hand but they wouldn't stay because he couldn't grip them, so I tried wrapping them around his thumb. When they were wheeling him away, I saw the rosary beads still hanging off his hand."