Sunday, June 25, 2017

Discerning Icons: Good and Bad

Icon of Saint Seraphim of Sarov

The purpose of an icon is to take us into the realm of the Spirit, where we can experience the transforming power of divine grace (John Baggley, Doors of Perception).
In response to my post Icons as Resistance, one of the readers in these Woodlands asked for some guidance as to how - or rather, from where - one can find icons to acquire if one wishes to get a few for the home. In other words, which are good icons to get? And from which should one stay miles away?

I admit, this is a hot topic in this day and age of non-discrimination. It holds most true if one does not have thousands of dollars to shell out to acquire various icons written by known and reputable masters - or to settle a lawsuit alleging discrimination by having dared to prefer in public, in writing, some iconographers over others, without sufficient and documented 'empirical evidence.' But since it has always been my fortune - or misfortune? - to not be tongue-tied regardless of the hat worn at whatever point in time, I will answer the reader's question as best I can.

Choosing an Icon - A Brief Guide


Icon of Our Lady

The beautiful and the good, ultimately the beautiful and God, coincide. Through the appearance of the beautiful, we are wounded in our innermost being, and that wound grips us and takes us beyond ourselves; it stirs longing into flight and moves us toward the truly Beautiful to the Good in itself (Benedict XVI, The Spirit of the Liturgy).
First, when considering an acquisition, bear in mind that an icon is not just made for prayer, but has been made because of prayer. This is a vital factor in any choices to be made. So would you get an icon "Made in China/Vietnam/Taiwan/wherever," or one written by an independent iconographer who tries to follow the life of the Faith?

Ask around for the latter. You might be pleasantly surprised by the terms some 'small' or lesser-known iconographers might give you, in particular if they are creating icons for love of God (as they should be), rather than just being out to make money no matter what. Do not be shy to use that time-honored tradition known in more popular parlance as haggling. Iconographers being craftspeople, for the most part, in the old school mindset understand it very well. That said, please bear in mind that holy icons of the portable variety take about 45 hours to write and that does not include the time spent waiting for them to dry and varnishing them with olifa when ready (larger icons obviously take longer).

Second, do not restrict yourself to your locality, region or nation, when looking for an affordable icon. Prices differ hugely between independent iconographers in the West and their counterparts in Eastern Europe or Russia. For example, I have managed to get icons from the latter group of iconographers for about one-fifth of the price often quoted by iconographers in the US.

The icon of the Mandylion in Icons, the Church and the People of God and the icon of the Theotokos of Kazan in Icons as Resistance came from 'unknown' iconographers in Ukraine and Russia respectively. The Mandylion icon was written by an old female iconographer known only in her own village; the Kazan icon was written by an advanced iconography student in Moscow. But both icons are very beautiful and they cost less than $200 each, including shipping-with-tracking charges. These icons were both laboriously handwritten from prayer and all the materials used were natural. Meanwhile, the first icon shown above of Saint Seraphim of Sarov only cost $50 excluding shipping and yes, it is a genuine icon, not a piece of paper or cardboard glued to wood. It too was written by a iconography student in the same manner, this time in Bulgaria.

But how can one find these kinds of icons - icons that should have been (and have been) written, rather than just produced - without having a trained eye or just plain, good old-fashioned knowing people?

Third, look at the face. I cannot stress this enough. Look at the face. The face and its expression in an icon are a dead giveaway as to whether that icon has been written or not as a result of prayer. What does that face do for you? What do you experience when you look at that face, that expression? Do you feel stricken in your soul? "Wounded by love," as Benedict XVI said? Or do you feel repulsed? Do you feel peace, calmness, quietude - joy, even - when looking at that icon? Or do you feel fear or that "something's not quite right;" unease? This is the key to discerning proper icons from diabolical ones. Yes, the latter do exist.

An icon is a handwritten image that is often the result of direct or indirect revelation to the heart of the soul - the nous - of the iconographer before and during the writing process itself. And that image bears upon it the 'imprint' of the Icon of God through the divine energeia as discussed in an earlier post. But so does your soul if you are in a state of grace! The icon and your soul, therefore, should be 'speaking' to each other in an analogous (albeit not similar) manner to when Christ 'spoke' to John in utero and John 'recognized' Him, through the Holy Spirit, when Mary and Elizabeth met while pregnant (Lk 1:41). If the icon does not somehow 'speak' to you when gazing upon it, what, in that icon, is missing? Is it just an apparent lack of technical skill (something easily attained with further practice) or is it something else altogether?

If, on the one hand, the iconographer is pursuing holiness, that pursuit is going to be seen and felt, one way or another, in the icon regardless of skill level, because one of the effects of genuine iconography on the painter is the opening up wide of one's heart and, at times, the nous by the grace of God. So this is going to come through even in icons written in the crudest way. The aforementioned process occurs because it is the Holy Spirit who is, in reality, the divine iconographer and genuine icons (for lack of better terminology) are intimately related to the various stages and processes of both theosis and deification.

If, on the other hand, an iconographer is painting an icon under the influence of false light, there is going to be a closing, not opening, of the heart and that closure is going to be transmitted to the final product. This becomes most evident in the depicted face and its expression, since it is precisely there that defacement - destruction or eradication of the image, iconoclasm of the imprint within an icon itself - first occurs and with the greatest intensity possible. In other words, what is present in the depths of the heart and soul of the iconographer is going to come out without fail in the icon, and if you are in a state of grace when gazing upon it, you should be able to easily discern its underlying origin.

Fourth, given all of the above, you can reach some conclusions as to what or what not to acquire and from where. If you see an icon of the 'cardstock variety' that is beautiful and it really 'speaks' to you, and you also see a handwritten icon that you feel pushes you away, it is the former that you should acquire despite its materiality, not the latter. That for reasons now obvious.

Enjoy your journey with icons.

© Marcelle Bartolo-Abela, aka Bald Eagle.



Saturday, June 24, 2017

L'Abandon de Dieu


A simple comment for the creatures of the Woodlands about the short below: This is reality in relation to the state of Eucharistic Adoration in the Catholic Church. Plain, stark reality less than two weeks ago. So we documented it.



(by the Bald Eagle).

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Some Relics of Our Lady


Ex capillis, ex velo, ex veste,
ex selpulchro Beata Virgine Mariae

The miracles which derive from the holy relics witness to the fact that their pious veneration by the people is pleasing to God (Saint Justin Popovich).
 
Even after death they act as if alive, healing the sick, expelling demons, and by the power of the Lord rejecting every evil influence of the demons. This is because the miraculous grace of the Holy Spirit is always present in the holy relics (Saint Ephraim the Syrian).  
Here (above, below) for your edification are four precious relics of the Virgin Mary in a hand-carved and gilded sealed reliquary and a fifth relic in a common theca. The four relics of Our Lady presented in the above reliquary, with official documentation of their authenticity, consist of:
  1. A short strand of her hair,
  2. A small piece of her silk veil; 
  3. A small piece of her colored robe; and 
  4. A stone from her tomb in Jerusalem.
The locks of the Virgin Mary's hair, her robe and her veil were originally kept by the Patriarchs of Jerusalem, to whom they had been given by the Apostles (Cannuli & Bartolo-Abela, 2016; Relics of the Saints: January-February). Then the Patriarch-Saint Juvenal gave them to the Empress-Saint Pulcheria, who gifted them to the city of Constantinople. Some locks from the Virgin’s hair, which had been cut off for remembrance by some of the Apostles upon her dormition, can now be found in the Great Reliquary at the Duomo di Messina, Sicily, and at the Basilica of San Marco in Venice, Italy.

Ex capillis


Ex velo

Above is a small piece of the Virgin's veil that she was reportedly wearing when she gave birth to Christ. This veil was in the possession of the Emperor Charlemagne, who had received it as a gift from the Byzantine Empress Irene of Constantinople. It was gifted by Charles II, the grandson of Charlemagne, in 876 to the Cathedral of Notre-Dames de Chartres in France. Other portions of the veil can be found in churches across Italy, in Cologne and Mainz, Germany; and in Prague, Czech Republic among others.

Ex veste


Ex sepulchro

Above is a small stone from the tomb of Our Lady that can be found in the crypt of the Church of the Assumption in Kidron Valley (Valley of Josaphat; Joel 3:2, 12), Jerusalem, Israel. According to the tradition of the Dormition, the body of the Virgin Mary spent three days in this tomb before her Assumption into heaven. Her three days in the tomb mirrored those spent by her Divine Son in the Holy Sepulchre, also in Jerusalem.

Official documentation of the authenticity of the relics and their provenance comes on parchment from Aloysius, Cardinal Amat (eventual Head of the College of Cardinals), dated 1829. The four relics above were re-authenticated on the same document in 1884:

Certfication by Aloysius, Cardinal Amat

Here is a fifth precious relic of Our Lady's, this time a small piece of her girdle (belt), which she had given to the Apostle Thomas. Large portions of this girdle, reported to have been made of camel hair, can now be found at Vatopedi Monastery on Mount Athos, Greece; the Monastery of Trier, Germany; the Cathedral in Prato, Italy; and at the Church of the Holy Belt in Homs, Syria.

Ex fascia Beata Virgine Mariae

I will not enter here into how these relics ended up in my possession, but there is a whole story behind them. Maybe one day I shall decide to narrate it. In any event, I hope you enjoy them.

© Marcelle Bartolo-Abela, aka Bald Eagle


New Ecumenical Liturgy at Francis' Skunk Works?

The "Skunk Works" is the unofficial name for the U.S. top-secret aircraft development program. Veritas Vincit reports that rumor has it that Francis is developing a top-secret ecumenical liturgy that will be acceptable to Catholics, Lutherans and Anglicans. (The obvious joke: "But we already have one!")

Is Francis the kind of guy that would have his own top-secret theological Skunk Works?

You can read the story there, but the key difficulty is the consecration. The Bear will let his intelligent readers work that one out on their own.

One proposed solution is to have each celebrant silently pray his or her own formula.

The Bear stresses this is a rumor reported by an Italian journalist who says his sources are "usually good." As to the truth of that rumor, the Bear cannot offer an informed opinion.The Bear does not usually go in for rumors and seers and the like, preferring to stick to hard evidence and reasonable inferences drawn therefrom.

This might easily be a hoax. In the absence of evidence there is no real reason to suspect otherwise. The Bear is not passing it along for the purpose of the truth of the matter asserted, as the old courtroom hearsay exception goes.

There is something here, however, that is worth considering.

As ridiculous as this sounds, the Bear's reaction was not shocked surprise. In fact, the ecumenical trend lines in the Church are leading to something like this sooner or later. Francis is the perfect man to make it happen. The only thing that makes the Bear tend to doubt it is that no provision is made for Evangelicals.

What is worth considering is this:

Intelligent, well-informed Catholics cannot dismiss such a rumor out of hand. We are at a time in Church history when we can imagine that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass might mean sacrificing the sacrifice in the name of the illusion of communion with non-Catholic sects.

Our position is similar to that of a husband who hears a rumor that his wife is having an affair. Depending on the wife, he would instantly dismiss it as ridiculous or entertain the truth of the rumor - at least for a moment.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Debate Between Bear & Jesuit Top Dog Fr. Abascal





Equal Time for Response of Top Jesuit Fr. Abascal

Fr. Arturo Sosa Abascal begins, in the best Jesuit tradition, by smiling indulgently at the Bear's simple reading of the text of the First Epistle of John, Chapter 2, verses 18 - 26 in the previous article.

"Ah, si, Oso, the Johannine Epistles. Of course the best scholarship recognizes they were written much later than claimed, by a school that associated itself with the apostle. Their author was not really the apostle, as you would know if you were a genuine scholar. Even the early Church did not know quite what to make of the epistles and Revelation attributed to him. It is doubtful that he was an historical person in the first place.

"Even so, Oso, the words are relative and one must understand the audience and purpose of any passage left to us by ancient editors. Then, if you insist on applying it to real-world situations - which is a bad idea - it must be done with great discernment which the laity lack. 

"The truth is much less dramatic than you have imagined. The authors of this epistle were addressing local churches that had been divided by a different understanding of the new faith, most likely Gnostics of some sort. In fact, this epistle is not even relevant to Catholics today.

"For example, we have a much broader understanding of who comprise the People of God on this great human pilgrimage. 

"Your simple-minded reading of the text out of context would eliminate our Muslim brothers and sisters in their own valid faith-experience of one of the three Great Abrahamic Religions. Such an exclusivist view of the Christian Faith was buried with Father Feeney. [Laughs.] 

"The requirement is not any sort of intellectual acceptance of some first-century Christ-figure, whose myths were collected around a possibly historical rabbi, or at any rate movement of universal love. Christianity is one of many simple expressions of mercy in today's world, a world that is much larger and more diverse than any imagined by the third-century editors of the Johannine school. 

"The Church is evolving into a reinterpretation of the Christ-figure that leads it to accompany everyone without exception, but especially those on the peripheries: the poor, the refugees and the migrants. Indeed, we must learn to do without the facile certainties of old labels like 'Catholic,' and even 'Christian.' Labels divide. We must never smugly formulate our brothers and sisters with a word. Only triumphalists do this.

"The existence of the crisis of Global Warming proves to us that we are all just humans being, facing the same threats, the same questions, and finding answers suited to our experience, heritage and language. The answers are unimportant. What is important is the image of each of us touching one another in mute loving ways and finding reciprocal acceptance beyond all ancient arguments, modern borders. or outdated arbitrary cultural constructs such as morality and gender.

"Your implication that Pope Francis may be an antichrist, besides being shockingly non-Catholic and uncharitable, shows a naive, even childish proof-texting that is the result of wrenching the text from its context. Catholics can hardly insist on the biblical texts as some sort of 'divine oracle.' That is superstition, and one that the Catholic Church has always condemned. They did not have tape recorders in those days, you know. But I am sure you have not considered that essential fact in your petty bourgeoisie piety. 

"It is not only futile, then, but dangerous to rely on... [laughs again] your quaint reading of your Bible. Read it for inspiration, if you must, but leave the interpretation of it to scholars who have spent years in training. You are, after all, merely a Bear."

The Bear's Counter-Argument: 2 Kings 2:24

(Several minutes later, after wiping his muzzle carefully with a napkin and brushing his fangs.) "Nothing tastes worse than antichrist," says the Bear with a toothpick in his jaws, "but what's a Bear supposed to do?"

Probably the most brilliant bit of satire from the vast collection
of the funniest Bear-related humor from the Bear's friends at
Bearmageddeon News.


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Who is the Antichrist? First Epistle of John Test

The Word of God, Served Up Fresh and Piping Hot From Bear HQ

Normandy,1944. "Who goes there? 'Flash.'" / "Uh, 'mercy?'"
The Bear is not calling Pope Francis the Antichrist.
Possibly just a bit sloppy with his language?
Right from the USCCB website from their own Bible translation is the last word on everything we are usually talking about here in the woodlands.

Just ask yourself one simple question to know who is with us and who is against us as Christians. Ready?

Who moved?

That is the simple answer to everything. The First Epistle of the Apostle John is an interesting, largely overlooked, epistle. It is a short, but difficult read, due to its lack of logical organization and what may seem on first sight to be contradictions. It repays careful study, however. (The Bear is a silly and simple-minded creature who believes in and loves Holy Scripture.)

The Bear thinks of it like a sentry, issuing a series of challenges to test those claiming to be of the Christian family. It as an excellent examination of conscience.

During D-Day, sentries challenged an approaching man with the word "flash." If the response was not correct - "thunder" - he would be treated as an enemy.

In 1 John, there is first the Sin Challenge, then the Love Challenge, followed by the World Challenge.

Then there is the subject of this important message from Bear HQ:

The Antichrist Challenge 

Yes. The Antichrist Challenge. There are antichrists operating in the world today. There have been since the time of Christ. As long as we are in these Last Days (the period between the Incarnation and the Second Coming) there will be Antichrists.

How are we to recognize them? We would expect them to be smooth and subtle, like the father of lies. We would expect their status to be mutually promoted by their co-conspirators who have risen to the heights of power in a perverse and wicked generation. Since Christ promised us only a cross and persecution in this world, we would expect them to speak a world-pleasing message that would gain them personal popularity, especially as they are contrasted with "outmoded" and even "harsh" previous ideas.

Read this carefully, please. Are you prepared to take the God-breathed words of Holy Scripture seriously? Or chuck it into the doublespeak trash can like the new top Jesuit Fr. Arturo Sosa Abascal from Venezuela? (The words of the Randy Newman song "Political Science" keep coming to mind: South America stole our name so... What is up with South American churchmen, anyway?) The Bear will give Fr. Abascal equal time in the very next piece, never fear.

Bears are fair. They just have so many advantages it seems like they're not.

But now the Bear must put aside his bicycle, clasp his great paws before his breast sincerely, fix you with his terrifying gaze and be deadly serious.

His performance is simply quoting scripture. He invites you to read it in context in your favorite Bible so you know he is not tricking you in any way. Let it speak to you, and listen closely, for it has more than one warning for our times.

The First Epistle of the Holy Apostle John Chapter 2 verses 18 through 26 

18
Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that the antichrist was coming, so now many antichrists have appeared. Thus we know this is the last hour.
19
They went out from us, but they were not really of our number; if they had been, they would have remained with us. Their desertion shows that none of them was of our number.
20
But you have the anointing that comes from the holy one, and you all have knowledge.
21
I write to you not because you do not know the truth but because you do, and because every lie is alien to the truth.
22
Who is the liar? Whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Whoever denies the Father and the Son, this is the antichrist.
23
No one who denies the Son has the Father, but whoever confesses the Son has the Father as well.
24
Let what you heard from the beginning remain in you. If what you heard from the beginning remains in you, then you will remain in the Son and in the Father.
25
And this is the promise that he made us: eternal life.
26
I write you these things about those who would deceive you.

The Apostle John had things pretty simple. Christians knew the truth. Anyone who tried to change what they knew to be the truth had gone out from among them. Of course, that is far too simple for today. Right?

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Icons as Resistance

"Please, help my man!"

In our time it is the icon that struggles for the Church (Leonid Ouspensky).

In times past, but not remote, icons were a strong part of the resistance in the Church against the iconoclasm and oppression du jour. They can still be used very effectively in this way.

The people would buy an icon (or more) from a master-iconographer or the advanced students in the master's workshop, have it blessed in the appropriate manner and set it up with ceremony in their home. Those unable to afford an original icon would make sacrifices to buy one - that is how vital the icon was considered to be in regard to one's relationship with God, one's faith and the Christian spiritual journey. They would never dream of buying something plastic when this started to exist. Others would trade some of the tools they used in everyday life - for example, farmer's tools - for a real icon until they could pay for it. Yet others would take lessons over a period of time in order to learn how to write an icon or two for themselves, which was cheaper in the long run than buying a single icon outright - in particular if one then managed to get set up writing icons for the whole neighborhood. These kinds of icons are known as "popular icons" due to their lack of sufficient finesse in comparison to those written by the masters. They tended to be very prevalent in Ukraine.

Other people would learn to write icons by studying several older icons in depth, with the icons per se being the real teachers. Many Russian master-iconographers started out this way, in fact, because they were often so poor that they could not afford to take lessons. Some others, including priests and the laity, would defend the icon against usurpers and potential usurpers with their own lives - and in return, God would reward the people for their faith with nothing less than spectacular shows of His divine intervention. These shows often paralleled those of the Old Testament era with regard to their largesse and physical impossibility by natural means. And the fact remains that God still acts in such a manner, to this day, where icons are concerned.

Icons - Hidden, but Triumphant

The Theotokos of Kazan


You deigned to reveal Your face to me like a formless sun (Symeon the New Theologian).

According to Saint Pavel Florensky, icons should be the product of revelation, not mass production. Benedict XVI said the same thing. Some original icons have relics embedded in them. Others do not. Some are covered in part with precious stones and/or riza - a 'robe' or covering made of precious metal/s. Some are enshrined in a kiot, which is a beautifully hand-carved wooden frame that, not infrequently, costs as much as the icon due to its intricate work. Other icons are placed on a shelf in a prayer corner or hung on the wall. Some icons are adorned with a rushnyk - a hand-woven colored 'towel' with a distinctive pattern and that is used to handle the icon so as not to dirty it with oily fingerprints. Other icons are adorned with flowers. All icons, however, are the focus of veneration, fostering and facilitating prayer of the heart. They are also made to be kissed with love, the kisses given being transferred to the prototype.

"I love you, Mama"

In the home, the original icon is placed in the main room where the family gathers and which, preferably, faces east. This icon takes the place of what has become known these days as "your television." A pure beeswax candle made from the combs of hives is kept lit in front of the icon for the following reasons, according to Saint Nicodemus the Hagiorite:

  1. To glorify God Who is both Light and Who has brought forth the Light of the world;
  2. As an offering to the depicted prototype;
  3. To denote that the light of Christ has dispelled all the darkness;
  4. To honor the martyrs for the Faith;
  5. To manifest the inner joy that may be present in our souls;
  6. To symbolize any good works we may have done; and 
  7. As a reminder that if we turn to God, our sins and the sins of those for whom we pray shall be forgiven and burned away.

All the colors in an icon have meaning; none of them are arbitrary. Here are some meanings of the most frequent colors that can be found in an original icon (Irina Yazykova):

  1. Red is the color of the earth, blood, sacrifice and royalty; 
  2. Blue denotes the divinity, the heavens, purity and having been chosen; 
  3. Green is the color of the Holy Spirit, eternal life and blossoming in God;
  4. White denotes the transfiguration, purity and the robes of those who do justice;
  5. Purple denotes royalty; whereas
  6. Black is the color of darkness, the grave and the abyss.
Darker shades of the above tend to indicate the impeccable brilliance of the Divine Light that has often been perceived by humanity as blinding darkness (i.e., the apophatic darkness). The gold or silver halo around the head of the depicted prototype also denote the Light and indicate that the person is a saint, angel or divine Person. Any persons portrayed without halos in icons have either not yet become saints or pertain to evil. 

A Brief Theology of Pure Beeswax Candles

"We venerate You, O God"

Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God (Mt 5:8).

One hundred percent pure beeswax candles are used, to be lit in front of the icon - not 51% 'pure' as per the latest USCCB guidelines or something made out of paraffin that you buy at the Dollar Store. The main reasons for this are as follows, with some of the reasons coming from Saint Symeon of Thessaloniki:
  1. God the Father is the Provider. Everything that is offered to Him in an original icon written in accordance with traditional practice comes from the earth and its animals. No man-made materials are used. Even the brushes employed for painting the icon come from the tails of animals. The offering returned to God, therefore, when the icon is installed comes from His own provision to humankind. That is why only natural, primary materials should be employed. In a parallel manner, the candles used to light up the icon should come directly from the bees He created, not from secondary materials. Using candles of pure beeswax thus indicates one's faith that the Father will, indeed, provide during times of hardship for His people, the family or the person concerned, as He did without fail for the Israelites after their exodus from Egypt;
  2. The purity of the beeswax symbolizes the purity that should be in our hearts and souls. God is pure; He is Immaculate. As such He cannot live where the darkness of sin resides, even though He has never stopped intensely desiring to come and live not just with us, but in us - namely, in the very heart of our souls as He had lived in Adam and Eve during the first days of creation (albeit not in an identical manner), and as He has lived in a handful of human persons since then who have resided fully in the Divine Will;
  3. Beeswax candles give off a sweet, delicate scent. This scent is considered to symbolize the sweet aroma that should emanate from our souls as a result of divine grace;
  4. Candles made out of pure beeswax are supple, regardless of whether they are thick or thin. This quality thus symbolizes the flexibility that should characterize our hearts and souls until they have been made firm by the Gospel; and
  5. As the pure candles feed the flame while they burn, they symbolize our struggle on the Christian journey with the necessary, but beautiful, processes of purification, illumination and deification.
© Marcelle Bartolo-Abela, aka Bald Eagle.





Friday, June 16, 2017

All Your Shrine are Belong to Us

Another Idea That Sucks From Francis

The Bear has been asked by someone with the mistaken notion that the Bear might have some competency on this issue to comment on Pope Francis' "Sanctuaria in Ecclesia" Motu Proprio. 

Since the document is quite short, it did not exceed the Bear's attention span while reading it. Francis's manifestos have a soporific effect on the Bear.

Correct the Bear if he is wrong, but it seems that the Pope has decided that the wide variety of shrines scattered across the world in different cultures should be under the direct control of Rome. This may seem like a small thing at first blush.

The Bear hereby declares this to be a great evil, and announces that the woodland creatures will defend their shrines to the death.

Having said that, the sad state of many shrines (such as Our Lady of the Snows in Belleville, Illinois, upon which the Bear has recently heaped abuse) make them immune to further degradation. In addition, one suspects that this action's primary effect will to be limited to launching self-congratulatory conferences and producing reams of gaseous documents of the sort we could any of us mock up at this point.

However, although aberrant shrines (i.e. those which are actually Catholic), are probably not immune to interference as it is, Francis' Motu Proprio could make it easier for Rome itself to crack down on any genuine expressions of the ancient faith. 

Fast-Food Shrines Serving the Same 
Frankie MacFrancis Mercy-Burgers Worldwide

Instead of each shrine retaining its own beauty, character, and mission, it is conceivable that the eventual outcome could be to standardize them like a fast-food chain where a Frankie MacFrancis clown serves up the same bland mercy-burgers from Nagasaki to Marytown, Illinois. 

The Bear is uncertain whether the Church retains enough energy to be that destructive, and if Rome messes with popular shrines that is going to be one more wedge in our Francis-cracked foundation.
 
Of course, it is hard to argue that the Church is not already in silent schism, if schism means clearly-drawn lines of Catholics who disagree on fundamental dogma and its expression. The fact that the Bear did not even think to make this observation until it was buried deep into the article shows how obvious a fact this is to him.
 
Select Quotes with the Bear's Candid Commentary

"Finally, in the Shrine, the doors are wide open to the sick, the disabled, and above all, the poor, the marginalized, refugees and migrants."

This does not even makes sense. It is stereotyped language that Francis must bolt onto any discussion. Why "above all?" at all in a discussion of a shrine? Those who can benefit from a shrine are all of us who are spiritually poor, marginalized by the Catholic Church, refugees from the reign of lies, and pilgrims in search of rest. If there is any "above all," it is to those who are driest or hurting spiritually, and need to reconnect with authentic Catholic spirituality.

The purpose of a shrine - and this is so basic it is incredible that the Bear must even explain it to a pope - is that it is unique and offers an experience that is not what one gets in the local parish. To the Bear, it seems that this is precisely what Francis is trying to destroy, lest authentic Catholic shrines become centers of the resistance.

Additionally, Francis once again reveals himself as a faddist worldling who sees everything in materialistic terms and has not one iota of genuine spiritual insight.

The Bear is imagining vast tent cities of Muslim migrants demanding that crosses be removed from Lourdes property because they offend their religious sensibilities. And some spiritually deranged do-gooder in Rome will put his soft damp hands to work writing an order demanding compliance.

"Shrines are called to play a role in the new evangelization of society today."

Whenever the Bear hears the term "new evangelization" he reaches for his revolver. Things have reached a pretty pass when the devil feels free to advertise his campaigns, like "New Coke."

There is no such thing as "new evangelization," merely no evangelization. The Bear acknowledges the Church can hardly announce it is quitting the mission Christ imposed on it with his last earthly words, but it is bold to do so in practice while implying the "old evangelization" was somehow inappropriate for "today."

If you don't believe the Bear, by all means go look up the documents concerning the "New Evangelization" on the Vatican and USCCB websites. Have your Bible open to the first two chapters of Acts for comparison purposes.

"These places, despite the crisis of faith that engulfs the contemporary world, are still perceived as sacred spaces to which pilgrims go to find a moment of rest, silence and contemplation in today’s often hectic life." 

Largely caused at present by Pope Francis himself.

But don't worry, they won't long last as "sacred spaces" to offer refuge from "today's often hectic life." Jargon submitted in evidence of a monumental misunderstanding of shrines. In short, Francis doesn't know what he's talking about, which the Bear finds disturbing in a pope, and does not understand why it doesn't seem to bother more Catholics.

Shrines are not day-spas.

We do not want someone this ignorant tinkering with shrines.

"...the powerful action with which God’s mercy works in people’s lives is made manifest." 

One instance of the ubiquitous word "mercy." When someone single-handedly turns one of the most wonderful words there is into a knee-jerk reaction of suspicion you have to hand it to him. Mercy does indeed play a huge role in the Christian religion. You would never know it from the empty buzzword Francis has turned it into. 

It's almost as if someone really smart (Bear is not sure that would be our Pope) wanted to redefine the concept of "mercy" for some reason. Change it to mean "license." Weird, huh?

"In light of these considerations it is clear that the Shrines are called to play a role in the new evangelization of society today and that the Church is called to evaluate in pastoral terms the motions of the heart that are expressed through pilgrimages to Shrines and places of devotion."

Shrines need to be repurposed from centers of genuine Catholic spirituality uniquely owned by the people into engines of destruction of the Christian faith through a "new evangelization" branded to fool people into thinking the Church is remotely concerned with bringing people to Jesus.

No. That is proselytizing, which Francis considers even worse than arms-dealing.

The "new evangelization" is classic doublespeak: it is new because it has absolutely nothing to do with spreading the gospel. It is we, you see, as Catholics, who must be nuvangelized, which means convinced never to invite another soul to consider the Catholic faith. That is the "new evangelization," as explained very clearly in the documents produced by the Catholic Church.

Fortunately, the Bear always carries two guns, because "pastoral" is another word that makes him reach for his revolver. At the end of days more sins will have been excused by the word "pastoral" than Jagermeister.

"Pastoral" is becoming the all-purpose excuse to change fundamental teachings.

How we interact with God - "prayer" - is the true expression of what we really believe. This was defined long ago by the phrase lex orandi lex credendi. For all the head-in-the-sand Catholics who signal with their white tail feathers that Francis hasn't changed anything, get to know that expression.

If the Church changes in practice the understanding of marriage that was expressed by Christ himself and has been a signature teaching of the Church until relatively recent times, it does not have to be infallibly proclaimed to be a genuine change of belief among Catholics.

If it changes the practice of divorced-and-remarried persons (one cannot even speak solely of Catholics at this point) in regard to Holy Communion, it has changed our understanding of another signature teaching of the Catholic Church - the cluster of beliefs surrounding the mystery of the Eucharist. ("A little bread and wine do no harm, eh?")

You Can Pry My Shrine Out of My Cold Dead Hands

If a shrine worth protecting were attacked by Rome, the battlefield is compact and easily-defensible. People are attached to their shrines. There's no telling what peaceful but effective measures they might take to save them, or at least make the Pontifical Council for Devangelization look like the foreign thugs they are.

If you have ever split wood, you know there is a point where it is impossible to pull out the wedge. The only thing you can do is ring the hammer and drive it deeper. The Bear is no longer afraid of Francis, and he wants nothing to do with a Church that would preserve the leaven of lies Francis will leave behind.

Somehow we have to get back to the Truth. We will never do this by following a worldly agenda and betraying our Catholic ancestors with compromises. We'll never do it with superstitious dread of popes. If our old boy wants to split the Church, that's fine with the Bear. He'll take the sound piece of the two and let Francis and his protectors whose name is Legion warm their hands in the flames of their rotten piece forever.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Taking Every Thought Captive to Christ

Seige engine to knock down the walls of an enemy city and
send soldiers over the top.
In the Second Epistle from the Holy Apostle Paul to the Corinthians, chapter 10, verses 3-5, St. Paul drops one of those lovely rhetorical pearls that sound best (and are more easily memorized) in the older translations. 

Here is the quote, from the D-R version:

"For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty to God unto the pulling down of fortifications, destroying counsels. and every height that exhalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every understanding into the obedience of Christ."

What a beautiful and edifying (an old word that is a favorite of the Bear, meaning "to build up") passage! The context makes it clear that St. Paul is speaking of argument. His point is that he does not employ clever rhetoric as speakers were taught in those days. This is only one place where Paul talks about his plain style of speaking that relies on God for its effectiveness.

To Paul, preaching the Gospel was not about making an impressive argument that would emotionally move or even logically convince his hearers. While his letters are capable of both to this day, Paul wanted to convey something of the power of God Himself in person, even if he was not a first-class orator. But it also speaks to the Bear in another way.

Do You Rule Your Thoughts, or Do Your Thoughts Rule You?

"Bringing into captivity every understanding unto the obedience of Christ."

That is our choice. Indeed, it is our duty.

Often we seem to let our thoughts take us into captivity. If you have ever been on a horse that has taken the bit in its teeth and gone galloping across the countryside, you know what the Bear means on the reversal of the natural order. There is quite a difference from being a rider and a passenger! The rider should control the horse, not the other way round. (Bear advises always to ride horses very slowly so as not to, um, fall off or something.)

It can be a challenge to bring our thoughts into captivity to ourselves, let alone Christ. We often automatically react, allowing our emotions, or our prejudices, or our self-interest, or even just our habits to take the bit in its teeth. We can allow thoughts harmful to ourselves mentally, spiritually, and even physically to have their way with us.

Some of our thoughts may not even originate with us.

Jesuits are Always Great to Serve as Bad Examples

The Jesuit Superior General was recently quoted as saying Satan is only a "symbol."  (The link is to Lifesite News and includes a useful summary of recent heretical statements from high-ranking Church figures that deny the devil, or the existence or eternity of Hell.)

The reason the Bear brings this up in this context is that jackasses in the Church who run around saying things like this run the risk of one day discovering in a very special way that they were wrong. Perhaps Satan cocoons his own from the torments of his minions in this life so they will spread his propaganda. Meanwhile, some of us living real Catholic lives have our reasons to believe Satan is real and unimaginably interested in each of us.

Shall we take "there is no such thing as Satan; he is just a symbol" into captivity and force that statement on its knees before Christ? Because Christ might remind us of the numerous instances recorded in Holy Scripture in which he cast out demons. Of course, the same Jesuit jollywompus who denied the existence of Satan dismissed the Gospel. We have no idea of what Jesus said because there were no tape recorders in those days.

Would some kind reader with more charity than the Bear say a prayer for the soul of Fr. Arturo Sosa Abascal and for the spiritual protection of all upon whom he inflicts his heresy?

Perhaps that prayer might be expanded to all Jesuits.

Your Choice - and it Makes a Difference

It is hard to even imagine running everything we think past Jesus. It would indeed be like capturing unruly prisoners and dragging them kicking and screaming before a judge. It is a powerful image and another example of sound psychology from the Bible.

For example, we may choose to meditate upon Pope Francis or Jesus Christ. Now sometimes we may have a duty to think hard about unpleasant things, especially when problems are unexpectedly thrust upon us and the settled order we once counted upon seems to be shaken. As much as we would like to always be positive, it is a fallen world, and, sadly, there is no part of it that is not fallen.

Whatever we think, our thoughts should be bound and dragged before Christ. And along the way, we might ask ourselves what benefits we are deriving for ourselves and providing others by those thoughts. What will the Judge's ruling be? Will he be pleased, our will he gently suggest all of our effort might be better spent this time on something true, something beautiful?

Something edifying.

Judging Angels Chapter 1 Read by Author

Quick commercial for free, no-strings-attached gift of a professionally produced audio book of Judging Angels, Chapter 1: Last Things, read by the author. All 43 minutes here, so curl up and be introduced to a man facing Christmas Eve having lost everything and about to make a horrible move.

Boy, reading about the pony in Chapter 2 made Bear hungry.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows Mocks Jesus on Cross

"Crucifix" at chapel of the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows

The National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows is across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, in Belleville, Illinois. It is monument to sixties faddishness. This is more recent, however. When a visitor walks into the main door, the bookstore is to the left, and a chapel (to some deity) is to the right.

"Welcome to the Bookstore Without Books!"

The bookstore used to sell books. Now it offers very few books (the Bear has more in his bedroom). Perhaps the bookstore's failure is due to the good sense of visitors who refused to buy junk like The Shack and the stuff that Richard Rohr churns out They were among the last books on the shrunken shelf space. (At least there are a handful of classics remaining.)

When the Bear complained (which he usually gets around to doing before leaving any Catholic establishment; call it a Bear tradition) he was informed that Catholics don't buy many books, and they can't compete against Amazon. The Bear believes Catholics would buy good books, and that an intelligently-stocked bookstore at a national shrine in the most Catholic city in the country could survive from browsers.

Back when they sold books, the Bear never left without browsing and buying at least one book. They replaced the books with a coffee bar at which the Bear has never seen a single person drinking coffee. Oh, and hard-to-identify gift items allegedly made by poor persons in the third world.

"Don't Forget to Visit Our Chapel to... uh, Our Chapel!"

Along with this famine for the Catholic mind, one can find the above-pictured eyesore across the entrance hall. The Bear is sorry - or, on second thought, not - that the picture does not do this monstrosity justice. It is tortured and rusted metal crudely welded together with random objects that might have been taken from my father's junk drawer. It is hideous and casts an unwholesome pall over the little room. The Bear could not remain in this chapel longer than it took to take this picture.

It is emblematic of today's Church. Mocking Jesus on the Cross with hideous images has long been a cottage industry among Catholics. (Remember Pope Francis' "Hammer and Sickle-Fix?")

Maybe the "artist" was expressing the ugliness of the sin Christ bore, but in an original way that would shock the bourgeoisie. Hasn't that been the sole goal of untalented artists for a very long time? The destruction of beauty and imposing feelings of revulsion upon the viewer? Cross the river and visit the third floor of the St. Louis Art Museum for further evidence of the anti-art whose appeal is limited to those whose egos must be stroked by "appreciating" "art" that is beyond the understanding of the plebs.

If this is anything, it is a mockery of Christ, or perhaps a portrait of the antichrist. Contrast this to the edifying discussion of icons in the pieces below.

Shame on the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows. The Bear doubts Our Lady is very impressed. But the Bear bets the people who stuck it up are the type who are easily impressed with themselves for doing stupid things like inflicting this horror upon people visiting Our Lady's shrine.

The Bear ate as many of them as he could positively identify with that decision, but, unfortunately, cannot promise he got every one of them.

What is Truth? Icons Revealed


The Rublev Trinity, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow 

Icons Revealed
There exists the icon of the Holy Trinity by Saint Andrei Rublev; therefore, God exists (Saint Pavel Florenski).
In our 21st century Western world, base and over-saturated with materiality and sensuality - a growing wasteland that, for the most part, neither knows God, nor does it want to know God - icons are silent, but active, witnesses to the truth. They are an ever-present act of 'being' and defiance in the face of those who would eradicate the Face of God from His earth. Icons sing the songs of angels as they remain hung on walls, stuck on shelves or hidden in storage closets, and do not speak. They praise the Lord of hosts despite being unable to move. They testify without cease to the Divine Life even as they possess no life of their own. But as Pontius Pilate said, "What is truth?" (Jn 18:38).

In His discourse during the Last Supper, Christ proclaimed, "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me" (Jn 14:6). It is also common knowledge that icons have their theological basis in the Incarnation. In what other ways do icons witness to the Truth?

God Is Beauty and Beautiful

Inside the Monastery of the Holy Trinity, Guatemala
(Credit: Tatiana Berestova, 2011).

Beauty will save the world (Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevski).

The British poet John Keats is reported to have said, "Beauty is truth and truth is beauty." But the sixth century theologian known as Dionysus the Aeropagite had declared that God is both beautiful and Beauty, with the latter in actuality being one of the divine names. Saint Thomas Aquinas and Saint Augustine concurred in their respective Summa Theologica and Confessions. The fourth century monk Evagrius Ponticus declared that the spirit of beauty was the Holy Spirit, while the theologian Paul Evdokimov clarified that it is the Spirit Who, in reality, is the divine iconographer when icons are being written in an appropriate manner. Saint Joseph of Volokolamsk added, "It is not the object (the physical icon) which is venerated, but the Beauty which, by resemblance, the icon transmits mysteriously." 

"The Father is greater than I" (Jn 14:28).

Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, is the Truth by His own proclamation. But He is also Beauty not solely due to His divine nature, Kingship and glory, but also because He is the Vera Icona of the Father - Ineffable Beauty Himself and the Fount of all beauty - as revealed to the human person by Him who is the Spirit of beauty. It was Christ the Icon who gave us the first icon through the cloth He sent to King Abgar of Edessa by means of one of the 70 disciples (cf Lk 10:1), Thaddeus of Edessa, to heal Abgar of his illness at the personal invitation of the latter. This rectangular piece of cloth, upon its placement in the hands of Abgar together with a short letter bearing Christ's dictated reply to him, was found to bear the very image of the Savior imprinted on it (Codex Vossianus Latinus Q 69), making it the first material icon to be given by God to humanity. The beautiful Father had sent His Icon to earth to feed a starving world with the Bread of Life through the institution of the Holy Eucharist and to lift its darkened spirits with a bit of His divine beauty through the institution of holy icons, all of which manifest the Divine Light.

Icons, therefore, insofar as they are beautifully-made, bringing forth all the exquisiteness possible within their power through, at least, a certain level of skill in combination with prayer and the action of the Holy Spirit, witness with volumes of concurrent eloquence and silence to the Beauty Who is Truth from even before their investiture with the energeia of God upon having been named and blessed. According to Leonid Ouspensky, they stand "on a level with the Holy Scriptures and with the Cross, as one of the forms of revelation and knowledge of God, in which Divine and human will and action become blended" (The Meaning of Icons). They present aesthetic beauty to the sensory eye of the beholder and transcendent beauty to his or her spiritual eye, 'capturing' and facilitating the elevation of the person's spirit to God.

The Ugliness of the Beast

Church of the Holy Trinity, Leipzig, Germany
Considered "a masterpiece" (Credit: Martin Geisler, 2016).

Non possumus amare nisi pulchra (Saint Augustine).

Ugliness. Hideousness. Facelessness. Meaninglessness. Desolateness.

The void.

Taken together, iconoclasm. A polite ecclesiastical euphemism for totalitarianism.

All of them are no more and no less than the marks - the 'footprints' - of the beast and his abyss (cf. Rv 13:16-18). All of the above (and more), in essence and in fact, are more expansive and multi-varied facets of that specific phenomenon known as the abomination of desolation that had been spoken about by the prophet Daniel (cf. Dn 9:27; Mt 24:15). And all of them have one aim: to eradicate from the face of both the Church and the earth not just the likeness of God, which is already fractured to differing degrees in human persons, but the very image of God from the face of humankind.

The beast knows that neither himself, nor his cronies and their agents - the latter, willing or unwilling - can ever eradicate the invisible image of God that is imprinted upon the heart of the soul of the human person. That is there to stay; it is untouchable, no matter whether the heart of that soul is open or closed. However, the beast also knows that if he can succeed in covering up that image with layer upon layer, upon layer on yet another layer, of grime, ugliness, hideousness, facelessness, meaninglessness, desolateness and sin, he will have won a large part of the battle in making his own the heart and mind of that person. And the preceding step to achieving that victory in an easier way on a mass scale is precisely to eradicate the visible image of God from the face of the Church and the earth.

Without beauty, there is nothing left in the world worth doing (Paul Evdokimov).

The image - namely, the holy icon - is not just a part of Christianity; like some individuals these days, erudite or not so erudite, would claim that it is in conjunction with other external trappings of the Faith as handed down to us throughout the centuries. It is an intrinsic part of Christianity itself, instituted by Christ Himself. Get rid of the icon, therefore, which as we have seen is an icon of the Icon of the Father and this regardless of the deified person who is depicted therein, and you will have succeeded in eliminating a major obstacle to getting rid of Christianity itself. This by wiping out the visible image of God from the hearts and minds of humankind.

The icon provides wounded and struggling humanity, believers and non-believers alike, with the healing power of both the beauty of God and God who is Beauty Himself. As declared by Christ in the Sermon on the Mount, "Your heavenly Father makes his sun rise on the bad and the good" (Mt 5:45). The icon thus splits apart the rule of the beast and saves humanity from eternal destruction. Get rid of beauty by getting rid of the icon and the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and you will have gotten rid of God.

© Marcelle Bartolo-Abela, aka the Bald Eagle.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Surprising Answer to "What is Truth?"

We will probably never know what Pilate meant when he asked Christ, "What is truth?" Sarcasm? The world-weary cynicism of a Roman official with one of the most difficult jobs of Rome? Or perhaps the echo of a genuine question from a decent young man long ago ground down by his responsibilities to a brutal empire?

In any case, it is the wrong question for our time and is causing Catholics far too much anguish and contention.

The question is not "what is truth," and we betray our naïveté when we ask and our disloyalty to the Church when we complain. The legitimate question is "what does the Church now say the truth is?" In fact, the second question always answers the first, because of the inerrant truth-knowing feature built into the Church as an institution and the Pope in his office.

"Truth" is nothing more or less than what the Church, through its many channels, but in our day, primarily the Pope, says it is. We now understand that truth is a construct that is contingent upon the matrix in which we live. This matrix is comprised of our evolving language; our behavior; and the changing moral consensus of our culture as expressed in many different ways, ranging from our laws to popular entertainment. The truth is to be found in the current teachings of the Church.

The Church reflects the culture, and perhaps has done so for most of its existence, although we can only speak certainly of our own time.

It is irrelevant whether Church teachings are formal or not. Indeed, the less formal teachings of the Pope with a microphone in his hand loom larger in both the culture and the minds of individual Catholics. It is the informal teachings which are seized by the news gatekeepers, massaged, and then proclaimed in partnership with the Church - not merely reported, it is important to note.

"What is truth?" is not some great mystery. One of the main purposes of the Church is to be the authority that tells us what the truth is for our generation. The power of the keys means that the truth is whatever the Church - ultimately Peter - says it is. The Church is trusted with not just proclaiming the truth, but creating it.

It must be so.

The Bible is understood by all but the most conservative Protestant scholars as a collection of tales edited long after the events it relates by men who wished to promote different and sometimes conflicting agendas. It is certainly not historically reliable, according to the very best scholarship. Read the notes to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishop's Bible, the New American Bible, Revised Edition if you have any doubts. They will quickly disabuse you of any lingering Protestant tendency toward bibliolatry.

Only a fundamentalist would today hold up the Bible as containing "the truth."

Only the most naive traditionalist would look to the teachings of the brutal, superstitious and exclusivist past of the Church to find the truth for today's world.

Neither Holy Scripture nor poking around in the Museum of Church History can be the source of truth today. No, the truth is what the Church says it is, most immediately and importantly through the Pope when he utters his oracles to the interpretive priestly class of reporters.

Let go of the irrelevant past and embrace the truth as it has evolved right up to this second and is proclaimed by the Pope: Peter, upon whom the Church was built and to whom the Keys of Binding and Loosing were given in perpetuity. Yesterday's Catholics owed the same duty to yesterday's Church. Why would some of you, today, presume to be less faithful and arrogate to yourselves the authority to decide "what is truth?"

Do you imagine for an instant that the Pope himself could (if he would even think of such a crime, which he could not, protected from error as he is) weave a carpet of lies to spread beneath the Bride of Christ without an army of brave and faithful bishops rising up to challenge him? The teachings of the Pope are confirmed by the agreement of the clergy, the acceptance of the people, and his personal popularity with the entire world. You may trust him without question and to question him is to place oneself outside the Church.

What is truth? The answer is simple:





Which is the Monkey? Constructionism 101

Oooh! Am I a Monkey?

One of the readers of my previous post on icons has raised an interesting request in the comments. He asked to know more about social constructionism. Let me present a brief elaboration of this topic, so you can better understand how, in reality - yes, there is that 'dirty' word again! - it has undergirded a lot of what we are seeing today, both in society at large and, at times, even in the Church.

Social constructionism, as implied by its title, defines reality as that which has either been or is constructed by a group of people at a particular location and at a certain point in time. Said to have commenced as a movement in the US with Berger and Luckmann's (1966) The Social Construction of Reality and Kenneth Gergen's (1977) The social construction of self-knowledge, constructionism holds that people "make their social and cultural worlds at the same time these worlds make them" (Fairhurst & Grant). Reality is primarily considered to be both "revealed and concealed, created and destroyed by our activities" (ibid.), rather than just being a reflection of objective truth. Secondarily, reality is constructed in and maintained by one's particular use of language, resulting in what has become known as 'the linguistic turn,' causing language to be considered to not mirror reality "out there" as in objectivist paradigms, but rather constructing reality itself and maintaining it within its specific linguistic structure.

Below is a plain example of what social constructionism can be like when taken to the extreme. Please note that constructionism is not constructivism, since the latter is a different 'animal,' albeit related. Here is the example:

Let us say you have a chair in front of you. This has a seat, four legs and a back. It may also have arms. It has been known as a chair since the time it was thus named - and who knows when that occurred. I certainly don't. But now a group of people comes along that does not want it to be known as a chair any longer. They decide to name it a 'monkey.' For that particular group of individuals, therefore, and anyone who may be either in their company or their group, this chair, to all intents and purposes, has now become a monkey. It is no longer a chair. This even though it does not perform in the same way monkeys do, as understood by those who retain the traditional vocabulary of what is a monkey and what is a chair. So if you want to sit on that chair or do anything with it, you have to say, "Give me the monkey." Saying, "Give me the chair," in that particular group, community, society or whatever-you-want-to-name-it, has now gone the way of the dodo bird. The chair as chair per se no longer exists.

It all has to do with naming; thus constructing reality, not the other way around.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is a summary elaboration of social constructionism - and I have not even skimmed here either its roots or its derivatives to the present day. Apply that, now, to the binary/non-binary discourse we are hearing about today and seeing in Western society, together with its attempted implementations particularly in relation to sexes, genders and truth, and you will have your answer as to what is happening 'where' and 'how' in both society and in the Church.

© Marcelle Bartolo-Abela, aka the Bald Eagle
A former constructionist.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

We Need a Church, We Already Have a World

The biggest fallacy of our time is if only we are less like the Church, and more like the World, people will like us more.

No.

The World will always be a better World, and, anyway, we already have one of those, for those who have not noticed. What we need is a Church to go to with that world.

All Pope Francis is proving is we are not the Church at all, but, rather, an old-womanish aspect of the World that scolds us for new sins, and charges a nominal Mercy tax to ease a troubled conscience for the old ones. (And we're working on getting rid of even those.) It will not take people long to realize that we have been doing quite well with only one World and no Church at all.

How dare a pope preach to the world about global warming and not the danger of Hellfire? Of migrants and not the narrow gate? The Vatican is the Babel of our day, where men speak in strange new jargon that does not edify the Church - the anti-tongues of the spirit of Antichrist to tickle the ears of the Prince of this Wotld and them that fall to their knees before him and his false prophet.

To make this clear, there is now only the World, with whose problems the new world-church is unaccountablely obsessed. To the extent we are faced with supernatural elements in our lives, the world-church acts surprised that we she bother them.

And now open your Gather in Praise books to find the beautiful hymn Imagine.



Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Icons, the Church and the People of God

Guest Author! Many of us in the West are fascinated by icons, but we tend to not "get" the whole idea, with often lamentable results. Bald Eagle leaves her lofty perch to educate us about something she knows quite a bit about. Which will be a big change from the Bear just making up stuff about which he knows nothing.


The First Icon
(in more ways than one)

A thick piece of wood. Clay. Chalk, linen and the skin of rabbits. Colored dirt from various regions of the earth. Duck eggs, vinegar and water. Gold or silver. The very breath of the human person and an agate stone. Fur from the tail of martens or squirrels. Oil of the flax plant.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is an icon.

Or is it?

Icons and the Church
While in the period of iconoclasm, the Church struggled for the icon, in our time it is the icon that struggles for the Church (Leonid Ouspensky). 
Sacred icons have long been considered in the West as windows to heaven, theology in color or, as some Early Church council fathers put it (paraphrased), the Gospel for the spiritually illiterate - portals to the threshold of the supernatural that many do not know about, while others desire to see, but have not yet seen. Icons, however, unlike religious paintings, are neither the sum of their above parts, nor just the simplistic definitions given; or even the distorted, unsmiling and, at times, disproportionately elongated representations of human persons now living in the fullness of the Divine Light.

Icons are neither one of the seven sacraments of the universal Church, nor mere sacramentals as popularly understood in the Western Church. They are a cross between the former and the latter because of:
  1. the grace with which they become invested, after having been both named and officially blessed in church; often becoming 'wonder-working' in unabashed ways some consider to be unbelievably outrageous - if not downright unbelievable;
  2. any relative worship offered to them by people passes on directly to whoever is depicted therein - namely, "the honor which is shown them is referred to the prototypes which those images represent" (Council of Trent); and 
  3. their portrayed representations are "not like the original with respect to essence, but with respect to hypostasis" (Nicaea II), including the divine hypostases.
The worship referred to here is that of proskynesis (veneration), not latreia (adoration and absolute worship) which is reserved for God alone.

Icons, moreover, differ from religious paintings in the following ways:
  1. They are not just portraits of people, but "prototypes of the future human person-within-the-Church" (Evgenii Nikolaevich Trubetskoi) - namely, the deified person in keeping with that bold proclamation of Jesus Christ: "I said, you are gods" (Jn 10:34);
  2. The "light of the first day and of the eighth day meet in the icon [because it is] always characterized by the unity of creation, Christology and eschatology" (Paul Evdokimov). Thus icons (and frescos written in traditional iconographic style) have both a liturgical function and a theophanic ministry, uniting the meaning and presence of God in the light of the Transfiguration; 
  3. By their carefully planned, internal geometric structure; their design and deliberate restraint, icons facilitate a sense of stillness, order, quietude and peace - hence, a sense of spiritual transcendence - both in people and in the environment in which they are found. These factors are commonly absent from, or actively worked against by, the sentimentalized and/or sensualized representations of God, the saints and the angels found in much religious art of the West, which facilitates the natural, rather than the supernatural, by exciting the flesh instead of the spirit; 
  4. By virtue of #2 and #3 as these interact with grace, icons can facilitate the opening up of the heart of people's souls, counteracting that darkness and "blindness of the spirit [which is] a symptom of the crisis of man's very existence" (Benedict XVI);
  5. Again by virtue of #2 and #3, icons can effectively convey the beauty and presence of God during the apophatic darkness, not just during the cataphatic presentation of the Christian life;
  6. Icons are embodied prayer, created in prayer, for prayer, by the driving force that is "the love of God and yearning for Him as perfect beauty" (Archimandrite Zenon);
  7. Icons are "the fruit of contemplation, [coming] from an interior vision and thus lead[ing] us to such an interior vision . . . in communion with the seeing faith of the Church, [with] the ecclesial dimension [being] essential" (Benedict XVI); and
  8. They speak "about dogmatic truths revealed to human beings in Scripture and Tradition, [being] anthropological in content, while reflecting the eschatological, redeemed and deified state of nature, [with a] liturgical and mystical purpose" (Metropolitan Alfeyev).
Thus, why are icons so needed in the Church today?

The New Iconoclasm
Iconoclasm constitutes heresy (Nicaea II).
Go into a Catholic church in the West - in particular, a new or recently-built church - and you can be forgiven for thinking that you have, all of a sudden, entered into either a spaceship reminiscent of Star Trek or the auditorium of a theater, or even just a garage, despite all the money spent, time consumed and planners planned. Wreckovators, under the name of 'liturgists' or 'liturgical consultants,' have elevated the natural - or worse - over the supernatural, oftentimes without knowing the underlying spiritual consequences of these wreckovations, as long as the creations resultant from their ideas were, in effect if not in intent, made in their own image under the rationalization of being 'hip' and 'with the times.'

Now, all that may be well and good as far as reason goes. After all, we are in the 21st century and reason has, for the most part, become decontextualized from faith and reified in its own right. But how is any of that going to quieten the flesh and still the soul, while engaging all your senses, to help you pray and give you a tangible experience of the timelessness, infinite presence and similarly infinite love of God?

Icons and the sacred art of iconography, considered in the context of the universal Church, have grown directly out of the grass-roots struggle of the People of God "with the kingdom and the image of the beast" (Trubetskoi) - namely, that kingdom whereby All these things will I give you, if you fall down and worship me (Mt 4:7). As embodied prayer that facilitates more prayer, the opening of one's heart and the possible re-opening of the heart of one's soul through grace, in consequence the elevation of one's spirit to God, icons can fill souls with a vision of a very different truth about life, existential meaning and the world; a truth that of necessity and by attraction draws people into the otherworldly vision of the City of God (Augustine of Hippo). The quiet drama portrayed in icons facilitates the reassurance that "the destruction left by the beast and his kingdom are not all in all, but there is another meaning to life and it shall prevail" (Trubetskoi). And this despite the present, conscious veneration of the image of the beast, part of which is the new iconoclasm in the Church; especially that taking place in the Catholic Church.

Icons, with their created beauty that is both a mediated and an endowed tiny presentation of the Uncreated Beauty Who Is God, have the power of providing spiritual strength to people. They also, by virtue of said beauty, are capable of making people hunger or develop a hunger for the inheritance that is our birthright - namely, that infinite and eternal place of Divine Light, which is both God and our Father's House.

Are icons needed in the Church today?

You decide.

© Marcelle Bartolo-Abela, aka The Bald Eagle for the purpose of these Woodlands.




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