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A Commentary on Christian Culture

The new photograph, perhaps taken with Lord Bloch’s recently purchased digital camera, reminds me of what I’ve been thinking about lately, namely, of the death and restoration of Christian Culture. I finished The Death recently and am now in the midst of The Restoration. It was a fascinating text, particularly the first two and last three chapters. Some of the middle chapters got a bit repetitive–Senior spends a lot of time teasing out what he calls “the perennial heresy.” Nevertheless, the book is, as one might suspect, a must-read, even if only for the last chapter or two.

On Thursdays I teach 2nd, 4th, 6th, and 8th grade religion classes at a Catholic school right outside of Philadelphia. The kids are wonderful but, as you might imagine, terrible uninformed. Basically, I go in there and talk about saints. That’s the whole class. Saints. Last time, we talked about St. Teresa of Avila, mainly because she’s nuts, which I told the students right from the get-go. I told them various stories about Teresa’s life, you know, going off to be martyred by the Moors, living in a makeshift hermitage in her backyard garden, falling in the mud, the reform of the shoeless sisters. I didn’t make it to the transverberation, but oh well. That all went pretty well, as it usually does.

So here’ s the thing. I’m trying to teach them about saints because saints are, in my opinion, a large part of the central myth (in the Father Maguire sense) of all of Catholic Culture. Of course, the central myth is the Eucharist, or perhaps we might say that the Eucharist is the omphalos around which all other myth revolves.

This is what is supposed to happen: after Sunday Mass, the old grandmother makes the whole family a stack of her world-famous pancakes and a heaping bowl of grits. When that’s done and dad is asleep on the Laz-e-boy with the newspaper opened wide and draped over his belly and mom sips her tea in the sitting room, the grandchildren run around outside playing tag without really knowing who’s “it” or how he got to be so androgynous. That’s when the selfsame grandmother slips out the screen door down the path through the yard onto the sidewalk toward the church. And every once in awhile, her grandkids tag along. She gets there, says a few blue-haired prayers, lights some candles near the altar to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and proceeds to introduce her grandkids to the Lady with such comely countenance. And that’s when it happens. She proceeds to introduce those children to every man, woman, and child depicted on the walls, ceiling, altars, and pulpit. Perhaps a kid remarks something delightful, as I found in a recent clipping of the “Family Circus” from the funnies pages–something like “It must be tough to be a saint since you have to pose so much.” But that’s what is supposed to happen, when you are 6.

Senior doesn’t mention this lack of a phenomenon in his book, perhaps because the saints hadn’t been out of the public eye long enough in 1978. But any Catholic of late who has stumbled upon the old edition of Butler’s will agree the saints are conspicuously lacking in modern Catholic art and the modern liturgy. 40 years is a long time for a smoke break, so I tend to think something else is afoot.

But I am not here to discuss who is keeping our kids from meeting their older brothers and sisters in the Faith. The fact is that each Catholic kid is an only child for all practical purposes. An only child grows up to be an only adult, and that’s what most Catholics under 45 tend to be, along with a good number of people 0lder than that. It’s going to be awfully awkward when Christ calls us to the big family reunion and we wish everybody could wear a nametag. Our Lord won’t be the only one to say “Never did I know you.”

Dr. Senior exhorts us to read the 1000 Good Books. That’s the first way to restore our Christian culture. Well, it’s second only to smashing the television set. It seems to me, though, that getting the saints back in our lives is high up on the list as well. I imagine it is important to the Holy Father, too, who recently spoke with artists from around the world at the Sistine Chapel, calling them custodians of beauty. And perhaps with the oh-so-long-in-coming new translation of the Mass, we will start to hear bit more about them as well. According to a Catholic artist friend of mine, however, the artists at the papal meeting were mostly part of the mod squad, and as far as the liturgy goes, in order to shove some saints back into it, priests will still have to pray the first Eucharistic prayer, rather than the other three, or at least mention them in the homily. It may be true that “Beauty alone will save us;” in the meantime, I wonder what can be done.

So back to my class. Rather than rambling about doctrines and dogmas without the context of that Catholic culture in which the doctrines and dogmas make more sense, I decided to start with the 1000 Good Saint Stories, as it were. Such humble beginnings.

But what else can be done?

Well we could…

  • Start praying to the saints for help, since that’s what they’re there for,
  • Learn about cool saints like St. Francesco di Paolo, who floated on a cloak to Sicily and ticked off Satan so much that the old devil kicked a footprint into the wall of a city, which old Italian ladies spit on as they pass by,
  • Read what they wrote, which Dr. Senior remind us is not hard to read but hard to do,
  • Tell stories about St. Joseph Cupertino with the same passion that one might describe the performance of the Shrimp Shack Shooters, and tell them to only adults as well as only children,
  • Get friends like Klaus to start painting St. Francis,
  • Invite your friends for a St. Lucy’s Day party (and trust me, it can be more fun than you think, and no, I’m not just saying that because I’m a seminarian and therefore don’t know what real fun is; seminary is just like senior year except funner)
  • Dig around on Ebay until you find an OLD copy of Butler’s Lives of the Saints, and read it.

If you read this far, you receive an indulgence of 200 days.
Joshua Neu

Category: It Is What It Is  2 Comments  Tags:

God Bless Texas

Just read this.,2933,559103,00.html?test=latestnews

More News of the Life and Times of Joshua Neu

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Apparently, I was in Hartford last February.

I think I’ve started to bilocate.

By the way, the other day, I drove downtown and bought a cassock. Then I ate at Burger King. It was awesome. Unfortunately, they don’t sell Texas Double Whoppers in Philly. So it’s not always sunny in Philadelphia.

Category: Burger King  4 Comments