I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: ‘Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear —
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.’
I was reminded of this poem, “Ozymandias”, by Percy Bysshe Shelley just this morning and thought it appropriate to begin the final installment of this series. To catch up I invite you to read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.
I’m going to conclude with a few words from Anthony Esolen, a professor of literature who has quickly become one of my favorite writers and authors in the world. He’s been asking in a few columns lately whether we had the guts to resist the culture and stand against it, especially when the government is leading the cultural charge. In this particular piece he is referring to a Canadian court’s decision that outlaws the Catholic Church from teaching, in a Catholic school no less, the Catholic faith when it comes to the matter of traditional marriage.
Esolen, and I join him in this, asks the culture and government at large the following:
“What do you people have to show for your apostasy from faith and reason? What has it gotten you? Your mass entertainment is a sewer. Your children are batted from mother to father or from foster home to foster home like tennis balls. Those are the children you have not murdered in the womb. You cannot walk the city streets at night. You have sown mistrust and transience at the heart of what should be the most permanent of human things. You plant lust, and are surprised when the weed comes forth with spikes and thorns and a system of roots that creep and branch until the whole garden is choked out.”
Then, directed to the culture-at-large Esolen writes:
“You have nothing to offer. You are holding a pair of threes. We have everything to offer. We proclaim the holiness of the human body. We proclaim that the power of sex, male and female, cooperates in God’s creation; it is the means He has chosen for bringing into being a new human soul. We proclaim the mystery of the union of man and woman, a mystery that mirrors the very life of the three-personed God. We proclaim the fruitfulness of chastity, and its harmony with the other virtues: reverence, fidelity, generosity, humility, and courage. We hold up for young people the beauty of the truth. You hand them a pill and a pack of rubbers.”
To harsh? For those who set themselves up as gods it probably is. For those who ally themselves in opposition to those statements? Definitely, perhaps to the point of one’s government legislating those beliefs out of existence. I exaggerate, you say? Look again at what Canada did in this case and in others.
Meanwhile, a Canadian Catholic weekly, Interim, reports on governmental bullying: that is, the government of Canada, and Ontario in particular, forbidding Catholic schools to be Catholic. One judge reads the section in the Catechism on homosexual acts. “You can’t do that anymore!” he shouts to a bishop in attendance. He means, “You can’t teach that that is wrong.” The deeds themselves are all right.
Did you catch that? In Canada they have begun to outlaw Catholicism on a precept by precept basis. Think about that for a moment.
In the Catholic World Report two days ago Esolen wrote another piece, this time comparing how saints were at one time treated with respect and awe even during their lifetimes (St. Catherine of Sienna), and how today they are too often dismissed or ignored (Mother Teresa). And not just by the world, but sadly even by the Catholic circles of clergy and laity.
I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised if the world ignores holiness. Our world today has the attention span of a flea, and holiness requires attention at the least. But what about the Catholic Church? Mother Teresa walked among us, but the proud theologians scoffed at her lack of learning, and the proud Church officials scoffed at her simplistic championing of the unborn, and the proud nuns, in their proud orders, proudly dying away, scoffed at her submission to the male priesthood—ignoring her iron will and their own supine submission to the fads of the day. And I, proud also, salve my conscience by saying that we are not all called to be Mother Teresa. More’s the pity.
Why do we, at least, not turn out in crowds? The men of the Middle Ages made sure we could learn about Saint Catherine. But even Catholics seem disposed to make sure we will not learn about Mother Teresa. The men of the Middle Ages tried, and usually failed, to raise their politics to the height of Christian teaching; we try to lower Christian teaching to the gullies of politics, and we usually succeed.
We want to justify, not to change, our desires. We sit in judgment upon saints, and listen to the whispering of fools and devils. We want to see the credentials of the theologian, not his holiness. The world’s excuse is simple enough. The world is stupid. What is our excuse?
We know longer hold up the good and the holy as the standard. Instead we scorn and mock it. We judge those who we accuse of judging us, when the only thing they do is provide an examples on how to live a good life through the example of their own. This culture of impersonal crassness, one in which we dehumanize “the other”, has gotten out of hand. It has been a slow, subtle creep, this descent into the gullies where worship of the self and moral relativism are championed. Like the characters written of by George MacDonald in his novel Lilith, we were frightened at some level when first confronted by this phenomena of self, but like those who stare open-mouthed at the skies when tornadoes are predicted to appear on the horizon, we stood and watched as the skies darkened. And soon it was too late.
We were frightened the moment we saw him, but we did not run away, we stood and watched him. He came on us as if he would run over us. But before he reached us he began to spread and spread, and grew bigger and bigger, till at least he was so big that he went out of our sight, and we saw him no more, and then he was upon us.
To answer Esolen’s question: I have no excuse. I, too, stood and gazed with eyes only partially open as the rats crawled up from the sewer and spread their plague, not believing it would be as contagious as it proved itself to be. And after you live with them for awhile you get used to them, and we see them “no more” until they are upon us. To be fair the rats have been ascending long before I was born. But I still haven’t fought as hard as I ought. I suppose that’s why I wrote this series in four parts. To in some small and limited way state what I believe and why I believe it.
In today’s Office of Readings there was this passage from The Imitation of Christ:
How can anyone be stirred by empty talk if his heart is subject in the truth to God? If a man is subject to truth, possession of the whole world cannot swell him with pride; nor will he be swayed by the flattery of his admirers, if he has established all his trust in God. For those who do nothing but talk amount to nothing; they fail with their din of words, but ‘the truth of the Lord endures for ever’.
Today we have too many politicians who fancy themselves an Ozymandias. And too many of their followers are thinking of themselves in the same self-important way. History teaches us how this will end for them and it won’t be pretty. Unfortunately it seems a lot of us will be part of that “colossal wreck” if we don’t open our eyes and fight to right the ship before it’s too late.
In Part 1 I said I wasn’t going to write something akin to a Facebook status of “who I am and what I believe.” And I don’t believe I have. I said at the start that I am a Roman Catholic. I’m not a liberal Catholic. Nor a conservative Catholic. I’m not a Nancy Pelosi Catholic. I’m not a Paul Ryan Catholic. And I’m not an American Catholic. If you insist upon categorizing me as something or other, at least get it right. I am a Roman Catholic and a proud citizen of the United States of America.
©2012 Jeff A Walker.