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Sunday, August 28, 2016

Flannery O’Connor: by RAFAEL PI ROMAN, correspondent

Flannery O’Connor
November 20, 2009

RAFAEL PI ROMAN, correspondent: Even at the end of her short life, when it became harder and harder for her to walk, Flannery O’Connor went to Mass nearly every day at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Milledgeville, in central Georgia. She lived with her mother in an old plantation house surrounded by 1500 acres of pasture and woods. In her room after church she would write all morning, facing the back of a tall chest so that she would see no distractions. Her output was not massive—two short novels, two collections of short stories, a number of essays, and a lot of letters. But today many consider her one of America’s greatest writers. Since O’Connor’s death, more than 50 books have been written about her, one of them by Ralph Wood of Baylor University.

PROFESSOR RALPH WOOD (Author of Flannery O’Connor and the Christ-Haunted South): Flannery O’Connor is the only great Christian writer this nation has produced. That is an astonishing fact. Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Melville, Twain, Emily Dickinson, Frost, Stevens: not one of them Christian, at least not orthodoxly Christian. She is a Southerner and a Catholic, she’s not at the center of American culture, and yet she is our only great Christian writer.

Prof. Ralph Wood

ROMAN: What makes her increasing popularity even more surprising in these secular times is the fact that O’Connor was a self-proclaimed orthodox Catholic whose subject, in her words, was “the action of grace in territory held largely by the devil.”

O’Connor was the only child in a respected and well-off family. She was fascinated by birds of all kinds, and when she was a little girl a newsreel cameraman came down to film a chicken Flannery claimed could walk backwards. Later on, her hobby centered on peacocks, a bird she saw as her personal symbol, according to her biographer, Brad Gooch.

BRAD GOOCH (Author of Flannery: A Life of Flannery O’Connor): I think she liked it because it was a comic and gawky bird, like herself. It ate her mother’s flowers and kept everyone awake all night, and then at a certain transfigurative moment tails would open, and here was all this beauty which she saw as a symbol of the way her fiction worked, and also in the Middle Ages the peacock was the symbol of Christ and the church so, you know, it all lined up for her and the peacocks.

ROMAN: As a young woman, O’Connor went to the Iowa Writers Workshop, to the exclusive Yaddo artist’s colony in Saratoga Springs, and then to New York City and Connecticut, writing all the way. Then, at the age of 25, she was forced to return home because, like her father before her, she was dying of lupus. It was back in Georgia in the 1950s that she discovered the characters for her stories.

WOOD: Not the cotton belt, not the tobacco belt, but the ugly word the Bible belt, and for O’Connor that was the glory of her region. These were the emarginated people on the sidelines of southern life in small, out of the way places.

ROMAN: She wrote that her Christ-haunted characters are so cut off from orthodox Catholicism that they don’t have a guide and that they are actually involved in a do-it-yourself religion that is kind of comical, sadly comical.

WOOD: She said, look, these are my brothers and sisters. They are as unlike me as they can be when it comes to the church and its sacraments, but they are a whole of a kind of sweated gospel, a gospel that takes God and God’s world with the utmost seriousness, and therefore I’ve got to attend to them. I cannot dismiss them, saying these are people after my own heart, and I want to write about them sympathetically.

ROMAN: Father Thomas Joseph White is a Dominican priest whose conversion to Catholicism was influenced by O’Connor’s fiction.

FATHER THOMAS JOSEPH WHITE, OP (Theology Instructor, Dominican House of Studies): You don’t have baptism, confession, and the Mass, which she says are, you know, the center of her life. You have instead odd and grotesque, historically surprising events where people encounter the grace of God.

Father Thomas Joseph White

ROMAN: From these people her stories emerged. In “Wise Blood” and “The Violent Bear It Away,” and in twenty short stories, she told dark tales of murder and bigotry and madness, of a preacher of the Church without Christ who puts out his own eyes. Some have asked, is this Christian?

WOOD: She says most sins are committed by acts of immoderation, of excess, but she says there is one and only one quality that can never be sufficiently immoderate, and that is the love of God, and she saw in these backwoods, southern, I call them folk Christians more than fundamentalists, that kind of completely radical love of God in their own way.

ROMAN: Talk about the importance of grace and mystery in her work.

WOOD: Mystery does not mean for her a kind of a fuzzy, foggy, gooey something or other. It’s a very specific term for her. For her the word mystery means that which is inexhaustible in our knowledge of God, that the deeper we go in understanding who the self-declared, self-revealed God is, the more there is yet to understand, so that the greater our knowledge of God also the greater our ignorance of God, so that we know only a thumbnail of what and who God is.

ROMAN: As the civil rights movement changed attitudes and language, O’Connor was sharply criticized for using the N word in her writing.

Brad Gooch, author of Flannery: A Life of Flannery O’Connor

GOOCH: She couldn’t change that word because that’s the way those people speak.

WOOD: For Flannery O’Connor, race was indeed the curse of the south in the sense that it was the single-most important test which we as white Christians failed. For O’Connor, the mistreatment of black people is a violation of their being creatures made in the image of God.

ROMAN: In recent years, O’Connor has become a favorite not only of writers and scholars but of artists and entertainers of all stripes, including Bruce Springsteen, Bono, the Coen brothers, and even Conan O’Brien and the creators of the hit TV series “Lost.”

Professor Bruce Gentry teaches at O’Conner’s alma mater, Georgia College and State University, and edits the Flannery O’Connor Review.

PROFESSOR BRUCE GENTRY (Editor, Flannery O’Connor Review): She always talks about waking people up to the mystery of the world, and I think that puts her in a position that is similar to a lot of people in popular culture. You know, they want to create something substantial, but they also want to do it for a popular audience.

ROMAN: In the process of writing his biography of Flannery O’Connor, Brad Gooch says he came to admire her discipline and determination, particularly during the final months of her life.

GOOCH: She was staying alive through writing, and you see it at the end of her life, where it becomes a real race with death. She’s working on stories which she keeps under her pillow in the hospital so the doctor won’t take them away from her. She’s editing one story after she’s had last rites. So all of this seems to me a very clear kind of sense that this is what’s keeping her alive, or why she’s alive.

ROMAN: O’Connor’s admirers wonder what her legacy will be in years to come. Some say that will depend on whether future readers will understand a writer who saw “the action of grace in territory held by the devil.”

I’m Rafael Pi Roman for Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

Under today’s laws, Wilde’s relationships with boys would have earned him a harsher sentence

Under today’s laws, Wilde’s relationships with boys would have earned him a harsher sentence
by Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith
posted Friday, 26 Aug 2016

Oscar Wilde (AP)

The law in Wilde's time was not overly concerned with the age of his sexual partners

Just recently several of our broadsheet newspapers carried obituaries of John Woolford, recently deceased at 96 years of age, who, in his teenage years had been the muse of Benjamin Britten, the composer. The composer’s association with the child raises certain questions. In the 1930s Britten must have run significant risks of arrest and prosecution. Today, any adult behaving in a similar way would be regarded as a paedophile.

Some forty years before Britten’s association with Woolford, Oscar Wilde was arrested, tried and sentenced for the crime of homosexual behaviour. I have just been reading an excellent book entitled Oscar Wilde’s Scandalous Summer: the 1894 Worthing Holiday and the Aftermath by Antony Edmonds. This book adds a great deal, to my mind, to our understanding of Wilde, as well as opening up to us what Victorians got up to on their summer holidays in places like Worthing, a town that has lost many of its once attractive Victorian buildings, including the house where Wilde stayed with his wife and sons. The title is a little misleading: most of Wilde’s summer was perfectly unexceptionable. The only scandalous incidents concerned a boy called Alphonse Conway: what happened to Alphonse later, after the trial of Wilde, is not known for sure, but this book has some fascinating detective work in it, that provides a few clues.

The author has this to say about Wilde’s condemnation, which is worth quoting in full:

“A common canard among those who know little about Wilde is that he was a martyr to Victorian injustice and hypocrisy. However, as we have indicated, the trials were conducted fairly; and Wilde was fortunate that the maximum sentence available to the judge was two years, which Mr Justice Wills described as ‘wholly inadequate for such a case’. Today, men who have sexual relations with boys under sixteen can be sentenced to up to fourteen years in prison, and paying for sex with a boy of sixteen or seventeen carries a sentence of up to seven years. Wilde probably committed the first of these offences, and he was certainly guilty of the second.”

But as Mr Edmonds points out elsewhere in his book, the law at the time was not overly concerned with the age of Wilde’s sexual partners. One may have been only thirteen, and one is described as looking about fourteen. Alphonse Conway was a few days past his sixteenth birthday. But, as Edmonds remarks, nowadays Wilde is described as being attracted to “young men”, rather than boys, which is misleading.

So, what we are faced with is the rather surprising realisation that in the time of Wilde the law was considerably less strict than it is now in these matters. But at the same time, public opinion has shifted dramatically with regard to homosexuality. Wilde was pilloried for being homosexual; nowadays he would perhaps have been pilloried for being a child abuser.

What does this tells us, then? I am not at all sure. But there are two certain conclusions. First, do read Mr Edmonds’ fascinating book, which contains much of interest, far more than can be expressed in a short article like this one. And secondly, let us remember that both the law, and public opinion, can frequently get it wrong, sometimes spectacularly so.

How Gabriele Kuby’s conversion led her to write about the sexual revolution

How Gabriele Kuby’s conversion led her to write about the sexual revolution
by Francis Phillips

posted Friday, 26 Aug 2016

Gabriele Kuby, 2014 (Wikipedia, Derzsi Elekes Andor)

The author explains why she believes her book has helped spark resistance to the 'gender revolution'

I blogged about Gabriele Kuby’s book The Global Sexual Revolution: Destruction of Freedom in the Name of Freedom, here. Her book explains why the traditional distinction between men and women is under such attack today in the West and why for instance in Germany today peaceful demonstrations on behalf of family values now need heavy police protection. Indeed, as Kuby points out, anyone who believes in a divine purpose for men and for women is now labelled a “religious fundamentalist” or a “biological, sexist fundamentalist.”

Kuby is a convert. I asked her what led to her own conversion. She tells me that she had been searching for God for more than 20 years down the wrong paths, within esoteric philosophies and psychology. Her marriage had broken down and her life was in crisis. Alone with three teenage children, a young woman rang her doorbell and told her to pray. She prayed a novena – in front of a Buddhist statue – and by the end she knew she would become a Catholic. Her conversion led to speaking and writing about her new-found faith and about the global sexual revolution.

How was her book received in Germany? Kuby replies, “The mainstream media tried to block it by not reviewing it. Nonetheless it has had six editions in two years and has been translated into seven languages so far.” She thinks the book has helped spark resistance to the “gender revolution”.

Could she expand on this resistance? “Wherever I go I meet Christians who are involved in this cultural battle, despite the fact that money and power are in the hands of the other side. Nobody can stop us, as Christians, from our faith, hope and love of God. The course of history is in God’s hands.”

She adds, “We will encounter fear, insecurity and risk. They can only be overcome by prayer. If we sincerely want to work for the kingdom of God, we will find a way. God needs us and will provide the grace necessary.”

Where does the Church’s future lie? Kuby mentions the former Cardinal Ratzinger’s phrase about “creative minorities” of Christians in Europe. She adds that although the West blackmails Africa to adopt the LGTBI agenda, the continent is a “great hope for Christianity and [Guinean] Cardinal Sarah a bright light for the Church.” She affirms: “We can lose our life but not our hope.”

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Hermit life: City Dweller Chooses the Life of Religious Hermit

A City Dweller Chooses the Life of Religious Hermit
Published: October 30, 2001

PHILADELPHIA, Oct. 26— Richard Withers does not fit the popular image of a hermit. His beard is neatly trimmed, and he is friendly, not taciturn. He lives here in a tiny row house, which he rehabilitated, and while the struggling neighborhood might appear daunting, it is not the desert.

And, of course, this is 2001, not the fourth century, when solitary religious life flourished within an emerging church.

The life Brother Withers has chosen -- as a canonically recognized hermit within the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia -- is possible only because the Vatican revised the church's canon law in 1983, adding a provision allowing bishops to accept hermits within their dioceses. Since then, others have chosen this path, bringing back an ancient tradition, although Catholic officials do not seem to know how many live as hermits today.

''There's this commitment,'' Brother Withers said in an interview, ''an almost unremitting desire to be alone with God.''

Put simply, he lives the life of a monk, but without the support of a monastery.

He rises at 5 a.m. for an hour of prayer and follows a monastic discipline -- praying according to an ancient schedule that follows the rhythms of the day, the offices of lauds, vespers, compline -- along with set periods for meals, work, spiritual reading and writing.

Until this month, when he made vows of poverty, chastity and obedience before Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, the Philadelphia archdiocese had never recognized a hermit. Officials were skeptical when Brother Withers, 46, proposed the idea. Twice, they turned him down. They are supportive now.

''He's as authentic as they come,'' said Monsignor Alexander J. Palmieri, the archdiocese's chancellor, or administrator. Such a life, Monsignor Palmieri said, is ''being alone with God, not just for your benefit but for the benefit of the church and the world.''

Brother Withers said he sought recognition as a hermit out of a desire for ''a greater sense of obedience'' to the church. The status carries no financial or health benefits, he said. He felt that God was urging him, despite initial rejections by the archdiocese. ''The message I was getting in prayer was, keep trying,'' he said.

The church's Canon 603 recognizes the life of the hermit, ''in which Christ's faithful withdraw from the world and devote their lives to the praise of God and the salvation of the world through the silence of solitude and through constant prayer and penance.''

The Rev. Daniel Ward, executive director of a legal resource center serving men and women who have taken religious vows, said the law was written without specifics as the church's way of saying, ''this is possible, now let it develop.''

''It's reviving the practice of the early church, where people didn't belong to a group or what we call a religious order or congregation,'' Father Ward said.

For centuries, the church has recognized hermits attached to monastic communities, men or women living separately near a monastery. One order built around this purpose is the Camadolese, founded in 1012, which has a monastery near Big Sur, Calif.

But how many dioceses now recognize solitary hermits is an open question.

''There are lots of hermits,'' Brother Withers said.

He is in touch by e-mail with at least three others. But there are more.

One man was accepted as a hermit in August in a Pacific Northwest diocese. He lives in an hermitage within a ponderosa pine forest, his days guided by a cycle of prayer centered on the Psalms and Bible readings. In an e-mail interview, he said a hermit's intention was to seek union with God in this life, not the next. He asked that he neither be named nor quoted directly, to preserve his isolation.

Brother Withers was born in Los Angeles, one of seven children, and raised, he said, ''culturally Jewish.'' His family moved to Camden, N.J., when he was 8. Eleven years later, through a series of influential acquaintances, including his supervisor in the bicycle repair department of the discount store where he worked, he was drawn toward Catholicism, was baptized and lived for years with others who shared a commitment to the church.

Early on, in prayer, he took his own vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, and felt he saw signs from God that he was on the right path. For example, within a week of taking his vow of poverty, he came home one day to find that a burglar had stolen his tools, an event he regarded as helping him break a bond with material things. For years, he considered joining a religious order but did not find one that seemed right for him. In 1984, he ended up living alone -- a move he feared beforehand, but found spiritually enriching from the first day.

In 1994, he became aware of the canon law provision allowing hermits. He applied to the archdiocese for its recognition in 1995, but was turned down. As he was about to apply once more, Monsignor Palmieri asked that he wait another year. The archdiocese asked him and his spiritual director, a local priest, to send in regular reports on his life.

On Oct. 14, Brother Withers made a public profession of his vows in his parish church, placing his hand in the hands of Cardinal Bevilacqua. The event made the newspaper, The Philadelphia Inquirer. Brother Withers said he had found the attention challenging. Being in ''a public light is no consolation,'' he said.

Besides, he said, his life has much that is ordinary.''I've got to do the wash, sweep the floor, earn a living,'' he said. To make ends meet, he works one day a week at a company that makes scientific instruments.

But his purpose is distinctive. ''It's the amount of time spent in prayer, which is why I live alone,'' he said. ''It's in the solitude that I hear God best.''

Photo: Richard Withers is recognized as a hermit by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. (Tim Shaffer for The New York Times)

Monday, August 8, 2016

Catholic Japan: Abortion, Jizo, and Peace - by Columban Father Michael Molloy

The Healing of Mizuko Jizo
May 21, 2005

A ritual in Buddhist Japan has emerged to memorialize babies killed by abortion and assuage mothers’ shame and guilt.
In Japan, the spirits of the dead never seem far away. Indeed, reverence for those who have died is a distinctive characteristic of all Japanese. There is a feeling of deep gratitude to those who have gone before us and a sense of duty to keep their memory alive. Funerals, memorial rites and prayers for the dead, in addition to being a source of consolation for the bereaved, also provide assurance that the spirit of the departed will look benevolently on the living.

A Buddhist mizuko jizo statue 
in a cemetery in Kamakura, Japan. 
Photo by:

In Japanese thought, the soul or spirit departs the body at death, but it does not go far away, at least not for a considerable period of time. They inhabit their own world, but they continue to take a keen interest in their former family and in their native place.

They are believed to return home on certain occasions throughout the year: at a mid-summer festival that corresponds to our All Souls Day and at the vernal and autumnal equinoxes. Cemeteries are spruced up, and individual graves are cleaned to welcome them.

In the Catholic Church, we follow this Japanese custom by celebrating a Memorial Eucharist in cemeteries on those days. Anniversaries of death can be commemorated for as many as 33 years, even for 50 years. After that time, the deceased enter the realm of the ancestors who will now look favorably on the fortunes of the family.

In the Japanese language and Buddhist terminology, the anniversary of death day is called meinichi (“life day”). We Christians see this as a beautiful expression of our belief that the day of death is truly the day on which a new life begins.

A Tragic Form Of ‘Population Control’
In Japanese Buddhism, the spirits of human beings live on, of course, but also the spirits of animals and inanimate objects, particularly those that have contributed in a special way to human well-being. These spirits may need to be placated from time to time.

This concept was brought home to me one evening when the proprietor of a poultry farm came to visit me. He had been suffering of late from a painful shoulder and suspected that the spirits of the chickens he had killed to supply the local stores had become vindictive. Being a Catholic, he could not go to the Buddhist temple, so he brought an offering of two dozen eggs to the church by way of atonement.

While there are funerals and memorial rites for adults and children, including the stillborn, there are neither funerals nor prayer ceremonies for those killed by abortion. Over many centuries, abortion and infanticide were common in Japan as a sporadic means of population control, particularly following calamities and natural disasters such as plagues and famines.

This custom became known as mabiki, which is a word I would use to describe my work on my father’s farm when as a youngster I would thin turnips and vegetables. Many shoots are uprooted and discarded so the remaining ones will grow healthy and vigorously.

In post-World War II Japan, the cities became overcrowded. The concentration of industry attracted more and more Japanese to urban areas, and conditions grew even worse. Living space was incredibly restricted: Individual houses were small, and apartments were even smaller. There was no room for large families.

Birth control, against which there were few ethical or moral restrictions, and abortion became the means of population control. Since that time, Japan continues to have one of the highest abortion rates in the world.

A New Type Of Memorial
A baby killed by abortion is called mizuko. The Buddhists, seeing that no memorial rights for aborted babies existed, established a temple service called mizuko kuyo; literally, a memorial service for abortion victims. In time, temples began to manufacture small statues of Jizo, one of the deities in the Buddhist pantheon. These were used as part of the memorial services and then kept in the temple.

Single statues of Jizo can be seen in shrines both in towns and the countryside throughout Japan. They can be regarded as the guardian deity of the village or community and, by extension, are the protector of the children who are the community’s future. The statues used in the memorial services for those killed by abortion are known as mizuko jizo, and hundreds are displayed in Buddhist temples.

The mizuko jizo statues are a stark reminder of the high incidence of abortion in Japan. And the proliferation of temples offering such services is a reminder of the grief and sense of responsibility felt by mothers of aborted children and of their efforts to atone for the destruction of the innocent life growing within them.

The popularity of these services must mean they provide some relief from the pain, grief, guilt and shame associated with abortion. There’s also belief that the unrequited spirit of the deceased child, denied the blessing of life, could become vindictive.

An Angel In Disguise
In a surprising way, this Buddhist right solved an unusual problem for me one day when four young Filipino women arrived at my door. One of the women had given birth to a stillborn baby and didn’t know where to turn. They placed a jar of formaldehyde holding the baby on my table.

I learned that the baby could not be buried or cremated without a permit, which could be issued only when a doctor presented a death certificate. Since no doctor was present at the birth, an autopsy was needed to determine if the baby was, indeed, stillborn.

There were many other complications. The teen-age mother was in Japan on an entertainment visa and worked as a club hostess.

Her contract stipulated that she would be paid a lump sum after the contract was fulfilled and was living on her tips plus a small weekly allowance from her employer. If her pregnancy became known, she would be repatriated in disgrace and without her earnings.

Furthermore, being underage, she had come to Japan under an assumed name and falsified passport. Clearly, ordinary procedures were not an option.

Eventually, a Japanese solution was found. A Japanese member of our parish with connections contacted a medial clinic that had arrangements with a Buddhist temple to provide memorial rites for victims of abortions. For a fee, he agreed to include the stillborn baby among the remains to be cremated.

The young mother and her friends went to the temple and were given a statue of mizuko jizo for the child she had named Angel. Best of all, she herself received excellent medical attention in strictest confidence.

She returned to the temple a few times. I imagine that, among the rows of mizuko jizostatues, she saw her Angel in one quiet, secluded corner of that ancient temple.

- Columban Father Michael Molloy of Ireland serves a Columban parish in Kumamoto City. He was ordained in 1960 and has been a missionary in Japan, China and the United States.