Frank Sheed’s “Theology and Sanity”

Since I had to type this out of my book for a class, I figured I would share one of my favorite passages from Frank Sheed’s Theology and Sanity:

“To complain that a spiritual thing is unimaginable would be like complaining that the air is invisible . . . Spirit is beyond reach of all senses . . . With the eyes of your body you cannot see justice. You can see a just man or an unjust man, but justice itself you cannot see with your eyes . . . Thus the reality of any spiritual statement must be tested by the INTELLECT, not by the imagination . . . [INCONCEIVABLE] means that the statement proffered to the intellect contains a contradiction within itself . . .

If concepts are beyond its reach, imagination acts as sensor and simply throws them out: while the intellect, grown flabby with disuse, tiredly concurs in a rejection so beneficent because it saves so much trouble. But this happy arrangement receives a check if one happens to be Catholic. For the Faith binds us to accept many truths altogether beyond imagination’s reach . . . Here imagination does its subtlest piece of sabotage. It cannot forbid intellect to accept them: so it offers to help intellect to accept them. It comes along with all sorts of mental pictures, comparisons from the material world. Thus for the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity imagination offers the picture of the shamrock . . .

Now there is a definite role for such analogies . . . God’s dealings with men may often be seen more clearly by some comparison drawn from the material universe [like] Our Lord’s parables . . . But useful as such comparisons may be . . . they shed no light whatever upon the innermost being of God in Himself. The shamrock simile tells us absolutely nothing about the Blessed Trinity . . . The excuse for [the simile] is that they help us to see the doctrine. But they do not. They only help us to swallow the doctrine . . . Certainly it prevents the truth about God from being a danger to our faith; but in the same act, it prevents the truth about God from being a light to our minds. The same objective might be obtained by not mentioning the doctrine at all.

Thinking is very hard and imagining is very easy and we are very lazy. We have fallen into the habit of using our imaginations as a crutch, and our intellects have almost lost the habit of walking . . . Once the intellect is doing its own work properly, it can use the imagination most fruitfully, and the imagination will find a new joy in the service of a vital intellect”

Also, if anyone is interested, I have posted some material over at http://voccola.blogspot.com for my Church History class about St. Catherine of Siena, including a book review of Sigrid Unset’s incredible biography Catherine of Siena. (My author name on the blog is Lilting_Lilies). God bless!!!

Why Ash Wednesday Brings Nine Inch Nails to Mind…

Ash Wednesday always reminds me of Nine Inch Nails, weird huh? More specifically, I think of Johnny Cash’s cover of their song “Hurt,” and the video that goes along with it. These lines are what I conjure up seemingly every Ash Wednesday:

What have I become
My sweetest friend
Everyone I know
Goes away in the end

And you could have it all
My empire of dirt
I will let you down
I will make you hurt.

After all, what do we hear in Mass today but words recalling the verse of Ecclesiastes 3:20, “All are from the dust, and all turn to dust again.” Ecclesiastes is also where we hear, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity!” A nihilist reading of this could make us fret about life, “So, what’s the point?” And that’s just it; without God, there’s really no point to life because He is the point. In God we discover our origin and our aim. We could build empires like the Romans (or Johnny Cash), but it’s all turned to dust in the end. However, there is something that will endure the tests of time, and that is Christ’s Church. We are His Church, and we are eternal. Our bodies will be turned to ashes, but they will be raised on the last day. The wealth we accumulate, the pleasures we chase, the power we pine after—these are the ashes. Our work on Earth is meant to cultivate a “civilization of love” as Pope John Paul II called it. At the Final Judgment, what will Jesus say of the righteous? “For I was hungry and you gave me food…” (Mt 25:35-40). Life is about love; it’s about going beyond the ego and reaching out to other people. It’s never too late to start, as long as you have a beating heart within.

While this song may seem to be nothing but a nihilistic ode to despair, the final lines provoke that feeling we sinners have all felt before:

If I could start again
A million miles away
I will keep myself
I would find a way.

This is where Christians like Johnny Cash pick up the song and finish the story. Jesus offers us this chance to “start again,” to restore us to ourselves. This is what Lent is all about. We are not defined by the sins of our past; with Christ we can be born anew. Is there a sin you’ve been struggling to overcome? Well, here is your chance to get serious. Remember, some demons can only be expelled by prayer and fasting (Mt 17:21). So, challenge yourself this Lent. Go outside your comfort zone because that is where you will find growth. The way we care for our bodies is akin to how we care for our spirits (Christ gave us the Eucharist as bread for our souls). If you lift the same set of weights at the gym all year long, you’re not going to see progress. We can always take on more in our spiritual lives and cut out the spiritual junk food. Don’t be fooled by the “all or nothing” attitude either, and accept that failures are stepping stones to success. Even if you slip up during Lent, renew your efforts as soon as possible. You’re human, you will slip up, but you’re also a child of God, and with Him anything is possible.

I try to take a three-fold approach to Lent. (1) I give up one thing that is hindering (or simply not helping) my becoming the best version of myself. (2) I take on something new that will help me to be a better me. (3) I do a joint sacrifice with my family. I’ll join the chorus of other bloggers throwing out ideas; here are just a few of my favorites:

1. One random act of kindness a day/week (be realistic about your goals)

2. Write down a different thing you’re grateful for every day; so, on Easter you can read through the list you’ve made to see how blessed you truly are

3. Find a new Saint to learn about and find prayers to him/her to say each day (Don’t have time to research? Do this Saint generator.)

4. Read a Bible verse each day/week and make it your focus

5. Do daily mass/adoration/rosary however many times a week is reasonable (Mary and The Eucharist will change your life if you let them)

6. Start going to confession weekly/biweekly

7. You could start 33 Days to Morning Glory consecration to Mary, which has a start date coming up soon

8. My personal favorite, TV and/or movies (perhaps making exceptions for Christian stuff)

Whatever you decide to do, keep your goals manageable. Also, make them tangible, not something like “I’ll be more joyful, more thankful, etc.” If you want to work on being joyful or grateful, that’s wonderful, but figure out some concrete way to put it into practice so that you can track your progress.

It’s never too late to start again, so let’s take the opportunity we have in Lent to do so. The Devil would like us to believe there’s a point reached where we are beyond salvation, but it’s only by believing such nonsense that we effect the very thing we fear. Christ told Saint Faustina: “Tell souls not to place within their own hearts obstacles to My mercy, which so greatly wants to act within them. My mercy works in all those hearts which open their doors to it. Both the sinner and the righteous person have need of My mercy. Conversion, as well as perseverance, is a grace of My mercy.” We know something the writer of the song “Hurt” didn’t, so let’s take advantage and start anew each and every day. We have been given a treasury of armor and weapons to equip us for the daily battles; stop trying to go it alone and wondering why you’re failing. Let’s make Lent a time to refocus, putting all of our human effort into spreading His Kingdom rather than attempting to build our own fleeting “empires of dirt.”

I Need Beautiful Music to Thrive

The radio on Cape Cod is atrocious, to say the least. I’m on a steady diet of the likes of Rihanna and Maroon 5 if I even coax myself into turning on the radio in the car. There’s country, which I tried switching over to, but they’re just as bad in Nashville these days, dripping with misogyny. I’m left wondering, what happened to Love? to Beauty? to Truth? Granted, every now and then providence will have me turn on my radio to “Don’t Stop Believing,” and those always turn out to be good days :). But, I don’t have time to explore music down other avenues, and so I wind up just tuning out altogether, fed up with the music industry as a whole. Even Christian music (which I can only access online) can sometimes get on my nerves because I overthink things, and I wind up cross-examining some of the faulty Theology they’re offering me to chew on. So life moves forward, and stress weighs heavy on my shoulders, and thoughts race around my mind a mile a minute all hours of the night. Then, I hear a beautiful song, of all places on some random TV show Bones. And, I am reminded how important beautiful music is for my soul. I have to make it a prioity because it makes daily life so much more bearable. I play guitar, very poorly, but I’m always trying to improve. It’s a dream that I never thought I would achieve, so when I play, it brings me great joy. Plus, my kids think I’m great because they don’t know better yet, so I better take advantage of their untrained ears. So, I am going to move music up in my priorities, both playing and listening, because it’s something that helps me to thrive throughout each day rather than merely trying to survive. Maybe you should too!

Here’s the song that inspired this post, simplicity is hard to come by these days…

And this song does a great job making fun of all the contemporary country music…

Weight of Glory

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This book by C.S. Lewis was the first book that I had read outside of his Narnia series. I found an old copy at the back of my high school Theology teacher’s classroom. I was intrigued because I hadn’t realized he had written other books besides his children’s novels. She graciously allowed me to borrow it, and although I didn’t quite understand it as I do now, his words elevated my thoughts to an entirely new plane. This book spurred my C.S. Lewis obsession… or rather appreciation. What especially attracted me was the immense beauty of the ideas contained within this little book, perhaps because he writes so descriptively of earthly and heavenly beauty. Also, one thing that was so striking was that Lewis seems to put into words the truths that I’ve always held in my heart, but could never quite articulate. In the following passages, he speaks of man’s experience of earthly pleasures, which never truly satisfy our longing and rather urge us on to discover the source of all beauty and goodness.

“In speaking of this desire for our own far-off country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you–the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both. We cannot tell it because it is our desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name. Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that had settled the matter. Wordsworth’s expedient was to identify it with certain moments in his own past. But all this is a cheat. If Wordsworth had gone back to those moments in the past, he would not have found the thing itself, but only the reminder of it; what he remembered would turn out to be itself a remembering. The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust in them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things–the beauty, the memory of our own past–are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself, they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited . . . Almost our whole education has been directed to silencing this shy, persistent, inner voice; almost all our modern philosophies have been devised to convince us that the good of man is to be found on this earth. And yet it is a remarkable thing that such philosophies… bear reluctant witness to the truth that our real goal is elsewhere… They begin by trying to persuade you that earth can be made into heaven, thus giving a sop to your sense of exile in earth as it is. Next, they tell you that this fortunate event is still a good way off in the future, thus giving a sop to your knowledge that the fatherland is not here and now… Do what they will, then, we remain conscious of a desire which no natural happiness will satisfy.”

“We usually notice it just as the moment of vision dies away, as the music ends, or as the landscape loses the celestial light. What we feel then has been well described by Keats as ‘the journey homeward to habitual self.’ You know what I mean. For a few minutes we have had the illusion of belonging to the world. Now we wake to find that it is no such thing. We have been mere spectators. Beauty has smiled, but not to welcome us. We have not been accepted, welcomed, or taken into the dance. We may go when we please, we may stay if we can: ‘Nobody marks us.’ A scientist may reply that since most of the things we call beautiful are inanimate, it is not very surprising they don’t take notice of us. That, of course, is true. It is not the physical objects that I’m speaking of, but that indescribable something of which they become for a moment the messengers. And part of the bitterness which mixes with the sweetness of that message is due to the fact that it so seldom seems to be a message intended for us, but rather something we have overheard. By bitterness I mean pain, not resentment. We should hardly dare to ask that any notice be taken of ourselves. But we pine. The sense that in this universe we are treated as strangers, the longing to be acknowledged, to meet with some response, to bridge some chasm that yawns between us and reality, is part of our inconsolable secret. And surely, from this point of view, the promise of glory, in the sense described, becomes highly relevant to our deep desire. For glory means good report with God, acceptance by God, response, acknowledgement, and welcome into the heart of things. The door on which we have been knocking all our lives will open at last.”

“We want something else which can hardly be put into words–to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become a part of it… That is why the poets tell us such lovely falsehoods. They talk as if the west wind could really sweep into a human soul; but it can’t. They tell us that ‘beauty born of murmuring sound’ will pass into a human face; but it won’t. Or not yet. For if we take the imagery of Scripture seriously, if we believe that God will one day give us the Morning Star and cause use to put on the splendor of the sun, then we may surmise that both the ancient myths and the modern poetry, so false as history, may be very near the truth as prophecy. At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendors we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumor that it will not always be so. One day, God willing, we shall get in.”