Br. André Marie regrets tone in speech that called Jews “seed of the devil”

Louis Villarubia says he’s not an anti-semite.

The self-styled religious brother, who calls himself Brother André Marie, is listed as prior of the St. Benedict Center in Richmond, NH, which was recently put under strict sanctions by the diocese of Manchester and can no longer call itself a Catholic organization.

But now Villarubia’s a featured speaker at the upcoming first annual Chivalry Conference along with three prominent Catholics, including the scholar and author Joseph Pearce, radio personality Mike Church, and author C.G. Dilsaver. The conference, which is sponsored by Church’s Crusade Channel and The Latin Mass Society of Central New Jersey, will address the matter of “Raising Chivalrous Young Men In An Increasingly Decadent Society.”

Villarubia and the St. Benedict Center have been dogged by accusations of anti-semitism since its foundation; but Villarubia said in a recent statement on the Center’s website that the allegations are “a vicious and unfounded calumny.” He offered a “categorical rejection of the label, ‘anti-Semite'” and called the claim “purely manufactured.”

“Conversion to Jesus Christ and His true Church is our message to Jew and Gentile alike. Where is the hate there? It is purely manufactured,” Villarubia wrote. 

But in a 1998 speech at the St. Benedict Center, Villarubia said that Jews are the “worst enemy of the Church;” that God has turned his back on the Jews; that the Catholic Church is at war with the Synagogue; that the Jewish people side with the “seed of the Devil;” He spoke of the Jews’ “avarice, treachery and usury” as symptoms of their “supernatural sickness” and said Jews are like Cain and desire to overtake and usurp the Church, and that they’re responsible for the “loss of countless souls.” He referred to the late Cardinal O’Connor as a “Jew lover” who “defended the gospel of the Holocaust wherever he goes;” and said “The Jew is not my brother.” He concluded his speech: “We of St. Benedict Center must also hold a strong position against the Jews, or we would not be true to our foundation.”

I asked Villarubia on Monday if he rejects the statements he made in that speech. He answered, “I definitely reject any suggestion that a majority of the Jewish people are hostile to the Faith, and regret the tone of speech and some of the unkind expressions I used in it. We want to evangelize people, after all, not drive them away.”

The speech, which is excerpted extensively at the end of this article, was removed from the organization’s website around 2009 at the request of then-bishop John McCormack. After members of the group signed a letter renouncing anti-semitism and signaling their intention to come into compliance, the diocese then allowed the Center to bring a priest in good standing in from another diocese onto the premises to offer the sacraments. 

One of the priests they brought in was Fr. Rudolf Grega, a Canadian priest who, according to brotherandre.weebly.com was accused of having been dismissed from the FSSP for “failing to observe clerical celibacy.”

The St. Benedict Center has also been investigated by the FBI for allegedly holding a woman against her will, an accusation Villarubia has denied.

The Center, located in a remote, rural setting, houses a number of religious men and women who, according to the site, belong to the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, an order which is not recognized by the Church. It also attracts lay people and includes a school, a summer camp, and a printing press. The Center promotes their interpretation of the teaching “extra ecclesiam nulla salus” (no salvation outside the Church) as a major feature of its mission, which it makes a point of calling a “Crusade.”

Even after the Slaves signed letters of obedience in 2009, the Center continued to teach and promote an erroneously harsh and narrow interpretation of the teaching that there is no salvation outside the Catholic Church, explicitly contradicting Church teaching; and to persist in presenting themselves as an independent Catholic organization, leading the diocese to impose new sanctions in 2019. According to the Diocese of Manchester

“The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome, in April 2016 and again in October 2016, declared ‘unacceptable,’ therefore erroneous and contrary to Church teachings, the manner with which the Saint Benedict Center and the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary interpret the principle “extra ecclesiam nulla salus,” (outside the Church there is no salvation.) Rome pronounced the matter closed, thus no longer open to dialogue or debate.”

The diocese said the organization and its school can no longer call themselves “Catholic,” and Catholics may no longer receive the sacraments there.

As of April 28, 2019, the St. Benedict Center’s website (which is called catholicism.org) continues to claim: 

“Our congregation is a de facto private association of the faithful (in accord with canon 299 §1). We have a priest in residence offering Holy Mass and hearing confessions with the requisite faculties from the Bishop of Manchester, New Hampshire.” [boldface is in orginal]

They claim on their site to be a congregation of religious brother and sisters as well as a third order lay organization; but the Diocese of Manchester said:

“The individuals who work and reside at Saint Benedict Center in Richmond, NH, are men and women who have chosen to live in community having adopted and following their own set of rules. Neither Saint Benedict Center, the Immaculate Heart of Mary School, nor the self-referenced “Slaves of the Immaculate Heart of Mary,” enjoy any recognition, canonical or otherwise, in the Universal Roman Catholic Church or in the Diocese of Manchester.”

The diocese has given the Center until the end of June to come into compliance with Church teaching. I asked Villarubia if the Center intends to comply. He responded,

“As canonical litigation against the precept is currently pending before the Holy See, I cannot answer your question at this time. We pray for the Bishop of Manchester, that he may come to see just how this community of truly Catholic daughters and sons of the Church have been and continue to be wronged by the precept’s false assertions of fact presupposing its issuance.”

According to the diocese, Bishop Libasci “[i]n his pastoral care for the souls of those who work, live at, or reside near the Saint Benedict Center” has arranged for a weekly celebration of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass in nearby Winchester, NH.

The Catholic Herald UK recently noted:

Certain Catholics will write off the CDF’s sanctions as mere anti-traditionalist animus . . .[but] The CDF (or at least Manchester) is taking great pains to make clear that this dispute is about the dogma of extra Ecclesiam nulla salus and not about the status of traditionalists in the Church more broadly. Bishop Libasci himself is considered broadly conservative and has made generous provisions for the traditionalist Priestly Fraternity of St Peter (FSSP) to operate within the diocese.

The group has been in Richmond since the mid 80’s, and they operate the St. Benedict Center, a school, and a summer camp, a priory and convent, as well as publications, a radio show, and websites. They are an offshoot of the Slaves of the Immaculate Heart and St. Benedict Center in Still River, MA, which was founded in 1940; but they are no longer affiliated with each other.

Following a series of lawsuits which were decided against Br. Francis Maluf, co-founder of the Slaves, the Still River group cut ties with the Richmond group, and the Still River group has since been recognized by the Church as being obedient to their bishop. The Still River group is the topic of a new memoir, Little Sister, by Patricia Walsh Chadwick, who was raised by the group’s leaders and alleges that the insular religious community was abusive and violent, separating parents from children and splitting up marriages in the name of sanctification.

Fr. Leonard Feeney, who founded the original St. Benedict Center, was excommunicated in 1953 after he persisted in teaching that no one can be saved if they are not baptized Catholic; but he reportedly recited the Athanasian Creed on his deathbed and so is widely acknowledged to have died within the mercy of the Church. Even the ultra-traditionalist SSPX (Society of St. Pius X) acknowledges Feeney to have been in error on the matter of “extra ecclesiam nulla salus. Feeney is lauded on the Richmond St. Benedict site, and they are among his followers who deny that he repented of his heretical beliefs. The Richmond group is one of the most radical splinter groups to form from the original Fenneyites.

When I asked Villarubia how he came to regret the “tone of speech” and “unkind expressions” in his 1998 speech, he responded,

“Prayer and experience. In the time since I gave that speech, I have learned that a charitable approach toward those who do not accept our Faith is the best witness; it is the witness of the saints. If we are going to work for the evangelization of America, we must act out of love of God and love of neighbor. Our neighbor must see the Charity of Jesus Christ in us or we fail in our apostolate.”

In 1958, Feeney wrote that “the Jewish race constitutes a united anti-Christian bloc within Christian society, and is working for the overthrow of that society by every means at its disposal.” 

I asked Villarubia if he rejects this statement by Fr. Feeney. He did not respond. 

Joseph Pearce, one of the other speakers at the upcoming Chivalry Conference that will host Villarubia, said, “I hate and despise antisemitism and Neo-naziism; but I do have sympathy with the views of Voltaire: I may despise what you say, but I’ll fight to the death for your right to say it.”

Pearce said that he was not familiar with Villarubia, but that as a former neo-Nazi himself who has publicly repented, he doesn’t believe in isolating extremists.
 

“One reason I’m happy to speak anywhere is in order to have what I hope is a positive impact, to draw people toward authentic Catholicism, whether they’re a ‘mad, bad trad’ or a liberal extremist. I’m hoping being out there, speaking and writing, will have a positive impact to bring them closer to reconciliation,” he said. 

The other two speakers are C. J. Dilsaver, developer of psychomoralitics and author of The Three Marks of Manhood: How to be Priest, Prophet and King of Your Family and Celebrating God-Given Gender; and Mike Church, an independent radio host whose Sirius XM show was cancelled in 2015, allegedly for being too Catholic. Church then launched the Crusade Channel, which is sponsoring the conference with the Latin Mass Society of Central New Jersey. Church did not respond to requests for comment.

Here are excerpts from the speech delivered by Louis Villarubia, a.k.a. Brother André Marie, in 1998. 

***

What are we to say of the Jews?  It is horrible to say, but true: Both physically and spiritually the Son of God turned his back to proud Jerusalem and to its stiff-necked inhabitants.

[T]he Synagogue — the Church of the Old Testament — was replaced by the Catholic Church and the mystical war between the two — a war which will not end until the consummation of the world — was begun. 

… history is the story of the war between the seed of Mary and the seed of the devil. Upon their rejection of Christ, the Jews took sides in this war, and became the chief society of men forming the “children and slaves of the devil” . . . From the crucifixion on, the once chosen nation became the worst enemy of the Church — and will be until its prophesied conversion.

“This, in essence, is the ‘Jewish Problem'”: They are the anti-Christ people whose damnable nationalism and anti-messianic naturalism oppose the supernatural supranational aims of Christ and His Church. The avarice of the Jews, their refusal to assimilate into nations they inhabit, their usury and treachery are only symptoms of their greatest sickness; and although these traits are obvious to observers throughout all history, they are only naturally observable results of a problem properly viewed from a supernatural, that is, a Catholic, perspective. 

By way of Jewish takeovers, there is only one thing that could be worse than the usurpation of the Holy Land, the earthly Jerusalem and that is a Jewish takeover of the New Jerusalem, the new Zion: the Catholic Church . . .and like Cain before him, the old Jerusalem seeks to kill the one whose sacrifice was accepted, while his own was rejected. While a Jewish defeat of the Church is impossible, the corroding effect they have on the Mystical Body will be measured in the loss of countless souls. 

Richard Cardinal Cushing … insisted the Jews be absolved of the crime of deicide. Cushing had earned his reputation as a Jew lover years before, when he persecuted Father Feeney and accused him of anti-Semitism. “If i don’t see you in heaven when I get there, ” said the Cardinal to a group of Jews, “I’ll know that you haven’t died yet.” … [a]t the time of the Council, Bishops who were considered conservative had a hard time with an ecumenical Council’s promotion of the Jewish cause. Today, however, even supposed conservatives are Jew lovers. 

Lately, his Eminence [Cardinal O’Connor] has been defending the gospel of the holocaust wherever he goes.

When Cardinal O’Connor recently stated that the Catholic Church was not meant to replace Judaism, he justified his heresy by saying, “That’s what the Pope says and I work for the Pope.” Would that this were not true. On April 13, 1986, the Holy Father entered into the Synagogue of Rome where he and Chief Rabbi, Elio Toaff, addressed the assembled congregation. Part of the Pope’s message was this: “[T]he Church of Christ, in examining its own mystery, discovered its bond with Judaism. The Jewish religion is not extrinsic to us, but in a certain way is intrinsic to our religion… You are our favorite brothers and in some ways, one could say, our elder brothers.” This scandalous speech has been the source of all this talk of the Jews being our “elder brothers in the Faith.”

… 

To talk of the Jews as our brothers is to deny the supernatural order established by God. … The Jew is not my brother. I have God as my Father and Mary Immaculate as my Mother. This is true, because by faith and Baptism I am a member of the Mystical Body of Christ, and He is the only Begotten. He is the seed of Abraham to whom the promise was made, and we Catholics are the heirs of that promise because of our union with jesus. As for the Jews, our Lord Himself told them that they did NOT have Abraham for their Father, but the devil. Abraham is my father, not the father of any Talmudic Jew. 

Which is why the problem of the Jews is a serious problem . . . The Catholic Church has always had a strong position on the Jewish question and will again when she regains her vigor. As adherents of tradition, we of St. Benedict Center must also hold a strong position against the Jews, or we would not be true to our foundation. 

***

Photo of Louis Villarubia, aka Br. André Marie, at a recent town meeting in Richmond, NH; courtesy Damien Fisher

Catholics can’t afford careless anti-Semitism

It’s Advent. I’m very aware that it’s Advent. I don’t want things to be business as usual on the Catholic internet. So please believe me: I thought long and hard about how to approach this topic usefully, rather than just stirring up anger.

Last night, Catholic News Service tweeted out a “Happy Hanukkah” message “to those who celebrate.” Here’s a screenshot:

One problem: That’s an image of Roman soldiers carrying off loot from the Temple they desecrated. So yes, there is a menorah in the picture. No, that doesn’t make it appropriate for Hanukkah, any more than it would be appropriate to tweet out, “Merry Christmas to those who celebrate!” along with a photo of Herod slaughtering the innocents, or a lion mauling some martyrs, or maybe just a straight up crucifixion picture. It’s a depiction of one of the darkest moments in Jewish history.

One wag on Twitter had the same thought:

After several people immediately chastised CNS for their image choice, they deleted the tweet and posted this:

Which . . . was not great. It puts the onus on “many of our followers” for having been offended, rather than saying, “We posted something terrible, and we’re terribly sorry.” There was more backlash, and this morning, they posted this:

I do believe the original image choice was inadvertent. I do believe it’s possible that some overworked or lazy social media manager simply Googled “menorah” and thought, “ooh, that one looks classy” and went with it. Dumb stuff happens, and I’m willing to believe the photo choice was not a veiled threat against Jews, despite how it appeared.

The barely-an-apology apology is harder to get past. The follow-up apology is better, although it puts the blame a single person, even though the tweet went out under the CNS name; but I feel a dreary certainty that CNS learned the lesson “Jewish people are touchy” rather than the much more important lesson, which is this:

Antisemitism is in the Church.
Catholics who aren’t antisemites are obligated to reject even the smallest hint of it, whenever it turns up.

Even if it was unintentional; even if it seems minor; even if it seems to gentiles like an isolated, meaningless incident that can be explained away if everyone would just calm down. Even if the antisemite does other good things or is an effective fundraiser for Catholic causes.

If we don’t step up and say something every single time, then those who really are malicious become more bold, and ideas that once pushed the envelope become commonplace.

A few months ago, the Catholic News Agency published an article about Franciscan University’s response to allegations of mishandling sexual assault, which was uncovered by freelance journalist Jenn Morson and published in the National Catholic Reporter.

CNA named George Soros as the originator of the funding, and then devoted eight paragraphs of their article to the funding angle. But the funding was not, in fact, from George Soros, and even if it had been, Morson was unaware of the grant and did not receive it until after the story was published. Her editors clarified:

The grant was made eight years before Morson started writing her story. The putative connection to George Soros was, in short, imaginary. Moreover, even if it had existed, it would not have been newsworthy, much less deserving of eight paragraphs.

But Morson is a Catholic of Jewish origin, and “Soros” is shorthand in the United States for “evil Jewish influence.”

So, maybe the CNA reporter, and the editor who okayed the story, simply didn’t know the name “Soros” is an anti-semitic dogwhistle. That happens.

But after Morson and several others told them what “Soros” means to so many people, they defended their story. They added a paragraph noting that Morson was not aware of the origin of the funding; but they retained the eight paragraphs noting the alleged source of funding. It’s hard to understand why that information was relevant unless CNA wanted readers to believe the source of funding affected the reporting itself.

Well. Still. Why is this worth bringing up? Why can’t we just give the benefit of the doubt to Catholics who do good work otherwise? Why are Jews so damn touchy?

Because there are so many Catholics of bad will. Because anti-semitism is once again gaining ground in the Church, just as it is everywhere else. Anti-semitic attacks in the U.S. have surged 57% in the last year alone.  If you think those attacks only happen outside the Church, just ask any public person with a Jewish-sounding last name. Stroll by the wrong hornet’s nest, and the anti-semitism comes swarming out, sometimes disguised as piety, sometimes proudly acknowledging itself for what it is.

Does anti-semitism exist only in Catholic circles? Of course not. But when it does exist there, it’s every Catholic’s job to stamp it out in horror. Catholics of good will are obligated to be especially careful to utterly reject even the hint of antisemitism, before it gains strength.

But they’re not. They’re not stamping it out, and they’re not learning to be careful. And when they’re not careful, those without good will consistently amplify dogwhistles, whether they were originally intentional or not. The Catholic Crisis Magazine followed Catholic News Agency’s “I spy George Soros” cue and gleefully doubled down on the imaginary Soros-Morson connection with an article titled “The Soros-Funded Attacks on Orthodox Catholic Universities.” The word “attacks” is plural because the author, Austin Ruse, included my Christendom articles in this category of attack. It is common knowledge that I am Jewish.

My articles were, of course, in no way funded by George Soros, and were in no way part of a coordinated attack. But that’s not relevant, if you know your readership. And Crisis does.

The Remnant Magazine used a similar tactic in their strange, rambling article about me: They called my work “satanic” and then devoted two paragraphs to my Jewishness and how I convey it, even though my articles has nothing to do with Judaism.

In other words, they said: We are not antisemitic. But you should know that this evil article was written by a Jew.

Because this kind of thing is tolerated, because people want to pretend it’s not happening, the authors grow more bold. Austin Ruse, the author of the Crisis article fallaciously linking Morson to Soros, recently said this on Twitter of his nephew, who is an “Elder” in the Proud Boys.

Ruse, who has received numerous awards from mainstream Catholic organizations, including Franciscan University, has repeatedly insisted that Proud Boys are
mostly a men’s drinking club” and “not an extremist group nor or they even remotely white nationalist.” According to the ProudBoysUSA.com:

Men have tried being ashamed of themselves and accepting blame for slavery, the wage gap, ableism, and some fag-bashing that went on two generations ago, but it didn’t work. So they’re going with their gut and indulging in the natural pride that comes from being part of the greatest culture in the world. It’s very freeing to finally admit the West is the best. That’s because it’s the truth.

Jason Kessler was a member of the Proud Boys when he helped organize the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville where tiki torch-wielding marchers chanted “Jews will not replace us.”

This is the organization that brings Austin Ruse such familial pride.

Of course, it’s all about context and nuance, when you’re marching through the streets with torches.

John Zmirak in 2016 reissued his Politically Incorrect Guide to Catholicism. He’s gone on the record rejecting anti-semitism, which is bold. Was that before or after he worked for the white nationalist publication VDARE, including this Christmas essay, which is essentially a chattier version of the 14 words? Before or after he recorded at least one giggly interview, now mysteriously vanished, with neo-Nazi Richard Spencer? If he’s repented, the man has some public reparation to catch up on.

I don’t like guilt by association. I don’t like punishing people for failing to expunge every possible hint of unsavory connections from their public past. But I’m also no fool. I know that evildoers count on the cover given them by the naiveté, the timidity, the mistaken charitable intentions of decent people.

Jewish writers will tell you that anti-semitic insults and threats from people calling themselves “Catholic” are commonplace. Gentiles have told me they have no idea such a thing happens. So I’m telling you: It happens all the time. My family has received numerous explicitly anti-semitic threats of violence from people calling themselves Catholic. After years of writing for Catholic publications, it doesn’t even raise eyebrows anymore. It’s routine.

Guys, the Catholic people and publications I named are only ones I happened to have come into contact with recently, and so their names popped into my head. They are the tip of the iceberg.

I am exhausted. I am exhausted with extending good will where it is neither desired nor deserved. I am exhausted with taking the high road, telling myself people simply didn’t know any better, they simply travel in different circles, they simply don’t realize what it’s like to be Jewish. I am exhausted with arguing with myself over whether I’m overreacting or not, whether I’ll make things better or worse by saying something.

And I am exhausted with trying to persuade myself, “No one is listening to these fringe figures anyway, and I’m just boosting their signal if I respond.”

People are listening to these fringe figures. They’re becoming less fringe as people listen. My children walk through the halls of a public school where swastikas are scrawled by self-described “rednecks” who think “oven” jokes are just some snarky fun. Down the road from us is a traditionalist Catholic Church that has preserved the beautiful and reverent music and liturgy my family craves — and which teaches its children that the Jews are here to infiltrate and subvert the Church from within. It’s not dying out on its own. New generations are being raised on casual or even ardent antisemitism, and Catholics are letting it happen.

Jews ought to be able to count on Catholics to reject antisemitism with vigorous revulsion, because that is what Catholics are for: defending the vulnerable, defending the truth, defending our Faith which is inextricable from its Jewish roots.

Instead, we hear excuses: We didn’t realize. It was an honest mistake. We’re sorry you were offended. Let’s not jump to conclusions. But they do so much good otherwise. Just ignore them, and maybe they’ll go away.

Or: It’s Advent. Can’t we take a break from thinking about this stuff? It’s Advent!

And during Advent, Jewish Mary and her Jewish baby boy fled for their lives. During Advent, Jews all over the world are in danger, and their danger increases when Catholics pretend they don’t see antisemitism in their ranks. It is here. I, a Jew, a mother of Jews, am asking you, if you’re a writer, an editor, a social media manager; if you book speakers or hire teachers; if you’re in charge of choosing curriculum; if you are active on social media; if you are a priest, if you influence other people:

Please see this cancer on the Body of Christ for what it is. Name it as evil, every single time, and keep it from spreading.

 

Protected: Podcast 53: Jewbie-jewbie-jew

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Protected: Podcast 44: Some degree of martyrdom

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How Mel Brooks saved my life

producers audience

Resolved: Jeffrey Imm is a moron, and so is anyone who wants to sanitize the power out of comedy.

Imm’s complaint is that Mel Brooks’ The Producers makes fun of Nazis, and therefore doesn’t pay proper respect to the horrors of the Holocaust.  As Walter Hudson points out in PJ Media, “The irony of protesting fascism with a blanket declaration of what can’t be laughed at appears to be lost on Mr. Imm.”

It’s not really worth arguing beyond that. If you’re a soldier, you use a gun to fight evil. If you’re a writer, you use words. If you’re a comedian, you use jokes — especially if you’re a Jew. That’s how it works.

Kathy Shaidle skewers Imm for his stupid protest, but then flashes her alien ID, saying:

Imm, in his own flaky fashion, is onto something. It’s not that those topics aren’t funny.

It’s that Mel Brooks isn’t funny.

This aggression will not stand, man.

I agree that Spaceballs, Men in Tights, and Dracula are unwatchable. The problem with these movies is that Brooks tried to skewer genres that he didn’t especially care about; whereas his love and devotion for his targets (including in High Anxiety —inexcusably missing from Shaidle’s list of Brooks hits) are the heart and soul of his funniest movies. And that’s where Mel Brooks really shines: when he’s in love.

Excuse me while I get a bit emotional about this, but this is why Mel Brooks is so great: he’s an optimist, and his exuberantly ridiculous jokes catch you up in his love of life, dick jokes and all. The jokes that “make sense” aren’t what make the non sequiturs and the fart jokes forgivable; they’re all part of the same sensibility.

Life is funny. Even when it’s awful (what with racism, and Nazis, and murder, and stuff like that), it’s kind of funny. Especially when it’s awful. Especially when you’re suffering.

Shaidle says:

Brooks always counters anti-Producers critics (no, Imm isn’t the first) by pointing out the obvious: that he was making fun of Hitler.

But what’s brave about that? Hitler managed to look pretty stupid without much help, and when it mattered, neither The Great Dictator nor (the far superior) That Nazty Nuisance accomplished sweet eff-all.

Well, he wasn’t just “making fun of Hitler” (and I don’t believe that Brooks considered himself “brave” for making The Producers, anyway). At the risk of overanalyzing humor, which is the worst thing that anyone can do ever, Brooks doesn’t just tease Hitler. He subsumes him.

This is obvious in The Producers, as Brooks deftly works the play-within-a-play angle, telling the world: this is how you do it. When you are a comedian, you make people laugh, and that is how you win.  People gotta do what they gotta do, and that’s why Max Bialystock won’t ever learn.

I don’t mean to crap things up by getting too analytical, but it’s hard to ignore: we’reall producers, and the worst mistake we can make is not to realize what kind of show we’re putting on.  In Brooks’ best films, he knows exactly what kind of movie he’s producing, and his glorious openness is what makes them so disarming. It’s what makes us laugh at things we don’t want to laugh at; and laughing at those things is what saves us from succumbing to them.

An even better example of how Brooks annihilates the enemy without losing his soul is in the underrated To Be Or Not to Be, where Brooks and his real-life wife Anne Bancroft play a pair of two-bit entertainers  (they’re “world famous in Poland”) who bumble into a plot to rescue a bunch of Jews from occupied Poland.

The movie is not great, but one scene makes up for everything else: The audience is full of Nazis, and the only way to shepherd the crowd of Jews out of town is (work with me here) to dress them up as clowns and parade them out of the theater right under the enemy’s noses. Against all odds, it’s actually working, and the Nazis are deceived — until one poor old babushka, her face pathetically smeared with greasepaint, freezes. It’s too much for her: so many swastikas, so many guns. She can’t make herself do it, she’s weeping and trembling, and the audience realizes something is wrong.

They’re just about to uncover the whole plot, when the quick-thinking leader looks the Nazis straight in the eye, and shouts merrily, “JUDEN!” He slaps a Star of David on her chest, takes out a clown gun, and shoots her in the head. POW.

And that’s what saves her. That’s what saves them all. The crowd roars with laughter and keeps their seats while the whole company flees. Juden 1, Hitler 0.

The same thing happened to me. Again, work with me, here!

Depression and despair have been my companions ever since I can remember. Most of the time, if I keep busy and healthy, I have the upper hand; but one day, several years ago, I did not. The only thing that seemed reasonable was to kill myself, and that was all I could think about. The longer it went on, the less escape there seemed to be. Too much darkness. I couldn’t pass through it.

Spoiler alert: I didn’t kill myself. I’m still here. Part of the reason for that is because, of all things, I suddenly thought of that scene in Brooks’ 1970 film The Twelve Chairs. I barely remember this movie — we try not to have a lot of Dom DeLuise in our house, out of respect for my husband —  but the plot was some ridiculous, convoluted story of someone trying to do some simple thing, and things getting worse and worse. At one point, everything has come crashing down around the hero’s ears, and there is no hope.

So what does he do? He responds by running around in circles on the beach and screaming, “I DON’T WANNA LIVE. I DON’T WANNA LIVE.” And that’s the line that popped into my head.

So guess what? I laughed. Just a little giggle, but it helped. It was a little shaft of light, and it helped. I still had to pass through the dark room full of the enemy who wanted me dead, but someone who was on my side had slapped a Star of David on my chest, made me a target — and once I was explicitly made into a target, I could survive. It was all a joke. It was a circus, and I knew I would survive.

Suddenly I knew what kind of show I was in. It was a comedy, and I was going to make it out of that dark room. I don’t know how else to explain it beyond that. Mel Brooks saved my life, fart jokes and all. That’s what kind of movies he makes.

Next Year in Jerusalem

Have you taught your children that, while Christmas is very important, it’s really Easter that’s the greatest feast of the year? Do they buy it?

When I was little, this point of doctrine was obvious: All during Holy Week, my father could be heard practicing the Exsultet to chant at the Easter vigil, as my mother fried and ground up liver and onions in preparation for the Passover seder. The fragrant schmaltzy steam of the chicken soup, the palm leaves, bags of jelly beans for Easter Sunday and the boxes of jellied fruit slices for the seder—these were all equally essential for Holy Week. We drooled over the growing heaps of luscious Passover food as we suffered the final pangs of Lenten sacrifices. My mother covered her head to bless the candles at the start of the seder, and then a few hours later, hovered over us in the pew to save us from singeing our hair on the Easter candles. I can’t imagine eating leftover gefilte fish without a chocolate bunny on the side; and I can’t imagine hearing “Christ our light!” without echoes of “Dayenu!” – “It would have been enough!” still lingering, both exultant prayers of thanksgiving to the God who always gives more than we deserve.

You might be pardoned for imagining some kind of schizophrenic clash of cultures in my house, but that’s not how it was. My parents did struggle to synthesize the incongruities between Catholicism and Judaism (and for a hilarious read, check out my mother’s account of interfaith communications). My parents were raised secular Jews, and went through a long and strange exodus through the desert together, and eventually converted to Christianity—and then, when I was about 4, to Catholicism.

But for us kids, there was no incongruity: Growing up Hebrew Catholics just meant having much more FUN on Easter than anyone else. My Christian friends wore straw hats, ate jelly beans, and maybe dyed eggs if their mothers could abide the mess. We, on the other hand, whooped it up for an entire weekend as we prepared for and celebrated the Passover seder, the ceremonial feast which Jesus ate with his disciples at the Last Supper. At our seder, which we held on Holy Saturday, there was chanting and clapping, giggling over the mysterious and grisly ceremonial roasted egg and horseradish root, glass after glass of terrible, irresistible sweet wine,

special silver and china that only saw the light of day once a year, pillows for the chairs so we could “recline,” and the almost unbearable sweetness as the youngest child asked, “Why is this night different from all other nights?”

It was different because, every single year on that night, there were laughter and tears. The laughter was always more: I waited with bated breath for my father, after drinking his third or fourth ceremonial glass of wine, to trip over the Psalm and say, “What ails thee, o mountains, that you skip like rams? And o ye hills, like lung yams?” And then there are the tears, when we remember the slaying of the first born, and a drop of wine slips from our fingertips onto the plate.

Most Catholics are familiar with the idea that Moses prefigured Christ: Baby Moses was spared from Pharaoh’s infanticide, as baby Jesus was spared from Herod’s; Moses rescued his people from slavery, as Christ rescues us all from sin and death; the angel of death passed over the houses whose doors were marked with the blood of the sacrificial lamb, just as death passes over the souls of those marked with the sign of baptism. Moses brought the Jews on a generation-long journey through the desert, during which God showed constant mercy and forgiveness, and the people demonstrated constant faithlessness and ingratitude—a journey which is mirrored in the lives of everyone. And Moses eventually brought the people within sight of the promised land of Canaan, as Christ has promised He will lead us to the gates of Heaven.

I will always remember my father pausing in the middle of the ceremony, and holding up the broken afikomen matzoh to the light of the candles. When he had the attention of all the children he would ask, “Do you see the light, shining through the holes? Do you see it?

It is pierced, just like Jesus’ hands, feet and sides were pierced. And do you see the stripes? Just like Jesus was striped by the whip of the Romans.” And then we would replace the matzoh in the middle compartment of a silken pouch. This special pouch held three sheets of matzoh (a Trinity?)—and the middle one would be hidden away (as if in a tomb?). Until it was taken out and consumed, we couldn’t have dessert. All the sweets that were waiting in the other room—the chocolate and honey sponge cake, the fruit slices, the nuts and blonde raisins, the halvah and the macaroons—all of these had to wait until that middle piece was found and found (resurrected?) again.

But what always stopped me in my tracks is something my father discovered one year. Imagine, he told us, the Hebrews in their homes, painting their doorpost and lintel with the blood of the lamb as the Lord commanded. They would raise their arm to brush the blood on the top of the door, and then down again to dip again into the blood; and then up to the left, to mark the post on one side, and then to the right … does this sound familiar?

Act it out: up, down, left, right.  It’s very possible that, thousands of years before Calvary, the children of God were already making the sign of the cross.

Make of it what you will. At our house, what we made of it was that God loves us, has always loved us, and always will love us. “I have been young, and I have grown old, and I have never seen the righteous man forsaken or his children wanting for bread” (Ps 37:25). We are all the chosen people, and God speaks to us each in our own language, through our own traditions.

And I believe that he laughs and weeps along with us when we say with a mixture of bitterness and hope at the end of the seder, “Next year in Jerusalem.”

————-
[This post originally ran in Register in 2011 – re-posted at the request of several readers]

You can’t be any poorer than dead – UPDATED

Trick-or-treaters might be coming around with UNICEF donation boxes.  Don’t give ‘em a dime — UNICEF pushes for abortion and sterilization as part of its efforts to improve the lives of women and children.  Beyond the immediate irony of that idea, it’s not even good policy.  According to CatholicCulture.org (emphasis mine):

Pro-family UN watchers are concerned that [UNICEF’S] disproportionate focus on unsafe abortion, based upon questionable maternal mortality figures, detracts from addressing the major health risks to pregnant women in the developing world. Experts say these are severe bleeding, eclampsia, and obstructed labor. By UNFPA’s own admission in a 2004 report, the most important means of reducing maternal mortality is not access to contraceptives and legal abortion but the presence of skilled birth attendants and access to emergency obstetric care.

Imagine:  those backward, third-world women would rather survive childbirth than get help killing their children.  Savages.

 

Abortion proponents often link unsafe abortion and maternal mortality to push for legal, “safe” abortion. Critics of this argument are quick to point out that in Poland, when abortion was severely restricted in 1993, the country showed a sharp decline in the abortion rate and a decline in maternal deaths. In Ireland, where abortion remains illegal, the country reports one of the lowest maternal mortality rates in the world. By contrast, while the United States has had abortion on demand since 1973, this year the US reported a rise in maternal deaths.

Oh, and look at this!  I was searching for an image for this post, and turned up this ad:

It’s an ad placed by the Palestinian Youth Association for Leadership and Rights Activation, and shows an axe hacking into the Star of David.   And looky!  There’s the UNICEF sponsorship logo, down at the bottom left.  (Image source and more information here.)

(Wait, let me save the very vocal minority here a little trouble:  Israel has committed atrocities!  They are the true criminals here!  Ms. Fisher’s blind, jingoistic support of Israel is what’s wrong with the Church and the world in general!  Aieeeeee, boogie boogie boogie, somebody said something about the Jooooooos!

Hokey doke.  Let’s just think about this for a second.  What is UNICEF for, again?  According to their website, it “works for children’s rights, their survival, development and protection.”

You know, with an axe.)

I’m not in favor of burdening young children with more bad news than they need to know.  If mini Buzz Lightyear shows up on your porch with a UNICEF donation box, just say, “No thanks, but here’s your fun size Snickers.”  But if your kid is being pressured by his school to use these collection boxes, you can tell him what I just said to my daughter:  UNICEF does some good things, but they also do a lot of bad things, and we don’t want to help them hurt people.  There are other charities that do a better job of helping poor people, so we give our money to them instead.

Here is our favorite charity, run by the Church with an incredibly low overhead:  Save a Family Plan.  Among other programs, you can choose a plan in which your family sponsors a desperate family in India, helping them to become educated and self-sufficient within a few years.    Boy, they get the job done.  And somehow they manage to do it without killing anyone.

UPDATE:

Sandy, an alert reader, sent the following links to clarify the connection between UNICEF and PYALRA, the organization that ran the ad above.  According to Israel National News,

“In a statement dated March 23, UNICEF president, Caryl M. Stern, denounced the “incorrect use of the UNICEF logo” and stated that “UNICEF was not consulted by PYALARA about the use of its logo in a poster announcing a youth broadcast and it condemns the use of its logo to imply endorsement of political opinions. Neither the poster nor the television program it advertises reflect UNICEF’s policies or its views.” Ms. Stern added that “UNICEF’s partnership agreement with PYALARA ended in January 2010” and that “UNICEF will be carefully reviewing any proposed future partnerships with PYALARA.”

Glad to hear it.  UNICEF still stinks, but at least this time, it turns out I was the one going “Aieee, the Joooos.”  Sorry about that!

Here are a few more links with more information about this story

http://thebulletin.us/articles/2010/03/31/news/world/doc4bafdbe416e47247495742.txt

From the Anti Defamation League: http://www.adl.org/Internet_Rumors/UNICEF.htm

Seven Quick Takes: “Isn’t It Holy?” Edition

It’s so linky around here today, I can hardly stand it!   I’m doing Seven Quick Takes with Jen from Conversion Diary, and responding to a rare tagging from The Anchoress.

She lists her five favorite Catholic devotions, and she wants to know what mine (and yours) are.

Now, I’m in kind of a spot here.

On one hand, the last six months or so have seen me practicing Catholic devotions in the same way as my three-year-old has been practicing personal hygiene:  whining and screaming and making things so miserable for everyone that, more often than not, we just skip it and walk away disgusted.

On the other hand, whatever Lizzie wants, Lizzie gets.

Just to make things harder on myself, I’m going to list seven, not five, so I can do Seven Quick Takes.  Maybe the extra two will count as doing mortification.  That’s a devotional, right?

Seven Favorite Catholic Devotions

–1–

Novenas

I think of novenas as spritual interventions — not “We pray for divine intervention,” but like:  “Well, do you think it might help if we held an intervention?”  A nine-step program, if you will.  You don’t set these things up for everyday problems.  Nobody enjoys it, and we’d all rather be somewhere else, but if this doesn’t work, then nothing will.  I kind of imagine the Holy Spirit slumping resignedly in a folding chair, drinking tepid coffee and willing at least to hear us out.

–2–

Adoration

It’s been a long, long time.  I’ve made dozens of resolves to sign up again, but I keep putting it off.  But when we were going, my husband and I signed up as a couple, and each went on alternate weeks.  Just two hours a month each, but it Made A Difference.

Sometimes when you go into the chapel, you feel wonderful.  You feel like you’re coming home from a long and miserable trip, when everyone missed you terribly and is so glad to see you.

And sometimes you feel like a bored, itchy hypocrite who has no business taking up space in this weird, demanding religion.  But I heard someone compare Adoration to standing in the sun:  you may not notice it happening, but it will surely change you.

–3–

Scriptural Rosary

This is not so much a favorite devotion as an inescapable one.  It’s kind of like taking your vitamins:  it’s so easy, and it couldn’t hurt, so you might as well just do it every night.  Gulp.

My kids enjoy it (we only do one decade a night) because eventually they will get to lead us in praying The Ascension.  The little rats read “‘Baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,’” and then they deliberately pausebefore continuing with “Hail Mary . . .” so they can make one or two inattentive people think we’re up to the Glory Be already.  They also like to trap house guests that way.  Isn’t that nice?  They’re wonderful children.

–4–

The Chaplet of Transition in Labor

When I’m in labor, I offer up the pain for people who suffer infertility.  That sounds a lot more pious than it really is.  Really, the only good thing about delivering babies is that, for once, you have something truly horrible to offer up–but, unlike other sacrifices, such as fasting or doing good works, you can’t get out of it.  So you might as well try and get something out of it (besides the baby, I mean).  Also “For the sake of his sorrowful passion, have mercy on us, and on the whole world” is nice and rhythmic, and helps you breathe steadily.

–5–

ברוך אתה ה’ א‑לוהינו מלך העולם, שהכל נהיה בדברו.‏

Ha ha, got you there!  When I was little, we used to say the Hebrew blessing before meals (later, I found out it was Hebrew with a Brooklyn accent), and then we’d say it in English:  “Blessed art Thou, o Lord our God, King of the universe, by Whose word all things exist.”  It has such a wonderful rhythm of certainty at the end:  “By Whose word All.  Things.  Exist.”  I don’t know how to read Hebrew (although I did once advise someone on whether or not her mezuzah was upside down, so I know that much), but here is a transliteration of the prayer: Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu Melekh ha‑olam, she‑hakol nih’ye bidvaro; and here is  someone saying it.

There are actually several different prayers before meals, depending on what kind of food you will be eating.  This may very well be technically the wrong prayer to use every day, but, you know, there’s a New Covenant and all.  You’re covered.

–6–

Palming it Off On Someone Else

I thought it was hilarious when Mark Shea recently explained that he started posting prayer requests on his blog

largely because I feel inept as an intercessory pray-er, and so had a hope that maybe somebody out there in the audience might have the charism I lack when it comes to having a clue how to pray. I thought I was being very clever fobbing this off on others; but, of course, what I stupidly failed to foresee was that this would inevitably result in lots more prayer requests for everything under the sun. I continue to post them, along with my fumbling two cents in the courts of the Almighty, advising Him on how to proceed. I haven’t the slightest clue whether my prayers do a lick of good for the person making the prayer request. But I figure that if I mix my prayers in with others who are closer to the Throne, then maybe they’ll get lost in the pack and I will look like I know what I’m doing.

I’m lazy enough to pass along a prayer request before actually praying about it myself, but scrupulous enough to feel bad about it; so generally, the act of making it public is enough to help me to remember to say at least a quickie prayer myself.  Whereas if I only realize I should be praying for something, I’m all too prone to mistaking “I should pray about this” for actually praying.  Maybe God, in his generosity, accepts even good intentions as prayer, but I’m not counting on it.

–7–

Act of Contrition

I love the Church so much.  She knows that we’re so lame, so stupid, so weak and lazy that not only do we have to be required to go to confession once a year, but we  need help figuring out how to say “I’m sorry.”  Isn’t it great to have those words?  They say it all — everything you’re thinking, and everything you ought to be thinking — and it feels so good to say them.

O my god, I am truly sorry for having offended Thee.  I detest all my sins because I dread the loss of Heaven and the pains of Hell, but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, who art all good and deserving of all my love.  I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to sin no more and to avoid the near occasion of sin.

Whew. I mean, Amen.

Oh, wait!  Here’s a bonus one.

–8–

A Strange Child’s Prayer

When my oldest daughter was about four, she wrote a prayer of her own.   She understood the gerneral lingo, if nothing else.  I wish I could find the baby book for this General Act of Praying, but the ended with:  “Holy, holy, holy.  Isn’t it holy?”

———————————–

Okay, so now I’m tagging Hallie from Betty Beguiles, Megan from  Sorta Crunchy, Lisa from Sweet Family Times, Kristen from St. Monica’s Bridge, and Becca from The Hollow.

And don’t forget to check out Conversion Diary for other Seven Quick Takes, and link up if you’re doing your own!

Finally got around to watching Inglourious Basterds

photo source

I’ll admit it, I felt great watching the first half of Inglourious Basterds.  We saw it a few weeks ago, and it was exactly the palate cleanser I thought I needed after that appalling gorgon Helen Thomas gave tongue to her revolting little swan song.  It wasn’t Thomas herself who gave me concentration camp nightmares.  What really made my flesh crawl were the throngs of little cockroach voices cheering her on in comboxes everywhere. (They feel safe to come out when it’s dark, you know).  I know that people are at their worst when anonymously reacting to a news story, but I was horrified by the sheer numbers of those who felt comfortable shrieking out in fury against the Jews.  Things have changed.  You don’t have to be paranoid to realize that antisemitism is creeping back into style.

So I enjoyed this movie, at first. Who wouldn’t want to see pure evil get some payback for a change?  The story was fascinating, and each scene was, of course, gorgeously shot.  I laughed and laughed at the funny scenes, and in the tense scenes, I nearly chewed through the arm of the couch.  Even though I covered my eyes while the avenging basterds carved up helpless Nazis by the dozen, I enjoyed it.  On the whole, it was an entertaining, wildly original movie.  But I felt sick and guilty by the end.

Not because of its incredibly brutal and graphic violence, which was, according to the Tarantino tradition, lovingly caressed by the camera so that not a single splat of brain tissue was left behind or forgotten.  I think his ultraviolent genre is tiresome, but I can work around it and enjoy a movie, as long as my husband tells me when it’s safe to look.

The movie annoyed me because I don’t know what it was for.  I guess it was, in part, supposed to be an indulgent revenge fantasy which makes reparations for the Holocaust,  using the only means a movie maker has:  by redoing it all on screen.  This is the way things should have happened, right?  It scratched that anti-evil itch.  And as I said, I enjoyed it at first.

I don’t mind a movie that isn’t for or about anything, as long as it’s entertaining . . . unless it’s this one.  Why?  Because every time the Jews won, I was reminded of how, in real life, they didn’t.  The revenge was so complete, so over-the-top, it stopped working for me.  Hitler wasn’t merely  gunned down at close range — his killer went back and sprayed more bullets, and more and more and more bullets, back and forth across his dead face.  The sheer boundless triumph of the victory was answered, in my mind, by a persistent echo which said, louder and louder as the movie went on, “The opposite happened.”  I’m sorry, I know this is terribly melodramatic, but the piles of dead children in my recent  nightmares didn’t get much satisfaction from this film.

I had other problems with it, too.  Why were there no Jews in it?  I know there were supposed to be — but why did those characters not appear Jewish in any way?  Okay, some of the actors had big brown eyes, but aside from that, there was not a speck of Jewish culture or sensibility to be found.  That would have made the revenge more satisfying, if some of the avengers had been identifiable as Jews in anything but their thirst for vengeance.

There’s another big problem:  vengeance isn’t actually an especially Jewish trait.  Oh, in personal matters, maybe (just ask my husband).  But in large matters, Jews thinktoo much to be able to carry out a plot so simple as utterly blotting out the enemy.  Jews are never single-minded, but in this movie, all they had to say was “YAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!” as they gouged out larynxes with their bare hands, or whatever.  No argument, no analysis, no guilt, and no jokes?  Come on.

There was no sadness in the movie, either, only rage.  That struck me as unforgivably lacking in a movie about Jews.  Jews are always sad, even when they’re enjoying themselves.

I know you can argue that this wasn’t really a movie about the Holocaust, or about Jews, or about the war.  I get that:  it was about revenge in general.  My husband thinks that, if the movie was saying anything at all, it was saying that revenge is hollow.  It certainly felt that way by the end, with the distorted image of the giant face laughing maniacally as everything went up in flames — an image so tawdry and overblown that it had to be deliberately clichéd, right?  So it wasn’t just a regular cliché, but an ironic cliché?  Meant to show you that . . . what?

It was also clearly supposed to be a movie about movies.  Everything happens within a theater, either literally (at the end, when all the biggest Nazis die) or figuratively (when the “German Sergeant York” is rewarded for killing Allies by starring as himself in a movie about killing Allies).  References and homages to other films abound.  Okay, so it’s about movies.  But . . . what about movies?

Tarantino is so childish, but he frames scenes like a god, so it’s hard to stay away.  He keeps hinting at gargantuan talent, but he’s so darn lazy:  his movies are set up to be meaningful, but rarely deliver. Once again in this film, Tarantino is under the impression that he is actually saying something, when he merely sets the stage, and then rolls the credits.

I wouldn’t say “don’t watch this movie.”  I would just caution you that you will feel agitated and unhappy inside after you do (and not only because of the nearly illegible yellow subtitles) .  Quentin Tarantino is not going to grow up, so I just wish he would would hire a partner who could take his original ideas, his brilliant comic inspirations, his wild pairings of image and sound, and turn them into a movie that knows what it’s about.

What do you think?  Am I missing something here?  I was fully prepared to enjoy this movie, but it didn’t happen.