Fairly often, Catholics will shove the suffering soul down the path of more pain, urging her to offer it up, be strong, seek holiness. They subtly chide her for even looking for rest and healing, as if holiness can’t be reached through simple obedience, but must be sought out through self-immolation — the more wretched, the better.
A dead leaf threw itself under the windshield wiper blade and was dragged back and forth three times before it was released by the wind. “Take the exit,” my phone barked, but I was in the wrong lane to exit.
The sky grew darker, and then I was lost. I lost my nerve, I fell apart, became unravelled, was utterly helpless in the teeth of terror as I drove. It was a formless kind of multi-terror, with no particular name and no discernible end, and it shook me like helpless prey.
The great revelation: Whoever we are, whatever we’ve got, it’s still not enough. Whatever preparation we’ve done, it’s not enough. However attentive we are, it’s not enough. There is great peace in letting that knowledge sink into your heart: We’re not enough, and never can be — no, not even if we’re a shoeless Nigerian toiling through the Mangrove to get to Mass.
But Christ is all.
Image: “Church Pew with Worshipers” by Vincent van Gogh [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Last week, I talked about the masculine qualities of protecting the weak, and exercising self-control, sexual and otherwise. One reader responded:
If an affinity for babies and not having sex is manliness or courage or masculinity then some anemic nerd virgin gamer who babysits his cousins on the weekend is literally more manly and masculine than Achilles or Alexander the Great or Gengis Khan, since they fornicated. It’s absurd, but it’s truly the best approach to manliness people can come up with today. Actual manliness is unacceptable, so it has to be redefined as babysitting and not having sex. But described with real strong words. People want to throw men a bone because they care about their sons. But they can’t. They fail because actual manliness and masculinity imposes on women, and that’s officially out of bounds.
In charity, we’ll overlook the facts that Alexander the Great almost certainly had sex with men, and is best known for sitting down and crying, and we’ll address the point that the commenter meant to make: that “actual manliness” means having sex whenever you want it; that “actual men” get women (and other weak people) to do what the men want, because that’s what’s best for everyone; and “actual men” don’t have time for little, feminine things, like children, or other people, or inaction. His point is that men have, until the last few decades, been admired mainly for their muscle and their ability to dominate.
So I asked:
What’s your opinion of Jesus? I’m sincerely curious. He didn’t fight back like a real man would. He just let them hang him there. And He was one of them virgins, too. Thoughts? Still holding out for a more masculine savior?
No, I’m not saying virginity or holding babies precludes masculinity, but that it doesn’t define it at all. Not having sex didn’t make Jesus masculine. Sacrificing himself to crush the enemy and prevent group extinction is masculine, though, like Thermopoly. Maybe Alexander the Great was a bad example, but what about Achilles and Gengis Khan? The point is that virginity and taking care of babies isn’t manliness or masculinity. It’s the exact opposite—both virginity and holding babies are archetypal feminine things.
There’s a lot of confusion here.
First, there’s the statement that virginity is an “archetypal feminine thing.” I’m having a hard time picturing a world where the women are all real women by being virgins, but the men are all men by being not-virgins. Even if we’re getting sheep involved, it just don’t add up.
He also, possibly willfully, misunderstood me. No, there’s nothing especially masculine about taking care of babies or being a virgin. I never said there was. My point was that there’s nothing especially masculine about despising babies, and nothing especially masculine about despising virginity. That there is something very masculine about having the power to kill and rape, and deciding to use your strength for something else, instead.
The confusion here is a very old one. I mean very old, as in pre-War In Heaven-old. It’s the classic mistake of falling for a parody — of confusing a distortion for the real thing. We’re too smart to do the opposite of what we should do, but we’re dumb enough to fall for a disastrously bad imitation.
I remember hearing a Metropolitan Opera broadcast of Don Giovanni, where some gabbling announcer said, “You know, despite everything, you really have to admire the Don. I mean, look how he stood up to that statue! He really held his ground and didn’t let it push him around!”
Yarr, this is true. And then the demons with torches dragged him down to Hell, and the opera ends with a cheerful chorus of survivors, singing, essentially, “Boy, did he deserve it.” The opera opens with the servant Leporello complaining about what a terrible boss he has, and at the end, he creeps off, presumably to find an employer who uses his noble birth justly and wisely, rather than as a license to murder and rape.
One of the main services that Christianity provided to the world (besides, you know,salvation) was to correct our model for femininity and masculinity, which got distorted almost as soon as the first man and woman were made. What needed correcting? Well, before Christ, the rest of the world was still laboring under the pagan delusion, the lapsarian distortion, that women are weak and that men are basically penises with swords. That’s what we revert to, when we listen to the distortions of sin.
And what was the correction that Christ give us? He gave us woman clothed with the sun, queen of the angels, crusher of serpents. And a savior who poured out His life, not as a symbol, but for real. Who made Himself powerless, immobile, transfixed on the cross, open to shame, to spitting, to insults and humiliation. When Jesus died on the cross, no one said, “Look at this display of strength!” They saw Him fall; they saw Him overpowered. They saw Him dead. Ecce homo.
What do we know about this model of masculinity? He chose to let it happen. He had strength, and He chose to put away His strength, His manhood (never mind His Godhood). He chose to reserve it until it could be used the right way. He didn’t come to make unmistakable display of His power and might. There are still millions who don’t see it! He came, instead, to strengthen us, to protect us, to empty Himself out so that we might have life.
This is the new model of manhood. This is the kind of strength we’re talking about when we hold up Christ as a model for men. We glory in the risen Christ, but it’s the crucifix that we hang in our homes and above the altar.
If I were a man, I wouldn’t like it, either.
So I don’t blame the commenter for trying to go back to the old pagan ways, where men are expected to be walking, fighting, self-serving penises. That’s a hell of a lot easier to understand than the crucified Christ. Even my dog can understand that model of masculinity.
Even a doglike man, or a doglike woman, or a doglike angel can fall for a distortion, a grossly simplified counterfeit. This is what Eve did when she was offered wisdom, and instead chose information. She chose the clever counterfeit. This is what Adam did when he had Eve to advise him, and instead used her as someone to blame. He chose a clever counterfeit.
This is what Satan did when he refused to serve. The angels were created to glorify God, but Satan mistook his free will a sign that He was too good to serve God. He thought his freedom meant he was made to be independent of God.
God knows, he’s on his own now.
Hey, men. It’s really easy to go raging around, hitting stuff, yelling at people, and stuffing your penis into anything that doesn’t fight back. It’s really easy to impose on people, especially if you are bigger than the people you’re imposing on.
But that’s not what Jesus did. That’s not what Jesus did.
As long as we were talking about opera, let’s remember the Marriage of Figaro, where the faithless count uses his wealth, his power, and his charm to seduce his way through the first four acts. He only repents of his philandering ways when the masks are removed, and he discovers that the woman he was trying to seduce was his own betrayed wife in disguise.
The moral of this story, for those who have ears to hear is: look out for those disguises. Watch out for those counterfeits you think you want so badly. Maybe you’ll be lucky, and it will be your long-suffering spouse under the mask. Maybe she’ll forigve you, and maybe you’ll repent, and maybe all will be well.
Or maybe you’re not in an opera, and when the mask is pulled away, you’ll see who you’ve really fallen for. And then the demons come to take you away to your chosen home.
Not only do we set the parameters for what we give up (sugar in coffee? A second cup of coffee? All the coffee?), but we decide what kind of thing we want to give up (or take on) — and why. Here are a few broad categories of ways to observe the penitential season. One or the other may be more spiritually fruitful for you, but none of them is really wrong . . .
Remember when Ann Coulter pronounced missionary Dr. Brantly a big jerky, inconsiderate showboater for going into Africa to treat Rbola patients, like selfish, jerky showboaters tend to do with their “Christian narcissism”? Remember how little good Brantly was doing, according to Coulter, with his thoughtless act of leaving his perfectly good country and then coming back home?
Well, guess whose blood is helping to heal the nurse who selfishly contracted Ebola while caring for a dying man in Dallas? Yarr, Dr. Brantly’s blood. Back in July, Brantly
“received a unit of blood from a 14-year-old boy who had survived Ebola because of Dr. Brantly’s care,” the missive said.
Now months later, Brantly, who has since recovered from his battle with the virus, has passed on the favor. A 26-year-old Dallas nurse named Nina Pham, who contracted the illness while treating the United State’s first Ebola patient, has received Brantly’s blood. It’s not the first time it has been used to treat Ebola patients. Recovered Ebola victim Richard Sacra got it, as well as U.S. journalist Ashoka Mukpo, who last night said he’s on the mend.
Injecting the blood of a patient like Brantly who has recovered from Ebola and developed certain antibodies is a decades-old, but promising method of treatment that, academics and health officials agree, could be one of the best means to fight Ebola. Called a convalescent serum, it might also save Pham, an alum of Texas Christian University.
A physician gives over his body to help the sick and dying, and through his blood, they are saved. I’m just going to let that sit there for a minute. Aw heck, I’ll sit here with Dolly Parton: