Category: Religion

If You Meet the Buddha, Kill Him

J.D. Salinger hit the jackpot in 1951. At age 32, he published The Catcher in the Rye, a novel about an alienated teenager named “Holden Caulfield,” and it became an immediate bestseller. He was a success.

But the novel met with considerable resistance from parents who thought it was subversive. Perhaps more cutting, the literature establishment didn’t take the work seriously and leveled pointed criticism at it. Salinger grew bitter at the criticism, so bitter that biographers say it drove him into his famed reclusion in Cornish, New Hampshire.

I’ve always found Salinger’s bitterness odd. It’s almost like, through the alienated character of Holden Caulfield, he scorned the offerings of modern culture, but then became disillusioned when success within that modern culture didn’t yield up happiness.

It was an illogical response given Holden Caulfield’s perspective on life. Holden wouldn’t have cared about the haughty literature establishment.

It was also the exact opposite of Albert Camus’ advice in his 1942 book, The Myth of Sisyphus.

Sisyphus was condemned by the gods to roll a huge rock up a hill, only to have it roll back down, for eternity. But Camus said Sisyphus is happy because he understands his fate and understands he can’t avoid it, so he ceases to expect that he’ll ever succeed in getting the rock over the top. In other words, he negates all hope. It’s frustrated hope that makes the punishment hard, Camus says, so if hope is negated, the torture ceases. It might be absurd, Camus said, but it’s our lot in life.

If Salinger was like Sisyphus, or even like Holden, he would have written the novels without regard … Read the rest

Killing Trappist Beer

The Trappist brewers are getting old

This is one of the saddest drinking stories of the past few months: Trappist beers are declining due to a lack of new vocations.

The Trappists don’t screw around: The Authentic Trappist Product label is only given to beers that are

  • made in the immediate surroundings of an abbey,
  • produced under the supervision of monks and
  • sold to fund the monastery and for charitable works.

If you lack one of those things, like a brewer monk, you don’t get the label.

Monastic vocations have fallen off a cliff, especially in Belgium, the “spiritual home of Trappist beers.” There are still five or six Trappist breweries and 100 brewer monks in Belgium, but most of them are older (this article says at least one is in his early 30s). I gotta believe they’re going to start dropping like flies around the corn-mash vat.

We need an updated Seven Storey Mountain in Flemish. Merton published his autobiography in 1949. By 1950, monastic vocations were surging. From Wikipedia:

“The book has served as a powerful recruitment tool for the priestly life in general, and for the monastic orders in particular. In the 1950s, Gethsemani Abbey and the other Trappist monasteries experienced a surge in young men presenting themselves for the cenobitic life. It is a well-known bit of Catholic lore that, after the book’s publication, many priests entered monasteries or seminaries with a copy in their suitcase.”


10 Trappist breweries worldwide

“Worldwide there are only 10 Trappist abbeys where Trappist beer is brewed. Six of them are Belgian Trappist breweries: AchelChimay, Orval, … Read the rest

Oh Mighty TDE Seer

I can usually sniff ’em out before they come out

Okay, I’m no seer, but I was pleased with myself when I found these notes from 2009 that I wrote after reading James Martin’s My Life with the Saints:

“I wasn’t bowled over by the book, and Fr. Martin is, I fear, a leftist (but of the sincere and well-meaning sort), but it deserved to be finished. It’s splendidly-written, fun, packed with interesting anecdotes. The list of saints alone should be enough to entice you to buy a used copy: Therese Lisieux, Ignatius Loyola. Bernadette, Mother Teresa, Aquinas, St. Francis. Of course, he throws Pope John XXIII into the list of saints (the leftism at work), but I came away with more respect for the reforming pope, so that’s a good thing.”

Ok, so I botched the “well-meaning” part, but otherwise, I sniffed him out like a German Shepherd on Cheech and Chong (sorry for the sarcastic bravado . . . I’ve been drinking a bit this evening). … Read the rest

One of the Finest Saint Books Ever

But no one seems to have ever heard of it, much less read it

fire wallpaper
Photo by Pixabay on
In commemoration of St. John Chrysostom’s Feast Day

Robert Payne, The Holy Fire (1957). A Bullet Review

A book this good, yet few have heard of it. It’s no doubt a testament to the West’s neglect of the Christian East . . . of Christ’s East. Which is, of course, now Muhammad’s East, which, of course, adds to the geographical separation that has always afflicted Rome: both the Church and the Empire.

Even the Great JPII, whose people owe their faith to the Eastern missionaries Cyril and Methodius, couldn’t bridge the divide, and he tried mightily. The fault rests largely with the recalcitrance of the East and its unfortunate shoulder-chip built up after generations of degradation at the hands of the Muslims and then the Communists. The East needs the West, but it won’t acknowledge it.

Maybe the East needs a book about saints like Payne’s, but written about the West’s early lights. The East has Basil, the West Benedict. The East has John Chrysostom, the West Ambrose. If such a book were written with one-tenth of Payne’s verve, it’d do much to collapse those two great lungs into one heart.

Unlikely? Sure.

But not one-tenth as unlikely as the victories of the ten saints whose stories are told in this book.

Buy it at Eighth Day BooksRead the rest

Gomez: The Man. The Saint?

I’m pretty good friends with someone who is close with Bishop Gomez, who was the center of attention last week when he authorized a statement to President Biden on the day of his inauguration.

My friend assures me that Gomez is a saint. He looked me square in the eye when he said it, without really even a note of awe or admiration. He said it as matter-of-factly as someone might say, “Oh, Tom Brady is a great quarterback.”

So I’ve been very interested in Gomez over the past few years. When I’ve grown exasperated with what appears to be his liberal leanings, I remind myself that he’s a saint, not a politician. I likewise do the same when I applaud his conservative leanings: I remind myself he’s just being Catholic, not political.

Bishop Cupich apparently doesn’t see it that way. Man, that dude. Whatta piece of work. All politics all the time. It’s no wonder he’s a Pope Francis favorite.

So what exactly happened last Wednesday?

George Weigel breaks it down a bit in this piece, then goes on to examine the man that is Bishop Gomez.

“Archbishop Gomez is a quiet and gentle person who does not seek the spotlight; he is not an inveterate tweeter; he is not confrontational. More to the point, however, he is a man of deep faith and solid piety, who understood in November that an inflection point had been reached and that the Church’s evangelical credibility was at stake because of that. He offered a profile in episcopal courage at a moment when a few others—the real outliers in this drama—were demanding (one hopes without recognizing … Read the rest

Who is This Ennui Guy Anyway?

Any why is he such a dick?

From the Notebooks

Reinhard Kuhn (the author of The Demon of Noontide: Ennui in Western Literature) defined ennui as “the state of emptiness that the soul feels when it is deprived of interest in action, life, and the world (be it this world or another), a condition that is the immediate consequence of the encounter with nothingness, and has as an immediate effect a disaffection with reality.”[1]

It is closely related to, co-exists with, boredom. In the words of Blaise Pascal: “Nothing is so insufferable to man as to be completely at rest, without passions, without business, without diversion, without study. He then feels his nothingness, his forlornness, his insufficiency, his dependence, his weakness, his emptiness. There will immediately arise from the depth of his heart weariness, gloom, sadness, fretfulness, vexation, despair.”[2]

The earliest men to study ennui were the first generations of monks. Ennui accosted them fiercely, so much so that it was included in Evagrius’ original list of capital sins. It was known by the monks as the “Demon of Noontide,” since it often struck between the hours of ten and two.

It seems that ennui accosts religious men fiercely because their souls forsake all worldly attachments, leaving them particularly vulnerable to ennui’s attacks. When grace (that seemingly-capricious gift!) departs, it leaves them with no attachments, worldly or spiritual, with the result that their souls are tossed about in an ocean of despair, with nothing whatsoever to hold onto. It is not surprising that generations of monks have counseled gardening—a tangible, sink-your-hands-in-the-earth activity—as a good remedy for ennui.

The secular man also suffers … Read the rest

We Either Flee Devils or Fight Them

Remembering St. Antony on his feast day: St. Macarius fought the devils. Holden Caulfield fled them.

Toward the end of The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield tells himself he will move out West and shut himself off from everyone and everything, possibly by posing as a deaf-mute.

If he pretends to be a deaf-mute, he reasons, people would have to write messages to him on a piece of paper, and then, after they got tired of it, he’d be finished with conversations for the rest of his life.

Holden, a radically-disaffected youngster, thought his move out West would contain the seeds of his salvation because it would take him away from a world that held scant meaning for him and from a world that quietly tormented him with a parade of everyday things that irritated him.

Holden’s dream of fleeing to a remote area is not unique. The allure of leaving everything behind has enticed men and women throughout history. Unfortunately, like Holden’s contemplated flight, many flee for all wrong reasons.

But that doesn’t mean the flight is always wrong.

Although some flights are the retirement of cranks, others are the fodder for saints—like the flight of the desert monks in the fourth century.

The Desert Exodus

Tradition and Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History tell us the desert exodus started in 250, when Christians fled to the desert to save their lives from the Decian persecution.

Approximately twenty years later, another man went to the desert for a different reason: St. Antony wanted to fight the devil on a more equal playing field.

So he gave away all his possessions, found a deserted fort in … Read the rest

Three Lesser-Known Figures in the Zen Tradition

All three emphasized the Tao side of Zen

I think it’s safe to say that pretty much everyone has heard of Shakyamuni (Gautama Buddha) and Lao-Tzu, the semi-historical founders of Buddhism and Taoism.

A lot of people have probably also heard of Bodhidharma, the 28th patriarch of Buddhism (and first patriarch of Zen Buddhism) who brought Indian metaphysics to China in 520 AD, where it started to mix with Taoism, leading to the entirely new phenomenon that we call “Zen.” See D. T. Suzuki, “History of Zen,” in Essays in Zen Buddhism.

But most of us in the West haven’t heard of the hundreds of other philosophers and monks in the Zen tradition whose insights and lives deserve attention.

Now, as a Catholic, I don’t believe these men merit the attention of the saints, but they do merit attention. They represent the highest attainment of natural philosophy.(FN)

By “natural philosophy,” I primarily mean “philosophy without any revelation.”

The Zen tradition is almost entirely deprived of Christian revelation. More troubling, its ontology is monistic, meaning that it presumes there is not even a transcendent being (God) that could impart revelation.

It wouldn’t be accurate to call Zen “atheistic,” but it wouldn’t be inaccurate either.

As far as philosophical traditions go, you could argue that Zen is the one tradition that, through its premises and practices, has done everything possible to deprive itself of grace. I’m not saying it is deprived of grace (and I’m inclined to think that, despite its unknowing attempts to eliminate grace, it has received it in spades nonetheless), but any grace it receives is applied solely on the natural plane.… Read the rest