William Blake: Dante’s Hell

I don’t think it is possible to have an original thought, aside from the fields of physics, cosmology, and advanced mathematics. I’m sure this has all been said before, and better. But it is what I have been pondering this Holy Week…

We have been talking about Hell.

No, not gleefully, like our Calvinist and neo-Jansenist friends do.

What we have been pondering, in the combox reaction to my last post, is the conflict between the notion that if humans have  free will some will end up in ‘the outer darkness’, that state of utterly rejecting the Being that gives us all being, which seems to contradict the promise of the eventual healing of the cosmos in Christ. Especially if, as I have always intuited and the 20th century Polish visionary St. Faustina confirmed, the soul at death is shown the Reality of that mystery we call ‘God’, whose nature is pure love. But if humans are indeed free I don’t see how we can hold that rejecting even an Absolute revealed as eternal love, offered freely, is not a possibility.

It is certainly obvious that the god of the Calvinists and the True Catholic Remnant is a false one. No god worthy of the name creates the vast majority of human souls for a predestined eternity of torment. And a god who created humans for eternal life but lost  a majority of them would seem a failure.

But, as one commenter asked, isn’t the loss of any soul a defeat for a good God?

And it has always seemed to me that the existence, in any corner of the omniverse, of a black hole containing tormented persons seems to undo the promise that the messianic religions make of an eventual divine and universal conquest of evil and pain. It is like an open wound on the cosmos, after it had been declared healed. Doesn’t even an almost-universalism, which seems the consensus of Catholic theologians these days, have this problem? And isn’t the promise of all things being reconciled in Christ betrayed by the torment of even one single person? Isn’t it a defeat for God, for goodness?

But what if the souls in torment do not know they are in torment? What if they are having the time of their  (eternal) lives?

When I was young, in the 70s or so, I probably heard the cliche a thousand times when talking with friends. These were 70s metal kids, hard drinkers and smokers and sometimes worse. But I think one can substitute any genre of a certain type of hard-living human and you would hear the same. They would say that they did not want to go to heaven, but to hell, where all their friends would be partying.


Party down!

So maybe their hell is exactly what they want: ugly music and shouted drunken conversations, groping in the dark. Or whatever is the correspondent reality in that state of being.

And maybe it is like that for other kinds of  the quieter types, ones counting up their useless assets, or the ones that prefer angry solitude to communion, or the rest.

Like Dante, except they don’t even know that they are miserable, or what they are missing, aside from a sense of  relief at escaping a Presence that is perceived as painful. Maybe to them, everything is great, as they have been given exactly what they wanted. Maybe, subjectively, they are not, if exactly happy, content in their way, ‘like pigs in shit’, as the saying goes.

I think it hard to conceive that human freedom does not imply that certain souls will always choose to be assholes, no matter how many chances they are given to change, even if given a revelation of God as he is, beyond human concepts and constructs, offering them Love. Maybe to them, the divine light is annoying, painful, even.

Maybe at that point all God can do is say “All right; be an asshole.”

Maybe ‘hell’ is just the Asshole Corner of the cosmos.

To me, the concept of hell is a lot easier to take if it just means leaving the assholes alone.


Wouldn’t a Redeemer who succeed in redeeming only half of humanity be seen as a pretty crappy redeemer? Surely, redeeming the world is not baseball; a .500 average does not seem impressive.





Behold the Man



Painting, Ecce Homo, by Polish St Albert Chmielowski (1844-1916), who abandoned his art career to  live and work among the destitute and to found a community of the Third Order of  St Francis dedicated to the poor.

Palm Sunday


* God has a perfect plan for your life. But it is as incomprehensible as He Is.

* Human constructs can illuminate or veil reality. Worse, many of the illuminative ones, even the ones not planted by human hands, can become veils and usually do.

* Any ‘theology’ that believes that most humans are going to suffer for all eternity is not worthy of consideration, for the ‘God’ it portrays is not worthy of worship: a total failure and cruel, too.

* In fact, the holy Being we call ‘God’ sets a very low standard. If that is not true, if most people are hell-bound, I might as well give up. And so should you, if you possess any self-knowledge at all.

* Fortunately, we can look at the ones he has chosen in sacred history and see how condescending ‘God’ is: aside from His Mother, it is  a collection of knaves and knuckleheads. Which should give us hope. Universalism? Not quite; one must leave room for human freedom, even the craziest kind that would reject Love for Self, even when that Self, by the choice, is reduced to a cold hard turd of a thing.

* In fact, if that most noxious of theologies, Calvinism, is true, we may as well ‘curse God and die’, for not only is He worthy of a curse, but we are without hope.

* Oh, except for the ‘elect’. Who are in for one Hell of a surprise.

* When I was younger I thought I was born in the wrong age. This is not an uncommon thing for romantics. And I did not like ‘modern’ science when I was in school; whatever Einstein was doing, high school science when I was a kid in the 60s was rationalist and mechanistic, and ran entirely against the mythopoetic approach to reality that came naturally to me. And anthropocentric: the assumption was that Man was about to conquer the natural world, make it sit up and beg. Not now; science if anything reveals a universe infinitely more mysterious and intricate than ever we could have imagined. And ultimately more beautiful and incomprehensible and, well, humbling. The age of scientism is over, as mysticism and science merge more and more.

* Meanwhile, ‘traditionalist’ Catholics have produced a documentary, by splicing together segments of interviews with physicists, taken out of context, promoting …. geocentrism.

* Me, I had another half-fast Lent. I am no longer a super Catholic, let alone a super Byzantine Catholic. I observed only the minimal ecclesial ‘fast’, like the average Catholic that I am.

* But I have three teenagers (four, if you count my precocious 11 year old, Maria), and that is plenty of penance, thank you. Plus, I just went through a five month period of intense physical deprivation. It was called ‘the worst winter ever’. What? It was imposed, not willed? So are all the best fasts.

* For what it is worth, I have pondered my sinfulness more this Lent than I ever did when I was observing all the traditional ascetic rules. Whole days I have spent walking around, realizing that I have been an ungrateful asshole more often than not, and full of pride to boot. And I can’t seem to keep my mouth shut when I should, engaging in fruitless arguments and general smartassedness.

* ‘Oh Lord and Master of my life, keep from me the spirit of indifference, despondency, lust for power and idle chatter. Instead, give to your servant the spirit of chastity, humility, patience and love. My Lord and King, give me the grace to be aware of my sins, without judging my brothers and sisters. For You are blessed, now and forever, unto ages of ages. Amen.’

* A blessed Palm Sunday and Holy Week to all….

…a particularly beautiful and sacramental one has burned to the ground. St Elias the Prophet Ukrainian Catholic Church, in Brampton, Ontario, a place of great liturgical and iconographic beauty, was destroyed by fire last Saturday night:

images_MAN6398_copy___Content n-fire_of_St._Elias-1___Content


The pastor’s response:

“The building is no more,” Father Roman Galadza told the children sitting at his feet and the adults gathered behind them. “But the church remains because it’s you and it’s me. It’s all of us.”

Read more here:



As I have said before, I knew that Pope Francis was going to have problems with the so-called traditionalists right from the start, when he knelt down to wash the feet of young prisoners, some of them women, some of them Muslims, at his first Holy Thursday liturgy.

When he was criticized for violating the rubrics in this vivid act of evangelical beauty I figured he had his work cut out for him.

And it hasn’t gotten easier, not least because he has provoked ‘traditionalists’ by criticizing forms of religion that are more attached to the ephemeral than the eternal. Most cuttingly, in Evangelii Gaudium the pope spoke of:

…the self-absorbed promethean neopelagianism of those who ultimately trust only in their own powers and feel superior to others because they observe certain rules or remain intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style from the past. A supposed soundness of doctrine or discipline leads instead to a narcissistic and authoritarian elitism, whereby instead of evangelizing, one analyzes and classifies others, and instead of opening the door to grace, one exhausts his or her energies in inspecting and verifying. In neither case is one really concerned about Jesus Christ or others. These are manifestations of an anthropocentric immanentism. It is impossible to think that a genuine evangelizing thrust could emerge from these adulterated forms of Christianity.

This insidious worldliness is evident in a number of attitudes which appear opposed, yet all have the same pretence of “taking over the space of the Church”. In some people we see an ostentatious preoccupation for the liturgy, for doctrine and for the Church’s prestige, but without any concern that the Gospel have a real impact on God’s faithful people and the concrete needs of the present time. In this way, the life of the Church turns into a museum piece or something which is the property of a select few.

I admit that I was among those puzzled by the phrase “self-absorbed promethean neopelagianism” to describe ‘traditionalists’, but further thought makes the use of the term clear.

I have been shaken in the last few years by the convergence of many things: the realization that I really do not know much about much, especially raising children, disappointment regarding  the state of the Church, disillusionment with what I once saw as an emerging Catholic counterculture, questions about things that once were certainties. And much more that I will not go into.

I know a lot of my good Catholic friends are worried about me, just as a few years before they worried that I was going to convert to Orthodoxy.

But so far, I am not losing faith. I am going deeper.

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about my new affinity for apophatic spirituality, for the reality that the incomprehensible holy Mystery we call ‘God’ is beyond our ken.

Not that we don’t ‘know’ anything, as Reason can discern some things and that mysterious holy Being we call ‘God’ reveals others to us. But knowing how little of the ‘physical’ universe we can discern -something like 1% of the visual spectrum is perceptible to the human eye, and maybe 5% of the audial- it would seem clear that we know about as much of What Is as a child playing in the sand on the beach knows of the Sea.

Or far less, when one considers that the Sea, vast as it is, is in fact finite.

When faced with this ineffable mystery, with even a physical universe that is eternally incomprehensible in any real sense, it is entirely natural to grasp at human constructs, structures for understanding Reality.

Not that there is a thing wrong with this; even ‘God’ when revealing ‘God’ to us uses human constructs; that is inevitable. Christ, the Revelation of Mystery incarnate, taught us in homely parables and stories tailored to our understanding.

‘God’ is nothing if not condescending.

To the point that it appears to me that ‘God’ has pretty low standards. Not that the demands of holiness are anything but daunting. “Be perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect”, Jesus said. But if you look at those deemed ‘righteous’ in the Old Testament? Well, not exactly the sort of people, most of them, one would want as neighbors, let alone as enemies.

And even in the age of the New Covenant, Christ tolerated the 11 blockheads he named Apostles (I deem St John to have been of a higher caliber, though he had his dense moments as well). And the Church has canonized various assholes, given their other virtues, such as they were.

Which I find hopeful.

So it is understandable that this dense but holy thing, the Church, being human, would inevitably grasp at the relative as absolute, the ephemeral as eternal.

I think it is this tendency that the pope is criticizing, while calling us to something higher and more eternal.

Do not get me wrong; I love beauty above all things, and will drive a good long way to avoid banal liturgy. I used to attend the Latin Mass, when I lived nearer to one, with some regularity. And I prefer Byzantine worship these days. I am not indifferent to the concerns of the traditionalists; not at all.

But every form of worship is, besides a means of grace, a human construct. Let us readily grant that Beauty is important, even essential. Still, one should not absolutize any particular human construct, however lovely it is and however efficacious we may find it.

I thought of this recently when I came across an article on The Remnant website (and isn’t a ‘remnant’ the same as the ‘select few’ of the pope’s criticism?) In it the author decried the decline of the old form of the Mass and linked that decline to the perceived malaise of the Catholic Church. I said, in response, that this would explain why no one has converted to Catholicism since 1965.

And then said, oh, wait. Hasn’t Catholicism grown exponentially in Africa and Asia? And isn’t it possible that the new liturgical forms, with their flexibility regarding cultural incarnation, may have aided in this missionary explosion? And even in the US it does not seem to have impeded the steady flow from evangelicalism and Anglicanism into the Catholic Church.

Or for that matter, from Calvinism, a distorted human construct of the gospel if there ever was one, a sort of theological sociopathy.

(There, I got to say it).

I doubt very much that this growth would have occurred if the Latin Mass was the only form of worship for the missionary Church.

Grasping tightly to  one historical form, one human construct, however shot through with grace, is indeed a sort of ‘promethean neopelagianism’,  as it holds as absolute what is merely a human structure.

And surely anyone who has spent time around so-called traditionalists and is honest can verify that it is indeed true that there are people who:

…ultimately trust only in their own powers and feel superior to others because they observe certain rules or remain intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style from the past. A supposed soundness of doctrine or discipline leads instead to a narcissistic and authoritarian elitism, whereby instead of evangelizing, one analyzes and classifies others, and instead of opening the door to grace, one exhausts his or her energies in inspecting and verifying.

I know because I recognize myself, for much of my life as a Catholic, in these words.

Lord, have mercy, and thank you for Francis.

Art by Cory Ench


The young Emmylou Harris… and yes, my bride could pass for her sister.

What are the odds of this? A few days back I rediscovered Emmylou Harris’ 1995 album Wrecking Ball, which was produced by Daniel Lanois, and have been listening to it a lot. I posted a live version of one of the songs last week. Then today I read that the album is being reissued, in just a few days, and that Ms Harris is touring with Mr Lanois to promote it.

This is great stuff; this album bears Daniel Lanois’ trademark multitextured atmospheric complexity, while Emmylou’s vocals reach deep into the American Celtic soul.

There is not much on YouTube from the album, but digging around, I did find this:


WalMart: $35 million

Starbucks: $28.9

GAP: $24.7 million

Bloomin’ Brands (Outback Steakhouse, Bonefish Grill, etc): $24.5 million

Dollar General $23.2 million

Target: $20 million

Chipotle: $19 million

CVS Caremark: $18.1 million

Dollar Tree: $16.9 million

McDonald’s: $13.8 million

YUM Brands (Taco Bell, KFC, Pizza Hut: $12.8 million

Big Lots: $12.3 million

Lowe’s :$12.1 million

Home Depot: $10.8 million

Burger King: $6.5 million



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