Portals into the Catholic Mystery: A Very Personal Hello Again

Portal into the Catholic Mystery at Paray-le-Monial in France. The French inscription reads ‘In this church Our Lord revealed His Heart to St Margaret Mary. Photo by Christophe.Finot (Own work) CC-BY-SA-2.5 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5) By Christophe.Finot (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5) , via Wikimedia Commons.

Hello again Friends, Known and Unknown,

This weblog starts up again … after months of winter.

And although most of the time, I resist the temptation to very personal and informal writing at this blog – I’ll make an exception here. (Note the contractions I wouldn’t normally use).

Many personal events have sharpened my awareness these last months, including mild, recurrent illness (which at least provided for further reading) and more intense inner crises.

Ever sharper awareness … as to the world situation and to what constitutes my own individual response to that situation.

Now, the front page of this site speaks of our purpose for this project – in terms of the Christian and Catholic ‘Tradition which must be guarded, cherished and preserved – now as ever – at this point of crisis of Western civilisation. The Crisis of the West! Increasingly the West is cut off from the font of its civilisation, the Mystery of Christ. In the Catholic cradle of Western civilisation, this Mystery once flourished: People knew they were fallen and turned with humility to the Supernatural Grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, as He became present in the Sacraments.’

But it is one thing to say that.

It is another thing entirely to know HOW to guard, cherish and preserve the Catholic Mystery.

There is always prayer of course, at the very bedrock of everything. But as vital as that is, one may have the aching sense, more is asked of oneself.

And one may feel this ever more acutely, the more one feels the danger to the Mystery and the ever ongoing call to not allow – as Valentin Tomberg puts it –  ‘the lamp illumined to the glory of God be extinguished in the world’ in order ‘that the sacred fire above the altars of hearts and the altars of stone is not extinguished from century to century’…

And so these winter months have led Kim and myself to ever more burning questions as to how we can most effectively offer ourselves as individuals to that great, collective task.

Pondering all this, I come back to the individual biography of my own life.

For each person’s biography is filled with Providential occurrences yielding gifts – the gifts each of us have been purposefully given to fulfil our own vocation.

In looking to the working of Providence in one’s own life, very obvious things need to be considered.

For example, as I have said before, I am an American, though I have British parentage and long years living in Britain.

No doubt then, a key part of the Providential Mystery of my own life is the very obvious fact that my heritage and upbringing are White Anglo Saxon Protestant.

Though later in life, I was confirmed a Catholic. And so I became a WASC. Providence led me to see such very different things then!

Providence opened Portals into the Catholic Mystery.

Window from Chartres Cathedral by MOSSOT (Own work) [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) , via Wikimedia Commons

And how this happened especially as Providence led me to live in Catholic cultures: Ireland, Spain, France!

I saw how those cultures were all still awash with Portals into the Mystery.

What do I mean Portals? I mean many different things.

Some are very intangible. For example, praying the Rosary in Spain or Ireland is different than in England. One can feel inwardly blessed that one joins in prayer with centuries of the Rosary prayed by generations of people. And in Britain, how one can feel most deprived of the very same!

But there are all kinds of tangible Portals in those countries, as well. Some are great and some are humble indeed. From a mighty Cathedral such as Chartres to an old and faded prayer card that a young child finds in her great-grandmother’s attic …

Either one can be a sign that points to the Catholic Mystery.

What I mean by ‘Portals’ is manifold: countless cathedrals, convents, humble churches and wayside crosses, windows in stained glass, Catholic bookshops, statues, old customs and traditions, the sites of Apparitions such as Paray-le-Monial in France or Knock in Ireland. More upon more.

Old French Prayer Card

To be sure, these exist in England and America to some extent, particularly in American places originally settled by Catholics. New Mexico, for example. But on the whole, they are far fewer and further between in the countries dominated by WASP heritage.

Pondering all this, these winter months, I see ever more clearly that a central purpose of our website is to open Portals – however humble they may be – into the Catholic Mystery in the English-speaking worlds Kim and I grew up in.

For not only have the Portals into the Mystery been fewer in these Anglophone worlds, they are increasingly obscured and menaced.

In Britain particularly, the situation of Christianity is grave indeed. However, there’s a book we may be reviewing here soon called unChristian. The book is written by an American evangelical Christian David Kinnaman, who commands my respect, though his approach is very different to my own.

Still Kinnaman cites studies showing that even in far more religious America, anti-Christian attitudes have risen very sharply in the last years. While Britain by comparison … my voice trails off shuddering. What would Kinnaman make of Britain?!

In America, in England, we are witness to an ascending materialism, where the main spiritual alternative to that materialism becomes ever less Christian and ever more New Age.

By contrast, the New Age still does not go down very well in places like Spain, for example. And Spain remains astonishingly Christian compared to Britain.

These Catholic cultures tend to protect people from New Age-ism – which is first and foremost an English-speaking phenomenon (despite its pretensions to universalism).

There’s a lot about such New Age pretensions at this site (for example here). And there will be a lot more to say in the future.

The main point for now, is that my own life is shaped by the Providential experience of comparing ‘Anglo-America’ to Catholic Europe.

That’s what Providence has given me. And the gifts of that Grace are what I can bring to this web project.

So future blogs here will have a lot more about Catholic cultures, which have offered – and offer still – startlingly different possibilities to the ascending Anglo-American world.

Christ the Redeemer looks down on Rio de Janeiro. The monumental statue is not that much smaller than the one erected to the (Roman) Goddess of Liberty near Ellis Island, New York. By Artyominc (Template:Artyom Sharbatyan) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), via Wikimedia Commons”

We also want to revive the visual blog here – which is now simply called Imago. (The old name ‘In Memory’, you may notice, has been changed. It sounded too much like Rest in Peace – the very opposite of our aspirations!)

So both in words and in images, we want to point to Catholic culture, which exists most vibrantly beyond the English-speaking world.

Now Valentin Tomberg lived in England for twenty five years – but he was very clear that his Magnum Opus could not be written in English. Instead, even while he lived in England, he wrote in French. His own ‘Guarding the Mystery’ involved the French Catholic Tradition, as well as restoring awareness of some highly unusual figures within that tradition.

Unusual … As this site comes back to life, we are publishing some unusual items, including some old reviews of mine previously featured elsewhere on the web.

Odd, suspicious stuff, some folk might think.

Even stuff about comic books … of all things!

I have my reasons for these odd choices. But – once again – they are all to do with this: providing Portals.

Enabling the Catholic Mystery to be visible – just simply visible! – in a world where that Mystery is ever more obscured by ascending materialism and New Age-ism.

I am grateful to see that many people from around the world find this site through googling. And more importantly, I am gratified many of them do stay awhile, going through the 200 pages offered here …

I would like to believe that by the Grace of God, this website can enable people to glimpse a little of the Catholic Mystery.

I am hoping in difficult personal circumstances to push forward passionately with this website, as well as publish my long-delayed book this year.

In doing this, you will see a little more advertising than before and find (hopefully unobtrusive) appeals for help. (There is one such below.)

Any help we receive from this will enable what Kim and myself to devote maximum time and energy to this site and publishing my upcoming book, as well as other titles.

Now, I know this site and particularly my own upcoming book are unusual and controversial.

Personally, I don’t find it easy to be controversial.

How much easier it was when I was a New Ager, when my opinions were so compatible with the secular and liberal mainstream!

I thought then that I was ‘counter-cultural’. But how much more ‘counter-cultural’ is the aspiration to be truly Catholic!

By contrast, the so-called ‘counter-cultural’ New Age sits very comfortably indeed with the secular and liberal mainstream.

Now by the Grace of His Sacred Heart in Paray le Monial, I finally found my way beyond this secular and liberal mainstream – found my way to a far more traditional Catholicism.

However, as much as my Catholicism troubles my old New Age and liberal friends, I also know that my writings (at the site and in my upcoming book) will trouble certain traditionalists.

Personally, I don’t find that easy either.

For example, I need to say much more about global warming, capitalism and the crying need for greater simplicity of life.

Now it is precisely traditional Catholicism that can address that crying need for simplicity.

Living in places like Catholic Ireland and Catholic Spain made it very clear to me how Catholicism once fostered the very kind of simplicity we so desperately need to re-establish.

Meanwhile, the great Protestant, capitalist countries stigmatised the Irish and the Spanish as backwards in terms of such precious things as ‘first rate economic development’ …

The Cathedral Nuestra Señora de la Almudena, Madrid, Spain. Courtesy of losmininos (Flickr) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0) , via Wikimedia Commons”

O Ireland! O Spain! How your cultures have been awake to vital things that my own England and America hardly saw at all! How you have been awake to the Catholic Mystery …

However, there are certain American conservative Catholics, who want to maintain – even further stimulate! – the massive capitalist consumerism that is destroying the biosphere.

For myself, it is clear. Such views tell us more about ‘Americanism’ than about traditional Catholicism.

There will be more to say about that. And again, I won’t find it easy saying it.

Because really, I want very deeply to uphold and support the Traditional Catholic movement.  And that movement is strongest in France and – astonishingly! – America.

Yet I know that there are things I need to say that may trouble the traditional hearts of my fellow Americans.

Not easy for me.

Because my heart is very with their hearts – weeping with them, I would say.

But yes, I am conscious of alienating many on all sides: Right/Left, conservative/liberal. This I know from personal experience.

So here we go again … While I am gratified that the site attracts genuine interest, I suspect it finds few natural allies.

But Kim and I believe in it and in the controversial book I hope to publish. I would say, I believe in it more than I ever have.

These winter months have only strengthened my conviction and my passion as to the critical need to uphold the Mystery of Christ in His Church, in His Sacraments …

There are mighty forces trying to drown out the Catholic Mystery. Once again these forces are very strong in my own Anglo-American culture, where the prejudice and propaganda of centuries continues to ripple out … For how long? Further centuries perhaps. Why not? Unless individuals do what they can …

This is what we’re attempting here.

In the past, I’ve resisted the temptation to find a soundbite to describe the work of this site.

But succumbing to temptation perhaps, I will now say it is all about this: Trying to open Portals to the Catholic Mystery. Trying to enable vision of the Mystery of the Church.

Particularly in our own Anglophone culture, where the Portals become ever darkened and invisible …

Thus dear Reader, should you look at the comic book stuff I put up here (for example) and ask: what on earth was he thinking …?

Consecration in the Holy Ghost church (From a story not collected in the below volume)

The Holy Mass in Marvel Comics

I shall say I was trying to open a little Portal in cyberspace. A silly, strange Portal perhaps, but a Portal nonetheless.

This is what we’re trying to do here. Again, in ways that will not always be easily appreciated.  And we’ve decided we need to ask for a bit of help from any friends, known or unknown, who can appreciate what we’re trying to do.

That’s what the appeal and advertising below is about. And there will be more like it in coming months.

Now I said at the start, I don’t often like to write quite this personally.

However you will see this vein of writing continue just a little bit longer in some upcoming blogs I have written about Tomberg, Catholic France and my experience there.

A final note about Tomberg, concerning the long series started here on Tomberg and the Counter Revolution. This series will continue. I envisage dozens of parts eventually. But I fear it’s going to take me much longer than I originally thought to complete it. It will slowly appear here.

Please forgive me for any false expectations I created that the series would progress more rapidly.

And thank you for your time and consideration here at this website, dear Friends, Known and Unknown.

We wish all of you a Blessed Eastertide. May His Resurrection serve to continually resurrect everything in your souls that is weighed down …

In Our Book Stores (Numerous New Titles)

Here is a slideshow of many of our Amazon titles.  I have also added comments as to why I believe in each book.

If you appreciate this website and shop through Amazon, please consider supporting us by clicking on our Amazon links. It will cost you nothing and will help us. You can either click on the links for recommended books or you can use the Amazon buttons found in the left hand column.

Virtually anything ordered by clicking on these Amazon buttons in the left hand column will earn us a commission.

Thank you – RB.

Prints, Posters, Imagery and More

The world is awash with materialistic imagery, designed to stimulate consumer desire. Yet once, Christendom was awash with imagery of the Christian Mystery. Whatever can redress this imbalance is most needed. With such thoughts, we present this small selection also available from Amazon:

I selected this post to be featured on my blog’s page at Catholic Blogs.
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  1. edwin shendelman
    Posted 12 April 2012 at 22:14 | Permalink

    Interesting how when we are created we are sent…your sense of mission is profound and important. Great to see you back at it.

  2. Posted 15 April 2012 at 13:05 | Permalink

    Thank you so much Edwin. Your encouragement over the years at this website means more than I can say …

  3. Billy Bishop
    Posted 18 April 2012 at 01:30 | Permalink

    I’m really looking forward to your critique of capitalism. I guess I’m impatient for it. Or perhaps, hoping as I do that it will blister my bones and bring conviction on my heart, I am trying to prepare so that it will not hurt as much. 

    First, I hope you will say what you mean by capitalism. The most important issue to me as it relates to capitalism is economic liberty. This subsumes ideas like Marx’s goal of public ownership of the means of production; obviously if the public owns them, individuals may not and decisions about their use become political. 

    I keep meaning to recommend a book to you. It is David Mamet’s _The Secret Knowledge_. Makes it sound mysterious but it really isn’t. Mamet as you probably know is an accomplished playwright and screenwriter and one who came from the left side of  left wing American politics until a late in life change to the right wing. One of the points he continually makes is that people, fallen creatures that we are, make mistakes. Putting them in government does not make them immune to this; if anything, it exacerbates the tendency (i.e. corruption). So, the question is: who do you trust more to screw up less, diffused individuals or central government?

    I’m struck with the humility found in America’s founding documents. They believed power would be abused and so it was considered best to create a government of limited powers only, leaving most decisions to the people. 

    Here’s the counter  It’s not humble to turn bowing to necessity into a prescription for health and wealth let alone a system of morality a la Ayn Rand. Further, we create more mistakes, and it is not clear whether we should consider this a good. I am tempted to call this good, as science proceeds via its doubt through experiment. This begins to sound like “the groping trial” described in Letter VI of his Meditations. 

    That leads me to further questions, such as how we describe growth (see Letter XVI) differently than the groping trial, such as evolution is described.  Maybe because of the force (or ideas) that animate it? Looking at Letter VI, Tomberg says evolution seems motivated by the Serpent and therefore not a norm to be emulated. By the same token, economic liberty as a humble measure is one thing, but the use of economic liberty to create mistakes which lead to greater wealth, which lead to turning stones into bread as it were, even in this our hungry world, is something for which we need to maintain some skepticism. 

    Look forward to seeing your essay. 

    • Posted 19 April 2012 at 10:00 | Permalink

      Billy, I want to emphasise first of all that this is only “Part One” of my response. A second part will follow.

      What I want to say here is that your comment is enormously useful to me – and really I think everyone.

      Everyone? Why do I say everyone?

      Because I think the whole world benefits from your kind of emotional honesty here, as when you write:

      ‘I am trying to prepare so that it will not hurt as much. ‘

      How aware I am that the normal response wold be either to say nothing at all or get riled, reactive etc …

      Just this emotional honesty is so precious. For I do not want to bring hurt to you or anyone …

      You really give me fresh stimulus for thought. I have been pondering both what you say here and how you say it carefully over these last 24 hours and a second part will definitely be coming.

      Perhaps I will just say this for now. I see your aspiration to diffusion and liberty as noble. Yet for me neither socialism nor capitalism as it currently stands promotes diffusion or liberty.

      I will ponder this valued comment further before saying more.

  4. Posted 3 May 2012 at 16:09 | Permalink

    Dear Billy, two weeks ago, I promised you a second part. And I have still not given you this.

    I will give a second instalment, now, but even then, it will not be the final answer to your query.

    For to do that, I think you need what you have asked from me: a definition of capitalism.

    And I would rather do that within the context of a blog series you have especially stimulated me to write. So although I fear further testing your patience, I hope you can wait till those blogs are ready for my final response to your query.

    But I can say a bit more here. Capitalism is tricky to define. It can be defined purely as an economic idea – or the idea plus such ideals as the economic liberty you mention and indeed other ideals.

    Or it can be defined in different terms: historical, sociological etc. This would include the above, but in addition to ideas and ideals, it would also consider the ways in which capitalism has actually worked out in practice, in the course of the last two or three centuries.

    I suspect this is what may divide us, friend.

    You may be focussed on the idea of capitalism which contains ideals which are precious to you.

    I am focussed on the historical outworking that I see has happened.

    And in my pain about that, perhaps it seems as though I critique – even attack – precious ideals for you.

    If all of the above is true, it may help if I say I share your ideals – and what you are trying to express to me via Mamet.

    I have real resonance with you and Mamet here. Monolithic socialism is no answer to the Fall!!

    And I really see the beauty of your ideal here Billy – freedom, precious freedom.

    And if that were all there were to capitalism, a system that promoted economic freedom (and other goods – for example, excellence through the competition it engenders – which to a certain extent contains truth), I think you and I would agree more than seems apparent.

    However when we come to my final response to you here, in the little blog series, you will see that as I have intimated, my definition of capitalism will not involve a pure economic theory – but yes, its historical out workings.

    From where I stand Billy, it looks to me that by and large those out workings have so often belied the ideals here that are sacred to you – and me.

    Capitalism becomes monolithic – not diffuse – just like socialism becomes monolithic and liberty is lost in both systems.

    (And of course, I note that your response above shows that you are hardly unaware of the pitfalls and the “counter” as you put it to your own perspective).

    I believe there is a third way beyond capitalism and socialism. (In fact, I will be reviewing here a remarkable book called just that: Beyond Capitalism and Socialism, which is an introduction to the Catholic thinking of Distributism).

    So I may be testing your patience, Billy.

    I hope you will see at least that I am taking your thoughts and your ideals seriously here. I want to honour them – truly.

    I think the blog series will be called ‘Capitalism is not conservative’. And there I will work further towards defining capitalism, as you have requested of me.

    I hope you will see that I do honour the same precious ideals as you do, but that I am deeply troubled by the consequences I see that capitalism has -again in practice – long entailed.

  5. Stephen
    Posted 2 July 2012 at 22:25 | Permalink

    Peace in the heart be to all :-).

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