Thursday, November 27, 2003

Savonarola Logs On Again

As I wrote earlier, Jeff Culbreath is thinking about taking a break from blogging. I'm not trying to disagree with that decision, whatever it may be. I'm just replying to a fellow named "JG" whose comments on Jeff's musings leave no doubt that he thinks we ought to throw our computers on pile of kindling. He's once again logged on to harangue about the evils of, uh, logging on. His words are in blue, mine are in black.

Mr. Culbreath: I see you were back on line to read comments. We're praying for you. Pray for us.

"That we may wield the instruments with only so much vehemence as may be needed to scourge you properly."

Never forget the graces conferred by mortification.

A reminder brought to you via the Internet! Can closing pop-up ads count as mortification?

Let us take our example from the panoply of Saints.

Like St. Isidore? "Almighty and eternal God, who created us in Thy image and bade us to seek after all that is good, true and beautiful, especially in the divine person of Thy only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, grant we beseech Thee that, through the intercession of Saint Isidore, bishop and doctor, during our journeys through the internet we will direct our hands and eyes only to that which is pleasing to Thee and treat with charity and patience all those souls whom we encounter. Through Christ our Lord. Amen."

Or, if you like: "Omnípotens aetérne Deus, qui secúndum imáginem Tuam nos plasmásti et omnia bona, vera, pulchra, praesértim in divína persóna Unigéniti Fílii Tui Dómini nostri Iesu Chrísti, quaérere iussísti, praesta quaésumus ut, per intercessiónem Sancti Isidóri, Epíscopi et Doctóris, in peregrinatiónibus per interrete, et manus oculósque ad quae Tibi sunt plácita intendámus et omnes quos convenímus cum caritáte ac patiéntia accipiámus. Per Christum Dóminum nostrum. Amen."

E.g., with St. Benedict, let us roll naked in the nettles until we are cured of this scourge of electronic ephemera that substitutes pride, emotionalism, and modernism for the reality of life."

Oh man, rolling naked in thorns - is that where spiritual direction ends up? "Uh, Fr., about next Thursday, I think I have to wax my dog and I won't be able to make it . . . no, no, I'll call you in a couple of days to set up another time . . . . I see . . . yes, well, sorry -- the refrigerator's running and I've gotta go, Bye!" Seriously, though, this time Savonarola has a point (as did the real Savonarola), but I wonder how hard-and-fast JG's application of the principle (when he's not on the Internet, of course) really ought to be.

Is it possible to roll naked in electronic nettles of ephemera that substitute pride, emotionalism, and modernism for the reality of life? In other words, is it possible for Internet discourse to be an act of mortification? I bring that up because, sometimes, on a very rare day, I feel bereft and pained about ending a holy hour. Of course, at such times basking in the sweet comfort of Our Lord's superiority is infinitely preferable to going back "out there" and actually dealing with the muck, stupidity, irreligion and sinfulness in the world (not to mention my own muck, stupidity, irreligion and sinfulness). But something pushes, presses, on the soul -- "OK, it's time, you've had enough, now get out there and do what you're supposed to be doing, don't be afraid, go on . . . SHOO!! GIT, DOGGONE IT!!!!"

At those moments does it matter that, once out in the hard world, one finds enjoyable things there? That the food tastes good, the bookstores are open, coffee is sold, and enjoyable people abound? Do those things lessen the mortifying character of this life? Perhaps it's one of God's mercies that he gives us earthly enjoyments -- we sometimes see, in the very act of savoring them, how nothing except Him can truly satisfy and how He is the author of all goodness. Does that mean blogging must be dreary and onerous before it can become a sacrifice? I think not. In fact, I think what made St. Benedict a saint is what made him happy to roll around in nettles -- Pius XII says it was because Benedict had found "such sweetness of soul" that he disdained temptations to an unworthy life. Pius XII, Fulgens Radiatur, ¶ 7 (1947). I don't think it was the pain that made Benedict holy. Rather, I think it was the love which let him transcend caring about pain that vivified him.

Maybe happiness in blogging or using the Internet can be found in like manner -- as something onerous, but only to anyone who isn't already warmed by a higher love. I doubt using the internet is like that for many people, and know it's not always like that for me (except when I'm talking to Baptists about Catholicism. You want nettles? Spend some time with people whose research into Catholicism begins with Boettner and ends with Hislop.) But one needn't wait until one can "truly" mortify oneself like a great saint before trying to do it at all. Maybe the point is to start doing a good thing, and let the "fake" or "lesser" joys get burnt off while one's doing it. Maybe the impurities are within us, not our technology.

V*R*S*N*S*M*V -- S*M*Q*L*I*V*B

Amen. St. Benedict, pray for us. And to that I add, D*T*T*B*O*W*T*B*W (don't throw the baby out with the bath water).

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