Sunday, September 09, 2012

Sunday Thought: Kneeling before the world

What then do we see around us? In large sectors of both clergy and laity (but it is the clergy who set the example), hardly is the word "world" pronounced when a gleam of ecstasy lights up the face of one and all. And immediately what is talked about are the necessary épanouissements (blossomings of dear human nature) and the necessary engagements (commitments), as well as the communitarian fervors, and présences, the ouvertures (openings to the dear world), and their joys. Anything that would risk calling to mind the idea of asceticism, mortification, or penance is automatically shelved as a matter of course. (If Lourdes remains popular, the words pronounced by the Virgin who appeared there are not.) And fasting is in such bad repute that it is better to say nothing of the one by which Jesus prepared for His public mission. A friend of mine recently heard the Litany of the Saints recited in the vernacular in his parish church. When the priest reached the invocation: per baptismum et sanctum jejunium tuum (through your baptism and holy fasting) he confined himself to saying "through your baptism," without further ado...On another occasion, in the same church, my friend actually heard the line of St. Paul: "A thorn was given me in the flesh, an angel of Satan to harass me" become "I am having trouble with my health." As to the repugnance felt by our Catholics for fasting, it is not without some interest to note that it is occurring in the very time when the disciples of Gandhi have demonstrated the virtues of fasting on the level of natural mystique and non-violent resistance.

Sex is one of the great and tragic realities of the world. It is curious to see how much interest, carried to the point of veneration, is manifested in this subject by a crowd of Levites vowed to continence. Virginity and chastity have a bad press. Marriage, on the other hand, is fervently idealized, love is its essence. Of its nature, it claims to be nothing but mutual enchantment, the delight of seeing one's self reflected in the eyes of the world. What is more beautiful than a pair of young lovers? That's certainly quite true, especially in the works of the great sculptors. But it's no reason for us to kiss the ground under their feet.

I know very well that behind the silliness to which I am referring there is the necessary and urgent awareness of serious (increasingly serious as time goes on) and often torturous problems. I know very well that too many people are living in despair, that there are too many with pent-up anxieties, that far from being a life of delightful love and mutual gentleness, marriage too often means mutual solitude and daily apprehension; that too many situations call not only for pity but for a new attitude on the part of those who have to judge them. I think that the Church, who is at last submitting these problems as a whole to a thorough study, can never be too attentive in enlightening the human being about them, nor too merciful to him in his distresses. The fact remains that none of this makes any less silly the Catholic veneration of the Flesh to which so many Sheep of Panurge's are inviting us today. Such a veneration would rather be of a nature to make us regret the ancient pagan cults of Sex and Fertility which at least were not pieces of trickery.

Jacques Maritain


Thomas D said...

I should very much like to read the entire work of which this is a part. Thank you for posting this selection. (~~dylan)

William Luse said...

Why, you're quite welcome. It's from The Peasant of the Garonne. Easy to find.