Catholic Blog Round-Up

Since so many of the Google searches that lead readers to my blog appear to be from new Catholics or people discerning Catholicism, I thought I would post a few of the Catholic blogs that are in my RSS reader. I hope they can be a valuable resource to others in my position.

Catholicism LiveJournal community – OK, so it’s not in my RSS reader, and it’s not technically a blog (though you could argue it’s a group blog), but this LJ comm taught me a lot about Catholicism when I was seeking to learn more about it (though it’s no substitute for speaking with a priest and getting a copy of the Catechism). And the discussion is much more civil and charitable than your average LJ comm. (Maybe it’s the people?) You’ll have to become a free member of LiveJournal to join.

A Minor Friar – Brother Charles is a Roman Catholic religious of the Order of Friars Minor (i.e. Franciscans). Good for an always insightful look into the life of a mendicant religious with grace and humor.

Be Thou My Vision – Matt is a postulant with the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin of the Province of Saint Mary (northeast U.S.). Good for learning about one young man’s entrance into religious life (also with a good dose of humor).

Becoming Catholic: The (re)formation of a Protestant mind – Deanna is a recent Catholic convert (as of Easter 2009) from the Presbyterian Church (USA), the same denomination from which I’m converting. The blog’s not updated terribly often, but what I’ve read I’ve liked. If you enjoy conversion stories, and especially if you’re converting from Protestantism, I think you’ll enjoy it.

De cura animarum – Father Jeffrey Steel is another new convert to Catholicism, along with his family, this time from the Anglican Church, in which he served as a priest. Always thoughtful posts from a follower in Newman‘s footsteps.

Godzdogz – The blog of the English Dominican Studentate (mainly housed at Blackfriars here in Oxford, I believe). There are four main topics of posts: Preaching, Prayer/Liturgy, Study, and Community Life. They’re currently doing a series on the life of virtue that I’m enjoying. (Why are young Dominicans calling themselves “Godzdogz”? Go here for the answer.)

Oblate Blog – John is a Benedictine oblate, and his website Oblate Spring is the best resource site about Benedictine oblates I’ve found. John posts about life as an oblate and resources for oblates and those seeking to learn more about the Benedictine way of life.

Psalm 46:11 – A Journey to Truth – Michael Hallman is a Catholic seminarian in the pre-novitiate with the Order of St Augustine. He returned to the Church four years ago after being away for 10 years. I started reading about his journey online when he was applying to the Order and posting about the process in the Catholicism LJ community. I’ve since followed him onto his blog as he has started on the path to becoming an Augustinian priest. Michael’s posts are always full of heart and love for his Order and the Church.

Roman Catholic Vocations – News about vocations and resources for those discerning a vocation to the priesthood, diaconate, consecrated life, or marriage (and I would add the single life). Often, during a journey across the Tiber, a person is met by challenges to the vocations they thought were open to them, and comes across new ones they hadn’t thought about. It’s worth exploring the different vocations to know what is open to you, and to think about where you might be called. If you do feel a call toward the priesthood, diaconate, or religious life, be prepared to spend a couple of years as a practicing Catholic first, to allow the initial “honeymoon” period of conversion to cool off, and ensure that you will be discerning that vocation with a cool mind.

Standing on My Head – Father Dwight Longenecker, like Father Jeffrey Steel, is a married former Anglican clergyman (raised Evangelical) turned Catholic convert. Fr Longenecker has been ordained to serve as a priest in the Roman Catholic Church (through a special Vatican dispensation for married former Anglican clergymen), and currently serves as a chaplain to a Catholic school in South Carolina. He is also a prolific author and fan of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, G.K. Chesterton, and Hilaire Belloc. He also studied theology at Oxford, so you can see why he’s on my blogroll. A highlight of Fr Longenecker’s blog is his fictional “guest bloggers,” including MSM correspondent Todd Unctuous, 8-year-old Caitlin O’Rourke, and Salamanca University alum (in Ecclesiastical Haberdashery) Mantilla the Hon, among others. Father’s blog provides a nice soupçon of dry wit.

The Deacon’s Bench – Permanent deacon Greg Kandra serves in the Diocese of Brooklyn, New York, and “ponders the world” from his new digs at Beliefnet.com. Deacon Greg is liable to write about most any topic related to Catholicism, and his posts are always good for a smile and a laugh. (Can you tell I like my bloggers to make me laugh?)

So there’s my Catholic blog round-up, in no particular order but the one in which my RSS reader lists ’em (except for the LJ comm). Go forth and read!

ETA: Dane Falkner asked me to mention his creation DivineOffice.org. It features a podcast (available on the website or on iTunes) of the day’s Invitatory Psalm and Morning, Evening, and Night Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours. There are also tabs for the Office of Readings and Daytime Prayer, but don’t count on finding material there most days. It’s not a blog, but it is a valuable resource if you would like help praying the Divine Office, especially on-the-go. They also offer a Liturgy of the Hours app for the iPhone. I personally prefer using Universalis when home and my bound breviary when traveling, because they include all the Hours and because I prefer to read the psalms and prayers aloud myself and not join in with a recording. However, I do enjoy being able to listen to a choir sing the hymn (this evening’s is “God So Loved the World” sung by the Glasgow Phoenix Choir), and if I were a more auditory/communal-type person I would probably use this instead, at least for the major Hours. They’re doing a good work, and I offer it here in case it’s of benefit to you.

To Theresa Rebeck

This post is a response to the playwright Theresa Rebeck’s essay “Can Craft and Creativity Live on the Same Stage?”, posted on the Lark Theatre Play Development Center’s blog. My favorite paragraph from her essay:

There are always questions inside questions. Who is theater supposed to serve? Why do we do it, anyway? Do we write for audiences, or do we write for ourselves and our community? If we are convinced that the purest forms of theater—the ones that honor the original and mysterious impulses in the heart of the playwright, and ask that the playwright find the most original and “unconventional” theatricalities to express that impulse—then do we need audiences at all? Why do we get mad at audiences for not flocking to theater which doesn’t interest them because it doesn’t care about them?

I heartily recommend that you click on the title link above, and read both the playwright’s essay, and the comments below. And my response:

Thank you, Ms. Rebeck. I graduated a few years ago from one of the top undergraduate drama programs in the country. During my freshman year essay class, I was NOT ALLOWED to write about art pieces with a story. I could only write about non-narrative art. As someone who came to the theatre because of an intense love of story, I was incredibly frustrated.

My frustration increased throughout my education, to the point where by the end I had decided to leave acting. At every turn, the type of theatre I wanted to do was decried as not “avant-garde” enough, too conventional, too “bourgeois,” too traditional and “conservative” (that damning epithet). Why? Because I insisted on story and heroes. I used the word “edify,” and was told with scorn that I therefore wanted all theatre to be neat little morality plays. Two of my fellow students and I walked out of a class viewing of a performance art piece that included a naked man urinating on stage, face front to the audience. When I told another professor about it, I was told that I “had a problem with peeing.” On stage, as art? You bet I do.

There were three fundamental assumptions I took out of the culture in my program:

1) Artists are more sensitive and more courageous than non-artists, and are therefore Very Special People.

2) The measure of a piece’s worth is whether or not it is new and ground-breaking, not whether or not it moves the audience deep within themselves. A piece that uses never-before-seen theatrical techniques and breaks down all the old conventions, but leaves the audience cold and confused (or angry at what they received for their time and money) is infinitely better than an old Agatha Christie or even Arthur Miller stand-by (or, God help us, Andrew Lloyd Webber) that leaves the audience in tears of laughter or pain even when they lie in their beds after the show. Did the audience feel so insulted they threw chairs at you? You’re a theatrical king, a martyr even. Did your performance of the Phantom of the Opera so move a young boy that he decided in his heart, “That is what I want to spend my life doing?” You’re a sell-out who panders to the sheeple.

This of course brings me to 3) Audiences who don’t appreciate experimental theater are not worthy of respect. I have very rarely enjoyed seeing experimental theater. Most every time, I leave feeling angry and insulted. I am angry when an artist uses shock value to get my attention. I am angry when an artist uses symbols or images that refer to story or character, but without the use of any story or character, and expect me to loan them the use of meaning they haven’t earned. I am angry when there is no story, and just an orgy of sound and movement. I am especially angry when, instead of trying to communicate with me, an artist just regurgitates his innards all over the stage. Sure, you may be complex and sensitive, and think a lot of deep thoughts, and feel intensely, but that doesn’t mean all of your thoughts and feelings are worth sharing with the public, especially when you refuse to structure them in a way that makes us able to understand them. Don’t yell at me in gibberish and then blame me for not listening.

I saw Keith Bunin’s The World Over at Playwrights Horizons when in premiered in 2002. It got mediocre reviews, but I remember it as the most moving theatrical experience of my life. It was experimental in terms of performance and staging. 6 actors played dozens of characters, including a gryphon and a hawk in flight. We witnessed a shipwreck on stage, as well as a woman being suspended over a pit of fire by a rope being eaten away by rats. The creativity shown by the performers, director, and designers was astounding. But what I remember most is the story: one hero, one man against the world, battling doubt, cynicism, failure, and loss, and finally coming to an ending so simple, but so perfect and satisfying, with a sweet edge of loving pain as well. I wept non-stop for half an hour afterwards, and thank God both the lead actor and the playwright let me wrap them in a life-or-death embrace, even while my face was still flooded with tears and my body was racked with sobs.

Give me more of that kind of experimental theatre. Give me a strong story with some hope, and a layered character I can love, and you’ve won me.

In Oxford!

I arrived in Oxford last week, and have been busy reviewing my Greek and reading my primary texts (i.e. the New Testament) and secondary texts (i.e. books on patristics and Biblical background, such as Henry Chadwick’s The Early Church – which I highly recommend for even non-academic types – and Rogerson and Davies’ The Old Testament World). I’ve also been working on setting up my bank account, getting a cell phone and bus pass, and generally getting sorted.

I realized that one of the reasons I haven’t been posting lately is because I’ve developed the personal expectation that each post should be lengthy and insightful, and posting is feeling more and more like a chore. Therefore, I’ve decided to do smaller posts, that may or may not be particularly in depth, but will hopefully come more often.

I’m living in the room at the Kilns in which C.S. Lewis collapsed and died, which means it holds a particular reverence for me, and I feel I need to treat it with respect. Thankfully, I’m relaxing into it (as I’m sure Lewis would want me to do), but it is a useful external discipline to have to clean my room and make my bed every other day, so that it looks tidy for the tours of the house that are giving to visiting groups on Tuesdays, Thursday, and Saturdays. (To learn more about touring the Kilns, click here.)

I’ve found a few good food-serving pubs, including the Mitre (in town) and the Six Bells (in Headington, the neighborhood that includes the Kilns). I’ve also made contact with the Jesuits at the Chaplaincy. They’ve signed me up for the Rite of Christian Initiation class that begins in November, and the newest chaplain, a young Jesuit named Father Simon, has agreed to meet me periodically for spiritual direction. I picked up a copy of the Divine Office at Blackwells Bookshop, and have found praying all seven of the Hours to be like refreshing oneself with clean and cool spring water, thick, rich bread, and hearty red meat several times a day, and at perfectly allotted portions. What’s best (though difficult for structure-loving me) is that, when a word or phrase speaks to you, you can stop and just meditate on it for a bit. (Incidentally, if any of you are interested in praying any of the Hours, I found an excellent website called Universalis. It takes you step-by-step through each day’s readings and prayers. It eliminates the confusion that comes from jumping around from section to section and using half a dozen ribbons in one’s breviary.)

I’m thinking of getting an iPhone, but in any case the phone I get will have a camera, so I’ll be able to upload pictures, perhaps directly from my phone. Let me know if there’s anything y’all would like me to post about, and I’ll try to do it. Thanks for everyone’s support during this next stage of my life!

ETA: Completely forgot the quote I read that prompted me to post. Gakked from the blog The Deacon’s Bench, who himself gakked it from The Anchoress:

“You know, the church is the one who dreams, the church is the one who constantly has the vision, the church is the one that’s constantly saying ‘Yes!’ to everything that life and love and sexuality and marriage and belief and freedom and human dignity—everything that that stands for, the church is giving one big resounding ‘Yes!’ The church founded the universities, the church was the patron of the arts, the scientists were all committed Catholics. And that’s what we have to recapture: the kind of exhilarating, freeing aspect. I mean, it wasn’t Ronald Reagan who brought down the Berlin Wall. It was Karol Wojtyła. I didn’t make that up: Mikhail Gorbachev said that…I guess one of the things that frustrates me pastorally is that there’s this caricature of the church—of being this oppressive, patriarchal, medieval, out-of-touch naysayer—where the opposite is true.”
— Archbishop Timothy Dolan, in this profile in New York Magazine.

Why I’m Becoming Catholic – The Holy Grail

It’s been an exhausting but happy week. We wrapped principal photography on The FellowsHip: Rise of the Gamers, though we have a couple days of pick-up shots this Friday and Saturday. I also received an e-mail informing me my visa was issued yesterday, which is a load off my mind, as it took longer than expected and I was worried I had been rejected for some reason and wouldn’t be able to leave on time. I leave for England on Sunday, barring any further pick-ups. I should arrive at the Kilns next Monday morning, Lord willing.

It’s time now to return to my series on why I’m becoming Catholic. I’ve finally run into some close family friends who are not too keen on my decision, grilling me on the Catholic worship of Mary (she’s not worshipped, she’s venerated – worship is reserved for God), Catholic belief in “earning” one’s way to Heaven through works (rejected by the Church early in its history as the Pelagian heresy), and Catholic focus on extra-Biblical practices and beliefs (the Church put together the Bible, and even the Pope is subject to the authority of Christ and the first Apostles – not to mention that sola Scriptura is itself an extra-Biblical doctrine).

I admit that I still have much to learn about Catholic doctrine and spiritual practices, and thus I don’t yet have the most robust answers to my challengers. But there is one important reason why I am pledging allegiance to Rome:

The Catholic Church has the Holy Grail.

No, I’m not about to write about some conspiracy theory involving the Templars or the Merovingian line. Rather, I realized that everything I love about King Arthur and the Quest for the Grail – the greatest legend of Western Christendom – can be found in the Catholic Church. When I participate in the Eucharist, even as a witness (since I have not yet been received into the Church), I participate in the reality behind the story that stirs the deepest longings of my heart. At the moment of consecration, the wine in the chalice becomes the very Blood of Christ, and thus the chalice itself becomes the figure of the Grail, the Holy Cup that holds the Blood of our Lord.

I think sometimes, in order to fully understand the rituals in which we participate in the “real world,” we need to enter into them through the side-route of the imagination. One example related to Lewis is the letter he received from Philinda Krieg, whose son Laurence, after reading The Chronicles of Narnia, was concerned that he loved Aslan more than Jesus. Lewis responded by saying:

…Laurence can’t really love Aslan more than Jesus, even if he feels that’s what he is doing. For the things he loves Aslan for doing or saying are simply the things Jesus really did and said. So that when Laurence thinks he is loving Aslan, he is really loving Jesus: and perhaps loving Him more than he ever did before. Of course there is one thing Aslan has that Jesus has not – I mean, the body of a lion. […]

Now if Laurence is bothered because he finds the lion-body seems nicer to him than the man-body, I don’t think he need be bothered at all. God knows all about the way a little boy’s imagination works (He made it, after all) and knows that at a certain age the idea of talking and friendly animals is very attractive. So I don’t think He minds if Laurence likes the Lion-body. And anyway, Laurence will find as he grows older, that feeling (liking the lion-body better) will die away of itself, without his taking any trouble about it. So he needn’t bother.

3/ If I were Laurence I’d just say in my prayers something like this: ‘Dear God, if the things I’ve been thinking and feeling about those books are things You don’t like and are bad for me, please take away those feelings and thoughts. But if they are not bad, then please stop me from worrying about them. And help me every day to love you more in the way that really matters far more than any feelings or imaginations, by doing what you want and growing more like you.’ That is the sort of thing I think Laurence should say for himself; but it would be kind and Christian-like if he then added, ‘And if Mr. Lewis has worried any other children by his books or done them any harm, then please forgive him and help him never to do it again.’

The full text of this letter can be found in Volume 3 of The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, edited by Walter Hooper. I’ve quoted most of it here, but the entire book (in all three volumes) is worth buying and keeping handy on your shelf, as it’s full of joys like this letter, in which Lewis’ love for his readers, especially the young ones, shines through.

Just as Laurence was learning to love Jesus through the imaginary figure of Aslan, I learned to love Christ through the figures of King Arthur and Aragorn (the good king), the Bishop of Digne in Les Misérables (the merciful priest), and numerous “suffering servant” figures in literature, film, and T.V. (like Frodo and Jean Valjean). For me, the painted pictures of Jesus on the walls at Sunday School didn’t become fully real until I saw flashes of Him in stories, and was able to realize that all that I loved in Camelot, in Middle-Earth, and in Hugo’s novel was completed and had its source in the Kingdom of God.

This sense of story being wrapped up in history was begun for me around the time I read G.K. Chesterton‘s The Everlasting Man, and came to its fruition in terms of my relationship with the Roman Catholic Church when I read Charles WilliamsTaliessin through Logres and Region of the Summer Stars.

Next up: Taliessin.

Read part 1, part 2, and part 3 of this series on my journey to the Catholic Church.

ETA: As always, if you decide to get your own copy of one of the books mentioned above, please do so through the C.S. Lewis Foundation’s online bookstore, powered by Amazon. Doing so helps support the work of the Foundation, including holding study programs, founding C.S. Lewis College, and maintaining Lewis’ home, the Kilns.