“Yes, I know it has been a while,” he says somewhat apologetically to his three, maybe four, readers.
To put it blatantly: I have been struggling to keep the Faith, so consistent blogging has fallen, as a priority, somewhere right above vacuuming the rug but below staring out the window at the jail (I kid thee not) across from my apartment. However, not able to conjure up the temerity to cast off utterly the Faith and openly court Hell, I recently visited my parish priest and made–I pray–a good confession in order to get my spiritual life back in operating order so that this Lent can be profitable one.
This past Sunday’s reading from the Gospel of St. Mark captivated me in a way that it has not yet before. Yes, from my youth I have heard and read the story about Jesus being driven into the desert (By the Holy Spirit no less! This makes me wonder if we truly know for what we ask when we petition the Spirit to lead us.), only to be tempted by Father of Lies and Boredom and Bad Hangovers. (Did I read somewhere that the devil simply will not stand for taunting?) If one reads the desert fathers, one cannot avoid reading about the importance of the desert to the formation in the spiritual life of the early Church, i.e., those rugged men (and women) who intentionally courted the topographical desolation of the desert in order to achieve a degree of flourishing spirituality that most of us will never come close to achieving. Thomas Merton notes that the emptiness of the grim features of the wilderness acts as the most appropriate stage upon which to build a total dependence upon God [*reference needed*]. But I digress… What struck me about the reading was the prepositional phrase among the wild beasts and that it is followed by the concluding clause and the angels ministered to Him. The consolation of the angels for their King followed only after He had exposed Himself to the wild beasts.
Jesus gained consolation, though not until after the wild beasts appeared. What does this have to say to me or to any other person seeking Him today? I think that all of modern life is a desert. Take away the technological flair and dizzle-dazzle shimmer of a perpetually connected WiFi economy whose reigning state orthodoxy is scientism, and you have a desert. Or: because of all of this, you have a desert. Spiritual zombies too apathetic and distracted to admit the Void that seeks to engulf them. Yeah, it’s Vegas, baby, but it’s still a desert, ya know? Enter: Blaise Pascal.
Over the weekend, I read T. S. Eliot’s essay “The Pensees of Pascal”
in which he maintains that given Pascal’s willingness to explore the Void, he stands as a most necessary corrective to current times, to address a people who do not simply long to be saved from eternal destruction, but who also long to be saved from an encroaching dehumanization and a loss of holy sensuality. To wit:
The great mystics, like St. John of the Cross, are primarily for readers with a special determination of purpose; the devotional writers, such as St. Francois de Sales, are primarily for those who already feel consciously desirous of the love of God; the great theologians are for those interested in theology. But I can think of no Christian writer, not Newman even, more to be commended than Pascal to those who doubt, but who have the mind to conceive, and the sensibility to feel, the disorder, the futility, the meaninglessness, the mystery of life and suffering, and who can only find peace through a satisfaction of the whole being.
Leaving aside what Pascal is perhaps most (in)famously known for, his Jansenism, let us look at what Eliot argues Pascal can offer to people today: a faith for the whole being as one stands before the gaping maw of the Void. Not content to imperil us only in the life after death, the desert of modernity also aims to bring about a living death before death. That is, not only do we now struggle for our souls, we, perhaps like no other generation before us (*cough, cough*–not to be too dramatic here), now struggle with simply maintaining and retaining our basic humanity.
My silly gripe: I want to live in a society that is at least still culturally Christian. I want consolation. I would much rather be around people who understand spiritual concerns but choose to ignore them than to be around people who no longer can even think in such categorical ways. I want consolation. I still want there to be a basic conception of what it means to be human and a concentrated public attempt from all people of good will to uphold this. I want consolation. I do not want to have to look into the Void, a Void that for the past few years especially, stalks me wherever I go and whose warm musky breath falls upon the back of my neck. I want consolation. I want to live in a society and during a time in which I do not have to attempt to figure out how to present the worn and tired words of faith and hope and love and salvation to a people to whom these words come across as empty. I want consolation. I do not want to have to shout, as Flannery O’Connor states, for those hard of hearing. I want consolation. Yet…
Yet, neither I nor any believer can turn back the culturally religious clock. Into this time we have been placed. My apostolate, if you will, is to be a modern Catholic Christian (Trads: take careful note as to what I am saying as well as what I am not saying here.) — to seek both salvation and a basic degree of humanity. The wild beasts around us are far more dangerous than any literal wild beasts: they are the wild beasts of secularism, dehumanization, consumerism, and the ever power-hungry spirit of the anti-Christ. The consolations are few and far between. In fact, I can see very little in my life. However, I am reminded of the words of St. Teresa of Avila from her Interior Castle: “[P]erfection consists not in consolations, but in the increase of love…”
We are not called to luxuriate in consolation. We are called to love–whatever that means today. Whatever it means, though, we called to discover it and share it with others.
Wild beasts. The Void. Dehumanization. A noticeable lack of consolation. Internet fora as the only source for finding like-minded people. Yet, hope persists–hope that, if we are faithful, then will come the angels.