The Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Pearl of the Human Race, celebrates the crowning achievement of a life well-lived—the most well-lived life, in fact. It is obviously more than this complimentary recognition offers, but it can’t be less than that.
The worst thing I could do would be to lie to you, to myself, about where this all began. I could spin a yarn about my conversion, but that would be either an exercise in historical ressentiment or a tepid cataloging of events and complaints. Yet, should I deign to speak of a “reflective-narrative assessment,” or some such thing, I no longer fall under the yoke of burdensome historicity; and at the same time, I do not ask myself to retroactively justify having made any one decision in particular. With the sort of assessment I have in mind, the expression of my journey towards Roman Catholicism becomes a playful and indulgent exercise somewhere halfway between vanity and facticity. In fact, I would rather not mention a singular journey, but the fractal and unstable bricolage comprising multiple journeys or pathways: fundamentally inconsistent, unreliable, and beautiful.
“In fact, while the climate of widespread moral uncertainty can in some way be explained by the multiplicity and gravity of today’s social problems, and these can sometimes mitigate the subjective responsibility of individuals, it is no less true that we are confronted by an even larger reality, which can be described as a veritable structure of sin. This reality is characterized by the emergence of a culture which denies solidarity and in many cases takes the form of a veritable ‘culture of death’. This culture is actively fostered by powerful cultural, economic and political currents which encourage an idea of society excessively concerned with efficiency. Looking at the situation from this point of view, it is possible to speak in a certain sense of a war of the powerful against the weak: a life which would require greater acceptance, love and care is considered useless, or held to be an intolerable burden, and is therefore rejected in one way or another. A person who, because of illness, handicap or, more simply, just by existing, compromises the well-being or life-style of those who are more favoured tends to be looked upon as an enemy to be resisted or eliminated. In this way a kind of ‘conspiracy against life’ is unleashed. This conspiracy involves not only individuals in their personal, family or group relationships, but goes far beyond, to the point of damaging and distorting, at the international level, relations between peoples and States.” – Pope John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae, I.12 (1995)
C.S. Lewis narrates the psychology of self-deception in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. He presents an ambiguous anthropology that is distinctly non-Augustinian, where deviance and wickedness are divorced from inherent evil:
“You mustn’t think that even now Edmund was quite so bad that he actually wanted his brother and sisters to be turned into stone. He did want Turkish Delight and to be a Prince (and later a King) and to pay Peter out for calling him a beast. As for what the Witch would do with the others, he didn’t want her to be particularly nice to them […] but he managed to believe, or to pretend he believed, that she wouldn’t do anything very bad to them.”
In a helpful companion, The Best Poems of the English Language: From Chaucer Through Robert Frost, its editor Harold Bloom describes William Morris (1834–1896) as a “gifted lyrical and narrative poet.” It’s an uncontroversial description but perhaps a tad laconic, as is the rest of his two paragraph summary of Morris’ poetic reputation. Nevertheless, Bloom’s selection contains what I believe to be a quite under-rated poem, his “A Garden by the Sea,” reproduced below. Continue reading →