My thoughts in these troubled times are sober and sobering ones. Ours is a period in history fraught with peril and uncertainty. But it has been in such times as these that our faith has rekindled itself. The world is always fragile, always closer than most realize to collapsing into chaos. But when events bring this perennial state of affairs into our awareness, we are encouraged to see it as an opportunity to revive our faith and our courage. In that spirit, and with my sincere gratitude for your interest in the work of the Cornerstone Forum, allow me to offer for our reflection these two familiar stanzas from Rudyard Kipling’s poem, If:
If you can keep your head when all about you Are losing theirs and blaming it on you, If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, But make allowance for their doubting too; If you can wait and not be tired by waiting, Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies, Or being hated, don’t give way to hating, And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master; If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim; If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster And treat those two impostors just the same; If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools, Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken, And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
For most of human history the only way one person could hear another person’s voice was to be within what was called ‘earshot’ of them. You had to be in close enough proximity to them to hear them. One can imagine early poets, potentates and other vocal performers had to learn to project their voices to make themselves heard by those at the edge of a crowd. Recall the importance of the mask worn by ancient Greek and Roman stage actors as it functioned to ‘trumpet’ the voice. The best we could do for millennia was the megaphone. Once writing was well established the words of the human voice were mediated via reading. But the immediacy and visceral nuance of the spoken word could only be imagined.
Then, in the latter half of the 19th century the telephone began to transmit voices over long distances on copper wires. In the early 20th century the wireless radio was introduced, and broadcasting described the reach of radio waves over the world. But these early radios were large and stationary. One needed to stay near the radio to hear the voices.
By the mid-20th century portable transistor radios were introduced and within 60 years technological innovation produced portable recorded audio players like the Sony Walkman and Apple’s iPod. Now, with the advent of podcasting the live and recorded voices of legions are delivered to any internet connected smart-speaker, smartphone, television or computer putting those voices literally at one’s fingertips. Google says its podcast aggregator contains over 800,000 podcast feeds! We have come a long way from only being able to listen to the voices of those nearby to being inundated with the voices of people around the world.
Today the issue is whose voices do we trust?
Here at the Cornerstone Forum we have worked for years to make the audio material Gil Bailie has recorded available on the internet via our website. Many of Gil’s presentations are for sale as CD sets and downloadable MP3 files. While the proceeds from these sales continue to support our efforts, the number of people who stop by our website to purchase these materials remains small.
For the past decade Gil Bailie has been mostly working at the writing desk on book projects and is no longer traveling widely to give talks and promote the work of the Forum. Because of this limitation we tried to think of new ways to keep our efforts in front of those who already know about us, as well as introduce our work to a wider audience. Starting in 2017 we began to make our CD sets available on Amazon’s global marketplace and the MP3 versions available as audiobooks on Amazon’s audiobook platform Audible. Both of these outlets provide a small income to us when our items are purchased.
These efforts have been modestly successful. Recently it was brought to our attention that if we want to expand our audience among younger adults one way to do this would be to turn Gil Bailie’s audio recordings into podcasts since this is how most younger tech savvy adults access audio materials. We have decided to try our hand at podcasting and have begun by creating two different podcast feeds. One is called “Violence & the Sacred” which will consist of presentations by René Girard. The other is entitled “Keeping Faith & Breaking Ground” which will offer selected presentations by Gil Bailie, some of which are not currently available on our webstore. We have provided a Podcasts link on our website’s navigation bar and links to the separate podcast feeds. There are also links to subscribe to the podcasts via Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, and other podcast aggregators.
Pending the discovery of more hidden or forgotten cassette tapes (or some new catastrophe…) I expect we will have brought the entire audio archives of Gil’s recorded audio presentations into the digital world and made them available as CDs, MP3s, and podcasts by mid-2021.
Various technologies and formats have come and gone over the years. It appears that soon CDs may no longer be a supported format by the industry. It is becoming increasingly more difficult to find supplies we need for packaging our CD sets. On top of this, the costs associated with mailing CDs, already expensive, are only going to increase. At some point we may no longer be able to offer CDs.
However, since we currently produce our CDs in-house we are committed to continue providing CD materials to our donors and supporters as long as we are able, and as long as those who support our efforts request them.
“When mystery no longer counts,” then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger said in a 1996 speech, “politics must be converted into religion.”
When the Christian mysteries are lost — the loss measured most accurately by the decay into ritual triviality of the Eucharistic mystery — then politics becomes religion. Politics is no longer satisfied to be just politics, and it aspires to be everything, that is, totalitarian: Bolshevism, German National Socialism, Maoism, Islamism, and assorted fanatical and murderous ideologies.
When these fail — the year 1989 is a convenient marker for the failure of most (but not all) of them — many of those who cling to the underlying delusions on which they were premised turned to “nature.” Like political absolutism, however, the “New Age” mentality that glorifies “nature” morphed in a heartbeat into an ideology that declared that the very idea of nature was too confining. Nature was to become whatever the autonomous individual decides it is.
The flight from Christianity — and from Judeo-Christian morality — inevitably progresses (regresses) toward moral and cultural incoherence, leaving the culture vulnerable to whatever predatory forces — within or without — retain (however perversely and ominously) a conviction that they are right and that the future belongs to them.
NOTE: this was initially posted on our ‘old’ blog site in June 2007
“If we project our own mimetic tangles upon society as a whole, the more entangled we are, the more rigid and tyrannical the social order will appear to us, even if, in reality, it is collapsing. To revolutionists of the Dostoevskyan type, the more feeble society becomes, the more oppressive and repressive it seems.”
In an earlier post Gil Bailie quoted from Hans Urs Von Balthasar suggesting Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s current role might be understood as a lone seed from which a renewed Church could emerge. And on Facebook Gil had posted a picture of Bob Dylan meeting Pope John Paul II at the 1997 Eucharistic Congress in Bologna, Italy where Dylan and other pop stars had performed a few songs for the gathering of an estimated 300,000 young people – these brought to mind how then Cardinal Ratzinger had serious misgivings about the inclusion of pop musicians and especially Bob Dylan at the event as reported in the later Pope Benedict’s memoir, John Paul II, My Beloved Predecessor, Benedict remembers:
The pope appeared tired, exhausted. At that very moment the stars arrived, Bob Dylan and others whose names I do not remember. They had a completely different message from the one which the pope had. There was reason to be skeptical I was, and in some ways I still am over whether it was really right to allow this type of ‘prophet’ to appear.
Recently, Bob Dylan announced the release of a new collection of original songs entitled Rough and Rowdy Ways that includes the song False Prophet, a few lines from which seem to resonate with Gil’s discussion of the Von Balthasar quote:
I’m the enemy of treason – the enemy of strife I’m the enemy of the unlived meaningless life I ain’t no false prophet – I just know what I know I go where only the lonely can go
I’m first among equals – second to none I’m last of the best – you can bury the rest Bury ’em naked with their silver and gold Put ’em six feet under and then pray for their souls
Cardinal Ratzinger had good reason to be skeptical as many young people had indeed looked to Dylan as some kind of secular prophet especially in the ‘60’s. But when Dylan made his public confession of faith in Jesus Christ in the early 80’s much of that idolization seemed to have fallen away. What remains however is a sense that Bob Dylan has a unique gift, a vocation, to be a voice not of his or anyone’s ‘generation’ but a timeless poetic voice calling us out of our unlived meaningless lives and pointing us, as he says in another line from the song, to “the City of God…there on the hill”.
Rereading what Hans Urs von Balthasar (quoting in passing Dietrich Bonhoeffer) has written brings to mind the role that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is now performing for the Church and the world.
“There are moments when a solitary Christian undergoes suffering that is unknown to others or not understood by them; he offers it to the Lord for him to use as he thinks fit, and so this Christian becomes a source of new community. In the Church’s history there have also been times ‘when the Church existed only in a single person or a family’ (Augustine), when her catholicity withdrew back into her root: consider the loneliness of an Athanasius or a Maximus Confessor. Consider, too, the loneliness of a few monks still embodying the authentic tradition of their founder. This is a loneliness without earthly hope; the crucified Lord, too, had no earthly hope, yet ‘against all hope’ he is able to raise up children to Abraham from the very stones.”
Over the past months since Ash Wednesday we have had occasion to mentioned the nearness of death to each of us as well as our consciousness of it. The recent advent of the coronavirus has impressed on us the former and today we hope to honor the latter in a specific way. It is on this national day of remembrance that we are asked to reflect on the deaths of those who served in the armed forces of our country. Since the end of the draft almost 50 years ago very few of us have had any personal contact with military service and even fewer have been touched by the death in combat of someone we personally knew. So we depend on hearing the stories of those whose lives were lost in the wars our country has fought. The movies and stories depicting the bloody battles from Lexington and Concord to the conflicts in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq highlight, often in gruesome detail, of the deaths of America’s soldiers, sailors and airmen and women can assist us in this.
However, on this Memorial Day I offer the Thomas Merton poem “ForMy Brother – Missing in Action 1943“:
Sweet brother, if I do not sleep My eyes are flowers for your tomb; And if I cannot eat my bread, My fasts shall live like willows where you died. If in the heat I find no water for my thirst, My thirst shall turn to springs for you, poor traveller.
Where, in what desolate and smokey country, Lies your poor body, lost and dead? And in what landscape of disaster Has your unhappy spirit lost its road?
Come, in my labor find a resting place And in my sorrows lay your head, Or rather take my life and blood And buy yourself a better bed
-Or take my breath and take my death And buy yourself a better rest.
When all the men of war are shot And flags have fallen into dust, Your cross and mine shall tell men still Christ died on each, for both of us.
For in the wreckage of your April Christ lies slain, And Christ weeps in the ruins of my spring: The money of Whose tears shall fall Into your weak and friendless hand, And buy you back to your own land:
The silence of Whose tears shall fall Like bells upon your alien tomb. Hear them and come: they call you home.
In 1921 G. K. Chesterton traveled to America for a lecture tour and upon his return wrote of his experiences in a short book entitled “What I Saw in America”. In the introduction Chesterton comments on some of his preconceptions prior to the visit and mentions a couple of things he believed an early 20th century Englishman such as himself would find difficult to comprehend regarding America. One of these is what he calls the “theory of equality”, claiming that the hierarchical and aristocratic Englishman would likely find such a theory an illusion.
In truth it is inequality that is the illusion. The extreme disproportion between men, that we seem to see in life, is a thing of changing lights and lengthening shadows, a twilight full of fancies and distortions. We find a man famous and cannot live long enough to find him forgotten; we see a race dominant and cannot linger to see it decay. It is the experience of men that always returns to the equality of men; it is the average that ultimately justifies the average man. It is when men have seen and suffered much and come at the end of more elaborate experiments, that they see men as men under an equal light of death and daily laughter; and none the less mysterious for being many.
Writing in the 1980s, Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI) quoted a humorous couplet from the German poet, Wilhelm Busch. I don’t read German, and I don’t have the German original, but the English translation I have doesn’t quite work. So I have “translated” it, retaining I’m quite sure its essence:
Once your worldly reputation is in tatters, You’ll have more time for what really matters.
Cardinal Ratzinger quoted the Wilhelm Busch version of this couplet during those years when he was widely and falsely accused of being an ecclesiastical Neanderthal. It’s quite clear to those who bother to read what he wrote during those years that he used his extra time wisely.
When I posted this some years ago on our old weblog I received a much appreciated and graceful correction from someone who left the following comment:
“Ist der Ruf erst ruiniert, lebt sich’s völlig ungeniert.”
It seems that the quote is actually falsely ascribed to Wilhelm Busch (cf. http://www.gavagai.de/zitat/unbekannt/HHCU01.htm))
I am fine with the first part, but I don’t think that you caught the essence of the second: Ungeniert goes more into the direction of “cavalierly, uninhibited by the opinion of others, not being embarrassed or easily embarrassable (if this term exists).
The Cardinal of course did both: Used his time for what really matters and did so without looking for praise by others or by caring for his reputation.
This lovely Richard Wilbur poem gives up new secrets every time I come back to it.
Two Voices in a Meadow
A MILKWEED Anonymous as cherubs Over the crib of God, White seeds are floating Out of my burst pod. What power had I Before I learned to yield? Shatter me, great wind: I shall possess the field.
A STONE As casual as cow-dung Under the crib of God, I lie where chance would have me, Up to the ears in sod. Why should I move? To move Befits a light desire. The sill of Heaven would founder, Did such as I aspire.
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