Saturday 23 May 2015

Writing Truth

Despite everything, the UK's sweetheart.
It's Seraphic Singles Saturday, but all I can think about this morning is how the slow drip-drip of televised media transformed a devoutly Catholic country into something else. We are what we consume, and if we watch four hours a day of television, we will become what the broadcasters wish us to be. If instead we spend our evenings in reading Scripture and the writings of the saints, we will become what God wishes us to be.

Consider your own internet reading habits. I'm no-one, really. Not a professor, not a saint, not even a spiritual director, but people follow my posts and even repeat my mantras. Men are the caffeine in the cappuccino of life. We must be rooted in reality. Men are who they are and not who we would have them be. Wait for him to ask you out. There are married mothers of children who have thanked me for the advice they think helped them to marry, and single women who have thanked me for giving them peace. They are thousands of miles away, they have rarely (if ever) met me in person, and they might not recognize me in the street, but all the same, they credit me for that much influence in their lives. Such is the power of media.

Externals influence internals. That is why what you wear to Sunday Mass does matter, and why the presence of innocent, goodhearted, eager women on the altar probably does discourage vocations to the priesthood. That is why poor Sammy Yatim, the Syrian Christian teen whose parents brought him to the comparative safety of Toronto, adopted the gangsta talk and gangsta habits that led him to scholastic failure, depression, despair and ultimately death.* That is why music has the power to lift you up and cast you down. That is why your habitual scowl or frequent smiles repel or attract young men your age.

We eat, and our bodies respond to the food we give it. We consume media, and our minds do the same. And for the most part the media is not persuasive, intellectual argument. Au contraire. The media is art, and it usually bypasses the intelligence, aiming right at the passions. Doctor Who was once a rather silly show, aimed at children. It is now a cultural juggernaut, written for adults, with fantastic scripts, dazzling special effects, great acting and an obvious "progressive" philosophical and sexual agenda.

How are Catholics and other Christians going to compete with such amazing and talented non-Christian artists as the fantastic screenwriters who script the best and most influential British television or the sexy singers who present the most influential songs? This is a serious question, because I am beginning to see that competing with these artists is what we are going to have to do if we don't want to be shoved to the very peripheries of society, or worse. Societies built on whipped cream will not withstand aggressive Islamism.

My suggestion is that we all become artists. Not propagandists, mind you,  for the minute a Catholic artist is tempted to propagandize, his or her art turns to kitsch. There is no need to propagandize. All is needed is to learn the artist's craft and to express the truth. For example, the truth about marriage, and how sexual fidelity is essential to the flourishing of a marriage.

(The bravest thing the Sex and the City movie did, when it tried to convince us that Anthony and Stanford would ever find each other attractive enough to "marry", was have Anthony admit that he hadn't the slightest intention of being sexually faithful to Stanford. And this does indeed reflect the reality of long-term homosexual partnerships.)

Your lives have been helped or hindered by the state of your parents' marriages. Once again, externals influence internals. You could not help but learn, on a very deep level, for good or for ill, rightly or wrongly, what male-female relationships are supposed to be like. Or, if you grew up without any opposite-sex parent or step-parent (or married grandparents), you might have grown up with an empty space in your psyche and find male-female relationships (or your own identity as a man or woman) utterly confusing.

And you get to write about that. You get to paint about that. You get to sculpt, dance, sing, act about that. You get to write or create any kind of art about what growing up male or female, looking forward to love and faithful marriage in the light of Christ, in a society that has largely turned its back on Christ. You get to write about telling a priest in the confessional about your struggle not to be sexually selfish or greedy or exploitative, and either being given encouragement, or discouragement or even utter scandal. You get to write about your temptations, and what happened when you resisted, and what happened after you gave in.  You get to write about the shocking joy of discovering a man you love--a man, such a different creature from a woman!--deeply and miraculously loves you.

And I will tell you something. There is still room for you and your characters in the hearts of the art-consuming public. One of the most beloved characters in Anthony Horowitz's Foyle's War is a chaste and cheerful, rather conventional (for the 1940s), upright young lady named Samantha Stewart. Like most of clever British television, Foyle's War has a marked "progressive" agenda, but so far Sam has been allowed to be the kind of nice English girl  British people of the 1940s really did consider  to be a thoroughly nice girl. And British people of the 21st century love her for it.

My birth country of Canada is famous for ice hockey, the one sport in which we really excel. And why do we excel in it? Because almost all Canadian boys whose parents can afford it play ice hockey. Many Canadian girls do too. All five of my parents' children played hockey. The boys, I believe, were pretty good, and my youngest sister was too. I was simply terrible. However, out of a nation of tens of thousands of children playing ice hockey--most of them, I hope and pray, enjoying it--comes hundreds of really superlative hockey players, year after year the men's and women's national teams beating the Americans, Russians and Swedes (our own real rivals) over and over again.

In order for devout Catholics to make any mark on the hearts and minds of the people in our societies, including badly catechized and often incredibly naive fellow Catholics, we must train ourselves in the arts. We must learn to write, to paint, to design, to act, to dance, to compose in a way that is both attractive and an expression of the nobility of the human being as a child of God and yet threatened by the damage, in this earthly life, of sin.

We must all do it, leaving our Catholic enclaves to show our work to the world, and out of our numbers of "good enoughs", there will arise Catholic geniuses. Of our millions, perhaps a hundred thousand. Of our hundred thousands, tens of thousands. Of our tens of thousands, a hundred. We will not know who those people will be; we might strive to become one--indeed we should--and find ourselves completely outstripped by our fellows, whom we will admire, because we love the ability to express the Truth more than we love ourselves.

*This Wikipedia entry is somewhat inaccurate, however. Yatim did not graduate from Brebeuf; he transferred to an  school with a program to help underachievers.


  1. When I first started reading this post this afternoon I stopped right after the second paragraph. Because I thought that maybe your writing really gains too much influence over me. Then I thought that maybe this kind of influence is not so bad, so I came back and read the rest. Well, I can only agree with you on the influence of what we see and hear and read on our minds. (I have been watching episodes of Jeeves and Wooster all day long, being in bed sick and needing consolation – now I am wondering whether being exposed to this for a whole day might have any bad influence on me.)

    What about us not-so-much talented Catholics, whose profession has nothing at all to do with arts? What can we do? I am not sure the world waits for the art I am capable of producing. On the other hand, I am musical, and I am sometimes singing as cantor at our parish. Lately,I was thinking a lot about taking singing lessons, and now I feel encouraged in that! (There, you influenced me again.)

  2. I went to bed last night expecting to read a Seraphic Singles Saturday post in the morning, but I will say this post, while not about singleness or dating, was still pretty interesting and well written and even inspiring. Lots to think about.

  3. Expat Housewife24 May 2015 at 04:11

    A while ago I came to the conclusion that pop culture is pure poison, and the more we consume it the less we are capable of appreciating high culture. I see that in people over and over again. I stopped watching TV about 10 years ago and I believe that has made me more resilient to what the progressive ideology promotes. I will do my best to shelter my children from pop culture as much as possible, tell them that they are above such c**p, and show them how to aim for something higher.

  4. I'm a classical musician who does not play an instrument that is involved in sacred music. I'm not a composer -- I know my limits. What should I do?

  5. Forget your limits. If anyone who can read and write can sit down and write a fictional story, then surely any classical musician can create a new piece of music for fun. Your first efforts may be juvenile, but first efforts generally are! Meanwhile, get down to reading about Catholic composers like Anton Brucker. Could you transpose his work to your instrument, and have a little concert? Could you start a Catholic music group? One Catholic musician I know LONGS to find other Catholic musicians.

    1. No, seriously, I HATE it when people who really can't compose try to do it. It nearly always sucks. Or is really ordinary and doesn't really add any value to anything.

      If I knew any good Catholic musos the group thing might be an idea.

      The thing with the culture wars is that what we produce has to be a) not propaganda and b) good. Actually, better than good. Fabulous. Anything less and the result will be ripped to shreds and used to pillory Catholicism.

      Bruckner probably wouldn't work on my instrument unless in an ensemble setting, but yeah, there are other Catholic composers.


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