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Chesterton: The Free Family


Long time no see. I am currently working on a piece about the sacramental unity of love and the sacrifice of praise (thanksgiving/eucharistia), so I plan to get back into gear with this blog here soon. For now, here’s another (lengthy) excerpt from Chesterton – my unofficial patron saint as I prepare for marriage:

“As I have said, I propose to take only one central instance; I will take the institution called the private house or home; the shell and organ of the family. We will consider cosmic and political tendencies simply as they strike that ancient and unique roof. Very few words will suffice for all I have to say about the family itself. I leave alone the speculations about its animal origin and the details of its social reconstruction; I am concerned only with its palpable omnipresence. It is a necessity far mankind; it is (if you like to put it so) a trap for mankind. Only by the hypocritical ignoring of a huge fact can any one contrive to talk of “free love”; as if love were an episode like lighting a cigarette, or whistling a tune. Suppose whenever a man lit a cigarette, a towering genie arose from the rings of smoke and followed him everywhere as a huge slave. Suppose whenever a man whistled a tune he “drew an angel down” and had to walk about forever with a seraph on a string. These catastrophic images are but faint parallels to the earthquake consequences that Nature has attached to sex; and it is perfectly plain at the beginning that a man cannot be a free lover; he is either a traitor or a tied man. The second element that creates the family is that its consequences, though colossal, are gradual; the cigarette produces a baby giant, the song only an infant seraph. Thence arises the necessity for some prolonged system of co-operation; and thence arises the family in its full educational sense.

It may be said that this institution of the home is the one anarchist institution. That is to say, it is older than law, and stands outside the State. By its nature it is refreshed or corrupted by indefinable forces of custom or kinship. This is not to be understood as meaning that the State has no authority over families; that State authority is invoked and ought to be invoked in many abnormal cases. But in most normal cases of family joys and sorrows, the State has no mode of entry. It is not so much that the law should not interfere, as that the law cannot. Just as there are fields too far off for law, so there are fields too near; as a man may see the North Pole before he sees his own backbone. Small and near matters escape control at least as much as vast and remote ones; and the real pains and pleasures of the family form a strong instance of this. If a baby cries for the moon, the policeman cannot procure the moon–but neither can he stop the baby. Creatures so close to each other as husband and wife, or a mother and children, have powers of making each other happy or miserable with which no public coercion can deal. If a marriage could be dissolved every morning it would not give back his night’s rest to a man kept awake by a curtain lecture; and what is the good of giving a man a lot of power where he only wants a little peace? The child must depend on the most imperfect mother; the mother may be devoted to the most unworthy children; in such relations legal revenges are vain. Even in the abnormal cases where the law may operate, this difficulty is constantly found; as many a bewildered magistrate knows. He has to save children from starvation by taking away their breadwinner. And he often has to break a wife’s heart because her husband has already broken her head. The State has no tool delicate enough to deracinate the rooted habits and tangled affections of the family; the two sexes, whether happy or unhappy, are glued together too tightly for us to get the blade of a legal penknife in between them. The man and the woman are one flesh–yes, even when they are not one spirit. Man is a quadruped. Upon this ancient and anarchic intimacy, types of government have little or no effect; it is happy or unhappy, by its own sexual wholesomeness and genial habit, under the republic of Switzerland or the despotism of Siam. Even a republic in Siam would not have done much towards freeing the Siamese Twins.

The problem is not in marriage, but in sex; and would be felt under the freest concubinage. Nevertheless, the overwhelming mass of mankind has not believed in freedom in this matter, but rather in a more or less lasting tie. Tribes and civilizations differ about the occasions on which we may loosen the bond, but they all agree that there is a bond to be loosened, not a mere universal detachment. For the purposes of this book I am not concerned to discuss that mystical view of marriage in which I myself believe: the great European tradition which has made marriage a sacrament. It is enough to say here that heathen and Christian alike have regarded marriage as a tie; a thing not normally to be sundered. Briefly, this human belief in a sexual bond rests on a principle of which the modern mind has made a very inadequate study. It is, perhaps, most nearly paralleled by the principle of the second wind in walking.

The principle is this: that in everything worth having, even in every pleasure, there is a point of pain or tedium that must be survived, so that the pleasure may revive and endure. The joy of battle comes after the first fear of death; the joy of reading Virgil comes after the bore of learning him; the glow of the sea-bather comes after the icy shock of the sea bath; and the success of the marriage comes after the failure of the honeymoon. All human vows, laws, and contracts are so many ways of surviving with success this breaking point, this instant of potential surrender.

In everything on this earth that is worth doing, there is a stage when no one would do it, except for necessity or honor. It is then that the Institution upholds a man and helps him on to the firmer ground ahead. Whether this solid fact of human nature is sufficient to justify the sublime dedication of Christian marriage is quite an other matter, it is amply sufficient to justify the general human feeling of marriage as a fixed thing, dissolution of which is a fault or, at least, an ignominy. The essential element is not so much duration as security. Two people must be tied together in order to do themselves justice; for twenty minutes at a dance, or for twenty years in a marriage. In both cases the point is, that if a man is bored in the first five minutes he must go on and force himself to be happy. Coercion is a kind of encouragement; and anarchy (or what some call liberty) is essentially oppressive, because it is essentially discouraging. If we all floated in the air like bubbles, free to drift anywhere at any instant, the practical result would be that no one would have the courage to begin a conversation. It would be so embarrassing to start a sentence in a friendly whisper, and then have to shout the last half of it because the other party was floating away into the free and formless ether. The two must hold each other to do justice to each other. If Americans can be divorced for “incompatibility of temper” I cannot conceive why they are not all divorced. I have known many happy marriages, but never a compatible one. The whole aim of marriage is to fight through and survive the instant when incompatibility becomes unquestionable. For a man and a woman, as such, are incompatible.”         

(G.K. Chesterton, What’s Wrong With the World; VII The Free Family)


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Man Fully Alive


“Man is more himself, man is more manlike, when joy is the fundamental thing in him, and grief the superficial. Melancholy should be an innocent interlude, a tender and fugitive frame of mind; praise should be the permanent pulsation of the soul. Pessimism is at best an emotional half-holiday; joy is the uproarious labour by which all things live. Yet, according to the apparent estate of man as seen by the pagan or the agnostic, this primary need of human nature can never be fulfilled. Joy ought to be expansive; but for the agnostic it must be contracted, it must cling to one corner of the world. Grief ought to be a concentration; but for the agnostic its desolation is spread through an unthinkable eternity. This is what I call being born upside down. The sceptic may truly be said to be topsy-turvy; for his feet are dancing upwards in idle ecstacies, while his brain is in the abyss. To the modern man the heavens are actually below the earth. The explanation is simple; he is standing on his head; which is a very weak pedestal to stand on. But when he has found his feet again he knows it. Christianity satisfies suddenly and perfectly man’s ancestral instinct for being the right way up; satisfies it supremely in this; that by its creed joy becomes something gigantic and sadness something special and small. The vault above us is not deaf because the universe is an idiot; the silence is not the heartless silence of an endless and aimless world. Rather the silence around us is a small and pitiful stillness like the prompt stillness in a sick-room. We are perhaps permitted tragedy as a sort of merciful comedy: because the frantic energy of divine things would knock us down like a drunken farce. We can take our own tears more lightly than we could take the tremendous levities of the angels. So we sit perhaps in a starry chamber of silence, while the laughter of the heavens is too loud for us to hear.” – G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

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Questions for His Beloved

How long will you hide from me, My Beloved? Just how far will you run? Time and time again, I remind you of the power of my Love. Do you not know by now that there is no place I am unwilling to go in order to seek out my chosen ones? Neither death nor hell lay beyond my reach, yet you persist in a futile attempt to flee. This world is at my fingertips just as your heart once was.

Do you worry about tomorrow? Faithlessness is the way of death. It is only through believing in me that life exists. Have you not enough troubles for today? Why clench and hoard your sins daily as one in love with silly things cherished and valued more than me?

Do you love me more than these? Yes, you say with your lips, though your heart remains mute and your feet, stagnant. Prove me wrong and leave your enemies confounded. Feed my sheep with every single breath that you take. Let not a single thought escape your lips without first passing through a refiner’s fire.

Return to my Altar, my Beloved, and believe in my Presence as a little child. Then and only then will your affairs will be in order. It is by letting go of your life that grace will sustain it. There is no other way. You know this, don’t you? Ah yes, you have been hearing it more and more here recently, have you not? This is because the time has come for My Son’s Return and the rapture of all forsaken hearts.

Oftentimes I am asked when my Only Begotten will come again to wash away all the pain and hurt and sadness that exists in the world. The answer is simple. When will you have Him? But you say to me, I invited Him into my heart long ago! Then tell me, why does your so-called Savior still stand at your door knocking? Clear your inn, lest you be evicted. The halls of hell are lined with those whose cardinal sin was presumption.

Seek my will, my child, for I have called your name. No creature’s will, however strong and free it may be, can ever overpower that of your Almighty Father. Just as I bend the knees of queens and break the crowns of kings, it is often the case that I must first shatter hearts in order to rebuild them in my image once more. I Am that I Am. I Will Be that I Will Be.

Be ye not dismayed or troubled or weary on this often tumultuous road of roads which extends from the deepest, darkest corners of your lofty heart all the way to my Sacred and Immaculate Abode. Every bump and bruise and scraped knee you have ever received, inflicted or nursed has been a stepping stone to your salvation. Don’t you see that I willed it better for good to come from evil than for evil to never exist? You know this. You have seen my glory. So what makes you doubt me now?

Come, the disciple whom I love. I will show you the secret to life. Before beginning your day, remember that it is not your own. Cherish it. Share it. Embrace every obstacle and unite it to my Cross. My yolk will only burden as gently as your station requires of me. Though hindsight may fail you like clockwork in such amnesia of the soul, take a step of faith. I will remind you of the Way.

Slow down. Be. Love. Be loved. That is all I have ever asked of you. Nothing less. Nothing more.

Trust in me.

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St. Augustine’s Prayer for His Mother

The following is an excerpt from Augustine’s “Confessions” (final chapter) in which he pours out his heart in intercession for his mother St. Monica. She had “prayed her son into the Church”, and now one of the greatest defenders of the Faith the world has ever known could return the favor by “praying his mother into Heaven.”  

StMonica (2)


34. Now that my heart is healed of that wound — so far as it can be charged against me as a carnal affection — I pour out to thee, O our God, on behalf of thy handmaid, tears of a very different sort: those which flow from a spirit broken by the thoughts of the dangers of every soul that dies in Adam. And while she had been “made alive” in Christ[309] even before she was freed from the flesh, and had so lived as to praise thy name both by her faith and by her life, yet I would not dare say that from the time thou didst regenerate her by baptism no word came out of her mouth against thy precepts. But it has been declared by thy Son, the Truth, that “whosoever shall say to his brother, You fool, shall be in danger of hell-fire.”[310] And there would be doom even for the life of a praiseworthy man if thou judgedst it with thy mercy set aside. But since thou dost not so stringently inquire after our sins, we hope with confidence to find some place in thy presence. But whoever recounts his actual and true merits to thee, what is he doing but recounting to thee thy own gifts? Oh, if only men would know themselves as men, then “he that glories” would “glory in the Lord”[311]!

35. Thus now, O my Praise and my Life, O God of my heart, forgetting for a little her good deeds for which I give joyful thanks to thee, I now beseech thee for the sins of my mother. Hearken unto me, through that Medicine of our wounds, who didst hang upon the tree and who sittest at thy right hand “making intercession for us.”[312] I know that she acted in mercy, and from the heart forgave her debtors their debts.[313] I beseech thee also to forgive her debts, whatever she contracted during so many years since the water of salvation. Forgive her, O Lord, forgive her, I beseech thee; “enter not into judgment” with her.[314] Let thy mercy be exalted above thy justice, for thy words are true and thou hast promised mercy to the merciful, that the merciful shall obtain mercy.[315] This is thy gift, who hast mercy on whom thou wilt and who wilt have compassion on whom thou dost have compassion on.[316]

36. Indeed, I believe thou hast already done what I ask of thee, but “accept the freewill offerings of my mouth, O Lord.”[317] For when the day of her dissolution was so close, she took no thought to have her body sumptuously wrapped or embalmed with spices. Nor did she covet a handsome monument, or even care to be buried in her own country. About these things she gave no commands at all, but only desired to have her name remembered at thy altar, where she had served without the omission of a single day, and where she knew that the holy sacrifice was dispensed by which that handwriting that was against us is blotted out; and that enemy vanquished who, when he summed up our offenses and searched for something to bring against us, could find nothing in Him, in whom we conquer.

Who will restore to him the innocent blood? Who will repay him the price with which he bought us, so as to take us from him? Thus to the sacrament of our redemption did thy hand maid bind her soul by the bond of faith. Let none separate her from thy protection. Let not the “lion” and “dragon” bar her way by force or fraud. For she will not reply that she owes nothing, lest she be convicted and duped by that cunning deceiver. Rather, she will answer that her sins are forgiven by Him to whom no one is able to repay the price which he, who owed us nothing, laid down for us all.

37. Therefore, let her rest in peace with her husband, before and after whom she was married to no other man; whom she obeyed with patience, bringing fruit to thee that she might also win him for thee. And inspire, O my Lord my God, inspire thy servants, my brothers; thy sons, my masters, who with voice and heart and writings I serve, that as many of them as shall read these confessions may also at thy altar remember Monica, thy handmaid, together with Patricius, once her husband; by whose flesh thou didst bring me into this life, in a manner I know not. May they with pious affection remember my parents in this transitory life, and remember my brothers under thee our Father in our Catholic mother; and remember my fellow citizens in the eternal Jerusalem, for which thy people sigh in their pilgrimage from birth until their return. So be fulfilled what my mother desired of me — more richly in the prayers of so many gained for her through these confessions of mine than by my prayers alone.


See Also:

St. Augustine and His Mother

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On Moses’ Motherly Prayer – St. Augustine

And in case you should suppose that he acted like this more from necessity than from charity, God actually offered him another people: “And I will make you,” he said, “into a great nation,” so leaving himself free to eliminate those others. But Moses wouldn’t accept this: he sticks to the sinners; he prays for the sinners. And how does he pray? This is a wonderful proof of his love, brothers and sisters. How does he pray? Notice something I’ve often spoken of, how his love is almost that of a mother. When God threatened that sacrilegious people, Moses’ maternal instincts were roused, and on their behalf he stood up to the anger of God. “Lord,” he said, “if you will forgive them this sin, forgive; bit if not, blot me out from the book you have written.” What sure maternal and paternal instincts, how sure his reliance, as he said this, on the justice and mercy of God! He knew that because he is just he wouldn’t destroy a just man, and because he is merciful he would pardon sinners.


Moses and Jochebed by Pedro Américo, 1884.


See Also:

A Mother’s Touch

St. Augustine and His Mother


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This is an old repost for the Feast of one of my favorite Church Fathers.
(I needed to read this… love it when God speaks to me through myself.)

Originally posted on By the Pen:

St. Peter Crysologus


Feast Day: July 30

Patron Saint against fever and mad dogs.

Early Church Father who was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Benedict XIII in 1729.

Crysologus is the Latin rendering of the Greek term which means “Golden-worded”.  The name was given to Peter due to his great preaching skill.  Known for his short and sweet homilies, St. Peter Crysologus stomped out pagan practices which were creeping into and infecting his diocese (Ravenna, Italy).  On top of that, he waged an effective war on the Monophysite heresy. (Monophysitism is the belief that the person of Jesus Christ had only one nature following the Incarnation, as opposed to the orthodox position in which He maintained two natures, being both fully human and fully divine.)

The fallacious “either/or” mentality was one that I began to outgrow a while ago.  You know what I’m talking about?  It’s…

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What Do You Want?


What do you want? This is the primal question within the heart of every human being who has ever walked the earth, yet we somehow find it difficult to ask it to and for ourselves. Doing so would be selfish, would it not? We often hear it said that the Christian life should be one void of all want and desire – that it is a journey of detachment and content with that which one has been given from God. He alone gives and takes away as He wishes; therefore we shall not want or be left wanting.

Desire. Such a foul word. It reeks of lust and reminds us of temptation, leaving a bad taste in one’s mouth long after it has been spoken. It was desire that the serpent used to lure our first parents into apostasy, and it has been the fallen fruit of every single lie, theft and war waged in every generation ever since. But are we truly seeing all of the picture here, or is there more to the taboo than this?

Indeed it is true that God alone is the source of all that we have been given. Yes, and all that has been given is for Him. Faith tells us that God alone knows and supplies our every need, so it is only logical that anything else would be unnecessary. However, I also know that I have received some the most important things in my life only after asking for them. I am fairly certain that these things would have been withheld from me had I refused to admit to myself that I desired to have them. To name them.

No, I’m not talking about any worldly riches. God knows I don’t have those (though I am grateful and blessed). He has seen the inside of both my wallet and my soul, yet it is the latter that concerns me the most (though it would be nice to have the former filled as well).

Truth and beauty and mercy and grace – these are the things that we need in order to live. But these are both dependent upon and needed by love, thus they simply cannot operate apart from each other. They exist in and for and among themselves. It is only when something is separated from the creative power of love that it becomes a sin – once the fruit is torn from the vine then tossed to the ground and trampled underfoot after being seen as useless.

We come into this world as exiles in need of food and shelter, and so will it be when we make our next celestial transition. It is only natural that we want these things, and doing so is right and good. But most importantly and above all else, we need fellowship and community.

In Merton’s words, no man is an island. Or as Aristotle noted, man is made for citizenship. This is the most imperative need, which is why God saw fit to equip every single person on this earth with a mother upon birth. Out of all the things he could have supplied, that is the one and only thing we were guaranteed. Even our very own bodies are negotiable when we are placed in this woman’s care. It is as if God were saying even food and shelter are literally nothing without companionship – that even death is better than being alone. One might say that nonexistence is hell.

When a mother hears her child cry, what does she do? Does she ask the child what he needs then sit there waiting for him to answer? Or does she immediately run to his aid supplying him with his desire, knowing very well that the want and the need are one in the same? However, truth remains that apart from God who is the source and summit of the works of Creation, even the strongest and most insistent of mothers is incapable of saving a starving child – especially when that child refuses to eat or drink what God desires to feed him.

Fatherhood, like motherhood and discipleship are relational aspects meaning they require relationship. We are made to want what we need and to supply that very same want and need to our brethren – to fill that void in the heart of man which God alone can fill. Because Our Lord neither imposes on our free will nor forces Himself on us, He cannot fill that void without our cooperation – without our willing it.

Pleasure and joy and comfort are all gifts from God – yes, even when they are corporeal – just as long as they remain sacramental and bound by the grace desired to be given to us from above. Selfless love is the only thing worth having in this world, and in order to possess it one must first have the faith to ask for it and to sacrifice everything else just for the possibility of receiving it.

Then they came to Jericho. And as He was leaving Jericho with His disciples and a large crowd, a blind beggar named Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the road. When he heard that it was Jesus the Nazarene, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many were sternly telling him to be quiet, but he kept crying out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him here.” So they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take courage, stand up! He is calling for you.” Throwing aside his cloak, he jumped up and came to Jesus. And answering him, Jesus said, “What do you want Me to do for you?” And the blind man said to Him, “Rabboni, I want to regain my sight!” And Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and began following Him on the road. (Mark 10:46-52)


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