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Laetare Sunday Challenge, Rejoice in Your Brother’s Triumph

Originally posted on Biltrix:

This Sunday’s Gospel ( John Chapter 9 ), Jesus’ healing of the man born blind, is my favorite passage of the whole Bible. I love the way this scene in Franco Zeffirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth captures the story’s full  range of emotions and contrasts the self-absorbed pharisees with the exuberant joy everyone else feels, and should be feeling, over the blind man’s miraculous healing. This scene highlights the essence of Laetare Sunday Joy by juxtaposing it with the type of attitude we must overcome to experience the joy Christ wants for us. 

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Future “Big S” Saint Sheen!

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OK, so I’m a day late for this, but yesterday we joined others in a novena for the canonization of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen:

(Click Here)

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The City of God (Against the Mind of Man)

“Now the Apostle, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, says, “Knowledge inflates: but love edifies.” The only correct inerpretation of this saying is that knowledge is valuable when charity informs it. Without charity, knowledge inflates; that is, it exalts man to an arrogance which is nothing but a kind of windy emptiness.” – St. Augustine, City of God

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I began to read “The City of God” by St. Augustine of Hippo a while back but soon abandoned the task of tackling such an epic work in favor of more spiritually edifying reading. That is not to say that Augustine’s masterpiece is anything less, but rather that it was too much more for me at the time. I received a copy of the book with an introduction by Thomas Merton on Valentine’s Day (along with a few other gifts suitable for a Tolkienite… she knows me all too well), and I will probably be writing about resulting reflections here off and on for the next week or so.

Several years have passed and a lot has changed since I was first introduced to Augustine, thus my fascination with my Patron Saint is recently rekindled in light of new perspectives. Though I am older and arguably wiser (or perhaps more ignorant, I’m not sure - I have experienced my share of regression due to “learning” before), what was true then is true today, as is expected in a universe crafted by the hand of One unchanged; namely that there are two cities in which the civilians of this world inhabit – the City of God which stands on the only firm foundation (the Word of God, Christ our Cornerstone) despite all appearances to the contrary, and the City of Man built by creatures rarely inclined to stand behind their own words, much less to obey that which is spoken by God.

One thing that immediately struck me as I began to read Merton’s insightful instruction into the workings of the Saint was that we often neglect the blatantly bittersweet irony that exists in anti-theism: We Christians are accused by these “unrestricted intellectuals” of being of sub-par intellect, while the writings of men and women of faith such as these are far above the head of the average reasonably educated person. And often I hear it said that we – specifically those of us who adhere to more established Creeds – are simply blind sheep following a bunch of rules and regulations set about by monarchs and madmen for the sole purpose of human control. According to them, principalities and paupers have actively been working their iniquity with puppet strings over our heads via networks and nations throughout the centuries. Augustine makes it clear that Christianity made far too much sense for the pagans of ancient Rome to grasp and that they were the superstitious ones. I challenge anyone to look closer – the result is nostalgic.

In avoidance of bitterness and a desire for truth spoken in charity, I cannot honestly say that I question sincerity in such logic. A portion of this is true. But what the naysayers fail to take into consideration is that both secular and Church history clearly expresses a continuous pattern of Deus ex Machina as such men’s villainous hands are always hindered at just the right time by (as we theists know it) the significantly more powerful hand of a God uncreated and not just made in the image of an elevated man of higher status and recycled visions and dreams. All the Napoleons, Pol Pots and Hitlers of the world share a common destiny along with the lesser known villains. As we all return to the dust from which we came, their works are found dead and always proven futile and in vain; as are the ill-conceived motives behind them. As an alternative faith in the unseen at the end of every empire, one thing remains in the fresh breath of every new age and urges man to act collectively in rebuilding civilization once the smoke has finally cleared in the devil’s war on man.

There are obviously much more meticulously dramatic forces at work on this ever-revolving and evolving (and shifting and regressing) earth of ours. If at any point the enemies of Faith were to step back and take a look at the bigger picture of life apart from any preconceived barriers brought about by the illogical use of Reason, they would at once see that behind the hordes of sometimes saintly yet often hypocritical sinners stands something far more perfect than any perceptions of the Church may be – something prominent enough to remain elevated above all else despite the many sins of its adherents, yet subtle enough to hide eternal Truth when necessary in order to bind the proud and lead them all the way to the Light from which they would otherwise cower and flee.

Christianity in its truest sense is not merely a religion ruled by a crowned public figure with a scepter in his hand. It is not a big fancy building where monks pray and chant and nuns teach children, or in which men and women gather to admit they are weak without Jesus while reading and discussing Bible verses and eating crackers and juice. No, these misconceptions, like all other things, carry with them partial truths; however (also like most everything else), they are grasping at shadows in an attempt to receive what faith alone is able to see.

That is not to say that Christianity is not a religion – it is of course that and everything more – for spiritual coercion without use of a corporeal body is an attribute of Satan’s lordship (for the sake of time, we will get into that in a near-future post). Rather, it is one ruled by love which births the relationship between God and man created in His image – citizens of the world whom God loved so much that He gave His only begotten Son, so that they may eventually love (as a result of their belief) He who first loved them so much that they find themselves willing to sacrifice the only world they have known in favor of faith in an Eden promised but unseen. Salvation History is not some boring, repetitive and tedious documentation of some fanatical old men dressed in clerics’ robes. That is not to say that they do not tell it, for they most assuredly and faithfully do. No, it is the greatest love story the world has never heard because, as pride compels her, she refuses to hear.

The love that binds us (for that is what the word religion means – to bind) is entirely unlike anything else discovered or built by man and is essentially that same love that births and builds us. The thing that separates the Decalogue from the Code of Hammurabi is precisely the very thing required to bind all men – not merely to God as individual members of some exclusive club – but together as men and women of a common ancestry, formed by the breath of God. It is love – and this love in particular – that remains unchanged as the essence of all that is loved or has been loved or ever will be loved. As I said before, and it bears repeating, true religion as is true love is divinely revealed to us in the Incarnation. It stands that the core ingredient in the Law of God as opposed to that of man is none other than Love Divine made manifest to us in the form of a person, Jesus Christ.

We must not place Him as a statue in the midst of a pantheon alongside the likes of Muhammad, Buddha and Krishna (regardless of glimpses and shadows of truth thus portrayed) just as the infant Church in pagan Rome had refused to do long ago in passing the torch down to us in this age. I urge you to consider their sacrifices if only for but a moment and to reflect on the grave seriousness of choosing any decision other than to let their “amen” mean “amen” – that is to say, I stake my life on itliterally if need be, yes (as was most commonly the case back then), but primarily sacramentally in the lives that we live. If we walk by faith, let our steps leave their prints in the sands of time (rather than kicking dust over the tracks of those who have finished the race with perseverance until the end) as we tread the mouths of serpents on that narrow path of righteousness towards eternal peace and everlasting life. World without end. Amen.

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“The City of God is an exposition of dogma that was not only written but lived… What do we mean when we say that Augustine lived the theology that he wrote? Are we implying, for instance, that other theologians have not lived up to their principles? No. That possibility is not what concerns us here. It is more than a question of setting down on paper a series of abstract principles and then applying them in practice. Christianity is more than a moral code, more than a philosophy, more than a system of rites. Although it is sufficient, in the abstract, to divide the Catholic religion into three aspects and call them creed, code and cult, yet in practice, the integral Christian life is something far more than all this. It is more than a belief; it is a life. That is to say, it is a belief that is lived and experienced and expressed in action. The action in which it is expressed, experienced and lived is called a mystery. This mystery is the sacred drama which keeps ever present in history the Sacrifice that was once consummated by Christ on Calvary. In plain words–if you can accept them as plain–Christianity is the life and death and resurrection of Christ going on day after day in the souls of individual men and in the heart of society.” – Thomas Merton

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Marriage Homily by St. John Chrysostom

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…let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife that she reverence her husband. (Eph. 5:33)

A certain wise man, when enumerating which blessings are the most important included “a wife and husband who live in harmony (Sir. 25:1). In another place he emphasized this: “A friend or a companion never meets one amiss, but a wife with her husband is better than both.” (Sir. 40:23). From the beginning God in His providence has planned this union of man and woman, and has spoken of the two as one: male and female He created them (Gen. 1:27), and there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:28). There is no relationship between human beings so close as that of husband and wife, if they are united as they ought to be. When blessed David was mourning for Jonathan, who was of one soul with him, what comparison did he use to describe the loftiness of their love? Your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women (II Sam. 1:26). The power of this love is truly stronger than any passion; other desires may be strong, but this one alone never fades. This love (eros) is deeply planted within our inmost being. Unnoticed by us, it attracts the bodies of men and women to each other, because in the beginning woman came forth from man, and from man and woman other men and women proceed. Can you see now how close this union is, and how God providentially created it from a single nature? He permitted Adam to marry Eve, who was more than sister or daughter; she was his own flesh! God caused the entire human race to proceed from this one point of origin. He did not, on the one hand, fashion woman independently from man, otherwise man would think of her as essentially different from himself. Nor did He enable woman to bear children without man; if this were the case she would be self-sufficient. Instead, just as the branches of a tree proceed from a single trunk, He made the one man Adam to be the origin of all mankind, both male and female, and made it impossible for men and women to be self-sufficient. Later, He forbade men to marry their sisters or daughters, so that our love would not be limited to members of our families, and withdrawn from the rest of the human race. All of this is implied in Christ’s words: He who made them from the beginning made them male and female (Matt. 19:4).

The love of husband and wife is the force that welds society together. Men will take up arms and even sacrifice their lives for the sake of this love. St. Paul would not speak so earnestly about this subject without serious reason; why else would he say, Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord? Because when harmony prevails, the children are raised well, the household is kept in order, and neighbors, friends and relatives praise the result. Great benefits, both for families and states, are thus produced. When it is otherwise however, everything is thrown into confusion and turned upside down. When the generals of an army are at peace with each other, everything proceeds in an orderly fashion, and when they are not, everything is in disarray. It is the same here. For the sake of harmony, then, he said, Wives, be subject to your husbands as to the Lord ….

Let us assume, then, that the husband is to occupy the place of the head, and the wife that of the body, and listen to what “headship” means: For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the Church: and He is the Saviour of the Body. There fore as the Church is subject unto Christ, so let wives be subject to their own husbands in everything. Notice that after saying the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church, he immediately says that the Church is His Body, and He is Himself its Saviour. It is the head that upholds the well-being of the body. In his other epistles Paul has already laid the foundations of marital love, and has assigned to husband and wife each his proper place: to the husband one of leader and provider, and to the wife one of submission. Therefore as the Church is subject to Christ–and the Church, remember, consists of both husbands and wives—so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands, as to God.

You have heard how important obedience is; you have praised and marveled at Paul, how he welds our whole life together, as we would expect from an admirable and spiritual man. You have done well. But now listen to what else he requires from you; he has not finished with his example. Husbands, he says, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church. You have seen the amount of obedience necessary; now hear about the amount of love necessary. Do you want your wife to be obedient to you, as the Church is to Christ? Then be responsible for the same providential care of her, as Christ is for the Church. And even if it becomes necessary for you to give your life for her, yes, and even to endure and undergo suffering of any kind, do not refuse. Even though you undergo all this, you will never have done anything equal to what Christ has done. You are sacrificing yourself for someone to whom you are already joined, but He offered Himself up for one who turned her back on Him and hated Him. In the same way, then, as He honored her by putting at His feet one who turned her back on Him, who hated, rejected, and disdained Him as tie accomplished this not with threats, or violence, or terror, or anything else like that, but through His untiring love; so also you should behave toward your wife. Even if you see her belittling you, or despising and mocking you, still you will be able to subject her to yourself, through affection, kindness, and your great regard for her. There is no influence more powerful than the bond of love, especially for husband and wife. A servant can be taught submission through fear; but even he, if provoked too much, will soon seek his escape. But one’s partner for life, the mother of one’s children, the source of one’s every joy, should never be fettered with fear and threats, but with love and patience. What kind of marriage can there be when the wife is afraid of her husband? What sort of satisfaction could a husband himself have, if he lives with his wife as if she were a slave, and not with a woman by her own free will? Suffer anything for her sake, but never disgrace her, for Christ never did this with the Church. /…/

Paul has precisely described for husband and wife what is fitting behavior for each: she should reverence him as the head and he should love her as his body. But how is this behavior achieved? That it must be is clear; now I will tell you how. It will be achieved if we are detached from money, if we strive above everything for virtue, if we keep the fear of God before our eyes. What Paul says to servants in the next chapter applies to us as well, …knowing that whatever good anyone does, he will receive the same again from the Lord (Eph. 6:8). Love her not so much for her own sake, but for Christ’s sake. That is why he says, be subject…as to the Lord. Do everything for the Lord’s sake, in a spirit of obedience to Him. These words should be enough to convince us to avoid quarrels and disagreements. No husband should believe any accusation he hears from a third party about his wife, and vice versa; nor should a wife unreasonably monitor her husband’s comings and going, provided that he has always shown himself to be above suspicion. And what if you devote the day to your work and your friends, and the evening to your wife; but she is still not satisfied, but is jealous for more of your time? Don’t be annoyed by her complaints; she loves you, she is not behaving absurdly–her complaints come from her fervent affection for you, and from fear. Yes, she is afraid that her marriage bed will be stolen, that someone will deprive her of her greatest blessing, that someone will take from her him who is her head.

A wife should never nag her husband: “You lazy coward, you have no ambition! Look at our relatives and neighbors; they have plenty of money. Their wives have far more than I do.” Let no wife say any such thing; she is her husband’s body, and it is not for her to dictate to her head, but to submit and obey. “But why should she endure poverty?” some will ask. If she is poor, let her console herself by thinking of those who are much poorer still. If she really loved her husband, she would never speak to him like that, but would value having him close to her more than all the gold in the world….Furnish your house neatly and soberly. If the bridegroom shows his wife that he takes no pleasure in worldly excess, and will not stand for it, their marriage will remain free from the evil influences that are so popular these days. Let them shun the immodest music and dancing that are currently so fashionable.

I am aware that many people think me ridiculous for giving such advice; but if you listen to me, you will understand the advantages of a sober lifestyle more and more as time goes on. You will no longer laugh at me, but will laugh instead at the way people live now like silly children or drunken men. What is our duty, then? Remove from your lives shameful, immodest, and Satanic music, and don’t associate with people who enjoy such profligate entertainment. When your bride sees your manner of life, she will say to herself, “Wonderful! What a wise man my husband is! He regards this passing life as nothing; he bas married me to be a good mother for his children and a prudent manager of his household.” Will this sort of life be distasteful for a young bride? Only perhaps for the shortest time, and soon she will discover how delightful it is to live this way. She will retain her modesty if you retain yours. Don’t engage in idle conversations; it never profits anyone to talk too much. Whenever you give your wife advice, always begin by telling her how much you love her. Nothing will persuade her so well to admit the wisdom of your words as her assurance that you are speaking to her with sincere affection. Tell her that you are convinced that money is not important, that only thieves thirst for it constantly, that you love her more than gold; and indeed an intelligent, discreet and pious young woman is worth more than all the money in the world. Show her that you value her company, and prefer being at home to being out. Esteem her in the presence of your friends and children. Pray together at home and go to Church; when you come back home, let each ask the other the meaning of the readings and the prayers. If you are overtaken by poverty, remember Peter and Paul, who were more honored than kings or rich men, though they spent their lives in hunger and thirst. Remind one another that nothing in life is to be feared, except offending God. If your marriage is like this, your perfection will rival the holiest of monks.

If we seek the things that are perfect, the secondary things will follow. The Lord says, Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you (Matt. 6:33). What sort of person do you think the children of such parents will be? What kind of person are all the others who associate with them? Will they not eventually be the recipients of countless blessings as well? For generally the children acquire the character of their parents, are formed in the mold .of their parents’ temperament, love the same things their parents love, talk in the same fashion, and work for the same ends. If we order our lives in this way and diligently study the Scriptures, we will find lessons to guide us in everything we need!

A selection from On Marriage and Family Life by St. John Chrysostom, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1986. Reprinted by kind permission of the publisher.

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Chocolate and Chesterton on St. Valentine’s Day

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 “Here ends my previous existence. Take it: it led me to you.”
—G.K. Chesterton, writing to his fiancée Frances Blogg

I realize I have been including Chesterton in my posts a lot lately, but I cannot fathom how anyone could blame me. All the books in all the world could not contain his wisdom (though I think he tried to make it so). I’d like to think I have always been somewhat of a faithful disciple of his, but what has especially enthralled me with the Apostle of Common Sense here recently is his deeply poetic albeit darkly humorous insight into the love that exists between a Christian man and woman. This should be taken into consideration when discerning requests for his canonization. We need officially recognized Saints such as these – men and women of God and for God who have found that in this life the best way for them to show the world the love of Christ is to share it with each other. After all, the sacrament of matrimony as exhibited by the Holy Family is the production of an image of the Holy Trinity in which Christ is the center.

Chesterton appears to be the romantic type with a reasonable understanding of women and a childlike faith in magic – the stuff that Disney stories are made of. But in a world where there are princesses and princes, there are bound to be dragons and villains, as well as frogs who require a kiss in order to transform into what they were originally created to be. Against my natural inclinations, I have chosen not to poke fun at the fluffy marketing and secularization of that faithful martyr St. Valentine’s Day this year. Instead, I have decided to be sweet and will leave you with a few lovely Chesterton quotes:

“Marriage is an adventure, like going to war.”
“Marriage is a duel to the death which no man of honour should decline.” (Manalive)

“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.”

“I have little doubt that when St. George had killed the dragon he was heartily afraid of the princess.” (The Victorian Age in Literature)

There are more awesome quotes out there, but I must go now before my love gets off work and discovers that I have been blogging while she labors on Valentine’s Day…

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Eh… I couldn’t resist.

Click Here for G.K. Chesterton’s Marriage Proposal.

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In Layman’s Terms, I Am

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My own case for Christianity is rational; but it is not simple. It is an accumulation of varied facts, like the attitude of the ordinary agnostic. But the ordinary agnostic has got his facts all wrong.  He is a non-believer for a multitude of reasons; but they are untrue reasons. He doubts because the Middle Ages were barbaric, but they weren’t; because Darwinism is demonstrated, but it isn’t; because miracles do not happen, but they do; because monks were lazy, but they were very industrious; because nuns are unhappy, but they are particularly cheerful; because Christian art was sad and pale, but it was picked out in peculiarly bright colours and gay with gold; because modern science is moving away from the supernatural, but it isn’t, it is moving towards the supernatural with the rapidity of a railway train. – G.K. Chesterton (Orthodoxy)

We are so busy doing things, and in such a hurry, that we are incapable of merely being or becoming. Yet this more than anything else is our nature and our mission - to be and to become – which as actions in themselves are the very same thing. Life, as is love, is so simple a concept that we are unable to grasp it, and yet it is so complex that it would slip through our fingers if we attempted to try. Our view of living is conceptualized and manufactured according to the spirit of the times even though each age comes to the very same conclusion as the one that preexisted it. This point cannot be stressed enough, for it reveals to us the truth of eternity – that God is everlasting and unchanging, thus so it should also be said of we who claim to adhere to His Word. Love is the Law, and it is innate.

I want to be rich, says the pagan, as he loses the one thing that accompanied his body upon entrance into this world – that is, his soul (His soul. Not anyone else’s). I want to be attractive, he says. I want to be the best at what I do. All the while, God screams through whispers in a humble plea that we just sit still and know that He is God. It is in fact by knowing that He is God that we can relax and be ourselves. Why should we worry if He is the one who has the whole world in His hands (such a wonderful paradox it is to be the hands of God which only work through faith and submission of will)? What good are our plans when they are incompatible with His design? To be who you are is the epitome of success, for that is who you were created to be. Attempting to live as any other is not only futile or pointless, but it is utterly destructive. It is like punching a door knob with the wrong key. Not only will you not be capable of unlocking the door, but the key will be destroyed or at least deformed as will the lock it was made to open. Now I will not attempt to claim any prophetic theological insight or spiritual authority behind this speculation, nor do I wish for you to give it much thought yourself - but I do imagine hell to be something similar to this: being forever stuck on the wrong side of a door that was made solely for you to open (and for which you were solely made) simply because you refused by means of pride to knock or to answer the knock coming from the other side as it continuously beckoned you to paradise, “Come to me… I am the way (which ironically is located inside of you).”

We spend so much time watching the people on the screens and the posters on the wall that we seldom look ourselves in the eye, even if only in a mirror. Nevermind our neighbor. As a result, what is truly miraculous is now seen as bland while all that is ordinary is thought extraordinary, though in the Christian mind such division should not exist. In a world where God forms man from the dust, dust should be seen no less than divine. The Greeks at least recognized wine as a gift from the gods and knew that the gods acknowledged sacrifice and blessed or cursed their harvests. Miracles happen every day, but I guess we refuse to believe in them because they are not useless enough. Now we find ourselves as a people in a place where we are unable to believe in something as fundamental to our salvation as the virgin birth – not because it is scientifically impossible – but because it is morally incomprehensible. We can not believe in the existence of a virgin birth when we can neither see abundant evidence conducive to virginity, nor virtue in the miracle of God’s plan for childbirth which is now deemed a burden to one’s personal liberty. Both the virgin and the birth are things of a fading past regarded as the products of fantasy or myth. Need I even mention the concepts of purity or fidelity, which are now legends no more believable than magic or chivalry (though indeed these too exist) and no more attainable than the Holy Grail?

We claim the evolution of our species yet we are not walking upright but crawling on our bellies – not towards Eden, but further away – and our world is upside down as is our way of thinking as we continue to run across the spinning flat earth in defiance of both logic and the universal law of gravity. Meanwhile, adding salt to the wound, we Christians go further by disobeying the law of love written in the Scriptures as well as our beating hearts. We fail to note that upon His valiant introduction to the world, Jesus does not say that He is the one “who did this with Abraham’s ancestors” or “that with the Egyptians.” No, He simply says “I AM.” And thus, so shall we.

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“Advice to a Young Prophet” by Thomas Merton

Keep away, son, these lakes are salt. These flowers
Eat insects. Here private lunatics
Yell and skip in a very dry country.
Or where some haywire monument
Some badfaced daddy of fear
Commands an unintelligent rite.
To dance on the unlucky mountain,
To dance they go, and shake the sin
Out of their feet and hands,
Frenzied until the sudden night
Falls very quiet, and magic sin
Creeps, secret, back again.
Badlands echo with omens of ruin:
Seven are very satisfied, regaining possession:
(Bring a little mescaline, you’ll get along!)
There’s something in your bones,
There’s someone dirty in your critical skin,
There’s a tradition in your cruel misdirected finger
Which you must obey, and scribble in the hot sand:
“Let everybody come and attend
Where lights and airs are fixed
To teach and entertain. O watch the sandy people
Hopping in the naked bull’s-eye,
Shake the wildness out of their limbs,
Try to make peace like John in skins
Elijah in the timid air
or Anthony in tombs:
Pluck the imaginary trigger, brothers.
Shoot the devil: he’ll be back again!”
America needs these fatal friends
Of God and country, to grovel in mystical ashes,
Pretty big prophets whose words don’t burn,
Fighting the strenuous imago all day long.
Only these lunatics, (O happy chance)
Only these are sent. Only this anaemic thunder
Grumbles on the salt flats, in rainless night:
O go home, brother, go home!
The devil’s back again,
And magic Hell is swallowing flies.
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