Ember Wednesday

I had set out to put something concentrated together for the three Ember Days of Advent, but two pending writing commitments won’t allow that, at least not this year. If you have never heard of the Ember Days, or are only vaguely aware of them because you accidentally opened to their propers when you were flipping to find the right Sunday in your hand missal just prior to the solitary Tridentine Mass the diocese so “graciously” and “pastorally” provides its neo-Pelagians, there is, or used to be, something about fasting and prayer associated with them; no more, of course. No more of that “stuff,” that “rigidity” which proves, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that you possess a disturbing lack of faith, failing, as you perpetually do, to allow a Construct-of-Surprises to knock at your heart.

Honoring the Ember Days alone does not make one holy, though for the life of me I cannot produce a tally of benefits derived from not honoring them. That could be said for so many observances which Holy Mother Church, in her earthly wisdom, has freed her children from. Some lament this; they call it a tragedy. “Farce” is a better word; “tragedy” should be reserved for speaking about the millions upon millions of souls who have never heard that more than anything, they need Salvation, which only comes through Jesus Christ.

People speak of various christs in order to make a sociological point; how a people, or even a particular confession, speaks of the Son of God says less about Him and more about them. Perhaps. Certainly the queer, if not pagan, diatribe on the “Russian Christ” in Dostoevsky’s The Idiot offers an unsettling glimpse into a mind half-drunk on Slavophilism. It doesn’t, however, say anything to us about God, or even the experience of God. Cultural christs are idols. So, too, are christs intended to pacify millions, leaving them feeling self-satisfied in their everyday, and likely unconscious, blasphemies.

Years ago I joked with a friend that if I ever felt a missionary call, I would request to be dropped on a remote island or sent into the densest jungle in order to find souls who had never heard a word of English, to say nothing of the Gospel. I would likely fail, but it would be a noble failure. But if I were to be sent into a room full of Protestants, then I would be truly lost.

My instinct now is to revise that observation, even though it was never intended to be serious. Now, more than ever, I can appreciate the Protestant who sits each morning (or evening) with their Bible, running through Samuel, Isiah, and Job before flipping over to follow their yearly cycle through the New Testament—the one which, whether by accident or divine design, delivers to their hearts the answers to the sorts of mundane questions we constantly torment ourselves with, swallowing up in the process the time we might have spent putting such trivialities in proper perspective.

Catholic arrogance vis-à-vis Protestantism, much like Orthodox arrogance vis-à-vis Catholicism, is, more often than not, nauseating. While this is not to say that there isn’t much in Protestantism which is deeply problematic (though the particulars vary in type and intensity across its thousands of denominations), the sermons of Luther and the tracts of Calvin are no longer our enemy. To put it another way, our enemy—or enemies—aren’t coming at us from outside; they are dwelling within, importing errors like they were subsidized automobiles. You can’t say that aloud, not in polite company. Imaginary enemies, an ongoing battle with the Reformation, provides that illusion of steadfastness and principle which, for reasons I haven’t fully unpacked, seems to be the lifeblood of a certain type of contemporary Catholic.

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