The first week of June is always a week of martyrs in the life of Holy Church, just like the first few days after Christmas. Let’s see, we had Justin, then Marcellinus and Peter, then Charles Lwanga and all of the others in Uganda and finally Boniface (Good Worker? Good Work?). This lineup of people who were killed for trying to spread what has come to be called the Good News, and the thousands of others like them down through the centuries had me thinking about why such things happen. Does anyone have a clue? Try and figure out why that is. Go ahead and take a few minutes. I have time. As you wander off I’ll continue my musings below on folks long dead and folks who wanted them that way; on folks still living and what they have to say about whether or not we need more or less of us, and why.
You’re back? Good.
After just a bit of poking around on the Internet, I found out things that I hadn’t paid attention to way long ago in grade school, or if I had I’d forgotten them. St. Justin was born into an aristocratic Roman family and became a convert. He died when he wouldn’t burn any incense to their gods. Sts. Marcellinus and Peter went the same way, too, though I cannot find out if they were converts or born into the faith. Marcellinus was a priest. Peter was an Exorcist, a part of minor orders back in the day. I’ll bet he was busy. We need guys like him today, too; one on each block it almost seems. We probably need one in each legislature, and one in the White House; or three or four.
Anyway, all three of them, Justin, Marcellinus and Peter, ran afoul of one emperor or the other and ended up dead. Their ideas about what was important didn’t quite match up with Diocletian, or whoever. Formed in the pattern that Christ had established, what would you expect? One of the “beatitudes”, you remember said as much. Some blessing. We tend to forget that one, the last, while getting all gooey and smoochy over the “peacemaker” and “pure of heart” ones. It ain’t all Joni Mitchell, you know. Perhaps that’s why the seven corporal and spiritual works of mercy are “works” and not “hobbies”, or “pastimes”.
Ask Boniface or Charles Lwanga and his friends about that. Boniface lost his head, after a good beating, because the guys who ran things in Frisia didn’t like him giving those strange ideas about love, and everyone being a child of God and whatnot, to the churls they were very fond of keeping in line with a clubbing or two whenever the need arose. Charles and his friends were actually pretty well situated, themselves. They were right in with the king, who liked young boys. And, therein lies the story, as they say. Charles and some of the others had the bad luck to have been converted by Irish missionaries, and they…, well let’s say they wouldn’t have agreed with something like this month being LBGT Pride Month…but the king, God save us all, would, and sought to prove it on all those young boys.
For their refusal to go along, and for suggesting to the king that he might like to stop they were rounded up, frog marched thirty or so miles away, wrapped in reed mats, placed on a large pyre and….problem solved. So much for mercy.
A few weeks ago I was privileged to be a guest at the commencement ceremonies at Thomas More College of the Liberal Arts just down the road from me in Merrimack, NH. Francis Cardinal Arinze gave the commencement address to the graduates. He spoke on the very same day, I think, that another guy gave an address at Notre Dame (where they may have need of an exorcist). The Cardinal got no honorary degree, but that didn’t matter. And, I will not say much about what he said. You may find his address at the Thomas More College site.
I had been reading about this man for some time and would have missed my funeral to be there. I was not disappointed. The Cardinal’s words and his life are constant reminders of the truth of faith, the vibrancy of hope, the beauty of charity and the great rewards the “works” of mercy return on the investment in them. And so, the Cardinal spoke truth to the graduates and guests and to the world. His truth is, to me, summed up in that very difficult beatitude, the first and greatest commandment and those irritating “works”. It isn’t thought so these days in a lot of places, some of them, BTW, places which used to teach the very thing. It seems to rankle a certain type, you know?
A little while ago in this place I reacted, quite justifiably I thought, to the news that some very rich folks had met secretly to devise a plan to save the world by providing the means for folks to avoid what our President calls “the punishment of pregnancy” and its results (God have mercy on him and all who agree with his own “works”), and to persuade them to make frequent use of these aids to…umm…species suicide, all mercifully done, mind you. I didn’t like it…or them…or their idea for contracepting whole populations into oblivion and said so.
These rich fools called themselves the Good Club. I found nothing good in the idea of the club, or the ideas of the people who are its members.
I was shortly criticized for calling these people jerks and belittling their plan for saving the world as devoid of either goodness or sense. My critic thought differently. You may read his remarks in the comments section of “It’s a Ding Dong World #5290”. We went back and forth, and at one point he even told me that he believed so strongly in keeping the world population at a decent level that he’d had himself gelded after the birth of his second child. He decided to commit a kind of generational suicide. What a sad and grim and hopeless thing to do. And, I used to think tattoos and piercings were self-mutilation.
Along the way, another citizen joined me in my opinions of the Good Club, it’s membership and their ideas. We agreed that what was being proposed by the “GC” and supported by my critic was stupid, and you may read his remarks in the comments section, too. But, I have to confess, I do not entirely agree with this man’s analysis of the current state of things and what is Western Man’s (to use a loaded term) responsibility toward it, for it and about it. It plays too much into the way good clubbers and self-mutilators think.
Cardinal Arinze is one of the guys who the Good Clubbers would have you and me believe are responsible for the current mess they say we are in. First of all, he’s a black African, and there are just too many of them. They are all poor, and backward and prone to disease. Second of all, he’s a Catholic, and a Cardinal to boot, and we all know what that means. Lots of folks think it means that the reason why we have the first condition is because of folks like Arinze who are in the second position. It’s a variation of the old Roman, Frisian, Ugandan problem with people who think like that crazy Jewish kid from Nazareth. It follows that high on the Good Clubbers list of things to do while solving the problem of there being too many people is to counteract the effect of religion(s) which don’t see things their way about all of those folks there are too many of. Are you thinking about emperors, kings and pyres? I am.
Reflecting on the way they think about people, and the presence of Cardinal Arinze among us, I couldn’t help laughing at what they are about proposing, and what the poor self mutilator had gone and done to contribute to the cause…or not contribute to be more precise. Arinze’s just one of the smartest fellows on the planet, who was born into a situation that causes noses to wrinkle in the salons frequented by the good clubbers, and other folks to go running to the urologist for surgery to help out. And, if the GC’s have their way millions of future Arinze’s will never see light.
They have everything they need, the GC’s, thank you, and want to make sure it stays that way. The Arinzes, Justins, Bonifaces and Lwangas of this world make two points against such stupid selfishness. The first is that such plans as the Good Club people are concocting are on a par with the plans of empire since Babel, or Pharaoh, or Rome, or the Third Reich for that matter. They will fail because the planners forget who they are and Who is, really, the One who plans. The second is the message delivered from Calvary about being ready to lay down one’s life…not cajole or force others to give up theirs or prevent new life from coming into the world. It’s a scandal, really; a scandal of faith, hope and charity…of mercy.
The Good Club and its members remind me of the title and the final scene in an old James Cagney film. I think it was “Public Enemy #1”. As the film ends, Cagney, a vicious killer, stands atop a gas tank and screams, “Look, Ma, I’m on top of the world!” As he ends his little exclamation of triumph, the tank explodes, and the Public Enemy #1 and his world are engulfed in flames in a moment that can only be called apocalyptic in its violence and purpose. In the end all that remains is fear, despair, defiance and death.
That scene has stayed with me since I first saw the film a million years ago in the RKO Marble Hill in Kingsbridge, in the Bronx, the neighborhood where i grew up. It was a neighborhood filled with the kind of people that the well bred cultural ancestors of the Good Club members thought better off dead, and did their level best to make them that way.
I saw another film recently and a scene from that one has stayed with me. Another man speaks to his mother in this one too. Christ meets Mary as he works out His plan for Mercy on us all. He speaks words from the Apocalypse, a fine touch I thought when I saw the film, “See, I make all things new!” I laughed through my tears at the joke he was playing on the President of the Good Club down in his office at the bottom of the world.