a blog with cultural bulimia.

Sunday, May 30, 2004

The Sunday times

Those who have read this blog more than once might have learned, among other things, that:
  1. I love to read

  2. I like to read the The New York Times daily and every week I post "The Sunday Times" with several items in it

  3. I admire Andrew Sullivan, his republican views notwithstanding. I consider him one of the best observers of contemporary culture. The best one that is also gay without a doubt.

So, because of it, this will be the only post from the NYT for today: Andrew Sullivan's piece on 'Father Joe': The Saint and the Satirist for the Sunday Book Review in The New York Times. (Note: this has become #2 in my wishlist, after the new Sedaris. June 3rd. Thursday.) It is not only beautifully written but, in spite of being a book review, raises existential questions begging to be addressed.

listening is the beginning of understanding, the first exercise of love.

"Saints are perhaps always best evoked by sinners. (...) These ideas of sin that we have are not really sin. Or rather: they are the symptoms of sin, not its essence. And its essence is our withdrawal -- our willful withdrawal -- from God's love. This book is about Hendra's slow, aching, hilarious but profound attempt to accept God's unconditional love for him. And this truly difficult acceptance is a consequence of one other man's quiet listening and faith. Of another's love.

(...) Father Joe, in one swoop, both undermines the current hierarchy's obsessive horror of sex itself and illumines the real point of Catholic sexual ethics: the respect and love for another human made in the image of God.

''Sex is a wonderful gift, a physical way to express the most powerful force in all existence -- love. Sex is a brilliant idea of God's, I think. Almost like a sacrament.''

''Sex is a sacrament?''

''D-d-don't tell the Abbot!''

''There's no sin in having sex?''

''Yes yes yes. There can be. But sex is a sin less often than we're led to believe. It's all a question of context. If you have sex to hurt or exploit another, or to take pleasure only for me, me, me, and not return as much or more to your lover . . . then it becomes sinful. . . . They've made sexual sins the worst sins of the lot, haven't they? Because sex is so powerful, people are fearful of it! We must take the fear out of sex as well.''

(...) In human life, this God is found in listening. ''Listening is reaching out into that unknown other self, surmounting your walls and theirs; listening is the beginning of understanding, the first exercise of love.'' This isn't easy; and our modern world is jammed with endless attempts to prevent us from such listening, from the silence that makes it possible, from the empty spaces in our work-filled days that alone can actually make us human and our lives rich.

(...) And you hear no judgments from Father Joe; no admonitions; no warnings. What you hear is the sound of someone listening. And that very sound draws Hendra back and back -- a silence that somehow pierces the cacophony of New York and Los Angeles and London.

How this story ends is not something to be dwelt on. It is the journey that matters. But in some respects, I think, the book itself is that journey. How did a man known for left-wing screeds and biting satire come to write a book that -- I'm not exaggerating -- belongs in the first tier of spiritual memoirs ever written? The answer is that Hendra resisted such an extraordinary achievement just as he resisted God's love. This short book therefore has the nature of a kind of surrender -- not to some new theology or doctrine or sensibility. It is the surrender of someone to himself as he was always meant to be, to the love he was destined to feel, to the God who refused to let go.

If you are a Catholic who feels, as I have, more estranged from his faith than ever; if you are simply a person longing to live a deeper, more meaningful life; then I beg you to read this book. (...) there is something in this book that speaks particularly to our contemporary spiritual desert and to the kind of faith that ''like clear water from solid rock'' can help us grow and heal again."