My Thoughts

Received a parcel on Tuesday; a much-anticipated care package, a delightful gift from myself to myself. Unwrapping the box felt like Christmas morning even though I knew perfectly well what was inside. Nine books; it should have been ten, but one was a late arrival; each by the inestimable “Prince of Paradox”, G.K. Chesterton. I must confess to having previously read four of ten in digital format, a poor experience to my analog mind.

Reading solicits a delicate touch of intimacy, an intimate encounter with the words inscribed upon leaves of vellum or parchment; reading requires a palpable caress, a kiss to every page, much more than flipping bits and bytes and pixelated images that will never yellow, fail their binding, or bear the ignominy of dogeared pages. Books are friends that never outwear their welcome; friends you can scarcely wait to meet again.

Whether coincidence or providence matters not though it satisfies no small affair that the first book I should choose to read was The Man Who Was Thursday, A Nightmare. Notwithstanding the intrigue of the title, in retrospect, I have found it too near a current nightmare for any comfort. First published in 1907, Thursday was Chesterton’s most famous novel, a profound allegory where the central figures are anarchists and policemen. That I am making mention of this on Thursday is odd enough; that the central character, Gabriel Syme, is a poet, policeman, and soon a member of the Central Anarchists Council is pure Chestertonian, Thursday is rightly called his masterpiece and deserving of high praise for Shaw’s “Colossal Genius.” Martin Gardner introduces the most recent edition.

The Man Who Was Thursday … revolves around two of the deepest of all theological mysteries: the freedom of the will and the existence of massive, irrational evil. The two mysteries are closely related.

In Chesterton’s comic fantasy, which he calls on the title page “A Nightmare,” free will is symbolized by anarchism. Man’s freedom to do wicked things, as Augustine and so many other theologians of all faiths have said, is the price we pay for freedom. If our behavior were entirely determined by how our brain is wired by heredity and environment, then we would be mere automatons with no more genuine free will or self-awareness—two names for the same thing—than a vacuum cleaner. But we are not automatons. We have a knowledge of good and evil and a freedom to choose, within limits, of course, between the two. Somehow our choices are not totally determined, yet somehow they also are not random, as if decisions were made by shaking tiny dice inside our skull. This is the dark, impenetrable paradox of will and consciousness.

Early on, Syme asks an anarchist named Lucien Gregory, “First of all, what is it really all about? What is it you object to? You want to abolish Government?”  

To abolish God!” said Gregory, opening the eyes of a fanatic. “We do not only want to upset a few despotisms and police regulations; that sort of anarchism does exist, but it is a mere branch of the Nonconformists. We dig deeper and we blow you higher. We wish to deny all those arbitrary distinctions of vice and virtue, honour and treachery, upon which mere rebels base themselves. The silly sentimentalists of the French Revolution talked of the Rights of Man! We hate Rights as we hate Wrongs. We have abolished Right and Wrong.”

Imagine that! As for Thursday, there were seven members of the council, each known by a day of the week. Chesterton said of Sunday,

the ogre who appears brutal but is also cryptically benevolent is not so much God, in the sense of religion or irreligion, but rather Nature as it appears to the pantheist, whose pantheism is struggling out of pessimism. So far as the story had any sense in it, it was meant to begin with the picture of the world at its worst and to work towards the suggestion that the picture was not so black as it was already painted.

You ask me who Sunday is? Well, you may call him Nature, if you like. But you will note that I hold that when the mask of Nature is lifted you find God behind. All that wild exuberance of Nature, all its strange pranks, all its seeming indifference to the wants and feelings of men, all that is only a mask. It is a mask which your Lucien Gregorys paint, but can never raise.

Mind you, I think it is well that we should not know all about those around us, that we should fight in the dark, while having the faith that most men are on the right side, for to possess courage the soul of man must be lonely until at last it knows all.

It is now one-hundred-and-thirteen years later and by all good evidence the nightmare still tortures our dreams. Wake up America!  

Just my thoughts for a Thursday, for what it is worth.

Deacon Chuck

About the author: Deacon Chuck

Deacon Chuck was ordained into the permanent diaconate on September 17, 2011, in the ministry of service to the Diocese of Reno and assigned to St. Albert the Great Catholic Community. He currently serves as the parish bulletin editor and website administrator. Deacon Chuck continues to serve the parish of Saint Albert the Great Catholic Community of the Diocese of Reno, Nevada. He is the Director of Adult Faith Formation and Homebound Ministries for the parish, conducts frequent adult faith formation workshops, and is a regular homilist. He currently serves as the bulletin editor for the parish bulletin. He writes a weekly column intended to encompass a broad landscape of thoughts and ideas on matters of theology, faith, morals, teachings of the magisterium and the Catholic Church; they are meant to illuminate, illustrate, and catechize the readers and now number more than 230 articles. His latest endeavor is "Colloqui: A journal for restless minds", a weekly journal of about 8 pages similar in content to bulletin reflections. All his reflections, homilies, commentaries, and Colloqui are posted and can be found on his website: http://deaconscorner.org. Comments are always welcome and appreciated. He is the author of two books: "The Voices of God: hearing God in the silence" which offers the reader insights into how to hear God’s voice through all of the noise that surrounds us; and "Echoes of Love: Effervescent Memories" which through a combination of prose and verse provides the reader with a wonderful journey on the way to discovering forever love. He regularly speaks to groups of all ages and size and would welcome the opportunity to speak to your group.

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