This article was prepared shortly after my return from a vacation in the Philippines in August. It was originally intended to post in September, coming after four straight weeks of nothing but excerpts from my Resurrection book. As it was however, since our beloved editor of The Daily Catholic was to take his own "Summer hiatus" throughout the month of September we felt it better to post a compendium of my more important article series, then retitled as "Down the Yellow Brick Road to Apostasy: The Lumen Gentium Syndrome" and save this article for some later time. Now is that time.
A few months ago I took a vacation. Yes, Traditional Catholics actually take advantage of such perks. Those who have vacationed in Mexico, often return with "Montezuma's Revenge", but I went much further than that, further than Cortez himself ever ventured - to the Philippines. It took its toll, taking me some time upon my return to recover from the jet lag and minor intestinal diseases, but good memories, too. I want to provide for you a small motley of various minor topics of more personal interest rather than the great and burning Church issues that so frequently dominate my essays here on The Daily Catholic. In other words, with Thanksgiving just around the corner, I thought I would offer readers not the turkey trimmings, but a
cornucopia of other goodies laced with various thoughts and meanderings of my trip which encompassed 1) a week of furious fast and frantic preparation, 2) two weeks actually out of the country, one of which was spent in my wife's native provincial village and the other in the bustling metropolis of Manila, and 3) one more week to recover. This was a time for visiting my wife's family in the Philippines, a time to endure frantic packing, very long airplane flights, hot weather, cold air-conditioned rooms (and all cold showers), mosquito bites, long rides in hot, stuffy, noisy Jeepneys, and excellence in bureaucratic asininity. It was also a time for some real and genuine fascination and wonder, as I finally had some time to get to know some more of the Philippine way of life, especially in my wife's family's small provincial beach town. In the Philippines, many fruits come into season this time of year which are not available in the States: Durian, Marang, Jackfruit, Santol, Lazones, and my favorite of these, Rambutan.
Bringing Home the Bacon
One of the things her people do to celebrate practically anything, from weddings to graduations to birthday parties to family reunions (as we had with my wife and I arriving there) is the roast pig, which they call in her dialect "lechon." Since her family lives out in the provincial country areas, there is none of the insulation from the violence of animal slaughter which us city folk are always surrounded by. In particular I was able to follow the pig from where it grew and was kept at my Sister-in-law's house to the place on my wife's ancestral estate where it was slaughtered and then roasted.
Needless to say, it is a very emotional experience, as one cannot help but feel sorry for the poor pig as it squeals with fear as its legs are tied together and then again when it gurgles its last breath as the blood is drained out of it to actually kill it. I videotaped the whole thing. It is not an easy thing to watch. So why did I videotape it? Good question. Maybe because behind every morsel of food we eat is a living creature, doing its best to survive on whatever level it exists, only to be foiled by our turning it into our food. It is emotionally harder to eat a creature whose soft brown eyes you have looked into, yet somehow it seems to me far more just and fitting and appropriate than eating an absolute stranger.
My wife tells the story of when they had a pig in her family and at various times in the night, worried that someone might have come along and stolen the pig, her mother would call out to the pig in the middle of the night, "Di," (for some reason, pigs are always addressed as "Di" in her area, and more amazingly, they always respond, as if they know their name has been called), "Di," and the pig would snort in return. So it would go thus: "Di" "snort snort" "Di" "snort snort." Then she would know that the pig has not been stolen. It was like a pet to her, and when it came time to slaughter it and cook it she cried and could not bring herself to eat it.
But that pig was no more or less important to itself than any of the thousands of other pigs we have eaten in our lives. That one at least had been loved. Why should its death have also been in vain? In the movie titled, "The God's Must be Crazy" we are introduced to a tribe (there really is such a tribe in Africa) in which there exists the custom that when a hunter kills an animal, such as a gazelle, and as the animal lay dying from the hunter's arrows, he holds it tenderly and whispers into its ear "I am so sorry I have to do this, but I and my family are hungry and must eat, so please accept my apology." Of course the gazelle has no comprehension of the words being so spoken to it (perhaps at most the sound might be mildly consoling in its final moments).
I wonder sometimes if this may have something to do with why we are obliged to say Grace over meals. We cannot really apologize to the creatures that are to serve as our food as the African tribesman attempted, but would it not be reasonable for God to convey our appreciation and thankfulness in some manner we often know nothing about, perhaps even retroactively (since God is outside time), when we say Grace over a meal? Food is a serious thing, especially to the creatures themselves who are to become the food. I find something scandalous in seeing food be squandered needlessly, for example in movies or food fights, where instead of being eaten it is merely made a mess of. Plus, people are starving in parts of the world, which only makes such wastage all the more untenable.
Seeing the pig die can't help but make the one seeing it think of one's own death. Suddenly it means a great deal to me that our Lord Jesus described Himself as being the Good Shepherd [of sheep, for their wool] and not the Good Pig-farmer [for their bacon]. For had He elected to be the latter, that would be the way of things and there would be nothing we could do about it, anymore than there was anything that the pig I saw slaughtered could do anything to stop what would happen to her. We can die in God, and God will make of us whatsoever He chooses, or we can die in the wilderness and become food for the germs and worms and bugs. How far, far better to be in God. As for the pig herself, at least she was very delicious, as those of us who ate her appreciated her, and her sacrifice. But it was a time for sober reflection on my part over these life and death issues.
Dovetailing into Cocktales
Another thing that I saw in the Philippines which is not widely accepted in most other lands is the cockfights. My wife's brothers raise chickens for fighting in what is called the "cockpit," something legal there if not many other places. I have mixed feelings about all that, as I know there are those who feel that it is "cruel" to the animals, and hence the many laws against it in most places. But I also see another side to it. The birds clearly understand that they are brought there to fight their rivals the other birds, and they even understand that they are being armed, as it were, with a knife on the back of one leg. It's like they know they are being armed and can't wait for a chance to use their weapon against a rival rooster. Obviously what they don't understand or appreciate until it is too late for them, is that their opponent in the ring is, by the rules, to be equally armed.
All the same, one of the birds her brothers have raised for cockfighting had previously won three fights, and went on to win a fourth while I was there, and emerged from that battle fully unscathed and eager and ready to fight another one. A second bird, with one previous victory, also won but got a small cut on his leg. It will doubtless be some months before he fights again. But obviously these birds have the same eagerness to enter the fights as human pro-wrestlers or football players have to enter in their equally physically violent and dangerous games. If my wife's brothers don't keep them apart from each other they will fight each other at any time.
Violence, competition, life, and death, are simply a way of life to these creatures. Unlike the humans who bet money on the outcome of these fights where the stakes are only a few dollars, the stakes of the animal fighters themselves is their survival (a victory over a rival that definitely means a lot to a rooster, boosting its self-esteem, so to speak) or their demise.
Perhaps some will be offended that I should seem to write in favor of what is obviously a barbaric practice, let alone of my own betting on the result, and that's more than understandable, and to some extent I think I share that myself. It always disturbs me a bit to see traditional Catholics almost seeming to boast of various small vices such as drinking or smoking, as though that were some sort of badge of honor. Since the Church does not define these things as "sins" (unless done to some ill-defined "excess"), I grant that there is something to be said for overcoming a falsely overscrupulous conscience, often gained, at least indirectly, from liberals or from Protestant-based "temperance unions" and the like, by indulging in these minor imperfections.
However, though these are neither mortal nor venial sins, they are imperfections, and I am grateful that what few such as I have are not many, and I am grateful for all the ones I don't have. For that reason I avoid the ones I don't have, in appreciation of the fact that my life has afforded no circumstance to become addicted to them, and remain forever "at the ready," should God so ask, to walk away from for good any and all as I do have. Some of this comes from one of three books I read during my trip, namely the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales, chief among my patron Saints. He discusses not only overcoming one's mortal sins (essential), but also one's venial sins (immensely helpful as well), and even finally one's imperfections (because they could lead to venial sins which in turn could lead to mortal sins).
However, it is two other books I read during this time I would like to comment on. One was entitled 10 Months In Laos by Paul Conroy, a book I found sitting, of all places, in the lobby of the small and cheap hotel in Manila in which we stayed for the second week of my trip. This book, in a surprisingly readable manner, covers the real life story of one Max Green, a Jewish lawyer who was found murdered at the fanciest hotel in Cambodia while on a one-night stopover, in 1998. Within days, it came out that he had, just before leaving to go there, cleaned out his law/investment firm's bank accounts, to the tune of some 40-something million dollars. Only then did his associates and customers learn of how he had been scamming them both, moving monies from one account to another, and using monies invested by later investors to pay off former investors who want to draw off some of their (now nonexistent) account monies.
What shows from such a character is clearly someone who had an ambition to become disgustingly rich, a power broker, a "player," through the massive amounts of money he controls. It was his ego trip. Much of the book is devoted to the money trail in which he used his ill-gotten gains to invest in such things as a slave-labor-run sapphire mine in Laos (which would culminate, once the free ride was over and the money couldn't be found, in some unfortunate stuckee family being forced to endure "10 months" in a Laotian prison of such miserable conditions on par with those at what Vietnamese War veterans call the "Hanoi Hilton," and hence the title of the book), Prostitution rings in Thailand, Sea Cucumber farms (what would anyone have done with one of those?), fictitious corporations in all different parts of the world, secret Australian bank accounts (into which Max funneled all his monies) and a large and complicated tax write-off scam that involved Laotian government purchase contracts for various construction equipment.
It was apparently this last scam that blew up in his face. One at a time, the book introduces the reader to the progressively more and more shady characters with whom Max had doing his business. Part of this construction equipment scam required that he have a great deal of cash on hand with which to negotiate, and which he hoped to double or triple by the time all was said and done. However, one or more of these shady characters (we never find out which one, and there the whole situation lays) instead killed him and took the money while he stayed overnight in the Cambodian hotel. Perhaps about ten millions of the dollars were eventually located in a firm in the Isle of Man (British Isles) but the rest no one knows where it went. And through it all I kept asking myself, "How does one find riches in a country which has no riches?" But herein one learns how. Foreign investors discover how to get rich through slave labor and the like.
For me, one thing about all this is the way that such nations, darkened by an almost total lack of Christianity, end up dirt poor and full of people who are willing to sell out their morality and their fellow citizens for foreign money. Throughout Southeast Asia, almost anything can be had for money. Want to see a prostitute do a dance with a string of razorblades, or sleep with a "Ka-toey" (boy prostitute surgically altered to be like a girl)? It's all there to be had, for enough money (which might be less than a hundred dollars). Wealthy westerners (and some others, such as Japanese) go there, spend their money, and lose their souls. With greedy contempt, their money is taken and "services" rendered. In one of these countries, such foreigners are actually called "Ferengi," from which the one-time putative Next Generation Star Trek "Baddies" derive their name. Unlike the Star Trek Ferengi who ended up as rather silly and comical fellows, the "Ferengi" visiting Southeast Asia bring great evil, debased and debauched and perverse dreams, and the money to make them happen. The contempt and disgust felt towards these "Ferengi" by the natives is palpable, but nevertheless their money always remains good.
All of this negative influence of big money points up an interesting change in Church affairs. In the 1940's or thereabouts the Vatican opened its own bank, originally intended for charitable purposes. However with time, and especially after Vatican II, this bank came to be increasingly used as a clearing house for laundered money. Things had gotten so bad that one of the things John Paul I wanted to do (besides clean out the Freemasons from the Roman Curia) was also seeking to reform and reorder the Vatican bank to make it useless for gangsters seeking to launder their money. This may also have something to do with why he was murdered. Whenever a man gets in the way of big money, his life is forfeit. And that's the way it is, in varying degrees, all around the world. Neither John Paul II nor Benedict XVI have ever lifted a finger to reform the Vatican bank.
One good result of what has happened with how the traditional movement has now become the Church is that no longer is such a target for criminal big money interests truly associated with the Church. Where before the Church, with its bank, could become a "player" and thereby all the more something to be controlled or at least manipulated by the mobsters, now everything is done on a shoestring budget and once again we are in something more akin to the more humbling circumstances of the Apostolic era. The kind of economic forces that led to the murder of John Paul I could not apply here now.
Philistines in the Philippines
And also, the Philippines are nowhere near so far gone as some of the other Far Eastern countries. The Spanish had brought to them the Faith, so that they were really the only Christianized nation in the Far East, and then the Americans brought their materialistic integrity and Rule of Law, such that bribery and graft were not tolerated during the American period. Between the spiritual prosperity of the Spanish Catholicism, and the material prosperity of the American Way of life, the Philippines had become a truly good and safe place for my wife to grow up in as a child. But as both of those influences fade into the middle distance, one sees the country sliding back into the barbarism that so predominates the Far East. Even over the course of the few years in which I have traveled there they have gone visibly downhill.
For example, the lovely Nippa huts (made from bamboo stalks and large leaves from various tropical trees) that graced the shoreline near my wife's ancestral residence on my first visit (and which truly captured my imagination) have all but one been ripped out, their inhabitants forced to seek housing elsewhere, in order to build a bunch of ugly concrete monstrosities that are supposedly to be for tourists. The "Taj Mahoney" in Los Angeles has nothing on these hideous structures which no tourist in his right mind would ever pay to stay at. And when one remaining vacant lot gets developed, there will be no way for the native fishermen (such as others of my wife's brothers) to pass to the water to do their fishing. So when the tourist should ever come there will be nothing for him to see there but pretentious-looking streetlamps (called "Globe lights" because they feature a large round globe of one color, surrounded by many smaller round bulbs of another color, atop a lamppost that also has many tiny lights in it -- the same thing was built along a prime street in Manila, along the bay, on which lies many governmental and historical buildings, the cultural center, the embassy, and the Manila Hotel from which General MacArthur ran his Philippine operations during World War II, and the lights are much more appropriate there) which the locals resent the electricity costs of, a fancy restaurant with bad-tasting food, and a chance to be out in the middle of nowhere with practically nothing to see.
All the things a tourist logically would have come all the way to the Philippines to see have been ripped out and cut off. Of course this venture will therefore fail, as it was planned from the outset to serve only as a tax write-off once it does fail, but once it finally does go belly up, will the people who once lived and fished there be allowed to return? Would they even want to live in or pass through the concrete monstrosities that someone's vain pursuit of wealth will have built here in the middle of nowhere? Once again, though in a smaller way, one again sees the big money wreaking local havoc in what was once an idyllic rice-growing and fishing village.
In the big city of Manila our hotel was practically next door to an all-night pub at which live bands played loud music until six o'clock each morning. One time, in the afternoon and with one of their less important bands playing some nondescript Chicago number, we stopped briefly at the door to see what sort of place it was. All at once several guys working there in cowboy hats stood at the door blocking our entry. Here we were, happy little family that we were, and yet to them we were aliens at the door. Perhaps if I had come on my own, obviously ready to spend my money on their drinks and their prostitutes, I could have walked right in. But sit down at a table surrounded by wholesome wife and family? You are aliens, as if from outer space; what are you doing here? Again, not anywhere near what one could find, for example, in Bangkok, but they are definitely on their way in the same direction.
Tying Up Loose Knots
The late-night music streaming in from next door did however make for sleepless nights during which I also finished reading the last thing I want to mention here, and that is a traditional Catholic novel titled The Endless Knot by William L. Biersach. This is the second book I have seen that falls within a tiny new literary genre known as the traditional Catholic novel. The first I had read was a thoroughly enjoyable book titled Smoke in the Sanctuary by Stephen Oliver. Both of these books were written in what seems like an "independent" and perhaps tokenly "Indultarian" setting, in which young men have been trained and ordained as "priest-presiders" in the Novus Ordo either secretly believing tradition all along, merely mouthing the nonsense answers they knew their Novus Ordo instructors wanted to hear, so as to get through "seminary," and then revealing themselves only afterwards, or else having merely a "conservative" leaning which gradually tends towards tradition as the man tries to be a true shepherd to his congregation and gradually discovers exactly what it is that truly edifies a flock.
There is of course a good dramatic reason why such books would take place in the context of Novus Ordo "dioceses" and the like rather than in, say, the SSPX or sedevacantist chapel. In those latter places there is relatively little drama as everyone present simply gets on with the serious business of edifying their own souls. But in the Indult/independent/Novus Ordo diocesan context, a priest-presider with traditional leanings is continually confronted with brainwashed lay "liturgy committee" members and militant anti-traditionalists, thus pointing up the difference between their Novus Ordo religion and the Catholic one in a truly dramatic way that makes for a fun and educational read. Of course it may also simply be that the writers of these books are themselves set in such an ecclesiastical context in their own parish life.
Naturally, to set Father Baptist, the Endless Knot's main detective character into such a context, there is resorted to a "special circumstance" in which Father has under his control photographic evidence of his Novus Ordo "bishop" stealing the statue of Saint Rita from his own cathedral, which he can hold over the bishop's head with threats to release it should he not at least tolerate (however grudgingly) Father Baptist's Latin Mass congregation. And even so, Father Baptist had to provide himself a parish church by buying up with his own money (earned by him in a previous career in Law Enforcement as a police detective, hence his skills that come of use in the book) a disused church the diocese was selling off.
But now he is of value to the same "bishop" as he is known for his discretion, his detective skills, and is obviously the only person who can be reliably trusted. Amazing but fully predictable how, when trust becomes an issue, it is the traditionalist who can and must be turned to when one is in a tight corner or in danger. There is no better ally than a real Catholic. Unfortunately Father Baptist never questions (as he would ought, were he a real flesh and blood human being instead of a mere literary figure) the validity of his own ordination nor the absurd notion of treating the blatantly non-Catholic "bishops" as though they could possibly hold the least real authority in God's Church, and this mars the work somewhat, but perhaps it is dramatically necessary in order to fit the story into its Novus Ordo "diocesan"/Independent/Indultarian setting.
I must admit that Mr. Biersach did a superb job of fully capturing the absurd metaphysical obtuseness of the typical Novus Ordo "bishop." The characters all seem so real one can't help but believe that this book is based on actual persons and situations. And yet Father Baptist feels he has to pretend that these types are his lawful superiors (where are his detective skills now?) and his comical declarations of obedience and obsequiousness nevertheless are fully lost on these totally dense types, and that at least is realistic.
A far more serious blot on this book comes in chapter 32 in which the rock-solid and incomparable orthodoxy of St. Thomas Aquinas the Angelic Doctor of the Church is impugned and practically laughed off. The writer even has Father Baptist spouting off this nonsense (he must have been a better and more receptive pupil at the Novus Ordo cemetery (Oops! "Seminary") than he had planned) and even laying the current situation at the Angelic Doctor's feet. (Talk about delayed reaction! How long ago did the Angelic Doctor live, and yet things only begin coming apart at the seams now, due to supposed "heresies" of his way back then?). The astonishing and utterly unsupportable claim is made that St. Aquinas had taught "30" heresies in his Summa, although only one, a supposed "error" against the Immaculate Conception, is mentioned by name. Of course only the one mistake would be mentioned since no such list of "30" Thomistic "heresies" has ever, ever been enumerated. And even what questionable statements he made regarding the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary are contained, not anywhere in the Summa, but in other lesser-known works, in which the question is discussed speculatively, and perhaps one could accuse him of not taking quite a strong and clear enough stance for the position that the Church would one day come to confirm infallibly centuries after his death. Wow, big deal. I should like to be found having taught as little religious error as he.
These problems aside (and thankfully they don't impinge on the story at all; they are included, one would properly say, "gratuitously"), the book is quite readable, with excellent plot and character development, good twists, legitimate clues that genuinely point to the guilty party throughout the story, and yet subtle enough that the casual reader will miss them until they are pointed out later in the story. His handling of occult elements is, I think, particularly tasteful and effective, as it deliberately corresponds to no established occult system, but kind of draws equally from a great many different occult systems. The occult gobbledygook is exactly handled as all occult gobbledygook in fact always is, though one wonders why real occultic figures Aleister Crowley and Gerald Gardner are mentioned. The odd claim is made that Gerald Gardner got his Wiccan religion from his friend and buddy Aleister Crowley when in fact most of his Wiccan religion is based on the work of anthropologist Margaret Murray, who goes altogether unmentioned. But perhaps this too comes under the heading of, as explained in the introduction of the book, "[As for] every other aspect of magick, ceremonial or wiccan, this book is riddled with ... a veritable minefield of mystical misinformation," and "No users guide is this."
The story gathers momentum almost from the first page and only picks up from there, making it hard to put down, as Father Baptist gradually figures out the occult symbolism left behind by the perpetrator as "hints" and "clues" to future murders. The story is told from the perspective of an arthritic gardener (whose only gardening he ever performs in this book appears to be some watering of the roses, along with a number of unwelcome reporters) by the name of Martin Feeney, who serves as a kind of literary "Doctor Watson" to Father Baptist's "Sherlock Holmes" role. Towards the end, there is a remarkably clever slow-motion "chase scene" in which Martin Feeney, finally realizing who the culprit is and how they are about to cause another murder, attempts to speed along as best as his arthritic frame can handle, while the perpetrator leisurely awaits the right dramatic moment in which to commit the murder.
All in all I found it to basically a good book, a swift page-turning read, and only a few minor nits detract from its handling of its story content and the conflagration between authentic Catholicism and the Novus Ordo religion. A recommended read, to be sure.