Friday, 23 December 2016 16:47

Dolphinism or Divinity

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Friedrich Nietzsche refused to weep at the lashes suffered by Christ. On January 3, 1889 he broke down in tears at the lashes suffered by a horse at the Piazza Carlo Alberto in Turin. The tears he spilled for that horse signaled the beginning of his decline into madness. In defiance of Christ’s words, "Blessed are those who weep," Nietzsche’s philosophy could be summarized by the words, "Blessed are those who laugh." The man who refused to weep at the lashes of Christ wept at the lashes of a horse, and he went insane.

In fact, this pattern of Nietzsche’s choice and its consequences has been replicated throughout history. The man who refuses to weep for Christ and worship him will invariably end up weeping for animals and worshipping them. The Curé of Ars stated that if you remove a priest from a village, very soon you will see the inhabitants of that village squirming and groaning in the clutches of the evil one, prostrated in adoration of a Billy goat. Those words are not just metaphorical; they express a profound and perennial philosophical truth. Let us take a brief glance at this dynamic and its implications for our lives. 

In his book De Cristo o del Mundo (Belonging to Christ or Belonging to the World), Fr. José María Iraburu summarizes five centuries of western history in one paragraph. He says that it all began with Luther’s “no” to the Church and “yes” to Christ. This was followed by English Deism which said “no” to Christ and “yes” to God. This was followed by Humanism which said “no” to God and “yes” to man. Fr. Iraburu stops there. He does not take his insight to its next logical step. But he could have said we are now in the age of “Dolphinism,” the age in which man says “no” to man and “yes” to animals.

I call it Dolphinism because the dolphin is our modern world’s first animal of choice. Whilst the community of Servant Brothers were fishing one Sunday afternoon on the coast of Florida, a school of dolphins passed by. The people around us dropped their fishing rods and their picnics and reached out their hands, bowing their heads and chanting a humming noise to “enter communion” with the passing dolphins. 

Never in my life have I wanted to catch and kill and gut and cook and eat a dolphin in front of other people as much as I did in that moment. We probably would have been lynched. I know it sounds like I’m making this up but I’m not. I am not capable of inventing it. It really happened. We were there. We saw it happen before our very eyes. 

A young woman was arrested recently for breaking into a restaurant kitchen to steal the lobsters and set them free. While babies are routinely butchered in their mothers’ wombs, our youth feel called to devote their idealistic energies to the liberation of lobsters. 

Jesus called his contemporaries hypocrites because they showed more charity towards a donkey in a ditch than towards a sick woman “bound by Satan” for eighteen years (cf. Lk 13:10-17). When he liberated a young man from a legion of demons the people begged him to leave their district because they had lost their two thousand pigs (cf. Mk 5:1-20).

It is not a sterile rant to point out the banalities of the contemporary scene, so long as we offer a luminous alternative. We are not prophets of calamity, of doom and gloom; we are prophets of the truth and the light that banishes the darkness. The darkness serves to glorify the light. The sad reality illuminates the glorious option offered by Christ. 

Saint Augustine offers a typically rich interpretation of Mary’s gesture of laying the Christ Child down in a manger. The word “manger” comes from the Latin “manducare” which means to eat. The manger is the box that contains food for the animals. Saint Augustine says that man, animalized by sin, must go to the manger to “eat” the Child Jesus, who much later would say of himself, “I am the living bread come down from Heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” (Jn 6:51-52). The Hebrew word “Bethlehem” means “house of bread.” The Divine Artist is in control of the tiniest details. 

Two childhood memories of Christmas return to me every year. One of them is related to a family custom of visiting all the cribs in the city I grew up in. The scene of Bethlehem never failed to work a magical spell in the savage hearts of my parents’ nine sons. We were quietened for a brief mystical moment by its aura of tenderness and innocence. 

The other memory is related to a homeless man on Patrick Street, Cork. It was a wet day during Christmas, and my brothers and I had received one precious coin each from my parents to purchase a bag of chunky French fries at a fast food stand. The man was picking up cold wet dirty fries squashed by people’s feet from the ground and eating them. I asked my mother to let me give him my coin so that he could buy himself a bag of fries. She said yes, and I did. 

Perhaps it was the only childhood act of charity I ever performed. I certainly got my money’s worth. I have spent countless forgotten coins on who-knows-what in my lifetime, but the mental picture of that man’s face when a five-year-old boy gave him a coin to buy fries will never fade. I think I saw Jesus in him, and maybe he saw Jesus in me. 

It seems obvious now that the two memories are connected: animalized man is humanized and divinized by the contemplation of Bethlehem. It makes us capable of loving gestures. It envelops us in the revolution of tenderness. This is what Saint Augustine meant when he urged us to eat at the manger. We should go there more often. 

Certain emotions are unavailable to secularists. There are stupid sorrows and stupid joys, like grieving over a dumb animal and celebrating the liberation of a lobster. There are beautiful sorrows and beautiful joys, like grieving over the death of a loved one and celebrating the triumph of Christ, a triumph that began in Bethlehem and culminated on Calvary. 

Satan’s greatest triumph occurred when God became a corpse in his mother’s arms, which was precisely the moment of the adversary’s radical defeat: “You will strike his heel; he will crush your head” (Gen 3:15). It is not true that we journey from defeat to defeat until the final victory. Satan’s only real victory was the destruction of two thousand pigs. His victories are apparent, and false; the divine victories are hidden, but real. 

We go from victory to victory until the final visible victory, when “every knee will bend in heaven and on earth and in the abyss, and every tongue will cry, ‘Jesus Christ is Lord’” (Phil 2:10-11). What a scene that will be! In the meantime we settle for his continuous hidden victories while imploring his light to see and his strength to play our pilgrim part as humble winners in the great war of love. 

 

Fr Colm PowersFr. Colum Power, born in Cork, Ireland, in 1965, is a Servant Priest of the Home of the Mother. He obtained a Master's degree in literature in 1991 and a doctorate in the History of the Church in 2013. He is author of A Touch of the Gardener's Hand, Honey from the Lion's Carcass, and James Joyce's Catholic Categories. He devotes his time to apostolic activities for the youth organized by the Servant Brothers of the Home of the Mother. Fr. Colum Power is author and editor of the FFA blog "Random Reflections".