Saturday, July 23, 2011

Modern Knighthood and the New Chivalry

Modern times sees the knighthood as one of two things: a trivialized "title-for-hire" granted to music stars and b-list personalities, or as a fanciful but defunct element of fairy tales and dark age lore. Similarly, chivalry is seen in only one aspect: courtesy to women, a virtue that is often seen as being "dead".

In medieval times, a knight was a brutal thing. They were the warrior elite, trained in fighting in heavy armour, with multiple classes of weapon, from horseback, and from foot. They swore chivalry, and at that time, chivalry meant three things: Warrior Chivalry, or a knight's fealty to his lord, Religious Chivalry, or a knight's fealty to God and the innocent, and Courtly Love, with his love for his lady and after her, all ladies. To the modern age, we remember the honours of the knights and their heroics. We remember the first order of chivalry in the context of fantasy or abstract reasoning. We remember the third order, it being what we usually mean when we say "Chivalry", as a series of antiquated and generally unnecessary precepts for the treatment of women. In some cases, it is seen even as offensive to women (and, very likely, in its original form was). We do not remember the second form directly. Fantasy has taken the second form of chivalry and applied it to an entirely different class of Knight, the Paladin. We have forgotten that the Paladins were actually Charles Magnus' elite knights. They typify knighthood, more than knighthood typifies the modern depiction of paladins.

I propose a revival of a sort. Obviously the world needs no new military orders. It needs less and less. Neither does it need more re-creationists (though a little bit of historical LARP is probably as valuable as an abstract education). I propose an entirely new knighthood, not with the trappings of lordship but the humbleness of friars. Such a knighthood would have such qualities:

  • Transparency and Openness - Modern orders function almost as private clubs. By many, the Knights of Columbus, with its hinted at but privately-defined degrees, seems similar to the systems of Freemasonry. An ideal knighthood would share its message in full because it has nothing to hide.
  • Equality of the Sexes - The Knights of Pythas and the Knights of Columbus, the two modern "elective" orders of Knighthood, are both manly institutions. Women are allowed to join suborders but not be full Knights. While historically the knighthood was open only to men, this newer Knighthood would not have a military lean. Just as a child yearns for mother and father, so must a modern order have male and female members, not for the purposes of arranging marriages or producing offspring, but for reflection of both sides of human nature.
  • Fidelity to the Young - Children are our future, moreover, they are the beloved of Christ. Innocent, as is often the term. In many cases today, the children are not catechised. They knew God as an abstract concept, something their parents believed in or their friends worshipped. While many have little problem in school, many others are failing classes, not from a lack of ability, but a lack of interest. Those who struggle often cannot afford or be afforded the extra help they need. Knights must therefore be stewards and educators. Knights would occupy roles of spiritual, emotional, and intellectual support in the community.
  • Fidelity to the Old - Ageing is a part of life, and it is neither fun nor graceful. Many of us will grow old enough that we require long-term care in a nursing home, hospital, or other such arrangement. Alzheimers is no longer an abstract concept, but a genuine disease that settles in, often, but not always, with age. There comes a point in everyone's life when they must admit to needing help. Many do not always get the help they need. Knights should busy themselves with care and aid.
  • Fidelity to Women - Male knights especially owe this, but it is true of other women as well. The sexual revolution did not end, as many believe, in the 70s or 80s. Chastity is one virtue we have all forgotten. The word itself conjures up, in many cases, the idea of a virginal and somewhat ditzy young woman. Why should that be the case? Why is the accepted truth that a man looks at a woman only in terms of sexual appeal? We owe politeness and courtesy not just to each other and to the young and old, but also to women, their causes, and their own inherent dignity and femininity.
  • Fidelity to Men - Just as we must embrace the dignity and femininity of men, so must we embrace the dignity and masculinity of men. Male and Female are two sides of the human coin, one failing to exist without the other. Our society has formed such a preoccupation with women and women's dignity and rights that "men's rights" is said often jokingly. While men are far from oppressed, we deserve to be described as pigs roughly as much as women deserve to be called sluts or other, similar names. Male and Female knights both owe each other to see the sexes as equal, not in terms of sameness, but in terms of compatible difference. Equality of Importance, rather than Equality of Features.
  • Fidelity to God - For many, this will be the hardest precept, but we must accept it as part of the theme of Justice. This means more than lipservice to God, or regular attendance of mass. It means following the word of God. Being in unity with him. We are called by God to many things, more than the Ten Commandments, but also to love one another, to charity. We are warned against judgement and told to avoid avarice. A knight then must be the humble servant of God, inauspicious in worship and working to bring about his kingdom on earth. That is the meaning of the phrase "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."
  • Fidelity to the Community - This is a strange precept, and complex. Knights should be an integral part of the community, as recognizable as firefighters, teachers, or policemen, without shouting from the street corners. Knights would be, for the most part, laypersons. It is not ours to preach. It is ours to further our local communities, not just in the context of an entire city, but our neighbourhoods as well. We often think of one part of town as being better or worse than another, but give little thought to the injustice of that distinction. Too, while a patriotic sense is important, it cannot be a substitute for esprit d'corps and a community spirit. These qualities should not manifest themselves as favouritism for a particular parish, borough, city, province, or nation, but as a desire to improve the same.
  • Fidelity to Discourse - For the knighthood to survive, its members must be able to discuss business amongst each other without a spirit of divisiveness. This is equally true of politics. No matter how heated our local, provincial, or national discourse may become, a Knight should not allow themselves to become a partisan, but take all things into equal consideration, and find time for compromise.
Who is a Knight?
  • The college student who volunteers his time tutoring his classmates or high-school students.
  • The single man in his later years who volunteers as a shoulder to cry on or as a hospital visitor.
  • The young elementary school teacher who volunteers for catechises at her parish on Sundays.
  • The nurse or doctor who spends their waking hours in service of the sick.
  • The carpenter who volunteers on the weekend in a Houses for the Homeless program.
  • The Chef or Cook who volunteers their downtime at a local soup kitchen.
  • The retired academic who spends his waning years teaching inner city children how to read.
  • The taxi driver who volunteers with meals on wheels.
  • The rehabilitated criminal who spends his time volunteering in drug rehab programs or at a half-way house.
  • The young man who never made it into the NHL or the MLB, who went back to school to become a gym teacher, or volunteered at the YMCA.
  • The stay-at-home mother who takes her free time and makes crafts to sell for charity, or even to help pay for her own children's education.
  • The single parent who spends what time they can spare visiting at the local hospital.
  • The unassuming young man in third year economics class who is an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion for the shut-in.
  • The deacon who teaches his children and their friends how to make a knotted rosary, or how to cann their own peaches.
So, consider that a calling. Whoever feels the need, I suppose. Maybe one day, I'll be able to complete this thought, and think of a suitable patron for the knighthood.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Discipline, Exercise, and Being Twenty-One

Being 21 has its advantages. If I was an American, I could smoke and drink. As it is, here in Canada, I've had those abilities for two years, and thankfully, neither's become a serious habit. It also has its disadvantages. To a certain extent, we are expected to be: mildly amoral, overly adventurous (especially with substance), daredevils, party people, pranksters, and short tempered. Despite the general consensus being that this is how people my age behave, no slack is given for these behaviours: we are simply pre-condemned for it. I'm 21, so it's common knowledge that I'm a heavy drinker, who parties every weekend, is "balls deep", as the modern expression is, in pronography or premarital sex or both. I must also be a pothead, and a short-tempered one, who spends his weekends building rediculous contraptions or jumping off of things which ought not be jumped off of.  Most of all, though, we are seen as undisciplined. That, for whatever reason, is perfectly acceptable.

The part about these characterizations that annoys me the most is how accurate some of them are. I do have a short temper, I did experiment with pot (no real interest in pursuing it again), and I do, as it happens, have a problem with pornography. The mental dissonance comes into effect when the characterization adds that we are proud of these traits, that they are badges of honour among our age group.

Truth is, none of them actually are. I don't know what about this age group makes so many people undisciplined, but it does. Most of us, if not at our moment of freedom at age 18, but certainly by my age, find indiscipline to be stale. I, for one, want to keep a clean, orderly house upon which to build a foundation for a clean, orderly life. The half-messy state of my current house is a perpetual source of frustration, when taken with the fact that I live with another man my age (slightly younger, to his credit), who doesn't share the same appreciation of organization and prefers leisure instead. I can relate; most days, I do too.

I reason that there is a link between a person's life, in whatever form that may take, and their leisure activities. I have a feeling, perhaps unfounded, that people whose social, spiritual, and personal lives are ordered, keep ordered houses and still have time to keep themselves entertained. Those with problems in any of those fields, though, need something to fill the gap.

I have seen, from time to time, especially in my room-mate, addiction-like qualities attached to certain activities. The old joke about the MMORPGs certainly holds water, as I know from personal experience how hard they are to put down, and that for good. I'm not saying that anything is inherently wrong with movies, books, television, music, or videogames. There's nothing wrong with alcohol or food, either. It is when one supplements an aspect of our lives that they become problematic. And some of the things we use to fill voids in our lives are inherently wrong. Like pornography.

In order to lead a disciplined life, staying on the road through the narrow gate, as it were, we need to have a good foundation, to have our many lives in order. Some of us need to examine our conscience to figure out what it is that is bothering us. Others have repressed the object of their discomfort or pain so deep that they don't even realize they're hurting.

I'll be writing a new post in the near future, somewhat longer, that explains a bit about theology of the body (and explains why one of my personal vices, Lust, is problematic) and talks about ways to bring discipline and order into a gravely disordered activity. For now, though, I offer this advice:

  1. None of us truly lacks the ability to lead an ordered, wholesome life, though none of us will ever be perfectly ordered and wholesome!
  2. All disordered living stems from an internal conflict. We do one thing to compensate for another lack. Often, but not always, the two are related. Many times they are not.
  3. Even the saints were not purely good. We shouldn't tie ourselves in knots over occasional moments of vice. (Sloth is a deadly sin, or so I'm told.)

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Humility and Parish Life (CAF Crosspost)

I'm sure I'll get drummed up in short order for this one, especially by someone more knowledgeable than I. Somewhere between Canon Law, the Missal, and My Understanding there's going to be a disconnect. The thing is, I've seen something, and it's bothering me.

Everyone here on CAF surely knows that the church arranges herself into provinces, then dioceses, then parishes, and that there's a hierarchy that follows, but that parishes have defined borders within themselves, like the counties within each province/state that make up a country. Traditionally, people used to stay within their parishes as far as Church attendance, with a few exceptions; my great-grandparents (my mother's father's parents) are devout Catholics from the old country, who, for all intents and purposes, worshipped within their parish, but had the funerary rites for my Great Grandfather said at the Cathedral, and buried him within the city, rather than up country, where thy live. But, for the most part, the practice was to be within your parish; it was your secular neighbourhood as well as your spiritual community.

The impression that I got was that, in those days, everyone knew everybody, and if you were new to your parish, you got to know your neighbours very quickly through social functions under the auspices of that parish. Nowadays, if I can say that (these being the only days I know), the trend seems to go something like this, at least with what I've seen here.

"This particular aspect of the Mass isn't reverently done enough (an altar server fidgeted, female EMHC, priest sneezed at the pulpit) for my taste, so I am going to find a new church to go to."

Now, I'm a big fan of freedom of choice, and I know this. I also have a tendency to judge, as evidenced by the fact I'm writing this out at all. Having said all that, though, it seems counter to Humility, a Christian virtue we could all use a little more of, to pass judgement on the reverence of a parish and then abandon it for another. In a time when Parishes are closing left right and centre and attendance of the Mass is at a low, parishes need our support more than ever, and in more ways than simply materially.

Saint Francis of Assisi told us to, "Preach always, and when necessary, use words." If your parish isn't reverent enough, wouldn't it be better to attend it in full reverence, without pretence? Your devotion to the Faith will be witness enough to the others around you. It's not like the priest is running the back of the shop at your local McDonalds and burned your fries. The Church is the Body of Christ, and he deserves better than infighting and fracturing.

Communities need the support of the people who live in them as much as they need the support of God. Think of your neighbourhood as a tiny maple sapling, and the Church as a great, ancient maple that has stood for generations. As much as our sapling needs the sun of God's Grace, it needs the water of our Good Works, and to take root in the soil of good, gracious hearts.

Acer, Arcerpouri. As the maple, so the sapling.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Reflection on the Mass Readings (Mt 13:1-9)

Today's Gospel Reading for the Mass was the parable of the sower. Jesus did much of his teaching in parables, perhaps out of a need to simply and elegantly explain complex philosophical issues, or perhaps another reason. For a long time, the parable of the sewer did not make sense to me, beyond a simple analysis.

The "seed", of course, refers to the word of God, but also to various people, much as the "ground" refers to the hearts of people, or their spiritual environment.

Therefore, the seed that falls on the path is a reference, variously, to the Word being wasted on deaf ears, or, more poignantly, to the Word falling upon people who are deeply steeped in the "ways" (ways, roads, paths) of the world. People who believe they are already on a path to salvation or to happiness will not be swayed by verbal witness; for these, the seed will fall emptily. The "birds" which "pluck up the seeds" are the various concerns and vagaries of the world. They are other faiths, they are the temptations to sin, or, most insidiously, the next promotion, the new assignment... whatever pressing concern occupies our minds such that we cannot fully devote time into an examination of self.

The rocky ground speaks of those who are interested, but who cease to learn the Faith soon after learning it. In their enthusiasm, they raise up quick and tall, but when the hardships of life come into play (sun, brightness becomes temptations, heat is opposition) their faith quickly shrivels up.

The thorny ground are those who have a good depth, a good foundation, but is already "sewn in" with other ideas, or surrounded by those with a strong opposition to the faith. These weeds, in whatever form they take, will beat down and choke out uprisings in a person's faith, rending spiritual growth impossible. For a person to grow in spirit, they must clean their spiritual ground of weeds... they must beak up the soil of the packed path so that the seed can go deep, and sift their spiritual garden of rocks.

The people who grow best in faith are the ones willing to set aside all else for God. Am I that person? It depends upon your definition of "all".

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A Reflection on the Divine Mercy Chaplet

I discovered, fairly recently, a prayer called the Divine Mercy Chaplet (Prayer and its history at, which I've found to be quite fulfilling. Along with the Rosary, which lends its name to the instrument upon which the chaplet is prayed, Chaplets such as the Divine Mercy fall into a category of Meditative Prayers. Now, I bought a rosary about four months ago and barely ever used it, because I had a hard time connecting with the Rosary prayer itself, unable to hold the words and the mysteries in my head at the same time. With this chaplet, I find that to be very different. It's a wholly connective experience, one which I enjoy.

The three major prayers of the Church are incorporated (though I tend to close with the doxology, making it four): the Apostle's Creed, the Our Father, and the Hail Mary. The Creed itself defines, in essence, the sum total of every Christian's faith, excluding, perhaps, minor doctrinal issues. The same is true of the Our Father, which, after all, is the prayer that Jesus showed us all to pray in the Gospel. The Hail Mary, likewise, is important. As the first saint, so to speak, Mary has a close ear with Jesus and is a powerful and caring intercessor. Having said that, I'm no Mariologist, and I don't teach the subject well, or especially understand it.

Overall, the actual body of the Chaplet itself is a stirringly beautiful piece of imagery. We are made to remember the Passion of Christ and the sacrifice at Cavalry. The chaplet in that sense calls to mind the Eucharist, as well. Jesus died for our sins and we lament even for the sin of His death. The prayer makes one feel the weight of the world and a responsibility to it. One is aware of one's own mortality and the mortality of others. In this prayer, we are reminded that Jesus did not sacrifice Himself purely to save the "I", but the "We". He died to save Man, not a man. The ultimate act of Mercy.

To me, that's very much what the Catholic faith is about: Mercy. That's what Christianity is about, that's what religion should be about. Bradley Whitford said that "If Religion is to be a bridge, and not a wedge, if it is to be a virtue, and not a vice, than religion must be of peace, and not the sword." For me, Mercy and Forgiveness are one and the same. Perhaps I am merely a vengeful man, but the only way to be merciful to someone is to forgive them for whatever they had did, and in forgiving someone, I must show them my mercy.

And that, ultimately, is what we are called as Christians to do. To be forgiven by God as we have forgiven those who trespassed against us. It is true, what is said, that an eye for the eye will make the world go blind. The world is already plagued with cataracts: just wars, death penalties, castrations, abortions, scandals. We are blinded to the real issues of the world by the mammon of taxes and the vengence for crimes long-passed, which were vengeance for our own crimes. The sick are dying, the glaciers are melting, the oppressed are breaking, and the unborn aren't being born. Two things need to happen before this world can be healed, and the major one is for us all to have Mercy with one another.

That is, after all, what Jesus would do.