Apologies, Reader-land, but I can’t hold my head up in a way that I can type. The IR sensor is going crazy, and I have been typing with the mouse. But settle in, this is long.
I share a different bond with each of my siblings. Something each one is privy to that another doesn’t share as deeply. Music, theology, politics, sports, soccer, shared experience, etc. What I share with my buddy ol’ pal Jennifer is literature and history.
When I was a yute, Jenn would have books, but not just books, OLD books. Translated books. My cultural exposure tripled because of this, and one of my favorite things is a well kept used bookstore. I know that if there is some memory of a book in my head, Jenn probably let me read it.
Well, Reader-land, for months I have been tickled with the memory of a story in which a priest rips in half an entire deck of cards at one time. But I couldn’t remember what it was until this weekend. I remembered funny stories that made me laugh, but I finally remembered a name that I searched for. Jenn introduced me to it, and we share similar tastes so the humor and history were a mutual interest. Another reason why I haven’t written, I’ve been reading the stories of Don Camillo.
The stories are written in post-WWII Italy, in the region where Mussolini was born, which had a fierce fascist party which killed and tormented many, and as a result, became a stronghold of the fiercest communism. The author lived it first-hand. Though it is Italian, the reader is drawn in by the reality of the stories, even though it is fiction. The humor makes one belly laugh, but underneath is the raw reality. I told Kristen Gomez that as a kid, I laughed, but as an adult, I’m crying.
The three main characters are Don Camillo, the village priest, Peppone, the communist mayor, and Christ on the cross, Il Cristo, with whom Don Camillo confers in church. The Lord is a conscience figment of the author, but is very orthodox, and opens doors to solutions that Don Camillo doesn’t think of beyond his biases. And in this village, where Communism is rampant, the priest becomes the lightning rod that they turn their anger on. He isn’t political, but because communism and Christianity are diametrically opposed, any time he brings up the faith, they accuse him of bringing up politics. Which leads to some hilarity.
You see, Reader-land, one can’t be Catholic and avoid politics. Think of the extreme political position that the early Christians were placed. Worship the emperor, else you die. What about England under Elizabeth and Henry viii? Acknowledge the king as the head of the church or die guilty of treason. Don’t try bringing up the inquisition, the numbers aren’t even close, and the same with Bloody Mary. I can go on about the Cristeros in Mexico, Blessed Miguel Pro, and then the Spanish second Republic. I can talk about Ireland, China, Japan, Italy, Germany, Netherlands, Soviet bloc, Vietnam, and on and on.
The fact of the matter is, Truth gets in the way of politics.
It’s in this mindset that I come to modern politics. My friend Alex wants me to write about the recent election in Virginia and the outcome for second amendment rights, and I worry about the abortion laws coming that will turn us into New York. But with Don Camillo, it changes.
Rather than pick a party, I speak instead to the division in this country and in many ways, the world. Right now we are post-war Italy, but in reverse. The atrocities have not yet been committed, the rhetoric is incendiary and both sides are on the verge of violence. Even Christianity and Catholicism are being divided against each other, as I keep blogging about. It doesn’t matter what side you’re on, the other side is wrong. This type of thinking is a culmination of a long process, and soon enough it will spark a blaze. If you don’t believe me, look at Italian history, or the Spanish second Republic. History matters.
In the middle is the eternal Church. The Catholic Church. The right, the left, and the center. Did you know that the Catholic Church does not espouse capitalism? Did you also know that the Catholic Church explicitly condemns Communism? I bet the answer is “no” on both counts. The Catholic Church stands for the dignity of Man because Man is made in the image of God. And God became man in the person of Jesus, which raised the dignity of Man above the angels. Both ideologies can and have abused that dignity. There sits Don Camillo, forced to call out communism while trying to save the souls of his flock. And his flock includes the communists. You will read often about the insults hurled at him, and Il Cristo reminding him that He was nailed to a cross and forgave them. And you read often of confession, the mercy of God. Yes, even the communists.
I haven’t brought up a single policy to criticize, have I? I bring up abortion often, because that is a Moral issue, not a political one. In fact, you could all accuse me of turning every political debate into religion. Truth gets in the way of politics. Either political party does not espouse the Truth, so why would I trust politicians?
That is the underlying beauty of Don Camillo. He knows his flock. He punches and kicks his flock in a way only an Italian from that region can, but he does it with an underlying motivation. The humanity, and the defense of Truth, with a supernatural love for his flock even as he beats them with a bench. It isn’t him, but God, and his conversations with Christ are things we should aspire to. Simply put, talking face to face with Jesus.
The problem of his time is not different than our own, but only earlier in the day. Il Cristo explains ;
“They search desperately for justice on earth because they no longer have faith in divine justice, and just as desperately go after worldly goods because they have no faith in the recompense to come. They only believe in what they can touch and see. The flying machines, they are the angels of this infernal hell on earth which they are trying in vain to turn into a paradise. It is a body of ideas, a culture — that leads to ignorance, because when a culture is not supported by faith, there comes a point where man sees only the mathematics of things. And the harmony of this mathematics becomes his God, and he forgets that it is God who created this mathematics and this harmony.”
That sounds like what Dawkins or Hawking were looking for. It sounds like what many look for in politics. It sounds like many of the Church hierarchy, including sometimes the pope!
What does it mean for us, especially Catholics? Does it mean we vote and fight? Does it mean we strive to regain the glory of Christendom? To bring back the temporal glory of a magnificent basilica and elegant liturgy? I used to think so, and I see many people and organizations who may think so. But now I am convinced that it is merely witnessing to the Truth. The glory of Christendom has gone and will come again if God so wills it. First, it must diminish from its temporal glory.
Consider these words.
‘Don Camillo,’ he said gently, ‘Don Camillo, the important
thing is to have faith in God, to believe in God. To believe in a higher being who has created everything and administers all and who, in the end, will punish the wicked and reward the good. Do not be too hard on Peppone: it is a worse thing for a man to vote against the Reds and not believe in God than for a man to vote for the Reds and yet believe in God. The greatest damage you can do God is not to believe in God. Faith enlightens, and there will come a day when every shadow, even the darkest, will disappear from the souls of those whose minds are confused today. Don Camillo, he who does not have faith cannot see, for he has no eyes to see. Nor can a man see when his eyes are blindfolded, but he is able to see, and one day the cloth will fall from his eyes and his eyes will know the light. He who does not have ears cannot hear and neither does he want to hear, but he whose ears are blocked with wax, is able to hear, and when the wax melts, he will hear the voice of God. ‘
That is a conversation with Jesus. Those were thought by the author, in Italy, in the forties and fifties. Might he be speaking to us right now? In a way, we are all Don Camillo, as we interact with the flock more than priests and bishops can nowadays. We are human, not political parties, and we are called to first share the Gospel before arguing politics. Should we not be thinking these things?
Providentially, today is the Solemnity of Jesus Christ the King of the Universe. I am battling with a stomach issue and I stayed home from mass. (By the way, my dad says that my ALS is enough justification for me to stay home, but I haven’t heard from a priest yet.) I got to hear a phenomenal homily on EWTN that reinforces this idea.
Don Camillo makes me cry because as a grown man, I understand and feel the emotions that are written. If that wasn’t enough, it opens new windows on things I had overlooked. Can you imagine a place with no priests, no faith? Can you imagine having a certain point of view imposed upon you by the government? We say that won’t happen here while conscience objections are being removed from doctors who don’t want to perform abortions, nuns are forced to pay for the same and also contraception. It is already happening. Don Camillo describes it.
Don Camillo also puts it into very real everyday life, even if it is the fifties. You find you understand the exploitation of the workers, the poverty endured and the selfishness of the rich. You understand the importance of community and family. And you get a good look at the passion of Italians! And maybe you can see the parallels to our time now.
Check it out. Some of the stories are online.