Not to steal Otepoti's December thunder, but I thought I'd add a new perspective to an old discussion, which occurred to me just yesterday and which is actually quite timely.
Do you all remember the Nick Joaquin story The Summer Solstice from February 2011? Back then, I disagreed with Emily's interpretation of Lupeng and Paeng's marriage as unhappy, saying, with my usual naivete, "Not that it's much to worry about. I'm sure that by the next day, all the 'possessed' couples are back to 'normal.'"
I thought that because the Philippine religious culture has been a blend of Catholicism and paganism for a long time, and if it were a marriage, it would be one that had dramatic problems only three days each calendar year. For the most part, a pretty good deal. But is even the tiniest compromise with paganism one which Catholics can afford?
Yesterday I learned about a vicious incident which recently took place in Argentina, when a pro-abortion feminist group tried to attack the Cathedral of San Juan Bautista and Catholic men had to form a phalanx around the church to keep it from being profaned. Frustrated in their original plan, the women turned their spray paint, permanent markers, dirty underwear, and sheer malice onto the men, then gleefully burned an effigy of Pope Francis. Reading the report and watching the disturbing video, I was reminded of the scene in which Paeng tries to look for Lupeng among the devotees of the Tadtarin, who are all women, and barely ends up escaping with his life. But the Catholic men of San Juan didn't have to go among pagan women to find trouble; instead, thousands of both male and female neo-pagans (For how else can we describe those who make an idol out of women's bodies?) in a twisted "feast day" celebration, organised a march to the city's largest cathedral, looking for a fight.
It also didn't escape my notice that the patron saint in Joaquin's story and the patron saint of the cathedral in this real-life are one and the same: St. John the Baptist, whose voice, incidentally, cried out to us from the wilderness once more, in today's Gospel.
In other words, I now totally agree with Emily that Lupeng and Paeng's marriage is unhappy--and predict that the 362 peaceful days they have out of the year are not enough to keep a lid on the underground volcano they're sitting on. But as I still think that The Summer Solstice is an imaginative depiction of Philippine culture, it has me thinking about the sort of "marriage counseling" that a religious culture would benefit from. It reminded me that we have found rational ways to deal with the irrational before, though I doubt we could recreate certain things today, like Ancient Greece's solution . . .
Another pagan god whose ancient cult can shine some light on the religious aspect of the attack and the defense of the cathedral is the Greek deity Dionysius. He was the ruler of drunkenness and riots, and oddly enough, also of fertility. And it is his cult which is responsible for the death of the musician Orpheus, whether you are reading the telling in which the Thracian women tear him apart because he foreswore Dionysius as a patron and worshiped only the sun god Apollo . . . or the version in which the Ciconian women tear him apart during an orgy because he refused to love another woman after losing Eurydice. The point is that he gets torn apart, which is the mark of Dionysius upon mobs. So the sarcastic trolls who said of the attack on the cathedral, "No big deal. At least the men didn't die!" happened to have been facing north when they checked their smashed moral compasses--for we all intuitively know that blood and destruction are the only things which satisfy rioters. If the cathedral's defenders had not been praying the rosary that day, I don't want to know what would have happened.
The Ancient Greeks didn't have the rosary, but their attempt to control their own riotous, drunken mobs was actually so effective that we still remember it today. I refer to the origin of the theatre. How much safer to give people catharsis through drama (or fiction?), rather than through a real-life "purging" of some resented scapegoat! And there is a Catholic counterpart, of course, in the medieval mystery plays, though we seem to have forgotten them these days. I daresay that we retain some memory of them in the Holy Week liturgy, when the medium is truly the message that the Scapegoat who purged us of our sins also rose from the dead and has invited us to share in His divinity and eternal life. But I'm now getting ahead of the liturgical year . . .
I do have a question, however, which doesn't have to wait for an appropriate season to be asked and seems right up this blog's alley. What is the role of quality Catholic literature in the defense of the Church? What can good Catholic fiction do against the tides of irrationality? I personally hope for the best, but I can't imagine who we will get around literature's current reputation for belonging only to the elite or the highly literary. Even theatre, formerly for and of the masses, has gone the professional route and is no longer so accessible. Only liturgy and the rosary seem to remain.
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