My Lenten Journey with Dante, Augustine, and Samwise

David Russell Mosley

botticelli-augustine

Lent
24 February 2016
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

It’s been a while since I’ve written, I apologize. Early in January I got asked to teach an extra class for Johnson University, one developed by someone else, and I’ve been snowed in by homework ever since. I have finally caught up, however, and am now waiting for my students to turn in their final projects, a research paper on the Apostles’ Creed, this Sunday. While I probably should be working on my conference paper for the NEMAAR in April, or either of the two books I have coming out, I thought I would stop to write a little something about Lent.

A little over a month ago I wrote about trying to return to a life of pilgrimage. While Lent is an excellent time to engage in the journeying nature of the faith, I admit to having struggled with it a bit. My Lenten fasts have been going OK, but I have this sense that this Lent could be particularly transformative for me, if I only allow it. It was, therefore, rather providential that I came across “First Steps, Brancaster” by poet Malcolm Guite. Guite’s poem, while set in Winter, hit me on day when the weather was warm and I was sitting outside. Sadly, it has gotten colder again, it even snowed last night. Nevertheless, read this stanza:

This is the day to leave the dark behind you

Take the adventure, step beyond the hearth,

Shake off at last the shackles that confined you,

And find the courage for the forward path.

You yearned for freedom through the long night watches,

The day has come and you are free to choose,

Now is your time and season.

Companioned still by your familiar crutches,

And leaning on the props you hope to lose,

You step outside and widen your horizon.

This season, Lent, this day, is when I begin the first steps of my journey. I am moving forward, limping, but heading forward nevertheless. I have not only my crutches but my guides. This Lent I am reading several books that I think will help me as they are themselves stories of journeys, quests, and pilgrimages. As I wrote to you in my letter on pilgrimage, I am still reading Dante’s Divine Comedy. Just yesterday I left the ante-room of Purgatory with Virgil and the Pilgrim. Later today I will enter the garden of Eden with them working my way ever closer to the Beatific Vision, or at least whatever glimpses I can get of it this side of the parousia. I am also reading Augustine’s Confessions journeying with him into the depths of my soul, into the depths of my sin, so I can come out of the muck and mire of my sinfulness and reach up and be raised up to the Trinity. Lastly, I’m re-reading The Lord of the Rings, which I read every year. I am joining Frodo, Sam, and the others on a journey to see new beauties and face new horrors in the hope that when I return home, should I return home, I will not return the same.

I hope this Lent will be transformative for me, but even more, I hope it will be transformative for you.

Sincerely,

David

Returning to a Life of Pilgrimage

David Russell Mosley

michelino_danteandhispoem

Epiphanytide
Sts. Timothy and Titus
26 January 2016
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Midway along the journey of our life
I woke to find myself in a dark wood,
For I had wandered off the straight path.
-Dante, The Inferno, 1-3.

While I cannot claim to be quite midway through my life (or so I hope, though Dante proved to be wrong about this himself), I have recently begun my annual re-read of Dante’s Divine Comedy. I’m doing it a littler earlier than usual for two reasons: First, I’ve just been dying to re-read it, and this year I bought myself individual volumes for each part. Second, Pope Francis has recommended Dante’s poem as beneficial reading for the Year of Mercy. While I’m not a Roman Catholic, I’m certainly not one to ignore the advice of those far holier than I. As I read it, perhaps even more closely this year due to its multi-voluminous nature, I’m struck rather forcibly by the notion of pilgrimage.

What I mean is this: Traditionally, the main character in the Divine Comedy is called the Pilgrim. This is to separate Dante the Pilgrim from Dante the author since he is a character in a story, similar to how there is Lewis the author and Lewis the character in Out of the Silent Planet. So we call the character the Pilgrim. But we do this also because he stands for us as a kind of Everyman. It is not only his pilgrimage from Hell to Heaven, but ours as we journey with him (Bilbo works in a similar way in The Hobbit, as do hobbits in general in The Lord of the Rings). In this sense, that the Pilgrim is a representative for me, can I say that I am the Pilgrim. This is not because there is anything special about me but precisely because I am interchangeable with any other. I am, in my own way, just as much an Everyman, just as Dante is also an individual. In a way, I replace the pilgrim. I am the one journeying through Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise. I am on a pilgrimage, not to Rome or the shrine of a particular saint (though I hope to make this kind of journey someday) but to God himself. The Pilgrim and I go on this journey together, our identities sometimes being blurred.

Augustine will often talk about our journey in life as one that is intended to end in our Patria, our Fatherland. The allusions to Philippians 3 are obvious, but Augustine also means that our journey in life is to the Father, the Beatific Vision. A misunderstanding of this view has, unfortunately, led some to the conclusion that this world itself does not matter. Of course this is precisely not true for our journey to the Patria is not a spacial one. We do not move from Earth to Heaven. Rather Earth itself, in fact the whole cosmos, is moved to both Hell and Heaven. It is this pre-resurrection life that is not our homeland, not our Patria, not creation itself. This is key, I think, to living the Good Life. We must recognize that it is not material existence in a material creation that we are journeying away from. Instead, it is sin, evil, death itself; these are the things we hope to leave behind as we journey to God. Even as we journey on, we bring the rest of creation with us, lifting it up as priests to God, but also offering thanks on its behalf.

So I am trying to return to a life of pilgrimage. I am trying to remember that this life is a preparation for the life to come when Christ returns and makes all things new. This should mean that everything I do in this life be done as if by a pilgrim. I ought not to tie myself to sin and death, to the corruptible, but to set my sights on things eternal. Only in this way can I have creation, including my own, as I ought. Only in this way can I be in right relationship with the world around me. I must remember first that I pilgrim journeying to the Patria, in the process of being deified. Christ has paved the way and journeys on with us; the Spirit guides us, corrects us, points us back to Christ and his saints; and the Father is our journey’s end. Join me, won’t you, in this pilgrim life?

Sincerely,
David

“I am the ill intent”: Wilson Fisk, Daredevil, Privatio Boni, and the Right Ordering of Our Desires

David Russell Mosley

Ordinary Time
7 September 2015
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

“I am the ill intent.” So says Wilson Fisk in the season finalé of Marvel’s Daredevil. I’ve finally finished watching this magnificent show. It is perhaps one of the most Catholic shows I’ve seen. It follows the attempts of Matthew Murdock, Daredevil, a Roman Catholic son of a boxer born and raised in Hell’s Kitchen and of Wilson Fisk as each man tries to save the city of Hell’s Kitchen. Murdock gains superhuman sensory abilities when he is blinded by chemicals as a child in a car accident. Using his gifts, the now grown Murdock seeks to bring justice to Hell’s Kitchen, both as a lawyer for the underprivileged (Catholic Social Teaching anyone?) and as a man in the mask fighting those who slip through the legal system’s fingers. He has only one rule, he doesn’t kill. His main foe, for sometime unseen and unknown, is Wilson Fisk. Fisk is a giant of a man with immeasurable strength and wealth. He was also born and mostly raised in Hell’s Kitchen and sees himself as its savior.

In the season finalé, a captured Fisk begins relating the story of the Good Samaritan. You can watch it here:

Fisk, up to this point, has seen himself as the Samaritan, the good man who saves the dying traveler. Now, however, he realizes he is the ill content, the ones who set upon the traveler and leave him for dead. He realizes that what he truly wants is not to save the city, but to destroy it so he can remake it in his own image. Fisk, in many ways, epitomizes the Augustinian notion of evil as the privatio boni, the privation of the good. For Augustine, as well as for many of the Church Fathers, evil has not being, not really. Evil is instead a privation or perversion of the good. So nothing can be totally evil. Evil is always found by wrongly pursuing some good. Fisk wants to “save” Hell’s Kitchen. This is a good and noble desire. It’s a desire he shares with Daredevil. But he pursues it wrongly. He pursues it by killing, exhorting, racketeering, and other unseemly means. His desire is perverted, not in the sexual sense, but in the sense that it is misaligned.

Now, it’s important to note that Murdock’s desires are not perfect and neither is he. Nevertheless, the way he desires to save the city is through ennobling its citizens, by removing the cancerous cells, like Fisk, though not by killing them but turning them over to the authorities (and occasionally putting them in the hospital first). Murdock’s primary and most consistent confidant for most of the show is his priest. He turns to him for guidance, especially when his desire to kill Fisk is at its strongest. Through the ministrations of the sacrament of confession (which admittedly is never shown to include absolution), Murdock is able to overcome his bad desires, his vices. But it isn’t enough to abstain from sin, one must turn to virtue. So Murdock goes from being the man in the mask or the devil of Hell’s Kitchen and becomes Daredevil. A symbol of fear to the criminal element in Hell’s Kitchen and of hope to the marginalised. He hasn’t yet moved from anger to charity, not toward his enemies, unless not killing them can be seen as a kind of charity, but he is on the right path. Murdock is on the path of well-ordered desires and according to Augustine, this path ends in the Beatific Vision.

Sincerely,
David