The Past Recaptured?

Hungarian Stuffed Cabbage with Rye Bread and Sour Cream

I do not have anything to say about Proust in this posting. Maybe I should have called it “You Can’t Go Home Again” or some such title. My earliest memories are about being raised in a Hungarian household in Cleveland by loving parents. I could not, would not ever repudiate that part of me; and I keep going in search of experiences that, like Proust’s madeleine bring back the happy memories of my childhood.

There used to be some good Hungarian restaurants in Los Angeles; but, as big a city as this is, there do not appear to be any at this time. So Martine and I show up at the local Hungarian Reformed Churches for their festivals. I go to recover my memories, and Martine goes because (although she is French) she loves Hungarian food more than any other.

Despite a rare May rain shower, we went to the Majális festival at the Grace Hungarian Reformed Church in Reseda. We have been going here for almost ten years. Even within that short time, we have seen the parishioner base age as the old Hungarians die off and the younger ones spread out to the four winds. Still, the food is excellent. Their stuffed cabbage is superb, and their baked goods are world class.

The Grace Hungarian Reformed Church as It Looked Several Years Ago

Their pastor is still Zsolt Jakabffy, who keeps soldiering away at maintaining a parish amid the rapidly changing demographics of the San Fernando Valley.

Wait a minute! What’s a Catholic boy like me doing hanging out at a Protestant church? It all goes back to when my Catholic father and my Protestant Reformatus mother made before their children were born. Any boys would be brought up as Catholic; any girls, as Protestant. Just my mother’s luck that she gave birth to two sons.

So, yes, I have no compunction looking for God wherever He is invoked.

 

Serendipity: The Broken Prism

The Blessed Virgin Mary

You could be a million miles away when, quite suddenly, you can be confronted with what you believe—and what you don’t believe. Today, I was sitting in the Santa Monica Library reading Tim Cahill’s Hold the Enlightenment: More Travel, Less Bliss, ostensibly a book of adventure travel essays, when the following paragraph hit me smack between the eyes:

My own background is Catholic. I suppose my current status in that Church can best be described as long-lapsed. Even so, no one who has suffered a Catholic education is ever entirely free of the belief, or at least the discipline. Quaint notions, punitive and medieval, color my perception of the physical world. I tend to see the wilderness through the broken prism of my faith.

That holds true for me as much as it does for Tim Cahill, one of the founders of Outside magazine. The only change I would make is that I never “suffered” a Catholic education: I merely “experienced” it, and not unwillingly. My grade school, Saint Henry in Cleveland, Ohio, was staffed by Dominican sisters; and my high school, St. Peter Chanel in Bedford, Ohio, was taught by Marist priests. At Dartmouth College, I was an active participant in Catholic services at the Newman Club under Monsignor William Nolan.

When asked whether I believe in God, my answer is always, Yes. I quickly add that I have no idea what God is like or what He/She/It wants. I only know that the Godhead manifests itself in some very curious ways to the peoples of this planet. I cannot pretend to be an atheist with any degree of certitude, nor do I wish to. There is enough left of the shards of my faith to see me through the day.

What will I believe a year from now? I don’t know. It’s all subject to change.

Would You Spend Your Afterlife With This Guy?

Marshall Applewhite, Alias “Do”

We are coming up on one of those sad anniversaries with which our history as a nation is crowded. Twenty years ago, the Heaven’s Gate cult committed mass suicide in a Rancho Santa Fe, California mansion. The members of the cult believed that, in the wake of the comet Hale-Bopp was a spaceship that was going to taken them to heaven. They dressed in black track suits with patches that said “Heaven’s Gate Away Team.” They also wore identical Nike Decade sneakers and took enough amphetamines with vodka to send them into another world, though probably not heaven.

Their leader was one Marshall Applewhite, who went by the name “Do”—and, yes, he did himself in as well. Looking at his picture (above), would you give your life for this obvious flake? Apparently thirty-nine people did, most of them in their forties, at an age when presumably they should have known better.

Logo From the Heaven’s Gate Website

The website of the group is still in existence, maintained by a couple who used to be members, but transgressed by getting married. It has a very 90s look to it, but then the group didn’t survive the decade. According to an article in today’s Los Angeles Times:

Several hundred people joined the group over the years, although the vast majority left for a variety of reasons. Some who left came back. Those who remained to the end were largely longtime devotees. Twenty-one were women, 18 men. They ranged in age from 26 to 72, with more than half in their 40s.

Almost all of them were veteran seekers of spiritual truths, people who had tried other religions, tried tarot cards, tried hallucinogenic drugs.

So when comet Hale-Bopp began to arrive, it was time to check out.

 

North America’s Own Lourdes

The Church at Chimayo, New Mexico

The Church at Chimayó, New Mexico

France has Lourdes; Portugal has Fatima; Argentina has Luján; Mexico has Guadalupe; and the United States has the Santuario de Nuestro Señor de Esquipulas, commonly known as El Santuario de Chimayó near Santa Fe, New Mexico. The little church is only 60 feet (18 meters) long and 24 feet (7.3 meters) wide. Yet, especially during Holy Week, some 30,000 pilgrims are in attendance.

The dirt floor has been known to have miraculous properties. Visiting pilgrims take some of the dirt for themselves or friends and relatives who are unable to visit. The church replaces the dirt, to the tune of 20 or 30 tons a year, from neighboring hillsides. The Catholic Church makes no claim as to the miraculous properties of the so-called sacred dirt.

Martine and I plan to visit Chimayo during our upcoming trip to Mexico. Maybe the sacred dirt will cure my diabetes. Or not.

Latin American Churches

Altar of Quito’s La Compañía de Jesús Church

Altar of Quito’s La Compañía de Jesús Church

In my posting the other day on Why Did I Go to Ecuador?, I seem to have left out one of the main reasons. This applies equally to Peru and probably Colombia, but not so much to Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay.

I am referring to the Catholic cathedrals, basilicas, and other old churches of the Andes. Until age 17, I received a Catholic education at St. Henry School in Cleveland and Chanel High School in Bedford, Ohio. Then, while I was at Dartmouth, although a nominally Congregationalist school, I was very active with the Catholic Students’ Newman Club.

Coming to California has been disastrous to my faith—but yet something remains. It comes out when I visit the Andean churches, the most beautiful of which is La Compañía de Jesús church (shown above) near Quito’s Plaza de la Independencia.

In both Peru and Ecuador, I frequently stopped in at the local churches; and, not infrequently, I stayed for the services. In the Andes, I felt like a Catholic again. Even the smaller churches in places like Otávalo, Alausi, and Mindo drew me in.

The Small Church in the Village of Mindo

The Small Church in the Village of Mindo

In my life’s journey, I can see my returning to the Catholic Church. I continue to take exceptions to many points of dogma, such as the prohibitions on married priests, women in the priesthood, abortion, and divorce and some doctrines such as the relatively recent ones of the Immaculate Conception and what I call Papal Inflammability. On he other hand, there is much to admire. At this point, I am not sure which route I will take.

“Tears of the Lord”

Paul Pletka’s Paintings “Tears of the Lord” at the Autry National Center

Paul Pletka’s Paintings “Tears of the Lord” at the Autry National Center

One of the paintings I saw on Saturday’s visit to the Autry National Center is Paul Pletka’s “Tears of the Lord,” which depicts a bloody crucifixion on an Aztec cross, with native Americans in ceremonial garb walking by the foot of the cross.

It reminds me of the strange mix of Christianity with Andean religions that I saw in Peru in 2014. As one who has had a Catholic education through age 17, I was amazed by the beauty and ornateness of the churches in Lima, Arequipa, Puno, and Cusco. The farther I got from the larger cities, however, the more I saw signs of local religious practices alongside the Catholic images.

In the 1980s, when my brother and I visited the State of Chiapas in southern Mexico, we saw something even more extreme—so extreme, in fact, that we were made to sign statements in advance that we would not photograph inside the church or any of the religious ceremonies. The penalty for violation? Tourists had been killed for disrespect of the local customs. In the church of San Juan Chamula, the Christian statuary was decked out with corncobs and flowers. All pews had been removed, and the Mayans prayed by lying on their stomachs with their arms outstretched. The altar was de-emphasized altogether. Instead, there were various worship stations scattered around the nave.

And where was the local priest? The Catholic clergy had been kicked out more than a hundred years previously as part of a revolt. The churches they left behind were adapted to highland Mayan religion.

As I look at Pletka’s painting, I see the native peoples of the Americas incorporating all or part of Christianity, but insisting on their own brand of religious syncretism as well. At the tiny church in Corporaque, Peru, near Colca Canyon, I felt very far indeed from the Cathedral at Cusco. The only modern touch was that I was being filmed. Apparently, a nearby church was ransacked by thieves; and many of the small churches took measures to protect their ecclesiastical treasures.

A Halo for Judas Iscariot?

Twelve Apostles—All With Haloes—Watching Christ Entering Jerusalem

Twelve Apostles—All With Haloes—Watching Christ Entering Jerusalem

Today Martine and I attended the Valley Greek Festival at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in North Hills. Please excuse the lack of sharpness in the above photo. What is clear is that twelve men wearing haloes are watching Christ enter Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Now, my question is this: If these men are, in fact, the Apostles, why do all twelve have haloes, which would invariably include Judas Iscariot?

It was not until after Palm Sunday that Judas ratted the Messiah out to the Sanhedrin for thirty pieces of silver. Afterwords, he felt remorse and hanged himself with a halter.

After Christ’s resurrection, Judas was replaced by Matthias:

Matthias was selected to replace Judas as recorded in Acts 1:15-26. The other man who was also in consideration was named Joseph or Barsabas, and surnamed Justus. Lots were cast and eventually Matthias was chosen. Acts 1:24-26 records the following, “And they prayed and said, “You, O Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which of these two You have chosen to take part in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place.” And he was numbered with the eleven apostles.” The Bible is sparse on additional details relating to Matthias, but it does say that Matthias was with Jesus since His baptism until his resurrection. Besides the book of Acts, Matthias isn’t mentioned anywhere else in the Bible. According to historical sources Matthias lived til 80 A.D. and spread the gospel on the shores of the Caspian and Cappadocia.

Judas Is Pointedly Depicted Without a Halo at the Cathedral of Moulins

Judas Is Pointedly Depicted Without a Halo at the Cathedral of Moulins

Note that at this time, Paul was not an apostle. He was known as Saul and actively persecuted the Christians until, on the road to Damascus, God spoke to him from the heavens:

As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.

“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.

— Acts 9:3–9, NIV

One final observation. In his short story (in the form of an essay) entitled “Three Versions of Judas” published in Ficciones, Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges speculated on a different role for Judas Iscariot in the story of Man’s Redemption:
God became a man completely, a man to the point of infamy, a man to the point of being reprehensible—all the way to the abyss. In order to save us, He could have chosen any of the destinies which together weave the uncertain web of history; He could have been Alexander, or Pythagoras, or Rurik, or Jesus; He chose an infamous destiny: He was Judas.
*  *  *  *  *
What, in fact, do I believe? I think twelve holy men depicted as wearing haloes are shown watching Christ enter Jerusalem. It is merely interesting to speculate whether Judas is one of them.