Saints and Scoundrels – A Personal Review


How the world would have been influenced for the better had the scoundrels like….become saints!

From the New Paganism to the Nuclear Proliferation.  The battle between the Holy Spirit and the Spirit of the age – and we know who wins in the end.

You Let Me in! It is Right and Just! With God in Russia! Night!

Are we holding our breath even as we pray, fast and do charity awaiting looming doom and gloom?  It doesn’t get better, does it? When it rains, it pours! The covid pandemic was bad enough, is the Russian-Ukraine war better? The Crisis of abuse and clericalism in the Church and the world have been felt and seen before; I read that in “A Little History of the World” by E H Gombrich. Though unintended and quite spontaneous, my crescendo hobby reading in the past two years of: Night by Elie Wiesel, With God in Russia by Water Ciszek, You let me In by Lucy Clarke, It is Right and Just (why the future of Civilization depends on true Religion) by Scott Hahn and Saints Vs Scoundrels by Benjamin Wiker, points to the same indictment and prophetic words: humanity has succeeded in unleashing a catastrophe on itself and is incapable of stopping it; it is not our mission to save a collapsing world, but our job to keep our faith; we are facing a Culture of death that must be replaced by a civilization of love.

Some people(‘s lives, even if not faces or philosophies) are so repulsive while others are so attractive, appealing, inspiring, amazing, soothing, elevation, unbelievably gracious.

You nearly throw up hearing or reading the lives of scoundrels like J.J. Rousseau, N Michiavelli, A Rand, King Henry VIII, F Nietzche, let alone Hilter, Leopold, Mugabe and some close to home political and Church leaders or relatives – nothing less than disgusting. But we hope against hope and believe in conversion, mercy, love and goodness stronger than their counter vices.

Two excuses make you and me sane despite the horror and damage done to human lives, minds and hearts; one, that the devil is at work, mysterium iniquitatis, full time and wholesale; and secondly, that the power and grace of forgiveness in Jesus’ Paschal Mystery are real, active, tangible, manifest.

Kama sio damu/upendo/huruma wako Jesu, Mkombozi tunge pata wapi… (without your blood, love, mercy, Jesus, Redeemer/Saviour, where would we have gone, what would we do?)

When we hear or read the lives of saints, so soothing and refreshing like a glass or bottle of water, juice, lager, wine or spirit to a thirsty, tired person, we relish and want more.

Bread of heaven, fill me till I want no more, fill my cup, fill it up and make me whole…

Gush, the lives of Sts Augustine, Francis of Assisi, Flannery O’Connor, Thomas More, Edith Stein juxtaposed with scoundrels they could have easily been like, imitated or influenced by!

Either is very consequential and non-fictitious but creates a ripple effect henceforth; the life and death of each one of us has its influence on others… Roman 14:7-12; our gracious words and lifestyle speak more eloquently and graciously than imagined and should be trumpeted to counter the much-propagated philosophies and ideologies of scoundrels.

I muse, relish and propagate the lifestyle, words and legacies of many saints.  Such was my reading of Saints Vs Scoundrels. And the most elevating quote that kept me grinning for the past few months are the words of the disabled theologian, Flannerry O’Connor from her “A Good man is Hard to Find”, concerning the Misfit and the grandmother: s/he would have been a good wo/man if it had been someone there to shoot him/her every moment of his/her life. In other words, shoot-the-bastard-without-regret, but not to kill.  S/he (the grandmother, let alone the Misfit) is a self-seeking, hypocrite, annoying, petty…

Flannery O’Connor insists without contradicting Catholic theology, spirituality or social teaching that believers need a shock to their system, a shock that can wake them… in the misfit and the grandmother, we see the face of the evil oneThe misfit has cut himself off from grace… you got to travel through hell before you get to heaven (Dante).  A sledgehammer makes a good tenderizer for grace sometimesGod didn’t come to save the perfect but those who are shot through with imperfections and that’s everybody.  If you don’t understand that then you don’t understand how God really acts, how he must act with fallen human beings.  It is all or nothing, and the misfit understands that… that sounds so demonic.  That’s what I’m shouting to the deaf.  In Christian theology, demons are angels who after explicitly and knowingly rejecting God just like the misfit have one pleasure left…. The destruction of every good (pp.125-6).

My second amusement was St Augustine versus Jean Jacques Rousseau. Professor Benjamin Wiker creatively portrays, not just imagining, St Augustine of Hippo entering his house where JJ Rousseau had been blasting away his philosophy, ideologies and justifying his lifestyle, and begins clapping sarcastically, telling Rousseau, ‘well done, I used to live on rhetoric as you so seem to flourish on’.

The art of rhetoric was about triumphing over his opponent with words, aimed at victory, not at truth, and did so by cleverly manipulating the passions and prejudice of the listener. That is why St Augustine was applauding Rousseau for giving a good performance; very clever, Jean-Jacques, a fine display of hot air and passion but that doesn’t tell us whether what you say is true.  St Augustine spent too much time as a professional rhetorician and even more as a shepherd of souls, to be fooled.  The Saint’s Confessions is in great part, an account of how God, by the Word made flesh, interrupted the self-serving eloquence by which he tried to excuse his soul for its sins.  The Truth was not fooled. Searching for love in a boiling stew of lust. My soul was in rotten health.  God knew it.  What happens when your desire for love is not pure? What happens when it is not love but lust?  It bends your desire for truth.  It makes you desire the truth you want to be true, not the real truth.  You hate the actual truth for the sake of what you happen to love.  If we really seek truth and wisdom, we soon find out how little we know, how very small our largest thoughts are, how very partial in every sense our judgements.  True philosophy, true love of wisdom brings great humility and an ever-growing desire for divine aid, for help from wisdom above.  Christ shines His light first on our sins.  The gate to truth is the confession of our sins.  Original sin is thinking oneself wiser than God and recreating good and evil. (pp34ff)

Speechless in the face of grace or of evil one can only dream next of penning a sonnet, a lament, even if imperfectly so.                                                              

Emmanuel Mbeh MHM, March 2022.

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