Friday, August 10, 2012


At one point in his autobiography, the Kerry-born poet John Moriarty writes: "Out of felt need, fighting Christ in this, I had struggled for the sanctity of inclusion and integration, that as distinct from the sanctity of exclusion and repression."

Forget for the moment whether any of us can or should aspire to "sanctity." Still, it is easy to identify with what he says. Some of us here on the porch who were raised as Roman Catholics, or in a similar religion of exclusion and repression, made the same struggle towards inclusion and integration.

We were taught as children that the road to sanctity was by way of negation -– no meat on Friday, surrendering our dearest pleasures during Lent, self-denial, abstinence, mortification of the flesh. If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out. If thine hand offend then, cut it off. Strip away the beauties and enticements of the world, exclude, repress.

There is a strain of exclusion and repression in every religion, a monastic ideal, an idealization of the cloister. Abnegation is purification. Renounce the world and gain eternity. "It is not difficult to forego human comfort when we enjoy that of God," wrote Thomas Á Kempis, in that little book The Imitation of Christ we took as our road map to heaven.

"There is no peace in the heart of a worldly man," said Thomas, and there is certainly some truth in that, if by "worldly" one means avarice and dissolution. But our task, as recovering Catholics, was to learn to love the world, to revel in its beauties, to accept its pleasures, to marvel at its diversity and complexity -- in short, to include and integrate.

It meant, along the way, surrendering the idea of immortality and the Beatific Vision. But in return we discovered the consolations of human love, the joy of sex, the ravishment of the senses. We exulted in the electric tingle in the spine that accompanied each new act of integration, each new piece of the puzzle of the world that fell into place, fitting hand-in-glove with its neighbor. We welcomed the bonds of implicit fellowship that came with each inclusion of the other, each expansion of the circle of us.

Our little lives may be rounded by a sleep, but for the interim we are such stuff as dreams are made on -– the inexhaustible realness of what is.