Friday, October 11, 2019
Thursday, October 10, 2019
Sunday, September 22, 2019
The patron saint of the souls in purgatory (St. Nicholas of Tolentino) was visited by a friar suffering there
The patron saint of the souls in purgatory was visited by a friar suffering there
Leo XIII gave Nicholas of Torentino this patronage in 1884.The Guruttis were poor farmers who lived in Sant’ Pontano, Macerata, Italy. Childless, they traveled to the shrine of St. Nicholas of Myra, the saint who inspired the modern-day Santa Claus. They prayed to St. Nicholas to asked God if He might bless them with a child who would grow up to serve God. Their prayers were answered, and sometime during the year 1245 they had a son. They named him Nicholas.
Even as a child, Nicholas displayed a pronounced spirituality. He imitated hermits and would hide in nearby caves to pray. As Nicholas grew, he realized God was, indeed, calling him to service. One day he was listening to an Augustinian priest who was preaching. Nicholas knew immediately that he wanted to join that order of priests. He became a monk at the age of 18.
While he was still studying for the priesthood, he would use any spare time he could find to give food to the poor. His superiors trusted him with feeding the poor, and he would go to the monastery gate and distribute food from the monastery’s provisions. He would give everything he could to the people waiting, and the procurator had to slow him down lest the friars had nothing to eat.
One day he was providing food to a very sick boy. He instinctively laid his hands on the boy’s head and said, “The good God will heal you.” The boy was instantly cured; naturally word of this spread quickly through the local area.
A few years later, after he was ordained a priest, another incident helped his fame to spread. An elderly woman who was blind was brought to him so he could pray over her. He said the same words he had said to the sick boy. The woman’s eyesight immediately was restored. News of this miracle was soon widespread, and people began coming from all over to ask him to pray for them and lay hands on them.
Nicholas gained notoriety as a preacher, confessor, and a healer. He settled in a monastery in Tolentino and would spend the rest of his life there. Here he was a pastor to the people and did all he could to help the poor. He prayed over countless people who asked him to do so. Many were cured of their illnesses. Through it all, Nicholas spent as much time as he could fasting and performing personal acts of penance. He was an inspiration to everyone.
The story is told that one day, after spending a long time fasting, Nicholas became weak and could barely stand. He had a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Augustine who told him to eat the bread marked with a cross and soaked in water. Nicholas did as he was told and immediately, his strength was restored. That is how the Augustinian practice of blessing and distributing St. Nicholas Bread began, a custom carried on to this very day.
A significant part of the story of Nicholas has to do with Purgatory. It seems that one night, while asleep, Nicholas heard the voice of a deceased friar he had known. The friar told Nicholas that he was in Purgatory and pleaded with him to offer the Holy Eucharist for him and the other souls that were there with him. He told Nicholas this would help get them released from there.
Nicholas did as asked and prayed for the friar for seven days. After this, the friar returned to him and told him that a number of souls had been released and were now with God. Because of this Nicholas was proclaimed the patron of the souls in Purgatory by Pope Leo XIII in 1884.
There is also much legend that surrounds What is certain is that Nicholas of Tolentino was a caring, kind priest who did all he could to help his neighbors, no matter who they were. St. Nicholas, including resurrecting children, saving people about to drown on a sinking ship, and even saving the burning palace of the Duke of Venice by tossing a piece of blessed bread into the flames. He is also said to have seen in a vision the transport of the Holy House of Loreto by angels.
He died in Tolentino on September 10, 1305. He was canonized a saint by Pope Eugene IV, in 1446. He was the first Augustinian friar to be canonized after the creation and approval of the Order of St. Augustine in 1256.
St. Nicholas of Tolentino, please pray for us and all our Departed.
Saturday, September 21, 2019
Dante on Sin
In our mortal lives, we can often hide the desiccated state of our souls from others; in the afterlife, we can no longer hide from others what we truly are inside. Let go of your rebelliousness and disobedience, my friends, before it is too late, before you find yourself circling the path of futility.
Author’s Introduction: Imagine if Homer, Virgil, Dante, Chaucer, and the other great poets of ancient Greece, Rome, and the Middle Ages had been given the gift, not only to peer into the twenty-first century, but to correspond with us who live in that most confusing and rudderless of centuries. Had it been in their power to do both of those things, what might they say to us? How would they advise us to live our lives? What wisdom from their experience and from their timeless poems might they choose to pass down to us?
I warned you in an earlier letter that I would be writing to you about the woeful manner in which sin twists and disorders the human soul. It’s not a pleasant topic, sin, but it must be acknowledged and faced by every culture and by every generation.
In many ways, your age is more tolerant and merciful than my own, but you have lost something that the men of my day, even those who rejected the teachings of the Church, knew and felt in their bones. What you’ve lost is a clear sense of the nature and extent of human depravity, of that deep-set spiritual sickness that attends us from birth.
Sin is not simply another name for bad choices or erroneous judgments. It is also not the result of our personality type, which follows us from birth, or of our upbringing, which helps to shape our given character traits. Nor again is it a product of culture or environment or institutions.
Sin is a state of mind that stands in opposition to our Creator and his design and purpose for our lives and our world. Once it gets a foothold in our rebellious nature, it spreads like a cancer, killing all within us that is healthy, innocent, and spontaneous. Left untreated, sin distorts us into a parody of ourselves, a mockery of the noble creatures God intended us to be.
Oh, my friends of the future, I saw it again and again as I made my way through the levels of the inferno. If it weren’t so sad, so tragic, it would almost be funny. Though the damned seemed blissfully unaware of it, the horrible things that sin has done to them were all too evident for anyone who gazed upon them.
Take the fortune tellers, those who had tried, through unnatural and unlawful means, to peer into the future. Their punishment was a perfect reflection of the nature of their sin. Though they seemed whole and unharmed from the neck down, their heads had been violently wrenched in the other direction, so that when they looked down upon themselves, they saw not their feet but their buttocks.
The sight was so pathetic, so mournful that it caused me to weep. Immediately, my master rebuked me for my tears, for it was, he explained, a most arrogant thing to feel sorrow for those whom God had justly judged. Virgil was right, of course, to rebuke me, and yet, my friends, you too would have wept and sighed had you seen those sinners circling endlessly along the path of their prison.
And then there were the schismatics, the sowers of discord, who had set one religion against another, citizens against their leaders, factions against rival factions. In the same way they had caused the body politic to be torn asunder, they themselves were split apart by a mighty devil wielding a merciless sword. With one swish of his scimitar, the angel lopped off their arm or leg or split them down the middle.
So torn into fragments, they made their way around a circular path. As they did so, hobbling and groaning in pain, their wounds healed and their body reassembled itself into its former unity. But their joy at the healing was short lived, for as they passed the devil, he once again ripped them open with his sword.
There in that gruesome ditch, I saw a thing whose horror remains with me still. A man whose body ended at his neck holding his severed head by the hair and swinging it before him like a lantern. He had been one who had set a father against his son, and he bore the nature of his terrible crime in the grisly state of his mangled body.
Some of you, no doubt, will try to dismiss what I have shared with you as nothing more than juvenile examples of punishment to fit the crime. But they are far more than that. The punishments I witnessed in my journey were, in reality, external embodiments of what sin does to the human soul. In our mortal lives, we can often hide the desiccated state of our souls from others; in the afterlife, we can no longer hide from others what we truly are inside.
Such was the case with the sodomites. As their sin resulted in utter barrenness, so they were forced to march naked along a desert of burning sand. As they made their way along the circular path, they were forbidden to pause even for a moment. If they did, they were made to lay prostrate on the fiery sand beside the blasphemers, whose rage against God led to an even greater barrenness of spirit.
I do hope you noticed that in all three of the above examples, the sinners whose eternal states I witnessed were made to move perpetually in a circular motion. Such was the case for almost half the denizens of hell.
I trust that the significance of this will not be too hard to discern. Hell is not only a place of torment; it is a place of futility as well. The sinners I met learned nothing whatsoever from their punishments. They had become so set in their sinful ways that they had, quite literally, become their sins. There was, ultimately, no sinner there at all, just the sin going on and on forever.
Your age has done great and mighty things, but you have accepted too quickly and uncritically the belief that rebelliousness is by its very nature a positive, liberating act that sets us free to be more truly ourselves. Alas, as I learned first hand, the rebels in hell are all imprisoned in their own self-delusions. They think they have grown into fuller, richer versions of their former selves, when, in fact, they have lost their former selves and become living embodiments of the sin which they chose to honor and serve over God.
If you are not careful, citizens of the twenty-first century, that insidious process will begin even now while you live and breathe upon the earth. Even if you haven’t noticed it in your own face, you’ve all seen it in the face of a self-righteous, self-absorbed man or woman in his fifties or sixties. Slowly, incrementally, almost imperceptibly, the pride or greed or selfishness starts to engrave itself upon the color of the eye or the curve of the lip or the wrinkle in the brow.
Let go of your rebelliousness and disobedience, my friends, before it is too late, before you too find yourself circling the path of futility. There is still time to change, but it will not last forever.
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Editor’s Note: The featured image is “The Barque of Dante” (1822) by Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863), courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Wednesday, September 11, 2019
Evil as Good and Good as Evil
“Woe to those who say evil is good and good is evil . . .” (Isaiah 5:20)
The response of a person who has their conscience pricked will range from one of irritation to annoyance, impatience, anger, and, depending on the state of the individual’s conscience, fury, confusion, hatred, and despair. The emotional reaction will be worse for an individual whose perception has moved steadily along the road towards a worldview where good is perceived as evil and evil as good. The blunting or silencing of conscience is widely acknowledged as a consequence of a life hardened in sin. While this is the case the individual will experience a painful emotional reaction automatically triggered in the depths of their soul when confronted by a situation, or individual that they perceive threatens their position, or passes judgement on their character. We see this vividly displayed in St. Luke’s Gospel in the episode where Jesus cures the man with the withered hand.
Now on another Sabbath he went into the synagogue and began to teach, and a man was present, and his right hand was withered. The scribes and the Pharisees were watching him to see if he would cure somebody on the Sabbath, hoping to find something to charge him with. But he knew their thoughts; and he said to the man with the withered hand, ‘Get up and stand out in the middle!’ And he came forward and stood there. Then Jesus said to them. ‘I put it to you: is it permitted on the Sabbath to do good, or to do evil; to save life or to destroy it?’ Then he looked around to them all and said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He did so, and his hand was restored. But they were furious and began to discuss the best way of dealing with Jesus. (Lk 6:6–11)
When we look at this episode with the eyes of faith, we see the merciful love of our Saviour healing the lame and forgotten people of society. He offers them the greatest hope, that the God who heals them, also loves them beyond what they can ever comprehend. Every single person is precious in God’s eyes and has a position in his kingdom which is especially reserved for them. Without the eyes of faith, we see an episode of immense goodness where someone who is crippled is healed again. The person who has performed the healing may or may not be God, but the miracle he has performed is undeniable evidence of his goodness. The emotional reaction of a bystander to this episode may be one which is filled with the awe and wonder. The reaction of the scribes and Pharisees is one where they feel both threatened and judged by Jesus. The emotional reaction of fury seems justifiable in their eyes, as Jesus has performed a miracle on the Sabbath and in breaking the Sabbath displayed a complete disrespect for the Law of the temple. But the obvious goodness and love in this episode cannot be ignored. Surely this would jolt their consciences and wake them up to realise there is something wrong with not only their interpretation of the law but also with themselves? The experience of being furious is an extremely unpleasant one. These are painful emotions and in their eyes the cause of their suffering is Jesus who has undermined their authority, as well as exposed the corruption in their hearts.
This is an episode where the scribes and Pharisees have judged evil as good and good as evil. The emotional reaction they experienced in response to the love and goodness of Jesus is as a result of a corrupted heart that is at one with the devil in his own desires and ambitions. Good has to be got rid of, if it exposes and threatens one’s authority. But also, significantly, while not consciously aware of it they want to rid themselves of these painful emotions. It is the case that if we identify the cause of our personal suffering, we then want to be free from the suffering by eliminating the identified cause. It also follows logically that the greater the suffering, the more determined we will be to free ourselves from it. On the surface this does not seem like a factor contributing to the desire of the scribes and Pharisees to find “the best way of dealing with Jesus” (Lk 6:11).
It is clear from the revelations of God the Father to St. Catherine of Siena that the deepest suffering is in the will of an individual who interiorly is filled with envy, hatred, pride, and lust. The consequence of a perverted will consumed with the selfish desire for power, wealth, and pleasure is a troubled conscience that when threatened experiences the intense suffering arising from feelings of hatred, fury, and despair.
It is the will that causes (the deeper) pain. Those I have described to you, who taste already in this life the pledge of hell, suffer spiritually as well as physically, while my servants taste the pledge of eternal life.1
The Scribes and Pharisees
The temptation with the scribes and Pharisees is to attribute their response to Jesus as being due to their ignorance as a result of their love of the law. But if we look at St. Paul who described his persecution of Christians as being due to ignorance: “Even though I use to be a blasphemer and did all I could to injure and discredit the faith. Mercy, however, was shown me, because until I became a believer I had been acting in ignorance” (1 Tim 1:13), the words of Jesus to St. Paul were very different to the words he spoke to the scribes and Pharisees; so too was Paul’s response: “‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ ‘Who are you, Lord?’ he asked, and the answer came, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. Get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you are to do,’” (Acts 9:4–6). St. Paul’s response to the grace he received from our Lord was probably the deepest and greatest conversion in history. His recognition of the love of Christ who he was persecuting filled him with deep repentance, making room in his soul to be filled with every grace and gift imaginable to enable him to be, next to Christ, arguably the greatest evangelizer there has ever been.
When looking at the words of Christ to the scribes and Pharisees, they are very different in tone:
But the Lord said to him, ‘You Pharisees! You clean the outside of cup and plate, while inside yourselves you are filled with extortion and wickedness. Fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside too? Instead, give alms from what you have and, look, everything will be clean for you. But alas for you Pharisees, because you pay your tithe of mint and rue and all sorts of garden herbs and neglect justice and the love of God! These you should have practised, without neglecting the others. Alas for you Pharisees, because you like to take the seats of honour in the synagogues and to be greeted respectfully in the market squares! Alas for you, because you are like the unmarked tombs that people walk on without knowing it!’ (Lk 9. 39–44)
Their response to the many miracles that evidence his divinity was one of anger, fury and hatred. There is something fundamentally different going on interiorly in the hearts of the scribes and Pharisees whom Jesus is rebuking. It is important to note that not all the scribes and Pharisees followed this path. While Jesus rebuked them in a group situation, we of course do not know the state of each of their hearts and so it is not my intention to suggest that all the scribes and Pharisees descended into the darkness of evil.
If we love sensual things selfishly apart from God,then we will end up suffering the pains of a troubled conscience, where we will envy those who have more than us, and have anger and hatred towards those who get in our way of satisfying our desire for power, wealth, and pleasure. While the scribes and Pharisees already had positions of power and honour, they feared the loss of this authority through the challenges Jesus presented to them. Their fury towards Jesus and plans to deal with him evidence their hunger for revenge and tragically, as described by St. Catherine they have killed their souls before they have actually acted out their perverse desires. They must have envied Jesus so much as he spoke with an authority they could never have. This envy is a torture that gnaws away at the soul.
How many are the pains of a troubled conscience! How many are the pains of those who hunger for revenge! They gnaw away at themselves constantly, and they have killed themselves even before they kill their enemies: They are themselves the first to die, slain by their own hand with the knife of hatred.2
Covered in Confusion
In St. Luke’s Gospel an incident is described where Jesus’s adversaries are covered in confusion. The description of this reaction follows the “loudest” possible display of goodness and love. The confusion experienced in all likelihood drowns out the ability of the soul to be able to hear God’s voice calling the person to repentance and conversion. The interior confusion arises in the soul because the witness of goodness and love conflicts dramatically with a world perception that is completely at discord with our human nature.
One Sabbath he was teaching in one of the synagogues, and there before him was a woman who for eighteen years had been possessed by a spirit that cripples her; she was bent double and quite unable to stand upright. When Jesus saw her he called her over and said, ‘Woman, you are freed from your disability,’ and he laid his hands on her. And at once she straightened up, and she glorified God. But the president of the synagogue was indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, and he addressed all those present saying, ‘There are six day when work is to be done. Come and be healed on one of those days and not on the Sabbath.’ But the Lord answered him and said, ‘Hypocrites! Is there one of you who does not untie his ox or his donkey from the manger on the Sabbath and take it out for watering? And this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan has held bound these eighteen years — was it not right to untie this bond on the Sabbath day? When he said this, all his adversaries were covered with confusion, and all the people were overjoyed at all the wonders he worked. (Lk 13:10–17)
The tragedy here is that if we reflect on this Gospel passage, we cannot help but wonder how anybody could respond in any other way than the crowd of people who witnessed the miracle: they were overjoyed at the wonders Jesus worked. The president of the synagogue is described as being indignant which is to feel or show anger and annoyance at a perceived injustice. This emotional reaction clearly evidences the perverted will which judges “good as evil and evil as good.” We could expect that after Jesus has seriously rebuked them and called them hypocrites, that they would feel the fury and hatred described in the previous biblical text. What is described here is something different. What does it mean to be covered with confusion? Looking at this healing wonder of Jesus what is there to be confused about? It is the ultimate display of goodness and love through the healing of someone who has suffered immensely for a very long time.
In the Ascent of Mount Carmel, St. John of the Cross, the great mystical doctor of the Church, sheds light on what this text means. St. John describes how if we give in to our perverse desires then God will allow us to go astray and be blinded by the devil. While the context of this description is related to those who seek the Lord through excessive curiosity by seeking revelations and visions to feed their own pride and glory, it sheds light on what it means to be covered with confusion.
One cannot be liberated from him [the devil] without fleeing from all revelations, visions, and supernatural communications. God is rightly angered with anyone who admits them, for he sees the rashness of exposing oneself to this danger, presumption, curiosity, and pride, to the root and foundation of vainglory, to contempt for the things of God, and to the beginning of the numerous evils into which many fall. God becomes so angry with these individuals that he purposely allows them to go astray, experience delusion, suffer spiritual darkness and abandon the established ways of life, by delivering themselves over to their vanities and fancies. Thus Isaiah proclaims that by way of privation God commingled in their midst that spirit of dissension. Accordingly, God is the cause of that harm; that is the privative cause, which consists in his withdrawing his light and favour to such an extent that they necessarily fall into error.In this way God permits the devil to blind and delude many who merit this by their sins and audacities. The devil is able and successful to the extent that others believe what he says and consider him a good spirit. So firm is their belief that it is impossible for anyone who tries to persuade them of the diabolic origin. For with God’s permission they have already been affected by the spirit of misunderstanding . . .3
What is significant in this extended text is that the individual, as a result of their sins is led astray by the spirit of dissension and confusion. The consequence of this spirit of misunderstanding is that the individual becomes blind and deluded. St. John of the Cross describes in this context that someone who is infected with this spirit becomes convinced of their spiritual experiences and that they are not of a diabolic origin. Not only are they convinced it is impossible to persuade them otherwise.
In a similar manner, Jesus could not convince the scribes and Pharisees of the state of their souls and so move them towards a real conversion of heart. Jesus seriously rebuked them telling them that their father was the father of lies who is Satan. “You are from your father, the devil, and you prefer to do what your father wants. He was a murderer from the start; he was never grounded in the truth; there is no truth in him at all. When he lies he is speaking true to his nature, because he is a liar, and the father of lies” (Jn 8:44). In repeatedly telling them they were hypocrites he also reflected back to them their hidden lies and secret thoughts: “but you want to kill me because my word finds no place in you” (Jn 8:37). He also explicitly told them the consequences of their lies and hypocrisy, where if they remained unrepentant and did not believe he was God they would die in their sins, or in other words receive eternal damnation. “I have told you already: You will die in your sins. Yes, if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins” (Jn 8:24).
It is significant to remember that God does not leave an individual open to the forces of the evil one, unless they have already rejected the many graces God sends to them to keep them on the right track. God can only do so much. If we reject the graces, he sends to us in the form of troubles, our neighbour reflecting back to us our actions, or the pricking of our conscience then there is not much more God can do to wake us up, and so he deprives us of his help. He therefore is the privative cause and as a consequence of the withdrawal of his light we fall into error and become deluded. As a result of becoming deluded through leading a hypocritical life an individual can end up in the most tragic condition possible for the human race; judging good things as evil and evil as good.
This is the false judgement, venomous with envy and pride, with which they calumniated and unjustly judges my Son’s works when they said, “He does these things by the power of Beelzebub.” (Mt 12:24) These wicked people are set in their way of selfishness, indecency, pride, and avarice, envy that is grounded in their perverse lack of discernment, their impatience and many other sins. Yet they are forever taking scandal at me and my servants, judging virtue to be hypocritical. Because they are rotten to the core and have spoiled their sense of taste, good things seem evil to them and evil (that is, disordered living) seems good.4
The Mystery of the Human Heart
In the Christian tradition evil is defined as the absence of good. Sin is intrinsically evil irrespective of circumstances. The weakness, ignorance, or malice present in the commission of the sin determines the individual’s culpability. The sinner and sin committed almost become one when an attitude of “evil is good, and good is evil” is the predominant mode of operation. As the whole person becomes more and more evil to the core, then God’s protective presence in their lives becomes diminished and eventually extinguished. When someone is completely evil, then the absence of the ultimate good in life, who is God, is a feature of their lives. Whereas for those who have not reached such a depth of depravity, while the committing of sin which is intrinsically evil alienates them from God, he is not absent from their lives. His goodness and loving providence are present in a hidden way forever seeking to draw them away from a life of sin.
The mystery of the human heart can be one that captures our imagination. In the lives of the Saints we discover that to follow Christ is to seek and know the desires and thoughts of our loving God. We only come to know “the way, the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:6) by making a sincere effort to live Christ’s law of love, through responding to the spontaneous call of the Holy Spirit to love at each opportunity that is presented to us. The science of divine love is ultimately a lived ‘science,’ where the intimate depths of the person is mysteriously shaped and moulded by God’s grace. To truly understand and know God is to know him from our heart; the seat of all our private thoughts, desires and intentions. We can know God from a purely intellectual point of view, but to truly know him is to know him intimately in our hearts through our cooperation with his divine grace.
The mystery of the descent into evil of the human heart where it becomes corrupted and as St. Catherine describes, rotten to the core, is only truly known and understood by lived experience. We can try and understand it intellectually, but ultimately, we are called not to more fully understand it. To know the full reality of the descent into evil is to know it from the heart, and this is only achieved by living a perverse life which follows the devil in all his evil desires.
- Catherine of Siena, The Dialogue, Classics of Western Spirituality, trans. Suzanne Noffke, OP (New York: Paulist Press, 1980), 91. ↩
- Catherine of Siena, Dialogue, 99. ↩
- The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, trans. Kieran Kavanaugh, OCD and Otilio Rodriguez, OCD (Washington, DC: ICS Publications Institute of Carmelite Studies, 1991; revised ed.), 227–29. ↩
- Catherine of Siena, Dialogue, 76. ↩
at 12:34 PM
Sunday, August 18, 2019
Woodstock 50: What Went Wrong Then and Now
If America is polarized and directionless today, it is partly due to the cultural revolution that emanated from Woodstock. The solution is not to recreate Woodstock fifty years later, but to reject it as the cultural and moral disaster that it was.Woodstock represented what America would eventually become—a broken and dysfunctional society. It shows what happens when “you do your own thing” without self-restraint.
Of the rock festivals of the sixties, the Woodstock Music and Art Fair was by far the most famous. Held on a 600-acre dairy farm near Bethel, N.Y. on August 15–17, 1969, the festival is the iconic representation of the drug-addled culture and sexual revolution that upended American life. This August marks the fiftieth anniversary of the era-defining event. Some have called for celebrating with another concert.
The occasion is hardly a cause for celebration—so many of the cultural changes after Woodstock had catastrophic consequences. Most do not know that the concert was a disaster—even from an organizational point of view.
The organizers planned an event for 200,000 people. Nearly 400,000 people crashed the gates, where they demanded and received free admission. Security fell apart. The highways were clogged with cars trying to get to the event. Heavy rains created a sea of mud that mixed with the promiscuity, drugs, and marijuana that dominated the festival.
John Fogerty, from the rock group Creedence Clearwater Revival, described an early morning scene as “sort of like a painting of a Dante scene, just bodies from hell, all intertwined and asleep, covered with mud.”
The “establishment” that the hippies condemned saved Woodstock. Professionals had already arranged to attract concertgoers by promising a star-studded cast that included Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Santana, the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, and the Jefferson Airplane. A sympathetic media turned the logistic and moral disaster into a hippie legend by repackaging the event as “three days of peace and music.” When order broke down, the government stepped in with personnel from nearby Stewart Air Force Base. They flew in performers and put men on the ground to keep things from descending into total disorder.
Capitalizing on Woodstock’s fiftieth anniversary, promoters hoped to recreate the “magic” of the original festival. It seems they only managed to recreate the disaster. As in 1969, everything has gone wrong. However, this time, the establishment did not come to the rescue. Even the media were nowhere to be found. Scheduled for August 16-18, Woodstock 50 was abruptly canceled on July 31.[*]
Woodstock is symbolic of all that went wrong with the sixties. The mud fest of sex, drugs, and music represented a cultural revolution that destroyed morals, customs, and manners. What happened at Woodstock would later be mainstreamed across America so that today the radical behavior manifested there is generalized and accepted.
The atmosphere of nudity and indecency at the festival, for example, prefigured the destruction of modesty and propriety seen in today’s fashions. The unbridled passions unleashed at Woodstock pushed the envelope of what causes scandal so that today nothing seems to shock anymore.
However, the worst was the spirit of Woodstock that soon permeated everywhere. Its hippie generation fled from things that were reasoned, structured, and systematized in favor of all that is spontaneous, carefree, and impulsive. The civilization of the image and sensationalism replaced intellectual effort and abstract thought. People rejected discipline and restraint and called for an end to all rules.
“It is forbidden to forbid!” shouted the student protesters at France’s Sorbonne University in 1968.
Across the Atlantic on the trash-littered fields at Woodstock, a generation embraced an anything-goes culture where you could “do your own thing.”
The myth of Woodstock claimed the event was all about a new age of freedom, love, and peace. Without the restraints of Christian morals and social structures, people could “imagine” a perfect world and live together in harmony without property, authority, and God.
However, as in all utopian fantasies, reality crashes through the illusions. A Woodstock world is a nightmare. Indeed, without courtesy and propriety, society becomes full of friction and discord. When all is spontaneous and undefined, there can be no certainties and convictions. Where there is no restraint, the tyranny of unbridled passions rules.
Woodstock represented what America would eventually become—a broken and dysfunctional society. It shows what happens when “you do your own thing” without self-restraint.
Thus, the logic of Woodstock makes the cancelation of its anniversary predictable. Woodstock 50 failed because a Woodstock society cannot function in the real world. The festival could not imagine itself into existence.
In a do-your-own-thing world, Woodstock 50 suffered from the difficulty of generating interest beyond those things that absorb the individual lives of people.
Between nostalgic baby boomers and curious millennials, promoters hoped for an intergenerational audience of 150,000. The event organizers spent more than $32 million booking more than 80 acts. They paid handsomely for top names: Jay-Z, Miley Cyrus, Santana, Imagine Dragons, and others were scheduled to perform. Even some of the rock groups present in 1969 agreed to come on board.
However, like the original event, plans soon fell apart when no one wanted to make the necessary commitments to make it work. Financial backers and festival partners backed out of the deal. Promoters failed to secure the needed municipal permits. The venue changed three times. No one wanted to touch the event.
Town officials in two small towns in upstate New York opposed the plans fearing they might be overwhelmed by logistic nightmares like those that happened at the first event. It soon became apparent that Woodstock could no longer be held in New York. A smaller venue was finally secured at the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, MD.
With the smaller venue so far from the original site, the top stars that draw the great audiences dropped out of a downsized event that failed to match the size of their inflated egos. Soon, lesser acts also began to jump ship.
Even a last-minute attempt to turn the affair into a benefit for HeadCount, a nonprofit that registers voters at concerts, failed miserably.
Woodstock and Woodstock 50 failed because the promises of peace and love were empty and meaningless. As the original event, Woodstock’s promotion of the sexual revolution was a disaster despite the establishment’s efforts to rescue it. Society has broken down because doing your own thing comes at a cost for others, including unborn babies, and the breaking of family relationships and healthy communities. Above all, Woodstock denied God and enshrined the individual as a god.
If America is polarized and directionless today, it is partly due to the cultural revolution that emanated from Woodstock. The solution is not to recreate Woodstock fifty years later, but to reject it as the cultural and moral disaster that it was.
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* Sisario, Ben. “The Disastrous Woodstock 50: What Went Wrong?” The New York Times, August 1, 2019.
Editor’s Note: The featured image is a photo taken near Woodstock in August of 1969 by Ric Manning, and is licensed under Creative Commons 3.0.