Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Unmasking of Desire: Oscar Wild and the Heart

There is something beautiful about the conversion that is brought about after someone was publicaly humiliated as a sinner. Joseph Pearce's book The Unmasking of Oscar Wild describes Oscar Wild's painful life and ultimate conversion. Everyone desires happiness, but not every passion can satisfy the human heart. Baudelaire and Huysmans, after failing to find correspondence between his heart and the self-destructive perversions that they sought, ultimately found this correspondence in Christ and became Catholic. Oscar Wild had a more difficult experience, although he at times tried to follow his true heart, he was easily led astray by eager seducers who he could not resist. The beauty of Pearce’s book is that people who are ultimately faithful to their desire can only find its completeness in Christ.

What about the inner life of man in our contemporary world? Do the endless distractions prevent people from finding the path that corresponds to their hearts? George Bernanos saw many years ago that modern culture attacks the inner life of man. While there can be no limits to grace, the task of conversion seems more difficult today. There are many who seem to be led astray in attempts to find happiness, but the effectiveness and destruction brought about in modern marketing efforts are so extensive that people are prevented from observing their inner-lives. The conversion of Baudelaire and Huysman would have been different today because of the extensiveness of modern culture and the greater reform Christianity seems to require today. In the days of Wild, there were many Oxford professors who were faithful Catholics, and their presence at Oxford provided a place for people to go and ask questions to intelligent people that they could trust. The distance in modern culture and its vast efforts to remove the voice of Catholics, particularly in Europe, from culture, means that conversion now involves a more radical commitment than ever before.

The paradox is that never has the world seen as much unhappiness as today. The promises of materialist culture cannot even approach the needs of the human heart. This means that there has never been a time when people would be more open to the promise.

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