All posts filed under: Archive

A Letter to the Newly-Baptized

To the Newly-Baptized: You may already feel it—the fact that this journey you are on made a significant transition when you were baptized. Though you remain on the same path towards Christ, your landscape and means for getting there have radically changed. In this post I will discuss three ways in which your Baptism marked a significant moment in your journey, changing you irreversibly, and then speak to the continuing nature of your journey. First, in Baptism you were adopted into a new family, one of choice. Though you were born into a birth family many years ago, Robin Jensen in Baptismal Imagery in Early Christianity notes that “unlike a birth family, this was a family one chose” (57). Tertullian exhorts the one being baptized saying: When you come up from that most sacred washing of the new birth and for the first time you raise your hands with your brethren in your mother’s house, ask of your Father, ask of your Lord, for special grants of grace and attributions of spiritual gifts. (58) You now have …

Catechesis of the Good Shepherd: Cultivating the Christian Imagination of the Child

Recently I was talking to a mother of two young children, who explained that she drops her youngest son off at childcare while she attends Mass because “he is too young to get anything out of it.” Implicit in her remark is the assumption that the child, particularly the young child, neither possesses within himself a hunger for God nor is capacitated for worship—that his age prevents him from meaningful participation in the liturgy. She primarily envisions worship in terms of utility. It exists in order for us to “get something.” Cast in therapeutic, moralistic, and individualist terms worship functions either to meet one’s subjective needs, to make one “feel good,” or to make one a generically “better person.” Such a view, both of the nature of the young child and of worship is deeply imprinted on the Catholic imagination in the United States. Children are seen as a distraction to adult worship—hence, the emergence of strategies to get kids out of Mass: “the cry room” and “children’s Liturgy of the Word.” In fact, there …

Searching for Christ

T.S. Eliot writes in the third of his Four Quartets, “The Dry Salvages,” “We had the experience but missed the meaning” (II.44). In a single line, Eliot illuminates the affliction of fallen humanity: we are, in the words of St. Peter Chrysologus, “enshrouded always in darkness” (Sermon 160). We look, but the cataracts of sin cloud our perception. We listen, but we do not hear. We have the experience, but we miss the meaning. Over the course of a lifetime, we can amass a breathtaking array of exotic experiences. We casually refer to twitter feeds, bucket lists, and upgrades. We inhabit a world awash in information, where the same scraps of news are looped on a 24-hour cycle until a new story dislodges them, casting them into the abyss of forgetfulness—where one might know more about celebrities than about one’s neighbor; where poetry, according to some literary critics, has become increasingly didactic; where in-depth analysis often means little more than getting the facts right. So ubiquitous is the constant exchange of information that we’ve developed …

The Circumcision of Jesus and the Mother of God

A little over four years ago, I was in a hospital in Fort Wayne, Indiana, awaiting the discharge of my newborn son. At birth, he had trouble breathing (a skill he would learn with ease in a day or two), and thus spent nearly five days surrounded by the whirl of hospital machinery intended to monitor his every breath, a group of top-notch nurses embodying caritas, and the overwhelming love of his ‘newborn’ parents. My son had not yet known the possibility of pain. Until his circumcision. He was taken from his hospital room for the brief procedure. Upon his arrival back, he cried and cried and cried. We were instructed to put ointment on the place of his recently removed foreskin (otherwise, the skin would stick to the diaper and cause a fresh wound). For weeks, every time I changed his diaper, I encountered a color red as blood—a wound that did not quickly disappear. I think of this moment in encountering the Gospel for the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God. The Gospel speaks about …

The Feast of the Holy Family: Not Just a Model

Those of us suspicious of the pious platitudes that too often make their home in Catholic homiletic practice know that the feast of the Holy Family is a “code-red” day for such platitudes. We families assemble in our parishes and are exhorted that we should conform our domestic life according to the peaceful, loving relationships of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. The image of the Holy Family that we receive is one pictured on holy cards where perfect beauty and order and attention are mutually given by Mary, Joseph, and Jesus (I suppose there were no smartphones to distract attention . . . otherwise Christ would have been found wandering around Jerusalem playing Pokémon GO instead of in the Temple). Those of us with toddlers normally do not hear this point of homiletic insight (ironically) because our children want to take up their vocation as amateur arsonists by playing with the candles placed before the statue of the Blessed Mother or to take a swim in the baptismal font. But for those of us able to attend to the preaching this …

Weeping with Rachel, in Sorrow and Hope

There are some stereotypes that often accompany the college stage of a woman’s life. Some (like loving babies, studying in coffee shops, etc), I embraced. Others I did my absolute best to avoid (and we’ll leave those ones to the imagination). My friends and I all proudly took up an affection for and gravitation toward all infants and young children within a mile radius as our stereotypical banner of choice. In fact, we had an unspoken arrangement that involved immediately informing each other of the presence of any nearby bundle(s) of joy. My girlfriends and I reveled in the wonder that small children have; we discussed how there is nothing on this earth more precious than tiny fingers, toes, and noses; we felt the urge to play peek-a-boo with any and all small children who crossed our paths. And if we saw a little tyke just wobbily learning to walk, it was absolutely the game-over-highlight of our day. Not having children of our own yet meant that we certainly still had a somewhat romanticized view of young children …

“Little Children, Love One Another”

For reasons I can’t sufficiently explain, I find that the saints honored by the Church during the Christmas season somehow call my attention a little more than those celebrated at other times of the year. Perhaps it’s because these saints seem to be made more radiant in the glow of the Christmas celebration. Today the Church honors one of the most important figures in the history of Christianity: St. John, Apostle and Evangelist. John has long been a source of fascination for me: my younger brother shares his name, and because of that, when I was a small child, my ears always perked up at Mass whenever I heard the name “John” mentioned. (They still do.) As an adult, I am even more fascinated by St. John the Evangelist—his Gospel and epistles contain some of my favorite passages in all of Scripture. Were I ever to share John’s fate and be banished to an island like Patmos, I would take his writings with me, for I feel certain that I could spend the rest of my life studying …

Auden on the Feast of St. Stephen

Well, so that is that. Now we must dismantle the tree, Putting the decorations back into their cardboard boxes— Some have got broken—and carrying them up to the attic. The holly and the mistletoe must be taken down and burnt, And the children got ready for school. There are enough Left-overs to do, warmed-up, for the rest of the week— Not that we have much appetite, having drunk such a lot, Stayed up so late, attempted—quite unsuccessfully— To love all of our relatives, and in general Grossly overestimated our powers. —W.H. Auden, “For the Time Being” December 26 can be a miserable morning. The fresh-looking print in one’s new books already has the dull glaze of familiarity. If you’re me, your new pants may already have a tear in them. Yesterday weren’t all things supposed to be made new? Didn’t I just try for four weeks to egg on my longing for Christ, dragging it slouching and grumbling out from under my rocky heart? If I did, I have nothing to show for it. I’m …

The Virgin of Guadalupe and the Season of Advent

For several Christian people throughout the world, especially Mexican and Mexican-American Christians, December 12, of course, is the celebration of the Virgin Mary of Guadalupe. The feast commemorates her December 9–12, 1531 appearances to St. Juan Diego, the Náhuatl-Aztec who had recently converted to Christianity, whose own tilma or cloak bore—and continues to bear—the miraculous imprint of her image from when “the desert rejoiced and blossomed” (Is 35:1) at Mt. Tepeyac with Castillian roses blooming in December: the image of the Brown Virgin (La Morenita), the indigenous mestiza clothed with the sun and wearing the cinta, the band of pregnancy, standing on the moon, head bowed and hands folded in prayer, and born aloft by an angel of the Lord. I would like to suggest that the Virgin of Guadalupe belongs in a particular way to our Advent preparations because, like Mary herself in her great New Testament hymn of God’s praise, the Magnificat, she proclaims to us the Gospel, the Good News of our salvation in Christ, the Good News of God who scatters the proud, exalts the lowly, …

To Stay on Target: The Immaculate Conception

On Thursday, March 25, 1858, standing in the Grotto of Massabielle, Lourdes, Our Lady identified herself as the Immaculate Conception. This self-revelation, four years after the proclamation of the dogma of this mystery of our faith, belongs to the core of her message to St. Bernadette and is unique compared to other apparitions. As the Immaculate Conception, the Blessed Virgin Mary resembles and proclaims God’s authentic, i.e. immaculate, concept of the human person created in his image and likeness. To say it differently: in Mary’s person radiates forth the authentic blueprint that God designed for each of his children. It follows that she is the ideal exception and we are the unfortunate rule of God’s wish for us! The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception celebrated on December 8 honors Our Lady as the personification of the re-created order in Christ. Having been pre-redeemed and fully redeemed, Mary’s spiritual wealth constitutes that dimension of her being which is veiled to the outside and transcends time and matter. In its depth it is fully known only to God. …