All posts filed under: Articles

Voucher Programs: Problems and Promises for Catholic Schools

During the recent confirmation process of current U.S. Secretary of Education Betsey DeVos, her critics decried a 2001 speech in which DeVos referred to her work in education reform as an attempt to “help advance God’s kingdom.” The New York Times cried “theocracy,” while the secretary’s Calvinist coreligionists assured us that this simply means she wants to help people.[1]  Of course, both condemnation and reduction of DeVos’s religious motivations elide the fact that both the advent of common schooling in America and the early 20th century movement for mass secondary education were animated by religious convictions. Antebellum Whig reformers sought to establish a system to inculcate pan-Protestant piety and morality.[2] Progressive Era social meliorists were informed by the Social Gospel movement, which imagined the Kingdom of God as a primarily material affair.[3] Historical precedent notwithstanding, it seems that DeVos’s statement raised alarm because of concerns with institutional mingling, or in the language of Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971), an “excessive entanglement” of government and religion.[4] Voucher programs and other state aid measures raise a similar question …

Let’s Not Ignore Scientific Faith

The great project of modern scientific positivism has been to establish all that can be known with absolute certainty—to isolate that knowledge which is purely objective and provable by experiment, and to hold this alone as truth. Michael Polanyi explains this clearly in The Tacit Dimension: “The declared aim of modern science is to establish a strictly detached, objective knowledge. Any falling short of this ideal is accepted only as a temporary imperfection, which we must aim at eliminating” (20). Ideally, this knowledge is not in any way influenced by human personality—despite the fact that it might be discovered and articulated by humans, it stands entirely on its own. Such a project has been and generally continues to be held as unquestionably valid and worth pursuing. And, if academia has begun to reject this positivist project, it still lingers on in government, media, education, and the popular imagination. The seemingly obvious question that often goes unasked is whether such a project was ever even possible. On what basis can it be assumed that science might …

The Practice of Catholicism and Modern Identity

We are products of our zeitgeist more than we sometimes understand or admit. The Gospel of Jesus Christ transcends time and place, but Catholics themselves are not immune from the influences of the period in which they are born. Simply by virtue of living in the contemporary age, modern Catholics are presented with a set of peculiar difficulties that either explicitly or implicitly affect the practice of their faith. One of the greatest challenges pressing believers today is what Benedict XVI called the “dictatorship of relativism.”[1] A prevalent part of our worldview is certainly the idea that no objective moral truths exist or that all moral truths are historically conditioned. But relativism is not the only trial modernity presents and further difficulties arise in the response to the relativist mindset. This essay is an attempt to understand one such challenge: a type of intellectualism that I find common among Catholics who come or return to the faith after a period of searching. That is, for many persons who come to the Church to escape the modern …

Galileo in Reverse: America’s Abortion Dystopia

At the end of this week, the people of Ireland are set to vote in a national referendum on the 8th Amendment, which currently guarantees equal rights to the life of the mother and the life of her unborn child. A “yes” vote would repeal the 8th Amendment and allow elective abortion up to 12 weeks gestation; a “no” vote would continue Ireland’s 35 year Constitutional ban on abortion. The country’s restrictive abortion law means that only 1 in 18 pregnancies end in abortion, compared to 1 in 5 in both Great Britain and the United States and 1 in 4 in Sweden. As Ireland prepares for its historic vote, on this side of the Atlantic, we in the United States have the opportunity to critically examine our own abortion laws. Contrary to popular belief, America’s abortion laws are among the most permissive in the world. The United States is included among the 30% of countries that allow abortion for any reason, and while the vast majority of these countries have gestational limits for elective …

The Eschatological Marian Image

In sharp contrast to the multiple-viewpoint technique and elongated figures dominating the old, Byzantine-influenced paintings, the new Western 15th century religious images are distinguished above all by an “increasing realism” embedding conspicuous moments in biblical narrative within landscapes or interiors of great spatial and symbolic complexity. Moreover, the increased availability of panel paintings and, by the mid-15th-century, woodcuts, naturally facilitates their acquisition as quasi-spiritual tokens for the purpose of private devotion. Hans Belting writes: “Individual citizens did not want an image different from the public one so much as they needed one that would belong to them personally. They expected the image to speak to them in person.” Jeffrey Hamburger notes that the transition from aniconic to an image-based vision is characterized by “the increasingly important role of corporeal imagery in spiritual life.” In this development, spanning from the late 13th through the 15th century, “the process of vision is detached from the process of reading [Scripture].” Less the focus of sustained exegesis or affective vision than a deposit of possible allusions and increasingly fungible …

Traversing Marian Economics

This August I will celebrate five years since being received into full communion with the Catholic Church. My journey into the Church was a long one, at least ten years. When I began telling friends and family about my upcoming reception, like most Catholic “converts” I received a wide range of reactions. I’d been raised within a small Protestant holiness denomination and later, during graduate school, I was confirmed in the Episcopal church. In addition to this, for many years I’d been studying and practicing canonical icon writing with a Russian Orthodox school of iconology. Some people couldn’t understand why I’d leave the Episcopal church as they knew I had convictions about women’s leadership in the church. Others couldn’t understand why I wasn’t becoming Orthodox, given my passion for the holy images. It is never easy to explain such journeys, and it is not my personality to attempt explanation. But some loved ones needed to hear something by way of explanation and so, when I found it pressing, I gave the best answer I could …

Invisible Icons: Are Our Children Seeing Jesus?

“Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?” And the king will say to them in reply, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matt 25: 37-40). As a parent, I want my children to always know and see Jesus. Jesus’s account of the Last Judgement tells us that if we want to see Jesus, then he is hidden in our cities and doubly hidden at that. The story about the Last Judgement in Matthew 25 is an indication not so much of what is to come for us, but the story of Jesus for you and I, and our children, at this very moment. Jesus is approaching us daily in our relationships with others. Jesus seeking us in our relationships with others is a very communitarian …

Met Gala: Catholicism Broken but Shining

“Yo que sentí el horror de los espejos,” says Jorge Louis Borges. “I’ve been horrified before mirrors.”[1] Such strange things, mirrors. Those mysterious surfaces that reflect the eye’s light back to itself.[2] Poets so like to speak of them. Perhaps out of vanity, and perhaps because in mirrors we see “darkly” (cf. 1 Cor 13:12). One can never quite tell with poets. As for mirrors: mirrors, they are everywhere. Mirrors are experienced “ante el aqua,” writes Borges. “Before water.” Before speculating water that imitates The other blue in its deep sky[3] Or mirrors exist in windows, some of which Rainer Marian Rilke describes as an “Auge.” “An eye, which seems to rest.”[4] An eye that “opens and bangs shut (zusammenschlägt) with a crack of thunder.”[5] It is as if both poets imagine entire worlds behind (beneath? within?) each reflective surface. I include the original languages if only to force the eye to pause, to interpret. To hesitate and search for understanding. After all, knowing is not like looking.[6] I cannot walk along and pick up …

The “Repeal the 8th” Campaign Negates an Irish History of Non-Violence

For many decades now, Ireland has been a shining beacon of non-violence—one which refuses to choose between the life and dignity of a mother and that of her prenatal child. Abortion had long been illegal in Ireland, but in 1983 the Irish (by a 67-33 referendum vote) adopted this 8th amendment to their constitution: The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right. And they have made good on their promise to protect and love both mother and child. Indeed, Ireland has significantly better health outcomes for pregnant women than abortion-friendly England and the United States. Significantly, this is also true of Chile, one of a handful other countries to offer something close to full legal protection of the prenatal child. Ostensibly in support of “health care” for women, however, pro-abortion rights forces around the world have been supporting a referendum to repeal the 8th …

The Mother of God and Psychoanalysis

One of the memorable and almost lyrical books I read as part of my private instruction prior to entering the Church was the great Jesuit theologian Henri de Lubac’s The Splendor of the Church. The book is a fine example of what I would call “devotional ecclesiology.” It does not—as my own book on the papacy does—concern itself with the more impersonal structures and offices of the Church, but rather with the personal nature of “Ecclesia Mater,” Mother Church, whose maternity is seen vis-à-vis the Mother of God. That book, and that phrase, came back to mind in reading of the recent announcement by Pope Francis that he is instigating a new feast for Pentecost Monday celebrated in honor of Mary, Mother of the Church. Why this feast? The official decree says that it aims at a “growth of the maternal sense of the Church.” What, I wonder, does the “maternal sense of the Church” really mean? Here, naturally, my mind turned to post-Freudian psychologist D.W. Winnicott, whose research did so much to advance our …