All posts filed under: Articles

The Wayward Daughters

“All my days I have longed equally to travel the right road and to take my own errant path,” confesses Kristin Lavransdatter, a wealthy Norwegian noblewoman and titular character of Nobel Prize-winner Sigrid Undset’s three-part novel.[1] Set in the fourteenth century, the saga follows the life of Kristin, one of the most complex female characters of 20th century literature, from womb to tomb. She wrestles with the weight of sin, her refusal to reconcile her will with God’s, and the suffering that accompanies her wayward decisions. In Brideshead Revisited, British novelist Evelyn Waugh brings another multi-layered female character to life: Lady Julia Flyte, a wealthy heiress living decadently in 20th century England. Each woman is raised in a devout Catholic home and yet is caught between her own passions and her love for God. Separated not only by geography and several centuries, Kristin and Julia’s lives are very different. Kristin is a mother of many and she lives to become a grandmother. Julia is childless. But Kristin Lavransdatter and Brideshead Revisited share the same themes …

Death and Bunnies All the Way Down?

SPOILER ALERT: SPOILERS AHEAD! Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb . . . T he doctrine of the Theotokos’s perpetual virginity is, paradoxically, a celebration of Mary’s utter fecundity. Surrendering utterly to the will of God, Mary bears fruit completely and comprehensively, in one elegant gesture of incarnation, in the Word himself. All of our human effort, all our worthwhile striving to produce, remain asymptotic reaches towards Mary’s fiat, in which she reaches the limit of human availability to do the will of God and produces maximal results: God himself. Queen Anne, the broken heart of Yorgos Lanthimos’s mournful farce The Favourite, is a woman who is certainly fecund but whose efforts to bear fruit culminate in unrelentingly repeated traumas of loss. Seventeen rabbits hop around her room as insultingly ambulant tombstones for each of the fruits of her womb whom she has lost. The animal emblem for abundant procreation becomes a grotesquely fluffy incarnation of death. Anne, whose husband, children, and beloved sister have all been taken …

The Vast Re-Education Program of the Superbowl Ads

The zeitgeist of any new year can often be distilled by observing the snapshots of commodity culture that Super Bowl ads provide. A cursory survey of this year’s Super Bowl ad lineup includes the usual suspects. We like movies. We like cars. We like movies about cars. We like feeling safe. We like movies about not feeling safe. We like beer. Minus the corn syrup. This read is not wholly inaccurate but it is superficial. It assumes that the content of the ads is merely projecting our cultural interests and desires right back at us. But that is never the whole story. As Marshall McLuhan liked to put it, the content of any medium is the juicy piece of meat that the burglar offers the guard dog before ransacking the house. What are we missing by focusing on the products and gags that the advertisers serve up? We are missing something profound about the medium itself. Or in the case of the late television era, we are missing something profound about the tectonic shift from …

Maritain’s Postwar Compromise of Natural Law

Compared with Edmund Burke’s unsourced Thomism (see: previous instalment in this series) concerning natural law, Jacques Maritain’s version, from the mid 20th century, was far less authentic. Contrary to his unhelpfully ecumenical proclamations after World War II, the metaphysical and theological foundation of natural law, so well sustained by Burke, is not a matter of indifference with respect to the content and understanding of rights.[1] For without it the social will not tend to be seen as original and constitutive, and accordingly rights will be embraced on an assumption of ontological violence, which can only be channelled and newly wielded in all its arbitrariness, if the absoluteness of right is itself, paradoxically, to be upheld. For this reason all rights-based or rights-preponderant theories are pessimistic views which limit the scope of justice and in the case of the former, as with Hobbes (who remains always the arch-theorist of right, as Strauss correctly discerned), of its ultimate non-reality, save for the dismal notion that it is the established ruling fiction of God himself. For this reason, …

Catechesis as a Way of Life

What are the catechetical developmental tasks that can be identified in the Catechism of the Catholic Church? In the foregoing these tasks will be reviewed within the context of a family’s daily practice of their everyday lives. Developmental tasks have their origin from the staff associated with Daniel A. Prescott’s Child Study Program at the University of Chicago from 1935 to 1950.[1] They concluded that throughout our lives we are under the influence of an agenda of life goals. It was Robert Havighurst who defined this agenda of life goals as developmental tasks. He noted that each task “arises at or about a certain period in the life of the individual, successful achievement of which leads to . . . happiness and to success with later tasks, while failure leads to unhappiness in the individual, disapproval by the society, and difficulties with later tasks.”[2] The tasks were recognized as related to physical and biological development, social-cultural influences and a person’s values and aspirations.[3] The meaningfulness of this concept is supported in its application in a …

After Failing the Covington Catholic Test

Like many others, I failed the Covington Catholic test. I let myself be manipulated (apparently at the hands of anonymous internet bots operating with precise coordination to unleash maximum mayhem) by the original video and castigated these boys without pausing to think about whether there might be more to the story. I was all ready to pitch an op-ed calling out the March for Life’s cozying up the “Make America Great Again” crowd—when, much to my surprise, more videos were released that caused me to revisit what I thought I had just seen. These boys, though not 100% innocent, were far from the villains in the affair. The rush to publicly ruin their lives, and even threaten their school with violence, was absolutely sickening. But even in the face of direct evidence to the contrary, many simply could not let go of the original narrative and went looking for more evidence in support of it. They were partially successful. In response to a Native American’s claim that whites stole their land, a boy who attended the March …

A Garden Lurking Beneath the Floorboards

In 1912, Sergei Bulgakov published The Philosophy of Economy, a sociological, philosophical, and religious examination of economic materialism. This was his way of settling an intellectual debt which he owed from his period as a respected Marxist intellectual. After writing two well-received works of Marxist economics, he drifted from political economy to explore the entire gamut of Idealist thought, particularly Kant, Hegel, and Schelling. This drift ended in one final major transition from Idealism to Christianity through reading the Russian sage and mystic Vladimir Solovyov. Like Solovyov, Bulgakov was drawn to a richly speculative understanding of the figure of Sophia from the Wisdom literature of the Old Testament—relating it in different ways to the order of Creation, the historical person of Mary, and the Church considered as the Bride of Christ. The Philosophy of Economy was Bulgakov’s first work to explicitly appeal to Sophiology in order to illuminate what are usually considered concerns of the practical order. With it, he hoped to move beyond the opposition of life and thought toward a more holistic, liturgical, …

Classroom Technology as the End of Education

As recently as half a decade ago, popular opinion regarded educational technology as a panacea for struggling schools and the key to reimagining American education. The New York Times was feting Khan Academy and the Washington Post continually lauded the possibilities afforded by “ed tech.”[1] In 2013, Google Classroom was still in its infancy, and the “flipped classroom” was more a novelty than a widespread practice.[2] Just a few years later, the educational cognoscenti are less certain. Pundits warn against indiscriminate adoption, and anxieties over excessive “screen time” have grown.[3] Many have become wary of the cultural and economic dominance of Google, Amazon, Facebook, and the like, especially in the education sector.[4] The fact that many tech executives send their children to tech-free schools alone should give us pause.[5] Yet most of these cautions are issued from a neurological, positivist-psychological, or otherwise materialist standpoint and retain the same criteria under which educational technology was applauded in the first place. We are told to be careful about the amount of technology in the classroom because it …

The History of Natural Right

Given this revisionary account of the development of natural law (click for previous instalment in this series) in western intellectual history, how does it relate to the story of natural rights? In the case of Aquinas, as with many other medieval theologians, and the canon law itself, the Christian exaltation of individual uniqueness and liberty led to a greater recognition of subjective rights in the sense of both claim and exercise rights than had previously been the case. However, the claims generally remained claims upon others to exercise their more primary duties, while exercise rights were attached to social roles whose duties were derived from justice as distribution.[1] Later, in the 16th century, in the case of both Catholic and Calvinist thought, there was a greater development of the idea of “rights” as attaching to human beings as such, especially with respect to life, freedom and ownership. Thus for example, Suarez no longer, like Aquinas, defined ius as id quod iustum est, or as the equitable, but as “a kind of facultas which every man …

Chief Obstacles to Good Spiritual Direction

I recently had a conversation with a group of friends about the state of parishes. During the conversation, one of them said something like, “What people really need is spiritual direction. That’s what people want, and what they need. That’s what parishes need to provide for us. Imagine how things could be different.” This corresponds to my experience working with parishes all around the country. When conversion begins to awaken a desire for intimacy with God, one of the first things people begin to desire is “spiritual direction.” Somewhere along the line they are introduced to the practice, perhaps through a friend, a book, or a speaker. More than any other kind of involvement in Church life, they desire and need guidance. I would like to propose that individual spiritual guidance be a primary ministry, in addition to the sacraments, that parishes provide. But there are some definite obstacles to this being the reality. I would like to identify just three of them: Catholics tend to have an overly mystical conception of spiritual direction. There are …