All posts filed under: Articles

Editorial Musings: The Charism of Infertility

Over the last year, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the sacrament of marriage while teaching a course to undergraduates on precisely this topic. As I teach this course, I’m always amazed by the gift of sacramental marriage in ecclesial life. The couple’s consent binds them not simply to one another but to one another through Christ. The couple becomes in the sacrament of marriage an icon of Christ and the Church, mediating Eucharistic love to the world. The couple does so through family life, the charism of mundaneness that renews every aspect of the created order. It is precisely in this context that I have come to recognize that couples struggling with infertility have a particular charism within the sacrament of marriage itself. When I tell people that my spouse and I cannot have children (at least thus far), there is always one of two reactions. The first is a question: Have you heard about the Creighton Model of treating infertility? We say yes. The second reaction is a well-intentioned (though deeply idiotic) …

Hitting the Lenten Reset Button

It’s hard to believe, but there are less than two weeks left of this Lenten season. I don’t know about you, but this Lent has been a struggle for me. It seems like every which way I turn, there’s something luring me to indulge instead of fast (I had a stressful day and I want to eat my feelings!), tempting me to slack off instead of pray (It’s so late/early and I’m so tired!), or enticing me to spend money on myself instead of give to those in need (I’ve done really well with fasting and prayer—I deserve to treat myself!). There is something hard-wired within human beings that runs away from the difficult and retreats into the comfortable familiar. There is also something equally innate that is all-too-eager to excuse one’s own failures, to overlook one’s own flaws (something that, oddly enough, seems all-too-eager to condemn the failures and flaws of others). We are masters of rationalization and justification, and Lent—the Church’s annual invitation (challenge) to look at ourselves with an honest eye—somehow turns …

Sailing the Unknown Ocean: Vocation and Pilgrimage in Moana

This past week saw the DVD release of the latest addition to the canon of Disney animated films: Moana. Not since The Lion King has a Disney film presented such rich thematic content: Moana is a beautiful depiction of the link between the discovery of one’s vocational identity and the pilgrimage that results from that discovery. Its imagery and language contain deep scriptural resonances that make it arguably the most theological Disney film to date. From the opening moments of the film, the audience is invited to “put out into deep water,” if you will, as the narrator begins the story not with the traditional phrase “Once upon a time,” but with the words “In the beginning.” What unfolds is a creation narrative of sorts: the world is at harmony and all is well until the demigod Maui steals the heart of the island goddess Te Fiti, which holds within it the power to create. As a result, darkness enters the cosmos, gradually spreading a deadly blight throughout the lands and seas. Those with even …

Religion and the Arts: Augustine’s Netflix

Binge-watching is America’s new pastime. Netflix alone currently boasts 43 million subscribers and counting, who—to adopt a wry turn of phrase from an article in The Economist—are “living the stream.” Netflix­ and its competitors Hulu, Amazon Prime Instant Video, HBO Go, et al have revolutionized how and how much we watch television and film. They have commercialized entertainment ad infinitum: drama, humor, insight, and a good plot line compel our attention as a kind of dramatic watering hole, something we come back to again and again during our given work week. The plot lines of our favorite shows are familiar, quirky, and dependable like a close friend, and online streaming has only expedited this quality time. Each show and movie slowly gives shape to an entire life that we imaginatively inhabit. In a certain poetic sense, it is not a coincidence that the plot diagram itself figuratively (and literally, if you consider the shape) imitates the human pulse. Thus the comfort and autonomic vitality of a continuous stream of plots packaged in episode form: exposition, …

The Love of the Hound of Heaven

One morning sometime in the middle of August about ten years ago, I lay awake on an uncomfortable bed in my bedroom, which was tucked above the stairs in the Cottage, one of the volunteer houses at Red Cloud Indian School where I was preparing to start my second year of teaching. I hadn’t been able to sleep the previous night, so at about 4am, I decided to watch the sun rise over the ancient hills of Pine Ridge. Throwing on a sweatshirt, I plodded past the elementary school playground, past the green dinosaur, and up a hill to the cemetery. My feet were damp with dew and dust as I took a seat in the far corner of the cemetery, next to Chief Red Cloud’s grave. There I watched the sun come up over Manderson Hill and a full moon set over the buttes out toward Chadron Road. For a single suspended moment they faced each other, as though speaking the strange, secret language of the dawn, an earnestly joyful exchange of light. For …

An Ethic of Listening

I love to write and speak—definitely a verbal processor—but I wouldn’t say I’m naturally a good listener. This double-edged sword makes me an effective rhetorician but also a candidate for what St. Paul refers to as “a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” in the oft-quoted love chapter of 1 Corinthians (1 Cor 13:1). In the Internet age we live in, our entire society struggles with this issue. There are few checks on self-expression, and words are flooding the sound and digital waves constantly, drowning one another out with increasing urgency and vitriol. Politics, particularly in this last election cycle, has left many of us disillusioned by the complete lack of civil discourse and real listening taking place in the halls of power. The media got the country completely wrong by not listening to a whole class of real people and their actual thoughts on the state of things. Though I do all kinds of writing and speaking on life issues, and I don’t shy away from rallies and protests as well, I’ve come to …

Fairy Tales and Realpolitik

In Orthodoxy G.K. Chesterton praises fairy tales not because they imagine an alternate world but because they marvel at the universe as it is. Materialists take for granted that apples fall from trees. Fairy tales wonder, because logically speaking the apple didn’t need to fall down. Why didn’t it fall up? Couldn’t the law of gravity break? Why didn’t it break? He calls it “elementary wonder.”[1] Without explicitly connecting them, Chesterton makes a similar point in his following chapter on politics. If you want to improve the city you love, don’t try to find what’s lovable about it. Be shocked that your city is, be dazzled that you are there and not somewhere else. Then start your reform. Chesterton wants people to see their primal loyalty not as embarrassing, irrational, or socially constructed, but as a primal love. When you fall in love, you can never quite explain why you love the person you do. Mothers love a child this way, “arbitrarily, because it is theirs.”[2] Anyone with a precise reason to love would be …

Effective Preaching, From a Listener—Part 2

In the first article of this series, I talked about effectiveness as “preaching that sinks in like good butter on warm toast.” Much is written about the “good butter” that a homilist is to prepare. In the last segment we talked about the Holy Spirit who is the source of that “sinking in.” But what makes for “warm toast?” What would be helpful for preachers to know to help us listeners to grow in faith?[1] First, understand what our lives are like. Week after week, you are like a rock star. As you walk thirty feet or drive 60 miles to the church building to say Mass, hundreds, maybe thousands of us are getting ready to hear you. After the fight with the ten-year-old over brushing his teeth, after changing the diaper or the bandages, after putting on the knee brace or the hearing aids, we turn the handle to the church door, file in and slide into the pew. Phew! We got here. Do you know how much effort it takes for us all …

Dying to Christ

“In that day, says the LORD, courage shall fail both king and princes; the priests shall be appalled and the prophets astounded.” Then I said, “Ah, Lord GOD, surely thou hast utterly deceived this people and Jerusalem, saying, `It shall be well with you’; whereas the sword has reached their very life.” My anguish, my anguish! I writhe in pain! Oh, the walls of my heart! My heart is beating wildly; I cannot keep silent; for I hear the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war. Disaster follows hard on disaster, the whole land is laid waste. Suddenly my tents are destroyed, my curtains in a moment. How long must I see the standard, and hear the sound of the trumpet? “For my people are foolish, they know me not; they are stupid children, they have no understanding. They are skilled in doing evil, but how to do good they know not.” I looked on the earth, and lo, it was waste and void; and to the heavens, and they had no light. I …