All posts filed under: Articles

Reading the Writing in the Dirt

How do you read it? This question, posed to Jesus repeatedly throughout the Gospels, reminds us that interpretation of God’s Law was fundamental to Jesus’s life as a 1st century Jewish rabbi. It remains important today in the Church and no less controversial, as could be seen from the difficult questions on canon law and scriptural interpretation which have rocked the Catholic Church in the past years. Many vexed questions beat at the heart of these ecclesial disputes, but surely the question of how to interpret the Scriptures and ecclesial law in a way that respects both God’s justice and mercy reverberates beneath them all. As we turn inward for self-examination this Lent and seek to find God’s justice and mercy in our own lives too, the question of interpretation becomes personally paramount. To find our way, we can do no better in reflecting on this than to look at how Jesus himself held together the requirements for both justice and mercy in the interpretation of God’s Law. Neither can be omitted. As Pope Francis …

The Clear Message of Christus Vivit

On the feast of the Annunciation, Pope Francis signed his most recent Apostolic Exhortation, Christus Vivit, a document addressed to young people and to the entire people of God. It is a response to the recent Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment. The pope explains that he let himself “be inspired by the wealth of reflections and conversations that emerged from last year’s Synod,” (Christus Vivit, §4) and provides a summary of these proposals, but also offers a continuation of his vision for the kerygmatic[1] evangelization of the Church that he provides in his previous exhortations.[2] Particularly interesting is the title of this exhortation. While in previous exhortations Pope Francis has used the theme of joy as his starting place, in this letter, he gives the reason for our joy: “Christ is alive!” (CV, §1). With this title, he exemplifies his call for kerygmatic evangelization contained in the previous documents. The title of the document, Christus Vivit, highlights Pope Francis’s desire to have a Christocentric focus with his audience. Throughout the exhortation, …

A Closer Look at Medieval Lent’s Toughness

Medieval Lent was onerous, too difficult for us moderns to imagine—bread, beer (basically liquid bread), and vegetables for 40 days for all people. Peasants especially are supposed to have been durable, hard-knuckled folks who embraced the light yoke of fasting as a necessary part of the rhythms of liturgical time. Underlying each epoch, after all, is what Fritz Bauerschmidt has called a “metaphysical image,” that is, some metaphor that defines it, shapes it such that it produces specific sorts of people, rooted in specific values.[1] On this reading of medieval Lent, tradition is not merely something handed down; rather, it is something to which we look in awe—pristinely pious, dedicated, a measuring stick for our own inadequacies and misgivings. An article on one website says it all: “Think Lent is Tough? Take a Look at Medieval Lenten Practices.” When a topic becomes clickbait, it is safe to say it is an embedded part of Catholic consciousness. In its way, this perspective has led to something of a cottage industry of Lenten repentance. There was, until …

Lent Intensifies

This final section of pieces from the 40 Songs for 40 Days playlist continues and intensifies the styles heard in the previous ten pieces. We hear from contemporary composers like Morten Lauridsen, Ola Gjeilo, and Paul Mealor, whose choral writing evokes a great sense of serenity in the listener, while James MacMillan and Francis Poulenc call to mind the intensity and drama of the Paschal Mystery. We also hear older pieces from the treasury of Catholic sacred music by composers like Gregorio Allegri, Giaches de Wert, and Thomas Tallis, as well as a chant whose composer’s name has been lost to the centuries, but whose musical legacy continues to lead people closer to God. Pieces like these are vivid reminders of why music has always held such an important role in the Church: the mysteries of the faith come alive in melody, harmony, and rhythm, allowing listeners to encounter them anew, paving the way for a deeper encounter with the One who dwells at the heart of them all. This music bears repeated listening not …

The Gospels Manifest a Poetic Christ

Olivier-Thomas Venard, O.P. is a professor of the New Testament at the École Biblique in Jerusalem. The Dominican scholar integrates his training in post-structuralism, linguistics, and literary criticism into a “Thomasian” framework enriched by his Dominican vocation. Described as a “Toulouse Dominican with a différance,” Venard’s inquiry into the original meaning of Aquinas’s theology incorporates the best insights from a wide array of scholarly discourses (biblical studies, historical and systematic theology, philosophy and literary studies) as a means for both retrieving Aquinas’s thought and enabling it to unveil the unity of these discourses in the Word. We had the privilege of participating in a reading group dedicated to the recently translated anthology of Olivier-Thomas Venard, O.P.’s work entitled, A Poetic Christ: Thomist Reflections on Scripture, Language, and Reality (T&T Clark, 2019). A Poetic Christ was edited and translated by Notre Dame’s Francesca A. Murphy and Kenneth Oakes, drawing texts from across Venard’s vast theological trilogy: Littérature et théologie: Une saison en enfer (2002), La langue de l’ineffable: Essai sur le fondement théologique de la métaphysique (2004), …

Brideshead Revisited During Lent

Sorting out our many possessive, grasping loves, and redirecting them towards God is the objective of Lent asceticism. Charles Ryder, in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, is transformed by becoming friends with Sebastian Flyte. His love for Sebastian opens him up to a joy in life he has never known. Although their love is tinged with a possessiveness that eventually kills it, Charles is permanently changed. Their relationship raises a theological question: what is the nature of eros? Is it ultimately selfish and unworthy of a Christian, or is it the very soil without which grace cannot take root? In Charles’s spiritual journey, an answer is proposed through suffering and renunciation. It is through, and not in spite of his eros for Sebastian, and later for Sebastian’s sister Julia, that Charles is led to agape, self-gift, and so ultimately from agnosticism to the Catholic Church. Et in Arcadia Ego Charles and Sebastian in Arcadia By the time Charles Ryder and Lord Sebastian Flyte meet, they are in their second term at Oxford. Each has already begun …

Glimpsing Eternity Through Lent Melody

We enter into a more overtly sacred repertoire with music written in a more “classical” style, though the majority of the pieces included here were not written in the Classical era of Western music (c. 1750–1830), but in the 20th century. While many of these pieces were inspired by the liturgy, in particular the Mass, most of them would not have been heard in a liturgical context, though for today’s liturgies, some of the shorter sacred anthems such as Eli! Eli! and Mary Speaks certainly could be appropriate selections for the Good Friday Celebration of the Lord’s Passion. These pieces of sacred music are meant to foster a rich devotional life—the time spent living the liturgy out in the context of daily life, the time outside of the liturgical celebration proper. For most lay people, the devotional life—which flows from and leads back to the liturgical life—encompasses the majority of life in general. Listening to this music in the morning while getting ready for work or for school, or in the evening while preparing dinner …

The (Video) Game Is On

The remarkable growth of various forms of electronic gaming in our culture may strike us as an ambiguous phenomenon. Yet, it must be admitted that video games are worth taking seriously as an influential popular art form. Even non-gamers like myself can appreciate their visual design, narrative intricacies, and other distinctive qualities. Artists in other media have paid homage to the allure of video games. The AMC television series Halt and Catch Fire nodded to the creativity of early game designers and programmers. Steven Spielberg’s recent film Ready Player One showcased the excitement and power of games. A live-action television series based on the celebrated game Halo is on Spielberg’s production docket. My own interest in popular culture has been an asset to my work in campus ministry. Movies, television, music, advertising, fashion, sports—all of these have currency in young adult culture, and carry the potential for serious reflection. They provide opportunities to explore personal and social issues, or to delve into philosophical and theological questions. A personal case in point involved a college student …