All posts filed under: Articles

Don’t Panic About Nones Who Stop Believing

Sooner or later—probably sooner rather than later these days—children stop believing in Santa Claus. My younger brother was an exception to this rule, although to be fair there were a lot more cultural supports for Santa Claus in the early 60’s, and my parents always arranged for someone dressed in convincing Santa attire to arrive in our front room parlor every Christmas Eve. However, we reached a point when the good Sisters in our parish school finally called my mother in and said, “It’s time to tell him.” My brother was devastated to learn the truth, but also embarrassed by the fact that it was not revealed to him sooner. I think of this often when I read all the hand-wringing about “Nones” and young adults “leaving the church.” According to research conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Pew Research Center, between 50 and 60 percent of people who claim no religious affiliation (the so-called “Nones”) report that they simply “stopped believing” in their childhood religion, usually before age 30. Of course, …

Friendship with the Beloved Disciple as Type in a Theology of Friendship

In the Fourth Gospel, the nameless character is introduced at the Last Supper as “the one whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23). He is explicitly named again under the Cross (John 19:26), at the empty tomb (John 20:2), and post-resurrection on the lakeshore in Galilee (John 21:7- 20). Each time this Beloved Disciple appears in the narrative, his friendship with Jesus is defined more fully through the context of the scene as well as in the repetition of his title as the “Disciple whom Jesus loved.” From the beginning of the fourth Gospel, Jesus is depicted as having access to the innermost being and secrets of God. In John 1:18, Jesus’s relationship with God is translated in several synonymous ways, any one of which conveys that he enjoys the deepest of intimacy: “in closest relation with the Father” or “at the side of the Father” or, more poetically, “in the bosom of the Father.” A similar portrait is given at the Last Supper. There, in John 13:23, the Beloved Disciple appears “reclining next to the breast …

Friendship with God is the Basis for All Friendships

The imagery of friendship is present in the first half of John’s narrative, but it comes into sharpest focus in the second half of the Gospel, particularly during the Last Supper, when Jesus refers to his disciples as “friends” in John 15:15:  “No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you.” The reference to friendship that precedes John 15:15 prepares the way for this astounding transformation of relationship with Jesus. Specifically, this reference appears in three pericopes concerning the characters of John the Baptist, Jesus’s friends from Bethany, and the Beloved Disciple. In these three different and distinct relationships, the author of the 4th Gospel makes use of the conceptual field of friendship, relationships which, in some ways, mirror that between Jesus and the Father. John the Baptist, the “Friend of the Bridegroom” The noun φίλος (friend/beloved) appears for the first time in John …

An Enduring Basis for Friendship as Taught by Jesus in the Gospel of John

Coming to South Bend in the Summer of 2016 from the Maltese islands, a little more than rocks in the Mediterranean, I marveled at the vast expanses of the Midwest and its array of tall, verdant trees. My daily route from the Notre Dame campus to the Preca Cottage ran along Twyckenham Drive. I walked home through a green corridor lined by oak trees, old and beautiful. My Society of Christian Doctrine sent me for three intensive weeks of reading Theology at Notre Dame with Dr Timothy O’Malley (“Introduction to Catechetical Theology”) and Dr Angela Senander (“Renewing Moral Theology with the Call to Holiness”). I arrived in June, fresh from having completed my thesis for the Master of Arts in Theology. Three months later, in September 2016, I successfully defended this same thesis on “‘Love of Friendship’ in the Christian Life” and was awarded the MA in December 2016. Thank God for this Christmas gift, which began with the great privilege of studying theology first at the University of Malta and subsequently at Notre Dame. …

The Single Most Important Thing I Noticed at the Fordham Catholic Imagination Conference

As I mentioned previously in the piece Things I Received at the Fordham Catholic Imagination Conference, at the end of April I was given the opportunity to attend the 2nd Catholic Imagination Conference at Fordham University. The notebook I carried with me from Indiana to New York City was my constant travel companion and confidante. Its pages are scrawled upon generously with every single little tidbit I could scavenge from the weekend. These notes are written in a very particular strain of my handwriting: not in my signature and presentable cursive reserved for thank-you notes, shopping lists, and even most of my lecture notes, but in my slanted, sideways, all-over-the-page chicken scratch that only comes out when I am absolutely desperate to cram ever little morsel of truth onto the page. For those of you who are curious about this conference: I would like nothing more than to sit down with you and show you each page of my notebook, tracing through each and every fascinating thing that I heard and saw. But, in the …

Jesus and the Old Testament

The Word of God grows its roots in the heart the more one shares it with others. That is why one of the surest ways of growing in knowledge and love for the Scriptures is to teach them to others, an opportunity I had for the first time (at least, as a theology professor) this semester in a course on the Old Testament. Some bright undergraduates, our diocese’s deacon candidates and their spouses, and I set out to gain a deeper understanding of the sacred texts that are foundational for both Jews and Christians. First, however, we had to tackle the issue of how one should read and interpret them. It is well-known that the divide between historical and theological study of the Bible has been a mainstay in higher education for decades. The predominance of the historical-critical method has separated biblical studies from theology in many seminaries and theological schools.[1] One need only look at the major figures in 20th century theology—Rahner and von Balthasar among them—to see that very few were thoroughly biblical …

Using Metaphors to Teach Prayer

Scriptures pulse with metaphorical phrases and images (“The Lord is my shepherd . . .”). Jesus’s description of the Kingdom of God is a metaphor. The National Directory for Catechesis [NDC] urges catechists to recognize and to apply metaphors in their teaching practices.[1] This is especially true in defining, encouraging, modeling, and practicing the art of prayer. The genius of defining prayer by metaphor is that it preserves prayer’s Mystery and intimacy. The Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC] uses a metaphor to define prayer by writing, “Prayer is the life of the new heart.”[2] For catechists to teach how prayer is both “life” and a “new heart,” students need to know how metaphors form and inform their prayer lives. First, metaphors shape our thought. Thinking in metaphors is part of our cognitive architecture and we form our world views through metaphors. They form pictures in our mind of how we live and how we act.[3] The power of “The Lord is my shepherd” (Ps 23:1) comes from the association with a loving, protective, and …

Artificial Wombs and the Intellectual Tasks of Building Cultures of Life

When Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI met with artists in the Sistine chapel in 2009, he noted that “an essential function of genuine beauty, as emphasized by Plato, is that it gives man a healthy ‘shock,’ it draws him out of himself, wrenches him away from resignation and from being content with the humdrum.”[1] Artists are often among the first social commentators, who like the saints, see the depths of reality with piercing acuity. In the shadow of the Industrial Revolution, surrealist artists perceived the “unintended consequence” of mass production: alienation and fragmentation. Artists, like Rene Magritte, intuited the coming dissolution of human intimacy. “The Lovers” (1934) depicts a man and woman turned toward one another in an intimate embrace, and against the grey background their faces are shrouded in cloth. They kiss but their lips never touch and their eyes never meet. The viewer is “shocked” so to speak. Their kiss is a non-kiss, their embrace a non-embrace. Their intimacy is a simulacrum of intimacy, set against the dark sky—or is it smoke? The same …

Things I Received at the Fordham Catholic Imagination Conference

At the end of April I was given the opportunity to attend the 2nd Catholic Imagination Conference at Fordham University. This opportunity came at just the right time: with my graduation from Notre Dame just weeks away, and my post-grad plans drawing nearer by the day. In August, I’ll being moving to Oxford, Ohio to begin an M.F.A. in Poetry at Miami University. This means that now, more than ever, I am thinking about what it will mean for me to be a Catholic poet. How I can best nurture my imagination? How I can seek out the intersection between my worship and my writing in practices and habits to learn over these next two years? All the titles of the Fordham conference panels seemed like they had been written especially for me. They ranged from “The Art of Good Writing” and “Making Belief Believable” to “The Catholic Poet in the Secular World.” My deepest regret was that I could not attend multiple panels at once. I received a lot of things during my two-day …

The Confused Catholic Imagination

It is commonplace to assume that the imagination is opposed to reality. This is not the prevailing understanding of the imagination in contemporary theory and theology. Let’s start with the following classic rock lyrics to clarify the ties of the imagination to reality: Imagine there’s no heaven / It’s easy if you try / No hell below us / Above us only sky / Imagine all the people living for today // Imagine there’s no countries / It isn’t hard to do / Nothing to kill or die for / And no religion too / Imagine all the people living life in peace . . . [1] The alternative world imagined by John Lennon and Yoko Ono (“it’s easy if you try,” they say) is reminiscent of Isaiah’s Peaceable Kingdom (Is 11:1–9). However, like in a Flannery O’Connor novel, it is a Peaceable Kingdom without God, eschatology, and history. Implementing such a world would require the complete restructuring of politics, society, architecture, worship, and so on. When the implications of the lyrics of the song …