All posts filed under: Articles

The Horror Inherent in Leisure

Leisure is not the cessation of work, but work of another kind, work restored to its human meaning, as a celebration and a festival. –Roger Scruton Leisure may very well be the basis of culture—as the beloved Josef Pieper says—but the word bears a fantastically unconvincing ring to a family full of farmers and maintenance workers as something to do with one’s life. I can assure you of this from personal experience. When the leisure espoused includes nary a game of sport or hunting, and includes little to no gambling, you can understand the incommensurable impasse a fly-over humanities major finds himself in defending their life choices. The great Walker Percy on more than one occasion relates that it was easier to say to townsfolk in Louisiana that he did “nothing” rather than explain that he wrote for a living. My interest is drilling into a fundamental misunderstanding of leisure by its supposed practitioners and most fervent devotees. Too often the allure of the quietude and unsegmented hours that must be allotted for the practice …

The Personalist Awakening in 20th Century Catholic Moral Thought

The personalist awakening in 20th century Catholic moral thought restored the ancient and medieval priority accorded to persons—as well as to the ways of relating between them (especially friendship)—to the modern field of ethics and moral theology. Furthermore, friendship is a strong idiomatic pattern in New Testament reflections, according to which, through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we can once again enjoy friendship with God. Jesus related not only to the Apostles as friends, but to all who gathered around him as friends. Jesus says the following in John 15: This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father (12-15). Though the …

The Mocking of Christ by the Glittering Spectacles of Consumerism

Everything vies for our attention. Movies, marketing campaigns, even medicines, all seek to fulfill our desires for release and joy. Entertainment captures our minds and transports them to different realities through various spectacles that shape our lives. This insight is blindingly obvious even though we are submerged in rampant consumerism and subversive capitalism. Chanon Ross unpacks how the early Christians dealt with their version of spectacle and draws parallels to how this theology of the spectacle shapes the Christian faith through the centuries. Gifts Glittering and Poisoned: Spectacle, Empire, and Metaphysics invites readers to take a trip back in time to the Coliseum and recognize that the horror of the past still exists in a (not always) bloodless and potent fashion now. Ross argues that it is only through the True Spectacle of Christ that Christians can be freed from the seductive draw of the “society of spectacle” to devote our deepest longings to the Triune God. Ross expands the idea of spectacle by contrasting it with the capital-s Spectacle (of Christ) in a tripartite …

Byung-Chul Han and the Subversive Power of Contemplation

“Avita contemplativa without acting is blind, a vita activa without contemplation is empty,” writes the rising star of the German philosophical scene in his book The Scent of Time. Byung-Chul Han draws a nuanced account of “lingering with God in loving attentiveness” as a spur to action from the writings of Gregory the Great, Thomas Aquinas, and Meister Eckhart. He then defends the mystical tradition from his own spiritual master, Martin Heidegger.[1] The late Heidegger began to turn his philosophical attention to the path of contemplation, but it is at the heart of Han’s project from the start. He shows us how contemplation creates the time and space for meaningful action in a breathless, frantic, and networked modern society. Han’s next book, The Burnout Society, was a smash hit in Germany and his native South Korea that will soon be translated into 13 other languages. Unexpectedly, a meditation on the importance of contemplation, including prayerful contemplation, now animates debates about the future of the global Left,[2] the legacy of Foucault, and the direction of contemporary …

The Sacramentality of Time

“Time is precious.” “My time is valuable.” “Time is money.” “Do you have any free time?” We have commodified time. We “spend time,” “save time,” “make time,” “waste time,” “kill time.” Time is the water we swim in, the air we breathe, and so we take it for granted. We forget that it is granted, that it is entrusted to us as a gift that we are to steward and return to our Giver. We have forgotten that the economy of time is woven tightly together with the economy of salvation, “as if,” in the words of Henry David Thoreau, “you could kill time without injuring eternity.”[1] Pastoral ministers of the Church, of all people, should know that we are made for eternity—that, though in time, we are not ruled by time. Yet we, too, live under what Charles Hummel calls “the tyranny of the urgent.”[2] Robert J. Wicks, author of Availability: The Challenge and the Gift of Being Present, writes: Some of us are ‘too available.’ Thus, true availability becomes watered down. We become …

How Should the Pro-Life Movement Address Charges of Racism?

Huffington Post politics reporter Laura Bassett made it clear that pro-life groups condemned Kristen Walker Hatten—a former vice-president of New Wave Feminists and contributor to the Dallas Morning News—for her disturbing turn to white nationalism. The actual story was straightforward. A pro-life activist, who never gave any indication of being a white nationalist (and, indeed, had many negative things to say about Trump at first), went rogue and was condemned by the whole movement—including her former employer (who fired her well before the story broke)—in the strongest possible terms. But Bassett could not help herself from trying to make this story fit into a larger narrative. Despite the fact that half the US identifies as pro-life, Bassett insisted that condemnations of Hatten took place in the context of pro-lifers’ struggle for “mainstream acceptance” and connections to “right ring extremists.” Given how diverse the pro-life movement is, the more serious challenge we face is how to engage journalists like Bassett who go beyond reporting to uncritically promoting caricatures and narratives perpetuated by enemies of the movement. And Basset went further, to …

Walker Percy and the Racist Tragedy of Southern Stoicism

The life of Catholic novelist, philosopher, and essayist Walker Percy was shaped, in part, by an uneasy confrontation between Stoicism and Christianity.[1] Although Percy was raised in a noble, affluent, and prominent Southern family, his background was also marked by a family history of melancholy, depression, tragedy, and suicide.[2] As Paul Elie explains, “There was a suicide in nearly every generation. One Percy man dosed himself with laudanum; another leaped into a creek with a sugar kettle tied around his neck. John Walker Percy—Walker Percy’s grandfather—went up to the attic in 1917 and shot himself in the head.”[3] His father, Leroy Pratt Percy, committed suicide in the attic in 1929. Percy remarked, “The central mystery of my life is to figure out why my father committed suicide.” In fact, wondering if he were destined for the same fate, he often referred to himself as an “ex-suicide.”[4] Not long after the death of his father, Percy lost his mother in a tragic car accident. Committed Stoic, William Alexander Percy, Walker’s second cousin, adopted all three Percy …

The Post-Liberal Spirituality of John Rawls

The discovery and publication of John Rawls’s senior thesis can be compared to the impact of the early writings of Karl Marx. It was only with the appearance of the latter that readers could gain an appreciation of the humanist roots of Marxian thought that, in its mature formulation, was centered more narrowly on economic theory. A similar pattern applies to the ever more rigorous elaborations of Rawls’s A Theory of Justice that, despite their prolixity, never quite capture the inspiration from which his thought springs. The relatively recent publication of A Brief Inquiry into the Meaning of Sin and Faith[1] enables us to glimpse the long submerged origin in one of its most touchingly unguarded moments. We are led into the inner hidden Rawls, and begin to see a whole new way of perceiving this emblematic figure of contemporary liberal political thought. Of course this is not to suggest that the “discoverer,” Eric Gregory, or the editor, Thomas Nagel, have let us in on a secret that ought not to have seen the light …

How Am I a Hog and Me Both?

There’s no getting around it—with the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s popular new exhibit, Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination, how suddenly hip the Catholic Imagination has become. Who knew? The short answer is: quite a few of us. The Catholic imagination, with its diverse expressions of creativity and its compassed epistemologies of receptivity, refers to the creative faculty endowed to creatures for critical, contemplative, and intellectual engagement with the living God. It is a habit of making and seeing with a long tradition to consider and continually retrieve. To follow its most articulate commentator, Hans Urs von Balthasar (who, I hasten to note, never used the term explicitly), the Catholic imagination is implicit in any theological aesthetics, taking the form in Balthasar of lay and clerical “styles”—styles of creativity in prayer, prose, and poetry inseparable from “unique divine mission” and particular “historical existence.”[1] While there are scores of styles to encounter and behold, the Catholic imagination is most penetrating and fruitful when organized around key attributes and qualities—some cultural, some critical, and others theological. …

The Redemption of Status and Hierarchy

The Met’s Costume Institute Exhibition “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination,” currently on view at the Met Fifth Avenue and The Cloisters until October 8th, threads through galleries of medieval and Byzantine art, bringing the sartorial art pieces into dialogue with the surrounding masterpieces. The promenade-style exhibit could easily become a gaudy intrusion rather than an exegesis of the beauty already embedded around it. But from the very first runway—a neck-craning collection of evening dresses which march through a hallway of Antiochene mosaics—”Heavenly Bodies” demands a transformation of the viewer’s encounter with the surrounding art. That first dizzying catwalk of gowns both catalyzes new contemplation of the existing art and playfully suggests a core theme of the exhibit—the displayed earthly beauty has, at its heart, a higher telos. In her May article on the Met Gala, Anne Carpenter posed the question: “Do our things die when we preserve them, or does preserving them keep them alive?” For all the Church is lauded for its tradition and its continual admonishment to our short memories to …