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The TOP 25 Church Life Journal Reads of 2017

Church Life Journal is back from its Christmas hibernation. We promise that plenty of reading adventures await you on these pages in 2018. But before that starts in full force, take a meditative glance back at Church Life Journal’s most popular posts of 2017. The rankings are based on pageviews. The titles of the pieces are linked, just in case you missed these pieces, or, would like to revisit them. A Happy 2018 to you and yours! Human Dignity Was a Rarity Before Christianity by David Bentley Hart Editorial Musings: The Charism of Infertility by Timothy O’Malley The Perfect Family is an Idol by Anna Keating The Sex Life of Joseph and Mary by John Cavadini Life After Life After Death by Timothy Kelleher 97 Aphorisms Adduced from the Thought of Benedict XVI by Cyril O’Regan Catechesis of the Good Shepherd: Cultivating the Christian Imagination of the Child by Jessica Keating Black Bodies, Kneeling, and the Liturgy by Eric Styles Single Life Is More Fundamental for Christianity than both Married and Religious Life by Michael …

The Hidden Life and History of St. Joseph

Some years ago I got an icon of the Holy Family done by an elderly Coptic nun (German by birth) who lives in a convent near the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. It depicts the flight into Egypt. St. Joseph stands in the center with the child Jesus on his shoulders with Mary at his right and a serving girl at the left. While looking at that icon recently I began to think of St. Joseph. The Eastern Church has a long tradition of honoring St. Joseph in the liturgy but it was only from the early sixteenth-century that he was so honored in the Roman Rite. In fact, it was only in 1847 that Pope Pius IX extended the Solemnity of St. Joseph as a feast for the universal Church. It was St. John XXIII who inserted his name into the Canon of the Mass on the eve of the Second Vatican Council. That belated recognition of the spouse of the Virgin Mary, known in the Gospel as a just man (vir Justus) is …

Stories of Grace 17: Finding Grace Through Adoption

This reflection is the 17th installment of the popular Stories of Grace Podcast: Growing up, bedtime at the Brummond house was quite an extensive ritual. After we took a bath, my mom would let my brother and I pick out three books EACH that she would read to us before tucking us in. One such book that sticks out in my memory is Happy Adoption Day, a short children’s book based on a song. The lyrics to the chorus were something like this: So here’s to you, three cheers to you Let’s shout it, “Hip, hip, hip, hooray!” For, out of a world so tattered and torn, You came to our house on that wonderful morn And all of a sudden this family was born Oh, happy Adoption Day! I have known I was adopted from the time I can recall being able to understand what that meant. I am so incredibly thankful that my parents were always honest and open with me about being adopted, but that they didn’t let it become my whole …

The Church Has a Morbid Streak

I was in my mid-twenties when my father handed me his 1929 edition of Sigrid Undset’s Nobel Prize-winning trilogy, Kristen Lavransdatter, and said, “I think you’ll really like this.” This is typically how my dad makes his book recommendations. He puts a story in your hands and says, “I think you’ll really like this.” It took a few years and a couple of starts and stops to get through this massive historical novel set in medieval Catholic Norway. The tome sat at the bottom of a stack for while, but in the end, I fell in love with Kristin Lavransdatter, which I have often described as not unlike Augustine’s Confessions if the Confessions were written in third person feminine voice and set in medieval Scandinavia. Sigrid Undset became one of my favorite authors because her writing reveals that rare perception of the pain and beauty of St. Paul’s words in the Letter to the Romans: “where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more.” Without affect, sentimentality, or illusion her writing expresses the realities of the …

What is the Catholic Worker Movement?

1. What is the Catholic Worker? What is its charism? The Catholic Worker is a lay movement that was started by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin in the 1930’s in New York City. Dorothy was an anarchist journalist and a labor activist, and Peter was a working-class, itinerant philosopher. They met in the winter of 1932 and by May Day of the following year had put out the first issue of The Catholic Worker, a newspaper that addressed questions of labor, poverty, and nonviolence through the lenses of what we now think of as the Catholic social tradition. From there, they opened the first “house of hospitality,” welcoming the many people made homeless by the Depression in for a cup of coffee, a meal, and a place to stay. They developed a three-point program of houses of hospitality, round-table discussions, and “agronomic universities,” or farming communes where people could learn to grow their own food. Inspired by their example, other laypeople opened houses of hospitality or moved to farms in or near other cities. Today, …

Everything Looks Different After Priestly Ordination

Since my priestly ordination, one of my favorite liturgical texts has become the Office of Readings for Bl. Miguel Pro, the Mexican Jesuit martyred for clandestinely administering sacraments to persecuted Catholics. Cobbled together from letters written shortly before his arrest, the reading centers on Pro’s amazement at the change wrought in him by the priesthood. Pro writes to a friend, “Everything begins to look different [after ordination], everything is seen from another angle, everything is shaped by wider, more generous, more spiritual horizons. You will not be the same as before: something more is going to flood your soul and change it.”  But lest his friend expect an instantaneous and effortless transformation, Pro adds, “I did not notice this change until I found myself in touch with souls . . . God our Lord chose to use me as his instrument to do good.” The priesthood for Pro was like seed planted once for all in his heart, yet requiring ministerial contact to flower in his imagination. That this would be the case for Pro, …

What is the Community of Sant’Egidio?

1. What is Sant’Egidio? What is its charism? I often think that the Sant’Egidio Community is best understood through its founding, precisely because its founding was not really a founding. Nobody decided to create an organization, a rule, a structure. No, in Rome in 1968, at a time of great social ferment, a group of Catholic high school students began to gather together as friends in order to pray and to seek out and befriend the poorest of the poor. They did this regularly, grew in their ranks, and today you have a community of friends numbering tens of thousands and spanning nations and continents. This community has borne remarkable fruit, including friendship with the elderly and advocacy for the poor around the world, opposition to the death penalty, the combatting of AIDS in Africa, the mediation of numerous peace agreements in Africa and Latin America, and numerous other projects and causes. These “works,” though, all grow out of the community’s basic charisms of prayer, communicating the gospel, and friendship with the poor. Friendship comes …

Stories of Grace 16: Learning to Take the Pie

Air conditioning. Those two little words were at the forefront of my mind as I sat down to eat lunch last summer in a restaurant in hot and humid Memphis, Tennessee. I had been there for a little over a month, working at a women’s homeless shelter through Notre Dame’s Summer Service Learning Program. Joining me for lunch that day was my site partner, Elizabeth, along with two other women who were long-time volunteers at the shelter. Kathy and Sandy had treated us to a beautiful day of sight-seeing. We visited at least three or four museums, walked along the river soaking in the bright sun, and enjoyed peeking into little shops we passed along the way. This care-free day, roaming the streets of Memphis, was an unusual one for us. Up until that point, we spent most of our time on the grounds of the shelter, working with the religious sisters who lived there, and spending time with the women and children for whom the shelter was a temporary home. The shelter was really …

Humor in the Bible

We rightly approach Scripture with reverence and a certain solemn spiritual hunger. Therefore, we do not often think of these inspired texts as having any sort of humor or laughter in them. This is especially true if we are Fundamentalists, or, take every word of the Bible literally. Nonetheless, there are a number of Scripture passages that make me pause every time I hear or read them. These are in the Bible itself. They are not just the result of insufficient preparation on the part of the lector in regard to a particular text. One passage in particular comes to mind as an example of the latter: Luke 2:16.  The text may say, “The shepherds went in haste to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger,” but the lector almost always proclaims instead that they “found Mary and Joseph and the baby, lying in the manger.” I will leave to your imagination how the “flaming brazier” of Genesis 15:17 comes across from some lectors. What I am considering is …

What Is Communion and Liberation?

1. What is Communion and Liberation (CL)? What is its charism? CL is a ecclesial movement in the Catholic Church, a community of people who have been changed by the encounter with Christ. It is named for the fact that only the Christian event, as lived in communion with one another, can bring about the liberation of the human person. Its founder, Fr. Luigi Giussani, began CL in Milan in the 1960s with his high school students; he taught them a method through which they could judge the experiences of their everyday life, and discover how faith was relevant to the most fundamental needs of their hearts. The movement summarizes its charism in three points (as seen here on the CL website): a) the proclamation that God has become man (and the wonder, reasonableness, and enthusiasm of this announcement): “The Word was made flesh and dwells among us”; b) the affirmation that this man, Jesus of Nazareth, dead and risen, is an event present in a sign of communion, that is, of the unity of …