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Stories of Grace: Episode 11

“I cannot even put it into words, but it was as if God picked my fearful body up as my mom had when I was a little girl, and held me in His arms until I was calm.  It was then that I knew that God would not let me suffer from this for my entire life.” Visit here to listen to Saint Mary’s College senior Jess Jones tell the story of encountering grace as a comfort and stronghold amidst all anxieties. Subscribe to the free Stories of Grace podcast on iTunes U and receive automatic notifications when a new story is published. Read the full text of Jess’ reflection below. Calming Grace Do you remember the first time you were ever sent to your room for doing something really, really bad as a kid?  Personally, I used to get sent to my room all the time for time outs, and I mean all the time.  My parents weren’t the ones who sent me though.  Nope, I sent myself. One time in particular it was bad, so …

And the Nominees Are . . . Manchester By the Sea

Editors’ Note: In anticipation of the 89th Academy Awards on February 26, we present a series exploring the philosophical and theological elements in each of the nine films nominated for Best Picture. Caveat: this review contains spoilers. When life is defined by the worst mistake you’ve ever made, how do you go on living? Writer-director Kenneth Lonergan poses this heart-wrenching question and several others like it in Manchester By the Sea, the story of Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck), an isolated janitor living in Boston who must return to his hometown after his beloved brother Joe (Kyle Chandler) passes away unexpectedly, and, even more unexpectedly, names Lee the legal guardian of sixteen-year-old Patrick (Lucas Hedges), Joe’s only son and Lee’s only nephew. When Lee learns that Joe has not only named him Patrick’s guardian but has also provided funds for him to return to Manchester permanently, he recoils, making every attempt to find another way to provide for his nephew’s care. At first, this seems like the reaction of a selfish, irresponsible man who doesn’t want to be saddled with the burden of an unexpected, …

And the Nominees Are . . . Fences

Editors’ Note: In anticipation of the 89th Academy Awards on February 26, we present a series exploring the philosophical and theological elements in each of the nine films nominated for Best Picture. This post contains no spoilers. What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up Like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore— And then run? Does it stink like rotten meat? Or crust and sugar over— Like a syrupy sweet? Maybe it just sags Like a heavy load. Or does it explode? —Langston Hughes, “Harlem” Through a few short lines in his 1951 poem “Harlem,” Langston Hughes asks his readers to consider a response through brief but vivid imagery. Far from a whimsical thought experiment, these words capture the voices and experiences of an African American community whose bright American dreams have been too often lost amid the ugly shadows of racism. In director Denzel Washington’s Fences, adapted from August Wilson’s 1983 play, this societal sin forms the backdrop against which the richness of its narrative blooms. The depth of Wilson’s characters (and of the actors bringing …

And the Nominees Are . . . Hidden Figures

Editors’ Note: In anticipation of the 89th Academy Awards on February 26, we present a series exploring the philosophical and theological elements in each of the nine films nominated for Best Picture. This post contains no spoilers. Oh, I’ll tell you where to begin: Three Negro women chasing a white police officer down a highway in Hampton, Virginia in 1961. Ladies, that there is a God-ordained miracle! —Mary Jackson, Hidden Figures And with Mary Jackson’s tongue-in-cheek prophetic diagnosis, Hidden Figures revs into full, Technicolor life. A sepia-tinged prologue has identified the central protagonist among our three musketeers—Katherine Johnson—whose patched-together wire-rimmed glasses are two windows into the kaleidoscopic world which she inhabits. For Katherine, the world is knit together in geometric forms; tetrahedrons, triangles, and rhombi camouflage themselves in windowpanes. For Katherine, numbers are the backbone of nature, and she spends each day counting the vertebrae. Her eyes light up when a teacher asks her to solve a problem and hands her the chalk. He doesn’t simply hand her a blunt stub of chalk, he hands her a sharp sword of possibility, with which …

Telling the Story in Teaching Religion

My constant beef with middle school religion textbooks: There is no story. They just contain a hodge-podge of information strung together. Even when a particular grade level’s book has a theme, the chapters still follow each other like a gaudy striped scarf instead of a tapestry that weaves a picture. In one unit of seventh grade, the chapters cover giving alms and St. Francis, the Eucharist, the two great commandments, and then the raising of Lazarus. Now, these are all areas ripe for discussion, which I would love to share with my seventh grade students. However, a random bunch of topics is not memorable. It is not relevant. It leads to students asking questions like, “Am I ever going to need to know any of this?” and “Why are we learning this?” and “How do we even know any of this is true, anyway?” At the beginning of Unit 3 (not ideal, but better late than never) I finally attempted to give all three grades some context. I talked about the story of salvation: God’s …

And the Nominees Are . . . Arrival

Editors’ Note: In anticipation of the 89th Academy Awards on February 26, we present a series exploring the philosophical and theological elements in each of the nine films nominated for Best Picture. Caveat: this review contains spoilers. The film Arrival, starring Amy Adams as Dr. Louise Banks, linguistics scholar, takes the science fiction trope of first contact and explores it from an astonishingly intimate perspective: through the memories and experiences of Adams’ character as she, and the rest of the world, come to know humanity’s new extraterrestrial visitors. Louise, whose life, we see, has involved terrible heartache, is chosen by the government for her linguistics expertise and tasked with finding a means of communication with the visitors: unraveling their language, teaching them our own, and, most importantly, finding out what they want. She is paired with a physicist, Ian Donelly (Jeremy Renner), who is supposed to make sense of the alien technology and scientific knowledge. Instead, he comes to serve as mostly a partner and visual aid for Louise’s communication work. And as they work against the clock to comprehend the alien language …

Stories of Grace: Episode 10

“We were not capable ourselves of the relationship we were gifted. Yet our obstacles were as nothing to God’s grace.” Visit here to listen to Notre Dame junior Courtney Morin tell a story of love, trust, and grace encountered through the adoption of her little sister. Subscribe to the free Stories of Grace podcast on iTunes U and receive automatic notifications when a new story is published. Or, read the full text of Courtney’s reflection below. Eight-and-a-half years ago, my parents’ asked me how I would feel if my family were to adopt a new sibling. Then they changed their minds—actually two new siblings, they said. Nine months later during my seventh grade year, my dad, who doubled as my soccer coach, showed up to soccer practice with a thick manila folder tucked under his arm. In it, was a referral from our adoption agency. Delighted, we poured over the folder’s photos of two little children from halfway across the world, destroying the pronunciation of their names which would eventually become so familiar to us in …

And the Nominees Are . . . La La Land

Editors’ Note: In anticipation of the 89th Academy Awards on February 26, we present a series exploring the philosophical and theological elements in each of the nine films nominated for Best Picture. This post contains no spoilers. I grew up on movie musicals. The Wizard of Oz. Singin’ in the Rain. The Sound of Music. The Music Man. Some of my earliest memories are of watching these iconic films and singing along. As I grew up and started performing in musicals myself, I discovered other greats like An American in Paris and West Side Story, and more recently, I’ve reveled in modern movie musicals like Newsies and Once and Enchanted as well as film adaptations of Broadway shows like Chicago and Into the Woods. So when I heard about La La Land, I was instantly intrigued. The buzz lauded it as a glorious throwback to the glittering extravaganzas filmed in Technicolor and Cinemascope, as writer-director Damien Chazelle’s effort to create an homage, really a valentine, to the Golden Age of the movie musical. And visually, he succeeds, literally with flying colors—the gorgeously saturated …

Gregorian Chant in Pastoral Ministry and Religious Education

What role does the Church’s treasury of sacred music play in contemporary pastoral ministry and religious education? How does one build a sacred music program of excellence which serves as an integral part of the sacred liturgy and is also effective both in drawing souls to Christ and forming people in the Catholic faith? St. Joseph’s Seminary (Dunwoodie) in Yonkers, New York, is hosting a national conference March 10-11, 2017 which hopes to encourage discussion of answers to these and other questions. The conference will bring together clergy, seminarians, scholars, musicians, teachers, and Catholic school administrators to consider the place of Gregorian chant and excellent choral music in the life of the Catholic Church in America today. The conference seeks to inspire attendees with ideas for starting or continuing to develop sacred music programs of excellence in Catholic parishes and schools. The conference organizers also hope to encourage discussion about the vitality and necessity of beauty and sacred music in the catechesis and formation of Catholics, as well as in the evangelization of non-Catholics and …

The Catholic Imagination in the Classroom

My students have grown accustomed to their senses being bombarded with stimulation. They find it difficult, as do I, to cut off from the noise of the fast-paced world swirling around them. Too often, the media that falls in their lap, or rather pops up on their screen, is less than hopeful. It portrays a cold world where nothing is certain, only hard facts and “science” can be trusted, and faith must be kept at arm’s length, as all superstitions should. This worldview, in my opinion, is causing an existential crisis among our students before they even enter high school. This environment does nothing to help me as a teacher of theology to nourish the Catholic imagination of my students, a task I feel is at the center of my work as a catechist. In this world, a sacramental view is seen as foolish at best and willful ignorance at worst. This hermeneutic of skepticism makes it nearly impossible for conventional approaches to catechesis to break through the noise and open their eyes and ears …