All posts filed under: Church Formation

Pilate’s Question in a Post-Truth Context

“What is truth?” (Jn 18:36-38). Pontius Pilate posed this question to Jesus, and it is one that our post-truth world continues to ask. Given the demise of classical metaphysics, those who do not believe in God often do not believe in objective truth either. If objective moral norms cannot be discerned either from reality, or from a God who has revealed himself to humanity, then life is nothing more than what we make of it. To the extent that we do choose to live by moral principles, such norms are wholly constructed: either by the broader society for purely pragmatic reasons, to ensure group survival and harmonious co-existence, or, by the individual according to their highly malleable personal preferences. Among these self-constructed norms, freedom is of paramount importance. We are a “pro-choice” society: not just in terms of abortion, but in terms of just about everything. Since the 1960’s and the sexual revolution, we value the freedom to have sex with whomever we want, whenever we want. Since the 1970’s, and the therapeutic revolution, we …

On the Particular Grace of Palm Branches

“See the palm trees? They tell you anything’s possible. You can be anything, do anything. Start over.” So mutters Terrence Malick’s wayward young pilgrim near the start of his Lenten meditation Knight of Cups (2016). The voiceover accompanies a sequence of restless days and nights in Los Angeles: our Augustinian wanderer stalks empty studio lots, paces his sparsely furnished apartment, frolics through unnamed hotel rooms, mingles about impersonal party mansions. The places he haunts are not really places at all but vacant stages for his own libidinous self-expression. While in the grip of these confessedly errant passions, forgetful of himself and his surroundings, palm trees bespeak boundlessness. For those possessed of a liturgical imagination, palm branches send nearly the opposite message. As firmly as any other symbols in our yearly cycle, they affix in us the impression of a distinct time and place. They reinforce the scandalous particularity of our creed: that for us and for our salvation, God was not content to “be anything” or “do anything.” Instead, God chose a particular people, rooted …

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, …

Life, Language, and Christ Today

I. The Problem of Language Today: The Inadequacy of the Usual Philosophical Answers Language as such is a problem today. The fact that language is a problem is felt in the perpetual oscillation between overvaluing and undervaluing it within modern thought. For example, Ernst Renan—the 19th century French rationalist inventor of the “historical Jesus” fiction—deliberately identified human language with the divine Logos. For him, what previous thinkers dubbed “the divine origin” of language was merely a metaphor. Language results simply from the interplay of mankind’s natural faculties with the natural world. In this world no revelation was possible for Renan. The most divine ideas present in sacred literature are nothing but sublimations of human, all too human, thoughts. In this way, the world becomes entirely disenchanted—just as human language becomes all-powerful, the only provider of meaning in the world. Michel Henry stands at the other end of the spectrum. According to this prominent phenomenologist, since from the outset language situates thought in exteriority, because language brings about an essential division between words and things, it …

A Knight in St. Patrick’s Purgatory

Each year St. Patrick’s Day falls during Lent and the question arises how should we observe his feast during the penitential season? If it falls on a Friday will there be special dispensations for corned beef? If you give up alcohol for Lent can you celebrate with a glass of whiskey on March 17th? St. Patrick’s Day festivities are a welcome break in the somber 40 days, but there is actually a connection between the popular saint and taking on surprisingly severe penance. In a medieval tale, a young knight named Owen journeys into a portal to the Otherworld to voluntarily take on an extreme penance to cleanse him of the sin of cruelty. The place of purgation he enters is called St. Patrick’s Purgatory, and the island of Lough Derg connected to the legend draws pilgrims even today. The first Old French version of the tale, the Espurgatoire seint Patriz (c. 1190) was penned by a 12th century authoress who calls herself Marie. Marie wrote popular stories of love and chivalry, fables, and possibly …

The Solemn Joy of Lent

T he beginning of a new liturgical season calls for a new Spotify playlist: 40 Songs for the 40 Days of Lent. Curating this list has presented a unique challenge: there is a lot of really beautiful music out there that would lead one deeper into Lent, but much of it is very somber. Taken in context, this is not a bad thing; it is certainly appropriate for music to reflect the penitential austerity of the season, but it seems unlikely that anyone would want to listen to an entire playlist of funereal minor music. Lent, after all, is not a season without its joys, and these are not simply restricted to Laetare Sunday. Even in the midst of our penitential practices, each Sunday we still witness with growing anticipation the dismissal of the catechumens and candidates for full communion, knowing that it will not be long before they will gather alongside us around the Eucharistic table. Even as we acknowledge our sinfulness, we rejoice as we hear the Gospels: we marvel in awe at …

Catholicism’s Decisive Shift Toward Africa

To any astute observer of Catholic social history, it should be clear that today the largest “geographical exodus” has occurred since perhaps Apostolic times. These were the times when the Catholic Church’s center moved from Jerusalem to Rome, as recorded in Acts of the Apostles (Cf. Acts 1-28). The large geographical exodus that I am alluding to here is the relocation of the Catholic Church’s center from Europe to Africa. This is not to mention the Asian and Latin American Churches, which have become the modern-day equivalent to Constantinople and Alexandria. What makes this shift so interesting from the vantage of the West is that the geographical center has gone from the “First World” to the “Third World.” However, it also simultaneously appears that in today’s world, borders have become merely symbolic and arbitrary, pointing to nothing beyond themselves. At best, it seems that these borders are simply a relic of a colonial past in America, and an ancient cultivated narrative in Europe. Today’s world seems to be slowly converging into a “common home,” as …

Confronting a Sinful Church

“For our good and the good of all his holy Church.”[1] Even seven years after the new translation of the Roman Missal, I will occasionally stumble over this response if I am not concentrating. However, over the past months as the disturbing reports about now-laicized Cardinal McCarrick and the horrific details from the Pennsylvania grand jury report have come to light, the word “holy” has sometimes stuck in my throat at Mass—not because I am lacking sufficient attention but for precisely the opposite reason. In the wake of this ongoing scandal, I heard from longtime Catholic friends who feel misled, angry, and/or betrayed. One friend, so disturbed by the sordid tales of systematic abuse and cover-up by Pennsylvania clergy released last August, as well as her by own parish’s inability to respond, quietly left her pew in the middle of Mass for the door. As Catholics struggle to move forward by supporting victims, pressing for meaningful reforms, and trying to hold together a faith under siege by corruption, our liturgy functions as a double-edged sword. …