All posts filed under: Essays

Disability Debunks the Late Modern Myth of Radical Autonomy

Ontological poverty is a fancy term for a basic reality: every finite being, including each one of us, is a creature. We do not independently possess the “means” to begin to exist or to continue in existence. We are constantly and utterly dependent on God’s creating and conserving power to sustain us.  This is the most fundamental truth about us, the first truth professed in our creed.  I’d like to argue today that it is also the lens through which our response to all forms of poverty must be viewed. In light of this truth, the “poor” can never be the simply “other”—we are all poor. And poverty itself is not something to be eradicated: it is our existential condition—we cannot eradicate it without eradicating ourselves.[1] This insight is lost once people buy into late modern assumptions about our ability to overcome the limitations inherent to our state as finite beings. Under the influence of what Jacques Maritain calls “demiurgic imperialism,” we lose any sense of the givenness of the world or ourselves and fall …

Life After Life After Death

What a way to go! At some point most of us will say it, and when speaking of death usually mean some preferred, or else dreaded, scenario—drowning in a pool of chocolate say, as compared to being drawn and quartered. According to a new Canadian poll though, we are not exactly exhausting ourselves plumbing the metaphysics of the exit. In general, going, happens in one of three ways: Instantaneous, a catastrophic high-impact injury, for example, or a bullet to a so-called kill-zone; Sudden, as when an event results in death moments or hours later, and Delayed.  About this third, we could be glib and say that the leading cause of death is life, but I am talking here about terminal illness, both protracted and brief. I do not think I would be good at any of them, and am in no rush to find out. Unfortunately, over the past year, seven friends have. All “folded their tents early,” and since none lived in a global hot spot, seven seems a startling number. If there was …

Whose Community? Which Benedict Option?

In our present cultural situation, it has become common for Christian thinkers to hold up St. Benedict as a paradigmatic example of how to navigate an increasingly secular society. This phenomenon can be traced back to the well-known conclusion of Alasdair MacIntyre’s 1984 work, After Virtue, wherein he anticipated the coming “of another—doubtless very different—St. Benedict,” who could help us to survive “the barbarism of the new dark ages.”[1] At the time, MacIntyre did not go into great detail about what precisely this Benedictine renewal would look like, simply indicating that it would involve “the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life [could] be sustained.”[2] Since the publication of After Virtue, Christian thinkers from across the theological spectrum have appealed to MacIntyre’s “prophecy” as a visionary spark for their own renewal projects. To highlight just two: Rod Dreher, well-known blogger and convert to Eastern Orthodoxy, popularized the term “Benedict Option,” and recently published a 250-page tome detailing his “strategy for Christians in a post-Christian nation.” Dreher says …

Belief in the Communion of Saints Isn’t Optional

The “communion of saints” is a definitive mark of the Christian imagination conformed to the mystery of salvation: the communion of holy persons invites and demands an act of faith for Christian belief to build toward completion. In fact, it is the exercise of fidelity to the promises of Christ in the face of death that gave this expression its primary meaning for Western Christianity. This meaning was carried into and is now borne by the Apostles’ Creed, “the most universally accepted creed in Western Christendom.”[1] Every saint has a history and so does the article of faith that attests to the communion in which they share. The lives of saints arise from the work of God in the world while the article symbolizing their communion arises from the Church’s reflection on the life of faith in the Spirit. In fact, it was the intensity of faith of particular Christians, in a particular era, in a particular region, that helped the article of communio sanctorum to gain recognition as intrinsic to the faith: The fourth …

Catholic Disagreements and the Catechism’s 25th Anniversary

This year marks the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s 25th anniversary, and I believe its silver year is one worth celebrating. I realize that my estimation is not shared by all in pastoral ministry nor in the academy. The word “catechism” elicits disdain for some, evoking preconciliar memories of rote memorization of endless questions and answers, an overly cognitive approach to religious education, and days marked by clericalism and passivity in the laity. Underlying these are problems more theological in nature: a universal catechism seems incongruent with a world marked by cultural relativism, and it manifests, or so the claim goes, an ill-conceived and outdated understanding of revelation as static and propositional. Isn’t the “universal” a Platonic leftover from earlier days, now understood only to be manifest in the particular? Or, more extremely, does universal truth even exist at all? Furthermore, isn’t truth subject to praxis, the only way of semi-empirically verifying the claims of any person or authority? These concerns are legitimate in the sense that those who voice them often do so from …

Stewards Not Ravagers

If we consider the etymological roots of the word “ecology,” we can see in its Greek root the word oikos (meaning “household”). The word “ecology” itself thus already indicates to us a deep sense of radical relationality between human beings and the world, human beings, and one another. This means that care for the earth and care for persons (particularly the most fragile among us) are intimately bound, that environmental ecology and human ecology stand or fall together. We are one household, marked by an intricate web of relationships. When these relationships are conceived competitively rather than cooperatively, when nature or human beings are treated merely as instruments, both human dignity and the dignity of the created order are compromised. As Archbishop Wilton Gregory noted in a 2016 address, the divinely ordained task for human beings to be stewards of creation must begin with “the lofty dignity of the human person.” He noted that the created order was a good in itself because the act of creation bestowed “upon all of nature [is] an undeniable …

The Perfect Family is an Idol

It’s 10 o’clock at night, the kids are asleep, and my husband and I are in the midst of a massive fight that has somehow spilled out of our house and into the backyard. We’re yelling at each other, words born of anger, each of us too hurt and ashamed to back down. And like the majority of our worst fights, I don’t even remember what started it, I just remember how awful it felt. My husband and I own a small business, and at the time we were working long hours, often late into the night, and we were having cash flow issues, which is a polite way of saying that we were out of cash. We also have little kids, so we were probably sleep deprived. Obviously, we’d had a bad day. None of this justifies our behavior, it just gives it context. We’re sinners with an anger problem. And while I don’t remember what started our fight, I do remember what stopped it. We live next to an old apartment building, and …

The Body in Early Monasticism

If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” It was with the inspiration of this Gospel passage that St. Antony the Great took off to the deserts of Egypt to begin a life of arduous asceticism. Antony, who is commonly attributed the title of “founder of Christian monasticism,” and his legacy have continued to provoke new questions over the past seventeen hundred years. What exactly motivated him to move out to the desert? Who had preceded him, both before the coming of Christ and after? To what extent did later monastic fathers and mothers follow his example, and to what extent did they diverge from it? And ultimately, were his motivations and lifestyle choice authentic to the Gospel? Many critics of early Church monasticism will point to Manichean and dualistic tendencies in the teachings and practices of these desert fathers and mothers. The shift from eremitic to cenobitic monasticism after the time of Antony, initiated by figures like Pachomios and Basil, …

Agrarian Insights on Ecological Conversion: Living Laudato Si’

Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’ posed a tremendous challenge for the Church and the entire world. Although the encyclical letter was seen widely as an intervention on climate change negotiations, it in fact offered much more – including a radical critique of our entire societal status quo. In particular, Francis challenges the “dominant technocratic paradigm,” outlining its various damaging cultural and spiritual effects while also offering suggestions toward cultivating an alternative lifestyle: “A great cultural, spiritual and educational challenge stands before us, and it will demand that we set out on the long path of renewal ” (Laudato Si’, §202).  The encyclical’s reception has been varied. Recent research indicates that the Pope’s teachings about global warming contributed to greater public engagement with the issue.[1] Still some, including American Catholics, continue to deny the full extent of our ecological problem. Others find themselves frustrated with institutional inaction or paralyzed by the immensity of the issue. The climate-change crisis, and our apparent inability to face it, is deeply distressing to the Church, since the roots of the problem …

St. Maximillian Kolbe and the War Against Indifference

More than one concentration camp survivor has remarked that one would need the pen of Dante to describe the horrors that afflicted the “great army of unknown and unrecorded victims.”[1] Hell is that abyss that skews vision and slurs speech. It shreds human community by erasing all marks of personal identity by eviscerating of all bonds of human communion—trust, mercy, and love. During Mass celebrated at Auschwitz on June 7, 1979, John Paul II described the concentration camp as a “place, which was built for the negation of faith—faith in God and faith in man—and to trample radically not only on love but on all signs of human dignity, a place built on hatred and on contempt for man in the name of a crazed ideology. A place built on cruelty.”[2] A place “characterized by man’s fury and scorn for man, in which man was cut down to the level of a robot, a state worse than slavery.”[3] This was an era in which “the human person was degraded, humiliated, and despised. In this poisoned …