All posts filed under: Culture

Mary in the Movies: A Review of “Full of Grace”

For more than a century, the Blessed Virgin Mary has caught the imaginations of filmmakers of all religious persuasions: devout believers, agnostic, and even atheist affiliations. The intersection of theology and secular culture presents the monumental challenge to filmmakers of depicting what escapes all visual categories: Transcendence and Mystery. The cinematic depictions of Mary of Nazareth range from being in harmony with the Christian faith to sacrilegious portrayal and caricature. One day after the Solemnity of the Annunciation (celebrated this year on April 4), the Institute for Church Life was privileged to host a screening of Full of Grace, a feature film depicting the early Church ten years after Christ’s Ascension. The film, written and directed by Andrew Hyatt, is unique in that it portrays an aging Mary, one decade after Pentecost leading up to her Assumption. The public event, attracting more than two hundred people, was one of three belonging to an undergraduate course called Mary in the Movies. During six weeks of intensive learning, nearly forty students familiarized themselves with the portrayal of …

Syria, Human Dignity, and the Responsibility to Protect

Human Dignity vs. the Throwaway Culture Human dignity is innate by virtue of each human person being made in the image of God. It is independent of a person’s role in society, talents and weaknesses, and demographic profile. Each person is entirely unique and irreplaceable. The persecuted, the degraded, the humiliated person has dignity. No one can strip a person of his or her dignity, even if they choose to ignore or violate it. A person does not lose their dignity if they become more dependent on others, as the dignity of the person can be neither forfeited nor stolen. This mentality could not be more at odds with what Pope Francis has deemed the “throwaway culture”—a culture in which human beings are treated like consumer goods, used, and then summarily discarded. With this utilitarian mindset, the human person is debased, stripped of his or her humanity and personhood in the mind of the one who is objectifying them. And this utilitarian mindset is all too prevalent in today’s world. We see it in the …

Family, Careers, and Sexuality: Spiritual Trends in College Men of Faith

Where are the men? How do we get more men involved and engaged in our ministries? I hear these questions time and time again from people across the country in my travels as an educator, minister, and scholar. I hear them from every population: priests, nuns, brothers, pastors, lay ministers, catechists, parishioners, teachers, and coaches. I hear them in every context: parishes, churches, colleges, high schools, and parachurch organizations—even ministries focused specifically on men, from faith-sharing groups to retreats and conferences. Catholics and Protestants alike are struggling to get men (lay and religious) through the door and to keep them there. Everyone is looking for a silver bullet—a quick fix for a complex and enduring problem—only to be disappointed when an initiative or program that may have worked in another context does not work in their own, or when a program has a strong opening and then loses momentum. The truth is, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Every context has its own sets of unique challenges and opportunities for engaging men in their faith. So …

The Virtue of Tenderness: David Foster Wallace and the Practice of Love

In 2005 David Foster Wallace gave the commencement address at Kenyon College. The speech, which has acquired the title “This is Water,” still makes the rounds on the Internet regularly.[1] When I first heard it, blaring from my computer while I was giving my daughters a bath, I was struck by how compelling it is, and how close Wallace comes to telling the graduating class of 2005 that to flourish in adulthood and make the most of their liberal arts education—well, they needed God. Of course Wallace doesn’t quite say that, but his speech makes an excellent starting place for thinking about the virtue of tenderness and why it might have resonance in secular culture in these first decades of the twenty-first century. If we pay careful attention to what David Foster Wallace says, we find that he sets before his hearers two possibilities for their adult lives. On one hand, they can be swept along by the forces that drive the world of advancement and prosperity. On the other hand, they may develop the …

“Tearing Down the Dividing Wall”: Improvising Reconciliation on the U.S.-Mexico Border

It all began with a couple of nuns serving meals out of the trunk of their car. The food was for hungry people who arrived in Nogales, Sonora, deported from the United States to Mexico. Every day the sisters would prepare as much food as they could carry and drive to the border’s port of entry, where daily busses would leave bewildered immigrants in an unfamiliar city. Today, this operation has evolved into a bi-national organization that provides food, clothing, shelter, and medical attention to thousands of migrants annually. It has also expanded its efforts to include not only direct service, but also educational programming and advocacy work. As it straddles the first and third worlds, the Catholic community at the Kino Border Initiative has developed creative practices that challenge the politics of the U.S.-Mexico border. The creativity of the Kino Border Initiative reflects a mode of ethical action that contemporary theologian Samuel Wells labels improvisation, or a Christian community’s performing the drama of the Gospel according to the unique demands of a given time …

A Culture of Encounter: Root and Fruit of Human Dignity

It happened on November 6, 2013. At the end of his weekly general audience with approximately 50,000 attendees, Pope Francis caught sight of a man in his fifties. He was sitting in a wheelchair and accompanied by his aunt Lotto who recalled: “We didn’t think we would be so close to the Pope, but the Swiss Guard kept ushering us forward until we were in a corner in the front row. When he came close to us,” she said, “I thought he would give me his hand. Instead he went straight to Vinicio and embraced him tightly. I thought he wouldn’t give him back to me he held him so tightly. . . . We said nothing but he looked at me as if he was digging deep inside, a beautiful look that I would never have expected.” Vinicio, accustomed to stares of shock and fear because of a disfiguring disease, was initially confused by the Pontiff’s lack of hesitation. “He didn’t have any fear of my illness,” he said. “He embraced me without speaking …

The Dignity of a Human Person: A Catholic Doctrine

If perchance there might be a person in this audience from Wisconsin, Missouri, or New York, whom I had the honor of confirming, be patient with me, please, for, odds are that I used this same story during my sermon that day. In July 2002, I led a group of about three hundred young people from the Archdiocese of St. Louis, where I was then serving as auxiliary bishop, to Toronto for World Youth Day. These events originated twenty-five years ago with the genius of Blessed John Paul II, who, every two or three years, would invite young people from all over the planet to join him for five days of prayer, catechesis, faith sharing, and friendship at different locations throughout the globe. So, there I was in Canada with a million young folks. And it was my happy task to offer a catechesis on three different days to about three hundred young people from Canada, Ireland, England, Australia, India, and the United States at a parish setting in the suburbs of Toronto. Hundreds of …

Healing and Culture

He approached the victim, poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them. Then he lifted him up on his own animal, took him to an inn and cared for him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper with the instruction, “Take care of him. If you spend more than what I have given you, I shall repay you on my way back.” Which of these, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?” He answered, “The one who treated him with misericordia.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” (Lk 10: 34–37) I’m not exactly sure why I’ve been invited to address you. I’m not a theologian. Now in the mouths of some that claim might appear to be just bragging. But in my case it is a true confession of ignorance. By and large the theology I know has been by assimilation rather than study. Nor am I a liturgist. Again, by saying that I am no liturgist I’m not trying to assure you …

The Healing Power of Beauty

A Triptych of Short Fiction, Sacred Art, and Modern Poetry This is an essay about vision and blindness, about seeing and the failure to see, about wholes and fragments, sickness and healing, light and darkness, about nativity and the rebirth to eternal youth, about a mode of beauty that does not and cannot exclude ugliness, the nocturnal, suffering, and death but rather fundamentally transfigures it. It is about forms of art, yes, but also—and far more importantly—about forms of life, and the vivifying, even healing shapes these can and ought take for Christian believers. Early on in T. S. Eliot’s pageant play The Rock, which narrates the rebuilding of a Church, the Chorus laments: “Where is the Life we have lost in living? Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”[1] Here the depth dimension of genuine wisdom and mystery has been traded for bits of data. Similarly, the modern person has in a certain sense become blind, unreceptive to theological and even philosophical language, …

The Idea of a Catholic University

Those privy to conversations in Catholic higher education in the last twenty years are well aware of the contentious status of discourse regarding Catholic identity among these institutions of higher learning.[1] Does the Catholic identity of such schools relate primarily to the prominence of theological and philosophical education in the curriculum? Is it ensured through an emphasis on tangible Catholic practice and visible iconography on campus? To what extent does Church teaching inform who is invited to campus, either for awards or for other lectures? Does one cultivate the Catholic character of a university by establishing faculty and student quotas, ensuring the presence of religiously like-minded faculty, staff, and students alike? If Catholic identity is a contentious term, might it be more profitable to nurture a robust conversation regarding Catholic intellectual tradition?[2] Such queries are not simply the result of Catholics, who succumbed to the secularization of higher education in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.[3] As Monika Hellwig summarized the situation of modern-day Catholic higher education in the United States: We are the …