All posts filed under: Featured

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 …

Can Christianity Stop at Good Friday?

In a letter to Father Couturier written one year before her death, Simone Weil confessed that “if the Gospel omitted all mention of Christ’s resurrection, faith would be easier for me. The Cross by itself suffices me.”[1] This confession should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with Weil’s life or thought. Few things stand out so prominently in Weil’s late writings, after all, as her principled discomfort with the Christian language of resurrection and redemption (as well as her principled fixation on the language of crucifixion and dereliction). This is not to say that Weil rejected “Easter” language altogether; on the contrary, she found numerous uses for it within the parameters of her own rather bleak Christian Platonist framework. What Weil did believe strongly, however, was that virtually all ways of thinking and talking about redemption outside such a framework are not only misguided but spiritually damaging. In the vast majority of cases, Weil worried, Christians invoke Easter for no other reason than to evade the hard truths of Good Friday: to shield themselves …

The Notre-Dame Cathedral Fire Isn’t a Sign

Catholics love churches. Even when our architecture is less than excellent—this includes churches that also seem to look rather traditional—we nonetheless love them. We love them because in these places our babies were baptized; we married our spouses; we celebrated the Eucharist week after week, day after day, offering that sacrifice of praise that offers to humanity the hope that divine love alone saves. Yesterday we all, not Catholics only, gazed with absolute horror as we saw Notre-Dame de Paris nearly burn down. To a certain extent, popular media covered this out of a sense of nostalgia. This building, immortalized in our imaginations, would never exist precisely as it once did. We would never enter the dark, Gothic building again. We will never see the spire, even if a late addition, again. We will never see the cathedral’s wooden frame, the brilliant lattice work that brought us back to our medieval forebears. The landscape of Paris would once again be changed. No one, not one, would see the cityscape of Paris like we did–although the …

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 Newest War on Women

Let me tell you a story—three stories, actually. Two myths and a difficult truth. The first myth is a sixth-century Sanskrit jataka, a story recounting a previous life of the Buddha. In this story, a bodhisattva named Rūpyāvatī cuts off her own breasts to feed a starving mother who is about to eat her newborn child out of desperation. Rūpyāvatī is praised for this radical act of self-sacrifice, and in recompense her breasts are divinely restored. Thus far, this story is viscerally beautiful and sharply affirming of the feminine: a woman saving another woman from death through the gift of her own life-giving flesh. Life and death edge close together here, almost blurring into one another—the new mother is on the brink of killing that to which she just gave life—until Rūpyāvatī intervenes, and the specter of death is driven away by a gesture of self-sacrificial love. But the story does not end there. After Rūpyāvatī’s female body is restored to wholeness, she makes a request to “the lord of the gods” to be freed …

Reading the Writing in the Dirt

How do you read it? This question, posed to Jesus repeatedly throughout the Gospels, reminds us that interpretation of God’s Law was fundamental to Jesus’s life as a 1st century Jewish rabbi. It remains important today in the Church and no less controversial, as could be seen from the difficult questions on canon law and scriptural interpretation which have rocked the Catholic Church in the past years. Many vexed questions beat at the heart of these ecclesial disputes, but surely the question of how to interpret the Scriptures and ecclesial law in a way that respects both God’s justice and mercy reverberates beneath them all. As we turn inward for self-examination this Lent and seek to find God’s justice and mercy in our own lives too, the question of interpretation becomes personally paramount. To find our way, we can do no better in reflecting on this than to look at how Jesus himself held together the requirements for both justice and mercy in the interpretation of God’s Law. Neither can be omitted. As Pope Francis …

Baudelaire, Maistre, and Original Sin

J oseph Conrad once said “It seems as if the discovery made by many men at various times that there is much evil in the world were the source of a proud and unholy joy.” He was musing about fiction, and his insight is worth bearing in mind when we consider that of Baudelaire and Maistre. The Freudian unconscious has a certain transcendental status. Moreover, in its insistence on the primal scene, the crime of patricide as the basis for civilization, pervasive guilt, and yet a forgotten founding crime—this psychoanalytic notion of the unconscious is arguably the return of Original Sin in the more user-friendly mental constructs of modernity. We all know that the industrial and social revolutions in Europe in the 19th century brought along a certain ebbing of religion, a certain erosion of the belief in a transcendental. Yet, there are ways in which the unconscious reinstates a transcendental, as we know. Freud’s unconscious is the royal road back to a transcendental register, even if the map is frequently upside down. That is, …

A Closer Look at Medieval Lent’s Toughness

Medieval Lent was onerous, too difficult for us moderns to imagine—bread, beer (basically liquid bread), and vegetables for 40 days for all people. Peasants especially are supposed to have been durable, hard-knuckled folks who embraced the light yoke of fasting as a necessary part of the rhythms of liturgical time. Underlying each epoch, after all, is what Fritz Bauerschmidt has called a “metaphysical image,” that is, some metaphor that defines it, shapes it such that it produces specific sorts of people, rooted in specific values.[1] On this reading of medieval Lent, tradition is not merely something handed down; rather, it is something to which we look in awe—pristinely pious, dedicated, a measuring stick for our own inadequacies and misgivings. An article on one website says it all: “Think Lent is Tough? Take a Look at Medieval Lenten Practices.” When a topic becomes clickbait, it is safe to say it is an embedded part of Catholic consciousness. In its way, this perspective has led to something of a cottage industry of Lenten repentance. There was, until …

Neo-Colonialism and Reproductive Health

A little over a century ago the continent of Africa was carved up and shared among the European powers. Every African nation—with the exception of Ethiopia and Liberia—was colonized for upwards of 70 years by these European powers. My country, Nigeria, was one of those countries. However, I have no intention of rummaging aimlessly through the ash-heap of history today. I know that colonialism is a thing of the past and my country, alongside other African countries, have been independent, sovereign, and self-governing since the 1960’s. I am truly grateful for this independence. However, in recent years, we are noticing the return of Western footprints all across the continent of Africa. I am not speaking of the mostly welcome footprints of those seeking business investments, trade deals, or scientific advancements. No, I am speaking about the footprints of cultural imperialists, social engineers, and ideological neo-colonial masters who have presented themselves as enthusiastic donors, friends, and partners in the much desired development in the different African countries. Wealthy Western nations, powerful institutions, NGO’s, and private foundations …