All posts filed under: Featured

Advent Faith Is Not a Big Electric Blanket

In his 1958 essay “The Meaning of Advent” collected in Dogma and Preaching, the then-Father Joseph Ratzinger writes of St. John the Baptist as “the great figure that dominates Advent,” who—along with the Blessed Mother—are “the two great types of Advent existence.”[1] Since Advent is a penitential season wherein all Christians are called to undergo a sober re-examination of one’s conformity (or lack thereof) to Christ and the state of one’s preparation for his second coming in his triumphant Parousia, we would all do well to place ourselves before the last and greatest of the Old Testament prophets and heralds of the coming of the Messiah. “Challenging and active,” writes Ratzinger, “he stands before us, a type of masculine mission in life. He is the stern herald who summons the people to metanoia: to a change of heart or conversion.”[2] Since the Catholic faith is incarnational and sacramental, however, one need not limit oneself to the biblical witness itself, although one should always start there. There are other places that one may turn as well …

Love Is Always Conditional

 We want to say that love is unconditional. It seems right. It is equal parts comforting and challenging. It is comforting because if I am loved, then there is nothing I can do to lose that. It is challenging because in order to love, I have to will to be untroubled by obstacles. We do not want to say love is conditional because we fear submitting love to the twisted logic of relationship terrorism: if you do not meet my demands, I deprive you of what is good for you, or vice versa. We think of conditions as qualifications and we do not want to attach qualifications to love. So we say love is unconditional. But that is wrong. Love is always conditional. The conditions of love are not a list of demands but the ways in which love is demanding. If, as Aquinas teaches, “to love is to will the good of another,”[1] then what makes love demanding are those conditions in which I have to figure out how exactly to will your good, …

The Four Waves of the U.S. Catholic Abuse Crisis

Editorial Note: Those of you who reached this essay in error by clicking “READ MORE” in “The Best of 2018: Selected Content from the Church Life Journal” mailing looking to read Cyril O’Regan’s essay “The ‘Gift’ of Modernity” can do so by clicking here. Our apologies for the error on our part and the inconvenience. Where We Are  For many of us, the Catholic Church is our extended family and the center of our daily lives: the community within which we celebrate the sacraments, worship God, teach our children, serve the poor, cheer our kids’ CYO teams, build lifelong friendships, and so much more. Given that context, it is no surprise that over these past months American Catholics have been devastated and angered by revelations regarding sexual abuse and abuse of power in our Church. As we think about how to move forward, I would like to give an overview of our current moment; a brief review of how we got here; and finally, a description of what might lie ahead. This latest iteration of …

The Sham Practice of Christmas

As one of the great festivals of Christianity approaches, the malls are decked with holly, sales, and “Santa Baby.” Human beings are wired for festivity but could most of us even define what a festival truly is? And does our commercialized bastardization of Christmas still qualify as one? When I picked up 20th century German Catholic philosopher Josef Pieper’s In Tune with the World: A Theory of Festivity, I realized this seemingly familiar idea of festival was more elusive than I expected. Did I not know what festivity was? Apparently not. The short treatise begins with a quote from St. John Chrysostom: “Ubi caritas gaudet, ibi est festivas” or “where love rejoices, there is festivity.” Like “love,” a word that we often use and yet may struggle to define, festivity is an idea we have trouble getting to the heart of. In addition to Pieper, I would like to recruit a well-known guide for us in our search for the meaning of festivity: the “squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching covetous old sinner” turned grateful philanthropist, …

Hildegard of Bingen’s Vital Contribution to the Concept of Woman

When I was an undergraduate at an Evangelical university and beginning to think more deeply about gender, there were two basic paradigms on offer: egalitarianism and so-called complementarity. In those days—the early 2000’s—the pop-Christian livre de jour was a book called Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man’s Soul by Jon Eldredge. This bestseller, ubiquitous in evangelical circles, provided a dizzying mash-up of fairy tale tropes, pop culture references, and bible verses, in order to unlock the hidden mysteries of the masculine heart. The basic premise of Eldredge’s book is that God creates men to be chivalrous Beasts with a hunger for adventure, a need to fight battles and rescue a Beauty. And a woman’s telos, conversely, is to be that Beauty who is rescued and swept up in the man’s heroic adventure. Eldredge presents men and women as two partial reflections of God: “There is a masculine heart, and a feminine heart, which in their own ways reflect or portray to the world God’s heart.”[1] These two “hearts” are not so much …

Dostoevsky on the Demonic Decimation of a Shareable World

One way of thinking of the modern demonic is that it is marked by an otherness viewed not as a threatening outside, but a shocking inside contributing to the doubling of a self that cannot find ballast and thereby becomes capable of intentional forms of evil far beyond the circumscription of the human flesh and psyche. Given this definition, my proposal is that the literary figure who is most penetrating and expansive on the topic is Fyodor Dostoevsky. There are other writers with plausible claims to this mantle, perhaps one of the French trio of André Gide, Georges Bataille, and Jean Genet, maybe even William Golding who unerringly exposes our collective illusions regarding sympathy and fraternity throughout his oeuvre and not simply in Lord of the Flies. Needless to say, under scrutiny the bona fides of Golding as the connoisseur of the modern demonic do not hold up. As a writer Golding is more focused on the return of the repressed than on the endlessly spiraling reflection that is the ground of acts of evil …

A Revisionist Account of Natural Law and Natural Right

Discussions of natural law and natural right inevitably include accounts of their historical genesis, and where they do not, then often a fictive genesis is assumed, in such a way as vitiates the substantive claims for either law or right that are being made. This is most evidently the case for modern natural right, since this manifestly has an origin—it has been asserted always in particular circumstances and within a particular conceptuality that help to determine the sense of the notion. But it is also the case for natural law, because any attempt to ignore its origins in the Classical and Medieval past, and especially its links to theology and metaphysics, inevitably denature it and produce a novel, modern doctrine that is often much more reducible to a modern natural rights doctrine than its proponents imagine.[1] Therefore I will attempt, in this essay, to sketch in short compass an account of the historical development of natural right in relation to the older notion of natural law. My contention will be that the latter notion has, …

Lonergan’s Communal Novum Organon

For a certain generation of those who studied theology, Bernard Lonergan’s Method in Theology (1972) was a book that was constantly referenced. For my generation of theologians, when one mentions the text, it is all too often looked at askance. For many, Lonergan is neither fish nor fowl. For some, he is not sufficiently radical enough, considered too indebted to Tradition. To others, his thought is considered not sufficiently Thomistic, far too eclectic. And still, there are others who point to him as the one providing the blueprint for the philosophy behind a relativistic theology of pluralism with his development of the concept of historical consciousness. I have been asked if my interest in Lonergan is merely a historical curiosity, a desire to look into a period of time in Catholic theology that has since passed. I have been asked, continually in some circles, if Lonergan has really anything to offer in an all-too fractured theological world. My response to those who want to know specifically what Lonergan can offer theology today is to examine …

Solovyov’s Russia and the Catholic Church

Vladimir Solovyov’s thought and writings dominated the literary, philosophical, and theological currents of late 19th century Russia. His death in 1900 did not put an end to this influence.  In 2003, the Ukrainian Catholic University held a conference on the theme of his book Russia and the Universal Church. This commemoration of the 150th anniversary of Solovyov’s birth prompted Pope John Paul II to herald the participants of this conference with a Vatican address wherein he noted the significance of this man and his work. John Paul II considered Solovyov to be a giant in terms of moral and political philosophy, theology and spirituality—a view he had also expressed five years earlier in the encyclical Fides et Ratio. Since Solovyov’s life was indelibly marked by the thirst for divine wisdom, it is no surprise that he also desired to see that wisdom most perfectly embodied in the world. This was the deepest motivation for his lifelong attempt to bring the Eastern and Western churches back into full union. As John Paul II stated in his …

Derrida, Politics, and the Little Way

So this is a permanent Stimmung: I am a prophet without a prophecy, a prophet without being a prophet. —Jacques Derrida[1] Christianity has embraced the apophatic, and perhaps even deconstructive, since its inception.[2] But the place of the apophatic in Christianity is rather difficult to discern as it introduces something of a free radical. Does the apophatic relativize all discourse about God or just check some of it? Does the Word of God prescribe a certain manner of speaking and of silence? How does this deferral to mystery correlate with philosophy? For the past century there has been a growing awareness of how philosophy, whether in its idealist and/or political forms (insofar as these can be separated), has appropriated and mimicked Christian discourse. The philosophy of Jacques Derrida operates uniquely in this regard for here is someone who works similarly to certain expressions of apophatic theology even as Derrida disavows being an apophatic theologian. But what does it mean for Derrida the philosopher to continually perform contradiction and confusion in texts? If Derrida attempts to …