All posts filed under: Featured

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incongruent with a world marked by cultural relativism, and it manifests, or so the claim goes, an ill-conceived and outdated understanding of revelation as static and propositional.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 …

MacIntyre on What is Sinking Catholic Education

There is a university chapel in Washington State that always makes me think it could be easily converted into a low-key Starbucks café. It would not be the most architecturally interesting Starbucks, but it would do. It would make money. The university that houses the chapel is well-known for stressing its identity as formed by a brand name religious order, rather than being “Catholic.” I used to think this distinction was hyperbole, rather than actual practice. But then a friend told me that an acquaintance of his who is a recruiter for that very university tells its recruits that the university “is x, and not Catholic.”[1] I’ve withheld names because there is no reason to single out an institution when this pattern is all too familiar in Catholic universities.[2] I mention this because Tim O’Malley briefly proposed in “Letting the Imagination Out to Play” that the rejuvenation of the Catholic liturgical imagination will take place through Catholic institutions of higher education: Yes, of course, the Church needs to put aside money to this process. To …

Letting the Imagination Out to Play

Last weekend, I was in Philadelphia for the Society for Catholic Liturgy. This “multidisciplinary association of Catholic scholars” seeks to promote the “scholarly study and practical renewal of the Church’s liturgy.” The theologians, architects, philosophers, pastoral liturgists, and musicians of the Society range from advocates of the “reform of the reform” to those more sympathetic to Msgr. Francis Mannion’s “recatholicizing approach, one that “seeks a recovery of the sacred and numinous in liturgical expression which will act as a corrective to the sterility and rationalism of much modern liturgical experience.”[1] The Society brings together both those who prefer to celebrate the usus antiquor, the Latin Mass, as well as Novus Ordo Mass-goers who suspect that the low-Mass mentality of the pre-conciliar period has been canonized in the current ars celebrandi and aesthetics of the reformed liturgy. While attending this event, I often found myself returning to a passage from Artur Rosman’s last column on the retrieval of a Catholic imagination: Church life must once again become the heart of the Catholic imagination, but the onus of …

St. Francis of Assisi: Icon of the Hospitable Imagination

In the First Life of Saint Francis, Thomas of Celano (c. 1185–1265), relates a detail about the seraphic saint that could easily pass by a reader’s attention as simply a charming embellishment adorning the life of St. Francis. The saint of Assisi was so transformed by the burning fire of God’s love that he even saw the dignity of worms: “Even for worms he [Francis] had a warm love,” writes Celano, “since he had read this text about the Savior: I am a worm and not a man. That is why he used to pick them up from the road and put them in a safe place so that they would not be crushed by the footsteps of passersby.”[1] We live in a culture obsessed with individualism, efficiency, consumerism, and power. It is a culture which effectively erodes what it means to be human, a culture in which statements about the uselessness and stupidity of human dignity can go unchecked and unchallenged. It is a culture in which political parties and market analytics decide whose …

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, …

The Dramatic Double Vision of the Catholic Imagination

The debates of our ancient faith keep returning in surprising ways. The issue is not so much a return of the repressed, but the constitutive presence of the theological in our post-Christian midst. According to Natalie Carnes, the recent trend of toppling Confederate statues has connections with the theological imagination(s) of the ancient Christian faith.[1] Her essay, “Breaking the Power of Monuments,” rewinds to the historical moment that produced the Byzantine iconographic conventions mentioned in my initial piece on the Catholic imagination. Carnes’s explanation of the immense power of images to create social relations deserves an extended quotation: The public monument had a definitive moment in Byzantium, where the ubiquitous images of the emperor witnessed the extent of his political power. Thanks to images, the emperor could be present even where he was absent. So closely was the presence of the emperor identified with his image that to honor the image was to honor the emperor himself. Early Christians like fourth-century bishop Basil of Caesarea used this image logic to explain Christ’s relationship to the …

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 …