All posts tagged: Catholic imagination

Welcoming Stranger Things Without Baptizing Them Too

SPOILER ALERT: This post gives away some plot twists in Stranger Things Seasons 1 and 2. In the past year, many writers in the Catholic blogosphere have commented on the theological richness of Stranger Things. One writer recently went so far as to claim that it is “the most Catholic show on television,” which may be a bit of a stretch. Yes, Eleven is a Christ figure, but I doubt The Duffer Brothers gave her the nickname “El” as a nod to the Hebrew word for God, though, admittedly, stranger things have happened. Sorry. Got that pun out of my system. Moving on. Yes, Eleven refuses to use her powers when asked to kill a cat (an act which this same writer compares to Christ’s refusal to turn stones to bread during his temptation in the desert), but moments later, she kills two guards who threaten her, an utterly un-Christlike action. While I can appreciate and in fact hope to demonstrate here that Stranger Things is a series with deeply Catholic sensibilities, the examples above …

The Extraordinary Is Wed to the Mundane in the Catholic Imagination

“Words move, music moves / Only in time,” writes T.S. Eliot in Four Quartets; “but that which is only living / Can only die.”[1] One of the ideas that these poems stress is what we see in the lines I just quoted: for us, living, expressing, and being always involve time. We need time in order to do any of the things that we do. Yet, for this to be so, it always also means that the current moment is passing away. As G.M. Hopkins says, “I am soft sift / In an hourglass.”[2] Everything that we give slips through our fingers, never permanent, because the condition that makes our creativity possible, time, is also that by which we lose everything. We are poor creatures, unable to possess even the moment we exist in. But of course: Blessed are the poor. If we want to talk about the “Catholic imagination,” it is helpful to remember that we depend on time. We are not only creatures of time, but that in us which experiences eternity always …

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 …

Church Life is the Heart of the Catholic Imagination

I struck up a conversation about the role of art in the Catholic imagination with a medievalist friend last week.[1] As we were having this conversation we stood next to a public religious artwork on the campus of Notre Dame, First Down Moses, just a day after I wrote the second installment of my Catholic imagination series, “The Dramatic Double Vision of the Catholic Imagination.” Most tourists who visit the Notre Dame campus take pictures of Touchdown Jesus don’t know that there is a statue of Moses pointing—one hand pointing toward the heavens, the other toward the 10 Commandments—standing on the other side of Hesburgh library. This statue is colloquially known as “First Down Moses” and is a popular meeting point for staff and students, a place of communion of sorts. That day we were looking at the feet of Moses crushing the Golden Calf as we were approached by a Jewish colleague. She expressed her concern about the horns on top of the statue’s head. My medievalist friend explained that the horns were a …

The Catholic Imagination is Ecclesial (Or It’s Not Really Catholic)

In two previous articles, Artur Rosman, the managing editor of Church Life, has advanced a proposal for what constitutes the Catholic imagination. According to Rosman, the Catholic imagination is often employed in departments of Catholic Studies in a way that suits the faculty and/or artist’s interests: Each of these institutions, and there are many of them, appears to have its own working definition of the Catholic imagination that developed out of its own institutional needs and accents upon Catholic identity. These practical needs sidestepped much of the work of theologians on the Catholic imagination. In a later article, Rosman hints that medieval Catholicism is the privileged era for the birth of what we refer to the Catholic imagination. Rosman’s articles point toward a significant lacuna that exists within both philosophical and theological accounts of the Catholic imagination: the dearth of attention to the ecclesial nature of this imagination. In my own graduate studies, the term “Catholic imagination” was often defined by the transformation of theological doctrines into epistemic or literary principles: The Catholic imagination is …

Reading Recommendations from the Catholic Imagination Conference

I would like to wrap up my reflections about Fordham’s Catholic Imagination Conference, which are part of Church Life Journal’s discussion of what the “Catholic imagination” is, with the following anecdote: I raised my hand during the conference panel about Catholic poets. I asked the three panelists if they had any advice for a young poet. The group reached a strong consensus with, “Just read everything.” Members of the audience warmly chuckled and affirmed the clear earnestness of this command. As I begin living out this advice I offer the following list of reading recommendations so that those who were not able to attend the conference themselves may read along the weekend’s trains of thought. This list includes works written by the panelists themselves, works that serve as examples of the Catholic imagination at work, and works often referenced in speeches and readings that clearly have served as wellsprings for the imagination. Spill Simmer Falter Wither, by Sara Baume Imago Dei: Poems from Christianity and Literature, by Jill Baumgaertner Diary of a Country Priest, by Georges …

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 …

The Single Most Important Thing I Noticed at the Fordham Catholic Imagination Conference

As I mentioned previously in the piece Things I Received at the Fordham Catholic Imagination Conference, at the end of April I was given the opportunity to attend the 2nd Catholic Imagination Conference at Fordham University. The notebook I carried with me from Indiana to New York City was my constant travel companion and confidante. Its pages are scrawled upon generously with every single little tidbit I could scavenge from the weekend. These notes are written in a very particular strain of my handwriting: not in my signature and presentable cursive reserved for thank-you notes, shopping lists, and even most of my lecture notes, but in my slanted, sideways, all-over-the-page chicken scratch that only comes out when I am absolutely desperate to cram ever little morsel of truth onto the page. For those of you who are curious about this conference: I would like nothing more than to sit down with you and show you each page of my notebook, tracing through each and every fascinating thing that I heard and saw. But, in the …