All posts tagged: conversion

Virtue as Revolution: Reforming Emotional Chastity

Way back in the day, my mother taught my siblings and me Catholic doctrine through the mode most appealing to small Roden children: competition. Every morning, from a small Tupperware that lived by our prayer books, we would draw a number that corresponded to a question from a well-worn copy of the mid-century Baltimore Catechism. We would then have to recite the answer to said question from memory. If you were lucky (or a strategic number-picker), you would get Question 15: Where is God? Its answer? God is everywhere. If your luck had deserted you, you’d receive a stumper like Question 58: What are the effects of venial sin? And woe unto you if you omitted even one dependent clause of its answer: The effects of venial sin are the lessening of the love of God in our heart, the making us less worthy of His help, and the weakening of the power to resist mortal sin. One question and answer couplet that branded itself onto my brain was Question 53. Question: What other gifts …

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 …

Religion and the Arts: Augustine’s Netflix

Binge-watching is America’s new pastime. Netflix alone currently boasts 43 million subscribers and counting, who—to adopt a wry turn of phrase from an article in The Economist—are “living the stream.” Netflix­ and its competitors Hulu, Amazon Prime Instant Video, HBO Go, et al have revolutionized how and how much we watch television and film. They have commercialized entertainment ad infinitum: drama, humor, insight, and a good plot line compel our attention as a kind of dramatic watering hole, something we come back to again and again during our given work week. The plot lines of our favorite shows are familiar, quirky, and dependable like a close friend, and online streaming has only expedited this quality time. Each show and movie slowly gives shape to an entire life that we imaginatively inhabit. In a certain poetic sense, it is not a coincidence that the plot diagram itself figuratively (and literally, if you consider the shape) imitates the human pulse. Thus the comfort and autonomic vitality of a continuous stream of plots packaged in episode form: exposition, …

“Laudato Si’,” Personal Conversion, and Missionary Joy

Faced with an increasingly dechristianized West in his own time, the famous German Jesuit theologian, Karl Rahner, frequently warned against a “missionary defeatism” in the Church.[1] Today, at least in the United States, political polarization has undermined any common arena of discourse that may have once existed. Loud rhetoric (not even eloquent sophistry!) has replaced reasoned argument. Washington remains gridlocked, if not perpetually, meaning that even common-sense, compromise legislation cannot be approved. Any new sense of global solidarity brought on by an age of social media is shadowed by a reminder of just how challenging a real, embodied solidarity actually is. At the same time, findings in the social sciences have bordered on determinism, showing more and more just how formative systems—like the one described—are for the human person, calling into question human responsibility and agency to actually transcend, let alone shape, these societies and cultures. The chorus of a 1971 hit by the English band Ten Years After captures the sentiment of many: “I’d love to change the world, but I don’t know what …

The Sweet Burden of the Moral Life

Our faith in Christ bids us to become “perfect” as our Heavenly Father is perfect (Mt 5:48). Such an invitation to perfection is often perceived as an “impossible” (Mt 19:26) goal, since the moral life is perceived as a burden, an unbearable weight. This burden is felt even more acutely if we notice ourselves being “told” what to do or how to behave by an authority. In Western civilization, when one is confronted with a law and a lawgiver, the natural response is to first analyze circumstances in order to ascertain if there is a possible exemption from the regulation. This notion—that moral living is an avoidable burden—even manifests itself in expressions of sympathy and promises of intercessory prayer to those who announce that they are going to university to study ethics or moral theology! No doubt, to be purified of our beloved sins is a painful process, so painful that we may be tempted to remain in the artificial consolation of sin itself rather than venture toward “perfection.” Our fear that living according to …