All posts tagged: eschatological imagination

Am I the Mother of Christ?

A famous reading in the Advent Liturgy of the Hours from Isaac of Stella, Cistercian abbot and contemporary of Bernard of Clairvaux, makes the claim that, among other things, the Christian believer can, like Mary, be a mother of Christ. Beyond the breviary, this has actually become a kind of spiritual commonplace. Every believer can conceive Christ through his or her faith, in a way analogous to Mary. Speaking for myself, I have never known what to make of this comparison. It seems to rest on the double meaning of the word “conceive:” one can conceive in one’s mind, and one can conceive in the womb. But, methinks, these are really, really different realities despite the double entendre. For that reason, perhaps, the comparison has always seemed inert to me, leaving me utterly unmoved. What actually does move me is the wondrous virginal conception of the Word of God in the womb of Mary, the great Mother of God, something so much more stupendous and altogether more marvelous than the metaphorical version of my conception …

The Hidden Life and History of St. Joseph

Some years ago I got an icon of the Holy Family done by an elderly Coptic nun (German by birth) who lives in a convent near the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. It depicts the flight into Egypt. St. Joseph stands in the center with the child Jesus on his shoulders with Mary at his right and a serving girl at the left. While looking at that icon recently I began to think of St. Joseph. The Eastern Church has a long tradition of honoring St. Joseph in the liturgy but it was only from the early sixteenth-century that he was so honored in the Roman Rite. In fact, it was only in 1847 that Pope Pius IX extended the Solemnity of St. Joseph as a feast for the universal Church. It was St. John XXIII who inserted his name into the Canon of the Mass on the eve of the Second Vatican Council. That belated recognition of the spouse of the Virgin Mary, known in the Gospel as a just man (vir Justus) is …

The Sex Life of Joseph and Mary

I wonder if any of you have ever seen the film, “Bambi Meets Godzilla?” If so, you know that it opens, as most movies do, with a long series of credits, naming everyone who purportedly had anything to do with the film, including Bambi’s hairstylist, as we see Bambi dreamily walking through a spring meadow. When the credits are over, a huge, fashionably monstrous leg with a clawed foot steps massively and carelessly into the set while the music simultaneously thunders one single chord. It happens so fast, we do not even see Bambi disappear; end of movie. Perhaps, in like manner, the title of this paper might lead one to believe that after a few preliminary observations and teasers, the monstrous foot of tradition will ensure that the glimmers of seemingly humane and enlightened sympathy for Mary and especially for poor Joseph, her “most chaste spouse,” will be stamped out as decisively as Bambi was stamped out by Godzilla. Joseph and Mary did not have sex. In fact, this paper does begin from the …

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 Last Judgment is the Real Reason for Advent

At the beginning of this past week, I asked my students in all three sections of my Theology 100 course, “What is the reason for Advent?” Those who responded said that Advent prepares us for a joyful remembrance of Christmas. Not one of my 104 students connected Advent with the Second Coming of Christ. When told of the relationship between the Last Judgment and Advent, one student asked why then do we put the season of Advent before Christmas? As if she was asking, “Why do we put a penitential season before a joyful season?” That question was a perfect segue into our class discussion on Father Alfred Delp, a German Jesuit who was executed for high treason on February 2, 1945, for being a member of an anti-Nazi resistance group. While awaiting execution, Delp wrote a few meditations on Advent, on its profound message of hope for Christians during difficult times. He approached the season as a time not only to remember Christ’s birth but also to awaken in us the responsibility to participate …

97 Aphorisms Adduced from the Thought of Benedict XVI

1.     Faith is a Contact Sport. 2.     Christianity cannot be a gift to the world if it comes with empty hands. 3.     God sometimes finds it necessary to rough the passer. 4.     Societies and their gods are naturally violent and our only hope is God—the biblical God, beyond all societies and gods, who is Peace itself. 5.     To be free is not only to have avoided the coercion of others, but also the compulsion of the idols of one’s world and society and above all the compulsion and idol that is yourself. 6.     The peace that passeth understanding is neither brought about by nor guaranteed by us. We are cooperative agents in a process and a goal that transcends us. 7.     Conscience is the inconvenience of listening to the clear voice of God rather than the noise of the rabble or the static of the self. 8.     Christianity does not exercise the option for justice because it is made up of good people. It exercises the option because God insists on nothing less. 9.     Love …

Our Lady of Guadalupe and the Apocalypse

The Church’s liturgical year celebrates on August 15th the Woman of the Apocalypse, “a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.”[1] The feast is better known in Catholic talk as the Assumption, and the first liturgical reading in the celebration of the Mass contains the above-quoted description of the Woman of the Apocalypse. The feast of the Assumption is hardly the only feast in the panoply of Marian celebrations on the Church’s liturgical calendar. It is rarely, however, associated[2] with the optional Marian memorial celebrated December 12th, Our Lady of Guadalupe, though it should be, because both feasts are emblematic of the same thing: apocalypse. The message and story of Guadalupe is apocalyptic, since it reveals God’s will for God’s Church at a particular place in history, Tepeyac, through the Virgin Mary at Guadalupe, clothed and enfleshed in the beauty of the native peoples, and through God’s own servant St. Juan Diego, a Christian who nonetheless responds to the “sweet music”[3] he …

The Advent Apocalypse

Our parishes are too safe. They gather together like-minded citizens whose children go to the same schools, whose parents root for the same football team and work in similar fields. We form insular communities that sing music praising not the triune God who comes to interrupt history through the power of the cross, but music reminding the Creator of the universe how lucky God is to have a people like us as his own. The Church’s liturgy in these instances functions not as a counter-polis but as a replication of social structures that reduce the reign of God to a country club. We naively sing (accompanied by an upbeat tambourine), “Send down the fire of your justice,” unaware that this fire may be for us. And we do so in the name of an evangelization that is supposed to be palatable for a generation that longs not for prophetic discourse but therapeutic memoirs. Advent is the season in which our parishes should once again become dangerous spaces. The coming of Christ that we prepare for …

Yes, Advent Is a Time of Asceticism

We all know that Advent means arrival and preparation. I would invite you to meditate with me about the prerequisites of the term and implications we hardly ever acknowledge. On November 8, the Church remembered Blessed Duns Scotus (d. 1308), one of the greatest thinkers she has ever produced. One of his key ideas was that God’s perfect intellect is mirrored in the limitless openness and receptivity of the human mind. For the Franciscan, such receptiveness was a sign of human dignity: humans receive those truths they cannot achieve by their own powers. This sounds complicated but leads to some simple conclusions: all true knowledge comes from an encounter and arises from the receptivity of our mind and heart (intellectus passibilis). If we apply Scotus’s insight to Advent, we might realize that our receptivity to the Incarnate Word is impeded by something in our lives and that perhaps we do not desire a real encounter with the real God but rather one with our self-constructed god. The root for this seems to lie at the …

Advent and Discernment

The Vocation of Discernment It strikes me how frequently opportunities for discernment become moments of crisis in life. As an undergraduate in my senior year, the impending future after graduation is a popular topic of discussion amongst my friends and classmates. The various dimensions of how life will look after graduation have been coming together like the pieces of a puzzle for the past four years. Yet for many seniors, a few pieces of that puzzle have yet to be found—the image of the future is incomplete. When we realize that we cannot gaze at our future selves with clarity, a sense of urgency and anxiety can set in. This often seems like the appropriate time to employ a spirit of discernment by asking God what he wants us to do with our lives and how we can proceed forward. The process of discernment involves not only listening for the words of Jesus, “Come, follow me” (Mt 1:7; Mk 4:19), but also preparing to go where he beckons. Disposing ourselves to hearing these words often …