All posts tagged: faith

None of Us Shall Enter the Kingdom?

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD! “In our age,” Søren Kierkegaard complains about the 19th century in Fear and Trembling, “everyone is unwilling to stop with faith but goes further.”[1] This is true in our day also. For all the talk about “the end of faith,” sustained reflections on this theological virtue are scarce. In film, reflections on faith rarely go beyond the trappings of clerical garb or the often heavy-handed and saccharine “Christian movie” genre. Over a year ago, Martin Scorcese’s Silence generated a lively discussion around Christian martyrdom. More recently, Paul Schrader’s First Reformed, has given us the kind of dramatic look at the tormented inner life of a country parson the likes of which we had not seen since Ingmar Bergman’s Winter Light or Robert Bresson’s Diary of a Country Priest. This is to be welcomed. Still, I want to point to an older film largely unknown outside of specialist circles, as well as to the theological tradition that underpins it. A film which addresses the nature of Christian faith with unrivaled centrality and depth. Perhaps …

The Unimaginable

“No one has ever seen God,” the Prologue to John’s Gospel concludes, and the reverberations of that statement are registered in 1 John 4:20. For though the epistle opens with the assertion about God incarnate being heard, seen and touched (1 John 1:1), Christian life is pitched in realms where the seen and the unseen intersect. And even though the relationship with Christ is the basis for any Christian identification, Christians live (unlike those first witnesses to the historical Jesus) in the modulations of presence and absence announced by the angels outside the empty tomb: “He is not here” (Matt 28:6). So any scriptural pronouncements about the nature of the material revelation of God in Jesus Christ are stippled with invisibility. They are mediated, interpreted, and wrestled with through texts. Jesus Christ, as the historical revelation of God, is available only in modes in which visibility and invisibility cohere amidst the drifting clouds of unknowing. In the scriptures and the sacraments (most significantly, the Eucharist) we treat what we don’t fully understand and cannot grasp. …

The World Was Made for the Sake of the Church

 A version of this paper, “The Baptismal Vocation in the Light of Vocational Discernment of Young People,” was delivered at the USCCB general meeting on June 14, 2017. Each mystery of the faith, like a rare gemstone, has many facets from which its beauty radiates out. It is tempting to try to treat them all at once, and yet sometimes it is better to choose one of these facets as a focus, and thereby to better appreciate the beauty of the whole. That is what I have chosen to attempt here with you. With regard to the baptismal vocation, I am sure you will all immediately recall that by Baptism we are given a share in Christ’s own vocation, in his priesthood, and in his prophetic and royal mission (see CCC §1268). Baptism is one of the sacraments that we say leaves an indelible “mark” or “character” on the soul. When I was a kid I tried to picture what this mark looked like, but, of course, it is not a literal mark, but an …

Don’t Panic About Nones Who Stop Believing

Sooner or later—probably sooner rather than later these days—children stop believing in Santa Claus. My younger brother was an exception to this rule, although to be fair there were a lot more cultural supports for Santa Claus in the early 60’s, and my parents always arranged for someone dressed in convincing Santa attire to arrive in our front room parlor every Christmas Eve. However, we reached a point when the good Sisters in our parish school finally called my mother in and said, “It’s time to tell him.” My brother was devastated to learn the truth, but also embarrassed by the fact that it was not revealed to him sooner. I think of this often when I read all the hand-wringing about “Nones” and young adults “leaving the church.” According to research conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute and the Pew Research Center, between 50 and 60 percent of people who claim no religious affiliation (the so-called “Nones”) report that they simply “stopped believing” in their childhood religion, usually before age 30. Of course, …

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. This opportunity came at just the right time: with my graduation from Notre Dame just weeks away, and my post-grad plans drawing nearer by the day. In August, I’ll being moving to Oxford, Ohio to begin an M.F.A. in Poetry at Miami University. This means that now, more than ever, I am thinking about what it will mean for me to be a Catholic poet. How I can best nurture my imagination? How I can seek out the intersection between my worship and my writing in practices and habits to learn over these next two years? All the titles of the Fordham conference panels seemed like they had been written especially for me. They ranged from “The Art of Good Writing” and “Making Belief Believable” to “The Catholic Poet in the Secular World.” My deepest regret was that I could not attend multiple panels at once. I received a lot of things during my two-day …

No One Saw the Resurrection

No one saw the resurrection. We tend to forget this as the sensory richness of Easter floods our senses after a wintry Lent. Yet, the Gospels report only vestiges of the risen Christ: a displaced stone, a crumpled up burial shroud, and angels at the empty tomb. The absence of the account of the moment of the resurrection is especially striking when contrasted with the detailed account of the crucifixion: the nails, the lance, the blood and water, and the giving up of the spirit. Belief in the crucifixion is a matter of sight. But the resurrection requires an enlargement of our vision, a faith in what is unseen. The Gospels are replete with beautiful reunions between the resurrected Christ and his followers. St. Augustine attends to these encounters in his Tractates on the Gospel of John, delivered to his congregation in the early 5th century. For the Bishop of Hippo, the post-resurrection encounters with Christ are moments of healing in which Christ gives the gift of faith. This faith, Augustine writes in Tractate 79, …

A Letter to the Newly-Baptized

To the Newly-Baptized: You may already feel it—the fact that this journey you are on made a significant transition when you were baptized. Though you remain on the same path towards Christ, your landscape and means for getting there have radically changed. In this post I will discuss three ways in which your Baptism marked a significant moment in your journey, changing you irreversibly, and then speak to the continuing nature of your journey. First, in Baptism you were adopted into a new family, one of choice. Though you were born into a birth family many years ago, Robin Jensen in Baptismal Imagery in Early Christianity notes that “unlike a birth family, this was a family one chose” (57). Tertullian exhorts the one being baptized saying: When you come up from that most sacred washing of the new birth and for the first time you raise your hands with your brethren in your mother’s house, ask of your Father, ask of your Lord, for special grants of grace and attributions of spiritual gifts. (58) You now have …

Exposed: Why I Am a Christian

Editors’ Note: This post was originally delivered as a presentation at the 2016 Why Christian conference. I’ve always wanted to be accepted and liked. I suffer from the disease of caring too much about what other people think. It’s crippling. In fact, I was scared s***less to come here today. Sometimes, I think I prefer the safety of my writer’s life—my cloistered office—to being out in public, exposed. When I’m writing my pages it’s easier to tune out the world, or engage with it selectively, to maintain the illusion of control. To craft the message. But sometimes, that message is false. This is one of my author photos. A friend came over and took it before my book came out. It’s a picture of me in my office with my daughter, Ruthie. White plank walls. Minimalist aesthetic. Good natural light. Serene. Except that it’s not my office. This is a picture of my actual office. I cleared out my living room for the first shot. I moved a piece of art in from the kitchen. And …

The Light in Darkness

Therefore I intend always to remind you of these things, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to arouse you by way of reminder, since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ showed me. And I will see to it that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things. For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we heard this voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have the prophetic word made more sure. You will do well …

Forming Adults in Faith Through Fiction

The National Directory for Catechesis and Our Hearts Were Burning Within Us: A Pastoral Plan for Adult Faith Formation in the United States both name the following three goals of adult faith formation: to “invite and enable ongoing conversion to Jesus in holiness of life,” to “promote and support active membership in the Christian community,” and to “call and prepare adults to act as disciples in mission to the world.”[1] Offering a model of lifelong growth in faith, adult faith formation is the principal form of catechesis in the Church and the model upon which all other catechetical efforts are to be based.[2] Thus, adult faith formation can be summarized as a ministry of connection, fostering an adult’s relationship to Christ, to the Church, and to a missionary vocation in the world. This vision of three-fold connectedness stands in stark contrast to the reality of many adult Catholics today. Pew’s 2008 “U.S. Religious Landscape Survey” revealed that one-third of self-identified adult Catholics believe in an impersonal God; this statistic reflects a startling disconnect between these …