All posts tagged: grace

The Wayward Daughters

“All my days I have longed equally to travel the right road and to take my own errant path,” confesses Kristin Lavransdatter, a wealthy Norwegian noblewoman and titular character of Nobel Prize-winner Sigrid Undset’s three-part novel.[1] Set in the fourteenth century, the saga follows the life of Kristin, one of the most complex female characters of 20th century literature, from womb to tomb. She wrestles with the weight of sin, her refusal to reconcile her will with God’s, and the suffering that accompanies her wayward decisions. In Brideshead Revisited, British novelist Evelyn Waugh brings another multi-layered female character to life: Lady Julia Flyte, a wealthy heiress living decadently in 20th century England. Each woman is raised in a devout Catholic home and yet is caught between her own passions and her love for God. Separated not only by geography and several centuries, Kristin and Julia’s lives are very different. Kristin is a mother of many and she lives to become a grandmother. Julia is childless. But Kristin Lavransdatter and Brideshead Revisited share the same themes …

Advent Faith Is Not a Big Electric Blanket

In his 1958 essay “The Meaning of Advent” collected in Dogma and Preaching, the then-Father Joseph Ratzinger writes of St. John the Baptist as “the great figure that dominates Advent,” who—along with the Blessed Mother—are “the two great types of Advent existence.”[1] Since Advent is a penitential season wherein all Christians are called to undergo a sober re-examination of one’s conformity (or lack thereof) to Christ and the state of one’s preparation for his second coming in his triumphant Parousia, we would all do well to place ourselves before the last and greatest of the Old Testament prophets and heralds of the coming of the Messiah. “Challenging and active,” writes Ratzinger, “he stands before us, a type of masculine mission in life. He is the stern herald who summons the people to metanoia: to a change of heart or conversion.”[2] Since the Catholic faith is incarnational and sacramental, however, one need not limit oneself to the biblical witness itself, although one should always start there. There are other places that one may turn as well …

Zen and the Rich Young Man

Much of everyday life is a dialogue with our desires. These include, most basically, positive desires—what I like, what I find interesting or funny, what is relaxing or entertaining, what I eat, read, think, say, do, love, even—and negative desires—what I dislike, what I fear, what I disagree with, what I am discouraged by, what is uncomfortable, anxiety-inducing, painful, hateful, even. I will attempt to now trace a recent attempt of mine to confront this scrolling social-media-feed of personal desires and distractions head on, and what it illuminated for me concerning the spiritual life. The main protagonist, however, will be Zen Buddhism, and my brief glimpse of it while in a week-long residency at the Zen Center of New York City (ZCNYC): Fire Lotus Temple. Specifically, I hope to show how this all too brief immersion as a Catholic in Buddhist life not only deepened my appreciation for the spiritual richness (or paradoxically, spiritual poverty) of Zen Buddhism, but also how this encounter opened up Scripture to me in important ways, and refocused some of …

Grace Lurking in the Midst of an All-Consuming Anger

 SPOILER ALERT: This review does indeed contain spoilers. Red Welby (Caleb Landry Jones) reads Flannery O’Connor. This is not a defining feature of his, and no neighbor would probably note his reading choice. But to the viewer of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, writer-director Martin McDonagh’s momentary close-up of A Good Man is Hard to Find in Red’s hands early in the film is full of meaning. I suggest that it may be the key to understanding what this film is trying to say. In spite of the cycles of anger that seem to define and consume the world, there are moments of grace that shake our expectations and show another path. It is up to us to choose whether we will walk that new path, or continue down our current road. Three Billboards is the story of Mildred Hayes (Best Actress nominee Frances McDormand), an acerbic woman who rents the titular billboards outside of her southern town to call attention to the unsolved rape and murder of her teenage daughter. Mildred’s message tries to …

MacIntyre’s Philosophy of Mercy’s Clandestine Work in a Secular World

Alasdair MacIntyre is most well-known for his scathing critique of liberalism and modern moral philosophy, contrasting this mode of thought with the classical tradition of the virtues found especially in the works Aristotle and Aquinas and in communities embodying this ethos. But what is less well known is a second, but more far-reaching critique of the entire Western tradition of moral philosophy for failing to take seriously the facts about disability, vulnerability, and dependence that are part and parcel of the human condition. Overlooking this strand of MacIntyre’s thought obscures important insights concerning both his politics and the relationships between philosophy and theology in his work. What this account makes apparent is how MacIntyre offers a genuinely Christian but non-sectarian politics of mercy, an account that speaks directly to the contemporary political crisis. A noteworthy passage from Dependent Rational Animals[1] captures this second critique: [T]wo related sets of facts, those concerning our vulnerabilities and afflictions and those concerning the extent of our dependence on particular others are so evidently of singular importance that it might …

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 …

A Dogma of Consent

The dogma of the Immaculate Conception is a doctrine that continually mystifies me. Each year as December 8th rolls around, I annually struggle to understand what exactly is so significant here that elevates this feast to a holy day of obligation. The meditations of last year never seem to have borne discoveries that adequately satisfy my questioning. What is so important that it merits mandatory Mass attendance? Why is this doctrine one that Pope Pius IX felt infallibly imperative to declare solemnly a dogma in 1854? Currently, a pressing topic in sexual ethics on college campuses is the term “consent.” There are seminars, talks, trainings, and various programs all centered on teaching undergraduates the importance and value of consent. The moral imperative of obtaining the consent of one’s sexual partner is impressed upon students as an avenue towards helping the students understand the gravity of a sexual encounter, and inviting the students to step into another person’s shoes, envisioning the encounter through the eyes of the other. Accordingly, students are taught to be mindful of …