All posts tagged: history

The Month of Mary and Music

Editorial Statement: During the month of May (Mary’s Month), Church Life Journal will celebrate the month of Mary by consider the nature of the  Marian imagination in art, music, folk customs, private devotion, and ritual action. The dedication of May as Mary’s Month is attested by several traditions, rather than by one definitive tradition. The earliest mention of it is from King Alfonso X of Castille in the 13th  century. The king speaks about honoring Mary on various dates in May in his Cantigas de Santa Maria.  However, the dedication of the full month only developed sometime between the 17th and 18th centuries. If that explanation is not precise enough for you, then here’s Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poetic attempt at one in “The May Magnificat”: MAY is Mary’s month, and I Muse at that and wonder why: Her feasts follow reason, Dated due to season— Candlemas, Lady Day; But the Lady Month, May, Why fasten that upon her, With a feasting in her honour? Is it only its being brighter Than the most are must delight her? Is it opportunest And flowers …

The Mysterious Miriam of Nazareth

In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God and several verses later the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. This seismic shift in the orientation of creation, this cataclysmic re-location of the logos into the corruptible world of mortality took place not in a hermetically-sealed scientific laboratory or in the archetypes of myth, but in the flesh-and-blood of a human person. And the person’s name was Mary. When imagining Incarnation—in both our intellectual and pious imaginaries—we too often recite a story something like this: notional God theoretically unites to abstract human nature. The story is more like a mathematical formula. 1 + 1 = 2, and Incarnation remains simply a more subtle cosmic algebraic formula in which 1+1 = 1. But this is not what it is to be or to take up flesh. To become a human person means to be born: a physical, messy, risky business. To be born means to be thrown into the world drama in a specific time (e.g., 1991, …

The Revolutionary Storming of the Winter Palace

  “Your Imperial Highness! Your Imperial Highness, wake up!” The voice was so kind, so homey-rather than rouse him he practically entered into his dream. But the warm huskiness repeated and repeated—and finally made him wake up. This old, gray-haired, Winter Palace footman, with luxurious, flowing side-whiskers, who had long since grown accustomed to the idea of no one from the Tsar’s family spending the night here, instead of the joy of not disturbing the high-born guest’s sleep, had decided to enter the room and lean over the bed. “Your Imperial Highness! The palace has become dangerous. After the troops left, some gangs tried to break through different doors a few times. Only the locks are holding them back. What forces do we have to fight them off?” The cold and nasty waking got through to Mikhail. Now this he had not expected! That gangs would invade the palace. What gangs could there be in the capital? “Gangs from where?” “God know where.” The footman was distressed. “A few have gathered up and gone wild. …

An Inverted Victory

SPOILER ALERT: This review does indeed contain spoilers. The much-anticipated military thriller Dunkirk by director Christopher Nolan is not the war film I was expecting. Dunkirk rethinks the genre of military films. We are used to having films about particular historic battles retell a great victory, shed light on some lesser-known heroics, or give us a new perspective on famous events. I expected Dunkirk to go the second and third routes. Dunkirk does give us different angles of the British experience of the famous Operation Dynamo, the evacuation of British troops from the beaches of Dunkirk, France after their retreat from the rapidly advancing German army. It also focuses on a few characters and their experience of the events. But this is no 21st century version of The Longest Day, the 1962 saga of D-Day. It is effectively the inverse. Where The Longest Day told of the Allied invasion of the beaches of Normandy in June 1944 as the beginning of the Allies’ defeat of the Germany army occupying France, Dunkirk is less a rehashing of …

We Have Never Been Medieval

In the early 1990’s the French philosopher, anthropologist, and sociologist Bruno Latour published a remarkable, and scandalous, essay, in which he argued that society had never been modern.[1] According to Latour, modernity has never been able to fully achieve its desired goal of an objective understanding of Nature, epitomized in scientific studies, bracketed off from an understanding of society, especially in politics. Modern people always take recourse to hybrids or “quasi-objects” that bridge this desired divide in order to make the world intelligible and to make society possible. The findings of scientific inquiry are never as objective and certain as they claim or hope to be, nor are political and economic considerations ever divorced from our understanding of the natural world and the way the natural environment acts upon humanity. In the end René Descartes and his intellectual descendants were never able to truly have an objective mastery of Nature. One consequence of Latour’s argument is that if society has never truly achieved the idealized hope of being modern so too has humanity never truly …

Winston Churchill’s Dark Night of the Soul

SPOILER ALERT: This review does indeed contain spoilers. Darkest Hour is a compelling dramatization of the life of Prime Minister Winston Churchill during the time between the resignation of his predecessor, Neville Chamberlain (which coincided with the German invasion of Holland, Belgium, and France), and Churchill’s famous “We shall never surrender” speech to the House of Commons following the evacuation of the defeated British army at Dunkirk only a few weeks later. During this short period, the Allies experienced their worst defeat of World War II. However, the slow-motion disaster unfolding in France and the low countries is mostly in the background; the focus of the film is on Churchill, and his lonely struggle through Britain’s darkest hour. That struggle may truly be said to be a spiritual one. From the beginning, Churchill must contend not only with the collapse of the Allied forces, but also with the mistrust of his king and growing opposition from his political colleagues, several of whom wish to give up the fight and negotiate a peace with Hitler. The …

Could Dialogue Between Science and Religion Be the Disease Rather Than the Cure?

During the past year I had the privilege of working with the McGrath Institute for Church Life’s Science & Religion Initiative at the University of Notre Dame. Recognizing that polling data consistently indicates that the apparent conflict between “science” and “religion” is the leading cause of young people leaving the Catholic Church, the McGrath Institute developed this initiative with the goal of aiding high school teachers in both fields re-imagine curricula that would explore the relationship between science and religion and challenge the notion that the two are fundamentally opposed. In the course of my interactions with the participants, I was amazed at their expertise in their given field, their willingness to thoughtfully engage core concepts and thought patterns from different fields, and their commitment to their vocation as educators. I am sure that I learned far more from them than they did from me in the course of our time together. Perhaps the most important insight I gained from the experience of facilitating the online forum, in which participants reflected on various attempts to …

The Myth of Original Christianity and the Holy Sepulcher’s Immovable Ladder

“The Holy Land”—the modern state of Israel and the West Bank—is a space sacred not for its singularity in relation to the rest of the globe, but rather for its iconic representation of the human drama, condensed into a pressure cooker of 27,736 square kilometers or 10,709 square miles. To provide a sense of scale: Texas is 268,597 square miles, New York State is 54,556 square miles, and Indiana is 36,418 square miles. Located in the heart of this Maryland-sized plot of land, the Old City of Jerusalem takes up a mere 0.9 square kilometers or 0.35 square miles. Within this city, whose area is one-fifth the size of the University of Notre Dame’s campus, there is a piecemeal basilica-church which occupies approximately 0.007 square kilometers or 0.003 square miles. Since Constantine reclaimed it for the local Christian community in the 4th century, that church, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, has been a keenly cherished destination for Christian pilgrims. Just as Israel/Palestine is a crux for crises wrought by human frailty and power compressed …

African Catholicism: The Birth of the Liturgical Vernacular in Igboland

Catholic missionary efforts on the shores of Nigeria began with an initial attempt by Portuguese missionaries in the 15th and 16th centuries. Though their first attempt was unsuccessful, these missionaries persisted and in the 19th Century, there was a successful expansion of Christian missions in Nigeria. [1]  By the 1800’s, various parts of Nigeria had a rooted Catholic Mission presence. In Southeast Nigeria, Igbo Catholicism began with the arrival of Father Lutz at Onitsha in 1885, and thrived with the efforts of Bishop Joseph Shanahan (1905-1931), and Archbishop Charles Heerey (1927-1967). The mission was dire, as these men had no knowledge of Igbo (the language the people spoke) and were unable to grasp the deep and sui generis religiosity embedded in the cultural life of the people. With resilience and perseverance however, the missionaries ultimately succeeded in sowing the seed of the new faith in the hearts of a people that have since become harbingers of Catholicism in parts far beyond Igboland. In general, the advent of Catholicism in Igboland is divided into three phases. The first phase …

Whence Comes the Arresting Sorrow of the Black Madonna of Częstochowa?

At Jasna Góra There is David’s Ladder which Angels ascend and descend Holy envoys, reconciling man, With God.[1] Watching my three daughters during the Christmas season is not exactly a tranquil experience. What begins with an honest and innocent desire to play and re-tell the Christmas story using Playmobil or Fontanini nativity figurines ends up in a squabble over who gets to hold the kitschy statue of Mary and play with her (detachable!) veil, resulting in looks of self-satisfaction in the one who in the end possesses Mary, and tragic resentment on the part of those who are stuck with a dinky shepherd instead. Like my girls, I have been fascinated by this woman since my childhood. She has beckoned and drawn me, and waited for me, wherever it is that she has led me. When I encountered her in her home on Jasna Gora in Częstochowa at the age of nine, I knew she was my queen, my mother, my protectress, my patroness, and my advocate. But I did not know why. I found myself …