All posts tagged: martyrdom

Why Is Christian Citizenship a Paradox?

The French Catholic press Ad Solem in early 2015 published my book on political philosophy entitled There Is No Power But of God (Tout pouvoir vient de Dieu), which outlined a much more expansive program of research on the relationship between theology and politics that I am working on at present. In general terms, this book was framed as a reflection upon the formulation of Saint Paul in Romans 13:1. It put the common political interpretation of this passage to the test of a historical, philosophical, and theological reception, whose most prominent landmarks are to be found in the Fathers of the Church, especially in Saint Justin, Tertullian, and Saint Augustine. The major aim of this book consisted in demonstrating that this formulation does not expound a Christian political doctrine, but rather a way of conceiving Christian citizenship in light of the requirements of the universal common good. Beyond the historical insight of this book, its readers are sure to grasp its contemporary relevance at a time when so much violence is seeking religious justification. However, …

If the Mother of the Maccabees Knew of Atoms

Social media shoves us all up in each other’s faces in unprecedented ways. Where national politics was once metered in through newspapers and the evening news, now people of all ages have access to global details of immeasurable variety. Through the internet, we can see what friends on other continents had for dinner. We have a finger incessantly on the pulse of global events, from terrorism to natural disasters to scandals in the Catholic Church we never wanted to admit happen. To whatever extent this data dump causes constant anxiety, and constant anxiety upsets brain chemical equilibrium, I have not quite figured out how this torrent of affairs will play out. When I manage to get my nose out of my screen and step away, however, I often think of the Jewish mother of the seven sons in Second Book of Maccabees. She looked upon a different world, but I feel a camaraderie with her. Her story goes back to about 168–166 years before the birth of Christ. Her people, the Maccabees, led a rebellion …

St. Augustine: The Patron Saint of Suspicion on Draining the Cesspit of Corruption

Does this title actually mean anything? I have my suspicions, and perhaps you do too, but we will have to put them on hold for now, laying aside a hermeneutic of suspicion—which, after all, is never to be applied to the one making claim to it—and replace it with a hermeneutic of trust, until the appropriate time. I am actually going to discuss the meaning of life. Yes, I am actually going to reveal the meaning of life, in a simple, declaratory sentence, without any admission fee, tuition, or other compensation. Perhaps you are suspicious of that claim! Both the claim that I can reveal the meaning of life in one simple sentence, and also the claim that I am doing it for no compensation at all. Perhaps you are thinking, true, he is not charging admission or looking to be paid, but perhaps he is hoping we will praise him, clap for him, cheer and acclaim him for such an accomplishment. After all, just as it is not every lecture series that is an …

Skin in the Game

  I took my son and his friend to see Paul, Apostle of Christ in the theater during Holy Week. It seemed an appropriate thing to do. Besides, there is something potentially powerful in seeing a film about the origins of the Christian faith in the same theater where my son has watched the most recent Star Wars films and other things like that. Those stories that he has loved are stories of great heroism, adventure, and matters of life-or-death. Maybe by seeing this film in the same setting, the fact that this story is about all those things and more would be reinforced? I think my son liked it, and we talked about it in the days to follow. I liked the film, too, but I also found myself challenged and inspired. And it was actually several little things that did this to me. On Mentoring First, the mentoring that the film portrayed in the early Christian communities grabbed my attention. In this particular narrative, it began with Paul who mentored Luke, strengthening the …

Active Love Is a Harsh and Fearful Thing

In the second grade, my mother asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I replied with what I saw as the two most appealing occupations—I would either become a veterinarian or a saint. While many Catholic parents’ eyes might begin to brim with tears at such a declaration, my knowing mother asked a prescient follow-up question. Do you know that you have to die before being canonized a saint? With the swift and definitive logic of an eight-year old, I promptly concluded that sainthood was not the professional trajectory for me. I set my sights instead on a future concerned with animal health. The subsequent parental encouragement that everyone was called to sainthood over their lifetime, no matter their job, did not sway my decision. If I could not get the credit for being a saint, what was the point? This story makes great Catholic cocktail party fodder. Everyone smiles and chuckles at my former precociousness. I feel great satisfaction in having a good anecdote in my back pocket for just …

Why Do Catholics Venerate the Arms and Tongues and Blood of Saints?

When I was a child, one of my favorite books was My First Book of Saints, which contained some three dozen accounts of holy men and women across continents and centuries who embodied in various ways the love of Jesus Christ. I loved reading the stories of missionaries like St. Angela de Merici and St. Isaac Jogues, but, like many young children, I had a trepidatious fascination with the macabre, and so I was morbidly fascinated in particular with the detailed accounts of the martyrs’ deaths. They read like something out of a fairy tale by the Brothers Grimm. St. Lucy had her eyes gouged out AND THEN SHE WAS BURNED ALIVE! They tried to cut off St. Cecilia’s head AND IT DIDN’T WORK! St. Sebastian was shot with a bunch of arrows AND HE DIDN’T DIE! I can remember relaying these details to my mother, or my friends, or my teachers, reveling in the astonished or even horrified reactions that they generated. As much as I enjoyed reading and sharing the martyrs’ stories, what …

The Exodus and Apocalypse All in One Human Flow

What does a world look like in which there are now 258 million migrants and refugees, representing 3.4% of the global population, or, one in every 300 people? To gain some kind of mental image, let’s begin with the extraordinary new documentary film from Ai Weiwei, Human Flow, filmed in 23 countries and 40 refugee camps. This film is sweeping, immersive, and artful at moments, drawing us in with its use of high-altitude drone cameras looking down at a beautiful cobalt Mediterranean, across which a boat overflowing with orange life preservers gradually pulls into harbor at the island of Lesbos. As the director Ai Weiwei helps the passengers unload, he speaks with a young man from Iraq, a country that now has 4 million displaced people, internally and externally. An Greek aid worker comments to the director that in a single recent week (during the period of the film’s shooting, 2015-2016), some 56,000 refugees arrived in Greece, with another 5,000 drowned en route. The film moves on to Iraq, with another high-altitude shot, this one …

What is the Community of Sant’Egidio?

1. What is Sant’Egidio? What is its charism? I often think that the Sant’Egidio Community is best understood through its founding, precisely because its founding was not really a founding. Nobody decided to create an organization, a rule, a structure. No, in Rome in 1968, at a time of great social ferment, a group of Catholic high school students began to gather together as friends in order to pray and to seek out and befriend the poorest of the poor. They did this regularly, grew in their ranks, and today you have a community of friends numbering tens of thousands and spanning nations and continents. This community has borne remarkable fruit, including friendship with the elderly and advocacy for the poor around the world, opposition to the death penalty, the combatting of AIDS in Africa, the mediation of numerous peace agreements in Africa and Latin America, and numerous other projects and causes. These “works,” though, all grow out of the community’s basic charisms of prayer, communicating the gospel, and friendship with the poor. Friendship comes …

Weeping with Rachel, in Sorrow and Hope

There are some stereotypes that often accompany the college stage of a woman’s life. Some (like loving babies, studying in coffee shops, etc), I embraced. Others I did my absolute best to avoid (and we’ll leave those ones to the imagination). My friends and I all proudly took up an affection for and gravitation toward all infants and young children within a mile radius as our stereotypical banner of choice. In fact, we had an unspoken arrangement that involved immediately informing each other of the presence of any nearby bundle(s) of joy. My girlfriends and I reveled in the wonder that small children have; we discussed how there is nothing on this earth more precious than tiny fingers, toes, and noses; we felt the urge to play peek-a-boo with any and all small children who crossed our paths. And if we saw a little tyke just wobbily learning to walk, it was absolutely the game-over-highlight of our day. Not having children of our own yet meant that we certainly still had a somewhat romanticized view of young children …

Auden on the Feast of St. Stephen

Well, so that is that. Now we must dismantle the tree, Putting the decorations back into their cardboard boxes— Some have got broken—and carrying them up to the attic. The holly and the mistletoe must be taken down and burnt, And the children got ready for school. There are enough Left-overs to do, warmed-up, for the rest of the week— Not that we have much appetite, having drunk such a lot, Stayed up so late, attempted—quite unsuccessfully— To love all of our relatives, and in general Grossly overestimated our powers. —W.H. Auden, “For the Time Being” December 26 can be a miserable morning. The fresh-looking print in one’s new books already has the dull glaze of familiarity. If you’re me, your new pants may already have a tear in them. Yesterday weren’t all things supposed to be made new? Didn’t I just try for four weeks to egg on my longing for Christ, dragging it slouching and grumbling out from under my rocky heart? If I did, I have nothing to show for it. I’m …