All posts tagged: sacrificial imagination

Stations of the Cross 3-4: Divinity and Dust

Throughout this Holy Week, we will be sharing a series of poetic meditations on the Stations of the Cross by Malcom Guite. An Anglican priest-poet currently serving as Chaplain of Girton College at the University of Cambridge, Guite has published eight books of his poetry, with two more forthcoming. His collection Sounding the Seasons comprises sonnets composed for various feasts and seasons throughout the liturgical year, including this series. We are grateful for Guite’s kind permission to share these sonnets on Church Life Journal. Continuing along the Via Dolorosa with Malcom Guite’s sonnets on the Stations of the Cross, the vividness of the poet’s imagery comes to the fore, along with the lyrical quality of the diction, particularly the alliteration in the third station with words like flesh and flinch and flint, and in the fourth with mars and maiden making. Unlike prose, poetry bids the reader pause: at the end of each line, at each comma, we take a beat and take a breath and take a fleeting moment to contemplate the “gravity and …

Stations of the Cross 1-2: As Pilate Turns Away

Editorial Note: Throughout this Holy Week, we will be sharing a series of poetic meditations on the Stations of the Cross by Malcom Guite. An Anglican priest-poet currently serving as Chaplain of Girton College at the University of Cambridge, Guite has published eight books of his poetry, with two more forthcoming. His collection Sounding the Seasons comprises sonnets composed for various feasts and seasons throughout the liturgical year, including this series. We are grateful for Guite’s kind permission to share these sonnets on Church Life Journal. The sonnet is a form of poetry undoubtedly familiar to anyone who studied Shakespeare in high school English class. The Shakespearean or Elizabethan sonnet structure consists of fourteen lines broken into three quatrains and a couplet, usually written in iambic pentameter (five accented syllables per line following a weak-strong pattern of emphasis) and using the rhyme scheme abab-cdcd-efef-gg. The parameters of the sonnet form are quite stringent, and to compose a successful sonnet is a difficult task under the best of circumstances. In this series, however, Guite has imposed …

Sacramentalized but Not Evangelized?

The phrase “sacramentalized but non-evangelized” has entered into contemporary ecclesial parlance. The unevangelized person who has received the sacraments is formally part of the Church. But such a person does not quite grasp his or her new identity as “baptized into Christ.” The sacraments have been ontologically “efficacious” but not subjectively so. The reason this phrase has been so quickly adopted is its value in capturing a problem in ecclesial life in the post-conciliar era. The sacramental life was once part of a broader formation into Catholic identity grounded in the family and the local neighborhood. The milieu was Catholic. After the Council, significant social and cultural changes unfolded in which the Catholic milieu crumbled. Simultaneously, the Church articulated in the Council documents a high bar for fruitful participation in ecclesial life. It was not enough to just enter the Church, to attend weekly Mass, and to receive the sacraments before death. One was called to sanctify the entire created order. In this sense, the phrase “sacramentalized but not evangelized” captures this new era of …

Not All Sacrifice Saves

Sacrifice in the popular mindset entails a “giving up” or a “destruction” of something one loves. The word can also involve a calculative risk, wherein one surrenders what one values to get something of greater value in return. Robert Daley rightfully indicates that these prevailing notions of sacrifice represent pastoral and theological challenges.[1] Negative conceptions can be harmful because they sever us from our loves. Scheming notions can turn us into fratricidal envious individuals who maneuver against each other to get a bigger piece of the pie. Nothing heroic or saintly exists in such ideas of sacrifice. There can be, however, a heroic form of sacrifice that is detrimental to the human spirit, specifically when it takes the form of mastery over and against others. This hypertrophy of sacrifice with its language of heroism and conflict can seduce persons into a cult of hardness or virile fundamentalism, living in a self-absorbed dualistic “us” vs. “them” universe. Recent history has been marked by those yearning for self-mastery in the face of death and denying modernity’s tendency to …

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 …

Can We Feast Unless We Fast?

Halfway through Willa Cather’s novel Shadows on the Rock, the protagonist Monsieur Auclair, a French apothecary living in Quebec, meets an old friend Fr. Hector. Though a relatively minor character in the overall novel, Fr. Hector’s appearance teaches something essential to the Christian life. Fr. Hector is cultured and intelligent, “fond of the decencies and elegancies of life,” but has spent the last few years in the middle of the Canadian wilderness. When he returns to his friend, he is overjoyed. “Only solitary men know the full joys of friendship,” he responds. Upon receiving the gift of a dinner, he says, “If one had not been through little experiences of that kind [he almost starved to death], one would not know how to enjoy a dinner such as this.” The wilderness has taught Fr. Hector something, and it is one of the lessons that the Church attempts to teach us with her weekly and seasonal penances. Yet we have forgotten this wisdom. This is not only evinced by the near total lack of meaningful penitential …

The Sacrifice of Sagging Flesh

My great-grandmother’s flesh was soft under my 5-year-old fingers. Standing beside her as she spent time playing cards or dominoes with her grandchildren—my father and his brothers—or her children—my great aunts and uncles—I would hold onto to her arm, laying my head on her shoulder, touching the loose, sagging flesh of her arm. What today is considered grotesque—wrinkled and sagging flesh—felt good under my young fingers. I remember this scene fondly, because it was played out on numerous weekend evenings playing cards or dominoes into the wee hours. The laughter and banter around the card table was joyful, as she unleashed her dry wit in an attempt to out-wit my father and uncles in cards or dominoes. She had been a teacher in rural Texas, where my family has been since Texas was a Mexican state. She was born in 1893, and she had been a teacher from age 20. She walked 12 miles each way to teach at one of the rural schools that peppered the southeast Texas landscape in the early 20th century. …

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 …

Homo AvocadoPanem: An Anthropology of the Millennial Sacrificial Imagination

In May of 2017, Tim Gurner, Australian property developer, poked fun at the quotidian luxuries endemic to Western young-adult culture, instructing millennials to “lay off avocado toast,” and save their pennies for a house down-payment instead. Gurner’s glib remark prompted mockery both of the popular breakfast item’s obscenely inflated prices, and a waterfall of similar critiques directed at privileged young professional class who indulges in it. Even prior to Gurner’s comments, plenty of thinkpiece hay has been made of millennials’ spending habits, causing consternation and bemusement.[1] Millennial spending habits have engendered speculation on whether millennial aversion to materiality is merely a delay in their maturation into appropriate American adult materialism; or whether millennials are forging a new way of imaging success.[2] In many respects, millennials are foregoing material goods and gains for more intangible goals. Generally rejecting flashy material purchases (such as luxury cars) as indications of status.[3] The millennial generation employs other metrics to measure status. Because a majority of millennials prize access over ownership,[4] living in a space where they can access cultural …

The Cross Must Be Deeply Ugly to Be Beautiful

I first venerated the cross when I was attending a high-school model UN conference that had been accidentally scheduled during Holy Week. The conference was held in New York City near Times Square, and the neighboring church was the Anglo-Catholic Church of St. Mary the Virgin—colloquially known as “Smoky Mary’s” for the odor of incense that fills your nostrils when you enter the immaculate gothic nave. Its vaults are painted blue with gold stars and lined with red and gold trim. Its interior is perfect. After the passion was sung, we took off our shoes, like Moses before the burning bush, and proceeded through two stations of veneration, each with a server instructing us to bow and proceed, before finally kneeling to kiss the cross itself. Usually we kiss icons or relics, but why should we kiss an empty cross, and any old cross, at that? In classical literature, metonymy is a figure of speech whereby a part serves to represent the whole. The cross performs a similar function in Christian theology, for it means …