All posts tagged: sin

The Church Has a Morbid Streak

I was in my mid-twenties when my father handed me his 1929 edition of Sigrid Undset’s Nobel Prize-winning trilogy, Kristen Lavransdatter, and said, “I think you’ll really like this.” This is typically how my dad makes his book recommendations. He puts a story in your hands and says, “I think you’ll really like this.” It took a few years and a couple of starts and stops to get through this massive historical novel set in medieval Catholic Norway. The tome sat at the bottom of a stack for while, but in the end, I fell in love with Kristin Lavransdatter, which I have often described as not unlike Augustine’s Confessions if the Confessions were written in third person feminine voice and set in medieval Scandinavia. Sigrid Undset became one of my favorite authors because her writing reveals that rare perception of the pain and beauty of St. Paul’s words in the Letter to the Romans: “where sin increased, grace overflowed all the more.” Without affect, sentimentality, or illusion her writing expresses the realities of the …

Handing Over to Satan

People, afflicted with an incomprehensible distress, Were throwing off their clothes on the piazzas so that nakedness might call For judgment. But in vain they were longing after horror, pity, and anger. —Czeslaw Milosz, “Oeconomia Divina,” New and Collected Poems The human mind can get used to anything, and can see whatever it decides to see, if it is tired enough, and motivated enough to leave things lay. I remember waking up at the crack of dawn to go play summer basketball as a high-schooler. In the pinched-cheek light, we dragged our heavy legs into some 90’s transport device, and stared blankly, sleepily out the window across the street. My buddy, who had spent the night with us to set out on the early trip, had his eyes fall on his SUV across the way. “Look at that,” he said, “some crazy dog is sleeping on the hood of my car.” Through the sliver of our puffy eyelids, our gaze rested on the seemingly slumbering canine, and for what seemed like anywhere between 15 minutes …

Christ’s Story Runs Deeper: The Sanctified Imagination

In his collection of “diagnostic essays,” The Message in the Bottle, Walker Percy reflects on the particular idiosyncrasies of the modern milieu, offering a prognosis for the malaise that manifests itself in pervasive cultural symptoms of dis-ease and dissatisfaction. In one essay, “The Loss of the Creature,” Percy perceptively identifies the modern human as having been reduced to “a consumer of a prepared experience.”[1] Essentially, in a society of mass-produced goods and televised reality, consumers have begun to hunger for authenticity. The human being wants “to certify their experience as genuine.”[2] The modern creature hungers to know herself as a “sovereign wayfarer”[3] forging her own path of exploration and discovery, rather than a shopper selecting predetermined experiences. Percy’s sense of the crisis of the modern person to find a genuine experience resonates particularly in terms of the social narratives in which human beings live. Cultural narratives control our imaginations and our actions, and these narratives can so tangibly shape the life we lead and the person we become. Our lives are determined by many narratives …

Dying to Christ

“In that day, says the LORD, courage shall fail both king and princes; the priests shall be appalled and the prophets astounded.” Then I said, “Ah, Lord GOD, surely thou hast utterly deceived this people and Jerusalem, saying, `It shall be well with you’; whereas the sword has reached their very life.” My anguish, my anguish! I writhe in pain! Oh, the walls of my heart! My heart is beating wildly; I cannot keep silent; for I hear the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war. Disaster follows hard on disaster, the whole land is laid waste. Suddenly my tents are destroyed, my curtains in a moment. How long must I see the standard, and hear the sound of the trumpet? “For my people are foolish, they know me not; they are stupid children, they have no understanding. They are skilled in doing evil, but how to do good they know not.” I looked on the earth, and lo, it was waste and void; and to the heavens, and they had no light. I …

To Stay on Target: The Immaculate Conception

On Thursday, March 25, 1858, standing in the Grotto of Massabielle, Lourdes, Our Lady identified herself as the Immaculate Conception. This self-revelation, four years after the proclamation of the dogma of this mystery of our faith, belongs to the core of her message to St. Bernadette and is unique compared to other apparitions. As the Immaculate Conception, the Blessed Virgin Mary resembles and proclaims God’s authentic, i.e. immaculate, concept of the human person created in his image and likeness. To say it differently: in Mary’s person radiates forth the authentic blueprint that God designed for each of his children. It follows that she is the ideal exception and we are the unfortunate rule of God’s wish for us! The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception celebrated on December 8 honors Our Lady as the personification of the re-created order in Christ. Having been pre-redeemed and fully redeemed, Mary’s spiritual wealth constitutes that dimension of her being which is veiled to the outside and transcends time and matter. In its depth it is fully known only to God. …

The New Jerusalem

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen. I will turn my hand against you and will smelt away your dross as with lye and remove all your alloy. And I will restore your judges as at the first, and your counselors as at the beginning. Afterward you shall be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city. (Is 1:25–26) You have to set your square large enough that all your livestock can fit inside it. You start by pacing off the perimeter. Put some rocks or some large stones where you want the corners, your front gate and maybe an extra portal or two on the side or the back. You have to see in your mind if it’s a big enough area. And then you walk around it, again and again, kicking the dirt out of the way until you’ve made a deep enough groove. Then, after you’ve walked the miles around what will be your house you’re going to need some water. Not …

The Stinginess of the Sinner

We often think about sin as extravagance. The sinner is the one who drinks too much, gambles too much, who desires pleasure too much. On the 11th Sunday of Ordinary Time, we consider the stinginess of the sinner. The sinner who loves not enough. The Gospel from Luke is rich in drama. Jesus is dining at table with a Pharisee when a sinful woman enters the home. We do not know the nature of the sin, but we know that it was known by all those assembled at table that day. It was public. She enters the house, washes Jesus’ feet with her tears, and anoints him with oil. Here, the sinful woman joins in the work of public penance performed by King David. David recognizes his sins and calls out to God for forgiveness. He lays on sackcloth through the night: “Lord, forgive the wrong I have done” (Ps 32:5c). David does penance extravagantly. The unnamed woman does penance extravagantly. Simon is stingy: “‘If this man were a prophet, he would know who and …