All posts filed under: Archive

Work: A Four-Letter Word?

There is a certain ambiguity in Scripture about the meaning and value of labor, and I am aware of no clear and positive statement on the subject by the Church. Rerum novarum and Quadragesima anno just don’t really approach the subject, and especially not from a more modern scriptural viewpoint. What I have to suggest on this topic hardly constitutes an exhaustive treatment of what the idea of work might be for a Catholic, but I do think it might open up some avenues for thought. Genesis has God laboring for six days and then resting (Gen 2:1–4), although this does not seem to mean that labor is tiring even for God; it seems rather to show him as a model for our freedom on the Sabbath day, a gift God gives us by his example. Genesis 3:17–19, on the other hand, takes the position that labor is indeed a curse, at least in the way that Adam and Eve would have to do it after the Fall. Job takes a very negative view of …

The Charge of Blasphemy and Pope Rihanna

As the dust of controversy settled in the weeks following the Met Gala opening for the Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination exhibition, one image crystallized the event’s exploration of fashion and the “Catholic imagination” and inspired the most divergent reactions to it: Rihanna in a low-cut, jewel-encrusted mini-dress, matching coat, stilettos, and a mitre. In most photos from the gala, she does not lean into the sexiness of her papal-inspired attire, nor its playfulness. Her expression is imperious; her stance, authoritative. She evokes power. Representing one type of reaction to this image, Cardinal Dolan, who also attended the gala, said that he lent Rihanna his own mitre for the event. It was a joke, but the Vatican did lend many artifacts for the exhibit the gala celebrated. Officially, the Catholic Church collaborated with the museum to help create the exhibit. But other reactions were not so sanguine. A People magazine article ran with the headline, “The Met Gala’s ‘Catholic Imagination’ Theme Called ‘Blasphemous’ and ‘Sacrilegious’ by Critics”. It went on to chronicle Twitter …

Fund-Raising Is Always a Call to Conversion

If every Catholic in the U.S. gave generously, proportional to their means, the Church—and dare one say, the world—would be transformed overnight. The impact this kind of giving would have on the work of the New Evangelization is, without hyperbole, incalculable. The Situation in the Pews As it stands now, charitable giving by U.S. Catholics is not in a good state compared to other Christian ecclesial communities, as well as other religions. According to a report by Notre Dame’s Institute for Church Life, only 15% of Catholics tithe 10% or more of their income to charity, compared to 44% of Evangelicals and 75% of Mormons.[1] Looking deeper at Catholic giving in parishes, Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate reported that 34% of Catholics give approximately $1.92 or less per week. Another 33% give an average of $5.78 a week, and the final 33% give on average $9.64 or more a week. What’s more, only 17% of Catholics reported giving regularly to their annual diocesan appeal. [2] It goes without saying that apostolates …

The Alarm of War

“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 …

Relegating the Faith to the Private Sphere Generates a Distortion

Culture in the broadest sense can be defined as a way of life. The great historian Christopher Dawson created an entire corpus focused on the intersection of religion and culture. He claimed that four central pillars form the foundation of culture: people, environment, work, and thought.[1]  He describes how “the formation of culture is due to the interaction of all these factors; it is a four-fold community—for it involves in varying degrees a community of work and a community of thought as well as a community of place and a community of blood.”[2] When Dawson refers to the importance of thought, he means especially religious thought, which provides the inner form for the material organization of society. He describes how “every social culture is at once a material way of life and a spiritual order,” because “it is the religious impulse which supplies the cohesive force which unifies a society and a culture.”[3] Although Dawson recognizes that we live in the first secular culture in human history, he also rightly claims that the modern world …

Anointing of the Sick Confronts Human Finitude and Dependence

Anointing of the sick sanctifies the journeying disciple in his weakest moment, reinvigorating hope for healing and ushering in the kingdom of God. Anointing of the sick configures the ill to Christ’s passion, inaugurates the glorification of the body and spirit in the resurrection, and rejoins the marginalized into the Body of Christ. Anointing of the sick confronts human finitude and asserts our total dependence on God for healing. In the sacrament, God hears the cry of his people[1] and rushes towards them in their pain, revealing his nuptial love.[2] The grace of the sacrament strengthens the sick man in his obedience to God, inviting him to trust in God with his whole life[3] and surrender to healing on God’s terms.[4] Anointing of the sick calls the ill to freely unite himself to the passion and death of Christ[5] by living out the Paschal mystery through his particular suffering as a witness to the cross, with hope in the resurrection. Anointing bestows new meaning on suffering[6] without justifying the incoherence of evil. God recasts our …

Resetting the Synod

Antagonisms are what we most frequently and efficiently pass on to young people. We teach them to do what we do and to become what we model. Ideals and hopes are diverted this way or that, to this side or that side, so it seems as if the only imperative is to establish oneself, one’s faction, in opposition to others. We are so deft at these maneuvers that we almost cannot help ourselves; we do it instinctively, somewhat naturally. Surprisingly yet predictably, this same old formational screenplay is playing itself out during the preparation for the 2018 Synod of Bishops on “young people, the faith and vocational discernment.” Ironically, antagonism and its animating spirit, the hermeneutics of suspicion, are what young people tend to despise most of all. Yet, these things are precisely what we in the Church are preparing them to assume through what we do and what we model. When the final document from the Vatican’s pre-synod meeting of 300 young people was released at the end of March, the accusatory tweets and …

The Hope of the Assumption

Glorious things are spoken of you, O Mary, who today were exalted above the choirs of Angels into eternal triumph with Christ (Entrance Antiphon, The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary) Elite athletes exist at the edge of the possible and the physically absurd. Last year, in Brazil, we learned this once again: The marathon runner, who pushes his or her body beyond human limitations to complete the 26.2 miles in the same time that it takes to drive a car from South Bend to Chicago. The swimmer, whose powerful legs and lungs, enables her to move through the water in record time, all the while performing with grace. The sprinter, who runs so swiftly, with such ease, that we re-imagine what the human being can do when formed according to such perfection. The gymnast, who defies all laws of gravity, in the vault, the parallel bars, the floor routine. At the end of the Olympics, do not all of us (no matter the lack of our own athletic prowess) in some way expand our imaginations to …

Trinity Sunday: A Feast Celebrating Liturgy

This weekend in the United States, we celebrate Trinity Sunday.  For the most part, our parishes will be inundated with a series of beige homilies, which celebrate not so much the mystery of the Triune God but the mathematical puzzle of 3 and 1. Those sermons that dare to preach on the Trinity itself will often apologize for the strangeness of the doctrine. The English syntax of the Collect Prayer for this particular feast embodies the challenges that any preacher faces in preaching this weekend: God our Father, who by sending into the world the Word of truth and the Spirit of sanctification made known to the human race your wondrous mystery, grant us, we pray, that in professing the true faith, we may acknowledge the Trinity of eternal glory and adore your Unity, powerful in majesty. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.[1] On one level, the complexity of preaching on this feast day pertains to its …

A Letter to the Newly-Baptized

To the Newly-Baptized: You may already feel it—the fact that this journey you are on made a significant transition when you were baptized. Though you remain on the same path towards Christ, your landscape and means for getting there have radically changed. In this post I will discuss three ways in which your Baptism marked a significant moment in your journey, changing you irreversibly, and then speak to the continuing nature of your journey. First, in Baptism you were adopted into a new family, one of choice. Though you were born into a birth family many years ago, Robin Jensen in Baptismal Imagery in Early Christianity notes that “unlike a birth family, this was a family one chose” (57). Tertullian exhorts the one being baptized saying: When you come up from that most sacred washing of the new birth and for the first time you raise your hands with your brethren in your mother’s house, ask of your Father, ask of your Lord, for special grants of grace and attributions of spiritual gifts. (58) You now have …