All posts filed under: Blog Posts

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 …

The Virgin Mary, Birth, and Philosophy

Everything begins with the question that Nicodemus asks Jesus: “how can a man enter anew into the womb of his mother and be born?” (John 3:4). It is an excellent question, if not the best question that could be asked. For Nicodemus is not one who fails to understand the “birth from above,” but rather he understands perfectly that one cannot understand the “birth from above” without relating it to the “birth from below.” It is in coming back and describing the significance of “being born from the womb of his mother” (by means of paths “from below”) that one will be able to decipher what it means “to be reborn by water and spirit” (by means of paths “from above”). It is not a question of thinking that Christ’s response is an opposition—“that which is born of flesh is flesh and that which is born of the spirit is spirit” (John 3:6)—but rather thinking of it as an analogy: just as that which is born of flesh is flesh, so that which is born …

The Importance of Geographic Stability for the Church

In documents such as Christus Dominus, Apostolicam Actuositatem, and Presbyterorum Ordinis, the Catholic Church discourages parochialism, emphasizing the importance of apostolic activity.[1] At the same time, Paul VI observes in Evangelii Nuntiandi that “legitimate attention to individual Churches cannot fail to enrich the Church.”[2] His words suggest a possibility that local focus might lead, not to insularity, but to goods that extend beyond the particular community, perhaps even to evangelization and apostolic endeavor. We will examine how the practice of geographic stability can impact a community’s ability to evangelize. Geographic stability is defined as maintaining individual physical proximity to a community sufficient to afford long-term embodied interaction. This essay focuses on the American Catholic parish context and argues that geographic stability fosters two supports for evangelization: strong priest-parishioner relationships and predictability. Drawing on the work of Alasdair MacIntyre, the Benedictine experience, and findings from a study of three parishes in the Diocese of Lafayette-in-Indiana, this essay argues for a connection between stability and evangelization in two sections. The 1st section concerns this connection in terms of …

Medieval Rites and Contemporary Dying

Medieval Rites The scribes lived over 700 years ago, but their documents give us insight into the monastery’s practices when a brother became seriously ill: The leader of the community, the prior, came to the brother’s sickbed to hear his confession. The others gathered and processed to the infirmary with oil for anointing, incense, the communion host, a cross, and candles. They assembled in the room, singing antiphons and psalms as their sick brother was anointed. The gathered brothers sang songs of petition, using words from the Gospels: “Lord, come down to heal my son before he dies,” and songs of hope: “Jesus said to him, Go, your son lives.”[1] After the anointing, the brothers arranged a schedule so that at least one person remained always at his bedside. Prayers were said for him at the daily public Mass. If the brother did not regain strength, but instead seemed to be nearing the end of his life, the entire community gathered again. In their brother’s presence, they sang a litany, naming members of the heavenly …

Aiming at the Death of Disabled Children

As much of the world, including Pope Francis, has been focusing on the case of little Alfie Evans, a similar case—that of Charlie Gard—obviously looms in the background as precedent. The case, which exploded on the scene in the middle months of 2017, divided many Catholic thinkers. A good summary of different views can be found in this piece by Tobias Winright of Saint Louis University. A poor summary, unfortunately, can be found in the most recent issue of Theological Studies in an article by John Paris, SJ, Michael P. Moreland, and Brian M. Cummings. Indeed, these authors decided to lump together the views of Prof. Jana Bennett and myself with those offered by Breitbart News. As one might imagine, the article fails to wrestle with our views in any serious or sustained way. Aiming at the Death of the Disabled Prof. Bennett and I are committed to the fullness of the Catholic tradition on medical treatment. Indeed, my dissertation and first book argues that taking Catholic Social Teaching seriously means substantially expanding what could …

Can Catholicism’s Truth Be Known Beyond Its Walls?

Reflecting on the role of Christians in today’s American society, Bishop James Conley of Lincoln writes, “We know what it looks like when the Church forgets her holiness: Daily discipleship gives way to rote weekly churchgoing. Tough demands of the Gospel are ignored. Prayer, fasting, and penance are bypassed. Christ’s holy Church becomes indistinguishable from the world.”[1] In this brief statement, Conley summarizes what I take to be one of the central claims of Rod Dreher’s recent book, The Benedict Option. Pace those who associate him with a religious “self-separatism,”[2] the “option” proposes not a self-separatism, but a series of practices, habits, and distinctive cultural rituals that seek to provide a solution to the social fragmentation both within and outside of the boundaries of the Church, due to acedia and a rejection of the sacred.[3] Without wading into the merits of the specific arguments and narratives proposed in his important work, I will follow the lead of Nathaniel Peters, who argues that, if the Benedict Option is to succeed, it “needs to be guided by …

Technology Will Serve, but Whom?

This is an essay about technology, a subject that tends to polarize, with proponents too often dismissing the critics as “pessimistic” and the critics too often tending toward the apocalyptic. Part of the problem is that we need somehow to learn to speak about technology again. We need to do so in a nuanced manner which does justice to the complexity of our current situation. A part of the problem is that certain technologies are not devices we make use of on certain rare occasions but are, in some instances, something more akin to companions the loss of which would, for some, be quite literally catastrophic. The human species has always been homo faber but the integration of technology into our lives is such that it mediates almost every facet of our lives, and we can only expect this process to continue. What I want to do is suggest not simply that we have a technology “problem” on our hands (this is obvious) but that those who adhere to the Christian religion have particular problems …

I Will Not Leave You Orphans

Even as our days remain filled with many activities, we can still remain close to God, we can still “abide” with him (Jn 15:4).To remain with him we need to develop a habit of love: hospitality toward his coming in love throughout the day. Of course, we need to go to the Blessed Sacrament to pray, but we also need to learn how to receive his love throughout the course of a workday or during family commitments. In order to receive his love, we need to be affectively vulnerable toward him and become adept at noticing when he comes to us within these affective movements of love. How do we maintain our availability? Married couples will oftentimes fill their workplaces with photos or reminders of their spouse so that, throughout the day, they can emotionally connect with one another by glancing at these icons, even if only for a short moment. The heart in love wants to stay connected with the one it loves. God loves us and so he too wishes to initiate an …

Where Does the Ministry End and the Apostolate Begin?

Words Matter The words that we use connect to concepts, which, in turn, connect to the way we live our lives.[1] So, it is important to have clear and correct understanding of our words in order to promote right living. With all this in mind, I would like to explore two terms—ministry and apostolate—that we frequently encounter while working for the Church and how our understanding of these terms has pervasive effects on the work we do. For example, think of how we use 3D glasses. One can attempt to watch a 3D movie without 3D glasses, and the images will be blurry. One may, more or less, be able to make the images out, and even follow the movie, but clarity and detail will be lacking, critical elements may be missed, and the overall experience of the movie will be subpar. However, upon putting on the glasses the images become crystal-clear and show up in three-dimensional relief, and one will have a much better chance at experiencing the movie as intended. Just so, a …

Abp. Fulton Sheen’s Eucharistic Spirituality

Perhaps no other prelate in the history of the United States could rival the positive impact of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen (1895 – 1979) upon the work of evangelization in the United States. A household name in Catholic and non-Christian households alike, Sheen authored approximately 70 books in his lifetime, and he captivated millions of Americans through his newspaper columns and broadcasts on radio and television in the 1930’s, 40’s, and 50’s. It was not unusual for the mail he received to average 15,000 to 25,000 letters per day,[1] and it was estimated that thirty million people, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, tuned in to his programming each week.[2] His message was both simple and profound: Jesus Christ must be at the center of everything. To what can we attribute Sheen’s success in proclaiming the Gospel in his work toward revitalizing the religious landscape of the United States? The key to Sheen’s success was his profound Eucharistic spirituality. We will focus on two things: 1) providing an introduction to Sheen’s Eucharistic spirituality by demonstrating the central …