All posts tagged: Incarnation

The Human Condition Is Not Pain Only

The human condition is not pain only. Yet pain rules us and has much power. Wise thoughts fail in its presence. Starry skies go out.[1] The sense of touch is the building block of the five senses. The largest internal organ in humans might be the liver, but the conduit of touch, the skin, dominates overall. Touch is the basis for how we commune with the world. The Incarnation also means that Christians believe God touches us directly, especially in the Eucharist. As you read this piece you are either touching your keyboard or device screen. You are absorbing the rest through other senses that rely upon touch. The priority of touch is encoded in idiomatic phrases such as, “This is touching,” or, “That touched me.” They denote a profound encounter that touches the whole person (the Biblical heart), that is, mind, body, and soul. Touch is so ever-present and inescapable, because it both opens us to the world and (one might say “therefore”) vulnerable to the world and dependent upon it. The constant intrusions of …

Now We Must Dismantle the Tree

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. So begins the somewhat bleak conclusion of W. H. Auden’s For the Time Being. Written in 1944, in the thick of what surely must have been difficult series Christmases for war-torn Europe and its American ally, Auden’s Christmas oratorio concludes the story of Christ’s birth with a final statement on the dissatisfaction of the Christmas season. Auden treats on our own failure to live into the vision of love witnessed at the feast, on our desire to distract ourselves from the present moment with tribulation or joy. But, here we are, after the Christmas season ends, with ordinary time, a upsetting juxtaposition with the rich liveliness of the season of the feast. Auden’s portrait of the harsh contrast between the Christmas season and “the time being,” conflicts sharply with most American Christians’ (author included) preferred pictures of the Christmas season, wrapped in the glow of comfort …

The Church Life Journal “Carols of Christmas” Spotify Playlist

For my money, there is no better time for music than Christmastime. Whether sung by a choir of off-key, adorable preschoolers, or performed by a group of professionals, the carols of Christmas constitute some of the most beautiful, most profound music that has ever been written, all for the sake of helping us celebrate the moment when God definitively stepped in to human history with the birth of Jesus, the Only-Begotten Son, the Word-made-flesh. And so, as with our Advent playlist, once again I’ve turned to Spotify to assemble a playlist for the Christmas season. Even more so here than with the Advent playlist, I quickly discovered that it is impossible to include everything. The first version of this playlist was almost 6 hours long. It could have been longer. But after a great deal of thought and an even greater deal of exploring new-to-me recordings, I’ve whittled it down to a scant 47 songs, or 2 hours and 32 minutes worth of music. Again, as with the Advent list, this is a sampling which I …

Am I the Mother of Christ?

A famous reading in the Advent Liturgy of the Hours from Isaac of Stella, Cistercian abbot and contemporary of Bernard of Clairvaux, makes the claim that, among other things, the Christian believer can, like Mary, be a mother of Christ. Beyond the breviary, this has actually become a kind of spiritual commonplace. Every believer can conceive Christ through his or her faith, in a way analogous to Mary. Speaking for myself, I have never known what to make of this comparison. It seems to rest on the double meaning of the word “conceive:” one can conceive in one’s mind, and one can conceive in the womb. But, methinks, these are really, really different realities despite the double entendre. For that reason, perhaps, the comparison has always seemed inert to me, leaving me utterly unmoved. What actually does move me is the wondrous virginal conception of the Word of God in the womb of Mary, the great Mother of God, something so much more stupendous and altogether more marvelous than the metaphorical version of my conception …

The Extraordinary Is Wed to the Mundane in the Catholic Imagination

“Words move, music moves / Only in time,” writes T.S. Eliot in Four Quartets; “but that which is only living / Can only die.”[1] One of the ideas that these poems stress is what we see in the lines I just quoted: for us, living, expressing, and being always involve time. We need time in order to do any of the things that we do. Yet, for this to be so, it always also means that the current moment is passing away. As G.M. Hopkins says, “I am soft sift / In an hourglass.”[2] Everything that we give slips through our fingers, never permanent, because the condition that makes our creativity possible, time, is also that by which we lose everything. We are poor creatures, unable to possess even the moment we exist in. But of course: Blessed are the poor. If we want to talk about the “Catholic imagination,” it is helpful to remember that we depend on time. We are not only creatures of time, but that in us which experiences eternity always …

What Is Communion and Liberation?

1. What is Communion and Liberation (CL)? What is its charism? CL is a ecclesial movement in the Catholic Church, a community of people who have been changed by the encounter with Christ. It is named for the fact that only the Christian event, as lived in communion with one another, can bring about the liberation of the human person. Its founder, Fr. Luigi Giussani, began CL in Milan in the 1960s with his high school students; he taught them a method through which they could judge the experiences of their everyday life, and discover how faith was relevant to the most fundamental needs of their hearts. The movement summarizes its charism in three points (as seen here on the CL website): a) the proclamation that God has become man (and the wonder, reasonableness, and enthusiasm of this announcement): “The Word was made flesh and dwells among us”; b) the affirmation that this man, Jesus of Nazareth, dead and risen, is an event present in a sign of communion, that is, of the unity of …

Beauty Already Has Saved the World

Editorial Note: This essay was originally delivered as a presentation at “Illuminating the Incarnation: A Musical Meditation on The Saint John’s Bible,” a multi-disciplinary concert sponsored by the McGrath Institute for Church Life, directed by Carmen-Helena Téllez of Sacred Music at Notre Dame, and performed on September 24, 2017 at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center at the University of Notre Dame. St. Paul concludes his letter to the Philippians with an exhortation: Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. This is what we come here today to do: to place ourselves in the presence of something lovely, something excellent, something beautiful. Yet, this afternoon’s concert is not something that is merely meant to entertain us. This afternoon’s concert, like all great art, is something that is meant to transform us. We’ve come here to experience the beauty of Scripture in all of its truth, purity, …

Jesus in the Movies: Challenges of Cinematizing the Gospels

If, therefore, the Son of God became man, taking the form of a servant, and appearing in man’s nature, a perfect man, why should His image not be made?[1] Gregory of Nyssa’s question has provoked myriad artists in the successive centuries since the advent of the God-man into answering. The Incarnation proffers an invitation to the artist; the invisible Godhead has deigned to become drawable: come and draw. With new advances in artistic technology, artists have sought to represent Jesus in each nascent medium. As photography developed, artists shot tableaux of actors in costume, recreating Gospel scenes with their static bodies.[2] When photographs began to move, religious movies were some of the first subjects: The Horitz Passion Play (1897) and Passion Play of Oberammergau (1898).[3] When talkies exploded onto the scene with The Jazz Singer in 1927, a whole new dimension of the movie-going element appeared. With all new technology comes new challenges, and the challenge presented to movies remained: how could an artist turn moving photographs of the natural world into images of incarnate …

The Circumcision of Jesus and the Mother of God

A little over four years ago, I was in a hospital in Fort Wayne, Indiana, awaiting the discharge of my newborn son. At birth, he had trouble breathing (a skill he would learn with ease in a day or two), and thus spent nearly five days surrounded by the whirl of hospital machinery intended to monitor his every breath, a group of top-notch nurses embodying caritas, and the overwhelming love of his ‘newborn’ parents. My son had not yet known the possibility of pain. Until his circumcision. He was taken from his hospital room for the brief procedure. Upon his arrival back, he cried and cried and cried. We were instructed to put ointment on the place of his recently removed foreskin (otherwise, the skin would stick to the diaper and cause a fresh wound). For weeks, every time I changed his diaper, I encountered a color red as blood—a wound that did not quickly disappear. I think of this moment in encountering the Gospel for the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God. The Gospel speaks about …

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 …