Commentary

Adventure by Catholic terms: ‘You were made for greatness’

All afternoon I had been hunkered over my MacBook, perched above a frozen lake and watching the sun cast pink into the clouds. I was thinking about what lay dormant and all the possibility below, waiting to thaw.

My task at hand: editing a cover story about three Catholic families who had taken radical leaps of faith. One couple moved to Costa Rica with their baby to do mission work. One man felt called to head up a floundering radio station. Another family set aside their jobs and rented out their home to embark on a yearlong cross-country RV trip, prodded by a sensation many of us recognize.

The internet and Satan’s game

By now the entire country has seen a video of a supposedly racist confrontation, in front of the Lincoln Memorial, between a grinning young high school student and a Native American elder, chanting and beating a drum. The immediate and ferocious judgment of the internet community was that the boy was effectively taunting and belittling the elder, but subsequent videos from wider angles as well as the young man’s own testimony have cast considerable doubt on this original assessment. My purpose in this article is not to adjudicate the situation, which remains, at best, ambiguous, even in regard to the basic facts. It is to comment, rather, on the morally outrageous and deeply troubling nature of the response to this occurrence, one that I would characterize as, quite literally, Satanic.

Spinoza, secularism and the challenge of evangelization

During this Christmas holiday, I’ve been reading Anthony Gottlieb’s breezy and enjoyable history of modern philosophy, entitled The Dream of Enlightenment. Throughout his treatment of such figures as Descartes, Hobbes, Locke and Voltaire, Gottlieb reveals his own rather strong bias in favor of the rationalism and anti-supernaturalism advocated by these avatars of modern thought. Toward the end of his chapter on Spinoza, Gottlieb avers that what he calls “the religion of Spinozism” is more or less identical to the secularist worldview espoused by so many in the West today, including himself.

It’s OK to start 2019 with you

I’ve always appreciated the notion of self-care in an Oprah Winfrey, hot-baths-and-expensive-chocolates kind of way. We work so hard, the thinking goes, that we deserve a break here and there. So splurge on that full-price gift-to-yourself. Book the massage. Binge on the new season.

The double message of Christmas

I’ve never been happy with some of my activist friends who send out Christmas cards with messages like: May the Peace of Christ Disturb You! Can’t we have one day a year to be happy and celebrate without having our already unhappy selves shaken with more guilt? Isn’t Christmas a time when we can enjoy being children again? Moreover, as Karl Rahner once said, isn’t Christmas a time when God gives us permission to be happy? So why not?

Tolkien, Chesterton and the adventure of mission

There is a common, and I’ll admit somewhat understandable, interpretation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy that sees the great work as a celebration of the virtues of the Shire, that little town where the hobbits dwell in quiet domesticity. Neat, tidy hobbit holes, filled with comfortable furniture, delicate tea settings, and cozy fireplaces are meant, this reading has it, to evoke the charms of a “merrie old England” that existed before the rise of modernity and capitalism. As I say, there is undoubtedly something to this, for Tolkien, along with C.S. Lewis and the other members of the Inklings group, did indeed have a strong distaste for the excesses of the modern world. 

In praise of Rudolph, the Grinch and Santa-Moose

Deploring the commercialization, secularization and general thinning-out of the spiritual meaning of Christmas is part of the stock in trade of commentators on things religious, of whom your humble servant is one. Nor should we fail to mention those annual church-state battles in the season of good will over whether Nativity scenes should or shouldn’t be allowed on public property.

What are you giving for Christmas?

As they celebrated their first Christmas in America 150 years ago, our Little Sisters of the Poor in Baltimore noted that the donations received included “twelve turkeys, four ducks, sixteen chickens and so many other good things that we didn’t know what to do with it all!” They concluded, “In this country Christmas is like the feast of the poor!”