April 6, 2011
I suggested at the beginning of Lent that this season is a good time to get back to basics, and for Catholics it doesn’t get more basic than the celebration of the Eucharist. It’s well known that the Second Vatican Council called for the “full and active participation” of all the faithful in the Eucharist, but interpretations of what this phrase means have differed so widely that the Council’s vision hasn’t born the fruit we might have hoped for. On the most basic measure of full and active participation—Mass attendance—we’re actually far worse off today than we were when the Council began.
For me this Lent has coincided with work on a master’s thesis about sacrifice and the Mass (some of the ideas for which I test drove here on Whoseoever Desires), and my research has raised a question so basic we usually forget to ask it: what exactly do we do at Mass?
Answering that question depends on how we think about the Mass, what models we use to describe it. An incorrect model for thinking of the Mass is that of a show or play. Unfortunately, a lot of people fall into this kind of thinking. I’ll sometimes hear complaints that Mass is boring, which doesn’t make sense because Mass isn’t supposed to be entertainment. Even those who should know better sometimes fall into the trap of turning Mass into a kind of high school musical. I once attended an Easter Vigil in which the man delivering the third reading dressed up as Moses—complete with beard, robes, and staff. It almost made me root for Pharaoh.
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March 15, 2011
It takes a lot to leave me speechless, but the French film Of Gods and Men, which tells the story of the 1996 assassination of seven Trappist monks by Islamic extremists in Algeria, did just that this weekend. It may well be the best religious film I’ve ever seen.
Like the 2005 documentary Into Great Silence, the film allows the Trappists’ monastic lifestyle to unfold simply and quietly. We see the monks at prayer, tending their garden, making honey, attending patients in their small clinic. The film makes great use of silence and of the rugged Algerian countryside to allow us to feel the elemental beauty and humanity of the Trappists’ way of life.
We also feel the humanity of the Algerian villagers who live around the monastery. As we watch the elderly physician Br. Luc tending a child’s wound, then rummaging for shoes for a mother and her daughter, or another of the monks helping a village matron address an envelope to her son in Paris, one has the sense that the relationship of monastery to village we’re seeing might as easily be unfolding in medieval Europe as in Muslim Algeria; it touches on timeless parts of being human—sickness, celebration, making a living, family, death, elders complaining that the world has gone mad, falling in love.
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February 7, 2011
I have long thought F. Scott Fitzgerald to be a very Catholic writer, though explicitly Catholic themes show up only rarely in his work. There’s the urbane Monsignor Darcy in This Side of Paradise, for example, and a few scattered references in Tender is the Night, but mostly Fitzgerald’s Catholic sensibilities come through in his moral vision, in the interplay of truth and illusion we see, for example, in The Great Gatsby.
In a Fitzgerald biography, however, I’d once come upon a reference to an early (1920) short story called “Benediction,” and I took advantage of a Chicago snow day last week to track the story down. I was not disappointed.
The story is a gem, written in the witty, dancing prose of the youthful Fitzgerald, and touching on many of his typical themes—the giddiness of coming of age, the wistful sadness of romance, even a hint at class sensitivities. The story centers around Lois, a romantic and beautiful nineteen-year-old travelling to Baltimore to meet her lover, Howard; on her way to their rendezvous she stops to visit her only brother Keith, a seminarian she has not seen in seventeen years.
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December 16, 2010
I have to confess that given my vow of poverty I tend to think quite a bit more about death than taxes. And, for similar reasons, I don’t claim to be an expert on any and every political issue, even though here in the blogosphere that’s not always a bar to offering an opinion.
But I’ve been watching the progress of the tax compromise moving its way through Congress this week and there’s something about it that reminds me of the ocean… maybe it’s that fishy smell…
Perhaps my calculator is broken; perhaps my taste for irony is just that much stronger than my taste for Keynesian economics; perhaps I spent too much time around a grandfather who paid for his house in cash; but something in this “compromise” doesn’t make sense to me. Something, in fact, seems wrong, and I’m beginning to suspect that what is wrong has a moral tinge to it, instead of being an accounting oops or a technical legislative flaw.
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November 15, 2010
For all the René Girard fans out there, you might be interested in the post I contributed to Per Caritatem‘s series on violence and religion.
I tried to summarize some of the ideas from earlier discussion here on Whosoever Desires. (The original posts are here and here.)
May 3, 2010
Instead of heading south for spring break this year, as most sensible people do, I went to South Dakota. I didn’t go for the beaches, but instead to visit the Jesuit community on the Rosebud Reservation. The cultural milieu of the “Rez” is fascinating, and the Jesuits who live there are fine hardworking men.
One conversation in particular got me thinking. We were discussing the summer Sun Dances, native religious rituals in which men dance—sometimes for several days without sustenance—and pierce their skin as a way of offering sacrifice to the divine. Someone remarked that at a Sun Dance he had visited the previous summer there were more German tourists than Lakota worshippers.
I found the incident disturbing in different ways. Though obviously not a practitioner of non-Christian “traditional” religion myself, I couldn’t help but feel that the practices of those traditions had been somehow cheapened when reduced to a spectacle for tourists.
For me the more disturbing question, however, is what the phenomenon of the Teutonic Sun Dance says about the spiritual grounding of Westerners. Is part of the reason so many German tourists find the Sun Dance so alluring the lack of spiritual sustenance in their own culture? Read the rest of this entry »
April 14, 2010
Two weeks ago I offered a summary of René Girard’s I See Satan Fall Like Lightning. Girard’s insights into the origins of violence and the violent origins of civilization are worth serious consideration. The social insights that come out of his theory are often unsettling. For example, he realizes that Christianity’s concern for victims has been largely absorbed into contemporary society, though this concern itself can be perverted by mimetic contagion: “we practice a hunt for scapegoats to the second degree, a hunt for the hunters of scapegoats.”
There’s fruit for several posts in that sentence alone, but when I first read Girard it was in the context of sacramental theology. So today I’d like to turn to a couple of questions having to do with the Eucharist. Here, to be clear, we start to move beyond Girard’s views to my own musings.
Girard’s analysis highlights one of the more disquieting aspects of the Passion accounts for those living in contemporary Western culture: the role of the crowd. Read the rest of this entry »
March 28, 2010
With Holy Week here, it’s natural for our thoughts to turn to the Cross and Christ’s self-sacrifice. Of late I’ve had the pleasure of being drawn into conversations with a number of Girardians, here at Loyola and elsewhere, so as I’ve contemplated the Passion this year, I’ve done so in light of the work of René Girard.
My knowledge of Girard comes mainly from I See Satan Fall Like Lightning (1999), in which the French-born anthropologist summarizes many of his ideas in a form accessible to theologians. Girard’s work is refreshingly insightful because he takes seriously two notions most of his secular colleagues are afraid to touch: Christianity’s claim to uniqueness among world religions and the religious foundations of civilization itself. Girard, in fact, refers to I See Satan Fall Like Lightning as an apology for Christianity made on anthropological grounds. Though he is clear in stating that he is not a theologian, it is well worth puzzling out the theological implications of his unique “apology.”
But since some of our readers are likely unfamiliar with Girard, it’s perhaps best to begin with a summary of the key ideas he develops in I See Satan this week and then turn to their applications in a second post two weeks from now. This will also give others a chance to correct my non-expert misinterpretations. Read the rest of this entry »