Eucharistic Contagion

November 30, 2009


One of the few benefits of blogging is that friends occasionally send me clips or news items related to some peeve or crotchet of mine.  The above-embedded promotional video for “Purity Solutions” is a classic example (click here to visit the website).  I’ve long been suspicious of the steady encroachment of hand sanitizer and alcohol wipes into the sanctuary, but the suspicion has always lain at the murky level of instinct, below the daylight realm of rational explanation.  Perhaps it is much like the horror religiosus most Americans feel at the sight of a woman’s unshorn underarm.

I’m not exactly sure why receiving the host from a sleek, metallic Pez-dispenser is any more comical than receiving it from a hand (or from a spoon, as in the Orthodox Church), or why wheels of wine-shots are in any way inferior to chalices.  It could be the industrial manufacture (I can almost imagine a “Purity Solutions” salesperson rolling over it with a car to show that they use an alloy developed by NASA).  But, if I had to take a stab, I would venture that I associate it with some narrowing of the spiritual horizon. Read the rest of this entry »

Animals and the Sacred

November 28, 2009

I often say that I hope to be a vegetarian by the time that I’m 30.  That doesn’t leave me much time to get around to making that kind of commitment, but I feel the draw for various reasons, not the least of which has to do with the origins of religious experience as I explain it to my senior religion class.  I begin the section that I title “God and Religion” with the movie “Into the Wild,” my favorite movie of a couple of years ago and a top five favorite of mine all time.  There is a poignant scene in the movie, pictured above, in which Christopher McCandless kills a moose.  He moves as quickly as he can to smoke the meat, but he is too late.  The flies lay their eggs in it and maggots get into the meat.  He writes in his notebook in a moment of agony that this is the saddest moment of his life.

I show this because as far as we can tell, some of the earliest religious experiences were closely linked to the experience of the hunt.   Read the rest of this entry »

It is Done

November 27, 2009

It is done.

Once again the Fire has penetrated the earth

not with the sudden crash of thunderbolt,

riving the mountain tops:

does the Master break down doors to enter his own home?

Without earthquake, or thunderclap:

the flame has lit up the whole world from within.

All things individually and collectively

are penetrated and flooded by it,

from the inmost core of the tiniest atom

to the mighty sweep of the most universal laws of being:

so naturally has it flooded every element, every energy,

every connecting link in the unity of our cosmos,

that one might suppose the cosmos to have burst spontaneously into flame.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

In Praise of Clunky Translations

November 23, 2009


On November 17 the USCCB approved the final segments of a new English version of the Roman Missal.  A few have already criticized the Vox Clara translation as “slavishly literal” (here) and disrespectful of the “natural rhythm and cadences of the English language” (here).  On purely grammatical and stylistic grounds, I am actually inclined to agree with these criticisms.  However, a recent rereading of Liturgical Latin, Christine Mohrmann’s slim classic from 1957, has reminded me that slavish literalism and barbarous constructions have always been a hallmark of Christian liturgical language.

Mohrmann—at pains to show that early Christian Latin was hardly the Latin of the “common man”—notes that biblical Latin was marked by precisely those stylistic features most criticized in the new Roman Missal: Read the rest of this entry »

Gerrymandering Fundamentalism

November 18, 2009


Intellectual laziness thrives on ambiguous words.  And “fundamentalism” may quite possibly be the plushest linguistic hammock on offer right now.  Media outlets are notorious for trading on the word’s elastic and emotive qualities.  This pattern holds even when the Boston Globe trots out a religious scholar of Harvey Cox’s stature to tell its readers “Why Fundamentalism Will Fail.”

Cox starts out arguing precisely enough, noting several of the “fundamental” tenets from which fundamentalism received its name. He deems the crown jewel of these to be the literal inerrancy of scripture, even in “matters of geology, paleontology and secular history.”  Fair enough.

Fundamentalism, however, quickly overgrows this rather precise definition, becoming instead a shapeless placeholder in the culture wars. Read the rest of this entry »

Isn’t it Ironic?

November 17, 2009

One of the things that confronts Americans daily is the way in which Irony has come to rule.  There is not much way to escape it.  The young delight in comedy, but it is comedy that is satirical and self-referential.  There is a constant dwelling on the falseness of appearance, the lie behind every apparent truth.  Occasionally up pops a inclination to go back to an age when Irony did not prevail, but this urge immediately is cut off at the knees.  Want to go back to the 50’s? Ah, our dominant narrative tells us, that was a black-and-white era of suburban repression, that yielded to the full-color tie-dye of 60’s authenticity.

I have no inclination to go back to the 1950’s (full disclosure: I do occasionally pine for the 1250’s).  Yet if one cares about anything seriously these days, it is hard not to be daunted by pervasive apathy in the face of any need to change.  David Brooks says we have lost our hope, our optimism.  There are cries of alarm at (15 years ago) couch potatoes, and (today) internet junkies.  As I said about texting a couple of weeks ago, so too I think the recurring alarm about TV and internet sapping our national energy is important, but often I think the alarm is misdirected.

What most passionately convinced me of this is David Foster Wallace’s essay entitled, “E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction.” Read the rest of this entry »

Dying for Their People

November 16, 2009

I want to reflect on the deaths of six Jesuits and the two women who worked in their residence in El Salvador today.  On my way down on the bus during my “long experiment” – a period of four months in the novitiate spent in a situation of poverty in the Third World – I had the feeling that thmartyrs3ese men probably deserved it, mixing up in politics that way.  And then on the second day I was there, as I sat in the rose garden now covering what was the courtyard where they were killed, and heard the stories of torture of fathers and sons from mothers and wives, I became aware of the depth of what they had done.  As Paul wrote to Philemon, expressing his profound solidarity with Onesimus: “I am sending him, that is my own heart, back to you,” so their solidarity with the people of El Salvador had become so perfect that when the people died, so did they, and when they died, it was on behalf of the people.

Jesus once said: “The Kingdom of God cannot be observed, and no one will announce, ‘look, here it is,’ or, ‘there it is.’ For behold, the Kingdom of God is among you.  But, first he must suffer greatly and be rejected by this generation.” Read the rest of this entry »