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 »

Poems of the Day: Franz Wright

November 15, 2009

A Morning of Fog by Richard X. Thripp

Two by Franz Wright for your consideration. The first is from his book Entry in an Unknown Hand (1989), and the second is from The One Whose Eyes Open When You Close Your Eyes (1982). Both poems can be found in ill lit: Selected and New Poems by Franz Wright. Included in ill lit are some pieces from Rainer Maria Rilke translated by Wright. Both of these poems are great examples of how imagery creates mood and tone. The first is a bit grim, the second much lighter. Both, though, are accurate descriptions of morning. Perhaps the first is Monday morning, and the second is a Saturday morning.

Morning Arrives

Morning arrives
by limousine: the tall
emaciated chairman

of sleeplessness in person
steps out on the sidewalk
and donning black glasses, ascends
the stairs to your building

guided by a German shepherd.
After a couple of faint knocks
at the door, he slowly opens
the book of blank pages

pointing out
with a pale manicured finger
particular clauses,
proof of your guilt.



A girl comes out
of the barn, holding
a lantern
like a bucket of milk

or like a lantern.
Her shadow’s there.
They pump a bucket of water
and loosen their blouses,

they lead the mare out
from the field
their thin legs
blending with the wheat.

Crack a green kernel
in your teeth. Mist
in the fields,
along the clay road

the mare’s footsteps
fill up with milk.



“Be Perfect” (or, Of Steeples and Gargoyles)

November 11, 2009

“Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  Not “do the best you can.”  Not “try hard.”  Be perfect.  In one sense, Christians must necessarily be hypocrites: they preach a way of life they cannot live.  They preach perfection and live imperfectly.

Said another way, Christianity is a religion of failing to the clear the bar, of coming up short.  The question is, what does one do with the bar after coming up short time and time again?  Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland, O.S.B. muses over this problem in his recently published memoirs, A Pilgrim in a Pilgrim Church.  Recalling his theology studies as a young monk, he writes,

The courses in moral theology left me with the conviction that the Church’s traditional approach was to set the bar high, perhaps too high in theory, but to mitigate it by counseling compassion in practice.  While Europeans seemed very comfortable with this approach, it made us Americans uneasy.   Read the rest of this entry »


November 10, 2009

Have you ever noticed just how many things are left out when you speak?  We drop subjects all the time, starting sentences just with verbs or adjectives: “Great to see you the other day.”  “Love that hat you’re wearing.”

525px-Speech_balloon.svgIn written English we demand “complete sentences” (I can hear my sixth-grade teacher’s voice right now) because in the written word there is often less context available than is needed for comprehension.  As a teacher, if I’m grading quizzes, it is a huge help if the student writes in a complete sentence for every answer, because I get a clear sense of what he thinks he is answering.  I much prefer to see “3. Pepin the Short was crowned king of the Franks in AD 752” than simply find on the paper “3. Pepin the Short.”

Yet this requirement for complete sentences in written English is not absolute.  Look, here’s a sentence discussing George Clooney, from this week’s New Yorker, a magazine legendary for its grammatical fussiness:

The most handsome and capable star in the world, and he doesn’t mind coming across as a total dork. [emphasis original]

It is an incomplete sentence, joined to a complete sentence.  In this sort of conversational and familiar writing, we tolerate incomplete sentences because we have the context, we have the flow of thought. When writing imitates the easy flow of speech, many of the grade-school rules of grammar drop away. Read the rest of this entry »

The Magisterium and History

November 9, 2009


The_Inspiration_of_Saint_Matthew_by_CaravaggioI’m currently taking a course on the thought of Joseph Ratzinger, so his thoughts tend to show up a lot on these posts.  Here’s an interesting quote from him in light of Nathan’s post, in which Ratzinger, as prefect, comments on the relationship between theologians and the Church’s teaching authority:

[Donum Veritatis] states—perhaps for the first time with such candor—that there are magisterial decision which cannot be the final word on a given matter as such but, despite the permanent value of their principles, are chiefly also a signal for pastoral prudence, a sort of provisional policy.  Their kernel remains valid, but the particulars determined by circumstances can stand in need of correction.  In this connection, one will probably call to mind both the pontifical statements of the last century, especially the decisions of the then Biblical Commission.  As warning calls against rash and superficial accommodations, they remain perfectly legitimate: no less a personage than J. B. Metz, for example, has remarked that the anti-Modernist decisions of the Church performed the great service of preserving her from foundering in a bourgeois-liberal world.  Nevertheless, with respect to particular aspects of their content, they were superseded after having fulfilled their pastoral function in the situation of the time (The Nature and Mission of Theology, 106).

Given the context of Metz (no magisterial “yes-man”), the “bourgeois-liberal world” would probably have been the milieu of German, Protestant academics, who proved generally accommodating to the Nazi party. Read the rest of this entry »

On the PBC and Some Dangerous Tendencies in Biblical Scholarship

November 7, 2009


This post is going to move around a lot.  I just have some ideas I want to throw out and get some feedback about.  My reflections are prompted by the reappearance of an article about Tom Rausch, SJ, professor of theology at LMU, in the news as of late. Because he has played a prominent role in the recent dialogue with the Anglican Community, an old speech he gave in 1997 has been dug up.  Or rather an article written about the speech in the San Diego News. The first line of the article:

These are the men most dangerous to authentic Catholicism today: Karl Keating, Scott Hahn, Peter Kreeft, Dale Vree, and Thomas Howard.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Good Thief: A Reflection

November 7, 2009

321926078_6ec4083fae_bFor you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 1 Thess 5:2.

Accomplished thieves leave no evidence. The very best thieves, if we are to believe Hollywood, leave calling cards.  Paul encourages his listeners in Thessalonica telling them they have no reason to be caught off guard by the “day of the Lord.” Since the Thessalonians are “children of light” and are not “of the night or of darkness,” they have no reason to fear Jesus’ thieving ways. Like the Thessalonians, we are also “children of the light” and have no reason to fear the thief of the night. However, there are times when we might let our guard down, times when we hang up the helmet of hope and lay aside the breastplate of faith and love. What are we to do when we, or our brothers and sisters, slip into the darkness. In this darkness, we need the Lord to come, but in our strange, dark comfort we fear the light of Christ. It’s ironic isn’t it? When we need the Lord the most, we tend to be most frightened of his coming.

What is left for the Lord to do but to steal our hearts back for himself? In the darkness of an addiction, for example, the addict puts up the strongest walls against the good thief: these are walls of denial, shame, anger, self-preservation, and self-sufficiency, etc. He barricades against the coming of the thief.

The darkness of sin has been compared to the prison of addiction. In the darkness of sin, we think the best way out of the dark is to hunker down deeper into ourselves. It would never occur to us to open up, spread out, let down the defenses, and become vulnerable to the thief. Like the addict, the sinner thinks the Lord will come with a vengeance, smashing down walls and laying waste to every obstacle. It’s just the opposite; the Lord becomes crafty like a fox, outsmarting our well-laid battlements. Before we know it, we’ve been robbed.

How does this dynamic work in the real world? It’s works when we “encourage one another and build each other up.” Here’s how the Lord works around our defenses. When we put down our weapons of criticism and judgment and pick up the trowels of unity and the shovels of love, then we help the Lord in his thievery.

“The Encroachment of the Buzz”

November 5, 2009


In a recent issue of America Magazine (10/26/09), there is an article from Mark Bauerlein, calling current U.S. teenagers “The Dumbest Generation.” What the article notes is that the current generation of teens is not necessarily more or less intelligent, in raw terms, than any other generation.  Yet Bauerlein goes on to use this term “Dumb” to describe these teens because he believes the technology they employ confines them to immaturity.

This article fails on a number of different levels.  First, there is the major problem of his audience.  Bauerlein and the editors of America are making a clear statement that they expect no one under the age of 30 to be reading this article.  Anyone who texts with any frequency, anyone part of the Dumbest generation is surely not going to be brought to enlightenment by use of such pejorative language. Read the rest of this entry »

Good Quote

November 4, 2009

From Origen’s On First Principles:

This being so, we shall now outline the manner in which divine scripture should be understood on these several points… The aim was that not everyone who wished should have these mysteries laid before his feet to trample upon, but that they should be for the man who had devoted himself to the studies of this kind with the utmost purity and sobriety and through nights of watching, by which means perchance he might be able to trace out the deeply hidden meaning of the Spirit of God.

God grant us more scripture scholars of this kind.

The Society of All Souls

November 2, 2009


Few things are more opaque to folks of contemporary sensibility than the longstanding Catholic practice of praying for the “poor souls” in Purgatory.  I can easily recall my Mom encouraging me to “offer up” my suffering on their behalf—a counsel that she often dispensed to put the kibosh on my whining.  I admit, I never quite understood the efficacy of “offering it up” back then, but I did understand that Mom was deferring my complaints to the adjudication of a higher power.  And no favorable decisions ever seemed to return from that court of appeal.

The practice of interceding for the poor souls remained obscure because it supposed a deeper interweaving of human destinies than I had either the vision or courage to acknowledge. Read the rest of this entry »