In praise of repetitive prayers, In praise of repetitive prayers

February 23, 2010

With Lent now upon us and my Mardi Gras food coma subsiding, I thought it a good idea to reflect a bit about prayer.  A thoughtful undergraduate here at Loyola posed a question to me a few weeks ago which I found interesting and thought our readers might as well.  An evangelical friend of his had criticized him for using rote prayers.  In other words, for repeating the same prayers over and over again, for being needlessly redundant in prayer, for failing to be spontaneous enough, for just using the same words again and again in repetition without coming up with anything new—much like this sentence.

The previous poorly written sentence demonstrates, however, that one can be redundant even without repeating the same phrases.  In fact, it’s often when I pray “spontaneously” that I find myself repeating myself.

But in prayer, perhaps, redundancy isn’t any great fault.  God doesn’t disregard our prayers because they aren’t original enough, and when we pray we aren’t telling God anything he doesn’t already know.  Prayer isn’t primarily about exchanging information. Read the rest of this entry »


Moderne, Postmoderne und wir

February 22, 2010

It has been wonderful to page through First Things 20th Anniversary Issue—and not only because of its priceless, circa-early-90s pictures of the neocon clan.  The issue also features some excellent First Things essays which I have never read, like Joseph Bottom’s “Christians and Postmoderns” from February 1994.  Alas, I wasn’t a ROFTER at age ten.

Reading the essay caused some latent neurons in my head to refire as I began again to consider a question I have often mulled over: Which poses a greater threat to Christianity, modernity or postmodernity?

Were I submitting this essay to a professor for a grade, I would need, at this point, to stop and define what I mean by modernity and postmodernity.  But since I am not handing the essay in for a grade and want to avoid writing a many-thousand word blog post, let me omit positing a definition of modernity—and trust that the term is more or less clear—and proceed straightaway to the difficult task of grabbing the slippery fish of postmodernity and holding it still long enough to slap a definition on it. Read the rest of this entry »


On Self-Flagellation, Or Whether You Can Do Penance this Lent

February 17, 2010

It has recently come to the fore that John Paul II possibly whipped himself every night with a belt that hung in his closet.  The new book, “Why He is a Saint: The True Story of John Paul II,” hangs its claims on the “witness” of 114 people who all claim they heard the whipping from outside of the room at different times.  This story has already received wide attention.  And of course the character Silas in “The Da Vinci Code” has brought penance to the level of hysteria. I bring it up now because as we begin Lent, it is important to once again examine the rationale for self-mortification.   Are there any good reasons, to put it starkly, to whip oneself, and what might they be?

First, some objections. I won’t offer the standard objections offered by those with no background in Christian asceticism. But good objections can be offered along this line by a reader of Andrew Sullivan. Please forgive the lengthy quotation:

Let’s bracket for a moment whether or not this can be worked out within a revealed theology. The question is whether it can be worked out in a natural theology and, more specifically, in a natural morality such as the the “new natural law”, which purports to show that practical reason is capable of arriving at certain conclusions about human behavior irrespective of religious beliefs.

Read the rest of this entry »


Spiritual Exercises for Lent

February 17, 2010

Two suggestions for your Lenten journey:

Four Jesuits have begun a blog featuring Lenten reflections drawn from the Spiritual Exercises. There will be reflections offered each day during Lent. Please visit them here.

Fr. Pat McGrath, S.J. of the Chicago Province offers several podcast reflections here.


Ending at the Start: Creation and Eschatology in Scripture

February 16, 2010

When it comes to reading the Bible, Genesis might be a good place to stop. The Book of Revelation might make a nice beginning. As contemporary readers of the Scriptures, we may be tempted to read the Bible as we read other modern books, applying our scientific and evolutionary categories to a text that does not share these concerns. While the scientific parts of our minds most comfortably deal with provable facts and figures, the parts of our brains conditioned to think in evolutionary terms like to imagine that “newer” is better, “older” not so much. In misreading the stories of creation and the end times, we run the risk of missing not only what they tell us about our beginning and our end but also what they reveal about our present situation in our ongoing relationship with God.

Read the rest of this entry »


The Slow Food Movement and the Liturgy

February 14, 2010

To celebrate this Mardi Gras I thought it appropriate to post something about food.  Good food and good eating are not things to be taken for granted.  I am a proud Italian-American—my grandfather was a baker—and, for Italians, a good meal is an art.

Unfortunately, as many have noted, even in Italy, the art of gastronomy is increasingly becoming lost.  Demographic decline, the pressures of work, an increasingly utilitarian attitude toward just about everything, the encroachment of fast food—these and other factors have taken their toll on the quality of the Italian meal.

There are, of course, unwritten rules to the traditional Italian meal—rules about the order of the courses and their content, about the way food should be served, about which foods are appropriate in which seasons, about who does what at the table.  These rules are practical only up to a point and they don’t always make for the most efficient eating, but they tend to facilitate instead savoring, conversation, and—to drop a weighty theological concept—communion.

Read the rest of this entry »


Humility & Domineering Doubt, Part II

February 8, 2010

Last week I posted some reflections on Bill Maher’s anti-religious satire Religulous.  While I thought the movie itself tiring and tired, I found Maher’s elevation of Doubt to the level of high religious virtue too ironic to pass up.  I half-thought Maher was going to recommend building a statue of Doubt and lighting candles at her feet.

I decided to take Maher’s statements about Doubt seriously because I think he makes a mistake that a lot of people make when thinking about religion—namely confusing doubt with humility.

As a more thoughtful example of such confusion I referred to a section of President Obama’s speech at Notre Dame—not the part about abortion that everybody talked about at the time, but a lesser-noticed part when the President spoke of doubt as “the ultimate irony of faith.”

Both President Obama and Maher praised doubt because, in the President’s words, “it should humble us.”  If you think about it, that’s a fairly strange claim. Read the rest of this entry »


Dat’s Right!

February 8, 2010


Schneiders on Religious Life: Part I – important notes

February 4, 2010

In case you have not heard, the Vatican is currently investigating apostolic women’s religious communities in the United States. This investigation has generated a lot of emotional response from people of all sorts of points of view. From those already distrustful of Vatican authority, it has generated talk of resistance, while from those nostalgic for the past is has brought back all sorts of wistful recollections of wimples. I had not thought it helpful to engage in the controversy until I read an interesting series of articles beginning with this one last fall by Sr. Sandra Schneiders in National Catholic Reporter.  She highlighted for me some points that I think may be interesting to people who are not so attuned to church practices and customs, and might be wondering what all the fuss is about. I want to take a moment to highlight this week the helpful points that I took from her articles. I’ll return next week with what I think might be helpful to add to her analysis.

Read the rest of this entry »


World Day for Consecrated Life

February 2, 2010

Ask someone what day it is today and the response you are likely to get is “Groundhog Day.”  Unless you ask a pagan Celt, who will know that it is the festival of Imbolc.  And Catholics?  The catechized ones will likely tell you that it is the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord or Candlemas.

Few people will tell you that it is World Day for Consecrated Life.  But it is—unless you are in one of those dioceses that move the celebration to the following Sunday, an unfortunate practice which is a matter for another post.

When Venerable John Paul II established February 2 as the World Day for Consecrated Life back in 1997, he said that the purpose of the day was threefold: First, to thank God for the gift of consecrated life.  Second, “to promote a knowledge of and esteem for the consecrated life by the entire People of God.”  And the third reason, in John Paul II’s words,

regards consecrated persons directly. They are invited to celebrate together solemnly the marvels which the Lord has accomplished in them, to discover by a more illumined faith the rays of divine beauty spread by the Spirit in their way of life, and to acquire a more vivid consciousness of their irreplaceable mission in the Church and in the world.

That phrase about “their irreplaceable mission” got me thinking about a conversation I recently had with an abbess of a Poor Clare monastery.  Mother Abbess was telling me how important it was for her community to protect the discipline of enclosure, because once one begins to make small exceptions the Rule, soon the cloister may be lost entirely.  Upon remarking how central enclosure is to the charism of the Poor Clares (who make a special fourth vow of enclosure) she remarked that if religious abandon their charism, they forfeit their reason to exist, and soon will cease to exist.  The history of—no, perhaps better, the contemporary situation of—religious life bears ample evidence to this fact. Read the rest of this entry »


Crusading Doubt

February 1, 2010

To shorten my time in Purgatory I recently watched Bill Maher’s silly little anti-religious “documentary” Religulous.  The documentary contains an interview with Fr. George Coyne, SJ, a Jesuit astronomer at the Vatican Observatory.  Fr. Coyne does the Society proud in the film, proving himself both more intelligent and funnier than Maher.

Unfortunately, Fr. Coyne is only on screen for a few minutes because Maher, like the other “neo-atheists,” is interested only in religion’s most absurd expressions.  Their strategy is something like attempting to discredit democracy as a system of government by interviewing only members of the Blagojevich administration. Read the rest of this entry »