The Hunger Games

March 31, 2012

The Hunger Games are a tragedy.  (As a spoiler alert, if you haven’t read them, then don’t keep reading). They are a harsh look at what happens to people when they think they must make war on one another.  Perhaps the best summary of the thesis of the Hunger Games comes from Hermann Goring’s famous quote from the Nuremberg interviews:

“Naturally, the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship….  All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.”

Goring was onto something: there is little difference in the end between people on both sides who become intent on killing one another.  And Collins’ book makes one thing clear: it is not that hard to convince people that this is what they must do.

In the end the books are a tragedy because just about everyone is corrupted.  All of the leaders, both of the Capitol and of the Rebellion are evil.  Gale, Katniss’ best friend is transformed into the image of those he hates.  He becomes the new murderer, a Peacekeeper himself, just like Coin and most of the other rebels, even though he had been scourged to an inch of his life by a Peacekeeper.  Plutarch just switches sides, but he continues to be a Game Master, playing with lives that do not matter.   Read the rest of this entry »

Homily for the 5th Sunday of Lent, Year B: The Eyes of the Heart

March 25, 2012


Jer 31:31-34; Ps 51:3-4, 12-13, 14-15; Heb 5:7-9; Jn 12:20-33

At first glance, it seems that Jesus is using the politician’s campaign-season playbook.  Philip and Andrew (two apostles with Greek names) bring Jesus a simple request from some Greek proselytes (honorary Jews): “Sir, we would like to see Jesus.”  Rather than answer the question straightforwardly, however, Jesus opts to stick close to his talking points.  He goes on to speak of the seed that must die if it is to bear much fruit, the need to surrender one’s life in this world, the cost of discipleship, his spiritual distress, his trust in the Father, and the manner in which he was about to die.  By this point, Philip and Andrew are probably looking at their watches, thinking, “He could have just said no…”

But of course, Jesus is answering the question.  He is simply answering it a deeper level than either the Greeks or his disciples understand at that moment. Read the rest of this entry »

Homily for Laetare Sunday, Year B: Recovering our Lost Sabbaths

March 18, 2012


2 Chr 36:14-16, 19-23; Ps 137:1-2, 3, 4-5, 6; Eph 2:4-10; Jn 3:14-21

I’d like to speak this Laetare Sunday about sloth, one of the seven capital sins.  Sloth fits the occasion for two reasons: 1) it’s suggested by today’s readings, and 2) it may be the sin where there is the widest gap between the popular understanding (laziness or lack of ambition) and the Church’s understanding (spiritual sadness).

1)  The theme in the readings that sloth touches on is the sin of the “lost sabbaths.”  According to 2 Chronicles, God permitted Israel’s exile in order “to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah:  ‘Until the land has retrieved its lost sabbaths,/ during all the time it lies waste it shall have rest/ while seventy years are fulfilled.’”  God had commanded Israel to keep not only a Sabbath day, but a Sabbath year.  Every seventh year, the land was supposed to “rest” in the Lord, to lay fallow and uncultivated (Lev 25:2).  Apparently, Israel had been working their land during the Sabbath years, and God was not pleased that they were not resting.  Israel, according to the popular understand, was not being “slothful” enough.  Strange.

2)  Something stranger still: the great Christian tradition classifies sloth as a sin against the Sabbath command (ST II-II 36.3).  Here it becomes clear how far the Christian understanding of sloth is from the popular notion of laziness. Read the rest of this entry »

Heaven: Miracle or Entitlement?

March 15, 2012

Our readers might be interested in my latest offering on The Jesuit Post.  Here’s how it starts:

In my current line of work—I’m the administrator of three small parishes on an Indian Reservation in South Dakota—I deal with a lot of funerals.  I schedule them; I lead prayers; I empty the ashes out of the censer afterwards.  I’ve helped to bury everyone from the saintly to those who haven’t seen the inside of a church since they were baptized.

The job causes one to hear and say and think quite a bit about the life after this one, which is a good thing: in our liturgy, in fact, we ask God to turn our thoughts from the things of this world to the things of heaven.  And contrary to what skeptics like Nietzsche thought, a lively belief in heaven helps one live a good life here below; the courage of the saints and martyrs would never have been possible without it.

And yet…

…and yet, I often find myself cringing at the things people say about heaven.  Atheists have historically mocked Christians’ belief in paradise as an opiate—a comforting fantasy, a fairy tale we tell ourselves to soften the pain of loss.  And sometimes I find myself agreeing with Christianity’s critics.

I’ve noticed, for example, a tendency among many to attempt to remake heaven in our own image.  So if Grandpa really loved donuts, heaven gets described as an all-you-can-eat Dunkin’ Donuts, open 24 hours, where the Bavarian cream is always fresh and smooth.

You will be relieved to know that even though I cringe inwardly when I hear someone preach hope in an everlasting supply of jelly donuts, I don’t jump in with, “Actually-it’s-not-like-that.”  Still, I can’t help but think how awful such a “heaven” would be—even if one were spared the indigestion.  As Pope Benedict put it, reflecting on the possibility of an endless prolongation of this life:  “…to live always, without end—this, all things considered, can only be monotonous and ultimately unbearable” (Spe Salvi, 10).

To continue click here…

Homily for the Third Sunday of Lent, Year B: Jesus and Anger Management

March 11, 2012


Gustave Dore's Rendering of "the Wrathful" in Dante's Inferno

Ex 20:1-17; Ex 20:1-3, 7-8, 12-17; Ps 19:8, 9, 10, 11; 1 Cor 1:22-25; Jn 2:13-25

I’d like to use today’s Scripture passages as a basis for reflecting the classic problem of Christians and anger.  In a sense, the problem emerges from the readings themselves.  “Thou not kill,” the fifth of the commandments we hear in the first reading, later gets expanded by Christ: “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment” (Mt 5:22).  Christ appears to condemn anger.

At the same time, it’s hard to imagine Jesus acting as he does in today’s Gospel—making a whip of cords, spilling coins, overturning tables, running off moneychangers—without an emotional energy approaching anger.  The Gospel offers the word “zeal”: “His disciples recalled the words of Scripture, Zeal for your house will consume me.”  So what’s the difference between the sinful anger (“wrath”) that Christ condemns and the righteous anger (“zeal”) that Christ displays? Read the rest of this entry »

When should we confirm?

March 10, 2012

Is Pope Benedict a regular reader of Whosoever Desires?  Well, probably not.

But regular readers of our little blog might remember that a few months ago I wrote a short post on the decision of Fargo’s Bishop Samuel Aquila to restore the traditional order of the sacraments of initiation.  If you missed it, you can check it out here.  

Bishop Aquila was in Rome this week, and he was singled out for praise for his decision by that city’s bishop.  You can check out the article here.  So apparently I’m not the only one to find his argument about confirmation interesting.

On a practical level, I now find myself teaching courses for baptism, RCIA, RCIC, and confirmation, and I do find it somewhat difficult to explain the discrepancy between the standard practice for most cradle Catholics and that for those initiated through RCIA or RCIC.  The theology doesn’t quite make sense and, as is so often the case, shaky theology undermines actual Catholic practice, leading to the sacrament of confirmation functioning as a kind of graduation from church for many teenagers.

Also, I just love to see Fargo on theology’s cutting edge.


Homily for the 2nd Sunday of Lent: The “Transformation Perspective”

March 3, 2012


Gn 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18; Ps 116:10, 15, 16-17, 18-19; Ps 116:10, 15, 16-17, 18-19; Rom 8:31b-34; Mk 9:2-10

As Catholics, we all know that we oppose something called “secularism.”  We want to keep Christ in Christmas.  We want the Church to be strong, to have freedom to worship and to shape culture and policy.  But thinking of secularism exclusively in terms of its legal and economic aspects has a downside: it encourages us to lay the blame on “them”—on godless lawyers, lobbyists, and CEOs.  It gave me pause, then, when I ran across definition of secularism, proposed by a prominent Catholic philosopher, that invited me to look at myself.  According to his definition, the heart of secularism is the denial of the “transformation perspective” (A Secular Age, 431).

And by “transformation perspective” he meant simply the belief—common to most religions—that we are transformed through sacrifice, that a “higher life” and new desires are possible for us through religious practices: through the discipline of passions, meditation, the study of holy books, etc.  From the secular perspective, on the other hand, desires and behavior are never really be transformed.  And since we can’t expect people to live frustrated, the best we can hope to do is damage control.  Hence the secular solution to the dangers of sex becomes not chastity but condoms, the secular solution to the problem of overeating becomes not moderation but Splenda, the secular solution to political corruption becomes not integrity but a system of checks and balances.  The “transformation perspective,” on the other hand, rates virtue above technique.

To this “transformation perspective” reflected generally in religious traditions, Christianity adds a new element: Read the rest of this entry »