Say it ain’t so, Joe

February 19, 2013

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I’m sometimes asked by artless, though usually fairly harmless, people, “Are there some Church teachings you don’t believe?”  I resist the urge to respond with equal tactlessness, “Are there things about your wife you don’t love?”  The question itself reveals just how much political paradigms have distorted our ways of thinking and speaking about the Church, as if the deposit of faith were somehow equivalent to a party platform.

And yet—here you have it, Mr. Artless Questioner—this week I find myself ready to dissent publicly—for all the web to see—from an official act of the Vicar of Christ, the Supreme Pontiff, the Successor of the Apostle Peter.

Benedict XVI, do you have to go so soon?

I agree, to be sure, with all the generous things that have been said about the pope’s decision—that it’s a selfless and humble act, the fruit of great prayer and faith, born out of a profound love of the Church.  Of course, it is.  And of course Pope Benedict is a better judge of his own limits and abilities than anyone else and is also in a better position to judge the needs of the Church than some two-bit blogger from South Dakota.

But still, I can’t help but thinking, Benedict at 75% is still better than most of us at 100%.  Who else combines Benedict’s spiritual and intellectual breadth and depth, his combination of scholarly incisiveness and gentleness of spirit?  Who else has better seen through the pomps and empty promises of secularism or proposed so insistently, so clearly their remedy—friendship with Jesus Christ?  Who else has Benedict’s sense of the liturgy, sense of history, sense of prayer?  Couldn’t he just stay on for another year or two?  Couldn’t he at least have waited until after finishing that encyclical on faith? Read the rest of this entry »


Immaculate Misconceptions

December 6, 2012

Saturday’s Holy Day of Obligation means a back-to-back Sunday Mass schedule for me (with a prize bingo thrown in there in between), so I didn’t have time for a new post.  But I dug up an old one instead, which answers that age old question, “Whose conception is it anyway?”  We discussed the same question last night in my RCIA class–a group that is always a joy–and we had a quite few laughs.  But the group began by shouting “Jesus!” in answer to the above question and ended by shouting “Mary!”, so I was happy where we ended up.  Here it is, my own, feeble attempt an an explanation: 

El Greco Immaculate ConceptionThere always seems to be a bit of confusion around this week’s Solemnity.  Despite falling in the middle of Advent, December 8 is not a celebration of the conception of Jesus—which would have meant a remarkably brief pregnancy—but of Mary.

Still, even if we remember whose life it is we’re celebrating, that doesn’t clear up every mystery about the Immaculate Conception.  I must confess that for most of my life even though I knew we had to go to church on December 8, I wasn’t exactly sure why.  It had something to do with one of those Marian dogmas, I knew, but most Catholics tiptoe around those nowadays for fear of offending the Protestants.  And even though I, being a somewhat contrarian lad, was prepared to pick Mary over the Protestants, I really had no idea why.

Even today, while I know a bit more about theology, I still have to admit to finding this particular Mystery particularly mysterious.  Among the writing I’ve found shedding light on the subject is an excellent essay titled “The Immaculate Conception” by the British Thomist, Herbert McCabe, OP.

Continue reading here…


Letting the King be king

November 26, 2012

Sunday’s Solemnity of Christ the King comes between the memorials of two of my favorite Jesuit martyrs, Bl. Miguel Pro (Nov. 23) and St. Edmund Campion (Dec. 1).  These priests were killed in the religious persecution of twentieth century Mexico and sixteenth century England respectively.  The proximity of these feast days reminds me of the issue that has lately been atop the list of the American bishops’ concerns:  religious liberty.

I was asked to give a reflection for a community gathering on the feast of Miguel Pro, and as I thought about his life and martyrdom the question that I couldn’t shake was:  why are American Catholics not more concerned about religious liberty?  Catholic institutions have already been shuttered in Illinois and Massachusetts, and powerful cultural voices are explicitly calling for the exclusion of Christianity from the public square.  Pro’s death occurred less than a century ago and on this continent.  Do we think it cannot happen here?  Why do American Catholics seem so sleepy?

There are obvious answers:  the indifference (and often hostility) of the media; a general climate of secularism and religious indifferentism; political commitments that make raising the question uncomfortable for some, especially in an election year.  But it’s perhaps more instructive to look a bit deeper, at attitudes ingrained in our American outlook that make us drowsy when it comes to religious liberty.  Among other factors, three modern myths stand out. Read the rest of this entry »


House’s Christian ending

November 20, 2012

I don’t have much time for television in my current job, but parishes or no parishes, I haven’t been able to give up House, MD.  The show ended last year but I’ve been watching it on Netflix—I march at my own pace, as readers here know—and last week I reached the final episode.

Dr. House, as viewers can attest, is a difficult man to like.  A drug addict, a cynic, a master-manipulator, he shows glib disregard for the feelings, beliefs, and even human rights of others.  He has a penchant for insulting patients and destroying relationships with anyone who dares to get close to him.  A difficult man to like, yes—but I like a challenge.

The genius of the show comes from the character’s complexity, the fact that House needs relationships even as he unconsciously (and sometimes consciously) burns the ones he has.  His colleagues (and viewers) see through his frequent, and slightly too insistent, assertions that curing patients for him is only a matter of solving puzzles.  And a great deal of his off-putting-ness comes from the fact that he says things that are true, or uncomfortably close to the truth, but socially unacceptable. Read the rest of this entry »


Number One

November 18, 2012

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,

my spirit rejoices in God my Savior

for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.

From this day all generations will call me blessed:

the Almighty has done great things for me,

and holy is his Name.

He has mercy on those who fear him

in every generation.

He has shown the strength of this arm,

he has scattered the proud in their conceit.

He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,

and has lifted up the lowly.

He has filled the hungry with good things,

and the rich he has sent away empty.

He has come to the help of his servant Israel

for he has remembered his promise of mercy,

the promise he made to our fathers,

to Abraham and his children for ever.  (Luke 1:46-55)

OK, maybe it’s not that big an event.  But, boy, it feels good.

AL, SJ


More on Mormons…

November 12, 2012

My good friend Rachel Lu has published an intriguing piece on the “Mormon Moment” created by Mitt Romney’s candidacy for president on the First Things blog.  Rachel’s thoughtfulness and unique perspective on all things religious, political, and cultural make her a scholar and commentator to watch.  Her piece addresses the contentious question of whether Mormons are really Christians by asking, “Do Mormons really want to be Christians?”  And then she goes on to explore why Mormonism presents such a unique challenge to today’s orthodox Christians.

While many of us might be tempted to simply dismiss Mormonism as a weird aberration, making jokes about the magic underwear and polygamy, Rachel points out that the Catholic Church has long benefited from serious engagement with other such “heresies of an older style.”  I continue to think, as I’ve argued before, that we Catholics have much to learn from Mormonism.    And when it comes to sorting out the helpful from the erroneous in Mormonism, we are fortunate to have scholars such as Dr. Lu in the discussion.

AL, SJ


YES, Minnesota!

October 30, 2012

At the beginning of this political season, as our national political conventions were underway in the swing states of the southeast, I paid a visit to my home state of Minnesota, that liberal bastion of the frigid plains, where political passions were swirling like a January blizzard over a ballot initiative to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

I’ve known about the marriage amendment for some time thanks in part to the unsolicited opinions various Minnesotans have shared on that modern day heir to Plato’s Academy and Rome’s Forum—Facebook.  Most of those favoring me with their opinions have supported homosexual “marriage”.  I must say that I’ve been disturbed by many of these comments—not because I disagree with them, nor even because they employ the atrocious grammar that seems to be the common idiom of Facebook, but because of their increasing stridency and self-righteousness.

I can’t, to be sure, entirely fault the supporters of homosexual marriage for their erroneous opinions (or even for the sentence fragments with which they express them).  While the argument for homosexual marriage is deceptively straightforward (it’s equality, stupid), that for defending traditional marriage is rather more complex and has not always been made particularly well.

Contrary to what our opponents often imply, those of us who defend traditional marriage do not do so because we are hateful bigots, nor because we find anal intercourse particularly distasteful, nor for any of the myriad ways our beliefs are commonly distorted.  We do so because we think that privileging traditional marriage is conducive to the common good.

Read the rest of this entry »