Fish (& chips) on Fridays

May 23, 2011

Fish Fridays are back for the Catholics of England and Wales, or at least they will be come September.  The bishops conference of those countries announced last week that Friday abstinence from meat will once again become obligatory for their flock starting September 16, the first anniversary of Pope Benedict’s visit to the U.K.

Some sociologists have argued that dropping meatless Fridays in the 1960s was a pastoral error on the Church’s part.  Meatless Fridays, so the thinking goes, were a significant marker of Catholic identity, and the rapid disappearance of so many such markers contributed to the disastrous erosion of Catholic life and practice which began in the late 1960s.

Still, even if one accepts that suddenly dropping an ancient practice such as meatless Fridays was a mistake, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the practice should be revived today.  Nonetheless, it seems to me there are significant theological reasons to praise the bishops of England and Wales for their gutsy decision.  Perhaps we might even learn something from them on this side of the pond.

Read the rest of this entry »


Ouch.

May 16, 2011

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus instructs his disciples, “If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away” (Matt. 5:30).

When I’m teaching confirmation class, I often use this passage to make the point that taking the Bible seriously sometimes means not taking the Bible literally.

Last week, however, I watched a movie, 127 Hours, which is about cutting off one’s arm.  Literally.

James Franco stars as Aron Ralston, a mountain climber who becomes trapped in a remote canyon in Utah, his arm pinned underneath a boulder.  After 127 hours in the canyon, facing dehydration and death, Ralston cuts off his own arm with a rather dull substitute for a Swiss Army knife.  First he has to break the bone, since the knife isn’t sharp enough to saw through it.  Yes:  ouch.  Or, as a delirious Ralston puts it while videotaping what may turn out to be his last moments, “Oops.”

The movie is not religious, but nonetheless contains a few good metaphors for the spiritual life.  The point of Jesus’ hyperbole in the Sermon on the Mount, for example, is that when it comes to doing good and avoiding evil, the stakes are higher even than life or death.  Ralston finally resorts to cutting off his arm after 127 hours—though we’re led to believe that the thought occurs to him soon after he’s been trapped—because his only other alternative is death.  More than a few conversion stories have begun in similar fashion, as when the alcoholic only sobers up after finally hitting rock bottom.

Read the rest of this entry »


Nietzsche in November

November 21, 2010

We are nearly at the end of the liturgical year, with daily readings from the Book of Revelation reminding us of the end of everything else too.  Indeed, the month of November as a whole, beginning with the feasts of All Saints and All Souls, is dedicated in a special way to remembering the dead and contemplating our own eternal future.

Some people have a problem with that.

Friedrich Nietzsche, one of Christianity’s most brilliant enemies, criticizes our faith for placing too much emphasis on the life to come, thereby emptying this life of meaning and giving unhappy and unsuccessful human beings—“mutterers and nook counterfeiters”—an excuse to wallow in their own misery until they arrive in “heaven,” which in Nietzsche’s estimation seems like little more than a very long nap.

This, I’m afraid, is not one of Nietzsche’s better arguments (though to give the poor old guy a break, I don’t think it’s original to him).  Unfortunately, it has too often been taken up in one form or another by well-meaning Christians themselves.  If we spend too much time contemplating heaven, they say, we will be neglectful of our duties here on earth.  Or, as that summit of liturgical kitsch, “Gather Us In,” puts it, “Gather us in… [but] not in some heaven, light years away.”

Read the rest of this entry »


Doing penance for each other

May 16, 2010

The Pope made some important comments on his trip to Portugal last week which have a fairly direct bearing on the abuse scandals so much in the news these days.  Benedict’s response, as we might expect, touches on the spiritual aspects of the scandal and has some pretty deep implications for all of us.  Here’s what the Holy Father said:

[A]ttacks against the Pope or the Church do not only come from outside; rather the sufferings of the Church come from within, from the sins that exist in the Church. This too has always been known, but today we see it in a really terrifying way: the greatest persecution of the Church does not come from enemies on the outside, but is born from the sin within the church, the Church therefore has a deep need to re-learn penance, to accept purification, to learn on one hand forgiveness but also the need for justice. Forgiveness is not a substitute for justice. In one word we have to re-learn these essentials: conversion, prayer, penance, and the theological virtues. That is how we respond, and we need to be realistic in expecting that evil will always attack, from within and from outside, but the forces of good are also always present, and finally the Lord is stronger than evil and the Virgin Mary is for us the visible maternal guarantee that the will of God is always the last word in history.

In earlier comments, too, Benedict talked about the need for doing penance, something fundamental to our identities as Catholics but which, I have to admit, I don’t normally give much thought to.  Among my generation of Catholics I’m probably not alone in being a little clueless about what penance is or why we do it.

Read the rest of this entry »


Spiritual Things Jesuit: Living in Poverty

August 8, 2009

percent_in_poverty

I’m starting a series of posts on some Jesuit considerations on spiritual matters. The first couple will be on poverty, and then the others will follow.

My intention is not to cause a stir among Jesuits about whether or not we live poverty well.  Many will argue that Jesuit poverty is an oxymoron, “just look at the Jesuit residence at Georgetown” they will say.  Fair enough.  But the scandal is not restricted solely to religious communities.  It is only compounded in them, since they have taken a vow precisely against what can be called the worst of modern vices: consumption.  However, this vice is just as rampant among “orthodox” Christians as well.  Nor do we need to look far to other “orthodox” groups like the Legionaries to see what money does.  It ate away at their spirituality and became central to their very identity. Though they themselves did not always consume, they provoked consumption in the worst possible way among many in the Church, so that an infatuation with money ruined part of the order — and those Churchmen who were too close. Jesuits have a problem, and a serious one at that. But we are not the only ones.  And it has nothing to do with being “liberal.”  It has to do with straying from the Gospel and our own founding charism.   Read the rest of this entry »


Benedict the Green

July 31, 2009

+AMDG+

bv091_Benedict-02Blogging tends to be a grumpy medium.  The project of “unmasking” the incoherent or self-serving commitments of others allows the unmasker to indulge in one of the few socially acceptable displays of superiority.  Since the human race in its fallen condition is such a target-rich environment for peevish observations, blogging continues to amuse.  A Christian blogger, however, should at least occasionally evoke the beauty of the tradition that he has received, thus rendering an “account of the hope that is within [him]” (1 Pt 3:25).  In that spirit, I thought I would follow up my first thoughts on Caritas in Veritate and Human Ecology with some thoughts on the beauty of the cosmos conceived according to Christian doctrine. Read the rest of this entry »