Browsing News Entries

Five Rules for Theology Teachers

Gilbert Highet’s book The Art of Teaching has proven to be an excellent guide for me as a teacher. It’s practical and simple, drawing on the best teachers in history. It’s not marked by that soulless, “scientific” educational philosophy that devalues classical learning, but is rooted in a robust vision that educates the whole human person. Theology teachers need a book like Dr. Highet’s but particularly about the art of catechesis.  While many academic theologians will not admit this, theology is, in part, catechesis. Like an art, it requires vision and skill. Unfortunately, many theology programs do not educate students in a clear and consistent vision, leaving students confused about the nature of theology and its basics. This is representative of the fragmented state of much academic theology. Additionally, there is no apprenticeship a student can undergo to learn from the…

Do Not Be Afraid: Use Your Catholic Imagination

It’s been nearly a decade since poet and USC Professor Dana Gioia wrote an essay urging Catholic writers to “renovate and reoccupy” their own tradition within the literary culture, and it is a discussion that has been ongoing among Catholics since then—part of a broad pondering of what the “Christian imagination” means in the twenty-first century, and what it has to offer a society that is ever-more pop-focused, less literary in consumption and increasingly secular and polarized in tastes, to boot. Certainly, in literature, we have felt the dearth of the sort of Catholic writing that was so prominent in the last century, when authors like Flannery O’ Connor, Walker Percy, Evelyn Waugh, Rumer Godden, and others produced fiction that could hook into the souls of readers, whether faithful or not, and lead them into deep contemplation of our fallen natures, the complexities of the…

What I Learned a Half-Mile Under the Earth

If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, “Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.” —Martin Luther King Jr. Last weekend, on a cabin vacation outside of Tower, Minnesota, my daughters and I, along with my good friend and his kids, woke up, brushed our teeth, and threw on sweatshirts, rugged shorts, and closed-toe shoes. We packed pants and an extra sweatshirt because, in spite of the perfect seventy-two degree day on the lake, our destination (the Soudan Underground Mine State Park) promised a steady fifty-eight degrees in its subterranean parts. So, with bellies full of scrambled eggs, hash browns,…

Is Christianity a Religion or a Relationship?

When I first began considering the claims of Christianity, I encountered a lot of Christians—all of them Protestant—who admitted to having a personal and abiding relationship with Jesus Christ, professing this inner, subjective fellowship to be part and parcel of the Christian faith, with no particular religion or creed required apart from that. At first blush, this appealed even to me, a grinch. No tiresome, stuck-in-the-mud, medieval theology to study, no (allegedly) outdated social teachings on contraception or abortion to uphold, and no institutional hierarchy under some dogmatically infallible bishop with a froofy hat. Just a sort of “Let’s hang out, me and you” thing, only with God. Now, who wouldn’t want that? Well, there is at least one person who wouldn’t want that, and that person was (and is) God. For all the conversations I had with Protestants explaining their personal relationship with Jesus (crudely, I often wondered if…

Spiritual Deafness

We all have our sufferings and problems, but sometimes other people can see better than we what’s wrong with us. For example, the movie Mr. Holland’s Opus is about a music teacher and composer who finds out that his baby boy is deaf. He is stunned at the news, because he will never be able to open the world of sound to his son. The baby does not know what is wrong with him, while the loss is perceived acutely by the father. The film goes on to show that the son can still have a fulfilling life, but he is never able to make music with his father. In some ways, our own spiritual condition is like deafness. In the original creation, Adam and Eve were made to hear God’s voice and to rejoice in his spiritual beauty. But by original sin we damaged this capacity, and the powers of…

Benedicta a Cruce

Maia Morgenstern, some five years before starring as the Mother of God in Mel Gibson’s The Passion, played the role of another virgin Jew who found Israel’s salvation in the Cross of Christ. In Márta Mészáros’ 1995 Hungarian film, The Seventh Chamber, Morgenstern plays Saint Teresa Benedicta a Cruce. The film, like Gibson’s, depicts a movie-length Via Crucis. It is not the kind of film you watch with a bowl of popcorn, but with a prayerful heart. Edith Stein, the youngest of eleven, was born into a Jewish family on the day of Yom Kippur in 1891. This providential birthday, as with other things in her life, would later be seen as a meaningful foreshadowing. The Seventh Chamber, however, does not depict the early life of this German philosopher-turned-Christian. It does not show the young and precocious Edith enchanted with the world of literature, and disenchanted with the world…

The Quality of Evangelism and Preaching Does Not Depend Upon a Pulpit

In the weeks surrounding the feast day of St. Mary Magdalene, the discussion always arises: Since the first person to preach the resurrection of Christ was a female, shouldn’t women be permitted to preach from the pulpit during Mass? There have been interesting arguments advanced, both pro and con, and they’re worth reading. But upon consideration, I think the discussion fails from the start due to improper framing and a presumed value that might be false on the face of it. It’s worth pondering at a very fundamental level: Are we attaching too much importance to the “power” of preaching from a pulpit? Are we assigning it a measure of value beyond what is there, simply because the pulpit is closed off to female voices? For that matter, are we indulging in a bit of unintended clericalism when we see pulpit-preaching as something inherently more powerful than anything…

“Yellowstone” and Icons

Growing up in a small town in Texas as the grandchild of farmers, the cowboy was often idolized as the picture of virtue and hard work. Though historically speaking my ancestors had their own struggles with Native American Indians, our home had a very appreciative view of the history of native peoples. The first Halloween costume I remember donning was that of “The Lone Ranger,” and many of my first memories of watching television with my family consisted of John Wayne, Ben Cartwright and his sons on Bonanza, and Lucas McCain in The Rifleman. Needless to say, I was beyond excited at the announcement of Kevin Costner’s Yellowstone, which seems to be a mixture of The Godfather and Bonanza. At first glance, Yellowstone is an action-packed drama about a patriarch protecting what has been his family’s for generations; however, at a deeper level, the show has much to critique about our modern notions…

Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord

The surprising revelation of the Lord Jesus is that he is God. Jesus Christ is a living, divine person who has accepted a human nature and lived a real human life, and this revelation is not just a matter of an idea or a feeling, but is a densely textured fact of history. In Jesus Christ, God enters the events and circumstances of our lives by becoming a man, and he does so that humanity might share in the life of God. Today is the solemnity of the Transfiguration. This great day celebrates the privileged moment when three of Christ’s disciples glimpsed Christ’s divine glory. Peter, James, and John saw Christ for who he really and truly is—not just a prophet, or a philosopher, or a social activist, or one of many important historical figures, but God! The reality of all this is overwhelming, and as such we might be…

The Littlest Life Is Still a Life

About six weeks ago, we found out we were expecting baby number five. We were a little shocked. Okay, we were a lot shocked. We practice the Marquette Method, abstaining on high and peak days, and we had talked about being open to the next one if God were to bring one into being. But, alas, still shocked. I’m in my mid-30s, and my body has brought four little humans into the world, though not without complications. A fifth birth posed serious risk. Last weekend, at about 10 weeks pregnant, I started having stomach cramps. I was in bed by 8 p.m. that night and woke up bleeding around 3 a.m. I didn’t go back to sleep. I tossed and turned all night, crying, holding my womb. I was already convinced the baby had died. We texted our doctor and he responded the next morning. We went in for the…