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A Discerning Eye

My father once remarked that after years of eye exams, he had memorized the eye chart. This level of mastery of the material would guarantee success on an algebra or biology test, but it is not helpful in an eye exam. Unlike other tests, the goal in an eye exam is not to give the objectively right answers, correctly identifying the blurry letters on the chart, but rather to report how they subjectively appear. As difficult as discerning the tiny letters may be, discerning the proper way to face moral and life decisions can be even more daunting. This is especially true when one has trouble discerning exactly what this word “discernment” means. Some explanations give the impression that discernment is a foolproof process which, by introspectively consulting the conscience, infallibly delivers God’s will for any situation. In this view, like in eye exams, the key is being true to…

Mystery, Manners, and the Rediscovery of Great Literature

Several years ago, Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. While many, including Dylan himself, found it a bit odd to honor a folk singer with the premier prize for literature, there it was. After a curious gap between the committee’s breathless announcement and Dylan’s reluctant acceptance, the seventy-five-year-old artist reflected on just how much his writing was born out of his studied immersion in folk music and the budding progenitors of rock and roll including Buddy Holly, Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, and the New Lost City Ramblers. Dylan would elaborate, I had all the vernacular down. I knew the rhetoric. None of it went over my head—the devices, the techniques, the secrets, the mysteries—and I knew all the deserted roads that it traveled on, too. I could make it all connect and move with the current of the day. When I started writing my own…

“Why the Water Came”: An Interview with Fr. Connor Danstrom

Fr. Connor Danstrom is a Catholic priest who currently serves as the Chaplain and Director of the St. John Paul II Newman Center at the University of Illinois in Chicago. He is also an incredibly talented musician and songwriter. Jared Zimmerer sat down with Fr. Connor to discuss his latest album, Why the Water Came. Fr. Connor will also be playing live at a Newman Center fundraiser in Chicago at the Lagunitas Brewing Company on Monday, May 20. The event is from 5:30-8:30 p.m. If you’re in Chicago, more information about the event can be found at: https://jp2newman.org/event/holy-happy-hour/. Be sure to check out Fr. Connor’s newest album! __________________________________________________________________________ So much of your music is telling a story: stories of loss, redemption, searching. Are these stories from your personal life? How has music allowed you to express these stories? Fr. Connor:…

“Listen” and “Remember”: A Father’s Plea, A Child’s Prompt

Any Benedictine will tell you that the Rule of Saint Benedict is intriguing from the very first word of its prologue, “Listen.” Listen, my son, to your master’s precepts, and incline the ear of your heart. In fact, what most Benedictines will tell you is that it is the very first word of the Rule that encompasses the whole of Benedictine spirituality: to listen. It is a call to listen for the voice of God however it be manifested—whether through the liturgical prayers of the Mass, the Liturgy of the Hours, the daily lectio divina that Benedictines try to incorporate into their meditations—but also beyond those specific settings and into the less-expected, because God speaks to us constantly and is not constrained or limited in how he may communicate with us. God may choose to speak to us through the words of our spouse, our parents, or even our children.

“At the Offertory, Therefore . . .”

On Friday, a seminarian I know texted me a photo of a page from Ven. Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s A Priest Is Not His Own, and said beneath it, “I thought you’d like that.” My God yes. Sheen was describing to priests, as celebrants of the Mass, the meaning of the Offertory. The offering of gifts of bread, wine, and alms—“my sacrifice and yours.” How eloquently he expressed the mystery of a ritual action that is reduced, in most people’s minds, to fishing for money or dropping envelopes in the basket. Or maybe checking the watch to where we stand at halftime. Do the faithful have any idea what they are really transacting in? Are saying “Amen” to? Giving over? Such ignorance profoundly weakens the Offering’s potential effect to change lives and transform the world. Literally. Annie Dillard captured my sentiments in a passage I seem to quote every other week:…

Antonio Cuipa and Companions

The attack came without warning. British Colonel James Moore along with fifty English troops and fifteen hundred Creek Indian mercenaries sacked the Spanish mission of La Concepcion de Ayubale with a ferocity that could only be born from vengeance. Tensions had flared since the failed siege of Castillo de San Marco in 1702, and now the British sought to reap their revenge from the soft underbelly of the Florida Panhandle where Spanish military presence was weak. Besides several poorly fortified barricades, nothing stood in the way of the oncoming invasion . . . or so it seemed. The Appalachee Catholics from mission San Luis in Tallahassee caught word of their sister mission’s plight. A small band of Indians decided to go out and meet the British horde head-on. Leading this group of protectors was the youthful, charismatic, and highly regarded Antonio Cuipa, an inija (“noble/leader”) of the Apalachee nation, second only…

Mary’s Motherly Fiat

The Redeemer was given to us through a mother, the Mother. It is appropriate that Mother’s Day would be celebrated within the Marian month of May as her fiat orients the fiat of mankind and especially that of woman. I am blessed to have my own four children that have grown within my womb, but I am the daughter of a woman who hung a plaque on my wall when I was a very young child. The plaque was emblazoned with the words “You grew not under my heart but in it.” I am adopted. I also have many friends, in real life and online, that I have watched suffer through infertility and infant loss. I have mourned beside friends that have buried their children far too young, and I have mourned the loss of my mother just two short years ago. The fiat of the Blessed Mother echoes throughout…

Christ, the Good Shepherd

Christ the Lord tells us that he is the Good Shepherd. What does this mean? For many, the image of Christ the Shepherd evokes the image of green rolling pastures and a quiet bucolic countryside, free of care and worries. Christ is the Lord of a Christianized version of the Elysium fields, the master of a retreat and respite from the troubles of life, the gentle presider over a safe space of comfort and security. Such musings are coupled with an understanding of the Lord Jesus that is entirely meek and mild, very much like the lambs over which he watches. However attractive this image of Christ the Shepherd is to us, it fails to capture the biblical imagery, which the Lord Jesus calls forth in the tenth chapter of the Gospel of John. The image of a shepherd is, biblically speaking, coded language; it’s a metaphor, not simply for…

Mindful Optimism Is a Danger Worth Dancing With

There are times when—all too innocently, because we have not been mindful of what is before us—we give too much license to a dead past that cannot be changed, and then we lose our handle on things. Like the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, we conjure from the ether of our past a solitary-but-sharply-outlined idea, and then suddenly, one after another, memories begin to fall upon us, like bright orbs called from galaxies far beyond, and much better kept in the distance. Our disappointing families and imperfect parents, our closely held secrets and sins and sorrows and regrets, given too much free reign, begin to dominate us. They wreak havoc on our emotions and then begin to drain our spirits until we are depleted and depressed—all trust, all hope diminished. When we get to that place, we begin to hate everyone—or to imagine that we do—and to wonder about that Being we call…

“Ralph Breaks the Internet” and Satan‘s Attacks

I’ve always been a sucker for some good slapstick humor (growing up on Ace Ventura and Wayne’s World), and Wreck-it Ralph has been a welcome addition to our children’s movie library. In the Wreck-It Ralph sequel, Ralph Breaks the Internet (spoilers ahead), Venellope’s game Sugar Rush is about to be unplugged. The steering wheel for the console was broken after Ralph tried to change up the driving course to make it more exciting for her. After discovering that a replacement steering wheel was up for auction on eBay, Ralph and his best friend venture into the internet to save Sugar Rush, beginning an epic adventure. There’s a lot of fun and humor that ensues, but the lightness takes a turn when Venellope discovers an online racing game called Slaughter Race. She discovers a new method of racing where everything is new and finds a desire to leave Sugar Rush and…