Browsing News Entries

Browsing News Entries

The Best Lesson Ratzinger Ever Taught Me

The Pope Emeritus, whether as Benedict XVI or Joseph Ratzinger, ranks among those I call my first and best teachers within Catholicism. And because I am a needy and often recalcitrant student, I need a lot of them, so he is joined by St. Philip Neri, Francis de Sales, Thomas Merton, and the Psalmist among many other fine instructors. “Professorial” is a word frequently used to describe Ratzinger’s writing, but I’ve always thought “avuncular” might be a better descriptor. I may approach the writings of the others with the appreciation of a student attending a favorite class, but whenever I pick up a book or encyclical or speech by Joseph Alois Ratzinger, I feel like I’ve come into a room and found a favorite old uncle who greets me with affection and bids me to have a little tea while he shares the fruits of his quiet contemplation.

Announcing the Newest Word on Fire Institute Fellow, John Allen Jr.!

The renowned Protestant theologian Karl Barth once stated that an effective evangelist needs to have the Scriptures in one hand and the newspaper in the other. An evangelist needs to have a firm grasp on the realities of daily life and be knowledgeable in the latest news regarding the Church and the culture. Further, it is of pressing importance for Catholics to be able to identify a principled journalistic perspective that seeks to present the facts of a newsworthy event that is not intentionally positioned by polemics and ideology. It is for this reason that Bishop Barron’s Word on Fire Institute offered Mr. John Allen Jr. the Fellowship of Church and Media, which he graciously accepted. John Allen Jr. is the editor of Crux, the leading Catholic news source, specializing in coverage of the Vatican and the Catholic Church. He has written eleven books on the Vatican and Catholic affairs,…

St. Robert Bellarmine, Patron Saint of Catechists

The reading at Mass today from the First Letter of St. Paul to Timothy enumerates the virtues required of a bishop. Among these we find that he should be “temperate, self-controlled, decent, hospitable, able to teach.” These traits, most outstandingly the last, accurately characterize the saint whom the Church celebrates today. St. Robert Bellarmine was a diocesan bishop for only two brief periods of a few years each, but during these times—and indeed throughout his life—he distinguished himself for his zeal and ability in preaching and teaching the faith. Born in Montepulciano in Italy, he joined the Jesuits at a young age. He played an important role in all the great theological controversies of his day, and he used his abilities and erudition to serve the Church well in many important and high-profile positions. Among these were the chair of controversies at the Roman College, trusted consultant to…

Why You Should Go to Church

This is not your grandmother. This is a guy who lived a pretty squalid life for a while and then, through the secretive, inner workings of God, alongside a fair amount of philosophical probing, came to embrace an entirely new mode of roaming the earth, one that is far more eurythmic with how life, I believe, is objectively meant to be lived, and still sensational, still fun. No, I didn’t discover nirvana (though I did try, once). Rather, at the age of twenty-eight, I became Catholic. With a background in philosophy, influenced heavily by those garrulous old atheists, I spent a substantial proportion of life thinking existence was absurd. So, I lived however I wanted. I wasn’t a heroin addict, and I didn’t rob banks. But I was pretty selfish and gross. I didn’t like to share. I didn’t like to give. I was a hedonist. (Once, I made liberal…

A Sickness Unto Death

Saint John Chrysostom tells us that “it is not so much sin as despair that casts us into hell.” How can this be? Despair is not the most serious of sins, but in the Christian life, it can be the most dangerous, for to despair is to anticipate damnation. Saint Thomas Aquinas considers despair a major factor in the “sin against the Holy Spirit” that Jesus speaks of in the Scriptures (ST II-II q. 14, a. 2): And whoever says a word against the Son of man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. (Matt. 12:32) What is despair but a final resistance to the gift of grace? It is the radical decision of a soul that no longer wishes to share the life of God, but desires to spend its life, and…

Amazon’s “Ave Maria” Ad Brings Us to a Martha and Mary Moment

So, recently Amazon.com released a new commercial advertising its fast, free delivery services. The commercial shows snapshots of an intact traditional family: A startled mother. Young kids starting up a noisy “band.” In the last image, the father is wearing noise-cancelling headphones he presumably ordered from Amazon on the first downbeat. He is undisturbed, relaxed, and smiling. Why is he smiling? Well, given that the background music for the commercial is Schubert’s Ave Maria, and the father is using headphones and enjoying himself, it’s not unreasonable to consider that while the rest of the house is in uproar, he is content because he has placed himself in the presence of beauty. Given that “beauty will save the world,” this really should not be an issue. But it became one, because we live in an age where people are easily offended and even seem to love their outrage. Thus, upon seeing…

Suffering in Theory, Suffering in Practice

I don’t know the first thing about suffering. Oh, I’ve read about it. I’ve cared for patients enduring it. I’ve written about it. But I don’t truly know suffering. Recently, a family medical illness has leveled me. It was midafternoon when I received an urgent call from a physician. My lovely and aging mother, who has had no shortage of medical, social, and emotional trials in her life, required emergency surgery. Within an hour, my sisters and I were racing to a hospital two hours away to be by her side. While hopeful respecting the surgery’s outcome, I was forced to consider what suffering (my mother’s and ours) really means, not in theory but in practice. There is so much written about suffering. Library shelves groan under the collective theological explanations, philosophical theories, and social studies trying to answer why and how we suffer. Innumerable wise men and woman have…

Camille Paglia and Cultural Appraisal

No one is more entertaining and insightful than rock’n’roll intellectual and 1960s mystic Camille Paglia. I discovered her a few years ago, and I was hooked. While not completely agreeing with her views, I admire her zeal and expansive knowledge of culture, not to mention her excellent taste in music! Her writings helped me better appreciate the Dionysian groove surging in the music I truly love. Like her, I grew tapping along to the African-American vibes expressed in rock’n’roll and funk. Additionally, I like her style; Mark Bauerlein calls her a “Force of Nature,” and he’s right. She drops truth bombs with Nietzchean panache, and I confess to watching every video of her I can find on YouTube, especially videos from the 1990s. It’s not just her personality that is delightful, but her commentaries on American popular culture. They are fascinating. She appreciates pop in ways most academes…

Reclaiming the Second Vatican Council

There are few topics in the Church today as provocative as the Second Vatican Council. Fifty years after its conclusion, many continue to discuss Vatican II’s intention and meaning. This is not entirely unprecedented. It is typical to have a period of inquiry and debate in the century following a Council. As one bishop told me, “It takes several decades to even scratch the surface of a Council, let alone adequately understand and apply its teachings.” That being said, there is little doubt from whatever your perspective that the implementation of Vatican II was less than ideal. I immediately recognized this when I first read the Council documents as a seminarian. There seemed such a wide discrepancy between what was taught by the Council Fathers and what was promoted at the grassroots level. What I read in the documents was beautiful, theological, and orthodox. What I witnessed done in “the…

How the News and Politics is Destroying Your Soul (And What You Can Do About It)

We live in a strange age. It’s an age marked by contention, strife, and factionalism. This is true in the Church and in the realm of politics (both in the U.S. and in many other countries). To take just one example, here’s some objective evidence on the terrifying and widening political chasm in America: The shares of Republicans and Democrats who express very unfavorable opinions of the opposing party have increased dramatically since the 1990s, but have changed little in recent years. Currently, 44% of Democrats and Democratic leaners have a very unfavorable opinion of the GOP, based on yearly averages of Pew Research Center surveys; 45% of Republicans and Republican leaners view the Democratic Party very unfavorably. In 1994, fewer than 20% in both parties viewed the opposing party very unfavorably. This particular point is salient because it’s not just that we disagree. It’s that…