Browsing News Entries

Browsing News Entries

In Pursuit of Happiness: An Aristotelian Appreciation of Jane Austen

Give us grace to endeavor after a truly Christian spirit to seek to attain that temper of forbearance and patience of which our blessed savior has set us the highest example; and which, while it prepares us for the spiritual happiness of the life to come, will secure to us the best enjoyment of what this world can give. —from Jane Austen’s Prayers Describing them as “the last great representative of the classical tradition of virtues,” Alasdair MacIntyre identifies in the works of Jane Austen a marriage of Christian and classical themes. Many elements of a systematic virtue ethic shine through the entire body of Austen’s work, as the search for happiness undergirds the actions of each character that appears in the novels. Whether it entails discussing Shakespeare’s sonnets with a charming young man or accepting the proposals of a very silly…

Jesus’ Great Challenge: “Show Me Who You Are!”

Both of my sons are wordsmiths, and the elder one has a particular facility for delivering groan-inducing puns with such lightning speed that even as you roll your eyes, you can’t help but be a little impressed—or terrified—by how dexterously his brain can associate many things with many other things. A few years ago, during a chat about Traditional Chinese Medicine, I explained that practitioners will advise their patients to nourish and build up the yin energies through autumn and winter and the yang energies in the springtime and summer. I had barely finished my sentence when he said, “Well, obviously! What’s yanger than springtime?” A gift for wordplay is the sign of an active, engaged mind, and I always appreciate seeing evidence of Jesus’ vigorous intellect in the bits of affectionate, word-based, and rather Semitic humor on display in Scripture; I marvel at Jesus’ deft tongue. In Matthew 14,…

LaBeouf and Gottsagan: “The Peanut Butter Falcon” and a God Who Speaks

My favorite moment of an otherwise underwhelming Academy Awards ceremony on Sunday night was when Shia LaBeouf came on stage with Zack Gottsagen, a thirty-four-year-old actor with Down Syndrome. Together they presented the award for best live-action short film, making Gottsagen the first person with Down Syndrome ever to give an award at the Oscars. LaBeouf and Gottsagen starred together in the touching 2019 film The Peanut Butter Falcon. They are genuine friends and have marvelous chemistry on screen. It was a shock, therefore, when LaBeouf was accused on Twitter of making fun of Gottsagen on stage when, to my eyes, LaBeouf and Gottsagen both appeared nervous, and LaBeouf seemed to have been helping Gottsagen relax and say his lines. In any case, it was a joy to see a person with Down syndrome in such a popular forum. In a room full of influencers who promote myriad…

“Decision Becomes Identity”: Finding Our Mission within Lent

Friends, during Lent, we apprentice to Jesus in his forty-day sojourn in the desert. We stubbornly stay with him, doing what he did there, facing what he faced there. The desert is the place of clarification. When we have been stripped of the relatively trivial desires that preoccupy us, we can see, with a somewhat disturbing clarity, who we essentially are and what most pressingly matters. Blaise Pascal said that most of us spend our lives seeking divertissements (distractions), for we cannot bear the weight of the great questions. We play, gossip, eat and drink, seek the most banal entertainment—so that we don’t have to face the truth about ourselves, the reality of death, and the demands of God. The Spirit drives holy people into the desert because it is the place where the divertissements disappear: “He fasted for forty days and forty nights.” At the end of the Lord’s…

Hidden Figures: The Conundrum of Black Catholicism

Prior to Sunday, January 26, 2020, the most famous Catholic on Earth was a Black Catholic. Excluding the Holy Father, there is little doubt concerning the accuracy of this claim concerning one Kobe Bean Bryant. Yet the thought has probably never crossed your mind. Why? This is the great conundrum of Black Catholics: they are at once one of the least familiar and yet most long-standing Christian groups in the United States. They are everywhere and apparently nowhere all at the same time. They are a demographic of uncommon faithfulness, forgotten legacies, and hidden figures. During and after my relatively short journey into the Catholic Church last year, I have experienced within Black Catholicism this peculiar sort of contradiction at almost every level. This journey began primarily as a theological question (“What is Catholicism?”), but I eventually realized that bound up in that question is the issue of history…

Confession: Your Secret Is Safe with Me

Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none. —William Shakespeare My father used to say, “With almost no exceptions, assume that anything you say to anyone will be known to all at some point.” In other words, realize that people who truly hold confidences are few, and so entrust your sacred secrets to only those rare people who have proven themselves worthy.  Or as Schopenhauer once put it, “If I maintain my silence about my secret it is my prisoner. If I let it slip from my tongue, I am its prisoner.” I have found this to be an iron law. Yet I myself have failed innumerable times over the years in keeping to this law. A confessor once said to me, “If you demand others to respect confidentiality, you have to hold yourself first to the highest standard.” He added, “When someone…

Love and Friendship in “Pride and Prejudice”

For all whom we love and value, for every friend and connection, we equally pray; however divided and far asunder, we know that we are alike before Thee and under Thine eye. May we be equally united in Thy faith and fear, in fervent devotion towards Thee, and in Thy merciful protection this night. —from Jane Austen’s Prayers “Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance. If the dispositions of the parties are ever so well known to each other or ever so similar beforehand, it does not advance their felicity in the least. They always continue to grow sufficiently unlike afterwards to have their share of vexation; and it is better to know as little as possible of the defects of the person with whom you are to pass your life.” Such are the thoughts of Charlotte Lucas concerning the…

God Consents to Being More Vulnerable Than We Ever Do

While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. —Luke 15:20 On preaching this particular Gospel reading, a favorite homilist suggested that it is easy for us to identify with either of the sons, the prodigal or the ignored-feeling obedientiary who has long toiled in his father’s field. “But the story is not really about either of them. It’s about the father.” Sensing this priest was about to serve up something instructive and meaty, I took notes, which were recently rediscovered during a desk overhaul. Here is what I had jotted down: “The father who created you in his image, and loved you enough to give you free will; the father who steps out daily and casts his eyes upon the horizon, looking for…

When Flannery O’Connor Schooled the English Professors

Last fall, I received a letter from a student who said she would be “graciously appreciative” if I would tell her “just what enlightenment” I expected her to get from each of my stories. I suspect she had a paper to write. I wrote her back to forget about the enlightenment and just try to enjoy them. —Flannery O’Connor You tell a story because a statement would be inadequate. —Flannery O’Connor Some of my favorite anecdotes featuring Flannery O’Connor involve her encounters with English teachers. A brilliant young southern novelist with acerbic wit and penetrating insight, Flannery suffered no fools . . . and especially fools who fashioned themselves the wise men of academia. This slight woman racked with the consuming pain of lupus had no qualms about rebuffing the…

Good Medicine: A Review of “Jagged Little Pill,” the Musical

On June 13 Alanis Morisette’s Jagged Little Pill will turn twenty-five years old, and although Morisette will tour this summer to celebrate her groundbreaking, generation-defining debut record, there’s another perspective of the album currently playing on Broadway. Jagged Little Pill, the musical, opened in December at the Broadhurst Theatre, and I saw it with a priest friend while I was home for Christmas break, mostly for the sake of nostalgia. I was nineteen when Jagged Little Pill was released, having just finished my first semester of college seminary, and even saw Morisette play her first show in Cleveland back in August of 1995, so I assumed the new musical would be a good trip down memory lane. It was, but in a way significantly better than anything I could have anticipated. Although the show includes all the music from Jagged Little Pill (plus other songs by Morisette, including two…