Non-infallible teachings of the Magisterium

This is just a quick note to let my subscribers know I published this article over at the Catholic World Report:

Sometimes “religious obsequium” is translated “religious assent,” at other times “religious submission,” and at other times “religious respect”. What exactly are we being asked to do?

(Nils @nilshuber/Unsplash.com)
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Experiencing Sacred Time

The Solemnity of All Saints stands out for me as—well, solemn.  By celebrating the communion of saints as such, the day seems to offer thanksgiving for the fact that we celebrate the saints, for the very existence of the sanctoral cycle.  So every November 1st, I find myself reflecting on the fact of sacred days and times.

Charles Taylor argues that a loss of the sense of sacred time was key in the transition to modernity.  Medieval man experienced times as defined by content and as ordered not only by chronology alone, so that “Good Friday 1998 is closer in a way to the original day of the Crucifixion than mid-summer’s day 1997.”  But modern man experiences time as homogeneous and empty, ordered simply by one time’s replacing another in sequence.  Modern man can believe in eternity, says Taylor, but he can’t experience eternity’s penetration into time in a naïve, unreflective way.

Taylor is surely right that this was one strand in the transition to secularity.  But how absolute a doom is modernity?  Can a man today experience sacred time in an immediate way, or will it always be mediated to him through some kind of abstract consideration?  Or will it—even worse—always be constituted by a wistful recollection of a bygone era when Christians really experienced the seasons, like those nostalgic Christmas cards depicting horses and sleighs and Victorian houses?

In this post, I want to describe my own experience of sacred time.  I don’t know whether it would count for Taylor as “immediate” or “naïve,” but there is something immediate and unreflective about it to me.  The experience is complex, because time is complex. Continue reading “Experiencing Sacred Time”

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Three notes on the death penalty

Over the past year, I have made slow progress toward deepening my grasp of moral philosophy.  As a philosopher, I am still not ready to join all the discussions that swirl around the Internet.

But when people began to wrangle about Pope Francis’s comments on the death penalty, I noticed a few points that I could contribute as a theologian.  Here are some key lines from the Holy Father’s remarks:

It must be clearly stated that the death penalty is an inhumane measure that, regardless of how it is carried out, abases human dignity.  It is per se contrary to the Gospel, because it entails the willful suppression of a human life that never ceases to be sacred in the eyes of its Creator and of which—ultimately—only God is the true judge and guarantor.

This is a strong argument, to be sure.  I hope to do some justice to the strength of the argument below.  But as a Catholic biblical scholar, I see three points that might deserve consideration: Continue reading “Three notes on the death penalty”

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To love the Lord with all your mind

As a college teacher, I often have to reflect on what a college education really aims at.  What should we be doing?

Jesus was asked a similar question once: “What is the greatest of the commandments?” The question was very broad, of course:  it meant something like, “What should we be doing with the whole of our lives?”  But the answer he gave, because it applies to every part of life, applies to a college as well.  He cited Deuteronomy 6:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord and you shall love the Lord you God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.

One could spend a life unpacking that one sentence. But what I want to focus on now is the fact that Jesus didn’t quote it the way it is found in Deuteronomy—the way I just wrote it out. What he said was this: Continue reading “To love the Lord with all your mind”

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Standing in the Solar System

My home was in the path of the total eclipse of 2017.  The hype before the event made us all doubt it could possibly live up to the anticipation—and yet it did.  And how.  Follow this link to read my essay over at The Peregrine Magazine, “Standing in the Solar System”.

Image credit: The Peregrine Magazine
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Following the Mass with the Imagination

At the Foot of the Mountain

At Home

Either the evening or the morning before Mass, I thoughtfully review the Mass readings.  I do not try to spend a lot of time on them, but I want to be familiar with the main points beforehand.

When the time for Mass approaches, I travel through space to the Church building.  All the while I reflect that the Mass itself will be a journey, but not through space:  it will be a spiritual ascent, a journey in thought, love, and grace.  It will be a journey more real than the physical journey to the Church, just as spirit is more real than body.

This is the law of the temple:  the whole territory round about upon the top of the mountain shall be most holy. – Ezek 43:12 Continue reading “Following the Mass with the Imagination”

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The Our Father and the Beatitudes

St. Augustine was confident that the Beatitudes are the key to the Sermon on the Mount.  They lay out the goal toward which the entire Christian life—and so, implicitly, the entire Sermon—is ordered, and they describe the person who attains the goal.  When Augustine commented on the Our Father, the model for all Christian prayer, he was similarly confident that the Beatitudes must somehow be the key.  Our prayer should be directed to the goal of our life, right?

“The Conversion of St. Augustine,” by Fra Angelico

In a moment of inspiration, he decided to line up the petitions of the Our Father with the Beatitudes, in order: Continue reading “The Our Father and the Beatitudes”

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The structure of the Our Father

This past week I had the pleasure of teaching high schoolers in Wyoming Catholic College’s PEAK program.  As usual, I used my PEAK stint as an opportunity to learn something new, asking questions to which I had no clear answers, studying issues I had never clarified before.  And as usual, the students taught me.

Photo credit: Wyoming Catholic College
Photo credit: Wyoming Catholic College

For example, one day I wrote the “Our Father” on the whiteboard and asked the students how it is organized.  One pointed out that it falls into couplets: Continue reading “The structure of the Our Father”

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Why do apples fall?

My last post explored Dr. Baxter’s ingenious quiz, “How Much of a Modernist Are You?”  I would like to delve deeper into the questions raised by Dr. Baxter (and ultimately Charles Taylor) by attempting my own answer of Question 4:

Why does an apple fall to the ground when it detaches from the stem?

  1. The laws of physics teach us that all objects fall to the ground according to gravity.
  2. Gravity, of course, but behind the working of nature we can perceive the “hand” of God, which I mean metaphorically.
  3. The apple longs to return its native place, because the whole universe is infused with desire. Ultimately, the world longs to imitate, to the extent it can, Eternity.

Continue reading “Why do apples fall?”

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Are you a modernist? Take the quiz.

My colleague and friend Dr. Jason Baxter has published a delightful quiz at The Imaginative Conservative to show us how thoroughgoingly modern we all are.  He takes his cue from Dr. Charles Taylor, whose gigantic book on the modern age argues that we live in a “disenchanted” world—all us inhabitants of the North Atlantic region, inevitably, without any choice in the matter.  While our medieval forbears lived in a sacred and magical cosmos, we live in an autonomous, scientific universe. Continue reading “Are you a modernist? Take the quiz.”

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