The latest newsletter from the monks of Norcia, Italy, includes a list of everything the monks read aloud during their meals this past year. It is an interesting list in itself, but for this reader there is a pleasant surprise in the left-hand column:
Conversations with a Protestant
Some time back, an evangelical pastor asked me if I would sit down with him to talk about the things that unite and divide Catholics and Protestants. He filmed the whole thing, and the first segment is now up on his Youtube channel, the 10-Minute Bible Hour.
The conversation came out fine. I didn’t prepare for at all: there was no script, and I was in the car on my way to the filming location five minutes away before I started trying to remember the usual topics and whether I have a response to them. So, I could have expressed some points more clearly, and often my interlocutor raised so many questions at once that I had to ignore this or that disagreement to address just one of them. And I don’t exactly have a Hollywood face. But all in all I think the video shows a Catholic mind at work, for people who may not have seen it before.
What a metaphor really means
A high school textbook taught me the standard line: similes are comparisons, and metaphors are similes without the word “like” or “as”. So when I say, “Achilles was a lion,” I mean that Achilles was like a lion. I just don’t say “like”.
The absurdity bothered me to no end. How could anyone with ears think that “Achilles was a lion” sounds like “Achilles was like a lion”? Is the one sentence that much stronger just because it is one word shorter? On the other hand, how could I hope that anyone else heard the same difference that screamed at me? When you’re in high school, there are certain feelings you just don’t share, like your ambition for glory, or your romantic daydreams, or your ceaseless frustration over the textbook definition of “metaphor”.Continue reading “What a metaphor really means”
Friendship with God
Everyone knows that love is central to Christianity, but homilies and devotionals on love are typically cliche and hard to distinguish from secular exhortations to humanitarian justice. This summer I was given the challenge to talking about charity in an original way, a way that would somehow make the distinctions Catholics almost never make between themselves and the world at large.
So, of course, I just rehearsed St. Thomas Aquinas’s 700-year-old account. What is charity? In a nutshell, charity is friendship with God. You can find my lecture here.
A novel conclusion from the CDF
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith recently published a response to a question about the liceity of hysterectomy in a very specific case. In popular publications, some responses to the new document have been decidedly negative, while over at the Church Life Journal, thomistic theologian Taylor Patrick O’Neill offered his view that there is, in a way, no news, since “the principles governing this particular ruling are those which have governed previous rulings….” In a scholarly venue, the Linacre Quarterly, Joshua Schulz and William Hamant have argued at length that the CDF’s decision is based on new principles and reaches a false conclusion.
But on the whole, the new decision did not generate a lot of buzz, either in the broader public or (to my knowledge) among scholars. I tend to agree with Schulz and Hamant. I think the new CDF statement should be getting a lot more attention from moral theologians. Let me explain. Continue reading “A novel conclusion from the CDF”
The Message in the Calendar
Imagine that you opened the first door of your Advent calendar and found this secret message, put in the calendar long ago especially for you. It would seem strange, would it not? A message in a calendar? But the Advent calendar tells a story that begins long, long ago—and it begins with a message in a calendar.
God does not use a calendar, because God does not use time. He is eternal, which means that he does not live in seconds and minutes and hours and days and months and years. But he wanted to give his life to men, who do live in time, so when he prepared a world for men the first thing he made was a calendar. Continue reading “The Message in the Calendar”
Getting Wisdom (and other podcasts)
Wyoming Catholic College’s “After Dinner Scholar” podcast has published an interview with me titled: “Getting Wisdom in 2019 with Dr. Jeremy Holmes”. If you are interested in the “wisdom books” of Scripture, have a listen for my two cents’ on the topic.
Looking through the archives, I find that the “After Dinner Scholar” has posted interviews with me quite a few times. I haven’t always noted them as they came out, so here’s a list (in order from most recent to oldest):
“Old Testament Judges and Kings and the Question of Centralization”. Wherein I relate the books of Judges and Kings to contemporary political and religious problems.
“The Splendor of Truth 25 Years Later”. A quick introduction to the fundamental questions and teachings in JPII’s Veritatis Splendor. To date, this is the most-downloaded of all “After Dinner Scholar” podcasts.
“Humanae Vitae: Contributing to the Creation of a Truly Human Civilization”. This is an interview with me and with Dr. Kent Lasnoski, reviewing the central teachings of Humanae Vitae and talking about the usual objections.
“Hunting, Humanity, and the Liberal Arts”. For something truly different, a reflection on the relationship between hunting and classical education.
“Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae, and the March for Life”. Wherein we discuss the relationship between contraception and abortion.
“The Word Became Flesh: St. Athanasius’ ‘On the Incarnation'”. An introduction to this classic little work on the central mystery of faith.
“The Philosophical Side of Theology: St. Thomas’s Compendium”. I talk about the relationship between philosophy and theology, and I introduce St. Thomas’s often under-appreciated little overview of theology, the Compendium Theologiae. One person contacted me after this podcast to say he wanted to read the Compendium with his son and wondered if there were anything like a companion or commentary. I’m working on it!
“Moses and Israel: From Exile to Freedom”. A full-length lecture on the life of Moses, one of my favorite talks I have ever given. The “After Dinner Scholar” also published an interview with me on the topic of the lecture.
“The Pope, Authority, and ‘Religious Assent'”. A brief discussion of how we should handle cases where the Magisterium teaches something but does not teach it infallibly. Still a hot topic today. I have a very rough manuscript of a book on this subject, and maybe someday I’ll at least turn it into a series of audio posts.
Humble seeds of a better liturgy
Aleitia.org recently published an excellent article on how lectors are often given bad advice. When lectors receive any training at all, which is rare enough, their preparation is borrowed from the many books on public speaking: Make eye contact, make a personal connection with the audience, etc. But the reality is that lectoring is not in the category of public speaking at all. It is public reading.
The point is well taken, and raises a question: How did we reach a point where people not only lector badly, but can’t even identify what category of action “lectoring” would go in?
Here’s my suggestion: We reached this point because “public reading” is no longer a thing. People do not read out loud to each other anymore. To read at Mass is not mere public reading, of course. It is a sacral action. So one might say that we have not only lost the “species,” i.e., sacred public reading, but we have even lost the “genus,” i.e., public reading itself.
Much of what needs to happen to fix lectoring needs to come from those in authority. But for a lasting difference, the deepest solutions to our problems rarely come from the top down. While we wait for priests or bishops to establish and enforce good practices, we need to take humbler steps at home: we need to read out loud to each other. To our kids, to our spouses, to our friends. Reading out loud in the home needs to become a thing again, a normal pastime.
For both inspiration and realistic, nitty gritty advice, I highly recommend the Read-Aloud Revival blog by Sarah McKenzie. Her book is superb as well. It can take as little as a few minutes once per week to sow the humble seeds of a future liturgical blessing.
The Poetry of Isaiah
The prophet Isaiah dominates the season of Advent. Old Testament readings at Mass are taken from Isaiah, the Office of Readings draws almost entirely from Isaiah, and many of our hymns and carols are based on one or another passage from Isaiah. One reason is of course the clarity of Isaiah’s prophecies, but another is the beauty and power of his poetry.
Prophecy and poetry were not cleanly distinguished ideas in antiquity. All the biblical prophets are poets, pagan oracles spoke in short poems, and Plato referred to poets as “inspired” or possessed by a “divine madness”. Today we often meet poetry that makes no claim to inspiration—perhaps a mere advertising ditty—and our prophets tend to write blog posts or newspaper columns rather than verse. As a result, we turn to a biblical prophet looking for the “content” or the “message” behind the poetic medium rather than through it. We treat as separable something Isaiah would not have seen so.
So as we begin Advent, I would like to offer a few thoughts about poetry I have seen in Isaiah. Continue reading “The Poetry of Isaiah”
All Saints: A Public Feast
On the Solemnity of All Saints, we stop to remember that salvation is not something that belongs primarily to me or to you. Salvation belongs to the Heavenly Jerusalem, to the City of God, and we are saved by joining that august community. Even though my friendship with Jesus is closer than any other, still my union with him is union in his body. Consequently, the Solemnity of All Saints resists being a merely private affair.
This is one reason why I love our yearly public procession. Students, faculty, and staff of Wyoming Catholic College gather downtown and parade through Main Street and up to the parish church with the Eucharist in the lead. We sing songs and walk, old and young, big and little. Continue reading “All Saints: A Public Feast”