A sensational account of heaven

In politics and other news, the world seems beleaguered and bleary.  It’s a great time to talk about heaven!

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The truth about elephants

We’ve all heard the story about the blind men who investigate an elephant.  But the story doesn’t mean what people think it does….

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The color of reading

Emotion colors perception wonderfully.  The same aspen tree, with the same white bark and the same golden leaves fluttering in the same wind, is one tree to the moonstruck lover, another tree to the poet in search of joy, and still a third to the dismal soul doubting whether life has meaning.  The same sensory input offers either a happy companion, or a wistful finger pointing to another realm, or a bleached-out bit of wood. Continue reading “The color of reading”

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How the Mass is a Sacrifice

This semester, students at WCC set their theology teachers a theme:  the liturgy.  Teachers chose topics within the theme, and students arranged the topics into a semester-long series.  Just like that, the students gained for themselves a full “practicum” on the liturgy, while each teacher has only to give two or three talks.  It’s a great arrangement!

Recently, I was tapped for a talk on “the theology of the Mass” or “how the Mass is a sacrifice.”  You can download it here, or listen online:

Students loved the talk, but they seemed especially excited about the explanation of transubstantiation in the Q&A.

By the way, I’m wondering whether I should post more of these recordings or even start a podcast.  Your feedback would be helpful.

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Sacred Heart Enthronement Hymn

When I first met the woman who would become my wife, her family had been saying a prayer to the Sacred Heart of Jesus every night for as long as she could remember.  It was a variant on the Renewal of the Enthronement of the Sacred Heart.  Now Jacinta and I have said that same prayer every night with our kids for years and years.

A few weeks ago, we began Project Bard:  we determined to build a treasury of songs by singing more or less every night–rounds, hymns, camp-fire songs, whatever.  To approach the ocean by little streams, we began with some of the goofier selections from Cedarmont Kids’ 100 Singalong Songs for Kids.

We always end our singing session with night prayers, so one day it hit me:  why not sing night prayers?  It wasn’t hard to adapt our Sacred Heart prayer to a traditional hymn tune from the Roman Breviary, drawing on Fr. Samuel Weber’s Hymnal for the Hours.  The result was just a little thing for my family, not really memorable poetry, but given Austin Kleon’s principle about sharing your work, and given that today is the memorial of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, I think I’ll toss it up here: Continue reading “Sacred Heart Enthronement Hymn”

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The Strange Ending of Mark’s Gospel

[This is the third in a three-part series on Mark’s Gospel.  The other parts are 1. Hearing Mark’s Gospel and 2. The Strange Beginning of Mark’s Gospel.]

While Mark’s beginning is strange to those who think about it carefully, his ending is strange to anyone who reads.  In the oldest and best manuscripts, Mark’s Gospel ends like this:

And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe; and they were amazed. And he said to them, “Do not be amazed; you seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen, he is not here; see the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you.” And they went out and fled from the tomb; for trembling and astonishment had come upon them; and they said nothing to any one, for they were afraid.

That’s it.  No meeting the resurrected Jesus, no moment of glory, not even a moment when the petrified women actually tell someone what happened.  “They were afraid”—and the curtains drop.

The longer ending printed in our Bibles was written very, very early on, so early that it is canonical and considered an inspired text in its own right.  But the very fact that the longer ending is so ancient demonstrates that even the earliest Church found Mark’s ending strange.  No resurrection scene?  We gotta fix that.

For Mark, however, it made sense.  And I have a theory about how. Continue reading “The Strange Ending of Mark’s Gospel”

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The Strange Beginning of Mark’s Gospel

[This is the second in a three-part series on Mark’s Gospel.  The other parts are 1. Hearing Mark’s Gospel and 3. The Strange Ending of Mark’s Gospel.]

The first verse of Mark’s Gospel poses a question.  “The beginning of the gospel,” it says, “of Jesus Christ the son of God.”  Of course this is the beginning:  it’s the first verse, after all.  But Mark goes out of his way to insist that this right here, this thing he is about to say, is “the beginning of the gospel.”  This is where the story starts.

What is even more curious, Mark then begins his gospel from a point no one else would choose.  Matthew and Luke start with Jesus’ conception and infancy, and John takes us back to Jesus’ pre-existence with the Father before time began.  I have asked groups of students to outline what they would put in their ideal gospel, and every group has shown the same inclination to seek out roots:  they want a gospel that tells more about Jesus’ childhood, or more about Mary’s family, or more about Joseph, or more about the eternal life of the Trinity.  Everyone thinks the gospel story should somehow introduce us to Jesus by explaining his background.

But Mark insists that “the beginning of the gospel” is Jesus’ baptism under John the Baptist.  After introducing John the Baptist, Mark has Jesus simply show up, without explanation, and then the heavens are torn open, the Spirit descends, and the voice says, “This is my beloved son.”

Why is this scene so important, so pivotal, that this and no other is “the beginning of the gospel”?  Mark gives us seven clues: Continue reading “The Strange Beginning of Mark’s Gospel”

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Hearing Mark’s Gospel

[This is the first in a three-part series on Mark’s Gospel.  The other parts are 2. The Strange Beginning of Mark’s Gospel and 3. The Strange Ending of Mark’s Gospel.]

Over the past two weeks, I have led four groups through an intensive four-day introduction to Mark’s Gospel.  We looked at how Mark presents Jesus’ geographical movements, the development of characters, the structure of the story, and the peculiar “shorter ending” of Mark.  The high point of the class was a read-aloud of the whole text.

Most Christians did not own a copy of the Bible prior to the invention of the printing press.  Manuscript copies had in fact become more common in the centuries leading up to that point, but in the early Church owning even one book of the Bible was rare.  Mark’s original congregation would normally have experienced his Gospel by hearing it.

So, I figure, why not recreate the read-aloud experience for my students?  It only takes about an hour and fifteen minutes.  Their reactions were fascinating: Continue reading “Hearing Mark’s Gospel”

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Whether teachers in a liberal arts college are employees

[This is the third in a three-part series on liberal education: (1) Whether the purpose of a liberal arts college is to teach; (2) whether teachers at a liberal arts college teach for the sake of their students; (3) whether teachers at a liberal arts college are employees.  For background on the subject, see my post on Pieper’s book.  For a glimpse into the kind of enjoyment I hope this post offers, see my comments on the scholastic question format.]

Article 3: Whether Teachers at a Liberal Arts College Are Employees

Objection 1. It seems that teachers at a liberal arts college are employees, because an employee is someone who does something for pay.  But teachers are paid for teaching.  Therefore, teachers are employees. Continue reading “Whether teachers in a liberal arts college are employees”

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Whether Teachers Teach for the Sake of Their Students

[This is the second in a three-part series on liberal education: (1) Whether the purpose of a liberal arts college is to teach; (2) whether teachers at a liberal arts college teach for the sake of their students; (3) whether teachers at a liberal arts college are employees.  For background on the subject, see my post on Pieper’s book.  For a glimpse into the kind of enjoyment I hope this post offers, see my comments on the scholastic question format.]

Article 2: Whether the Faculty Teaches for the Sake of the Students

Objection 1.  It seems that teachers teach for the sake of the students.  If teachers did not teach for the sake of students, then their teaching would be for themselves.  But teaching is an activity directed toward others, not toward oneself.  Therefore, teachers teach for the sake of the students. Continue reading “Whether Teachers Teach for the Sake of Their Students”

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