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”
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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?
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.
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?
The laws of physics teach us that all objects fall to the ground according to gravity.
Gravity, of course, but behind the working of nature we can perceive the “hand” of God, which I mean metaphorically.
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.
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.”
This past week, I took part in the continual feast that was the Wyoming School of Catholic Thought. All us profs were asked to bring a side, so my contribution was a lecture on “The Life of Moses.”
In just under an hour, I recounted the story of Moses in a way that not only pulls his “biography” together but also provides a key to the story of the Exodus. You can download the lecture here, or listen using this audio player (you can’t see the audio player while viewing this post in your e-mail):