The National Catholic Review

The Good Word

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  • The chapel at Brideshead is based on the chapel at Madresfield Court in Worcestershire, the ancestral home of the Lygon family

    It was the first sign of intelligence you showed, and no one taught it to you. It came, as it were, a gift of God: the smile that you offered when you first recognized a human face. What a basic human experience: responding to the presence of another. Everything changes when we realize that we are not alone. Whatever else we’re doing, we add to it the decision of how to react. It doesn’t matter if the person is friend, family, stranger or lover. Humans respond to the presence of each other...

  • When I first moved away from home, to attend a Catholic high school as a boarding student, my cousin, who had briefly explored religious life as a sister, gave me a vinyl-covered, small blue book of many pages. It bore the title, The Practice of Mental Prayer .

    Thomas More Prep, the school that I attended, was an interesting experiment of the Capuchin Franciscan Friars. Two years earlier, they had combined two high schools, their military academy and their minor seminary. It was the...

  • Like so many in the L.G.B.T. community I am still mourning the loss of 49 lives in the massacre at Orlando on June 12. In my own moments of anger and grief I found myself turning to music, and I was surprised by the amount of comfort I found in songs addressing the Orlando tragedy.

    One of the videos I posted on my own Facebook wall features gay musician Bobby Jo Valentine. From the beginning of trying to sing his song, "The...

  • One has to wonder if ISIS knows what it is doing. The idea behind domestic terror attacks is to sow dissension by exploiting the prejudices of the West, using fear to pry apart communities. Yet the effect is quite often the opposite.

    Consider what happened in the Hernandez home the morning after the shooting at the Nightclub Pulse. In The New York Times Julie Turkewitz...

  • Photographs, printed on paper, have a way of falling out from the books and boxes where we’ve buried them, and, suddenly, the past is again, quite literally, at hand. Digital photos seem superior to those on paper in almost every respect, yet they are so ephemeral that, once having been consigned to a hard drive, disk or cloud, they can easily disappear into the shear infinity of cyberspace. A website is only as alive as its number of hits. But sometimes the past should fall off the shelf....

  • You can’t walk out on love. You can walk away, but a love that is real will follow. It will stay with you, because it has become a part of you. Goethe puts it in the plainest possible German, in his little poem “ Heidenröslein .”

    Sah ein Knab’ ein Röslein stehn, Röslein auf der Heiden, War so jung und...
  • My father did not challenge fate. He certainly didn’t scheme about getting ahead in the world. He was an intelligent man, who had boyhood dreams of becoming a physician. The owner of the movie theater, for whom he worked, had pledged to send him to college. But promises are only promises. They don’t necessarily come to pass, especially in years of great depression and world war. As a boy—and that’s, by far, the best word for it—I thought that my father should have been more adventurous,...

  • We tend to think of seeing as an entirely passive operation. One can hear it in the phrases that we use. “What you see is what you get.” “Open your eyes and look.” “It’s as plain as day.” But neither our ancient nor our medieval forebears thought of seeing as such a passive activity. They believed that sight was an active process; that it had as much to do with the person seeing, as the object seen.

    They were mistaken about the physical operation of the eyes, which are passive...

  • Most of us, most of the time, don’t fret about the foundations of empirical science. We’re grateful that it works and rather naively believe that science can answer any question. If not today, then soon enough. That confidence conceals a mistake, made by many. Science is a method, not an acting agent. Science doesn’t work, and science doesn’t answer questions. People do, using science.

    It’s helpful, however, to note how our contemporaries insert the term “science” where once they...

  • Is it possible to dream the future? Of course we do that daily, authoring our own day dreams. But what of those moments when the conscious mind rests and the utterly creative awakes? Is it all illusion, or do we sometimes see the future?

    A fervent abolitionist, Julia Ward Howe regretted that she couldn’t take up arms to free the slaves. In so many ways, this 19 th -century poet and writer wasn’t free herself. Her husband, Samuel Gridley Howe, was a celebrated physician, who thought...