December 19-26, 2016
This Christmas season comes as the breath between two battles, the political battle that just ended with the election of a new president and the one sure to begin once he takes office. For some opponents, who see the election as a call to mobilize, there is no letup. But for many Americans, this interregnum is a respite, a time to turn away from the clash of ideas, interests and agendas we have just experienced as a nation. It overlaps a holy time...
November 28, 2016
In the years following my baptism as a teenager, I had a lot to learn in order to pass for a Roman Catholic follower of Christ—prayers, motions, habits of mind. I had to cultivate friendships with saints, acquire rosaries and read Flannery O’Connor. I had to figure out what to say when people asked why I believed in God. But it wasn’t long before I noticed that merely being Catholic would be insufficient. One has to be a particular kind of Catholic.
As much as my newfound co-...
November 21, 2016
Pilgrims to the Oratory of Saint Joseph on Mount Royal, the highest point in Montreal, must ascend 283 steep steps to reach the church. I spent most of the climb on our visit last month trying to distract my wife from just how out of breath I was, and got lucky when she stopped to read the French sign on the 99 wooden steps located between the two sets of concrete stairs: Réservé aux pèlerins qui montent à genoux : “Reserved for pilgrims climbing on their knees.”
It was a reminder...
November 14, 2016
I was addressing a diocesan women’s conference when the mother of a teenage girl asked me a difficult question. If I do not have a better answer next time—and if the church universal does not have more answers to offer soon—I wonder how we will engage girls of the 21st century.
Her daughter wanted to know how to relate to a church where a father God sends a son whose good news is proclaimed most visibly by a male hierarchy.
I am not a theologian. Bummer. But I did the best I...
October 31, 2016
Why are some Catholics so hateful on social media?
The most common reactions to this question are these: First, “I know what you’re talking about. I see that all the time on Facebook!” Second, “I’m not on social media that much. What are you talking about?” And third, “Don’t be so sensitive. Criticizing doesn’t make someone mean.”
For those who don’t frequent social media, here’s a primer. Certain Catholics consider it their bounden duty to correct, admonish and attack others...
October 24, 2016
Americans used to be big supporters of international law. It was President Woodrow Wilson who proposed the League of Nations after World War I. Politics kept the United States from joining, but after World War II the United States played a leading role in creating the United Nations as well as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and a host of other international organizations. Because of new international trade and investment agreements, intellectual property accords and treaties...
October 17, 2016
I’ve only ever met one person of my generation—just barely young enough to be millennial—who claimed a calling to be a deacon. He was an Episcopalian. He was studying for a master of divinity degree at an eminent university more accustomed to producing graduates who aspire to lofty titles like chief executive officer and bishop. But he spoke about the deacon’s special role as a bridge between the hierarchy and the people, and about the humility and holiness of the calling. He spoke about it...
October 17, 2016
One of the more dispiriting debates that never ends in our political system is about who has the right to vote. One school of thought holds that if an American citizen does not have a driver’s license (with his or her current name on it), it is only fair to require that person to work a little harder, to fill out some extra forms and pay a few fees, in order to cast a vote. Voter identification laws are tied to concerns about voter impersonation fraud, a virtually nonexistent phenomenon, but...
October 3, 2016
If you work in Catholic publishing, it’s a certainty you’ve been asked one question at cocktail parties: Whatever happened to the Catholic novel? The tone of the query usually betrays declinist sympathies—Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?—even for folks who are otherwise glad to be rid of the subculture from which Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy, Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene and J. F. Powers arose. Many who yearn for those classics might be horrified to discover that four of the authors...
September 26, 2016
Popular media in the United States continue to approve the Catholic Church’s social justice voice on poverty or the environment, but they dismiss its voice on sex, marriage and parenting. This is intensified by the contemporary framing of the latter issues in terms of “equality,” “freedom” and scientific rationality. In other words, social justice categories are applied to sex and family questions, and the church is found wanting.
Nothing motivates me to try to bridge this divide...