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On the Culture

Commentary and reflection on Catholic life.

Emmanuel: The dominant theme of Fr. Spitzer’s third volume on happiness

The third volume of Fr. Robert Spitzer’s quartet on happiness, suffering and transcendence is now available. Those who have followed the progress of this impressive initiative will recall that the first volume explored the nature of human happiness and concluded that our greatest...

Gender Ideology 3: The value of personal relationships

Another argument used to justify a multiplicity of genders, each with its own natural affectivity, is that those affected often speak of their relationships as deeply fulfilling. Such persons can be sincerely committed to each other’s good , and they...

Gender Ideology 2: Personal disorder and personal sin

When it comes to gender ideology, which roots human identity in personal desire, clear thinking is essential. But clear thinking itself depends on a proper recognition of the human condition, including self-awareness of our own passions. Perhaps the first thing we notice on careful reflection is...

Gender ideology and our fatal empire of desire

I’ve recently exchanged emails with an ostensibly Catholic man who is convinced the Church does not have a vocabulary sufficient to articulate the full positive range of human gender identity and sexual relationships. He grounds this conviction in two ways: First, by stressing that we can...

Self-sorting and living in a silo? Well, the stakes have been raised.

I happened to tune into a radio program today in which some political and cultural commentators were lamenting that our world has become “self-sorting” or “silo-ized”. It is seldom the case now, they noted, that people of dissimilar values interact with each other in...

Anti-Catholic Catholic journalism: Today's false prophets

The spiritual stupidity of those who profess to be learned can often be explained by a personal antipathy to Christ, God or the Catholic Church. For example, not long ago a music professor explained to his class that the Catholic Church used to burn inventive...

In what sense is health a universal right?

In an audience with members of Doctors with Africa, Pope Francis asserted that “health is not a consumer good, but rather a universal right, and therefore access to health care services cannot be a privilege.” Doctors with Africa is a non-governmental organization which shares the...

How can we explain the West’s dramatic fall from grace?

There can hardly be a serious Christian today who does not recognize a considerable fall from grace in the Western world as a whole. Even sincere Protestants, who would not (as I would) identify their own version of Christianity as a contributing cause to the decline of Christian culture in the...

Personal testimonies: Effective ways to deepen faith

I suppose everyone is interested in personal religious testimonies, whether conversion stories or anecdotes which provide glimpses of the presence of God. Such accounts have a personal element which is not typically present in apologetical arguments or academic theology. For most people they are...

The Don and Hil Show: Overcoming our addiction to politics

When I recommended that we should avoid wasting our energies on the 2016 US presidential campaign, I didn’t say much about the common good. I didn’t mention it in my initial salvo, Politics is dead: This year, avoid the quadrennial silliness. And I mentioned it only once in...

The deeper meaning of Amoris Laetitia, and the challenge it presents

Suppose you lived in a place and time when the faithful had great confidence in the orthodoxy, charity, zeal and even counter-cultural courage of their bishops and priests. Now suppose the Pope issued a statement exhorting the faithful to closely examine the difficulties facing those in broken...

Divorce and remarriage: Why has Pope Francis chosen to leave one door open?

I haven’t finished reading Pope Francis’ synodal apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia. It is a sweeping document, and I want to take my time with it. But I can suggest one very understandable reason for Pope Francis’ decision to emphasize a case-by-case approach to integrating...

Jeremiah’s message: A tough sell

I am going through Jeremiah again, and I find it easy to see why the Jews of his day didn’t listen. You will doubtless recall that in the seventh and sixth centuries before Christ, Israel boasted whole companies of prophets. It was apparently nice work if you could get it, and the vast...

The scandal of the particular: The Christian essence of human culture.

Pierre Manent is regarded by many as the foremost socio-political theorist of our time. He retired from his directorship of L’École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris in 2014. Since then he has been finishing up a book entitled Beyond Radical Secularism: How...

A Catholic sci-fi classic: Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun

Published in four volumes between 1980 and 1982, Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun is considered by many to be the greatest science fiction novel ever written, and by some to be one of the great works of twentieth-century literature. It is also well known to be a significantly Catholic work....

On the proper transformation of Islam, in light of India

The effort to interpret Islam in a manner consistent with our natural understanding of human dignity has been underway for some time. It is a feature of American policy, of course, which is hardly rooted in a respect for truth. But a challenge to Muslims to find ways to blend reason into Islam was...

This Holy Week, let us end the complacency of our do-it-yourself Christianity. (Yes, ours.)

The great thing about Revelation is that it takes the guesswork out of religion. The great thing about a Revelation which includes the establishment of an infallible authority is that it takes the guesswork out of Revelation. And the great thing about eliminating the guesswork, is that it reduces...

Holy Week viewing: Pasolini's Gospel According to St. Matthew

How is it that a man who was an atheist, a Marxist, and homosexual came to make what is considered by both secular critics and the Vatican to be one of the greatest Jesus movies ever made? It was the fruit of Pope St. John XXIII’s invitation to dialogue with non-Catholic artists. Inspired...

On praising Obama and other relativists: Is a discreet silence really so bad?

One tires of L’Osservatore Romano, whose editors too often seem overeager to ingratiate themselves with our world’s cultural elites. Over the past few years, we have seen the paper find reasons to praise the legacy of various musicians, writers and entertainers who have no significant...

George William Rutler, always attentive to words—and to the Word—made flesh

With intense enjoyment, I’ve just finished reading Ignatius Press’ new collection of essays by George William Rutler, convert, priest and man of letters. The name will be familiar to most readers through his fame as a preacher and his many recorded talks. As a writer, Fr....

Beware the great foot-washing scandal!

I confess that I find the brouhaha over whether women can have their feet washed on Holy Thursday to reflect rather badly on Catholics who let this get under their skin—either way. Now that this is an approved option, I’d like to explain why there is no reason to be upset about it on...

Will the Justice Department now protect religion? Let’s see.

It used to be that government itself could be routinely guilty of hate crimes. But for that to be the case, there has to be a standard of morality higher than human law. Since our government no longer recognizes anything higher than its own laws, the US Department of Justice’s new initiative...

Reclaiming Catholic Universities: The Challenge of Phase 1

Clearly we are in the first phase of reclaiming prominent nominally Catholic universities for Christ. In this first phase, bishops—including the local bishop—feel free to speak out against the more obvious decisions of the university administration that undermine the Faith. This...

The Mexican response to perceived papal criticism: A shot in the foot?

An editorial on the website of the Archdiocese of Mexico City blames bad advisors for the Pope’s insistence that the Mexican bishops should not be like “princes”. I suspect this reaction was prompted by skewed interpretations in the media of the Pope’s remarks, because...

Pope Francis tells exploitative employers to keep their donations: Questions?

Continuing his catechesis on mercy at his Wednesday audiences, today Pope Francis emphasized that true conversion is “not the ritual of sacrifice but rather of justice.” And, indeed, this message appears again and again throughout both the Old and New covenants. The Pope went on to...

To what is relativism relative? On the inescapable tyranny of desire

The question raised by Phil Lawler resonates. On Monday, in “The irony behind the Oscar for Spotlight”, Phil drew attention to the credibility gap between AMPAS giving child-abuser Roman Polanski an Oscar with a standing ovation in 2002 while giving Spotlight the Oscar for Best Picture...

Contrary to popular belief: Relativism cannot enlighten; it can only darken the mind.

We live in a culture in which people brag about their enlightenment. The logic for this self-delight is surprisingly thin. There is the fallacy of progress, of course, which leads us to assume that the latest developments in human thought and attitudes are invariably the best. And of course there...

Effective evangelization: Initiation into the Church

We are beginning to grasp the proper relationship between the quest for religious unity and evangelization. The quest for religious unity and ecumenism are the logical way to break down barriers, to stimulate mutual understanding, and to forge friendships. They are therefore a kind of prolegomena...

In this corner, Pope Francis; in that corner…Donald Trump?

As I mentioned in last week’s more serious piece on the question of contraception (Responding to the papal interview as if truth matters), “We may wish at some point to discuss the Pope’s incautious moral characterization of Donald Trump.” Loath as I am to defend Trump, who...

The meaning of Islam, and the deeper problem we must face

When a leading Lebanese Muslim argued that extremists misinterpret Islam, he raised a much larger question than he realized. The points he made are exceedingly important. But they must be considered on two levels. Muhammad al-Sammak is the Secretary-General of the Christian-Muslim Committee for...

How is this possible? Mercy and Justice are the same in God.

In the sixth of his Wednesday catecheses on mercy, Pope Francis explained that “God’s justice is mercy.” This is not a new idea, but it is worth our reflection. And since it is part of the mystery of God, there are definitely multiple ways of looking at it. The particular...

Is God humble?

A few weeks ago, I jotted down a question I thought might be worth writing about: How can God be considered humble? I remember that the question occurred to me while I was reading Scripture, but if I had a blazing insight I wanted to share, I have completely lost it now. Still, the question...

The quest for religious unity: The natural must not eclipse the supernatural.

As a first step to considering more deeply the relationship between the quest for religious unity and evangelization, we need to distinguish their ends. We will see that the quest for greater religious unity has a natural end, whereas the end of evangelization is supernatural. Once we grasp this...

Evangelization deformed or delayed: A danger of the quest for religious unity

Beginning in the mid-20th century, the leaders of the Catholic Church have chosen to place a high priority on forging stronger ties between Catholics and members of other religions. They have sought to emphasize shared beliefs, to increase mutual understanding, and to create a more cohesive...

Darkness: The practical result of our contemporary mythology

My primary goal was theoretical when I explored the modern mythology of “knowing” in a three-part series beginning with “Our mental prison: The myth of “objective” knowledge”. I wished to lay bare the intellectual root of contemporary misconceptions about...

The Death of Politics, revisited with critics in mind

I was happy to see a good crop of comments on last week’s essay, Politics is dead: This year, avoid the quadrennial silliness. And I was not surprised to see some comments which took strong and even heated exception to the position I outlined. As is usually the case with sensitive topics,...

Politics is dead: This year, avoid the quadrennial silliness.

2016 is a presidential election year in America. Most citizens will fasten their attention on the Republican and Democratic candidates. A minor third-party candidate may emerge. Even those with outstanding Catholic values will invent some reason for insisting it is absolutely essential to elect...

Business is a vocation; that’s why the Church won’t leave it alone.

Cardinal Turkson’s recent address to the University of the Andes in Chile made an extraordinarily important point about Pope Francis’ attitude toward “business”. The head of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace insisted that “the Holy Father is not...

Modern “objective” knowledge is a circular system: Why?

I’ve already alluded to the groundbreaking work of Michael Polanyi in proving that a purely objective manner of knowing is impossible, for the simple reason that all knowledge is inherently personal. For background see Our mental prison: The myth of “objective”...

Isn't the Catholic Faith simply love unveiled?

Transmitting and teaching the Catholic Faith is a tricky business. The way you go about it depends on a number of prior assumptions. For example, we will emphasize certain things and present key concepts differently based on whether the audience doubts God’s existence or already accepts...

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