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All Catholic commentary from January 2020

The best books we read in 2019

It’s that time of year again! As usual, I’ve invited the staff to list their favorite reading of the past year, not restricted to books published in 2019. And as usual, I’ve included some other media in my selections at the end of this article.

Guess whose Name is missing?

Could someone please explain to me why, on the day that we celebrate the name of Jesus, we don’t celebrate the name of Jesus?

St. Paul tries everything in Second Corinthians

In this second letter, St. Paul tries nearly everything he can think of to induce the Corinthians to make further spiritual progress. Once again he has postponed visiting them in person, in the hope that he will not have to exercise a harsh judgment when he comes. The apostle employs one rhetorical technique after another to prompt change. Interspersed with these various commendations, accusations and exhortations, Paul also teaches a great lesson about the Christian life.

A second reading of the ‘ecumenism of hate’ essay?

His 2017 essay on the “ecumenism of hatred” was an embarrassment to the Vatican: a vitriolic piece, marred not only by its tone but also by its spectacular ignorance about American political affairs.

Episode 7—Shepherd of Hermas: Heavenly Visions & Earthly Morals

The Shepherd of Hermas is the strangest text from the Church’s earliest period. It’s at once a conversion story and a first-person account of heavenly visions. It’s a poem in prose and a guidebook for morals. It exercised a powerful influence in the early centuries of Christianity, especially on the practice of the sacrament of penance.

Bishops and Bribes

That’s nearly $1 million in gifts— large cash gifts— provided by two prelates who are now living in disgrace, to other prelates who remain in good standing.

Episode 60—Princeton Hosts Event Dedicated To St. Cecilia

Princeton University recently hosted and paid for a very Catholic event as part of its annual Being Human Festival. It was a several-hour program dedicated to representations of St. Cecilia in poetry, painting and music, exploring how a conversation between these art forms can stir us to wonder and the contemplation of the Divine. The day’s events included singing the Salve Regina and a dinner in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe, whose feast it was.

When bishops tell lies

Has anyone ever heard a bishop apologize for a lie?

This week: A surprise in the Pope’s ‘State of the World’ address

This grand papal plan— a response to what Pope Francis called an era of “epochal change”— would involve a serious bid to address climate change, to protect the environment, to stimulate “ecological conversion” of the sort contemplated by the Amazon Synod.

On funding (or dissolving) episcopal conferences

Too frequently, the bureaucratic methods chosen serve to address generalities. The bishop does not personally ignite the purifying flame of the Spirit (“I came to cast fire upon the earth and would that it were already kindled!” (Lk 12:49). Nor does he personally and publicly address scandal (“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Mt 18:6, Mk 9:42).

St. Augustine—Letter to Januarius

“... if any of these customs is common to the whole Church throughout the world, it is the most unheard of madness to doubt that such custom is to be followed.”

Catholicism is even more local than politics

The Church’s job is not to change the world through political advocacy at the macro level. The Church’s job is to make her members holy, so that in all their interactions they live and act as Christ has called them to do. It is in this way that her members will form, in many places, local Catholic cultures—vibrant cultures tangibly different from the surrounding wasteland.

Ep. 61—Liberal Anti-Culture vs. the Western Vision of the Soul (Pt I)—James Matthew Wilson

This is the first of three episodes exploring themes from The Vision of the Soul. In this episode, after giving an account of the roots of liberalism and conservatism, and showing the emptiness of liberal “freedom”, “equality”, and “critical thinking”, Wilson lays out what he considers the six central insights of the Western (Christian Platonist) tradition, culminating in the contemplation of Being as our greatest excellence and happiness.

St. Athanasius—Life of St. Anthony | Pt. 1

“Do not hesitate to believe what you have heard from those who have brought you accounts of him; believe, rather, that they have told but little... for it is probable that, when each one has told what he knows, the account will not do Anthony justice.”

We must stop running from reality. But how to begin?

Today it is not uncommon for the younger generation to spend large amounts of time within alternative “realities” generated and controlled by computers. The point is simply that we tend to be divorced from nature and, through the confluence of a number of different circumstances, we find it easy to conceive of nature not as something “given” with a “purpose” but as accidental material to be manipulated in accordance with our own desires.

Ep. 62—Overcoming Catholic Dating Hangups & Social Isolation

We’ve all heard the complaints about Catholic dating. Catholics have trouble with the concept of “casual dating” because they (rightly) see dating as oriented toward marriage but (wrongly) put all that weight on a single date. The “Catholic Yenta” joins the show to discuss the pathologies of Catholic dating and how to overcome them, and explains how she went from helping her friends find their spouses to making matches for Catholics across the country.

How Nicholas Sandmann made the March for Life safer

The leftists might still be out in force this week, doing their best to disrupt the March. But at least now the mainstream media will be aware that if they choose to promote the “two-minute hate,” that decision could prove costly.

Do we all worship the same God?

The furor over the Pachamama figure at the Amazon Synod raises several questions about the tension between evangelization and religious unity today. It raises questions about shared religious ceremonies, the repurposing of pagan images for Christian worship, and commonalities in religious belief. The one that interests me most here is whether it is right for Christians to attempt to strengthen bonds with non-Christians by claiming that both groups worship the same God.

Episode 8—Letter to Diognetus: Intro to the Apologists

Forget the Dale Carnegie course. Here's how to win skeptical friends and influence pagans. Read the second-century Letter to Diognetus. The author's name is lost to history, but his warm, winsome overture still stands as a model of apologetics, the art of explaining and defending the faith. It's good reading, praised by saints and popes for centuries.

Abortion and preaching to the choir

The faith of the Catholic Church anticipated the results of modern medical research. A new human life begins at conception. Today, only the ignorant or superstitious (and those opposed to the medical science on ideological grounds) question this fundamental medical fact.

Most Americans disapprove of Roe decision, polls show

It might not be easy to find the political middle ground on the abortion issue, but it is easy enough to find the extreme. Because thanks to Roe— with a nod to the complicity of the liberal media— the extreme is now the status quo.

Ep. 63—Beauty Revealing Being (Vision of the Soul Pt. II)—James Matthew Wilson

It is in the nature of Being to reveal itself to us, and in the natural realm this is done preeminently through beauty. Aquinas mentions radiance, clarity and proportion as beauty’s three criteria. Proportion is arguably the most important in showing forth Being, as beauty reveals the plenitude of relations among all things: the relation of the parts of a thing, of the parts to the whole which surpasses them, of the whole object to all other things, and to its Maker.

Galatians: The radical shift from Judaism to Christianity

Going in standard Biblical order, Paul’s letter to the Galatians begins a series of ten shorter letters in which the Apostle to the Gentiles sought to meet the specific needs of a variety of groups and persons. But some of these letters are very rich theologically. Moreover, the main problem...

Conscience counterfeits

Ubiquitous sexual-harassment and child-protection programs, presuming to replace the authority of the Ten Commandments, are indicative of a culture that has lost its moral compass.

St. Thomas Aquinas—Heaven and Earth Will Pass

“Dearest brethren, how great the delight, how great the pleasure, how great the sweetness that is in the heavenly words of wisdom!”

A Sunday Feast: the Presentation of the Lord

February 2 is the feast of the Presentation of the Lord, also known as Candlemas or the Purification of Mary. In 2020 this feast falls on a Sunday, and is one of the rare exceptions of a feast of the Lord superseding a Sunday liturgy.

Ecclesiastical judgment: Saints who left spouse or children for consecrated life?

None of this is cookie-cutter material. Men have long been permitted to absent themselves from their spouses and children almost as a matter of course for reasons of war, or even business, without the consent of their wives, though this is a different matter which does not involve the judgment of the Church. It is also true that parents or single women can give up their children for good reason, without any dispensation from the Church. But to enter religious life? Ecclesiastical judgment!

Ep. 64—Advancing the Faith in the Podcast Medium—Mike Aquilina, James T. Majewski

It’s Podcast Week here at, as we want to make more people aware of our audio offerings, particularly the two new podcasts we launched last October: Catholic Culture Audiobooks and Way of the Fathers with Mike Aquilina.

Will Catholic bishops hamper the pro-life cause?

What worries me about the USCCB initiative is the possibility that the bishops will set up their own guidelines for the CPCs that seek their support. Inevitably those guidelines will exclude some CPCs and encourage others.

St. Athanasius—Life of St. Anthony | Pt. 2

“Do not be fearful when you hear of perfection, nor be surprised at the word, for it is not far from us… the Lord has already told us: the kingdom of God is within you.”

Lead us not into temptation: What can this possibly mean?

Now we may well wonder at these passages which portray temptation as very valuable, when in fact St. Paul claims that God does not tempt us beyond our strength. Does this mean temptation is easy? And again Our Lord tells us to pray not to be led into temptation, not to be put to the test. Is that not even easier? Finally, how are we to reconcile all of this with our own experience of temptation, and of the number of times we succumb to it?

This week: the stories within the stories

Questions that might have been asked about Cardinal Sodano can now be asked about Cardinal Sandri, and those questions will linger over the next conclave.

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