On the Culture

Commentary and reflection on Catholic life.

Benedict XVI’s gift to priests: The ministry people really need

I didn’t realize it at the time, but the remarkable embodiment of the priesthood by Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) was a great gift to priests. Thanks to a collection of his homilies for chrism masses, ordinations and other occasions, this is a gift that keeps on giving. While I...

Have good and evil changed? The Pontifical Academy for Life wants to know.

In recent weeks we have seen two presentations by members of the Pontifical Academy for Life which suggest that the very nature of good and evil has changed. Surely others could be cited, but I refer to a newly appointed member of the Academy, Maurizio Chiodi, who argued that contraception is...

Karl Keating: In the vanguard of Catholic renewal

In writing his new 239-page memoir, Booked for Life, Karl Keating has done a great many things well, but I would like to begin by praising a deceptively small feature. How could something as simple and effective as a page-marking ribbon have disappeared from nearly everything but prayer books?...

The Museum of the Bible is better in what it imagines than in what it preserves

When I was in the DC area celebrating Christmas with family, I visited the new Museum of the Bible with my parents. In the three hours we spent there we didn’t see everything it had to offer, but it made an overall good impression and we would certainly recommend it to Catholics. At Catholic...

Not up-to-date on the origins of the gospels? Here’s your chance.

Innumerable controversies surround the origins and textual integrity of the four gospels, and especially of the three synoptic gospels. We can be forgiven if we do not keep up. But the 2017 Fall / Winter issue of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly caught my attention with an interesting...

Positioning Pope Francis on CatholicCulture.org

In an Insights message recently, I asked for feedback on the question of whether I should place the increasingly bad news about Pope Francis toward the end of each message, striving to keep more positive material nearer the top. The responses were mixed, and no clear preference emerged. But an...

Tobit and Tobias? Their lives are just like ours!

At first glance, the Book of Tobit is one of the most charming and even fanciful in the Old Testament. Tobit, along with Judith and Esther, are known only through the Greek Bible. They were used and regarded as canonical by the earliest Christians and by the Church herself. Commentators often...

The best books we read in 2017

Dr. Jeff Mirus, Phil Lawler and I thought it would be fun to do a review of our favorite reading of 2017. This doesn’t only include the specifically Catholic material we would ordinarily cover for this site, but also reflects our broader range of interests that our readers might not be aware...

Economics, religion and culture: how Luther failed, again

Though I am no longer a libertarian philosophically (having followed a similar path to Edward Feser), most of my past political reading has been from that camp. I am still in some respects a sympathizer, particularly in the realm of economic theory. Just for that reason, I found it helpful to get...

What I learned from the Bible on Christmas (or “Why was Zechariah struck dumb?”)

This year I decided to reread the infancy narratives each day during the Octave of Christmas. I included for this purpose Mt 1:1–2:18; Lk 1:5–2:40; and (abnormally) Jn 1:1-18. (Mark, incidentally, says nothing about Our Lord’s birth.) Surprisingly, by doing this I learned...

Encountering the Heart of Jesus, Now

In her Liturgical Year commentary on Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Jennifer Gregory Miller identified Tim O’Donnell’s Heart of the Redeemer as “one of the best books” on the subject—as indeed it is. That’s why Trinity Communications published the book...

The Acta Apostolicae Sedis is not an exercise of the Magisterium of the Church.

Recent claims that the publication of a papal letter in the Acts of the Apostolic See elevates that letter to the level of Magisterial teaching should not confuse anyone. When this claim was first made, I did not consider it worth comment. But since it has in fact caused confusion, a clarification...

Nehemiah’s rightly ordered government

In my previous commentary, I noted that the books of both Ezra and Nehemiah were a continuation of the Old Testament Chronicles, summarizing the principal developments in the restoration of Jerusalem following the Babylonian Exile. In Nehemiah, who was named governor of Jerusalem some years after...

Spiritual abandonment in human care: The “differences” fallacy

I am blessed with a nephew who counsels those who suffer from various psychological and emotional ills. His wife is in the same line of work, and both of them have a deep appreciation for the role of the spiritual life in every aspect of personal health. During their visit over the Thanksgiving...

On Freedom and Progress and...Vulgarity

Writing in the December issue of First Things*, Matthew Rose explains the quasi-theological character of what we might call the ideology of progress. Rose entitled his essay “Our Secular Theodicy”. He argues that modern secularism has coopted a deeply Christian principle: Human history...

Ezra and the exiles: Teaching them—and us—to put God first

When it comes to recounting the post-exilic period in Jewish history—the period during which the temple was restored and worship began again in Jerusalem—there is endless confusion over the naming of the various books that cover it. Ezra, Nehemiah, 1 Esdras, 2 Esdras, 3 Esdras, 4...

The Silence question is apostasy. Too many get the answer wrong.

Shusakū Endō’s 1966 novel Silence raised haunting questions about apostasy in the minds of many readers, troubling questions which have been called to our attention repeatedly by the various film adaptations of the work: Silence directed by Masahiro Shinoda (1971), The Eyes of Asia readapted...

“A never-failing present”: Boethius on God’s eternity

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways.” Isaiah 55:8-11 This proclamation by the prophet Isaiah over two-and-a-half...

Glimmerings from the First Book of Chronicles

First and Second Samuel, First and Second Kings, and First and Second Chronicles: These are the books which repeatedly survey the rise and fall of the monarchy in Israel, each with its different emphasis.* I have already discussed Samuel and Kings. The Chronicles were written after the Exile,...

The bishops and tax policy: Missing not just the big picture but God’s picture?

Tax reform has been a big issue in the United States for the past few decades, and the particulars of the current administration’s tax package are currently being hotly debated across the land. Adding to the debate on October 25th, Bishop Frank J. Dewane, chair of the US bishops’...

Want to nudge someone toward holiness?

It is rare that I find a new and simple book aimed at spiritual development which I really believe will be of much use to anybody at all. The pitfalls are legion, but the two most common today are the twin temptations to break things down into baby concepts and baby steps, as if God’s...

What makes a good book? The case of Saint Aloysius Gonzaga

This is a brief and very paradoxical review, because Silas S. Henderson’s new biography of Saint Aloysius Gonzaga is in several important senses a very good book. Yet one wonders if academicians who write books think much about what makes a book really good. Or whether their publishers...

Caveat emptor? Sandro Magister, Robert Sarah, Charles Chaput on Pope Francis

Magister on The Last Things That inveterate Vatican-watcher Sandro Magister wrote an excellent column on Friday entitled “World’s End Update. The ‘Last Things’ According to Francis”. He began by noting that Pope Francis’ atheist interviewer, Eugenio Scalfari,...

The folly of Kings, 2: Divine justice, Divine mercy, and true hope

After the First Book of Kings, the reader steels himself against the Second Book. It summarizes the reigns of the remaining kings of Israel and Judah up to the Babylonian captivity, the vast majority of whom are summarily dismissed because they “did what was evil in the sight of the...

The folly of Kings, 1: Authority, infidelity and Providence

The two books of Kings* in the Old Testament are essentially a survey of the history of the tribes of Israel under the monarchy. Actually, this quickly became two monarchies, that of Israel and that of Judah. In general, the focus is on the kings and their lineage, whether they served God or not,...

Catholic Justice: When the Church should not defer to the State

Phil Lawler introduced a legitimate question when he explained on Wednesday Why the Church still operates under a cloud on the abuse issue. In light of the Church’s continued poor handling of abuse cases, and despite frequent promises to do better, Phil commented on the latest scandal as...

Samuel: A spiritual and political tale of two kings. Part two: David

I have already identified the two books of Samuel as a tale of two kings, and I have amply demonstrated the constant waffling between good and evil which characterized King Saul. Even in the First Book of Samuel, it was obvious that David was constant in his respect for and service to Saul,...

Francis the Thomist? Do not lose the thread.

Now Pope Francis has claimed that the morality underlying Amoris Laetitia is Thomistic. Please note that I am resisting the temptation to write another of my 10,000 word commentaries. Like the rest of you, I really, really want to have a life. Instead, to make things quicker and easier, I offer...

The Dominicana Spirit

Over the past year, through a number of friends and acquaintances connected with the Dominican Province of St. Joseph, I have become increasingly fond of what I think of as the “Dominican spirit.” Dominican thinking—I say based on no expertise but my limited...

The latest effort to correct Pope Francis, for what it is worth

Readers were no doubt startled by Phil Lawler’s assertion yesterday that “the ‘filial appeal’ to Pope Francis was not the most important story that emerged from the Vatican this past weekend.” It may strike some as scandalous that CatholicCulture.org should think the...

The pastoral imperative—and when it becomes a sin

From the beginning of his pontificate, Pope Francis has placed great emphasis on pastoral care, often using colorful similes and metaphors, such as “the Church is a field hospital” and pastors must “get the smell of the sheep.” This is a salutary emphasis, for we are all...

Making up for—and regretting—lost time

I spend at least some portion of most of my days doing what we call “making up for lost time.” All the things that have not quite gotten done as quickly as they should have—or worse, as quickly as I expected them to be done—claim extra hours from another day along with...

Samuel: A spiritual and political tale of two kings. Part one: Saul

There are no fewer than six books in the Old Testament which cover the period of the monarchy: The first and second books of Samuel (sometimes called the first and second books of Kings), the first and second books of Kings (called the third and fourth books of Kings when the title...

Ruth shows family to be at the center of God’s plan

The Book of Ruth in the Old Testament is very short, only about three times the length of this little essay. It is a charming account of how Ruth, a Moabite who had married one of Naomi’s sons, accompanied her mother-in-law back to her ancestral home in Bethlehem after both her husband and...

Curmudgeon’s Corner: The case against Catholic apologies

One of my very few disagreements with Pope St. John Paul II—to whom I pray each and every day—was over his introduction of the habit of formally apologizing for past failures and errors of the Catholic Church. This is a prudential question; good Catholics can disagree about it. But...

Judges: Every man did what was right in his own eyes.

The Biblical book of Judges makes a remarkable point which is just as relevant today as it was before Saul established the monarchy in the eleventh century before Christ: “In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes” (Judg 17:6). But this may...

Liturgical renewal—and every other kind—in the light of Christ

Phil Lawler has already commented ably on Pope Francis’ statement that “we can assert with certainty and magisterial authority that the liturgical reform is irreversible.” Of course saying that he can assert something magisterially is not the same thing as asserting it, which in...

Charlottesville without Natural Law

Almost nobody knows the problem that lies at the heart of the recent unrest in Charlottesville, Virginia. For those who have not followed the action, white supremacists held a rally there which led to widespread outrage, the escalation of rhetoric, and some violence. President Trump is facing near...

Taking Scripture to heart: Joshua’s great lesson

The Scriptural book of Joshua, which immediately follows the Pentateuch and begins to recount Jewish history after Moses, is typically remembered for a few dramatic moments. The book recounts the stopping of the waters of the Jordan River so that the people could cross into the promised...

Our bishops and priests need direct support and protection. Can we supply it?

Today’s news makes one wonder whether the time has come for lay guards for bishops and priests. In Cameroon, Msgr. Joseph Akonga Essombahe has claimed that Bishop Jean Marie Benoit of Bafia was murdered because he opposed homosexuals in the clergy. In Nigeria, gunmen burst into a Catholic...

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