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On the Culture

Commentary and reflection on Catholic life.

Even mercy can be built on sand. Here’s how to tell.

On the whole, the renewed emphasis on mercy since the pontificate of John Paul II is a very good thing. There was a danger in mid-twentieth century piety of falling into a “who’s in and who’s out” sort of spirituality, with an emphasis on the righteousness of “good...

Gänswein’s mark of Cain, and what it teaches about Catholic renewal

In a recent interview, Archbishop Georg Gänswain said many Germans view him as having the “mark of Cain” because of his loyalty to Pope Benedict and his service to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He therefore believes it is highly unlikely that he would...

Why Be Catholic? 11: Peace

Another one of the many reasons I am grateful for being a Catholic is the peace it brings to my life. The history of the Church and the lives of the saints suggest that this is a universal experience, and we shouldn’t be surprised: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to...

Why Be Catholic? 10: Reason

At first glance, a title which makes “Reason” a point in favor of Catholicism may look odd to modern eyes. We’re accustomed, after all, to thinking of reason as a faculty which we must use independently of faith to solve human problems, something that faith obscures. It has been...

Why Be Catholic? 9: The Fall

It is difficult—it has always been difficult, I think—to find a worldview that makes perfect sense. For example, if we believe the universe is created and governed by an all-loving God, we have trouble explaining natural and moral evils. But if we believe we are not created and there...

Why Be Catholic? 8: Incarnation

There is, in the Catholic vision of reality, a profound understanding of the impenetration of matter by grace which we call the Incarnational principle. The Incarnation of God the Son as Jesus Christ is the bedrock which underlies the Christian vision of the relationship between God and man. In...

Why Be Catholic? 7: Tradition

This is not primarily an essay about Sacred Tradition, which is certainly another worthy apologetical topic. Instead, I have in mind here the Catholic Church’s unique vision of human nature, a vision so profound that one particular dimension of it is just now beginning to be grasped in the...

Why Be Catholic? 6: Divine Intimacy

Among all the concepts of God the world has known, only one draws the believer into the most profound intimacy of love. This intimacy is completely dependent upon the unique way in which the Christian God interacts in its three persons, and in which the Catholic God interacts with men. I refer, of...

Why Be Catholic? 5: Perfection

Anyone with aspirations to human perfection ought to investigate Catholicism seriously. This is, in some ways, an extension of the second number in this series dealing with personal freedom, for freedom is essentially the ability to pursue one's proper end, which is also the path to...

Why Be Catholic? 4: Resurrection

Though I take it up as the fourth in this series, surely the Resurrection of Jesus Christ provides the first and most obvious reason to be both a Christian and a Catholic, for it is Christ’s Resurrection which bears ultimate witness to the truth of the relationship between man and God which...

Why Be Catholic? 3: Suffering

The oldest and most painful riddle of human existence is the riddle of suffering. In every time and place, man has sought an answer. Yet apart from Judeo-Christian Revelation, man has had very little to say. Stoic fortitude, Epicurean pleasure-seeking, Buddhist negation, the Utilitarian calculus...

Why Be Catholic? 2: Freedom

Among the great issues addressed by Christianity, two generally strike each of us as more than merely academic. These are the issues of suffering and freedom, which touch us so very personally. Many would give the issue of suffering the first place. After all, suffering is a profound riddle...

Why Be Catholic? 1: Revelation

There are plenty of reasons to be a Catholic, and the mix of motivations can have as many variations as there are people. For me, however, the very first reason that comes to mind is that Catholicism is the only religion in the entire world that has a logical and consistent approach to the problem...

Chastity and the natural thirst for happiness: A follow-up

In response to the sixth part of my series on Gender Ideology—Gender Ideology 6: The common denominator of chastity—one reader posted a Sound Off! comment that raised interesting questions: Without a concrete description of what God's grace actually looks like, advice to trust...

On criticizing bishops—or even the Pope

Since Phil Lawler and I have devoted a little more space to criticism of Pope Francis in the past week or so, some readers have wondered whether we misunderstand the Pope or whether, in any case, we might do more harm than good by openly criticizing the Vicar of Christ. These are fair questions;...

Gender Ideology 6: The common denominator of chastity

One of the more common arguments in favor of gender ideology is that sexual pleasure is a key to human fulfillment, and so it is a moral duty to facilitate whatever use of the sexual faculties gives pleasure to each particular person. My critics will immediately protest that today’s emphasis...

The serious danger of idealizing the Christian life

If the teachings of Christ are ideal, which they certainly are, why is it misleading to refer to Christian morality as “an ideal”? It’s all in the definition of the word. It is true that the term “ideal” (as a noun) means “a conception of something in...

Gender Ideology 5: Subversion of the social order

Having examined how gender ideology undermines human wholeness (or integrity), it is time to look outward to see its inescapable impact on society as a whole. The fundamental principle here is that a healthy social order must always be rooted in male-female complementarity. In the passionate...

A better marriage preparation (and preparation for a better marriage)

In the furor over the recent apostolic exhortation on marriage (Amoris Laetitia), few commentators have paid much attention to the most important point made in the entire text. In the first paragraph in the section on “The logic of pastoral mercy”, Pope Francis wrote: To show...

Gender Ideology 4: The scourge of our inner life

In rounding out this series on gender ideology, I could go in two different directions. I could look inward at what we might call the disruption of personal wholeness in those who fall victim to this ideology. Or I could look outward at the disruption of social integrity which characterizes...

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....

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