On the Culture

Commentary and reflection on Catholic life.

Redemption and Salvation in the Psalms

If so many different kinds of suffering are the subject of prayer in the Psalms*, it is impossible not to wonder how salvation is perceived by their authors. Is the saving power of the LORD invoked for personal health and prosperity in this life, for the ultimate freedom and peace of the Jewish...

Will Pope Francis now discourage “discerning away” impediments to Communion?

The latest letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to the German bishops may mark an important shift in the way Pope Francis is handling impediments to the reception of Holy Communion. In broad terms, the same fundamental issue lies at the heart of both the widespread desire to...

Suffering in the Psalms

In the previous installment I stressed that the Psalms are first and foremost a collection of prayers.* As such they inescapably reveal the general themes which are uppermost in the minds and hearts of those who pray: Concern about present suffering and a better future, the thirst for God and the...

God made you like that, and I do not care.

In today’s news story about a sex abuse victim’s understanding of the personal counsel of Pope Francis (Chilean abuse victim: Pope said I should be happy as a homosexual), we have Juan Carlos Cruz quoting the pontiff as saying: “God made you like that and he loves you like that...

Crosses on public buildings: Yes or No?

I would not single out this issue, since it comes from a correspondent I had already mentioned, except that in this case we have a good question. In response to our story on the German State of Bavaria’s decision to put crosses on public buildings, we received an email stating categorically:...

Authentic religion: Not what we want, what God has revealed

In my recent foray into weird emails (Mercy vs. Truth: The mark of hypocrisy), I said I wanted to illustrate “the most important problem with religious belief in the modern West”, which is that “people very frequently make up their own religion to suit their own...

Mercy vs. Truth: The mark of hypocrisy

We get some odd messages in response to our Daily News Headlines and Insights messages; and while it would be wrong to use names without permission, sometimes the comments are too good to pass up. I say this because they are so utterly revealing of the most important problem with religious belief...

The Psalms: Deep questions, with only hints for answers

Reading through the first twenty books of the Old Testament, it is fairly easy to highlight particular themes or dominant purposes in each one which can help people understand them better. Such themes and purposes apply not only to each book but to their place in Scripture as a whole, particularly...

Christian insistence on purity and moral change

One of the grave problems in the contemporary Church is the number of men and women in leadership and teaching positions who insist it is wrong to demand that those in immoral sexual relationships change their behavior. Worse still are those who claim—or refuse to correct the...

Holiness, always personal and over against the world

On almost any day of the year, we will hear reports that religious leaders have urged political leaders to recognize the moral imperative to take particular positions on contested prudential issues. (Urgent appeals to oppose intrinsic evils are actually far less common, but that is not my topic...

Seven spiritual mistakes of “good Catholic parents”

A few weeks ago I wrote that the greater part of what is wrong with young people today is parents (see A Church of kids: Will the Synod on Youth get it backwards?). I also touched briefly on some key elements of sound Catholic parenting, particularly in education. But it would be wrong to give the...

The war against Africa: Ideological colonialism

I have long been convinced that those who seek political office are, as a general rule, morally unfit to rule. We could make an example of almost any historical regime to illustrate this thesis, for nearly every ruling group, whatever good it may have done, has deliberately led (not followed)...

Job’s Controversial Innocence

The Book of Job is a fascinating study of the Jewish grasp of the problem of good and evil in the period following the Babylonian Captivity. While the book teaches a valuable lesson, it is a somewhat negative one—that, in the first place, we cannot know whether someone has been good or evil...

Picking up papal themes: Discernment and accompaniment

Discernment and accompaniment are buzzwords now in Catholic circles, and that’s not surprising. Key themes sounded by each pontificate are picked up quickly throughout the Church as ways of focusing Christian witness in whatever manner the Holy Father believes needs special emphasis. So it...

What is the law? When can we ignore it? Part 3: Natural Law

The money question in this series on the nature of law is: “When are we morally obliged to disobey a law?” The answer is: “Whenever it commands us to take an action which is morally contrary to the natural law.” As in the preceding two installments, we recognize that such...

What is the law? When can we ignore it? Part 2: The Common Good

In Part 1 of this article, I tried to explain that what we call a law is actually not a law if it lacks one of the four causes necessary to create a law: (1) Public promulgation, by (2) the proper authority, in order (3) to effect the common good, and taking the form of (4) a precept of reason in...

What is the law? When can we ignore it? Part 1: True Law

Civil authorities make many bad laws. This is an inescapable part of the human condition. The majority of bad laws are simple failures of prudence: These laws do not, for a wide variety of reasons, accomplish the ends for which they are enacted and, in the process of not accomplishing those...

Random reflections on public shootings and ultimate safety in our time

We can all agree that it is a Very Bad Thing when crazed or terrorist gunmen unleash volleys of lethal bullets against school children, churchgoers, and the general public. But after that, in America at least, the agreement ends. Some argue that it should be harder for people to get their hands on...

Two strong women of the Old Testament: Second, Esther

The Book of Esther is set in Susa, the capital of Persia, which is ruled by one King Ahasuerus, who has power of life and death over all the communities of Jews who had settled in his territory during the exile. But unlike many in the kingdom, Ahasuerus has good reasons to think well of the Jews....

Two strong women of the Old Testament: First, Judith

Heroines are not lacking in Scripture. In addition to others whom we meet in the various texts, whole books of the Old Testament are devoted to Ruth, Judith and Esther. Eve too is a heroine in her own way, as of course is Mary. In this series on the books of the Bible, it is time for a look at the...

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’...

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