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The False God of Absolute Freedom

On April 24, 2005, I had the privilege of being in St Peter’s Square in Rome for the inaugural Mass of the now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. His homily that day was interrupted several times by applause but especially after he spoke the following words towards the end: Are we not perhaps all afraid in some way? If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to him, are we not afraid that he might take something away from us? . . . Do we not then risk ending up diminished and deprived of our freedom? . . . No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation. I remember joining in that sustained applause with the conviction that the Pope had got right to the heart…

Catholic Boy to Catholic Man: A Millennial on Why He Remains

Back when my younger son was a teenager we’d shared a surprising conversation over a suppertime hamburger. He’d asked me whether it was true that the Holy Eucharist is sometimes accepted at Mass by someone, only to remain unconsumed and spirited out of a church for use in various, always nefarious, ways. “How exactly,” he had asked me. “I’ve read that the Eucharist has been stolen for use in black masses, but what do they do with it, actually.” I never liked talking about this subject, but I related a little—that some mentally or spiritually disturbed people have put the Consecrated Host upon an “altar” and stabbed it, or sliced it, so as to “stab” Christ. “They actually believe, as we do, that the Eucharist is the true and physical Presence, the Body and Blood of Christ,” I explained. “That’s why Wonder Bread and grape juice won’t do—nor will the…

Did the Ascension Really Happen?

At the climax of the forty days spent with the disciples after his resurrection, Jesus ascended bodily into heaven. Catholics have always understood this to be a literal, miraculous event. We believe it really happened—and as a universal Church, we celebrated the Feast of the Ascension just a couple weeks ago. But the dogma also has its detractors. Some have made a mockery of the doctrine, likening the “flying” Jesus to an Apollo spacecraft, as was a common jest among atheists in the 60s and 70s. Others deny the possibility of the miraculous altogether. Still others, like Episcopalian theologian John Shelby Spong, read the Ascension as nonliteral and symbolic: “A modern person knows that if you rise up off the Earth (as in the ascension), you don’t go to heaven. You go into orbit.” Considering such criticisms, how can Catholics defend the reality of Christ’s ascension? One might sympathize with…

Dante’s Roadmap to Paradise

Dante’s vision of the afterlife centers upon two features: order and motion. The world is truly ordered and orderly, and yet within it there is great movement. It is clear to all that there is order within the world, that the world follows certain rules and fits together in a definite way. Scientists study the physical rules of the universe, and the rules they discover are so precise and unchanging that we implicitly trust their findings—no one questions whether the science underlying airplanes is sound or not before boarding. But the world is more than matter. We have minds that understand and wills that love; mere atoms can neither will nor love. And within that world of willing and loving there is another order. That spiritual order is what Dante explores; it is the same order that St. Thomas Aquinas describes in his great Summa theologiae, in which he lays…

In Defense of Exaggerated Marian Devotion

Protestants aren’t the only ones who find Catholic devotion to Mary a bit over-the-top sometimes. A lot of Catholics find other Catholics, including great saints like Alphonsus Liguori and Louis de Montfort, to be a little “much” when talking about the Virgin Mary. I get it. Take the Salve Regina, for example: it calls Mary “Our Life, Our Sweetness, and Our Hope.” How is that kind of effusive flattery theologically defensible? After all, our Life and our Hope is Jesus Christ. Part of the answer is cultural and rhetorical. It’s not a coincidence that the most schmaltzy or exaggerated-seeming statements about Mary tend to come from Romantic Romance-language speakers (the Italians, French, and Spanish, especially). But even more than that, these kind of lines come from devotional writings, meaning that they’re more like love letters to the Virgin Mary than they are like carefully worded theological treatises. Blessed John Henry Newman, a…

Meet Our Newest Word on Fire Institute Fellows!

The Word on Fire Institute is growing every day! We are pleased to share with you a few more Fellows that we have brought in to the Institute to form you as an active and effective evangelist. Be sure to read about the Fellows below, and for more information about the Word on Fire Institute, be sure to visit https://wordonfire.institute.     Dr. Tod Worner Tod Worner is a husband, father, Catholic convert, and practicing internal medicine physician. He is the Managing Editor of the forthcoming Word on Fire Institute Journal, “Evangelization & Culture.” His blog, “Catholic Thinking,” is found at Aleteia.com. He also writes for Patheos (“A Catholic Thinker”) and the National Catholic Register. Follow him on Twitter @thinkercatholic. His course is entitled “Rediscovering the Catholic Narrative.”     Dr. Jennifer Frey Dr. Frey is a wife and mother of six. She is currently an assistant professor…

The Catholic Priesthood Needs the Laity’s Help, and Double-Quick

Recently writer James Carroll, a former priest who has been publically working out his issues with the Church for several decades, wrote a piece recommending that the Catholic priesthood be abolished. His argument is, in essence, that the only way to save our Eucharistic Church is by the laity ridding itself of our troublesome priests, and “taking the faith back” into our own hands. His piece, for all of its predictability, is noteworthy for its resonant grief, which comes through as authentic even as it resides within a larger agenda. In the end, though, Carroll’s passion fails to persuade because most of us understand that the priesthood is something both shared within all of us, by virtue of our Baptisms, but also an office reserved to the “called” in precisely the same way that marriage is an office, as it were, not…

St. Boniface and the Idols of the Day

Chop! Chop! Chop! Wiping away the perspiration rolling down his broad forehead, the burly Englishman heaved his axe and struck again. Chop! Chop! Chop! The bitter cursing that greeted his first swings died down to an uneasy grumble. “How stiff-necked man can be,” he thought. “Old Elijah knew that,” he mused, remembering a snippet of Scripture: How long will you straddle the issue? If the Lord is God, follow him; if Baal, follow him. The thought added gusto to his stroke. Chop! Chop! Chop! “Seriously, a tree?” he pondered, incredulous. “The children of Israel exchanged their glorious God for images of dumb, grass-eating animals. These people take it a step further. Out with the incarnate God who died to save them and in with this tree. It’s a nice tree and all, but that grass-eating ox could at least trot along, nibble its precious leaves, and prance away merrily. Every…

I Can Suffer

I changed my mind; I had to write this out and share. I just had a remarkable conversation with a woman, whose identity I will not reveal, though she gave me permission to share her insight. Her insight is simple, and so powerful in a way simplicity alone can be. However, most of its power cannot be written. She is powerful, and her life and witness are the reality, not the words. As I read what I wrote below, it betrays that reality. St. John of the Cross said that as we move closer to divine mystery, we must progressively shift our manner of expression from prose to poetry to stammering to silence. Maybe one day I will write a poem on her. We were talking about her many life challenges. Many. This woman has walked through the dark valley. She also has a deep and—for lack of a better…

On Not Forgetting Who We Are

There is a grim story told by John Lukacs in his memoir, Confessions of an Original Sinner, that takes place in the battle-scarred landscape of postwar Hungary. Having recently abandoned his forced conscription by the fleeing Nazi overlords, the twenty-five-year-old Lukacs now had to cope with the vulgar and violent behavior of the newly occupying Russian Red Army. Lukacs recalled a young Jewish man who lived down the street from him. Just recently, he had returned from the concentration camps. His family having been murdered, he was utterly alone and sought a form of community with the Soviet overseers. He painted pro-Soviet slogans on his house and invited the soldiers in where he offered them what little food and money he had. Of the few possessions he shared with them, his most prized was a collection of model ships. And then, one day, Lukacs saw this:…