Browsing News Entries

Living Within a Formed Catholic Conscience Is Not for Wimps

Toward the end of the 1989 film Parenthood, a cheerful grandmother, dismissed throughout the movie as being a bit ditzy, tells her harried children: “You know, when I was nineteen, Grandpa took me on a roller coaster. Up, down, up, down. Oh, what a ride! I always wanted to go again. You know, it was just so interesting to me that a ride could make me so frightened, so scared, so sick, so excited, and so thrilled all together! Some didn’t like it. They went on the merry-go-round. That just goes around. Nothing. I like the roller coaster. You get more out of it.” In the practice of my faith, pondering that scene has sometimes brought me a measure of reassurance, and some spiritual relief, too, because even with all the devotions and feast days I love—all the ways the Church infuses my day-to-day with instruction…

“The Rapper in Black”: Why NF Is Taking the Music World by Storm

A young white teenager from Michigan, using his initials as a stage name, emerges on the hip-hop scene; his rapid-fire lyrics reflect the wounds of a broken home; and his music quickly becomes a cultural phenomenon, earning a Billboard-topping album, triple-platinum single, and millions of fans around the world. If you grew up in the nineties, you know this story well. It’s the story of Marshall Mathers, or Eminem (originally “M&M”), who captured the world’s attention with his Slim Shady and Marshall Mathers LPs. But it’s also the story of Nathan Feuerstein, or NF, a 28-year-old rapper who just released his fourth studio album, The Search—which, like his last album Perception, has quickly topped the Billboard charts. Like Eminem’s, NF’s story is far from idyllic. After his parents divorced, he was physically abused by his mother’s boyfriend. In 2009, his mother, who was…

How Religion Supports Science, But Atheism Doesn’t

I have spoken with several scientifically minded people recently who’ve reported a conflict between the religious and scientific worldview. Most of these people are not actual scientists (a few of them are), but nevertheless, they seem to appreciate what science has done for the world, and generally enjoy the musings of those engaged in it. Fair enough: science has done a great deal to improve the priorly squalid conditions of our human experience, and conjectures among scientists are of often enormous intrigue, especially those which can make for a good sci-fi. But is there really a conflict between the scientific and religious worldview? Is it irrational to be a person of faith and lover of science? Here is what I would maintain. There are, admittedly, among certain, specific religious affiliations, real and obvious conflicts between what some particular religions say, and what some particular scientific endeavors…

New Course Featuring Leah Libresco Sargeant! “Christian Community as Leaven for the World”

Why is community so important to the Christian life and evangelization? What are some practical ways we can increase fellowship among our own neighborhoods and parishes? The Word on Fire Institute continues to grow and provide new and engaging content for our members, and we’re excited to announce that today we’ve begun an all-new course by Mrs. Leah Libresco Sargeant entitled Christian Community as Leaven for the World! About the Fellow: Leah Libresco has worked as a statistics professor, a data journalist, and a Bayesian probability instructor. She grew up as an atheist and converted to Catholicism while studying at Yale. Through various relationships and reading the likes of Lewis and Chesterton, Leah began to learn more and more about the Catholic faith and was received into the Catholic Church in November 2012. Her conversion unfolded through her popular blog, Unequally Yoked, and was also…

Five Rules for Theology Teachers

Gilbert Highet’s book The Art of Teaching has proven to be an excellent guide for me as a teacher. It’s practical and simple, drawing on the best teachers in history. It’s not marked by that soulless, “scientific” educational philosophy that devalues classical learning, but is rooted in a robust vision that educates the whole human person. Theology teachers need a book like Dr. Highet’s but particularly about the art of catechesis.  While many academic theologians will not admit this, theology is, in part, catechesis. Like an art, it requires vision and skill. Unfortunately, many theology programs do not educate students in a clear and consistent vision, leaving students confused about the nature of theology and its basics. This is representative of the fragmented state of much academic theology. Additionally, there is no apprenticeship a student can undergo to learn from the…

Do Not Be Afraid: Use Your Catholic Imagination

It’s been nearly a decade since poet and USC Professor Dana Gioia wrote an essay urging Catholic writers to “renovate and reoccupy” their own tradition within the literary culture, and it is a discussion that has been ongoing among Catholics since then—part of a broad pondering of what the “Christian imagination” means in the twenty-first century, and what it has to offer a society that is ever-more pop-focused, less literary in consumption and increasingly secular and polarized in tastes, to boot. Certainly, in literature, we have felt the dearth of the sort of Catholic writing that was so prominent in the last century, when authors like Flannery O’ Connor, Walker Percy, Evelyn Waugh, Rumer Godden, and others produced fiction that could hook into the souls of readers, whether faithful or not, and lead them into deep contemplation of our fallen natures, the complexities of the…

What I Learned a Half-Mile Under the Earth

If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, “Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.” —Martin Luther King Jr. Last weekend, on a cabin vacation outside of Tower, Minnesota, my daughters and I, along with my good friend and his kids, woke up, brushed our teeth, and threw on sweatshirts, rugged shorts, and closed-toe shoes. We packed pants and an extra sweatshirt because, in spite of the perfect seventy-two degree day on the lake, our destination (the Soudan Underground Mine State Park) promised a steady fifty-eight degrees in its subterranean parts. So, with bellies full of scrambled eggs, hash browns,…

Is Christianity a Religion or a Relationship?

When I first began considering the claims of Christianity, I encountered a lot of Christians—all of them Protestant—who admitted to having a personal and abiding relationship with Jesus Christ, professing this inner, subjective fellowship to be part and parcel of the Christian faith, with no particular religion or creed required apart from that. At first blush, this appealed even to me, a grinch. No tiresome, stuck-in-the-mud, medieval theology to study, no (allegedly) outdated social teachings on contraception or abortion to uphold, and no institutional hierarchy under some dogmatically infallible bishop with a froofy hat. Just a sort of “Let’s hang out, me and you” thing, only with God. Now, who wouldn’t want that? Well, there is at least one person who wouldn’t want that, and that person was (and is) God. For all the conversations I had with Protestants explaining their personal relationship with Jesus (crudely, I often wondered if…

Spiritual Deafness

We all have our sufferings and problems, but sometimes other people can see better than we what’s wrong with us. For example, the movie Mr. Holland’s Opus is about a music teacher and composer who finds out that his baby boy is deaf. He is stunned at the news, because he will never be able to open the world of sound to his son. The baby does not know what is wrong with him, while the loss is perceived acutely by the father. The film goes on to show that the son can still have a fulfilling life, but he is never able to make music with his father. In some ways, our own spiritual condition is like deafness. In the original creation, Adam and Eve were made to hear God’s voice and to rejoice in his spiritual beauty. But by original sin we damaged this capacity, and the powers of…

Benedicta a Cruce

Maia Morgenstern, some five years before starring as the Mother of God in Mel Gibson’s The Passion, played the role of another virgin Jew who found Israel’s salvation in the Cross of Christ. In Márta Mészáros’ 1995 Hungarian film, The Seventh Chamber, Morgenstern plays Saint Teresa Benedicta a Cruce. The film, like Gibson’s, depicts a movie-length Via Crucis. It is not the kind of film you watch with a bowl of popcorn, but with a prayerful heart. Edith Stein, the youngest of eleven, was born into a Jewish family on the day of Yom Kippur in 1891. This providential birthday, as with other things in her life, would later be seen as a meaningful foreshadowing. The Seventh Chamber, however, does not depict the early life of this German philosopher-turned-Christian. It does not show the young and precocious Edith enchanted with the world of literature, and disenchanted with the world…