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Praying for Virtue

In our prayer, we should frequently and fervently ask for an increase in virtues, like humility, mercy, patience, kindness, fortitude, or prudence. I have found over the years that God seems to take special joy in responding to petitions for an increase in this or that virtue, not by infusing that virtue into us so that its exercise becomes effortless, but by assailing us with circumstances that call that virtue forth from us. Why? Because grace is always synergistic, evoking our free response to God’s action. By becoming human, God-with-us revealed himself not as a unilateralist but as a multilateralist who achieves his ends by inviting countless independent freedoms, angelic and human, to consider and respond to his proposed plan. What a mess we have made of it all. Indeed, it was bloody risky of God to venture down such a precarious path, though it is equally bloody risky for…

10 Reasons to Read St. John Henry Newman’s “Loss and Gain”

Now that John Henry Newman is a saint, many of us hope his already significant influence will continue to grow. Many people know the story of his conversion through his great memoir, Apologia Pro Vita Sua, but far fewer people have read his conversion novel, Loss and Gain. Published just as Newman entered the Catholic Church in 1845, it is a fine specimen of Victorian prose. Some people may consider just a little too churchy; but when you scratch the surface, you may discover it is highly relevant to today’s culture, just like Newman’s theological works.Loss and Gain is a good novel by a great saint. Here are ten reasons you ought to read it. (All citations are from the excellent Ignatius Critical Editionfrom 2012, edited by Trevor Lipscombe.) 1. It’s about young people. This book is dominated by youth, including some memorable young fogies. It’s mostly men, but…

Bishop Barron’s Course on John Henry Newman Starts Next Week!

Starting on Monday, October 14, Bishop Barron will be teaching a NEW, special 12-part course on the life and thought of John Henry Newman, who will be canonized Sunday! In his new course, Bishop Barron will examine Newman’s many theological contributions, which are important in understanding Vatican II and in addressing the challenge of modernity. You’ll be introduced to Newman by looking at his most significant texts: his autobiography Apologia Pro Vita Sua, the theologically meaningful Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, the educationally pertinent Idea of a University, and the challenging Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent. To Learn More About the Course and to Watch Bishop Barron’s Pivotal Players Episode of Newman for FREE visit: https://wordonfire.institute In this course by Bishop Barron, you’ll learn all about: Newman’s conversion to Catholicism…

Jesus May Not “Need” Our Adoration, But He Asked for It

Part 2 of a 4-part series on Eucharistic Adoration A recent conversation with a friend I know to be a faithful Catholic left me feeling disturbed. This fellow participates at Mass regularly, volunteers to help out both in his parish and within his community, and receives Holy Communion with reverence and hope. Unlike 70% of Catholics, he understands the teaching about transubstantiation and believes that the Eucharistic Host is the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ. By any measure, my friend is authentically Catholic, and probably a better one than I. If he sees this piece, though, he will probably snort after the second paragraph. Not because it is untrue—he knows what the Holy Eucharist is—but because he dislikes the spelling-out of it. The “Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity” specifics he sees as a sort of “dog-whistle,” a means by which “John Paul II Catholics” identify…

Boyagoda and the Need for More Imaginatives

In a widely read essay from 2013, Canadian Catholic novelist Randy Boyagoda declared, “I’m sick of Flannery O’Connor.” For readers of this blog, these are probably fighting words. Bishop Barron himself is such an admirer of O’Connor that one of the two latest releases in his Pivotal Players series focuses on her. For so many of us, O’Connor’s sometimes gruesome depictions of a Christ-haunted world stick in our brains and souls as signposts to eternal truth. Boyagoda picks on more Pivotal Players and some other generally undisputed Christian literary masters too: “I’m also sick of Walker Percy, G.K. Chesterton, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, T.S. Eliot, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Dostoevsky. Actually, I’m sick of hearing about them from religiously minded readers. These tend to be the only authors that come up when I ask them what they read for literature.” After we take a few breaths and let…

Caravaggio, Dior, and the Invasion of Grace

Every time I mention my love for Caravaggio’s paintings in devout Catholic circles, I feel as if I am causing scandal. “Wait!” I hear them saying, “You like the painter who was a murderer and used a prostitute as a model for the Blessed Virgin Mary?” During a visit in Poland, I was quickly dismissed by a well-known Polish actor for stating my admiration for Caravaggio. According to him, Caravaggio’s paintings are “spiritually empty.” I beg to differ. My admiration for Caravaggio’s work—not his life—and my conviction of his spiritual depth were recently reaffirmed when I visited the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) to see his Martha and Mary Magdalene. I cannot stop thinking about the painting and its depiction of conversion and the dignity Christ brings to the human person. I imagine it did the same for many, but perhaps not for my…

On Being Broken

A sixteenth-century painter, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (forever known as Caravaggio for his hometown in northern Italy’s Lombardy region), shocked and scandalized his society. Using prostitutes, criminals, and the homeless as artistic models for saints, his techniques were considered unorthodox, if not offensive. His personal life was a shambles marred by a haughty swagger, mounting debt, and violent (if not murderous) outbursts that made him a fugitive from the law. He would die fevered, outlawed, and alone on a sweltering beach outside of Porto Ercole. Caravaggio was broken. But when he painted, it was sublime. A twentieth-century novelist, Evelyn Waugh, could be difficult. His wit could bite, his critiques would scathe, and his friendship could try one’s patience. As a father, he proudly bragged that he saw his children “once a day for ten, I hope, awe-inspiring minutes.” As the story goes, during the dark, deprived days of World War…

Real Presence and Real Absence: Why Fast Food and Cell Phones Can Be Bad for Catholics

Nearly 70% of US Catholics do not believe that the bread and wine they receive at Communion has, during Mass, become the actual Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. That statistic is among the findings reported in a recent Pew Research Center study, and it should concern every one of us. Transubstantiation, the action by which bread and wine become the Real Presence of Christ within the Holy Eucharist, is a concept and teaching central to the fact of that Presence, and it is understood or believed in by only 31% of those surveyed. A constant refrain in the Word on Fire movement is “Don’t dumb down the faith,” because when we do, bad things happen, and they show up in Pew studies, and in the emptying of our pews, and in a troubled society wide with scorn and narrow in solace. So we’ve got a lot of work to…

Nocturnal Adoration: Where the Milk and Honey Flows

This is Part 1 of a 4-part series on Eucharistic Adoration. I had stopped participating for a while, because I can be lazy, but recently I had the opportunity to participate in Adoration with the Nocturnal Adoration Society of a local parish, taking on one of the wee, small hours that are difficult, sometimes, for the group to cover. Nocturnal Adoration is quite different from making a Holy Hour in silence. The NAS promotes Adoration and specifically works to organize whole nights of liturgical prayer, with hourly teams getting together to chant the Psalms, read Scripture and the writings of the Church Fathers, and to simply pray—it is all prayer, of course—before the Blessed Sacrament. The prayer goes essentially from sundown (the end of the Saturday Vigil anticipating Sunday Mass) to sunrise (the first Mass of Sunday), nonstop, and it is remarkable to be in the middle of all of…

A Few Things to Remember When Evangelizing Teens

We know the task at hand: young people, specifically teenagers, are leaving the Church in droves. We’ve read the research, we’ve discussed the facts, and we have some understanding as to the cause. But now comes the hard part: we need to go out to the peripheries, engage the unaffiliated, and draw them (back) into the Church. Yes, I’ll be the first to admit that teenagers are a bit . . . intimidating. What is it about a twenty-year age difference that makes us freeze in our tracks? Maybe you’ve found yourself where I have: at the other end of an all too silent room full of blank stares, rolling eyes, headphone-shielded ears. Evangelizing to teens is far from an easy task, but it is one of the most crucial facing the Church today. And while it may seem daunting, there is no experience quite as rewarding as bringing young…