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“Dracula”: A Bland Betrayal of Vampire Lore

Vampires are literary and cinematic representations of what St. Peter tells us about in Scripture: “Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). But Christ has given us very basic means to resist Satan and his allies, and the best vampire stories play them up for edifying effect, whether the writers are believers or not. In fact, vampire fiction usually presupposes the truth of Christ and the Church’s sacraments, and the inevitable victory of the Holy Spirit over the enemies of the Gospel. Demons are scary, but they’re losers. Here’s one example: A vampire has to be welcomed into a home or building in order to enter. This is a particularly frequent deterrent in Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, where bloodthirsty creatures of the night are routinely stopped in their tracks at the threshold of humans’ abodes.

Homely Holiness

The eyes of faith behold a wonderful scene: that of a countless number of lay people, both women and men, busy at work in their daily life and activity, oftentimes far from view and quite unacclaimed by the world, unknown to the world’s great personages but nonetheless looked upon in love by the Father, untiring laborers who work in the Lord’s vineyard. — St. John Paul II I met him first in 1998. He has large calloused hands and dirty fingernails and speaks with a southern twang. He’s been fixing cars since he was a kid, under his dad’s tutelage. He works days, nights, and weekends to keep his small business open, and the enormous commitment has cost him a lot in life. Not all good, he admits. But, he once said, “it put food on the family table…

Atheism and the Problem of Beauty

A lot has been said about the “problem of pain.” Why, if God is both loving and all-powerful, is there still suffering in the world? The question is a challenge for Catholics, as for all theists. As believers, we have some sense of why a loving God would permit suffering. It’s easy enough to see that love is a good (the highest good, even), and that love requires free will. And it’s just a small step from there to see how that free will could be used in some dastardly ways. Likewise, it’s clear enough that a loving God might permit his creatures to suffer, in certain cases, for their (our) own good. This answer to the problem of pain is sensible but not satisfying. There’s no shaking that there’s still something out of whack, something not quite right about this world. Christianity hasn’t been shy about this point the…

That Sin, Again?

Have you ever confessed a sin and then, no matter how earnestly you intended to amend your life, had the desire to commit that sin again? Why aren’t we simply fixed after Confession? Jesus instituted the sacrament of Confession that our sins may be forgiven and that we may return to friendship with him. He renews our souls, again filling them through the Holy Spirit with the many spiritual gifts first given to us at Baptism. Yet a certain inclination to sin—not the sin itself—remains. The Tradition calls this inclination the fomes peccati, the tinder for sin, or, we might say, the dregs (CCC 1264). These dregs of sin stick around in our minds through the memories of evil committed, and they also remain in our desires through the habitual bad decisions and actions that shape us. As the desires surface, they hurt quite a bit, but as long as they…

Why Did Jesus So Often Feel a Need for Secrecy?

A leper came to him and kneeling down begged him and said, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched the leper, and said to him, “I do will it. Be made clean.” The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean. Then, warning him sternly, he dismissed him at once. Then he said to him, “See that you tell no one anything, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them.” The man went away and began to publicize the whole matter. He spread the report abroad so that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly. He remained outside in deserted places, and people…

Your Story and Mine: Why Everyone Should Read Classic Literature

A few days ago I finished my annual participation in a week-long series of lectures, Becoming a Doctor, to students at the University of Minnesota Medical School. The intent of the week is to draw third and fourth year students together from various rotations at disparate locations and allow them to reconnect with one another while reflecting on the past and planning for the future. It is an earnest effort to reclaim the sense of vocation for hyper-efficient, overtired students who teeter on the edge of burnout. “Why Literature Matters to the Practice of Medicine” is my humble contribution to the week’s conversation. Let me start by saying that it is countercultural to suggest that the modern student should earnestly consider reading Robert Frost, William Shakespeare, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Jane Austen, and Dante (among many others). First, they are overwhelmed by work, barely finding time to read their assignments on the…

“This Is the Way”: The Mandalorian’s Growth in Charity

In the late first century AD, the historian Tacitus contrasted the freedom of the uncivilized Britons with the corruption of Rome, saying of his own people, “They plunder, they slaughter, and they steal: this they falsely name Empire, and where they make a wasteland, they call it peace.” Tacitus’ words are often evoked to describe the sins of superpowers, and in recent cinematic history, they are aptly applied to the political conglomeration ruled by Palpatine and Darth Vader in the three original Star Wars movies. The Empire’s orderliness is built on black magic, and when it falls apart at the end of Return of the Jedi, we rejoice. But we might also say that the recent Star Wars films themselves represent an orderly but spiritually lacking cinematic empire whose time has come for a quiet revolution. Disney+’s The Mandalorian picks up shortly after the destruction of the second Death Star,…

Here’s What’s Coming in 2020 in the Word on Fire Institute!

2019 was a year of growth, blessings, and persistent spiritual renewal for the Word on Fire Institute. We have grown to over 9,500 members from around the world, representing 27 countries, and: Launched the brand-new Word on Fire Institute quarterly journal entitled Evangelization & Culture. Launched two podcasts, The John Allen Show and The Evangelization & Culture Show. Hosted two live Bishop Barron Presents events with Leah Libresco Sargeant and Dr. Arthur Brooks. Opened the official WOFI offices in Dallas, Texas. Built exciting new relationships with other organizations around the country, which will come to bear great fruit for the good of the Great Commission. This growth is a sign of God’s blessings, and we cannot thank each and every one of our members and donors enough. Now, as we look forward to the new year, I thought I would share the exciting plans we have…

The Gift of Baptism and Our Search for Meaning

As the Church celebrates the feast of the Lord’s Baptism this weekend, my mind returns to a pilgrimage to the Holy Land I made a few years ago. One of the highlights of the trip was a visit to the banks of the River Jordan, where Jesus was baptized by John all those years ago. During our visit to the Jordan, we renewed our baptismal promises. It was a very memorable and spiritual experience that brought home to me a number of important truths about who I am as a baptized Christian. Here I would like to single out just one of those truths that is truly good news for everyone who has been immersed in the waters of Baptism: because of our Baptism, our lives have meaning. There is broad agreement that a lack of meaning in human lives creates a crisis of identity and purpose. This point was…

In the Midst of Miracle, Christ Jesus Asks Us an Important Question

Last week, I wrote about the mystery of Christ telling the healed paralytic to pick up his mat—his stretcher—and take it home with him. The passage had become a long lectio for me, lasting more than a day. In fact, this week, I am still focused on this passage, though this time on a different line. Because every line of Scripture—every single line—is there for a purpose, and has something to teach us. So, if you don’t mind re-reading the passage with me . . . When the scribes and Pharisees began to ask themselves, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who but God alone can forgive sins?” Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them in reply, “What are you thinking in your hearts?” (Luke 5:21-22) It’s the question that can indict us at any moment of any…