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Kanye’s Gift: Black Gospel and Catholic Polyphony Together at Last!

Over the past fifteen years, Kanye West’s influence in the popular culture has had no parallel. He has led the reshaping of hip-hop. His shoe brands have been top sellers. He has been successful in dozens of business and philanthropic ventures. Critics love him. Fans love him. He has angered people and inspired them. Like Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, Michael Jackson and Prince, he has it—a mysterious something that has always transcended the words and music he records. When he married Kim Kardashian in 2014, his mystique took on a whole new energy. When his 2016 album Life of Pablo came out, much vulgarity remained, but it was clear he was headed in a religious direction. “This is a God dream,” he declared on the opening track, “Ultralight Beam.” By 2018 he admitted publicly that he had been diagnosed as bipolar. In 2019 he made his landmark Christian record Jesus…

Chesterton and the Vocation of Our Senses

 Here dies another day During which I have had eyes, ears, hands And the great world round me; And with tomorrow begins another. Why am I allowed two? —G.K. Chesterton, “Evening”   Known for his mental acuity and piercing insight, G.K. Chesterton was perhaps at his finest in his most incisive observations. Though Chesterton had the capacity to wax eloquent on everything from the lives of the saints to the form and movement of the cosmos, some of his most memorable expressions, like the one posed in the poem above, are those which seem, on first glance, to be most fleeting. In this pensive fragment of poesy, Chesterton meditates briefly on the state of his own creatureliness; and yet, what seems to be a wisp of an idea expands outward, like the toll of a bell that grows…

Word on Fire Institute: Here’s What’s Coming in 2021

2020 was a strange year in many ways. Sadly, the beginning of 2021 has not slowed the fear, isolation, and anger of the last many months. In the midst of such confusion, the work of evangelization becomes ever more necessary, and a refocusing on the grace and peace of our Savior ever more urgent. Bishop Barron and Word on Fire have placed themselves in the Lord’s service, poised (and privileged) to work in precisely this field. Bishop Barron’s Word on Fire Institute (WOFI) continues to train evangelists all around the world who can be channels of grace, and incarnated invitations to come to know Jesus Christ through his Church. God’s providence in the hope-filled work of the apostolate showed itself in myriad ways in 2020: We have grown to over 17,000 members from around the world, representing 32 countries. We filmed 12 brand-new courses to be viewed by our…

Learning by Heart with Miss Duffy

Miss Duffy was a giant. Physically, she was diminutive; she dazzled with a shock of grey hair, meticulously placed bright red lipstick, and a limp from childhood polio. In the eyes of a fourth-grade boy, her presence was towering. Miss Duffy talked and laughed with a gravelly voice. She told incredible stories and crafted assignments of great creativity. Somehow this old woman still lived in a fourth-grade world. And I loved her. That is, until one day when she assigned us to memorize Robert Frost’s immortal poem, Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening. Now, understand, the poem is only four stanzas—sixteen brief lines—of easily apprehended English. But in the mind of a fourth-grader, it could just as well have been The Iliad. A few weeks hence, we were told, each of the twenty-three fourth graders at Jefferson Elementary School would stand by their L-shaped desk (one-by-one) and recite the…

A National Examination of Conscience in a Divisive Time

After the frightening and sobering events occurring at the US Capitol recently, Bishop Robert Barron recommended that, as a nation, we engage together in an examination of conscience. Thinking about what such an examination might look like, I came up with the following questions: Do I make an effort to inform myself in a way that is open to truth wherever it may be found, or do I only read opinions and media with which I always agree? Do I make an effort to find, understand, and read news sources that are objective and follow journalistic standards? Do I regularly reduce complex issues to simplistic, partisan sound bites to avoid engaging honestly and vulnerably with people with whom I disagree? Do I speak of my ideological opponents in a way that dehumanizes, stereotypes, or objectifies them? Do I speak scornfully or dismissively of those with whom I disagree rather…

“The Social Dilemma” and the Gift of Our Baptism

In a recent episode of The Word on Fire Show (episode 263), Brandon Vogt and Bishop Barron had a conversation about a new Netflix documentary called The Social Dilemma. The film is about the darker side of social media, as explained by Silicon Valley innovators behind the new technology and former employees of ‘Big Tech’ companies. These are people who have either left the industry for good or added their weight behind the push for ethics to create a more humane technology. In one scene from the movie, a young girl is on some social-media platform where she has uploaded a picture of herself. Soon after posting it, a number of ‘likes’ come flowing in. The reaction on her face shows her gratification for the instant approval. But, then, a negative comment arrives about her appearance. Her reaction this time is one of deep concern. She has a sudden…

Balthazar’s Gift Is a Sophisticated, Complex Proclamation

In this week after the Epiphany, it occurs to me that a depiction of the Adoration of the Kings, done by the Dutch painter Pieter Bruegel (Breugel the Elder), deserves further scrutiny, most especially of Balthazar’s complex gift. What are we to make of the green nautilus conch, bearing myrrh and presented within a small barque? Bruegel was not the only artist to use the nautilus in this way. Maerten de Vos and Johann Sadeler, working at around the same time, also show Balthazar presenting a conch-shell variation to the Christ. In the sixteenth century, much had been written about its golden-mean geometry and logarithmic mathematics, so the number of artists using nautilus cups for Balthazar’s gift of Myrrh—the embalmer’s spice—is not surprising. We can see representations of the nautilus in Willem Kalf’s Still Life with Porcelain and a Nautilus Cup and—more relevantly—in his Still Life with Chinese Bowl and…

Illiterate and Graced, St. André Bessette: “I Am Sending You a Saint”

Does God only give grace to smart people? Is holiness directly proportional to intelligence or ability? Obviously the answer is no, but it sure seems like the great saints are all also holy geniuses. St. Paul, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Bonaventure, St. Augustine, St. Catherine of Siena; the older saints seem to be academic all-stars. The Little Flower, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, with her “Little Way,” might seem a simple mind, but anyone who has read her writing knows the profound wisdom found within—she is a Doctor of the Church after all. St. Martin de Porres? Even he was known for his ability to solve thorny theological questions brought to him by his Dominican brothers and inquiring bishops. Could it be that God indeed loves the poor in spirit, but really favors the rich in intellect?  As usual, St. Thomas Aquinas offers some help in answering our question.

“Love in the Ruins”: Walker Percy’s End of the World as We Know It

It is funny how one can look back at a most mundane moment and realize just how outrageously pivotal it actually was. For example, during my freshman year in college, I had a work-study job in my school’s library. With my affection for books, it seemed as though I had hit the jackpot with the best possible job. I didn’t anticipate the long stretches of boredom when we were overstaffed, combined with slow business at the circulation desk. But the librarian had a solution: reading the shelves. Idle workers were dispatched to various rooms of the library to read the shelves—that is, to look at the LC numbers and make sure the books were in order. The best of all areas to be assigned was the basement, where the fiction stacks were housed. It was a playground of temptations. Read a few call numbers, straighten a few books, and succumb…

The New Age: On the Fear of Religion

The renowned physicist Stephen Hawking once claimed that the idea of an afterlife is “a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.” In response, Oxford mathematician John Lennox suggested that perhaps the inverse is true, that atheism is just “a fairy story for those afraid of the Light.” Naturally, Dr. Lennox’s witty quip has produced a hearty ensemble of chuckles from approving theist hearers. But in his reply to Hawking, the Oxford professor touched on a much deeper and more serious cultural phenomenon than perhaps is initially grasped—namely, the “fear of religion.” “Men despise religion,” wrote the great seventeenth-century polymath Blaise Pascal in his Pensées. “They hate it and are afraid it is true.” At first, we might be tempted to wonder whether he exaggerates. Is it really true to say that men despise, even fear, religion? The propagators of the New Atheism (to name one specific subset of irreligious…