Advent, Christmas, and Hospitality

I used to think of myself as something of an Advent purist. We had to celebrate Advent as a time of anticipating and longing, and an essential part of this was resisting Christmas songs and decorations and celebrations at long as possible. Often, this has also helped me to put off these distractions until after my fall semester grading is done. I also tend to surround myself with theologians and others who are a bit obsessed about proper liturgical practice. But in the past several years, I have undergone a shift in this. This happened in part because a...

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Love Draws Us to the Particular —2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 6 Baruch 5:1-9 Psalm 126:1-6 Philippians 1:4-6,8-11 Luke 3:1-6 Every Christmas my mother took a week of vacation to prepare for the holiday celebration. Growing up an only child, she never really relished vacations that involved lots of “together time” either in the car or in hotel rooms. So the week in December when she got ready for Christmas was a special treat for her, because she got to do fun things while everyone else was out of the house. She did them for us, however, and for everyone who came into the house over the holiday season....

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Bush 41: The End of an Era

Americans, perhaps inevitably, invest the figures who occupy the presidency with a symbolic or narrative importance. That’s all well and good – telling history is a narrative art. That doesn’t mean it’s fictional; it just means that there is no such thing as “the true story” in some utterly factual way. Narratives ought to take account of facts, but inevitably they choose and weave in ways that aren’t simply dictated by them. Within Christianity, the obsession with “true stories” in regards to the Bible – meaning somehow utterly factual accounts without regard to art – ends up in one of...

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1st Sunday of Advent: Waiting for Renewal

Readings: Jer 33:14-16; Ps 25; 1 Thess 3:12-4:2; Lk 21: 25-28, 34-36 The first Sunday of Advent marks the beginning of a new liturgical year. If ever the Catholic Church was in need of a year to end, it was this past one. Advent, while pointing us toward the Incarnation of Jesus at Christmas, begins with a different anticipation, of the second coming of Christ – it begins exactly where ordinary time ends. The second coming is a reminder that the waiting and longing for the Messiah to come is not over for Christians. While that waiting is pervaded...

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The Value of Rest in a Season of Busy

There is a general sense of agreement, or at least a culturally enshrined assumption, that the stretch of time between Thanksgiving and Christmas might just be the busiest time of the year. Much of this, undoubtedly, has to do with the commercialization of Christmas, which is beginning to affect not only Thanksgiving but also Halloween, it seems. Surely the march from Black Friday and Small Business Saturday to Cyber Monday and Giving Tuesday is not helping the sense of overwhelming obligation that most people seem to share during this “gap” between the holidays. And yet this gap is not...

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Coming to terms with the weakness of truth (Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe)

Readings: Daniel 7:13-14;  Psalm 93:1-2, 5;  Revelation 1:5-8;  John 18:33b-37   The “ruler of the kings of the earth” is also the “faithful witness” (Rev 1:5). He rules as the one whose words we can lean on fully: His “decrees are worthy of trust indeed” (Ps 93:5). To belong to Christ’s reign involves faith in truth’s priority over power as well as hope in truth’s ultimate vindication over all attempts to subordinate communication to the search for control, stability, and safety (even if these things are sometimes important). For Pilate, the conflicting claims posed by Jesus and his fellow...

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Praise and Thanksgiving

This week we celebrate that great American holiday of Thanksgiving. Perhaps the details of the day – family, food, football – have come to obscure the name and meaning behind Thanksgiving. While not a Catholic liturgical holiday in its origins, Thanksgiving nonetheless indicates something absolutely fundamental to Catholic life: recognizing gifts from God and offering thanks to God for those gifts. “Eucharist,” the Greek word for thanksgiving, reflects this importance of thanksgiving for the Christian life; Eucharist was the choice of the early church to name both the liturgy and the sacrament received during that liturgy. At the spring 2018 meeting of the Catholic Theological Society of America, Christopher Ruddy presented an excellent paper on the “theology of praise,” as a task for theologians. John Cavadini has also noted, relying on St. Augustine, that the meaning of life is to praise God, to learn to say “thank you” better. For moral theologians, this may seem strange. The usual tasks seem to involve interacting with and addressing contemporary moral issues or crises, both inside and outside of the Church. There are so many topics that require our attention – from immigrants and war to ecclesial scandals. There are also various Church teachings to investigate, understand, and explain. There are opportunities to teach students and to argue with colleagues. It is all too easy to be caught up in the past,...

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Reflections on a Terminal Diagnosis

I have a brain tumor. Actually two. I was diagnosed last year five days before Christmas. My youngest son was not yet a month old. And my tumors are terminal. Unless something else kills me, my tumors will. I don’t know when. It is not unreasonable that I will see my 35th birthday. It is significantly less likely I will see 40. There are lots of people—I know they are well-meaning—who say God didn’t will this. This is not his plan. I can’t accept this. This gets God off the hook for something I need Him to be a part of. It makes God absent, except in the most incidental way, from the most significant experience of my life. I want to argue with God, cry out to Him, and maybe eventually, accept what He is doing. We would not the infused virtue of faith if evil in the face of a good God could simply be explained away. I am a Thomist, through and through. But evil does not have a rational answer. It has an encounter. And in our confronting of evil, faith gives us the eyes to see Jesus, the hope to see God’s plan. This is a grace. This experience, as awful as it is, is God’s will. I think often of Joseph being sold into slavery. “You meant it for evil but I meant...

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Help Us See More Clearly

Possibly the most important work in Christian ethics in the last decade has been Oliver O’Donovan’s trilogy of books subtitled “ethics as theology.” In researching for an essay I am writing on the importance of the final judgment in ethical debates, I draw on O’Donovan’s work, and it seemed the recent events in the Church might be helpfully illuminated by his claims. O’Donovan makes a distinction between our “purposes” – the limited sense of what our actions will accomplish in “the future beneath our feet” – and the actual “end” of our action – which we can only know after the fact via reflection, and we can only know ultimately in the light of God’s reflection. O’Donovan insists that all our historical endeavors, whether for the self or the neighbor, however important they are, must recognize the limitations involved in judging according to standards of “utility” or (he amusingly notes) “impact.” “Impact” matters; but we are sorely deceived if we think the final court of judgment is measurable “results” or (worse) online likes. The grave danger is to think the measurable, immediate future IS the future, is “what matters” about our actions. This is what eschatology – and more precisely, the notion of a final judgment – does for ethics: not give it a final “metric” we can grasp and righteously measure ourselves by, but rather “discloses and confirms...

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Pastoral Perspectives: Preparing for Aging Parents (and Where are the Books on This?)

Frequent guest blogger, Father Satish Joseph, offers the following thoughts about aging parents: Think about it! There are countless books on preparing people for their pregnancy, their first child, and for the perils of parenthood. Young parents devour every information they get so that they can be good parents. However, once children leave home, there is no book that prepares them to nurture their aging parents, in return. There are ample books that help children prepare their parents for aging, but there is barely any help available for children preparing themselves for aging parents. For me, it was a...

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