5th Sunday of Lent: Unbinding Those Captive to Death

Lectionary 34 Ezra 37:12—14 / Psalm 130 / Romans 8:8—11 / John 11:1-45 A colleague of mine once received a student’s paper on the theme of resurrection which began: “I am aware of two chief instances of resurrection: that of Jesus Christ, and that of zombies. Since zombies are not mentioned in the Bible, this paper will deal solely with the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” It was funny, but it was also woefully underinformed. The student clearly did not remember the three accounts in the gospels where Jesus raises an individual from the dead: the raising of Jairus’ daughter in Matthew 9,...

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The problem with zoos

A week ago, I took my children to the zoo. A long-time vegetarian, I had always avoided zoos because I assumed that they were cruel to animals. I imagined tiny cages with bars, the kind you see in picture books from fifty years ago. My children were insistent, however. They wanted to see a zoo first-hand, and several trusted friends insisted that this zoo was a good one. I am always willing to change my mind about moral judgments based on good evidence. So we went. The zoo (which I won’t name) was a very large, well-endowed zoo. Many...

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Neil Gorsuch and Catholic Moral Theory

Is Gorsuch Catholic? In terms of his religious affiliation, “No.” However, in terms of his expertise with regard to moral argument that has affinities with Catholic moral theory, Gorsuch may well be one of the most learned US Appeals Court judges after John Noonan. Gorsuch wrote his doctoral dissertation at Oxford University under John Finnis. His dissertation became his 2006 book on assisted suicide and euthanasia. It appears in a series of books from Princeton University Press that includes Jeffrey Stout’s Democracy and Tradition, as well as books by moralists and theologians such as David Novak and Timothy Jackson. Gorsuch’s book is a work in legal philosophy, most of it is concerned with examining the moral and legal arguments to legalize assisted suicide and euthanasia. One brief example gives a sense of the rigor Gorsuch employs in discussing assisted suicide:  Gorsuch points out that the appropriate term for legal discussions would be ‘assisting suicide,’ since no jurisdiction is interested in prosecuting those who attempt or commit suicide, but only those who are assisting in it. The final two chapters of the book are Gorsuch’s arguments as to why euthanasia and assisted suicide should not be legalized in the United States. One sees the influence of Finnis & Boyle on Gorsuch’s argumentation with his appeal to “the basic good of human life” in relation to his argument for an absolute prohibition of...

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Fourth Sunday of Lent: Seeing As God Sees

Reading 1: 1 Samuel 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 23: 1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6 Reading 2: Ephesians 5:8-14 Gospel: John 9:1-41 Sunday’s readings  all address seeing correctly.  They contrast God’s sight with human sight. The prophet Samuel is even warned about the difference in anointing David as the new king: “Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart.” Samuel must look past the cultural norms of privilege.  He must look past Jesse’s older sons who would have had more status in society, who were of “lofty stature”. ...

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The Need for Community

It doesn’t take much to realize we are a fractured and divided society.  Robert Putnam noted this collapse of community some time ago in his Bowling Alone.  No more do we hang out in social clubs or recreational leagues.  Unlike previous generations, we invest less in our neighbors and our society.  Putnam continued this diagnosis in Our Kids where he chronicled our continuing separation.  Schools used to be places where kids from diverse economic backgrounds attended classes, participated in clubs, and played sports together.  Now, schools are separated by class, and sports, music, and extracurricular activities are private endeavors...

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Third Sunday of Lent: Desert Transformations

EX 17:3-7 PS 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9 ROM 5:1-2, 5-8 JN 4:5-42   Long-time readers know of my love of the desert and how much impact it’s had on my spiritual life. Yet deserts can also be places of intense illusions and lies – something worth thinking about as we walk through our own deserts this Lent. See my reflection this week at the Ekklesia Project...

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Brooks and Dreher: Getting Beyond Benedict and Niebuhr

David Brooks wades into the Benedict Option debate by posing a contrast between religious stances of purity and irony. Could he mean sectarians versus Niebuhrian realists?!? There’s something I know about. Brooks opts for the Niebuhrian realism, countering the Benedict Option with a recommendation of “Orthodox Pluralism,” capturing well an optimistic Niebuhrian pessimism (realism!), hanging onto “contact with a transcendent ideal” while recognizing that “those purists who aim to be higher than the angels often end up lower than the beasts.” Predictably, the next paragraph strikes into the usual suspects, like medieval inquisitors and “modern Islamic radicals” – though...

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Great Literature is an Indispensable Part of the Moral Life

I encounter a lot of people, some highly-educated and some not who simply do not read fiction. One guy I spoke with recently dismissed time spent reading literature with playing video games—a total waste of time, valuable only for entertainment. I meet others who say that with how little time they have, they will only read non-fiction, which is “truly worthwhile.” I think this view is really misguided. I want to make a case why reading fiction, particularly really excellent literature, should have a more prized place in your daily schedule, particularly as it relates to the moral life....

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Back to Basics: What is Christianity?

In the midst of reading up on diverse reviews of Rod Dreher’s new book, The Benedict Option, (here) (here) (here), before going to see him on a panel in DC next week, I realized the question of what Christians are to do in present-day American culture should go back to the more basic question of what Christianity actually is. Sounds boringly theologian-ish. But we spend enough words arguing about other stuff. I think there is a widespread, often implicit identification of Christianity with three core commitments: A relationship to God, mediated through some kind of practice that nurtures an...

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The Executive Order on Immigration and Refugees and Discrimination Against Muslims

This past Monday President Donald Trump signed an executive order temporarily halting the issuing of visas to immigrants and refugees from six Muslim-majority nations, and the order will go into on March 16. The executive order replaces an earlier one signed on January 27. This earlier order created confusion at airports across the United States as passengers were detained and questioned for hours by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents and others were placed on flights back to the countries they came from, often with no idea where they would stay or what they would do upon arrival. Others...

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