Overcoming the Fear of Beggars

Strange but true: the OED has no word for the irrational fear of poor people. Perhaps we have assumed that fear of poor people is more rational than fear of spiders (arachnophobia) or mushrooms (mycophobia) or the number thirteen (triskaidekaphobia). More than ten years ago, I published a book called The Fear of Beggars. It argued that fear of poor people, particularly the ones who do not endure their lot quietly at home but publicly ask for help, is more important than we’ve realized to our economic thinking. That fear influenced both modern economic thought and shaped Christian talk about “stewardship,” both of which claim that responsible ownership, not redistribution of property, is the way to deal with poverty. And poor people who want change should wait (gratefully) for owners to bring that change about. I did not think much about migration at that time. I did not imagine a caravan of migrants walking from violence and life-damaging poverty toward the US. I would have thought it hyperbolic fantasy to think the US would respond to such a move by deploying the military at the border. I didn’t understand the reach of vicious misinformation. It never occurred to me that in the US an anti-Semitic nationalist would kill Jews at prayer because they were, as Jews, associated with an organization that resettles refugees. I had, in truth, no idea...

Read More

No Seriously, There’s a Synod Going On

In some ways, it is a breath of fresh air to realize that the synod of bishops can gather in Rome without much fanfare. This says something about the ways we are embracing the vision of collegiality that has been a hallmark of Pope Francis’s leadership, for we can say it’s just another day at the office, so to speak. Nevertheless, I still find it striking that the 2018 Synod on Young People, Faith, and Vocational Discernment is receiving much less attention than the 2014-2015 synods on the Family. I don’t think the shift is entirely illustrative of a new...

Read More

Scholasticism and Sanctity

Sanctity is not often associated with the intellectual life of theologians, perhaps because the intellectual life is so public while prayer, fasting, and almsgiving aren’t to be published. Few, if any, news stories are written about a theologian as such helping a poor person in need. Yet theologians, even moral theologians, are at risk of forgetting about sanctity in the midst of busy teaching, writing, and speaking schedules. The importance of almsgiving in particular can fade from view, veiled with the memories of poverty during graduate school. I was therefore delighted to be challenged recently by an example of...

Read More

Our Response to All God’s Vulnerable People: Twenty-Ninth Sunday of Ordinary Time

Isaiah 53:10-11 Psalm 33:4-5, 18-19, 20, 22 Hebrews 4:14-16 Mark 10:35-45 One of the common central themes in our scripture readings this week is the theme of the powerful taking on the experience and concerns of the poor, the lowly, the distressed, and the oppressed. The Old Testament and Epistle readings are usually read in light of Jesus. Jesus is the Suffering Servant of Isaiah, the one who bears our guilt through his suffering [on the cross]. Jesus is also our great High Priest, the one who “sympathizes with our weakness” and who has been “tested in every way.”...

Read More

Rethinking the (Political) Apocalypse?

In the wake of the debacle of the confirmation hearing for Judge Brett Kavanaugh and the ensuing feverish jockeying for position in the upcoming midterm elections, it is easy to despair about the extreme polarization of American politics. To despair is to be unable to see any possibilities for an alternative or an escape from our condition. More than one person has mentioned the 1850’s to me as an apt analogy for our age. It can seem as if the differences are so great – and the built-up animus so large – that the country could become ungovernable. So...

Read More

28th Sunday of Ordinary Time: Learning to leave it all behind

    Readings: Wisdom 7:7-11; Psalm 90:12-17; Hebrews 4:12-13; Mark 10:17-30   Discussions of gospel sayings about wealth tend to be a key moment when things “get real” in my core undergraduate theology classes. It begins to dawn on a critical mass of students that their current understanding of the Christian life might not line up with what the New Testament actually says about discipleship. “But I heard there was a narrow ‘needle gate’ in Jerusalem. Doesn’t this mean that Jesus simply wants us to give away a few excess and unnecessary goods?” Sorry, friends. There is no evidence...

Read More

Guess What This Week’s Readings are About? – 27th Sun of Ordinary Time

Readings: Gen 2:18-24; Ps 128:1-6; Heb 2:9-11; Mk 10:2-16 So it was Monday evening, I saw on our blog calendar that I was scheduled to do the post on this Sunday’s lectionary readings, so I thought, “Well, let’s check out what the readings are, and start thinking about them.” I went to the USCCB lectionary page, clicked on October 7… and thought to myself, “OH, brother” (or words to that effect…) Consider this: There is a helpful distinction between reformers and revolutionaries, between programs of reform and programs of revolution. One might think there is merely a different in...

Read More

Scenes from the Classroom: Kavanaugh, the Sex Abuse Crisis, and Holding it All Together

Yesterday, while I was in full-lectury mode on the theme “beginning of life issues” to a classroom full of pre-med, pre-nursing, dietetics, and therapy majors – a student raised her hand. I have a clarifying question to ask. I expected the question to be something about the case we’d just been examining – when and why people might opt for prenatal testing, and that this might not mean they are interested in seeking abortions. But no. Have the bishops come out with a statement on all this sex stuff happening now? You mean, the sex abuse scandals, I asked?...

Read More

Catholic Universities, Identity, and the Abuse Scandal

For the past few weeks I’ve been a part of a faculty seminar at my institution focused on the “Catholic intellectual tradition.” The seminar has been a welcome respite once a week to take a step back from the daily details of teaching, and instead look at how my work – both in research and in pedagogy – fit into the rich history of this tradition. Getting a sense of the forest, you might say, instead of analyzing trees. Understandably, much of the discussion this year has circled around the new developments within the ongoing abuse crisis in the...

Read More

Recent Tweets