Glimpses of Hope amid Crisis

It’s been nearly a month since the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report was released, and the topic still seems more relevant than ever. This is entirely appropriate. The report and its fresh revelations not only of predatory priests and sexual abuse in horrendous details but also of concerted efforts to cover up the crimes have brought the depths of human sinfulness out into the open in ways that have sparked a true crisis in the Church, just as the Boston Globe reporting did 16 years ago. It is hard to know how to make sense of all of this, and...

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Insights from the Pew Religious Typology

Sometimes in the midst of immediate, internet-generated daily drama in the Church, it is very helpful to step back and look at bigger-picture matters. The beginning of the school year – meeting new students – always makes me ponder, “Who are these new faces?” Mostly, they are not hanging on the latest report about this or that bishop! At the same time, The Pew Research Center has released another one of their excellent studies, this time constructing a “religious typology” of Americans. Rather than slice and dice Americans based on demographic data, denominational affiliation, or partisanship, the study refreshingly...

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A Printer’s Choice (You Should Read This)

One of my favorite moments in the Lord of the Rings is when Aragorn and Gandalf are marching to the Gates of Mordor.  Sauron so strongly desires the ring that he assumes that everyone else must feel likewise.  He cannot imagine that anyone would try to destroy it, so when Gandalf and Aragorn arrive, Sauron believes exactly what Aragorn and Gandalf hoped he would, that they bear the ring and are challenging his dominion. Sauron empties his troops onto them.  This folly leaves the fields of Gorgoroth vacant and enables Frodo and Sam to move unhindered to Mount Doom. It is...

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Learning from the Pharisees – 22nd Sun Ordinary Time

Readings: Ex 16:2-4, 12-15; Ps 78:3-4, 23-24, 25, 54; Eph 4:17, 20-24; Jn 6:24-35 I’ve spent this first week of classes preparing my students for an in-depth study of the Gospel of Luke, and this week in particular is the one I’ve dubbed my “anti-Marcionism” week. By which I mean, I want my students to understand the unity of the two Testaments, to understand that these gospel narratives only make sense with the full history of Israel behind them. I am making it my mission, even in this introductory course, to combat the common perceptions of the Old Testament as irrelevant...

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Surviving the Apocalypse: Tips from the Catholic Tradition

For American Catholics, it feels like a dark time. For many of us, the current presidency represents a broader national moment of anger and division, a resurgence of pettiness and hatred, a loss of thoughtfulness and magnanimity. And now, the stomach-churning news of new tales of sexual abuse. Frankly, it has left some of us wondering how to put one foot in front of the other. As it turns out, the Catholic tradition has some advice to offer. Do your work. The old monastic saying is “age quod agis,” which contemporary translators try to dress up as “do your...

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The Foolish God Who Chooses Us – 21st Sun Ordinary Time

Readings: Jos 24:1-2A, 15-17, 18B; Eph 5:21-32; Jn 6:60-69 “Do you also want to leave?” Stanley Hauerwas has a well-known saying that “liberalism is the story that you have no story except the story you chose when you had no story.” (Yes, you might have to read that again slowly!) By “liberalism,” Hauerwas does not mean the left or the Democratic party – he means classical political liberalism, where “freedom” names an absolute value of choice for the individual about any and every relationship they have. It’s equally embodied by consumer capitalism and by sexual libertarianism. It means ultimately we are self-defining...

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Tell me: Why are you still going to Church? Why are you not?

The drive to church this past Sunday seemed longer than normal.  I live in the Diocese of Greensburg, one of those featured in the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s report on the sexual abuse perpetrated by Catholic priests and covered up by Catholic bishops. Our kids happily – or perhaps more not unhappily – sat in the back of the car.  As we drove, my wife and I talked about how difficult it is to keep going in the wake of yet another sex abuse crisis, another failure of those who are supposed to be leaders in the church.  Priests had...

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Life amidst Death—20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 119 Proverbs 9:1-6 Psalm 34: 2-7 Ephesians 5:15-20 John 6:51-58 This week’s readings are about two themes: wisdom and life. The first reading speaks of wisdom as a person building a house and preparing a table of food to entice passers-by to enter. Wisdom is not a passive conceptual category, but an active agent. She draws people enter in, in order to nourish them and give them life. The second reading is a more straightforward ethical exhortation from St. Paul to “live not as foolish persons but as wise.” He says we should make the most of the...

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To Uncle Ted’s Nephews

A year after Theodore McCarrick was named a cardinal, the Washington Post ran a story (“Uniform Policy on Priests’ Abuse Urged; More Comprehensive Way Is Needed, D.C.’s Cardinal McCarrick Says,” 4/17/2002, A01) in which the following is revealed: [McCarrick] also revealed that he personally had once faced an unfounded accusation. More than 10 years ago, while he was bishop of Newark, McCarrick said, he was accused of pedophilia “with my own family” in a letter sent to some of his peers in the church hierarchy. “I immediately did two things,” he said. “I wrote a response and sent it...

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The Queen of Heaven, the Queen of Soul, and Sex Abuse

It’s tempting to minimize the sin in order to honor the feast, but that’s the wrong move, as though to proclaim resurrection we need to say that death isn’t really all that bad. The truth of sin and proclamation of the good news aren’t contradictions. The Queen of Heaven, who is also the Mother of Sorrows, cries out that God has “shown the strength of his arm, scattered the proud in their conceit.” Oh, Mary, don’t you weep. However deep the sin we sink in, grace is deeper still.

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