Author: Matthew Shadle

The Cardinals’ Gamble

In the days leading up to the papal conclave which just concluded, I became a bit dismayed by the intense, wall to wall media coverage of the event because of two of the forces driving this coverage. The first is our celebrity- and “reality”-obsessed media culture. Recent popes have certainly been treated like celebrities, if of an unusual sort, and I couldn’t help but get the feeling that the viewing audience was awaiting a puff of white smoke the way it anticipates who will receive a rose from the Bachelor. Second, the media coverage was partly driven by the excessive focus on the papacy by some Catholics concerned with doctrinal orthodoxy and reverent worship. Of course, the pope plays a crucial role as the universal pastor of the church and as the head of the vast administrative apparatus of the Catholic Church, but it is easy to overestimate the influence the pope has over the actual practice of Catholics. Apart from a few changes to the liturgical text at Sunday worship, I have a hard time thinking of any ways the practice of my faith has changed as a result of the eight years of Benedict XVI’s papacy. The daily practice of Catholic faith has much more to do with our local parishes and communities. While I certainly believed the election of a new pope was momentous, I couldn’t...

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Dorothy Day: Apocalyptic Sectarian?

In recent months, the Catholic activist Dorothy Day has received ample praise in both the Catholic and secular press. Of course, the reason is that last November, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops endorsed the cause of canonization for Day, moving her one step closer to sainthood. The timing of this endorsement seems providential; as our recent presidential election has shown, Catholics are just as polarized as the nation at large, Day, on the other hand, combined traditional piety with a radical commitment to social justice. Her personalism, which she shared with the co-founder of the Catholic Worker, Peter Maurin, also provides inspiration for those fed up with the orthodoxies of the political left and right. Although many praise Day, few are willing to embrace her way of life. She believed that pacifism, voluntary poverty, and to some extent withdrawal from the modern industrial economy were necessary for Christian discipleship. In a recent article in the theological journal Horizons, “’Apocalyptic Sectarianism’: The Theology at Work in Critiques of Catholic Radicals,” Benjamin Peters demonstrates the consistency in the critiques of Day and other Catholic radicals by fellow Catholics from the 1940s onwards. John Courtney Murray criticized the “eschatological humanism” of Catholic radicals based on “contempt of the world” and for which humanity’s supernatural destiny is “radically discontinuous” with human nature. Similarly, writing during World War II, Joseph L. Connor...

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The Conflict in Mali: A Complex Dilemma

Earlier today, Algerian special forces raided a natural gas complex near In Aménas, Algeria where members of an al Qaeda-affiliated Islamist group had been holding hostage a group of workers from several countries. Tragically, the seven remaining hostages were killed by the militants before being killed themselves by the Algerian troops. That is in addition to at least sixteen other hostages killed in the initial attack on the complex and an earlier helicopter raid by the Algerian military.  The militants claimed that the attack was in retaliation for Algeria’s granting of airspace for French intervention in the conflict in neighboring Mali. Although the hostage crisis has made the U.S. public more aware of that conflict, we should not let ourselves turn our attention away from Mali now that the hostage crisis is over. The conflict in Mali is quite complex. In January of 2012, rebels from the Tuareg ethnic group of northern Mali, calling themselves the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), began an armed conflict against the government, seeking their own independent state named Azawad. The Tuaregs in Mali and Niger claim that, since the independence of those two countries in 1960, they have been marginalized by the more dominant black Africans in the southern regions of the two countries. The Tuaregs of Mali have engaged in two previous insurgencies in 1990 and 2007. By March...

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The Incarnational Wisdom of Las Posadas

Since last Sunday, Mexicans and Mexican-Americans have been celebrating Las Posadas, a nightly celebration of Mary and Joseph’s search for lodging in Bethlehem. Each night, people dressed as Mary and Joseph, or statues representing them, lead a procession to homes or churches where they ask for lodging (“posada” is Spanish for “lodging”). In some celebrations the procession is turned away at several houses before being welcomed at the designated home for the night, whereas in a shorter version the group is welcomed into a single home after at first being turned away. Once inside, the people pray together, sing Christmas songs, and share a meal. The custom of Las Posadas seems to be based on a bit of a pious fiction, as Luke’s account of Mary and Joseph’s arrival in Bethlehem does not suggest that the couple were denied lodging out of ill will or inhospitality. Luke reports that the reason Mary and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem in the first place was because they were required to do so as part of the census mandated by the Roman Emperor Augustus, so there were likely many more visitors in Bethlehem than usual. This experience is entirely relatable; for part of our honeymoon, my wife and I visited Quebec City, which by coincidence was celebrating its 400th anniversary, and as a result all of the hotels in the city were booked...

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