Imagine you’ve discovered the cure for cancer. Just you. So of course every news agency is begging to meet with you. On a given Monday evening you agree to a sit-down with a journalist from the New York Times. She’s arranged to meet you at, say, the Boathouse restaurant in San Diego. Or maybe she’ll meet you at your apartment. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t even matter who she is. She can be a well-mannered British intern, or instead a fidgety brunette, with thick-rimmed glasses, a gray blazer, and a tart attitude. What does matter is that whatever you say to her will be published everywhere. It will be printed and published to the ends of the earth, then frozen in the archives of the internet forever. She may ask you technical questions about your lab experiments, or she may grow poetic and pose questions like, “So what does this mean for us?” And all that you say will be heard by all. When you invite that one person over, you’re inviting the world.
Flannery O’Connor had an ear for the vacuous in popular wisdom. The saying “The devil you know is better than the devil you don’t” appears in two of her stories and, I suspect, particularly rankled her. But sometimes she also heard in the hollows of popular dicta the echo of real wisdom.
To depart from evil is understanding (Job 28:28).
Sin is something altogether mysterious and awful: a turning away from God and a turning to the changeable good. As broken human persons, we create for ourselves a myriad of excuses for the sins we commit. It seems that our changeable and too easily distracted mind can hardly conceive of the idea of the Supreme Good (God) and still less hold It as the object of its preference over and above all else. In every sin, therefore, there is some element of error, a mistaken judgment.
A couple of weeks ago, I went with a few brothers to the first installment of the Metropolitan Opera’s Summer Recital Series. Gathered around the SummerStage venue in Central Park, we listened—to something. Given the language barrier and the scarcity of bodily expression, I was relegated to the mere appreciation of vocal virtuosity and what touches of style I could detect. Something beautiful was happening, but I felt a touch barbarous, for I was unable to access the meaning. I was like a child at the grown-ups’ table.
That inability to understand the singer’s words brought home just how powerful language is. Words are positively potent. To think that I can cause the immaterial existence of a thing in the mind of another by a vocal enunciation is truly marvelous. Words permit us to clutch reality. And so, it should come as no surprise, as documented in a recent article, that exposure to words is a crucial factor in early childhood brain development:
On a sweltering Saturday earlier this summer, sixteen young men and women set out on foot on a fourteen-mile pilgrimage through the shale oil-rich countryside of Perry County, Ohio. The sizable band formed a cast of characters worthy of Chaucer: the Doctor, the Eagle Scout, the Farm Girl, and many more, along with a half-dozen Dominican student brothers. The destination: the small town of Somerset, home of two Dominican parishes, and the former site of the Province of St. Joseph’s novitiate, house of studies, provincial headquarters, and even a short-lived college. Yet the eponymous church of St. Joseph bears significance not only for the friars, for it is also the oldest Catholic parish in the Buckeye State, earning the nickname “The Cradle of the Faith in Ohio.” One may wonder why the Catholic faith was first nurtured, by an order known for ministry in the cities and university towns, in such an unlikely place as this…
“The celebrant for today’s Mass is Father _________. Please stand and greet your neighbor.”
These can be words of controversy. Proponents emphasize the importance of community and hospitality. Their opponents claim that it shouldn’t take place during the Sacred Liturgy.
Previous generations boasted of ethnic parishes and parish-sponsored dances. Today, we still find parish festivals. The parish has been and continues to be a source of friendship and fellowship. But what exactly is the relationship between community amongst ourselves and the Mass? After all, as some are right to point out – our attention at Mass focuses on the liturgy, the re-presentation of Christ’s sacrifice, in a way that transcends us Mass participants and centers us on Christ.
There is a sort of triumphalism over death that the Gospel inspires. Christ’s victory, his resurrection to the right hand of the Father, has put something of a swagger in the Christian step. To those unfamiliar, it may seem rash; to those uncomfortable with medieval hagiography, it can seem downright morbid at times.
Ashlyn Blocker is in many respects a normal American teenage girl. She lives with her family, has fun with her friends, watches TV and sings pop music. But there is something different about her, something very different. After she was born she hardly ever cried. For instance, once she nearly chewed off her tongue while her teeth were coming in, but she didn’t cry or complain. It turns out she has a genetic disorder which blocks the electrical transmissions of painful events from reaching her brain. She has a congenital insensitivity to pain.
On the surface, that sounds like a problem that we would all like to have. Imagine the amazing things we would be able to do, and yet, not feel the painful consequences. It seems that congenital insensitivity to pain is a lot like a superpower. In reality though, it is really a super-disability.
St. Mary Magdalene is an icon of God’s mercy. Her life magnifies the workings of God’s love: how He heals us, restores our dignity, befriends us, and calls us beyond ourselves.
Leaving aside the tradition that she was a prostitute and the confusion about the different Marys in the New Testament, we are left with a simple introduction: “ . . . Mary called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out . . . ” (Luke 8:2). Seven demons—that’s nothing to scoff at! Whether or not she was a scandalous sinner, Magdalene knew the healing balm of God’s mercy.
I have been in Vienna, the capital city of the last Holy Roman emperor, learning German this summer. The legacy of the Kaisers, a transliteration of the title Caesar into German, is everywhere. I’m sure if Gaius Julius knew that his personal title would be last used by the descendants of that morally corrupt people he fought [see STh. I-II Q. 94 A. 4], he would be rolling over in his grave. That may be a bit difficult, however, for, like all good pagans, Julius Caesar’s remains were consumed by fire. Nonetheless, reflecting Julius’ continuing influence, perhaps the longest-lasting legacy of the Holy Roman Kaisers’ power is that Austria continues to exist as an independent state and has not been swallowed up into Germany.