Michael Bluth, the main character of the cult TV series Arrested Development, is the consummate nice guy. With his sheepishly tousled hair, disarming smile, devoted work ethic, and commitment to family, he is the one member of the chaotic Bluth family who consistently tries to do the right thing. But somehow Michael’s nice-guyness often leads him away from the straight and narrow, wandering among bramblesome deeds like lies, theft, and philandering, all wrapped up in good old-fashioned self-righteousness. So how does a nice guy like him end up in a dark wood like that?
One of the wonderful parts of summer ministry is meeting new people and hearing each other’s stories. For me this also involves a certain challenge: in telling people who I am it invariably comes out that I have studied for the Episcopal priesthood but converted to Catholicism. This almost always prompts the difficult but reasonable question, “What made you convert to Catholicism?” Now I find myself in the company of blessed Cardinal Newman, who responded to a similar inquiry at a dinner party by saying that it was not something one could propound “between the soup and fish courses.”
Some of our province’s parishes and priories are known locally for their beautiful liturgies. Whether it’s the music or the incense, people seem to flock to join the friars for Mass. But if we see the liturgy only as these external things, then it’s an empty set of movements. Don’t get me wrong: The external forms of the liturgy are very important, but there’s more to Mass than smells and bells. There is, most importantly, the actual prayer that takes place.
Being a student can be frustrating.
I recently read an article by Emily Stimpson over at Our Sunday Visitor about millennial Catholics. Citing a study suggesting that large numbers of Catholics in my generation are losing their faith, Stimpson highlights the encouraging fact that, of those who are not losing their faith, many are dedicating their lives to spreading it.
Whenever we make the decision to try to live “better” (be it healthier, or more uprightly, or more joyfully), the pursuit inevitably means confronting the contradictions that exist in our lives. Take, for instance, those of us who want to lose weight but also love late night snacking. These two desires are clearly at odds, and this conflict must be resolved before we can move forward—one must yield before the other. The same is true in the work of conversion: some things need to be cast off; others can be integrated.
Why, oh why, oh why is humility so difficult and painful to learn? If you’re like me, this is one of the first thoughts that comes to mind during an examination of conscience. Each day, despite admittedly modest, yet sincere, efforts to rein in pride and its offspring (i.e., vainglory, ambition, and presumption), we end up falling a thousand times. Once we recognize the fault—and we typically do so only after our pride issues in some external action, involving more than merely a vain thought—we usually proceed to rationalize it in some way. We say to ourselves that we only acted in the most practical manner, even if it wasn’t the most charitable; or we say that the matter was really out of our control, that we were only “victims of circumstance;” or perhaps we think, “Sure, if this was an ideal world, I would probably have acted differently, but I am who I am, and I can’t help how I was brought up.”
Such excuses are the low-hanging fruit on the tree called “The Real Reason Why”—easy grabs in a world of convenience and entitlement.
As a gesture of support for the bishops’ Fortnight of Freedom, during which Americans have been called to be vigilant in prayer and public action for the cause of religious freedom, Dominicana will provide free access to “Salt and Light: An Interview with Chris Smith” from today until July 4.
“Salt and Light” is one of the feature articles from the Summer 2012 issue of the semi-annual print journal Dominicana. In the interview, Brs. Mario Calabrese, O.P., and Thomas More Garrett, O.P., discuss the pressing questions surrounding the public life of Catholics in contemporary America with one of our country’s great experts on the question, Congressman Chris Smith. Chris Smith has served in Congress since 1980 and has been co-chair of the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus since 1982. He has also distinguished himself as an advocate of human rights in many different fields, authoring innumerable laws to protect Americans’ authentic freedom.
The interview deals with the successes and failures of Catholic politicians, the circumstances of the Obama mandate on contraception, the prevailing political climate regarding religious freedom, and more.
Enjoy the free article! If you would like to subscribe to the journal, you can do so here. The cost is $15 per year for a print subscription (which includes online access) or $8 per year for only online access. Gift subscriptions are also available.
Image: Canaletto, Ruins of the Forum Looking Towards the Capitol
“I die the king’s good servant, but God’s first.” History records these as the last words of St. Thomas More. The former Lord Chancellor under Henry VIII, St. Thomas More lost his head to the axe of the public headsman on the banks of the Thames River in 1535 for refusing to deny his Catholic faith and acknowledge the king as the supreme leader of the Church in England. Tomorrow we celebrate his feast, along with that of another Englishman who preceded him in martyrdom, St. John Fisher.
St. Thomas More was a man of priorities. A lawyer by training, the “Man for All Seasons” was also steeped in knowledge of literature, language, and rhetoric. While he was gifted with a tremendous talent for secular affairs, St. Thomas More never sought success and advancement at the cost of spiritual growth. For St. Thomas More, his relationship with God was first. All other matters were to follow behind.
Our country’s founding document reflects something of this English saint’s ordering of priorities. The Constitution ranks religious liberty as the first freedom found in the First Amendment. It is fitting then, that the bishops of the United States have chosen the vigil of tomorrow’s feast to mark the beginning of the national observance of a ‘Fortnight for Freedom.’
Perhaps the most basic trait of a happy childhood is trust. An implicit, nearly absolute confidence in one’s parents is at the root of that carefree spirit which we typically associate with youth, and the betrayal of this confidence is a calamity of such profound and intimate consequence that, unless we have suffered it ourselves, we feel presumptuous commenting on it. Most of us, however, as we grow older and assume the burden of providing for ourselves and others, look back on our youth as a time of comparative ease; and we can even become desperate to recapture what Evelyn Waugh memorably described as its “languor”:
From Braveheart to Gladiator and Master and Commander, every movie about warfare and strategy has its epic battle scene. The fighting, however, is always preceded by a time of intense preparation. In the midst of their camp or ship, soldiers and sailors prepare themselves and their equipment for the fight that is a few short hours away. Some men lay all their gear out before them, while others have a memorized procedure that takes only minutes. Some are nervous and panicked, and others are seen praying as they tighten, buckle, and sharpen their battle array. However this ritual is done, each man takes his preparation seriously, realizing that the strap and link he ties now may be the one that deflects the fatal strike from his enemy.