In our technologically advanced society, it is easy to think that we have moved to a higher plane of thought than our forbears; that ours is at last a rational society. Reference is often made to some grand movement from sub-rational superstition to clear thinking. Objections to the latest ethical fashions are thus dismissed as archaic, and those who oppose embryonic stem cell research, abortion, extra-marital sex, same-sex ‘marriage’, and contraception are portrayed as relics of a dark age existing before people were freed of their superstitious fears by the light of scientific understanding. We believe in God, it is said, because we are scared of death.
The main villain of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Night Rises is a brutal killer named Bane, whose personal history of darkness has taken physical form in the disfiguring mask that reduces his face to a cruel cipher and his voice to an uncanny simulacrum of human speech. Bane is a dark vision of human power unshaped by the contours of a moral sense; his violence is not random, but cunningly orchestrated to deform order into chaos and life into death whenever he can. His seemingly unstoppable force and apparent lack of motive leads one of his victims to stammer out, “You’re… pure evil!” before falling into the waiting arms of death.
The taillights of the Buick ahead of me glared red as it slowed to join the syncopated rhythm of stop-and-go traffic. As I reined in the Ford to take my place at the back of the pack, I couldn’t help but be struck by the irony of the interstate jam. Here I was on a stretch of pavement wide enough and straight enough to land a commercial airliner in case of emergency. This was a highway with clovers, stacks, cloverstacks, and diamonds, all designed to make the brake pedal more or less unnecessary. This was a road that stood for progress—unobstructed, barreling-forward progress. This was a road that ought to numb my soul with the wide-eyed rest of highway hypnosis. But alas, the constant onrush of lane markers slowed to a halt, and I was startled to realize I wasn’t getting where I wanted to go. Where was I going anyway?
There is a question that priests and religious commonly hear: How do I make sure my kids won’t leave the Church? Many young adults who were raised Catholic haven’t passed through the church door in years, and many parents of young children fear this could happen to their own. There can be all sorts of reasons why a young adult has left the faith, and there isn’t one simple solution to what parents can do to protect their own children. In the end, the answers boil down to God’s grace. Without it, there’s nothing that we can do that will protect the future generation of Catholics. But with God’s grace, our prayers and example help ensure that they maintain a living faith.
One commonly noticed cultural difference between the United States and Latin America is the question one asks after meeting someone for the first time. In the United States, it is almost always, “What do you do for a living?” But in Latin America, the question is usually about the person’s family or place of origin.
Restlessness is present in myriad facets of human existence. By “restlessness” here I simply have in mind the absence of contentment—a recognition that the current state of affairs is insufficient or unsatisfactory. In my own life, I can readily recall the experience of Sunday evenings in high school. Having slept in, been to mass, watched two football games, and finished dinner, I would grapple with the realization that it all began again the next morning and that the two-day reprieve, once hailed as a salvific respite on Friday afternoon, had failed to support the weight of my expectation. I was in the throes of the Sunday funk. I was not content.
“Because I went to Mass on Sunday and put my twenty bucks in the offering basket, and I’m basically a good person, God doesn’t need anything else from me. So we’ll leave each other alone until next Sunday.” It’s a common enough belief.
The paralyzing effect of a seemingly limitless number of options is new to none of us. Today we experience it quite frequently: at local restaurants, in shopping centers, or—especially pertinent during these summer months—when choosing ice cream flavors. With so many options, how am I supposed to make the “right” decision? What is the “best” side dish or main course, shirt or pair of sunglasses, ice cream cone or sundae? On the other hand, maybe I want a milkshake . . .
In the German film As Far as My Feet Will Carry Me, a number of German soldiers are captured by the Soviet military and are brought into a labor camp deep within the borders of the Soviet Union. Separated from any city, forest, or free-flowing water, the camp itself has no fencing and few guards, since a prisoner could live but a few hours in the surrounding cold, ice, and snow. Most, if not all, of the prisoners are brought to the camp to work until they die. Life in such a situation would surely be hopeless.
In 1551 Saint Ignatius founded the Roman College, “a school of grammar, humanity, and Christian doctrine.” By the 1580s, this predecessor of today’s Gregorian University boasted some very illustrious professors—Suárez, Vásquez, and Saint Robert Bellarmine—as well as one very unusual student. At thirty-two, he was as old as some of his teachers, and, at six-and-a-half feet tall, he towered over nearly all his contemporaries, especially the thirteen-year-old boys with whom he attended Latin class. They would laugh at their gigantic, bearded classmate and say, Venisti tarde! “You’ve come late!” Of course, if they had known their friend had once been a battle-hardened soldier with a violent temper, they might have spoken more respectfully. As it was, they just got an affectionate smile.