Since 1997 public television viewers everywhere have enjoyed the delights and dismays of antiques owners from cities all across the nation that have dragged old items before the camera and appraisers to see if what has been in the family for centuries or was found last week at a yard sale is treasure or trash. Personally, I always enjoy the times when an appraiser’s body language is giving away what they know the item’s worth is while they listen to “Peggy from Tulsa” drone on about how the antique came into her possession. The best of these moments however is when the high value of the antique is revealed to the unsuspecting owner and they in turn reveal that the item has been used for something utterly mundane, such as holding gun ammo for the past twenty years, and the appraiser’s countenance goes from delight to disgust just before the camera cuts away to a close up of the antique with accompanying graphic of the roadshow trunk, item value, and the “magic pot of gold” sound effect.
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:
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.
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.
There have been two basic impulses in the history of Christianity: to go into the wilderness, fleeing the city to prepare the way of the Lord, and to go into the city, letting the light of Christ shine in the midst of the difficulties and delights of everyday life. Jesus, of course, did both—he went into the desert after his baptism by John, and on countless occasions retired from the crowds to pray—and yet he continually returned to the Holy City, even when this meant risking his life.
Pope Francis’s recent remarks to the 31st International Drug Enforcement Conference in Rome this June were very blunt:
Drugs are an evil, and with evil there can be no yielding or compromise… Attempts, however limited, to legalize so-called“recreational drugs”, are not only highly questionable from a legislative standpoint, but they fail to produce the desired effects… No to every type of drug use. It is as simple as that. No to any kind of drug use.
Today, as we celebrate the birthday of our nation, you will no doubt watch fireworks and hear patriotic songs about the grandeur of our great country. Freedom figures prominently in our associations with July 4th, and in such songs: “the Land of the Free” “Let Freedom ring” “Home of the Free and the Brave” and even Pilgrims whose “stern, impassioned feet” beat “a thoroughfare for Freedom across the wilderness” of early America. One song mentioning freedom you probably won’t hear today is Janis Joplin’s “Me and Bobby McGee.” In this bluesy American tune of loving and losing, Ms. Joplin’s refrain concludes that “Freedom’s just another word for ‘nothing-left-to-lose.’” Those words perfectly encapsulate the current distortion of the notion of freedom, with more parallels to solitary confinement than to liberation.
“Never be friends with the English!” Despite his own maxim, Dr. Aziz, the main character in E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India, can’t help but be friends with the English. Aziz moves through a cycle in the story. He opens himself up to and becomes friends with Dr. Fielding, falls out of friendship with him, and then in the end reunites with his old friend. The reason Aziz breaks their compact is that he suspects Fielding betrayed him. This belief hardens Aziz. It shuts him off to friendship with the English in general, who were occupying his country. He had opened himself up to Fielding by sharing about his personal life, his hopes and fears, his joys and tragedies. He trusted. But upon not finding this trust reciprocated (or so he thinks), he cuts the friendship off.
It’s summer, which means that the superhero genre gets to enjoy a little more than its typical share of box-office revenue and media buzz. The appeal of the superhero is a rather interesting phenomenon, though perhaps not too surprising, since man dreams of excellence. It is only natural, then, that he would wonder at what might be achieved beyond the realms of human excellence.
There is no point in being a Christian unless we regard death as God’s greatest gift to us.
What did he say? Death is a gift, even God’s greatest? Death is no stranger to superlatives, but they usually come in the negative form: death is the most terrible reality; death is the final enemy; death is the worst defeat. Because of this, death avoidance becomes a wellspring of activity in modern society: nursing homes and hospitals keep it at a safe distance from the home, and euphemisms are commonly deployed in its description. Is not the euthanasia movement an extreme form of this avoidance in its attempt to master death through free choice? If death must happen, I will decide exactly when and how it happens!