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!
Sports shape our lives from our earliest years. It started with games in the backyard with our siblings and neighbors, and during recess with classmates. Along with encouraging us to study hard and learn a musical instrument, our parents signed us up for sports teams. We made friends on our teams. We were taught how to be a good sport, a gracious winner, and to cheer for others. We also learned teamwork, hard work, “It’s not over until it’s over,” and, most famously, “It’s not if you win or lose, but how you play the game that matters.” This saying contains wisdom in a more manageable package for children than the more spiritually-worded equivalents, such as “abandonment to divine providence.” But the message that faithful effort is more important than “success”, as measured by other standards, is similar. If sports analogies are good enough for St. Paul, who, inspired by the Holy Spirit, urged early Christians to run the race of the Christian life so to win the prize (1 Cor. 9:24), then they must be suitable vehicles for conveying spiritual wisdom for people of all ages.
No, this title doesn’t imply that we’re going discuss whether Jesus used shampoo. Instead, our present discussion has more to do with how Jesus went public with what he had to offer, versus the methods of commercial marketing. In a word, Jesus didn’t advertise.
Some of the most shameless advertising is used for hair products. At some point in your life, you may have taken a brief moment in the shower to read the back of the shampoo bottle. Once you begin a study of these “texts,” you quickly learn that you’ve entered a rather exotic field of word play. Shampoo companies employ some outrageous marketing.
Take a few minutes to survey the field: the promise of restoration made by L’Oréal and their little sister brand Garnier Fructis; the allure of oils from exotic lands, as with products by Organix; or the list of mysterious and unordinary ingredients in L’Occitane or Pantene Pro-V. Pantene even outdoes the rest in their Age Defy Shampoo line, calling out to all who have ears, “Turn your shower into the Fountain of Youth!”
In a pluralistic society with a fairly well delimited (though, some may argue, rapidly shrinking) core of common values, rarely do advertisements fall completely afoul of moral standards. But when they do, the criticism can be violent. The legislative battle over cigarettes is one such example. Despite such widespread moral concerns, profit margins often primarily set the tone of conversation within the advertising world itself, while ethical considerations tend to play a less significant role. Setting aside the question of how this prioritization on the part of advertising agencies registers morally (Yes, I did just dismiss the title of the article), it is perhaps more helpful for the everyday consumer to consider what this means for each of us personally, as we attempt to navigate the marketplace of desires.