Millions of tourists come to New York each year, many of them hoping to see such landmarks as the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, and Ellis Island. And as famous and iconic as these destinations are, there are some tourists (and many locals) who insist on crowning any trip to “the City” with a visit to a still more ancient institution: a bar. McSorley’s Alehouse has been open since 1854 (for those keeping track, that’s 38 years before Ellis Island opened, 32 years before the Statue of Liberty was dedicated, and 75 years before the Empire State Building was even started).
I don’t like eating fish. Partly it’s a taste thing. Although I have had delicious pan-fried tuna once in my life, most fish dishes do not compare favorably against a delectable cheeseburger or a slice of meat-lover’s pizza. Partly this aquatic aversion is due to sentimentality: I grew up with a large number of pets, including some very friendly fish. So eating fish is a good penance for me, aiming to “bridle concupiscence,” as St. Thomas says (ST II-II, 147, 6). But if this were the only reason for eating fish (assuming one chooses fish over cheese pizza), perhaps an even better penance would be eating cauliflower, leaks, or liver and onions. Are there more reasons to eat fish on Fridays beyond its lack of palatial satisfaction? Is there a positive reason to choose fish over some other less appetizing entree? A memory from my childhood perhaps produces one.
Of the writing of many books there is no end, says Ecclesiastes. If Quoheleth had lived during the last year, he might well have said, “Of the making of many myths about Pope Francis there is no end.” As we give thanks to God for the Holy Father on this first anniversary of his papacy, it’s worth taking a moment to look back on some of the myths about Pope Francis that have made the rounds on the Internet this year. While this list could be many more pages long, what follows is my own Top Ten List of Myths about Pope Francis.
I was distressed you wouldn’t come [to visit] and have been worrying about what could be the matter. I started to call you up and try to persuade you to change your mind and then I decided I had better mind my own business and didn’t do it. Now I am sorry I didn’t because I think too many people and especially me mind their own business when their real business is somebody else’s business. I feel very strongly that your business is my business, even if I don’t always act quick enough on the feeling. . . . [After discovering the reason] I doubly wished that I had called up and insisted that you come and I also wished I were up there so that in the spirit of Christian charity I could knock you in the head with the nearest stick of wood.
- from a letter of Flannery O’Connor to Betty Hester, 25 November 1960
Now here is a shining example of authentic friendship—although, thankfully, being an authentic friend does not often require knocking others in the head with the nearest stick of wood. What I mean is that here is a touching display of one friend’s charitable concern for the other.
The summer of my freshman year in college I took a trip with a non-denominational church to help build a school in Nicaragua. The worksite was an hour outside the city, so every morning we woke up early and piled into a tiny truck. There were never fewer than five of us in its little bed, but it was a beautiful drive—with long stretches of verdant fields, under a pure sky and brilliant sun.
One morning the cargo in the back of the truck consisted of me and four young women, all of them Evangelicals. They began to discuss the prospect of marrying a Catholic man and whether in that case they would become Catholic themselves. Somewhat surprisingly, none of them had much difficulty in deciding that she would. But then one made a stipulation: “I couldn’t do that no-contraception thing.” The others voiced their agreement with increasing distress. “I would never do that,” concluded another; “I can’t see why anyone ever would.”
Here at the Dominican House of Studies, it is common for guests to join us at Compline, the last common prayer of the day, on weeknights at 9:00. The guests may notice several elements of the Divine Office that remain unchanged from night to night: the communal examination of conscience at the beginning, the Canticle of Simeon, and the moving Salve Regina, sung to Mary to pray for her protection, after the lights have been turned out. One of these elements is the early medieval hymn, Te lucis ante terminum, whose texts in Latin and English are the most commonly used options for the hymn at the beginning of the Office. While the tunes differ depending on the rank of the feast day, or even the season of the year, the text remains the same.
It may well be the case that your parish priest preaches homilies that are—how do we say it gently?—uninspiring. Maybe you’ve come to him to ask a serious question about the faith concerning a teaching or mystery you’ve really struggled with, and he’s failed to offer satisfying answers. Perhaps he lacks charm and charisma, or falls short when it comes to offering the parish visionary leadership. He may well be a little impersonal, excessively shy, obnoxiously gregarious, slavishly bound to rubrics, overly political, or simply unexceptional. These may be the human realities of your priest…and you don’t have to like them.
Rene Descartes famously proposed cogito ergo sum, “I think, therefore I am” as the foundation of his philosophy. Today, a popular approach to personal philosophy is, “I feel, therefore I am.” People with this approach explain the goodness of actions and define love by citing feelings as the primary criterion. They differentiate their love for pizza, their pet dog Fluffy, an “awesome experience,” their favorite sports team, and their family and friends, with distinctions in how they feel (“like” versus “love”), rather than considering if they willed the highest good of the other or made a sincere gift of self.
Can there be any redemption in the dark Netflix political thriller House of Cards? Within the show, probably not—morally speaking, Frank Underwood is so far back in the woods, he’d have to come out to hunt. But for viewers, the inky darkness in which the characters live and die might be just the ticket to finding something better.
Mardi Gras, Shrovetide, Carnival, Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday – the names for today, the day before Ash Wednesday are many and varied, but they all say essentially the same thing. It is a time of great festivity and celebration before the somber season of Lent commences. Such celebrations are also common among the Orthodox and Eastern Rite Catholics. By a quirk in the calendars, Easter falls on the same day this year for both the East and the West, which means that our Eastern brethren are actually celebrating the second day of Lent today. However, last week, they held their own festivities.