Alienation, nervous excitement, homesick melancholy, wonder, anxiety, isolation—the experience of culture shock is nothing if not complex. The lone tourist, the exchange student, the refugee, and the immigrant are the most susceptible, but perhaps you feel a tinge of it yourself right now. Are you home?
Driving down I-71 in Ohio you will see an enormous sign emblazoned with gigantic, flaming red letters that reads “HELL IS REAL.” For some people, this is a favorite way to preach the Gospel.
Atheist apologist Richard Dawkins has been known to liken religion to a form of child abuse. He saves his sharpest criticism for those who preach fire and brimstone to little kids, claiming that it causes lasting harm to their mental health. The I-71 billboard provides some cultural context for his critique.
I would like to do something that Dominicans typically don’t do: exhort. I’d like to exhort you to read Pope Benedict’s new book, Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives. This is the third of the Pope’s books on the life of Christ to be released since 2007. In the first volume, he described the preaching and public ministry of Christ. In the second, he meditated on the events of Holy Week and the Paschal Mystery. In the most recent volume, he takes us back to the beginning of the Gospels, treating the birth and early life of Christ.
For millions of Americans, watching one of the many film adaptations made over the years of Dickens’s classic, A Christmas Carol, is an annual tradition. (I’m not ashamed to say my favorite is The Muppet Christmas Carol.) In all of these, Ebenezer Scrooge is transformed from an unfeeling miser to a warm, charitable man through the appearance of four ghosts on the night before Christmas.
The Order of Preachers was approved by the pope in the year 1216, but you could say that it began in 1206, when St. Dominic brought together a group of women in Prouille, France to take up a life of prayer, penance, and silence. These, the first nuns of the Order, followed St. Dominic’s guidance and spent their lives praying for the success of his apostolate.
To this day, the Nuns of the Order of Preachers continue to carry out this same vocation.
Perhaps more than any other time of the year, New Year’s reminds us that we’re not sure exactly what we want.
The day has always felt a little out of place. Right when the Christmas holiday is drawing to a close, men of goodwill resume their morning commute, return to their offices, consult their calendars, see that they need a new one, and . . . throw another party! After the magic and the revelry at the arrival of the Christ child, the advent of a new calendar year always seems to pale in comparison.
In my 10th grade history class, we spent a few class periods taking a quick look at some economic terms and principles: supply and demand, market price, Keynesian economics, supply-side economics, etc. One particularly helpful concept to which we were introduced was “inelastic demand.” The basic idea is that certain products are so essential to life that demand varies little to none when price fluctuates. The typical example we were given was that of oil. Regardless of whether oil costs $x/barrel or double that, Americans will not alter their patterns of consumption to the degree that they would were the price of a luxury item to double. Whatever the price, we still need to heat the house and get to and from work. There’s not much that we can do to get around it.
Today, on the feast of the Holy Innocents, we pray in a special way for the children who were murdered in Newtown, Connecticut, their families and friends, and the men and women who died trying to protect them.
Christmas is over. It’s time to get prepared for the next national Holy Day of Consumer Obligation: Valentine’s Day. This, at least, is the message I get from the world when I’ve just begun to celebrate the Octave of Christmas. In a way, however, the Church is also asking us to move beyond Christmas. How so?
Catholics that follow political, social, and cultural trends have seen many defeats in the last few years: the approval of same sex “marriage” in several states, the loss of Catholic adoption agencies, the HHS Mandate, the not so subtle threat of taking away the Church’s tax-exempt status, and so on. Compounding these defeats, there seems to be a trend among the younger generation away from mainstream Christianity and towards religious apathy. So, given the tangible political challenge and the apparent lack of concern for the Church’s position on religious freedom, many Catholics are taking Francis Cardinal George’s remarks from 2010 seriously:
I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the Church has done so often in human history.