From the earliest days, the Church has faced the perennial temptation to deny the goodness of material creation in general and of the human body in particular. The Platonic notion of the body as a “prison” from which the soul must escape has cropped up repeatedly throughout the Church’s history, only to be condemned every time someone proposed it.
When I arrived at the Dominican novitiate, one of the older priests in the community preached a challenging homily: despite our large class of 21 young men aiming to join the Order of Preachers, so many more people our age are leaving the Church and abandoning any semblance of religion altogether, as the Western civilization which the Church herself built up becomes ever more secular. A tell-tale sign of this phenomenon is the trend among many atheists who were raised in the Christian faith to obtain “Certificates of De-Baptism.”
I saw in [the angel’s] hands a large golden dart and at the end of the iron tip there appeared to be a little fire. [The] angel plunged the dart several times into my heart . . . . When he drew it out, I thought he was carrying off with him the deepest part of me; and he left me all on fire with great love of God. The pain was so great that it made me moan, and the sweetness this greatest pain caused me was so superabundant that there is no desire capable of taking it away (Teresa of Ávila, Autobiography).
The New Evangelization is tough to pin down. Typically we think of it as re-proposing the Gospel to formerly Christian peoples. Lay involvement is also more central than in previous ages. But apart from a new object and new agents, there isn’t much to distinguish the New Evangelization from the Old. Though I once wrote an article arguing for its novelty based upon a heightened emphasis on witness, I recently realized that martyrs have always stood at the heart of the Church’s evangelical efforts. And yet, while there is nothing new under the sun, an inquiry about Christian witness remains worthy of pursuit and, hence, this shall serve as my second attempt to elaborate the New Evangelization.
I have never been to Israel, but I think it must be a curious place. Because, sometimes when I walk through a place, I feel as if, no matter how alert I am to my surroundings, layers upon layers of meaning and being are surely escaping me. And I suspect that journeying through Israel would be like that on a grand scale.
Take one spot, Mount Tabor. On one level, you have a spectacular monadnock, rearing up from the surrounding countryside. It’s a full-time job just taking in this heap of earth and the view from its top. But in addition to the basic scenery, there’s the fact that you’re in Israel. There’s some serious history here. And then, Israel is the Holy Land. There’s some serious salvation history here.
The rosary is a prayer of memories, Mary’s memories of her Son’s life. As a mother remembers her child’s first word and first steps, Mary remembers Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. She holds all of these things in her heart, and now she shares them with us. As her children, we grasp the rosary as if to tug on our Mother’s hand. Remember when you visited your cousin Elizabeth? Tell us that story again.
Every October, the Church celebrates the gift of the rosary. To understand this gift better, I turned to a woman in my life with many treasured memories: my grandmother, Louise. Through a series of phone calls, I asked about her 80-something years of praying the rosary. Here are some highlights.
When I was little, there was a man named Bob Costello who visited our family. He’s a childhood friend of my dad, and one afternoon when he was playing baseball with my brothers and me in the front yard, it started to rain. We began to pout and walk towards the door, when Costello threw out his arms and told us to hold on. “I will stop the rains!” he said. Then right in front of us, he shouted at the sky, “Stooooop!” And in just a few seconds it did. As we stood there together wide-eyed in the driveway, I marveled to myself that here was a miracle man. Then I grew up, and realized that he was a jokester, and could tell the weather was passing over, and simply chose the right moment to try out his luck.
I often find myself in dialogue and discussion with atheists about the existence of God, the nature of human persons, the knowability and viability of the natural law, among other Catholic philosophical and theological loci. Generally it is a stimulating and educative experience for me, and hopefully for my friendly interlocutors. But sometimes, after an hour or more of conversation, I start to feel that something is missing, that we are not really talking about the real issue or the most fundamental point. This experience brings to mind one of my favourite passages from Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot. In the passage, Prince Myshkin, the hero of the story, is relating to his friend Parfyon his own experience of conversing with an atheist:
Devotion to Our Lady may not seem an intuitive thing for some Catholic men. Growing up, I’d occasionally catch my father as he finished praying the Rosary early on Saturday mornings (begun in peace when the rest of us were asleep), or notice he’d left his handsome set of beads lying out on a coffee table. I had the blessing of his example. Other men know their fathers have placed a Rosary in their locker at work (try and find a Catholic firefighter who doesn’t have either a Rosary or a saint’s medal) or even just keep one in their pocket, where from time to time they’ll pause and touch the beads. But for those men who haven’t “seen” or “heard,” how do we make sense of the Rosary as a manly devotion?
I am sure you’ve heard of the two Catholic Italian brothers who ran a plumbing business, starting around the 1980’s. Unsuspecting, humble, and congenial, they were unexpectedly called upon to save a princess, using their knowledge of pipes to accomplish that task. Amazingly, they continue that work of saving princesses and plumbing to this day.
Something that impresses me about their work is that they set their mind to a trade and mastered it. Though it’s possible, I’m guessing they didn’t go to a 4-year liberal arts school or gigantic research university to accomplish their task of pipe work and royal redemption. They, of course, may have gone to a trade school for 2 years or so. But whatever they did, I’m sure they didn’t come out with a diploma and $29,400 (or more) of debt.