Category: Nonfiction (Page 1 of 2)

Purgatory is Not an Insult

As All Souls’ Day approaches, homilists may find themselves tiptoeing around discussion of Purgatory. Advising people to pray for their deceased family or friends can be difficult. Many perceive this as an insult to the departed, contending that their loved ones are surely in Heaven already and need no prayers.

Much of this mindset is based on emotions rather than intellectual decisions, and so calls for a tactful, gentle response. Part of the problem, however, arises from misunderstandings about Purgatory. Those unfamiliar with Catholic theology often seem to confuse Purgatory with Hell. Even in Catholic circles, popular assumptions imply that genuinely good people always go straight to Heaven, while Purgatory is for the mediocre souls not quite bad enough for Hell. Another phrasing of this idea is that, to compare these states to school grades, Heaven is an A, Purgatory a C, and Hell an F.

None of this is even remotely true.

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Solomon, Aquinas, and Lilies

A reflection on 1 Kings 3:5-15

 

What do a king, a friar, and a flower have to do with each other? The question sounds like a very strange riddle. I unexpectedly discovered the answer while rereading 1 Kings 3:5-15, coming upon a sequence of thoughts that initially seemed both familiar and sobering, but ended on a fresh and deeply joyful note.

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Remembering the Basis of Human Dignity

Several months ago, I happened to glance at the cover of America, and noticed something strange among the featured article descriptions: “Jesus, Please Don’t Fix My Disabled Daughter.” Curious, I flipped to the indicated page number, confident that the essay would not actually advance the idea suggested. To my astonishment, however, it did.

The author, a Heather Kirn Lanier, explained that she had recently begun reading the Gospels and generally liked Jesus, but was initially disappointed with His miracles of healing. As Mrs. Lanier said, “He reinforces the idea that the disabled body is broken, damaged. He treats the disabled body as something to fix.” She went on to protest that her disabled child was not worth less than anyone else, emphasizing, “She’s not damaged goods,” and that, therefore, the little one had no need of fixing. She also proceeded to give Jesus’ actions her own interpretation, one agreeable to her view that we should not demean the disabled by trying to cure them.

At first I didn’t know how to respond. Of course Mrs. Lanier’s little girl was as precious as a child without handicaps . . . but why would that lead the mother to regard potential healing as an insult?

Then I understood. From that essay’s perspective, any privation meant a degradation in value. There was no distinction between saying that a child’s body had been malformed and insinuating that that child was intrinsically inferior to other children. Suddenly I understood so much of the modern world’s anguish.

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The Problem with Poetry in Our Time

Why talk about poetry? It might not seem an urgent concern. It certainly isn’t among the “hot-button issues” of our day. Our thoughts, however, would be impoverished if we devoted them only to the latest controversy over Pope Francis, the new dismaying scandal, or whether our country will collapse. Even in harsh times, the things that make human life full and sweet still deserve attention.

Art is part of what makes life human. The urge to create has always been a distinctive mark of humanity, and has been manifest wherever people have had time to draw, sculpt, or compose. God made us “making-creatures,” as Tolkien put it, reflecting the image of our Creator by becoming little creators ourselves. If you have no interest in poetry or arts generally, you probably aren’t still reading. But if you are, and if you’re interested in how language relates to human nature, keep going.

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Looking to the Future: A Balanced Vision

What will the future be like? Our inability to answer this question with certainty has never stopped us from wondering and guessing, both about our personal futures and the future of the world. During the past century, the speculations about the latter have grown more numerous, diverse and elaborate than ever. Stories set in some projected time after our own have created such powerful images of the future that they shape our culture in the present, for better or worse. Although no expert on futuristic stories, I find the ideas underlying them intriguing and sometimes troubling. What do our imaginings do for us—or to us—now?

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Peter Pan vs. My Neighbor Totoro: Contrasting Perspectives on Childhood

Recently, my family and I watched two movies deemed by their fans to be classic celebrations of the magic of childhood. The two take place in profoundly different cultures on opposite sides of the globe, but both—in their own ways—involve the magical bursting into the everyday, celebrate innocent wonder, and affirm the importance of family. One of them is, alas, much less well-known in the United States than the other. That one is Hayao Miyazaki’s My Neighbor Totoro, and the other is Peter Pan (the Broadway version, starring Cathy Rigby). I had seen both many times before, but on these reviewings, I noticed some remarkable contrasts in their perspectives on childhood and growing up.

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How to Be a Successful College Graduate

This piece is not what you might think. I’m not going to tell you how to get your dream job, climb the corporate ladder, navigate social circles, or make an obvious impact on society. I won’t tell you those things, partly because I don’t know them, but also because I want to challenge their status as the definition of success.

College students and new graduates hear a good deal about “success,” but are likely to receive very mixed signals about the particular goals in question. When our mainstream culture speaks of “succeeding,” it tends to have some sort of economic or social ends in mind. Land a well-paying job, achieve recognition in your field of work, acquire the means to live in comfort and security, and you’re probably a “success” by this assessment. The more noble-minded raise this standard to include making a useful contribution to the world, which is well and good, though I will bring in an important nuance later. Schools with a strong Christian outlook, like my alma mater, also emphasize building up the kingdom of God and winning the world to Christ. This is also, undoubtedly, an important and worthy aim. Any one of these, however, can become dangerous if new alumni make it the measure of themselves and their lives.

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Love vs. Fear: How 1 John 4:18 Bears on Insecurity

Long, long ago, in the primeval depths of Chaos, a hideous monster was spawned. The sin of Adam unleashed it on the earth, permitting it to ravage him and his offspring. It crept up so stealthily that its victims might not even notice until after it had taken hold, sinking in teeth and claws, after which it destroyed any who did not fight it well. Or rather, it creeps, it destroys; the monster roams the world still. In fact, you’ve probably encountered it . . . it goes by the unassuming name of Insecurity.

Insecurity may be defined as habitual fear of one’s own inadequacies and what others may think of them. It might seem a fairly innocuous problem, calling simply for a pat on the shoulder and assurance that, as One Direction put it, “You don’t know you’re beautiful!” Such responses are good in themselves; indeed, sincere affirmation is crucial for these sufferers. But if offered too glibly, this approach treats their affliction as harmless and perhaps even charming, a sort of excessive modesty. It overlooks not only the intense pain that insecurity causes, but the potential damage to the person’s soul and relationships with others.

To clarify, insecurity is not, in itself, a sin, nor is the person who suffers from it usually to blame. Far be it from me to be hard on any who have endured this monster’s cruel torments. Such a person is, however, at fault if he does not work to overcome his insecure tendencies. If he does not understand this, he may not realize the importance of fighting back. If you, dear reader, have noticed this affliction in your own heart, I hope to help you reject and break free of the thoughts that it inspires in you.

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The Necessity of the Resurrection

An interesting exchange took place at my family’s devotions the other evening. Like many Catholics, we pray the Divine Mercy Novena from Good Friday to Divine Mercy Sunday. This year, however, a long-held concern of my father’s and mine came to a head: namely, the incongruity of repeating “for the sake of His sorrowful Passion” 450 times during the height of the Easter celebration. Thus, we decided to insert the words “and His glorious Resurrection” to help us maintain the spirit of the season. It proved a helpful practice, I think; I for one intend to keep it up until Pentecost. One of my siblings, however, voiced an objection: how could we pray for mercy “for the sake of . . . His glorious Resurrection,” when it was the Cross that paid for our sins? In fact, said sibling opined, it would have been more of a sacrifice if Christ had died knowing that He would not subsequently rise in glory.

Responses to this came quickly to mind; my first thought was of the words of the liturgy: “Dying You destroyed our death; rising You restored our life.” Of course, the Church has always taught that the Resurrection is an essential part of the whole Paschal Mystery. Still, other Catholics seem to have assumptions like my above-mentioned sibling’s, even if they never consciously spell out their thoughts. The way we tend to speak and think about our Lord’s death and Resurrection sometimes implies that the former is really what brought about our redemption, while the latter is important to give the story a happy ending . . . but what does it directly have to do with salvation?

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Almighty God and His Hobbit Missionary

Since salvation history began, God’s way with souls—and His sense of humor—have not changed. He has always chosen the most seemingly unfit to accomplish His plan, from Moses, who pleaded that he was too “slow of speech and of tongue” (Exodus 4:10) to be God’s messenger, to St. Faustina Kowalska, who had no money, education or power, but was sent to bring the Divine Mercy message to the world. Most people are never called to do anything so great, but even in less significant cases, God often manifests His power through apparently unfit instruments. One such case was my spring break mission trip to Cuzco, Peru, during my sophomore year at Christendom College. The Holy Spirit moved in me, despite my many natural aversions to the experience, and used me on the trip to show His love.

When my parents first learned that I wanted to go on a mission trip, they were pleased but surprised, and with good reason. Whatever words might be used to describe me, “adventurous” would hardly be high on the list. It might not quite be true that I “never did anything unexpected or had any adventures,” but I might be compared to a hobbit, one of the little people who inhabit J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth. I like a routine, familiar places and people, and a reasonable predictability in life. A year earlier, making the transition from home life to college had been a slow and excruciating process. How could I now elect to trade a visit home for a week in South America?

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