• Jean-Luc Marion, professor emeritus of philosophy at the Sorbonne and retired professor of Catholic studies, the philosophy of religions, and theology at the University of Chicago, in an interview with Commonweal in December:

    KW: You also point to the paradoxical nature of the Beatitudes and many other sayings of Jesus, the paradox being that we cannot turn them into a moral code, much less a sociology. What, then, are we to do with them?

    JLM: Part of the power of those paradoxes is that we cannot do much with them. It is as if Jesus is showing us how much his way of thinking of God differs from ours. And that that is how the Father thinks. But it is beyond our grasp. The point of the paradox is to make it clear that we all have a long way to go. We are not yet Christians.

    KW: You say something similar about miracles. You write of miracles as we find them in the gospels that “they offer us the purest examples of phenomenological givenness.” Many people have trouble believing in miracles. And yet, you don’t.

    JLM: Well, with a question like that, you have to go to the history of philosophy first, and deconstruct it a bit. The conception of miracles is a very modern concept. Miracles were discovered, so to speak, in the seventeenth century, not only among English philosophers like Locke and Hume, but also many in France. During that period, to have a miracle you had to have two conditions. First, that there are rules or laws of nature that are universal and unbreakable—no exceptions. Second, that a miracle is an exception to the rules of nature.

    KW: So miracles were, by definition, irrational.

    JLM: Yes, during the Enlightenment in France, there were even Catholic thinkers like Nicolas Malebranche who explained miracles by saying that in the past, God produced miracles because people were so stupid that God had to impress them with tricks. But now that we are rational, there is no need for miracles.

    KW: What’s different now?

    JLM: Today, we no longer have such laws of nature. We have only competing theories in fundamental physics and so on, but no unified rules.

    KW: But we also have statistics that imply certain regularities in nature, don’t we?

    JLM: Statistics give us approximate interpretations of laws of nature, not laws that are absolutely certain. Even in philosophy, I don’t know any serious philosopher today who endorses the position that there are a priori concepts like laws of nature. Not in phenomenology certainly, and not in analytical philosophy since the end of logical positivism, which was once so dominant here at the University of Chicago.

    KW: So where does that leave the question of miracles?

    JLM: In our postmodern society, I would say a miracle is something that apparently contradicts what we assume to be probably the rule. In fact, the category of miracles can be used, quite apart from religion, for anything that is exceptional, unexpected, or unexplained, but nevertheless makes sense and is trusted by people. It is simply a certain kind of what I call “events,” a certain kind of phenomenon.

  • Dr. Chad Pecknold appears on EWTN with succinct and poignant reflections on the late Pope Benedict XVI:

    If you don’t watch the above, read this excerpted bit from Dr. Pecknold reflecting on Benedict XVI:

    “The way in which the modern mind has been shaken by skepticism, in which we’re not really oriented to truth has been bad for people. It’s been bad for societies. And he awakened us to that. He awakened us to our need for truth, but also our need for God. And that societies need God just like souls need God. And that the fundamental orientation of our souls and our societies is liturgical—what is the direction of our worship? That’s what was really at the bottom of everything in Benedict’s writing: what is our fundamental orientation towards God in reality and how can we reflect that in our lives and in our societies? … We must raise up our worship. We must reorient our souls so that we’re not chasing after fashion but that we’re oriented towards the God who is love.”

  • Lex Fridman’s recent interview with Bishop Robert Barron led me to discover the late John Polkinghorne, whom Bishop Barron mentions at one point. An Englishman, Polkinghorne was a theoretical physicist who became an Anglican priest. In his book Living with Hope: A Scientist Looks at Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany, he speculates about how it is that we are separated from our bodies at death and yet have hope of the resurrection.

    How can it be that we die, our bodies are buried and decay, are burned up in cremation, or worse, defiled, and yet we have hope for resurrection? Polkinghorne writes:

    “Christian people sometimes talk about death as ‘falling asleep’ or even, in words that are occasionally quoted at funerals, as ‘going into the next room’. I am not very happy with this language. You can find the sleep metaphor used occasionally in the New Testament (for example, in 1 Thessalonians 4.13 where, to disguise the fact, the translators of the NRSV have quite unjustifiably taken it upon themselves to turn the original ‘fallen asleep’ into ‘died’). But today’s passage [Mark 14.32-36], which is one of the most moving and holy in the whole gospel story, shows us with what seriousness Jesus himself faced his own approaching death. He is ‘deeply grieved’—Luke (22.44) even speaks of ‘sweat like great drops of blood’—and he asks that if possible this cup should pass from him. Yet he is also resolute to accept the Father’s will. Death is clearly in no sense a trivial or easy matter for Jesus.

    “People have often compared this scene with the end of another famous figure in the ancient world, Socrates. He too was unjustly condemned to die, in his case not by crucifixion but by the much gentler process of drinking a cup of hemlock. Before he did so, he talked with his friends in a philosophical way about his belief in the immortality of the soul. This discourse ended, Socrates then calmly took the poison and tranquilly allowed it to bring about paralysis and eventual death. The contrast of this peaceful scene with Gethsemane is very striking.

    “So what is happening? Is the Greek philosopher a nobler figure than the Jewish Messiah? To understand Gethsemane I think that we need to understand that the Christian hope is not belief in a spiritual survival, such as Socrates believed in, but it centres on the double process of death and resurrection. Even for Jesus the two are separated by the silent tomb of Holy Saturday.

    “I can best explain how I understand this by asking a related question. What should we believe is the nature of the human soul? Socrates thought that the soul was a purely spiritual entity which during this life was housed in the flesh of the body, but which would be released at death to enter into the immortal life of an unencumbered spiritual existence. Someone once caricatured this view as being the picture of a human being as a ‘ghost in a machine’. It seems to me that today it is very hard for us to think in this Socratic way. What we know about the effects of brain damage on the mind, and of drugs on behaviour, suggest a much more unified, ‘package deal’ picture of a human being, understood as an integrated, animated entity. This idea would not have shocked or surprised the writers of the Bible, for it was also they way in which Hebrew people thought about being human.

    “But if that is the case, what has happened to the soul? Have we lost it? I don’t think so. The soul is ‘the real me’. Now what that could be is a bit of a problem even in this life, let alone beyond it. What makes me today the same person that I was 60 years ago? It is not, as you might think, physical continuity, for the atoms that make up our bodies are changing all the time, through wear and tear, eating and drinking. I have very few atoms that were in my body even three years ago, let alone 60. What really maintains the continuity of the real me is not matter itself, but the immensely complex, information-bearing pattern in which that matter is organized. That pattern is the soul.

    “It will be dissolved at my death with the decay of my body. Therefore, I have no natural expectation of surviving death. This is why death is a real end. Yet it is perfectly consistent to believe—and we can indeed believe—that the faithful God will remember the pattern that was me, holding it in the divine memory, in order to reconstitute me again in God’s great final act of resurrection, taking place beyond history.

    “I shall have more to say about this later. For the moment, just note that when God does bring about that re-embodiment, it will have to be in some new kind of matter, for if it were the old kind I would just have been made alive again in order to die again. And where will that new ‘matter’ come from? It will surely be the redeemed matter of this world, transformed by God after the death of the universe itself. The future of the cosmos and the future of humanity must lie together, in the life of that new creation that will succeed the demise of the old. Again, I shall have more to say about this later in relation to the resurrection of Christ, which is the pattern and the guarantee of the hope that we are given through the steadfast faithfulness of our creator.

    “Meanwhile, we can think of the moment of death as being the great final act of this life, in which we shall commit ourselves fully into the hands of God.”

    Later in the book Polkinghorne further elaborates his notion of the soul as a sort of divinely-remembered pattern:

    “We have already seen that today it is natural to think of human beings as a kind of package deal: psychosomatic unities, as people like to say. I think that we are right to think in this way and St Paul would agree with me. Today’s rather difficult passage [2 Corinthians 5.1-3] shows him expressing a horror of being found ‘naked’, that is to say as a soul without a body. In this life, and in the life of heaven, human beings have to be ‘clothed’ with some sort of body, be it earthly or heavenly in its character. (Paul has a lot more to say about this in 1 Corinthians 15.35-49.)

    “What then is the soul? It is surely the ‘real me’, but what that can actually be is a bit of a puzzle in this life, let alone beyond it. What is it that connects me, a bald, ageing academic, with the young lad with the shock of black hair in the school photograph of 60 years ago? It is tempting to suppose that the connection lies in material continuity, as that young body changed gradually into today’s elderly body, but that is really an illusion. I mentioned earlier that the matter in our bodies is changing all the time… Philosophers sometimes like to talk about a boat that is continually being repaired at sea, so that when it eventually comes into port again every plank in it has been replaced. Is it still the same boat that left the home port, if all its material bits and pieces have been changed in this way? I would say yes, provided that the pattern had been maintained. Of course if that had been altered, so that it had sailed out as a single hull but arrived as a catamaran, the answer would have to be no. Continuity lies in the pattern and not in the planks.

    “It is similar for us. The real me is not the ever-changing atoms of my body, but it is the immensely complex, information-bearing pattern in which those atoms are organized. It is that pattern that is the soul, an idea that fits in with what twenty-first-century science is beginning to discover from the study of complex systems, that information is as fundamental a category as energy.

    “This concept of the soul as informational pattern is quite an old one. Aristotle believed something like that, and so did the great medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas. I believe that we should think this way too. If this is right, it follows that the soul, in itself, is not immortal. When I die, the pattern that is me will dissolve with the decay of my body. But it is a perfectly credible and sensible hope that God will remember that pattern—hold it in the divine memory after its natural decay—and then rebuild it when I am resurrected into the life of the world to come. Once again we are reminded of a central truth, that the true ground for hope of a destiny beyond death lies solely in the everlasting faithfulness of God.

    We might think, along these lines, about the consequences of cutting ourselves off from relationship with God as a sort of willful and intentional dis-figuring of ourselves, of a disruption of our pattern that can only be restored through confession and repentance.

  • “Freedom is not self-determination,” says Bishop Robert Barron at roughly the 1:43:00 minute mark in conversation with Lex Fridman. “Freedom is the disciplining of desire so as to make the achievement of the good first possible and then effortless.”

    Topics: Who is God?, Christianity, sin, the Trinity, Catholicism, sexual abuse scandal, evil, atheism, Jordan Peterson, Jesus, the Bible, America, Nietzsche, Word on Fire, gay marriage, abortion, advice for young people, mortality, meaning of life.

  • Fr. Raymond J. de Souza writes on the “strikingly Christian funeral of Queen Elizabeth II:”

    It was the grandest state funeral in history for history’s longest-serving monarch. 

    First and last, though, it was a Christian funeral. 

    The Church of England rendered a signal service to all Christians in providing a model for how funerals ought to be conducted, in a time when both sacred and civic funeral liturgies have become rather emaciated. 

    The Queen was rightly and well eulogized in various ceremonies in the past week. The day of her funeral was a day for prayer. 

    From the moment the funeral cortege entered Westminster Abbey to the singing of I Am the Resurrection and the Life, the mystery of death and eternal life took precedence over all others. 

    “We will all face the merciful judgment of God,” preached the archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby.  

    The archbishop preached a magnificent funeral homily, a model for all Christian funeral preaching. He preached truths about the queen’s “servant leadership” but presented her as a Christian disciple first and monarch second. The day included the height of British pomp and pageantry, but Archbishop Welby noted that “death is the door to glory.” 

    The sheer length of the queen’s life and reign were underscored as her earthly remains passed underneath the statues of the 20th-century martyrs installed over the abbey’s great west door for the millennium. The queen was born three years before Martin Luther King Jr.’s birth, and when she came to the abbey for her wedding in 1947, St. Maximilian Kolbe had not even been dead a decade. 

    Completely absent were speeches by secular officers of state. And to that welcome silence was added the profound, even palpable silence of the enormous crowds around the abbey and along the mall to Buckingham Palace. It was a manifestation of reverence, a public virtue much required for a healthy common life.  

    The ritual for a deceased monarch is richer than for any other, and the funeral masterfully permitted the ritual to speak. The congregation in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor stood in silence as the instruments of the queen’s earthly power — the orb, scepter and imperial state crown — were removed from the coffin and placed on the high altar. Then they sang Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation. What more need be said about the basis for all authority? 

    Catholic liturgy might learn something. Our current graveside rituals are banal. Contrast those with the sight of the coffin being lowered into the royal vault, while the dean of Windsor recited Psalm 103: 

    “For he knoweth our frame;  
    he remembereth that we are dust. 
    As for man, his days are as grass: 
    as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth. 
    For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; 
    and the place thereof shall know it no more.” 

    Then he recited the stirring and solemn prayer, “Go forth Christian soul, from this world …” 

    The BBC’s coverage of Queen Elizabeth II’s state funeral is exceptional, particularly of her burial in St. George’s Chapel in Windsor:

    Rest In Peace.

  • Philip Kosloski writes on Saint Charbel:

    St. Charbel was a humble Maronite hermit who died in 1898 and has since become well known for countless miracles attributed to his intercession. He was a holy priest who was closely united to Jesus on earth and possessed a rich wisdom that was the fruit of deep prayer.

    In his writings, some of which can be found in the book Love is a Radiant Light: The Life & Words of Saint Charbel, he writes about the family and its greatest enemy, the devil. … He explains that the devil has always focused his energy on the destruction of the family, as it so closely reflects an image of God. …

    St. Charbel highlights the need to “keep the roaring of the noise of the world away from your homes.” Living in the later part of the 19th century, St. Charbel would have never imagined how much noise has invaded homes during the past 50 or 60 years, and how difficult silence is to achieve. Yet, true to his word, the family appears to be deeply wounded from this invasion of noise.

    Saint Charbel writes about “the roaring of the noise of the world” in this passage:

    “Guard your families and keep them from the schemes of the evil one through the presence of God in them. Protect and keep them through prayer and dialog, through mutual understanding and forgiveness, through honesty and faithfulness, and most importantly, through listening. Listen to one another with your ears, eyes, hearts, mouths and the palms of your hands, and keep the roaring of the noise of the world away from your homes because it is like raging storms and violent waves; once it enters the home, it will sweep away everything and disperse everyone. Preserve the warmth of the family, because the warmth of the whole world cannot make up for it.”

    James Stenson, either in his book Father, The Family Protector or Successful Fathers, gives the example of electronic media (especially TV in practically any form) as a “rival” to the authority and role of parents and especially of the father. The idea is that children will either learn from their parents about truth and falsehood, time well spent versus poorly spent, the growth or absence of character, etc., or they will learn from rivals in any/all forms of media that the parents welcome into the home.

  • Peter J. Leithart writes on the importance of radical hope in the face of the end of the world as we’ve known it:

    Suppose we’re in a transitional age. Suppose a world is ending. We still need to ask, What world is ending?

    First answer: A world controlled by the power and values of Western Europe and North America. …

    The global economy provides a good measure of the change. Western production, trade, and finance still dominate the globe, but three of the top five economies are Asian. The United Kingdom, France, Italy, and Canada are still in the top ten, but have been joined by Brazil.

    In particular, China is leveraging its Western-aided prosperity to carve out its own zone of economic power. Before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the Chinese government had planned to invest 1.4 trillion dollars to create a twenty-first-century “Silk Road,” the “Belt and Road” transportation web that will link Asia to North Africa and the eastern edge of Europe – sixty-five countries and over four billion people. China hopes Western Europe will be lured east. Plus, China produces most of the world’s antibiotics and pharmaceutical components, and Chinese nationals own leading American entertainment companies, as well as real estate and many American businesses. In 2019, Daryl Morey, general manager of the NBA’s Houston Rockets, tweeted his support for dissenters in Hong Kong. It became an international incident and cost the league hundreds of millions of dollars. A year later, Morey quit. Even in basketball, the unipolar world is no more.

    The evolution of the church is a further measure of Western contraction. There are still state establishments (in England, for instance), but Western politics and culture haven’t operated by Christian norms for a long time. Christian symbols and beliefs no longer provide the fundamental framework for public life, nor for many individuals.

    At the same time, a “new Christendom” is taking shape in the Global South. At the time of the Reformation, Christianity was largely confined to a shrinking Europe. Since then, it has expanded to every corner of the globe, becoming the main religion in the Americas, Australia, southern Africa, and Pacific islands.Today, the majority of Christians reside in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

    North American and European Christianity still leads in many ways. Western churches are wealthier, and their influence is buttressed by the considerable geopolitical power of Europe and North America. Western schools educate theologians and leaders from the Global South. Yet, on all these fronts, the tide is turning. Africans have gained considerable clout in the Anglican Communion, often strengthening the position of beleaguered traditionalists in England and North America. Pope Francis is Argentinian, and he’s likely the first of many non-European popes. Christianity has ended its sojourn as a “Western” religion, as the world is no longer a Western playground.

    Building a home library and filling it with more books than you can reasonably hope to read within the foreseeable future is one of the best ways to habituate yourself to reading, studying, and knowing the past. And knowing the past can provide crucial knowledge, a sort of situational awareness, for navigating the rest of your life in a world that is always dying and being born again. Leithart continues:

    Second answer: This geopolitical shift has been accompanied by an epochal ideological shift. Many among the Western intellectual elites have adopted a post-colonial outlook, which views the West as the main source of evil in the world. No reasonable person believes Western civilization is innocent – what civilization is? Perhaps more importantly, few believe that it is admirable. …

    As the modern West’s influence contracts, its post-Enlightenment values also go into retreat. Old-fashioned liberalism of the “I abhor what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it” variety has died. Progressivism has become the de facto established religion of swaths of the United States and other countries, and it is a jealous religion. To evade social and professional repercussions, one quietly censors oneself. It’s fruitless to protect Western liberalism, since there is no longer a liberal West to protect.

    Western ideals are losing their power to energize non-Westerners too. Beginning in the Enlightenment, Western thinkers promised to liberate the human race from the “irrationality” of superstition and religion. If we can’t eliminate irrationality entirely, at least we can keep it out of public life, so it doesn’t do so much damage. Religion arouses irrational passions; politics should be conducted by reasoned deliberation. Religion is violent; purging it from politics will yield a utopia of nonviolence. Advanced, “Westernized,” nations do the right thing and privatize religion.

    It was always a ruse. That Empire of Reason is, of all empires, the most thoroughly dust-binned. Religion has never been, can never be, eliminated from public life. Western regimes, like all other regimes, have always been intertwined with religion: regulating it, supporting it, being supported by it or critiqued by it. But many believed the ruse, including sociologists who were convinced that modernization, industrialization, the expansion of technology and education, and the establishment of democratic regimes would naturally produce secular societies, where religion was a private consolation for a diminishing handful of traditionalists.

    “It’s fruitless to protect Western liberalism, since there is no longer a liberal West to protect.” This is an idea that’s worth thinking about for a long time to come. Leithart again:

    Over the two millennia since the birth of Christianity, many worlds have ended, just as our world may be ending now. At such times, it is the task of Christians to nourish hope within societies whose transient hopes have withered. …

    The word nourishes hope; prayer nourishes hope; singing nourishes hope; baptism nourishes hope; the Lord’s Supper nourishes hope. When we open our homes to the homeless, feed the hungry, and clothe the naked, we act in hope and bolster hope, as the Spirit builds our confidence in God’s promises and good gifts.

    The church’s existence, activities, and ministries nourish hope because they are specific avenues of communion with God. God speaks in his word, hears our prayers and songs, claims us in baptism, feeds and feasts with us at the table, shines through us as we go out as lights in the world. God is the God of hope, not merely a God who gives hope or who is the object of hope.

    How do churches nourish hope in an age when worlds are ending? By staying close to Jesus, our hope of glory. Simple as that.

  • G.K. Chesterton writes in The Superstition of Divorce:

    “It is often said by the critics of Christian origins that certain ritual feasts, processions or dances are really of pagan origin. They might as well say that our legs are of pagan origin. Nobody ever disputed that humanity was human before it was Christian; and no Church manufactured the legs with which men walked or danced, either in a pilgrimage or a ballet. What can really be maintained, so as to carry not a little conviction, is this: that where such a Church has existed it has preserved not only the processions but the dances; not only the cathedral but the carnival. One of the chief claims of Christian civilisation is to have preserved things of pagan origin. In short, in the old religious countries men continue to dance; while in the new scientific cities they are often content to drudge.”

    Christianity transfigures, rather than destroys, all those authentically human things of humanity that were a part of us before the coming of our Lord and remain a part of us still.

  • Alasdair MacIntyre’s God, Philosophy, Universities: A Selective History of the Catholic Philosophical Tradition contains this passage, which I came across at some point thanks to Urban Hannon:

    “From [the standpoint of the atheists] a theist is someone who believes in just one more being than they do and who therefore has the responsibility for justifying her or his belief in this extra entity. But from the standpoint of the theist this is already to have misconceived both God and theistic belief in God. To believe in God is not to believe that in addition to nature, about which atheists and theists can agree, there is something else, about which they disagree. It is rather that theists and atheists disagree about nature as well as about God. For theists believe that nature presents itself as radically incomplete, as requiring a ground beyond itself, if it is to be intelligible, and so their disagreement with atheists involves everything.”

    God is not simply another creature or thing out there in the universe.

  • Shia LaBeouf speaks with Bishop Robert Barron on his new film on Padre Pio and his conversion to Catholicism:

    It’s a rich conversation, with many worthwhile moments. This is one of those moments:

    Shia LaBeouf: Latin mass affects me deeply. Deeply.

    Bishop Barron: How come?

    Shia: Because it feels like they’re not selling me a car. And when I go to some mass[es] with the guitars and stuff… there’s a lot of what feels like they’re trying to sell me on an idea. Whereas what I feel when I went to Oakland—and, by the way, there’s a very incredible version of that as well [the Novus Ordo], that’s super activating and super emotional—Christ the King in Oakland does a Latin mass every day of the week, and it feels like it’s not being done to sell me on anything. And it feels almost like I’m being let in on something very special… It activates something in me where it feels like I found something. It’s a little bit like a band. When a band is pushed on you, it doesn’t feel the same way as you finding it. When you find it, then you root for it. It feels like this special thing that you found, and you protect it and you hold it, and it’s yours. When somebody’s selling me on something, it kills my aptitude for it, and my suspension of disbelief, and my yearnings to root for it. There’s an immediate rebellion in me.