Unicorns in the Toybox

A friend of mine, a cradle Catholic who doubts her faith, asked me what she should teach her four-year old about religion. “Everything,” I said, “heaven, hell, God, angels, sin, grace, forgiveness, don’t leave anything out.” “How can I do that,” she responded, “when I’m not sure myself?” Such attempts at parental honesty can leave … Read more

Hail Lucy, Fair of Face

Exactly a year ago today, our oldest son, Luke, and his wife, Tasha, presented to the world the inimitable Lucy Beatrice Shea. (In fairness, Luke couldn’t have done it without Tasha. And, in hasty self-defense, I add that Tasha is a really good sport who enjoys a good laugh about labor and won’t, I am … Read more

Comfort the Afflicted

Last week, I had an earache. You nod briefly. Okay. Duly noted. Earache. Can we get on to the article? I reply, “You don’t get it. Last week, I had an earache.” I don’t mean, “Little twingy pain, like a headache or a sore toe.” I mean, “Worst and most excruciating pain I have felt … Read more

Bury the Dead

  “The body,” I was taught growing up, “is just the shoe box for the soul. What matters is the shoes, not the box. So when it’s time to go to heaven, just put the shoes on and throw the box away.”   This good solid dose of Gnostic thinking was drilled into me since … Read more

Rousing Spirits: Inside Haitian Voodoo

The long walkway was lined with painted crypts. Electric blue. Aqua marine. Black. White. Some were topped with crosses. Others had large and rusting padlocks hanging from their hatches. And still others were smashed open by grave robbers — the ragged remains of their occupants left atop the shattered ruins. My escort, Martin, and I … Read more

The Victory of Factum over Genitum

The solemn declaration of the Credo that “Christ was engendered, not made” (genitum, non factum), is pregnant with rich philosophical insights and is an inspiration to investigate two possible ways of relating to existence: to be made or to be engendered.   God is eternal and the Creator of heaven and earth, though our current … Read more

The Scandal of the Church’s Particularity

Shortly after he became pope in November 1958, John XXIII was asked: “How many people are working in the Vatican now?” With the humor that made him beloved all over the world, the Holy Father replied: “About half.”     “About half” is a more than generous estimate of the number of baptized Catholics who … Read more

The Understudy

I felt the question coming like a dog feels the pulse of the earth before a quake. I had tracked Monsignor’s comments from, “How quickly they grow,” to, “What grade are you in this year, Ann?” and I knew what came next. So did Ann. Exactly one beat before the question came, we exchanged a … Read more

Second Thoughts about the Second Coming

                        The Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise again. (1 Thes 4:16)   We’ve all heard the common wisdom about the second coming of Christ: Early Christians expected the imminent triumphant return of … Read more

The Way of Conversion

The emblematic conversion stories have traditionally emphasized drama. As Saul approached Damascus, intending to bring any who belonged to the Way to Jerusalem for judgment by the chief priests, “suddenly a light from heaven flashed about him. And he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you … Read more

Marked by the Cross

At about this time last year, I bumped into a friend at the laundromat. My mind was occupied with loaded laundry baskets and grumblings about my broken washing machine, but all that left me the moment my eyes met hers. She was in pain. Her newborn granddaughter, she told me, was gone. There were many … Read more

Pray for Us Sinners

  One of the most mysterious rifts to have developed in the Christian world is that between those who pray to the saints in glory, or for the dead in Christ, and those who regard all this as utterly sinister. The rift is, of course, of extremely recent vintage, historically speaking. But it is deep … Read more

“Pillow talk” takes on a whole new meaning.

A man married a pillow in Korea. No, seriously. He dressed the Japanese anime character-themed body pillow in a wedding dress and had some kind of ceremony. When they go out to eat — as apparently, they do — he orders meals for his wife-pillow. They ride roller coasters together, for heaven’s sake. And according … Read more

The Lost Sheep

“Why does this man receive sinners and eat with them?” grumbled the scribes and the Pharisees. Knowing the pride they harbored in their hearts, Jesus spoke to them this parable. “What man is there among you,” He said, “who, having lost one sheep, will not leave the other ninety nine in the wilderness to find … Read more

Resisting Bigness

If you’ve lived in our nation’s capital as long as I have, which is all my life, you get used to bigness, as a fact and also as a cherished ideal. Big office buildings like the Pentagon and the grotesque Rayburn Building, where many members of the House of Representatives hang out in style. Big … Read more

Whom Have I in Heaven but Thee?

Whom have I in heaven but thee? So cried Asaph the psalmist. It is an astonishing moment in the history of man, for Asaph had looked upon the wicked and seen how they prospered. His feet had well nigh slipped, he says. Yet he held fast to two truths that had been revealed to him. … Read more

Saber rattling at Iran, the progressive heaven of Detroit, and Minas Tirith in cake.

Iran appears to be moving toward a full-scale revolution. If you want to follow the unfolding events, Andrew Sullivan remains the best media source for first-hand reports and video. And Stephen Walt makes an important point at Foreign Policy: [T]his is an especially foolish time to be rattling sabers and threatening military action. Threatening or … Read more

Good Hymns, Bad Hymns

Two years ago, the USCCB released a document of revised guidelines for liturgical music titled “Sing to the Mountains” — er, “Lord.” In its 88 mostly tepid pages are found a meditation on the scriptural and theological foundations for the use of music in worship, notes particular to the celebration of special rites within the … Read more

Three Pastors: Life, Death, and Religion in Muslim Iran

In November 1993, not far from ancient Babylon, where Daniel was thrown into the lions’ den and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were pitched into Nebuchadnezzar’s fiery furnace, the Rev. Mehdi Dibaj huddled in a Mazandaran Province prison cell praying about how he could defend himself from capital charges. A compactly built 60-year-old man, his short, … Read more

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