Wednesday, December 23, 2015

warm bland fuzzies for all

Starbucks and Kohl's Department Stores have used the same song celebrating "the holidays."  From the Times-Union story:

The song, which starts with "This holiday, I'm coming home to you," is not specific to Christmas or Hanukkah and it has plenty of oohs and aahs so the commercial's narrator has space to speak – all calculated to make the song more marketable to advertisers.

This as opposed to specific holidays like, y'know, Christmas or Hanukkah.  But hey, it sells coffee--and obviously the young singer featured hopes it brings new musical opportunities.

Local angle:  the musician creating and recording this song graduated from my institution, The College of Saint Rose.  The College itself seems to follow the same sort of bland secularized holiday feel the song celebrates.  On the other hand, the same college also produced Father Matthew Venuti, one of the Anglican Ordinariate's first priests.

Thus an on-going, and beautiful, even as that beauty often emerges amid anguish and suffering (spiritual and physical), paradox of Christianity:  that particular commitments--heck, let's call them what they are, conversions--appear amid life's predominant, bland, undifferentiated reality.  Thus the Catholic tradition extols some of the greatest spiritual autobiographies:  Augustine's Confessions, Newman's Apologia pro vita sua, Merton's Seven Storey Mountain, and Day's The Long Loneliness.  More recently converts such as Scott Hahn, Jennifer Fulwiler, and Patrick Madrid's Surprised by Truth series detail new versions of this same story.

Something similar works in the time-tested Christmas favorites.  When played endlessly before Thanksgiving, the songs--particularly the secular ones like "Walking in a Winter Wonderland"--can, for all their imagery, lose some of their appeal.  What makes Christmas music Christmas is, of course, the Christian particularity. Warm fuzzies can take us only so far. We can come home any time during the year, but only once during the year does the joyful news that Christ is born ring true.

keep the Faith

international edition....

Checking this blog's stats and for the first time EVER, there are more reader hits from a country other than the United States.  Currently this blog's greatest activity comes from....BRUNEI.

At this point it is important to remember this story in the news.  Brunei is run according to Sharia law, and thus allowed Christmas celebrations. This year, though, the public celebration thereof was judged to threaten the beliefs of Brunei's majority population.  Public expressions of Christmas, i.e., Christianity, including crosses and decorations (at this point someone should perhaps inform Brunei's sultan that a cross is not a Christmas decoration) will be strictly banned.

So, if those in Brunei reading this blog are Christians (Catholic or not) restrained by this legislation, know that this blog appreciates your interest and prays for your faith, your well-being, and a very merry Christmas.

As St. John Paul II repeated, Be Not Afraid!  Never, ever give up hope.

surrender cobra

from an ESPN report on a familiar scene in sports television:  a player or team makes an amazing play to win the game at last possible second and the opponents' fans stand, dumbfounded, with their hands on their heads.  It often looks like this:

Image courtesy Reddit.

A fitting image, especially when Catholic colleges make decisions and announcements like The College of Saint Rose did Friday, December 11, 2015:  twenty-three faculty positions cut and several programs and majors cut from across the curriculum.  Some of these were professional and graduate programs (e.g., Bachelor's program in Art Education and the graduate program in Communications), while others covered liberal arts subjects like Economics, American Studies, and....Philosophy and Religious Studies.  These last three are/were the majors my department offered.

The Sisters of St. Joseph, the women's order that founded Saint Rose in 1920, issued the following statement about the cuts:
Nearly 100 years ago, Sister Blanche Rooney, CSJ, and other brave Sisters of Saint Joseph of Carondelet saw a need and acted.
Inspired by the legacy of the original Sisters of Saint Joseph, who as women in 1650 took the radical step of going into the world to minister to the poor, the sick and the desperate of Le Puy, France, Sister Blanche envisioned a college that would teach and empower young women to be citizen leaders grounded in faith and dedicated to excellence and service.
In founding The College of Saint Rose, the local Province of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Carondelet recognized that, just as they were responding to a need, fulfilling its mission would forever require the college to be alert and amenable to a changing reality in the larger society, and especially among its current and prospective students.
In other words, to meet and serve people where they are.
This founding principle is why we support President Carolyn Stefanco, the Board of Trustees and all those on campus working diligently to lead our beloved Saint Rose in updating academic programs and priorities to meet the changing needs of students who count on the college to prepare them to succeed in a world they will inherit.
and then a bit later:

Change is upsetting for many in all walks of life, including our own. It creates anxiety and uncertainty, and can leave some feeling overlooked, forgotten, left behind. That is why it is so important in times of change to extend grace, love and affirmation to all in our community. Change also is an opportunity for renewal, and renewal is empowering. Responsible leaders are obligated to recognize the need for change and act carefully but resolutely.

Read the statement and you'll soon note what is absent:  any reference or indication of the College's founding as a religious endeavor.  It's utilitarian endeavor now;  what serves the greatest good for the greatest number of people.  A principle that many, including the Sisters themselves, would argue is not part of the Catholic social justice tradition.  And that is correct.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Quo Vadis?

Post title references Rome's Basilica di San Sebastiano and the nearby Quo Vadis chapel and this early Christian story about St. Peter meeting Jesus, post-Resurrection, just outside Rome.  The Basilica and church feature Christ's footprints captured in the stones he walked over to Rome itself.

But it refers to a question, posed rather directly, from a good friend this past July over dinner near Standish, Maine:  "Just who do you want to reach with that blog?"

Well, everybody, pretty much.

Except we all know it's not that easy.  First, St. Paul's argument notwithstanding, none of us can be all things to all people.  To the extent that any of us are is a gift from the Holy Spirit.  (Side comment: OK, Bishop Robert Barron comes awfully darned close.  There are others, too, such as Father Donio's Catholic Apostolate Center.)  Certain blogs will catch readers and audiences that others just miss.  That in itself is fine, insofar that the diversity of (Catholic) blogs all  intend the same end:  the building of the Kingdom, through the Church, here on earth. So, Artur Sebastian Rosman takes one approach, Deacon Scott Dodge takes another, while Elizabeth Duffy, Amy Welborn, and Elizabeth Reardon each take their own.  #allgood  #therearesomanyothers

So where's Spiritual Diabetes?

Certainly in an academic vein of the Catholic blogosphere, but one attuned to trends outside the Academy's walls as well.  Popular culture, popular spiritual trends, and politics all appear, but part of what generates this blog comes from the admittedly rarefied air of Catholic theological studies and, this is crucial, my particular location therein.  Other posts have addressed my conversion experiences and my own views on Catholic higher education.  Animating those posts, though, is the theme of spiritual hunger, satisfaction, and overconsumption.  That is, after all, how one contracts Type II diabetes--you eat your way into it.  At some point, and this determining factor differs for each individual, one's consumption outstrips the body's own abilities to process and burn sugar. The diabetic, once diagnosed, knows darned well what the stakes are and reduces consumption, but then it's too late. Thereafter, the bloodstream courses with more and more sugar, which causes both thirst and more hunger.  Increased high blood sugar leads to circulatory and tissue breakdown, hence the association of diabetes with blindness, loss of mobility, and even loss of limbs.

The reality that the United States faces, and has faced for almost two decades, a Type II diabetes epidemic seems an apt portal or theme for addressing similar questions of spiritual overconsumption.  As stated in one of my earliest posts, originally I saw this theme as a means to address spiritual overconsumption on what might be called "the right" politically and socially-speaking in the United States.  Almost three years of blogging has led me to conclude, though, that spiritual diabetes flourishes just as strongly on the Left.  (Although at times I have used the phrase "spiritual veganism" to address that side.  I do need a couple more posts to explore further that relationship.)

Recently a tectonic shift in Catholic blogging occurred when Elizabeth Scalia "The Anchoress," longtime portal editor of Patheos' Catholic channel, moved her work to Aleteia.  Katrina Fernandez, a fiery convert and blogger who works in North Carolina, subsequently announced the end of her blog "The Crescat," and Max Lindemann has toyed with doing the same at his "Diary of a Wimpy Catholic."  No blog runs forever, and perhaps we Catholic bloggers should know of and work with that realization more so than we and more so than blogs of other faiths (and no faith at all).  Don't worry, this isn't a resignation post--I'm not going anywhere just yet.  That being said, for all the refreshing, inspiring, and challenging voices within the Catholic blogosphere, it bears repeating that the Catholic social media presence--as diverse as it is--must never be mistaken for the Church.  Only there--and not here--may we discover (repeatedly!) the authentic remedies for spiritual diabetes.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Ecumenism, Unity, Rural Religion & Future Joy

Last month I posted a clip of my morning convocation at Bismarck's University of Mary in November, 2014.  That same evening I gave another lecture on ecumenical dialogue and Christian unity celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of Unitatis Redintegratio.

In light of the fiftieth anniversary of Vatican II's conclusion AND what Scott Eric Alt rightly calls "Pope Francis Derangement Syndrome," it seems important to reiterate the great evangelical call Vatican II issued.  The Holy Spirit calls the Church out into the world to proclaim the Good News.  This requires clergy, women and men religious, and, yes, the laity.  Everybody has a role to play, and, yes, some or perhaps most of us will fulfill these roles working with non-Catholic others.  Not everybody, though, of course:  some are called into an apostolate of prayer that staggers the minds of many, including many Catholics.  For the rest of us, though, as St. Josemaria taught, it's out into the world we go.

The beginning, though, features some impromptu remarks about my 2002 book Saving the Heartland.  Having grown up in the rural Midwest, I had found every American religious history course and text unsatisfying.  The only times my region appeared involved either some hideous, reactionary, anti-Catholic movement or a brief recognition of the Assemblies of God, a Pentecostal denomination now headquartered in Springfield, Missouri.  The reality I knew was much different and much more diverse.  I had seen black churches in Springfield, German Lutherans and even Waldensians near Monett, and, and this is where my book takes its roots, all sorts of Catholic Churches.  While driving around with my dad I used to ask him "Where'd this church come from? Where did that one?"  Finally, frustrated with my constant questioning, he said "Why don't you look it up at the library?????"  Several years later, while pondering the direction of my doctoral studies with my advisor, the mercurial James T. Fisher, I was given roughly the same answer.  In response to my questions about Catholics living in rural America, Jim charged me: "It's your region of the country, you write the history!"

There's a lot more to that history, but at least I contributed a small part.  And visiting UMary last year reminded me again of all that.  Earlier this year in a post about Catholic higher education I mention my impression of attending a campus Mass there.  Far from the usual poor attendance with daydreaming and smart-phoning students, Mass at Mary practically crackled with spiritual profundity.  It was also packed; I stood should-to-shoulder with students along the back wall.  So in these days of great consternation we should take, as Benedict XVI did when elected in 2005, comfort in the prayers and support of the Church's youth.  The Gospel springs ever anew with the joy of the Resurrection.