Fans of G.K. Chesterton, the great English journalist, novelist, poet, and Catholic convert are gearing up for the 38th Annual Chesterton Conference on August 1-3 in Kansas City. The theme is “The Future of the Family,” and the impressive lineup of speakers includes Dale Ahlquist, Rod Dreher, Joseph Pearce, Kevin O’Brien, Carl Olson, and many others. I’ll be there, too, giving a talk on “Chesterton as Husband  . . . and Father.” If you’re at all interested in Chesterton, or just want three days of intellectual stimulation, spiritual edification, pure delight, you should definitely sign up. But speaking of the conference, here’s a neat story: a couple weeks ago, conference organizers were surprised to see a new registration come through for one “Thomas Collins” living in Toronto, Canada. The name sounded familiar. But, wait, it couldn’t be, right? It couldn’t be Cardinal…
Read More
On April 24, 2005, I had the privilege of being in St Peter’s Square in Rome for the inaugural Mass of the now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. His homily that day was interrupted several times by applause but especially after he spoke the following words towards the end: Are we not perhaps all afraid in some way? If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to him, are we not afraid that he might take something away from us? . . . Do we not then risk ending up diminished and deprived of our freedom? . . . No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation. I remember joining in that sustained applause with the conviction that the Pope had got right to the heart…
Read More
Back when my younger son was a teenager we’d shared a surprising conversation over a suppertime hamburger. He’d asked me whether it was true that the Holy Eucharist is sometimes accepted at Mass by someone, only to remain unconsumed and spirited out of a church for use in various, always nefarious, ways. “How exactly,” he had asked me. “I’ve read that the Eucharist has been stolen for use in black masses, but what do they do with it, actually.” I never liked talking about this subject, but I related a little—that some mentally or spiritually disturbed people have put the Consecrated Host upon an “altar” and stabbed it, or sliced it, so as to “stab” Christ. “They actually believe, as we do, that the Eucharist is the true and physical Presence, the Body and Blood of Christ,” I explained. “That’s why Wonder Bread and grape juice won’t do—nor will the…
Read More
At the climax of the forty days spent with the disciples after his resurrection, Jesus ascended bodily into heaven. Catholics have always understood this to be a literal, miraculous event. We believe it really happened—and as a universal Church, we celebrated the Feast of the Ascension just a couple weeks ago. But the dogma also has its detractors. Some have made a mockery of the doctrine, likening the “flying” Jesus to an Apollo spacecraft, as was a common jest among atheists in the 60s and 70s. Others deny the possibility of the miraculous altogether. Still others, like Episcopalian theologian John Shelby Spong, read the Ascension as nonliteral and symbolic: “A modern person knows that if you rise up off the Earth (as in the ascension), you don’t go to heaven. You go into orbit.” Considering such criticisms, how can Catholics defend the reality of Christ’s ascension? One might sympathize with…
Read More
Dante’s vision of the afterlife centers upon two features: order and motion. The world is truly ordered and orderly, and yet within it there is great movement. It is clear to all that there is order within the world, that the world follows certain rules and fits together in a definite way. Scientists study the physical rules of the universe, and the rules they discover are so precise and unchanging that we implicitly trust their findings—no one questions whether the science underlying airplanes is sound or not before boarding. But the world is more than matter. We have minds that understand and wills that love; mere atoms can neither will nor love. And within that world of willing and loving there is another order. That spiritual order is what Dante explores; it is the same order that St. Thomas Aquinas describes in his great Summa theologiae, in which he lays…
Read More
Protestants aren’t the only ones who find Catholic devotion to Mary a bit over-the-top sometimes. A lot of Catholics find other Catholics, including great saints like Alphonsus Liguori and Louis de Montfort, to be a little “much” when talking about the Virgin Mary. I get it. Take the Salve Regina, for example: it calls Mary “Our Life, Our Sweetness, and Our Hope.” How is that kind of effusive flattery theologically defensible? After all, our Life and our Hope is Jesus Christ. Part of the answer is cultural and rhetorical. It’s not a coincidence that the most schmaltzy or exaggerated-seeming statements about Mary tend to come from Romantic Romance-language speakers (the Italians, French, and Spanish, especially). But even more than that, these kind of lines come from devotional writings, meaning that they’re more like love letters to the Virgin Mary than they are like carefully worded theological treatises. Blessed John Henry Newman, a…
Read More
The Word on Fire Institute is growing every day! We are pleased to share with you a few more Fellows that we have brought in to the Institute to form you as an active and effective evangelist. Be sure to read about the Fellows below, and for more information about the Word on Fire Institute, be sure to visit https://wordonfire.institute.     Dr. Tod Worner Tod Worner is a husband, father, Catholic convert, and practicing internal medicine physician. He is the Managing Editor of the forthcoming Word on Fire Institute Journal, “Evangelization & Culture.” His blog, “Catholic Thinking,” is found at Aleteia.com. He also writes for Patheos (“A Catholic Thinker”) and the National Catholic Register. Follow him on Twitter @thinkercatholic. His course is entitled “Rediscovering the Catholic Narrative.”     Dr. Jennifer Frey Dr. Frey is a wife and mother of six. She is currently an assistant professor…
Read More
Recently writer James Carroll, a former priest who has been publically working out his issues with the Church for several decades, wrote a piece recommending that the Catholic priesthood be abolished. His argument is, in essence, that the only way to save our Eucharistic Church is by the laity ridding itself of our troublesome priests, and “taking the faith back” into our own hands. His piece, for all of its predictability, is noteworthy for its resonant grief, which comes through as authentic even as it resides within a larger agenda. In the end, though, Carroll’s passion fails to persuade because most of us understand that the priesthood is something both shared within all of us, by virtue of our Baptisms, but also an office reserved to the “called” in precisely the same way that marriage is an office, as it were, not…
Read More
Chop! Chop! Chop! Wiping away the perspiration rolling down his broad forehead, the burly Englishman heaved his axe and struck again. Chop! Chop! Chop! The bitter cursing that greeted his first swings died down to an uneasy grumble. “How stiff-necked man can be,” he thought. “Old Elijah knew that,” he mused, remembering a snippet of Scripture: How long will you straddle the issue? If the Lord is God, follow him; if Baal, follow him. The thought added gusto to his stroke. Chop! Chop! Chop! “Seriously, a tree?” he pondered, incredulous. “The children of Israel exchanged their glorious God for images of dumb, grass-eating animals. These people take it a step further. Out with the incarnate God who died to save them and in with this tree. It’s a nice tree and all, but that grass-eating ox could at least trot along, nibble its precious leaves, and prance away merrily. Every…
Read More

I Can Suffer

I changed my mind; I had to write this out and share. I just had a remarkable conversation with a woman, whose identity I will not reveal, though she gave me permission to share her insight. Her insight is simple, and so powerful in a way simplicity alone can be. However, most of its power cannot be written. She is powerful, and her life and witness are the reality, not the words. As I read what I wrote below, it betrays that reality. St. John of the Cross said that as we move closer to divine mystery, we must progressively shift our manner of expression from prose to poetry to stammering to silence. Maybe one day I will write a poem on her. We were talking about her many life challenges. Many. This woman has walked through the dark valley. She also has a deep and—for lack of a better…
Read More
There is a grim story told by John Lukacs in his memoir, Confessions of an Original Sinner, that takes place in the battle-scarred landscape of postwar Hungary. Having recently abandoned his forced conscription by the fleeing Nazi overlords, the twenty-five-year-old Lukacs now had to cope with the vulgar and violent behavior of the newly occupying Russian Red Army. Lukacs recalled a young Jewish man who lived down the street from him. Just recently, he had returned from the concentration camps. His family having been murdered, he was utterly alone and sought a form of community with the Soviet overseers. He painted pro-Soviet slogans on his house and invited the soldiers in where he offered them what little food and money he had. Of the few possessions he shared with them, his most prized was a collection of model ships. And then, one day, Lukacs saw this:…
Read More
For us who have a fire in our bones to evangelize and make Christ known and loved, there are certain feast days of the Church that add fuel to that fire and connect its energy to the missionary zeal of the first Christians. Today’s celebration of Mary’s visitation to Elizabeth is surely one of those feasts. Why? Because the story connects us to our Blessed Mother who was the first to share the Good News about her Son and who teaches us how to evangelize by presence, action, and word. First and most importantly, Mary is the first evangelist because she carries within her the presence of Christ. Long before the Church gave her the title, at that moment of encounter with Elizabeth, she is the Theotokos, the “God bearer,” because of the presence of the Word made flesh in her womb. Long before St Paul declared “it is no…
Read More
Today the Church throughout much of the United States celebrates a mysterious event called the Ascension of the Lord. As I have said, the Ascension of the Lord is mysterious, and as such, at times misunderstood. Many people have come to believe that the Ascension of the Lord is about how, at a certain point of time, the Lord Jesus disappeared from the planet, drifting off into the stratosphere, and from a place in the sky, he moved off into heaven, where he remains to this day—with us, but only at a distance. This mistaken perception has been reinforced by simplistic interpretations of the descriptions of the Ascension in the New Testament, which are using unusual language to describe an event that was really and truly experienced by the Apostles and disciples of the Lord Jesus. The language of that they use to describe this event is meant to indicate…
Read More

Preaching in Lystra

When Paul and Barnabas heal a crippled man at Lystra while proclaiming the Gospel there, the miracle at first seems to backfire. By preaching in Lystra, they intended to turn the locals away from idolatry to the true worship of the one God who made the heavens and the earth—the true worship that is now open to all people, not only the Jews. Instead, the locals identify the apostles as characters from their own pantheon. They quickly bring oxen and garlands to offer sacrifice to the apostles. The miraculous healing has quickly become an occasion for false rather than true worship. The momentary failure to reorient the religious perceptions of the locals evokes imaginable exasperation. Paul and Barnabas begin tearing their garments. They’ve missed the point! The apostles’ religious critique is lost on the locals, and they have not reoriented their religious impulses at all. Instead of revising their…
Read More
Early in my return to the practice of the faith, I was defined by a genre of spiritual literature that privileged, in one way or another, the monastic path of “renunciation of the world” as the most radical Christian way of perfection. What’s called in Latin the fuga mundi, “flight from the world,” or the contemptus mundi, “contempt for the world.” The language of that tradition is pithily expressed by Thomas à Kempis: “This is the highest wisdom: to despise the world and to aspire to the kingdom of Heaven.” The vast majority of spiritual literature in the Catholic tradition was written by those dedicated to some version of this flight, e.g., nuns, monks, clerics, or laity who resembled them. This literature valorized the life of otherworldly contemplation and celibate life, privileged dedication to religious activities over secular ones, and possessed a marked ambivalence—sometimes antipathy—toward nonreligious realities like secular culture…
Read More
In lifeless bold letters across a slab of concrete, the word “Indifferenza” (“Indifference”) is etched at Milan’s Holocaust Memorial. The somber word, heavy with plaintive meaning and tragic history, serves as both a constant and cautionary reminder of the grave horrors that can befall humanity if we give into such a state of apathy. The museum stands where Platform 21 used to, a train station that seventy years ago was secretly used to load Jews onto trains headed for death camps. The museum opened in 2013, and in taking seriously the writing on the wall, recently has sheltered and accommodated foreign refugees: an influx of men, women, and children who have fled war, hunger, and persecution in northern Africa.  Elie Wiesel, the Nobel Peace Prize winning novelist, political activist, and Holocaust survivor, knew well the consequences of a world lulled by the nefarious pitch of indifference:…
Read More
Easter is one of the most joyful times of the year. Lent is over, it’s open season on the Mini Eggs, and most importantly—Jesus is risen! Nonetheless, to forget Easter long before it’s over is a regretful reality for most. Except for the best of us, many find it far too easy to let the celebratory spirit wain long before we have fully traversed the fifty days to Pentecost. In the Scriptures we are told that Jesus remained with his disciples for forty days after the Resurrection. Then, a few days after the Lord’s ascension, the Holy Spirit came down upon the disciples and the Church sprang into action. Those first fifty days of Easter were days of missionary preparation. The same goes for today. How might we take action in these final days of Easter to prepare to evangelize in a post-Christian mission field? One way we can stay…
Read More
Our memories are things that are ours alone—even when we share memories with friends or siblings, we each take away our own perspectives. They tell us that we are alone, yet not alone; vulnerable, yet resilient; much sinned against, yet much more capable of sinning against others than we would like to acknowledge. Personally, when I remember those I have sinned against I am humbled—particularly when I consider how my sins have rippled out to touch the lives of others. Toss a pebble into a pond, and watch the concentric undulations that fan out, until the earthy edge is touched. That’s how our sins work: we are focused on one thing, one need, one appetite we want to satisfy, and we think whatever the consequences, they redound only to ourselves—and yet in truth, they go out in waves. Here is an example: When I was about nine years old and…
Read More

Silence

One of our friends loves to scour for bargains at flea markets and antique shops. He’s brought us some fantastic finds, and one of my favorites is this little sign that says, “I wish more people were fluent in silence.” It makes most people laugh, but he brought it to us and said, “This reminds me of you guys.” It’s become an adage in our house: one must learn to be silent. In Henri Nouwen’s book Life of the Beloved, he wrote, “The real ‘work’ of prayer is to become silent and listen.” Isn’t that where the real relationship building takes place—in the silence? In fact, I’d argue that most great dialogues end with an epic, pregnant silence. One of my favorite things about a good concert is when the band ends the night with the song that everyone knows. This is especially poignant when it’s a worship band or…
Read More

A Discerning Eye

My father once remarked that after years of eye exams, he had memorized the eye chart. This level of mastery of the material would guarantee success on an algebra or biology test, but it is not helpful in an eye exam. Unlike other tests, the goal in an eye exam is not to give the objectively right answers, correctly identifying the blurry letters on the chart, but rather to report how they subjectively appear. As difficult as discerning the tiny letters may be, discerning the proper way to face moral and life decisions can be even more daunting. This is especially true when one has trouble discerning exactly what this word “discernment” means. Some explanations give the impression that discernment is a foolproof process which, by introspectively consulting the conscience, infallibly delivers God’s will for any situation. In this view, like in eye exams, the key is being true to…
Read More