Michelangelo’s David is arguably one of the most famous pieces of art ever created. Anyone can recognize the statue, even if only because they once saw a copy of it in an Italian restaurant. Many people have grown indifferent to the statue because of its popularity and how commonplace it has become. However, as I sat in the Accademia Gallery in Florence beholding Michelangelo’s masterpiece for myself, the only possible response was one of wonder and awe. Michelangelo invites you to enter into the drama of the historical David and everything it represents: radical dependence on God in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. The David radiates the timeless beauty of human perfection found in God, which resonates deeply in the heart of man. As I stood in wonder before the David, I felt taken out of the ordinary and the growing desire for excellence. Michelangelo is unique in his portrayal of David.
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Pope Benedict XVI often said that “art and the saints are the greatest apologetic of the faith.” This certainly rang true for me during a recent visit to the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas. I was not expecting this museum to house such masterpieces of the faith. A colleague of mine invited my wife and I to see the special exhibit Flesh and Blood from the Capodimonte Museum in Naples, Italy. As we were waiting for our friend, my wife and I wandered the Kimbell art gallery, and the first three piece that I saw got me thinking about freedom in Christ. The three masterpieces were Duccio’s The Raising of Lazarus (1310), Michelangelo’s The Torment of St. Anthony (1487), and Fra Angelico’s The Apostle St. James the Major Freeing…
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The authors of Scripture observed the created world and liberally used symbols, metaphors and analogies from nature to describe attributes of God and his relationship to creation. For instance, right at the beginning in Genesis, the authors used the symbol of trees, rivers and a fruitful garden to describe the original blessedness, fertility and harmony God desires for his created world, meant to be enjoyed by human beings. For the rest of the Old Testament, this concept of the created order being somehow reflective of God’s wisdom and glory is found everywhere. We are told that King Solomon, who imparted divine wisdom to Israel, did so by pointing to the natural world: ‘He would speak of trees…he would speak of animals, birds, reptiles and fish’ (1 Kings 5:13). This could only be possible because ‘the greatness and beauty of created things gives us a corresponding idea of their Creator’ (Wis.
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Jessica Hooten Wilson is the author of three books: Giving the Devil His Due: Flannery O’Connor and The Brothers Karamazov (which received a 2018 Christianity Today Book of the Year award), Walker Percy, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and the Search for Influence; and Reading Walker Percy’s Novels. Currently, she is preparing Flannery O’Connor’s unfinished novel, Why Do the Heathen Rage?, for publication. Here she discusses her particular love for these authors, and why literature is a powerful vehicle for instruction and evangelization, with Word on Fire Institute Assistant Director, Matt Nelson. We’re going to talk a lot about books in this interview. To start, can you tell us about your experience of literature as a child and young adult? When did you first discover within yourself a passion for the Great Books? I “wrote” my first story when I was three: my mother still has it in a…
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In the spring of 2008 I was a senior in college sitting in the backyard of a little white rental house near campus and I was weeping because an old man in a book had made the sign of the cross.  I was reading Brideshead Revisited for my twentieth-century novel class. I had been delighted by its colorful characters and the author Evelyn Waugh’s brilliant humor, but slightly confused about where the story was going or why the book was hailed as a Catholic masterpiece. The Catholic characters all seemed to be a mess, with failed marriages and scandalous decisions and addictions they knew were wrong. They were bad Catholics, people who could barely hold onto the cultural trappings of their faith. They were haunted by their sins, but they didn’t even attempt to hide them under…
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Bishop Robert Barron has lately mentioned that we in the United States appear to be experiencing a “Jacobin moment.” Legitimate grievances about justice in the civil arenas have given way to unruly, sometimes violent mobs running hot in our cities, and contentious debate within the Church. But this is not the only “Jacobin moment” in recent history. In fact, on a global scale, 2020 may change things forever, but it is still something of a little sister to the tumultuous year of 1968, a watershed year, which ushered in an era of social disintegration unique in living memory. On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated in Memphis, setting off riots in many cities and sparking urban unrest that would last for months. The following month in France, agitators almost brought down the government. On June 6, Democratic presidential candidate and senator Robert Kennedy died from wounds…
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The Daughters of Saint Paul—or “media nuns” as we’re informally called—have been tasked by our founder Blessed James Alberione to use the “the fastest, most modern, most efficacious means” to preach the Gospel. In keeping with our mission in the Church, many of us have been ministering online for years. As a result of this ministry, I have had a variety of interactions with both Catholics and non-Catholics, both good and bad. As a former atheist, what most troubles me, though, is when I see Catholics behaving badly online. Because I know from experience that this active “anti-preaching” of the Gospel drives people from the Church. However, while it can be easy to wag our fingers at Catholics’ unvirtuous behavior on the internet, the issue is complex and the “wild west” of online information can be difficult to navigate. For instance, many websites that claim to be “Catholic” often don’t…
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I saw Jurassic Park when it first stomped into theaters in the summer of 1993, and it rocked my world. I was only five years old at the time, but I can say with confidence that the experience changed my life, cementing my lifelong obsessions with dinosaurs, film, and the art of storytelling. While the various sequels have, for the most part, descended into mindless, empty spectacle, the original Jurassic Park remains a profound and thought-provoking film whose themes and message seem to become more relevant to our culture with each passing year. The story of Jurassic Park (both of the film and its source material—the terrifying novel by Michael Crichton) is in many ways a modern-day retelling of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Both stories primarily concern the hubris of mankind,…
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In Familiaris Consortio, Pope John Paul II wrote, “Future evangelization will depend largely on the domestic church” (65).  This couldn’t be more accurate to our times. As pandemic-stricken institutions like the parish and Catholic school exert less influence in faith formation, the family has taken on a primary role in introducing the faith, making it incumbent on us that parents are encouraged, instructed, and supported as they undertake the great task of handing on the faith.  Religion sociologist Christian Smith of the University of Notre Dame has been arguing for years on behalf of what various data routinely prove: the best guarantor that children will practice the faith is whether their parents are practicing the faith in meaningful and integrated ways and, most importantly, talking about religious matters at home. That may seem an obvious point, but one not sufficiently…
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People do not know what they are doing because they do not know what they are undoing. —G.K. Chesterton “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.” So muses Robert Frost’s farmer as he meets his neighbor at the sun-splashed boulder fence separating their properties. Already, it is New England springtime with soft mud and grass patch flattening under their heavy boots. With light breeze and cloudless sky, they begin their yearly walk. Squinting and already tanned, they smile at one another—old friends that they are. It is time, once again, to mend the wall. Bending and lifting, setting and wedging, their work begins. As expected, the majority of oddly shaped stones rest atop one another. The wind has shifted some while the drifts of January have displaced others. Autumn’s hunters have been the most damaging “where they have left not one stone on…
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When we see friendships between people who seem to have little in common. those of us of a certain age will quickly think of Neil Simon’s classic play (and subsequent movie, and television series) The Odd Couple. For the uninitiated, the story presents the misadventures of two divorced men who, for economic reasons, share a Manhattan apartment. Sportswriter Oscar Madison is the grizzly sort of old-school, hard-living journalist who no longer exists except in movies. When he pulls a half-eaten hotdog from his crumpled trench coat and finishes eating it, the action is entirely keeping with his character. Felix Unger, his roommate, is an OCD-addled domestic fusspot so meticulous in both thought and action that when Oscar, in a fit of frustration at his roomie’s perfectionism, throws a plate of pasta against a wall, Felix feels moved to correct him, “That’s not spaghetti, it’s linquine.” Oscar, still fuming, turns…
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The Vatican has released a new directory for catechesis, and while most people can be forgiven in thinking that this might be an updated phone book for catechists, it is actually a guidebook for all involved in religious instruction on how to teach the faith effectively in the new world of the digital age. The English translation of the directory came out on July 20, and we can glean some insight into its basic approach from the press conference remarks made by Archbishop Salvatore Fisichella, the president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization. Here are five things that stood out to me from his address:  Digital Culture  Knowing one’s audience is crucial for effective catechesis. St. Paul discovered the best way of discussing the faith with the Athenians after walking around the city and finding an altar inscribed, “To an Unknown…
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The Feast of St. Mary Magdalene has graced the Roman Calendar for only four short years, but it immediately became popular with many Catholics who have long-understood her broad and valuable spiritual example. Pope Francis elevated her celebration to a feast on June 3, 2016, which was also the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In the West, since Gregory the Great, ecclesial tradition has long identified Mary Magdalene to be the same woman who anointed Jesus’ feet with alabaster oil, and the sister of Lazarus and Martha. Often depicted with long flowing hair, clinging to a cross, or holding a spikard of oil, the characterization of this Mary has been one of servanthood, redemption, evangelization, and ultimately, a particular witness of the Paschal Mystery.  The very first mention of Mary Magdalene is often missed. In Luke 8:1-3, the writer…
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Ashley Canter is a Catholic convert, a farmer’s wife, and the mother of five children. Having earned a BA in European history from Ohio University and married soon after, she and her husband settled on an organic dairy farm in rural Wisconsin. Here, she speaks with Word on Fire’s Robert Mixa about her family’s unexpectedly rural life, and the surprises and challenges that enhance her life of faith by deepening her trust. She believes that Catholic family life is strengthened by living liturgically, playing outside, and reading great books. What compelled you and your husband to raise your family on a farm? After we were married, my husband went to seminary and was ordained a Protestant clergyman. His first parish was in a very populated area, and we were a long way from home. When we could no longer resist the conviction to convert to Catholicism, he lost his job…
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We live in a strange age. It’s an age marked by contention, strife, and factionalism. This is true in the Church and in the realm of politics (both in the US and in many other countries). To take just one example, here’s some objective evidence on the terrifying and widening political chasm in America: The shares of Republicans and Democrats who express very unfavorable opinions of the opposing party have increased dramatically since the 1990s, but have changed little in recent years. Currently, 44% of Democrats and Democratic leaners have a very unfavorable opinion of the GOP, based on yearly averages of Pew Research Center surveys; 45% of Republicans and Republican leaners view the Democratic Party very unfavorably. In 1994, fewer than 20% in both parties viewed the opposing party very unfavorably. This particular point is salient because it’s not just that…
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I think that it is worthwhile today to remember the Sixteen Martyrs of the Carmel of Compiegne in France. These eleven nuns, three lay sisters and two externs were killed by the order of the Committee for Public Safety, an agency of the National Convention of Revolutionary France. They were murdered in a public execution by guillotine on July 17, 1794. Today is the anniversary of their martyrdom. The sisters lived in a Carmelite convent of the Teresian reform (the reform of the great saint Teresa of Avila). This meant that their observance of their vows was strict and their lives were completely cloistered. They entered Carmel with the intention of never leaving its enclosure. There, in that space, they lived a life of prayer for the sake of the world by living apart from the world. This commitment was also their crime. The revolutionary government of France declared that the…
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Thrown by Love

A man must not choose his neighbor: he must take the neighbor that God sends him. The neighbor is just the man who is next to you at the moment, the man with whom any business has brought you into contact. —George MacDonald When I was studying philosophy in  the late 1980s, I was enamored for a time with Martin Heidegger’s idea of geworfenheit, “thrown-ness,” that we each find ourselves thrust into a world not of our choosing. All of it seeming a bit arbitrary, as we are hurled at the moment of conception into a specific place and time, inheriting an unsought history, with parents, siblings, genetics, a social class, government, language, and religion we were never consulted on in advance. Though as we grow and mature we are ideally able to exercise some increasing measure of freedom and…
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In my last post, I offered five practical pieces of advice for Christian writers. Here I have some more advice to further equip those who feel called to serve the kingdom through creative writing—and to suggest ways for writers (and readers) to grow in their relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ. Why do we need creative writers? Why not just focus on direct evangelization and catechesis? Consider the parable of the sower (Matthew 13, Luke 8). Here we see the two aspects of evangelization: the seed and the soil. We need to sow the seed of the Word, and some people are particularly called to that task. But the seed needs good soil in order to grow—and here we see the particular value of literary approaches. Creative writers can fan the flames of a longing for more than the material world can offer; they can bring to life abstract…
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An important question for all Christians to consider is whether or not we treat the grace that Christ has given us as something cheap. We might have habituated ourselves to set patterns of religious activity. We might have our charitable causes, vaguely construed as “faith based” so as not to offend, that we choose to support. Our identity as a Christian is a fall-back position should circumstances demand that we need it as a safety net. All this is cheap grace—relatively easy, demanding little in terms of cost or conversion. Kateri Tekakwitha was born in 1680 in a territory known to us today as the Canadian province of Quebec. She was a member of the Mohawk tribe. She was a Christian, and the Church celebrates her as a saint, an exemplar of heroic virtue. St. Kateri was not a great wonder worker or scholar. She did…
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