Not long ago, I experienced something of a “Saint Joseph synergy,” finding a copy of Fr. Donald Calloway’s Consecration to St. Joseph in my mailbox, and on the very same day that we read at Mass: This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit. Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly.  (Matt. 1:18-19) Having the book in my hand on the same day in which Joseph was featured in our readings felt a bit like one of those moments when the Holy Spirit is giving me a pronounced slap upside the head, saying, “Pay attention.” For that reason (and…
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What is the point of the marriage bed? Can sexual pleasure be intentionally separated from creating new life and still nurture authentic intimacy between spouses? What does making a complete gift of self to one’s spouse mean? These are questions explored in Catholic theology—and in Netflix’s new, popular costume drama Bridgerton. When I sat down to watch Shonda Rhimes’ new show, created by Chris Van Dusen and based on historical fiction by Julia Quinn, I anticipated a Regency-era setting with great ballroom scenes. I wasn’t wrong, but Jane Austen it certainly is not. (In fact, its explicit sexual content is enough to merit caution in whether to view this series at all or to completely avoid it.) What I did not expect was for a soapy TV show—one not marketed for its commitment to traditional sexual morality—to highlight themes of…
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The Catholic Church is filled with more treasures than one can discover in a lifetime, and perhaps one of the least appreciated is the liturgical calendar, especially when the days are filled with the all-too-familiar green that represents what we call “Ordinary Time.”  Its distinction confused me when I first entered the Church. Ordinary Time held a connotation of the mundane. I incorrectly understood it as a time to shake off the celebrations of the Incarnation in order to enter into the monotony of the ordinary. The Christmas decorations have been put away, and we return to the plainness of day-to-day life.  Advent was filled with anticipation as we watched, waited, and prayed with all of those so full of expectation at the beginning of the Gospel of Luke. Then came Christmas, the great celebration. But now is not the time…
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Over the past fifteen years, Kanye West’s influence in the popular culture has had no parallel. He has led the reshaping of hip-hop. His shoe brands have been top sellers. He has been successful in dozens of business and philanthropic ventures. Critics love him. Fans love him. He has angered people and inspired them. Like Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, Michael Jackson and Prince, he has it—a mysterious something that has always transcended the words and music he records. When he married Kim Kardashian in 2014, his mystique took on a whole new energy. When his 2016 album Life of Pablo came out, much vulgarity remained, but it was clear he was headed in a religious direction. “This is a God dream,” he declared on the opening track, “Ultralight Beam.” By 2018 he admitted publicly that he had been diagnosed as bipolar. In 2019 he made his landmark Christian record Jesus…
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 Here dies another day During which I have had eyes, ears, hands And the great world round me; And with tomorrow begins another. Why am I allowed two? —G.K. Chesterton, “Evening”   Known for his mental acuity and piercing insight, G.K. Chesterton was perhaps at his finest in his most incisive observations. Though Chesterton had the capacity to wax eloquent on everything from the lives of the saints to the form and movement of the cosmos, some of his most memorable expressions, like the one posed in the poem above, are those which seem, on first glance, to be most fleeting. In this pensive fragment of poesy, Chesterton meditates briefly on the state of his own creatureliness; and yet, what seems to be a wisp of an idea expands outward, like the toll of a bell that grows…
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2020 was a strange year in many ways. Sadly, the beginning of 2021 has not slowed the fear, isolation, and anger of the last many months. In the midst of such confusion, the work of evangelization becomes ever more necessary, and a refocusing on the grace and peace of our Savior ever more urgent. Bishop Barron and Word on Fire have placed themselves in the Lord’s service, poised (and privileged) to work in precisely this field. Bishop Barron’s Word on Fire Institute (WOFI) continues to train evangelists all around the world who can be channels of grace, and incarnated invitations to come to know Jesus Christ through his Church. God’s providence in the hope-filled work of the apostolate showed itself in myriad ways in 2020: We have grown to over 17,000 members from around the world, representing 32 countries. We filmed 12 brand-new courses to be viewed by our…
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Miss Duffy was a giant. Physically, she was diminutive; she dazzled with a shock of grey hair, meticulously placed bright red lipstick, and a limp from childhood polio. In the eyes of a fourth-grade boy, her presence was towering. Miss Duffy talked and laughed with a gravelly voice. She told incredible stories and crafted assignments of great creativity. Somehow this old woman still lived in a fourth-grade world. And I loved her. That is, until one day when she assigned us to memorize Robert Frost’s immortal poem, Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening. Now, understand, the poem is only four stanzas—sixteen brief lines—of easily apprehended English. But in the mind of a fourth-grader, it could just as well have been The Iliad. A few weeks hence, we were told, each of the twenty-three fourth graders at Jefferson Elementary School would stand by their L-shaped desk (one-by-one) and recite the…
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After the frightening and sobering events occurring at the US Capitol recently, Bishop Robert Barron recommended that, as a nation, we engage together in an examination of conscience. Thinking about what such an examination might look like, I came up with the following questions: Do I make an effort to inform myself in a way that is open to truth wherever it may be found, or do I only read opinions and media with which I always agree? Do I make an effort to find, understand, and read news sources that are objective and follow journalistic standards? Do I regularly reduce complex issues to simplistic, partisan sound bites to avoid engaging honestly and vulnerably with people with whom I disagree? Do I speak of my ideological opponents in a way that dehumanizes, stereotypes, or objectifies them? Do I speak scornfully or dismissively of those with whom I disagree rather…
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In a recent episode of The Word on Fire Show (episode 263), Brandon Vogt and Bishop Barron had a conversation about a new Netflix documentary called The Social Dilemma. The film is about the darker side of social media, as explained by Silicon Valley innovators behind the new technology and former employees of ‘Big Tech’ companies. These are people who have either left the industry for good or added their weight behind the push for ethics to create a more humane technology. In one scene from the movie, a young girl is on some social-media platform where she has uploaded a picture of herself. Soon after posting it, a number of ‘likes’ come flowing in. The reaction on her face shows her gratification for the instant approval. But, then, a negative comment arrives about her appearance. Her reaction this time is one of deep concern. She has a sudden…
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In this week after the Epiphany, it occurs to me that a depiction of the Adoration of the Kings, done by the Dutch painter Pieter Bruegel (Breugel the Elder), deserves further scrutiny, most especially of Balthazar’s complex gift. What are we to make of the green nautilus conch, bearing myrrh and presented within a small barque? Bruegel was not the only artist to use the nautilus in this way. Maerten de Vos and Johann Sadeler, working at around the same time, also show Balthazar presenting a conch-shell variation to the Christ. In the sixteenth century, much had been written about its golden-mean geometry and logarithmic mathematics, so the number of artists using nautilus cups for Balthazar’s gift of Myrrh—the embalmer’s spice—is not surprising. We can see representations of the nautilus in Willem Kalf’s Still Life with Porcelain and a Nautilus Cup and—more relevantly—in his Still Life with Chinese Bowl and…
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Does God only give grace to smart people? Is holiness directly proportional to intelligence or ability? Obviously the answer is no, but it sure seems like the great saints are all also holy geniuses. St. Paul, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Bonaventure, St. Augustine, St. Catherine of Siena; the older saints seem to be academic all-stars. The Little Flower, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, with her “Little Way,” might seem a simple mind, but anyone who has read her writing knows the profound wisdom found within—she is a Doctor of the Church after all. St. Martin de Porres? Even he was known for his ability to solve thorny theological questions brought to him by his Dominican brothers and inquiring bishops. Could it be that God indeed loves the poor in spirit, but really favors the rich in intellect?  As usual, St. Thomas Aquinas offers some help in answering our question.
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It is funny how one can look back at a most mundane moment and realize just how outrageously pivotal it actually was. For example, during my freshman year in college, I had a work-study job in my school’s library. With my affection for books, it seemed as though I had hit the jackpot with the best possible job. I didn’t anticipate the long stretches of boredom when we were overstaffed, combined with slow business at the circulation desk. But the librarian had a solution: reading the shelves. Idle workers were dispatched to various rooms of the library to read the shelves—that is, to look at the LC numbers and make sure the books were in order. The best of all areas to be assigned was the basement, where the fiction stacks were housed. It was a playground of temptations. Read a few call numbers, straighten a few books, and succumb…
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The renowned physicist Stephen Hawking once claimed that the idea of an afterlife is “a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.” In response, Oxford mathematician John Lennox suggested that perhaps the inverse is true, that atheism is just “a fairy story for those afraid of the Light.” Naturally, Dr. Lennox’s witty quip has produced a hearty ensemble of chuckles from approving theist hearers. But in his reply to Hawking, the Oxford professor touched on a much deeper and more serious cultural phenomenon than perhaps is initially grasped—namely, the “fear of religion.” “Men despise religion,” wrote the great seventeenth-century polymath Blaise Pascal in his Pensées. “They hate it and are afraid it is true.” At first, we might be tempted to wonder whether he exaggerates. Is it really true to say that men despise, even fear, religion? The propagators of the New Atheism (to name one specific subset of irreligious…
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The great question [is] . . . What did Jesus actually bring, if not world peace, universal prosperity, and a better world? What has he brought? The answer is very simple: God. . . . He has brought God, and now we know his face, now we can call upon him. Now we know the path that we human beings have to take in this world. Jesus has brought God and with God the truth about our origin and destiny: faith, hope and love. It is only because of our hardness of heart that we think this is too little. Yes indeed, God’s power works quietly in this world, but it is the true and the lasting power. Again and again, God’s cause seems to be in its death throes. Yet over and over again it proves to be the thing that truly endures and…
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I return once again to Homer, who says, “Sing in me, oh Muse, and through me tell the story.” —Bob Dylan Homer is new this morning, and perhaps nothing is as old as today’s newspaper. —Charles Péguy It was nary four short years ago that the incomparable songwriter Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. And notwithstanding the mercurial figure’s intriguing two-week silence before sheepishly accepting the honor, it was what Dylan said in his speech that truly surprised everyone. To be sure, Dylan credited early folk artists whose music was so “different than the radio songs [he’d] been listening to all along [because] they were more vibrant and truthful to life.” But while Dylan’s work was formed by an immersion in the folk vernacular, rhetoric, and “all the deserted roads that it traveled on,” there was something more that shaped him.
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I will work out more. I will read Scripture every day. I will stop at two glasses of wine. I will yell less. I will lose ten or seventy pounds. I will be nicer to the people I love. I will stay off social media. Look familiar?  The year is coming to a close, and as we look ahead, many of us are making our annual list of resolutions. Whether our New Year’s Resolutions are kept private or shared with friends (not for notoriety but accountability, of course), we make them each year, again and again. We vow to read the Bible in a year, to swear off the sodas, to run more, to eat more vegetables, to remember to make our bed every day and give into less screen time. The…
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All of us who know and love the writings of C.S. Lewis owe a great debt to another figure, highly regarded in the field of Lewis scholarship but less well known to the wider world of readers: Walter Hooper. Over the course of six decades, Hooper served as literary advisor to Lewis’ estate, dedicating his life to editing, preserving, and sharing the work of C.S. Lewis. As just one example, when we pick up a volume such as God in the Dock or Selected Literary Essays—containing some of Lewis’ finest essays—we are benefiting from Walter’s work in tracking down and preserving material written for various newspapers and magazines that could otherwise easily have been lost or languished out of print. He co-authored an important early biography of Lewis. And it is from Walter’s labor of love that we have Lewis’s wisdom, wit, and insight in the Collected…
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As you might expect, 2020 has been a weird year for cinema. In fact, it’s been an almost nonexistent year, with only one major theatrical release to date during the worst of our virus crisis—Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, which bombed. Stuck at home, I have streamed some TV shows and limited series I liked very much, including the universally acclaimed Queen’s Gambit, as well as new seasons of The Spanish Princess, The Crown, and The Mandalorian. I finally finished Mr. Robot, which appeared at the end of 2019 but has much to offer us who are processing the turmoil of 2020 and wondering what comes next. Paolo Sorrentino’s The New Pope for HBO picked up where The Young Pope left off in 2017—namely, as one of the weirdest, most beautiful, and theologically rich entertainment offerings in recent memory. The Great British Baking Show and Long Way Up were…
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Christ is Born! May we share in a splendid prayer of St. Augustine on this holy day: + Let the just rejoice, for their Justifier is born. Let the sick and infirm rejoice, for their Savior is born. Let the captives rejoice, for their Redeemer is born. Let slaves rejoice, for their Master is born. Let free men rejoice, for their Liberator is born. Let all Christians rejoice, for Jesus Christ is born. Amen. + Merry Christmas from all of us here at Word on Fire!…
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Into our often inconvenient and inhospitable world, may we make welcome a family forced to travel at a less-than-optimum time. Into our overcrowded, busy lives, may we make space for this family, even if it means offering them one of the hidden and untidy hollows we keep within ourselves, cool, damp, dark, and seldom-visited. As this woman, this man, this swaddled babe make entry as far as we will permit (until we know them better, and draw them more nearly to us) may they fill up every molecule of space allowed with the graces they bring to bear—even unto our fearful and anxious little hearts, our shriven souls, so often as chilly and dark as our deepest caverns—until there is light, and we let it be. God of our Ancients, have mercy on us. Heralding angels, pray for us. Shepherds and Kings, pray for us. O Mary, Bearer of the…
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