In this interview, apologist and Word on Fire Institute Fellow Matt Nelson sits down with Dr. Travis Dumsday, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Concordia University of Edmonton, Canada. They discuss the problem of divine hiddenness as presented by atheists for proof of God’s nonexistence and how Christians might respond with clarity and logic to such a compelling objection to God. Matt Nelson: What is the problem of divine hiddenness, and why has it gained so much attention in recent years? Dr. Travis Dumsday: Going back to the patristic era, Christian thinkers have wondered why it is that God permits a state of affairs in which a great many people fail to believe in his existence, whether pagans or atheists or agnostics. Why doesn’t God just make his reality obvious to everyone, such that no one could rationally doubt or deny the truth of theism? That sort…
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The Sacred Heart of Jesus is one Catholic devotion I find both strange and inspiring. That combination is to be expected, I suppose, for one who is just embarking on the Catholic journey after half a century in evangelical Protestantism. But of course, the Christian journey itself is a mixture of things both strange and stunning—from the virgin birth to the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead, and all the crazy miracles between and after. So it doesn’t surprise me that I often find in Catholicism that discordant mixture. For me, the strange part of the Sacred Heart is the art associated with it. I know that I’m on dangerous ground here because it is precisely the art that resonates so deeply with so many Catholics. Thankfully, the Lord uses all manner of art to bless all manner of people. But if I’m honest, I have…
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Not too long ago, I found that I’d plunged myself into a murky sort of swamp—trapped between the jaws of the black dog and the jeers of a noonday demon of acedia, to which I’d opened myself up through sheer laziness. Beyond a daily intercession session where I asked God to give his blessing, grace, healing, or peace to many—all mentioned by name—I’d stopped praying. Don’t get me wrong—if you’re not praying very much, if you’re not seeking out a conversation, or carving out a bit of time to simply be with Christ, then simply interceding for others is no bad thing. Even if it is done lazily with a mind distracted or stultified, such prayer is efficacious and good because intention (thankfully) carries them higher than our too-grounded hearts might imagine. But I am a Benedictine Oblate,…
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When I started my teaching career, I had many ideas about how I would make theological topics relevant and memorable in the lives of my students. Unfortunately, some of those ideas, if implemented, would have probably been remembered by my students as the silliest experiences of their lives, either making me a legend or spelling the end of my teaching career. I knew I had a slight tendency to be silly, but I justified it by throwing caution to the wind and telling myself, “Even if my lessons are silly and stupid, at least the students will remember them.” Thank goodness I had an older, wiser mentor/colleague who bluntly told me to drop most of my ideas. Fortunately, I mostly heeded his advice.  Early on, I was assigned to teach on the Trinity, a daunting task. I remember watching Slumdog Millionaire around…
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Continuing our look at how we identify and understand beauty in all its forms, we feature Denis McNamara, the Director of Benedictine College’s Center for Beauty and Culture. In Part III, McNamara discussed the inherent ontological reality of the liturgy. His conversation with Robert Mixa, the Word on Fire Institute’s St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Fellow for Catholic Education, now turns to liturgical music and where and why it can fail us. Robert Mixa: Let’s talk about liturgical music. I know that’s something people like to debate all the time. I went to a high school where the liturgical music annoyed me so much. The music seemed more fitting for a Broadway show. Just as it would be inappropriate to play Kool & the Gang’s “Celebration” at a funeral, this music seemed inappropriate at Mass. Can you explain liturgical music, according to the three constitutive elements of beauty? Denis McNamara: Remember, for…
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Although I was raised on The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces, a retelling of the Greek legend of Cupid and Psyche, will always be my favorite of his fiction writings. As I have re-read this book year after year, I’m struck by the theme of redemptive confession mirroring the sacrament of Reconciliation. In a sense, the entire novel is the confession of the protagonist Orual, older sister to Psyche. Through her confession, she journeys from self-deceit to true contrition, does penance, and is absolved. But to reach redemption, she must own her failures, and she will need supernatural grace to do so. An unattractive, motherless daughter with a cruel father, the young Princess Orual loves her beautiful younger sister Psyche. When famine strikes the kingdom of Glome, the priest of Ungit (the Glomish Aphrodite)…
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About ten years ago, I felt overwhelmed with all sorts of things in my life, and I confided some of my troubles to a wise mentor. I later found out that he was going through something truly awful at the time; my concerns were ultimately very trivial by any standard, but must have seemed especially so to him at the time. When I told him my woes, he had paused for a long while, then looked at me and unexpectedly asked, “Is it real?” “Is what real?” I replied. “All the Jesus stuff. The cross, the empty tomb, all of it? I know you say it is, but do you really believe it?” And at that moment, I realized that far too often in my life, I am practically an atheist. That is, when it comes to how I react in difficult circumstances, my instinct is not to think of…
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Recently, our Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger Fellow of Parish Life, Bobby Angel, interviewed Fr. Jonathan Meyer, a priest of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, on the topic of parish mergers and how these painful situations can be opportunities for creativity and growth.   Ordained a priest in 2003, Fr. Meyer has been involved in the formation of youth and young adults through speaking, leading retreats, and promoting World Youth Day initiatives. Tasked with managing several parish mergers, he has led this renewal through creative and innovative ministry. All the while, Fr. Meyer maintains a presence on the internet with homilies regularly posted on YouTube and coaches track and cross country at public schools.   Bobby Angel: Hi, Fr. Meyer. Can you give me a quick rundown of your vocation story and the kinds of pastoral assignments you’ve been given?  Fr. Jonathan Meyer: I…
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The silent forces are the strong forces. —Fr. Romano Guardini Interiority breeds interiority. —Gary Shteyngart Tweet, text, post. Likes, follows, FOMO. Optimize, expedite, multitask. This is the life we now lead. Welcome to the Exterior Life. In an age of marvelous technology affording instant access to endless pleasures and efficiencies, one would think that we had “arrived.” We have the promise of forever feeling good. But paradoxically, our limitless connectivity and perpetual satisfaction of desire has left us not deliciously sated, but curiously empty. Why, when we have everything we need to be happy, aren’t we fulfilled? The Exterior Life is the life lived outside of oneself. Now, to be clear, this does not mean you are an outdoorsman, gregarious, or endlessly charitable. The Exterior Life, instead, is the frenetic, unfocused life of distraction and activity hunting for good feelings and affirmation. It longs to be happy and…
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We continue our to look at how we identify and understand beauty in all its forms,  featuring Denis McNamara, the director of Benedictine College’s Center for Beauty and Culture. In Part II, McNamara noted that historically, what we perceive as beautiful can be proved as beautiful when we can can identify within it the truth and goodness with which beauty must travel. His conversation with Robert Mixa, the Word on Fire Institute’s St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Fellow for Catholic Education, now turns to the liturgy. Robert Mixa: Let’s look into the liturgy, because liturgy is oftentimes the first experience people have of the faith as something that you grow up with. What makes liturgy beautiful? Oftentimes, I find Mass lacking in the constitutive elements of beauty. So how do we talk about this without it becoming a matter of taste?  Dr. Denis McNamara: Like everything else, the first question…
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The question is, as they say, “one for the ages”: How can someone know that Catholicism is true and not Buddhism, instead, or some other system of belief? This is a question I asked myself as I journeyed metaphysically from atheism to Catholicism, and it is a question to which I would now like to provide a straightforward answer. Here is the first thing to understand: Catholicism makes claims open to both philosophical and historical investigation. For example, the claim that God exists and entered human history and did some pretty important things. Also, that God founded the Catholic Church and continues to guide her on essential matters of faith and morals. To prove these claims are correct, I’ll present a cumulative case argument, trotting out in summary fashion different philosophical views, scientific evidence, and historical data points which all converge upon the conclusion—or hypothesis, if we…
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While traveling last week, I was able to use idle hours on airplanes and in hotel rooms to catch up on some recent films I had missed. Of everything I watched, the one I imagined I was least likely to write about before I pressed play was An American Pickle, with a screenplay by Simon Rich adapted from his short story. It turned out to be an unexpectedly wholesome exploration of modern family and ancient tradition, timeless faith and modern culture. Directed by Brandon Trost and starring Seth Rogen, the premise of the film is beyond silly: An Eastern European Jewish immigrant named Herschel Greenbaum (Rogen) falls into a pickle vat in 1919 and is discovered alive and perfectly preserved a century later. Herschel’s only living relative is his great-grandson, Ben, also played by Rogen. Before his accident, Herschel had lived his life in utter dependence upon God and community,…
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When Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life hit movie theaters ten years ago today, the responses were either viscerally positive or viscerally negative. Some hailed it as an instant classic; others dismissed it as pretentious or indecipherable, with many people reportedly walking out of the theater mid-movie. The critical response was mostly positive, but though it drew the Palme d’Or prize at Cannes, it still drew “boos” from scattered audience members when it premiered there and was panned by a handful of top critics. Audiences were even more divided: The Tree of Life still carries an unimpressive 60% audience rating at Rotten Tomatoes. But the film’s divisiveness could very well have been an early sign of its greatness. Taxi Driver and Pulp Fiction also drew boos at Cannes, and Citizen Kane—now widely regarded as the greatest film ever made—had a very rocky start. As the decades roll along, the passion in both directions may just cool and converge into…
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Which books are most powerful, most evocative, most engaging for the work of evangelizing through literature? If we survey the landscape of modern literature with that question in mind, certain works of fiction form their own mountain range: Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings; Lewis’s Narnia Chronicles and Ransom Trilogy; George MacDonald’s Phantastes. To be sure, the works of other authors loom large in the landscape—Flannery O’Connor’s stories and novels, as one very notable example. But in my own admittedly anecdotal (albeit extensive) experience of which books are most often mentioned as being significant in readers’ journeys of faith, the pre-eminence of fantasy is notable. Tolkien and Lewis are in the lead, undoubtedly, because they are such outstanding writers of imaginative literature: creative geniuses who, we might say, happened to choose fantasy as their preferred form. Lewis certainly shows that he is a master communicator in any…
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We pick up from last week’s discussion on how we understand beauty, featuring Denis McNamara, the director of Benedictine College’s Center for Beauty and Culture. In Part I, McNamara noted that what is beautiful must contain the essential elements of wholeness, proportionality, and the capacity to reveal itself. His conversation with Robert Mixa, the Word on Fire Institute’s St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Fellow for Catholic Education, now turns to the historical perspective on beauty. Robert Mixa: The definition of beauty that we’ve established makes sense, but it is very different than the popular conception of beauty today. Very often, you hear people say, “Beauty is just the sublime”; or, “Beauty is undefinable”; or, “Beauty is just in the eye of the beholder.” Protagoras had a rather relativistic definition of beauty. And you see this still having influence today.  I know this is a huge question, but how did we get…
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If you’ve been around the Catholic social media space for any length of time, you’ve likely come across the work of John Kraemer and his LEGO Church Project. For over two decades, John has constructed beautiful works of art using humble LEGO bricks. Incredibly detailed inside and out, each of his plastic churches has a unique story to tell through this unusual medium. Recently, I had the opportunity to interview John about his LEGO ministry, evangelization, and disability awareness. For more amazing photos of past and present iterations of the LEGO Church Project, be sure to visit John’s Twitter feed. Thomas Salerno: A lot of us were first introduced to LEGO as children. I know I certainly was. Was it the same for you? John Kraemer: Yes. Growing up, LEGO was one of the first toys I remember getting. They were very fun to use since they had…
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Sometimes I worry. And I imagine you do too. Oh, I’m not wringing my hands about anything in particular—I just get that sense of unease and disquiet that hangs in the background of human existence. I would reason that this type of anxiety is a cousin to Winston Churchill’s ephemeral “black dog” of depression. Many years ago, in a particular fit of distress (the cause of which, of course, I have since forgotten), my father assured me that to be alive is to have some degree of anxiety. Conjuring up the image of a tin-helmeted, mud-caked doughboy in the First World War, he warmly teased me, “Life is in the trenches.” Indeed, life is in the trenches. If we aren’t preoccupied with our children’s well-being, our job performance, or our finances, then we are concerned about our aging parents, our medical conditions, and the fate of our soul. Zing! The…
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In my life as a priest, I meet with and minister to many people who are carrying ever-present wounds. These encounters occur in obvious places like hospitals, nursing homes, prisons, and, of course, in the confessional. But they also happen in surprising places and times, when people unexpectedly reveal the scars they bear. When I go to confession myself, it is a humbling but powerful moment of getting in touch with the wound of my aching desire for God and his mercy and the sores caused by my own sins. And then there are the wounds of the world. The divisions between people, the divide between faith and culture, the lives scarred by violence, betrayal, and abuse. The authors of Scripture were not embarrassed by human woundedness. In fact, it is often a prelude to people coming to faith. In the book of Genesis, we see God wresting with Jacob,…
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Bishop Barron and Jordan Peterson sat down for their first conversation in March 2019. In April 2021, they shared another: The dialogue lasted nearly two hours and ranged over a vast number of topics pertaining to God, religion, suffering, the Bible, literature, psychology, and the spiritual life. Collectively, the two talks have attracted one million views and 12,000 comments. After the first dialogue, we shared a roundup highlighting “36 Amazing Comments on Bishop Barron’s Interview with Jordan Peterson.” Today, we share several more comments from the second interview, most from young atheists and non-Catholics who were inspired by what they heard and intrigued to learn more. There are also several comments from individuals who have become Catholic thanks to the work of Peterson and Bishop Barron. These comments are a sign that the religious sense has not disappeared in our culture…
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“Beauty Will Save the World—But How?” will be presented in four parts, on consecutive Tuesdays. A Definition of Beauty  In Catholic circles today, there are a lot of appeals to beauty but not much discussion on the nature of beauty. There’s no one better with whom to discuss this topic than Dr. Denis McNamara, the director of the newly-created Center for Beauty and Culture at Benedictine College and a member of the podcast The Liturgy Guys. It was my pleasure to spend some time in conversation with him, expanding on beauty—identifying its elements, looking at its history, and learning about the ways it enhances liturgy and can even transform our devotions. Here is Part I of this multi-part series. Robert Mixa: To start off, I’m going to ask you, Denis: What is “the nature of beauty”? Dr. Denis McNamara: Good question. John Paul II wrote an encyclical called Veritatis Splendor,…
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