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What’s to be said about poverty, chastity, and obedience in a world that, for the most part, places its hope in material riches, generally identifies chastity with frigidity, and values individual freedom above all else?
Today belief in God is often seen as a naiveté. For many, believing in God is like believing in Santa and the Easter Bunny, nice, something for the kids, a warm nostalgia or a bitter memory, but not something that’s real, that stands up to hard scrutiny and indeed stands up to the dark doubts that sometimes linger below the surface of our faith. Where’s there evidence that God exists?
Information technology and social media aren’t my mother tongue. I’m a digital immigrant. I wasn’t born into the world of information technology but migrated into it, piece-meal. I first lived in some foreign territories. I was nine years old before I lived with electricity. I had seen it before; but neither our home, our school, nor our neighbors had electricity. Electricity, when I first saw it, was a huge revelation.
Moral outrage is the antithesis of morality. Yet it’s everywhere present in our world today and is everywhere rationalized on the basis of God and truth. We live in a world awash in moral outrage. Everywhere individuals and groups are indignant and morally outraged, sometimes violently so, by opposing individuals, groups, ideologies, moral positions, ecclesiologies, interpretations of religion, interpretations of scripture, and the like.
The Pope’s idea of holiness embeds a prophetic anger against the dull mediocrity of consumerist individualism but, no less, against intellectualised religiosity. In the five short, well-crafted chapters of his new exhortation Francis speaks from a Catholic pulpit but his audience is the whole of humanity in its contemporary crisis of faith.
This history raises serious questions. In the quite different climate following the arrival of Pope Francis, why can’t we pick up where we left off? Why cannot there be another consultation, as thorough as the one prior to Liverpool 1980, to energise the Catholic faithful as they were energised then?
For the vast majority in Britain, the story of the Annunciation is little understood. From a Christian point of view, it is a pivotal moment. Yet for the vast majority of people in Britain today, the story of the Annunciation is little understood or even known about, and its status and significance has been almost lost. I became determined to find out why.
Unless you somehow have a foot outside of your culture, the culture will swallow you whole. Daniel Berrigan wrote that and it’s true too in this sense: Unless you can drink in strength from a source outside yourself, your natural proclivities for paranoia, bitterness, and hatred will invariably swallow you whole.
For MacMillan, Catholicism is not about sides or factions – “it’s much more profound than that” – and though he has been an excoriating critic of the banality of much post-Vatican II church music, he now finds the so-called “liturgy wars” wearing. “I can’t be bothered with any of that any more,” he tells me. “Sara’s death made me realise what is important in life, and what is not.”
We share the world with more than seven and a half billion people and each of us has the irrepressible, innate sense that we are special and uniquely destined. This isn’t surprising since each one of us is indeed unique and special. But how does one feel special among seven and half billion others?
Writing in the first person is always a risk, but the subject matter of this column is best done, I feel, through personal testimony. In a world where chastity and celibacy are seen as naïve and to be pitied and where there’s a general skepticism that anyone is actually living them out, personal testimony is perhaps the most effective protest.
I am convinced more and more that the secret of remaining young and beautiful is to stay in love like my friend, who remains beautiful inside and stays the same after so many years despite her weakening body.
The power of a subordinate clause, one nuance within a sentence and everything takes on a different meaning. That’s the case in a recent brilliant, but provocative, novel, The Ninth Hour, by Nina McDermott. She tells a story which, among other things, focuses on a group of nuns in Brooklyn who work with the poor.
We must look closely at the direction our lives are taking, at the social, psychological, cultural, economic and other influences that draw us away from our vocation as Christians. And then, we must turn from them. That is easier said than done. In fact, we cannot do it. We need the grace of God, a grace we embrace by believing the gospel of Jesus Christ, the good news that God forgives sin.
We live in a world of deep divisions. Everywhere we see polarization, people bitterly divided from each other by ideology, politics, economic theory, moral beliefs, and theology. We tend to use over-simplistic categories within which to understand these divisions: the left and the right opposing each other, liberals and conservatives at odds, pro-life vying with pro-choice.
There’s a line in the writings of Julian of Norwich, the famous 14th century mystic and perhaps the first theologian to write in English, which is endlessly quoted by preachers, poets, and writers: But all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well. It’s her signature teaching.
Taste is subjective. Keep that in mind as I share with you the ten books that most touched me this past year. That isn’t necessarily a recommendation that you read them. They may leave you cold, or angry at me that I praised them. Be your own critic here and one who isn’t afraid to be critical of my taste.