Subscribe via email


Monthly Archives


Post Categories

Tag Index

1st Corinthians 1st Peter 1st Timothy 2nd Corinthians 2nd Peter 60 Minutes 1970s A. G. Sertillanges Abby Abortion Absurdity Academia Accordance Adoration Advent Aesthetics Affluence Agenda Aging AIDS Alan Keyes Alasdair MacIntyre Alexander Solzhenitsyn Algebra Al Gore Alienation Alvin Plantinga America American Culture American Enterprise Institute Americanism Amnesty International Anand Giridharadas Andrew Hacker Andrew R. Grainger Andy Rooney Angela Merkel Anglicanism Anthropocentrism Anthropology Anti-Bullying Anti-Christ Anti-clericalism Antigonish AP Apologetics Apostle Thomas Appearances Archangel Raphael Archbishop Charles Chaput Archbishop Harry Flynn Archbishop Sean O'Malley Art Asininity Assassination Athanasius Atheism Audio Books Austria Authority Avery Cardinal Dulles Balkanization Banality Barack Obama Barbara Bellar Barney Frank Beatles Belgium Belief Ben Johnson Berlin Wall Bias Bible Bible.org Bible Explorer Bible in English Bible Software Reviews Bible Translations BibleWorks Bill Cottle Bill O'Reilly Bill Whittle Bishop Robert Morlino Bitterclinging Black Friday Blackmail Blessed Sacrament Bloggers Unite Blogging Bloomberg Bobby Jindal Bob Schieffer Bono Book of Tobit Book of Wisdom Books Bosco Peters Boston.com Boston Bruins Boston Globe Boston Pilot Bourgeois Ethics Boyhood Boys Bozo BP Brendan O'Neill Bullying Bureaucracy Burial Cacophony California Campaign Funding Cancer Canon Law Cap 'N Trade Capitalism Car Seats Catechesis Catechism Catherine Lawless Catholic Church Catholic Culture Catholicism Catholic Lane Catholic Schools Causation CBA CBO CBS CCD CEB Celebrity Celebrity Psychopath of the Week Censorship Certain Urgency Charismata Charity Charlie Baker Chattering Class Chernobyl Chicanery Children Children & Media China Chris Christie Chris Squire Christendom Christian Art Christianity Christina Harms Christmas Chuck Colson Church Citizenship Civics Civility Civilization Civil Rights Civil Unions Clarence Dupnik Clergy Sexual Abuse Close to the Edge CNSNews Coercion Cognitive Dissonance College Culture Comedy Commerce Clause Commonweal Communism Community Commuting Competition Compromise Computing Condoms Confiscatory Taxation Conflict Congregationalism Congress Congressional Powers Conservatism Constantinople Constitutionality Consumerism Contempt Contraception Conversion Coping Cosmology Counterculture Cover Up Creativity Credentialing Credo Cremation Criminality Crisis Magazine Cult Culture Culture Wars Dad Daily Mail Damien of Molokai Dante Darfur Darwinism Dave Bainbridge David B Hart David Brooks David Frum David Linsky David Mills David Thompson Daylight Saving Time DDC Death Debt Deficit Commission Deficit Spending Definitions Dehumanization Democracy Democratic Socialism Democrat Party Department of Education Dependency Der Spiegel Despair Deuteronomy Deval Patrick Development Devotion Dichotomy Disbelief Discernment Discipline Discrimination Disease Disorder Dispensationalism Disrespect Dissent Dissipation Diversity Divinization Do-Goodism Doctor Assisted Suicide Douglas Farrow Dred Scott Drinking Dualism Earth Day Easter Eastern Religion eBooks Ecclesiology Echo Chamber Economic Crisis Economics Ecumenism Ed Markey Ed Morrissey Ed Schultz Education Edward Feser Edward Winslow Egalitarianism Eleanor Clift Election '08 Election '10 Election 2012 Electronic Publishing Elizabeth Scalia Elizabeth Warren Empathy Empiricism England Enlightenment Entertainment Entitlement Entitlements Environmentalism Envy Ephesians Epiphany Episcopacy Episcopal Church Epistemology Equality Equating Eric Holder Eschatology ESV Eternity Ethics Eucharist Eugenics Euphemism Europe European Union Euthanasia Evangelization Evolution Evolutionism Ewald Stadler Experience Experts Extortion Ezekiel Facebook Faith Faith & Reason Faithfulness Fall of Rome Family Fascism Fashion Fast & Furious Fatherhood Fausta Wertz FCC Fear Felix Just Feminism Fidelity First Amendment First Things Folly Forgiveness Founding Fathers Fourth Estate FOX News Frances Titchenor Franciscan University Fraud Fred Baumann Freedom Free Lunch Free Speech Free Will Friendship Funerals G. F. Handel Gabrielle Giffords Gaia Galatians Garage Light Gay Marriage Genesis George Carlin George Orwell George Tiller George W Bush George Weigel Georgia Warnke Gerry Dembrowski Gerush92 Glenn Beck Global Warming Gnosticism God Good Good Friday Good Samaritan Gorecki Gospel Gospel of John Gospel of Luke Gospel of Mark Gospel of Matthew Gospels Gossip Government Grace Graciousness Great Britain Great Entitlement Society Greece Green Movement Grief Guardian Gun Control Gunwalker Handel & Haydn Hannah Arendt Hans Urs von Balthasar Harry Christophers Harry Potter Harry Reid Hating HCSB Health Healthcare Healthcare Reform Heaven Hegel Henri de Lubac Henry E Hudson Heresy Heritage Foundation Hidden Treasure Higher Education Hiroshima History Hitler Holiday Season Holiness Homosex Hope Hospitality HotAir Housing HTML editors Hubris Human Dignity Human Flourishing Humanities Human Nature Human Rights Humility Hypocrisy Hysteria iBreviary Idealism Ideas Identity Ideology Idolatry iEducation Illness Imago Dei Immorality Imperialism Incarnation Incivility Individualism Indulgence Infantilism Insipidity Insurance Intellect Intercession Intergenerational Theft Interiorizing Culture Iona Iowahawk Irony Irresponsibility Isaiah Islam Italy J.E. Dyer J. Gresham Machen Jack Wagner James Pethokoukis James V. Schall Janet Daley Jay Rockefeller Jazz Shaw Jefferson Starship Jeff Jacoby Jeremiah Jesus Christ Jewish Advocate Jews JFK Jill Stein Jimmy Carter Joanne Hogg Joe Biden Joe Carter Joe Scarborough Joe Wilson John Henry Newman John Jalsevac John Kerry John Locke John McCain John Roberts John Sommerville John the Baptist John Ziegler Jonah Jonathan Last Jonathan Sperry Joseph Stalin Journaling Journalism Joy Joyce Judaism Judgment Judgmentalism Judiciary Jurisprudence Justice Just War K-8 Kant Kathryn Lopez Keith Olbermann Ken Cuccinelli Kermit Gosnell Keynesianism Killing King David Kingdom of God KKK Knights of Columbus Knowledge L'Osservatore Romano Labor Laity Language Larceny Law Lazarus Laziness Learning Lectionary Leftism Legacy Legality Lent Leprosy Letter to Hebrews Letter to Romans Leviathan Liberal Education Liberalism Libertarianism Liberty Libraries LibraryThing Libretti Libya Licentiousness Lidwig Feuerbach Lies LifeSiteNews LifeWay Light Light Dawns on Marble Head Limited Government Liturgical Calendar Liturgy Liturgy of the Hours Logos Lordship Love Luciano Storero Lumen Gentium Lying Macintosh Magi Manhattan Declaration Mara Hvistendahl Marcel Guarnizo Marco Rubio Margaret Becker Margaret Marshall Marketing Mark T. Coppenger Marriage Martin Cothran Martin Heidegger Marxism Mary Eberstadt Mary Magdalene Mary Rose Somarriba Massachusetts Massachusetts SJC Massasoit Materalism Maternity Mathematics Matthew Hanley Matt Labash Mattress Girl MaybeToday.org Mayflower Meaning Media Ethics Media Hype Medicaid Medical Ethics Medicare Memory Mercy Methodology Mexico City Policy Michael Hanby Michael Moore Michelle Bachmann Michelle Malkin Mike Pence Milos Forman Miracles Misanthropy Misbehavior Miscenegation Mitch Daniels Mitt Romney Moammar Qaddafi Mockery Modernism Modernity Modern Scholar Mom Moral Doctrine Moral Imbecility Moralism Morality Moral Philosophy Mortimer J Adler Motherhood Mother Teresa Motives Movies MSBA MSM MSNBC Music NAB NABRE Nancy Pelosi Nanny State Naomi Achaefer Riley Nasta & Yulia Natick National Council of Churches National Day of Prayer Nationalism National Review National Socialism Natural Rights Nature NEA Negligence New American Bible New English Translation New Marriage News Product Newsweek New Testament New York Times Niall Ferguson Nigel Farage Nighttime Nihilism Noli me Tangere Nonsense Now Reading NY Times O Antiphons ObamaCare Occam's Razor Occupy OEB Old Testament Olive Tree Ontology Operation Rescue Opinion Ordinary Time Organ Sales Origen Original Sin Orthodoxy Osama bin Laden OWD Paganism Papacy Parables Parenting Partisanship Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry Passion of Christ Pat Caddell Patheos Pathology Patriarchy Paul Erlich Paul Ryan PC Study Bible Pearl of Great Price Pederasty Pedophilia Pentecostalism Permissiveness Perpetual Outrage Perseverance Personhood Pete Jermann Peter Augustine Lawler Peter Kreeft Peter L. Berger Peter Sanchioni Peter Seewald Peter Thiel Phenomenology Philosophical Naturalism Philosophy Pieta Pieties Piety Pilgrims Pink Floyd Planned Parenthood Plato Plenty Plymouth Plantation Poland Political Correctness Political Discourse Political Economy Political Resistance Political Science Pop Culture Criticism Pope Benedict XVI Pope John Paul II Pope Leo XIII Pop Music Pornography Postmodernism Poverty Power Pradis Prayer Preaching Priestcraft Priesthood Principles Priorities Prison Fellowship Prisons Privacy Private Schooling Privatization Pro-Lifers Procrastination Producers Progressivism Propaganda Property Property Rights Propheticism Prosperity Prostitution Protestantism Pseudo-Morality Public Discourse Public Order Public Schooling Public Spending Punishment Puritans QotD QuickVerse Racialism Racism Radicalism Rape Rape Culture Rationality Rationing Ravi Zacharias Reading Reality Rebecca Reconciliation Redemptionis Sacramentum Reform Regeneration Regensburg Regulations Relationships Relativism Religion Religiosity Religious Art Religious Dialog Religious Liberty Religious Repression Rent Seeking Repentance Republican Party Rerum Novarum Resomation Responsibility Resurrection Revelation Revolutions Rhetoric Richard Fernandez Richard John Neuhaus Richard Nixon Richard Wright Rick Santorum Rick Wakeman Rick Warren Righteousness Rita L. Marker Robert Barron Robert R. Reilly Robert T. Miller Rock Music Rod Decker Roe v. Wade Roger Vinson Roman Empire Romans Romanticism Romneycare Ronald Reagan Ron Dellums Ross Douthat Rush Limbaugh Ruth Ruth Marcus Ryan Messmore Sacrality Sacramentalism Sacraments Saint Augustine Saint Francis Saint Francis de Sales Saint Ismeria Saint Jerome Saint Maximilian Kolbe Saint Nicholas Saint Paul Saint Paul School Saint Peter Salvation Same-Sex Marriage Sanctification Sanctity Santa Claus Sarah Palin Satisfaction Scandal Scapegoating Schooling Science Scott Brown Scott Harrington SCOTUS Sean Bielat Self Discipline Self Knowledge Sentimentality Sermonizing Sexuality Sexual Revolution ShareThis Sharon Angle Sigmund Freud Sin Singing Slander Slavery Smoking SNAP Social Contract Social Engineering Socialism Socializing Children Social Justice Social Studies Sociology Socrates Solidarity Solutions Sonia Sotomayor Soteriology Soul Southern Poverty Law Center Soviet Union Speeches Speech Police spiked-online Spirituality SSM St. Augustine Church St. Patrick Church Standardization Statism Stem Cells Stephen Kinzer Stephen Prothero Sterilization Stewardship Strange Fire Stress Study Study Bibles Stupidity Subjective Objectivity Subjectivism Subsidiarity Suffering Sunday Readings Supernatural Superstition Symbolism Syncretism Tabernacle Talk Radio Taxation Tax Shelters Teaching TEA Party Technology Ted Kennedy Ted Koppel Temporizing Temptation Terl Bryant Tetragrammaton Thanksgiving The Catholic Thing Theism Theology Theology of the Body Theosis Theotokos Therese of Lisieux The Telegraph TheWeek.com Thinking Thomas Aquinas Thomas F Madden Thomas G. Guarino Thomas Jefferson Tim Cahill Time Timothy Dalrymple Tolerance Tom Coburn Tony Blankley Tony Melchiorri Touchstone Townhall.com Trade-Offs Tradition Training Transcendence Transhumanism Transparency Treasure Trinitarianism Trivia Troy Donockley Truth Tunisia Turkey TV Tyranny U.S. Senate U2 UFOs Unbelief Unintended Consequences Unionism United Church of Christ Unity Universal Declaration of Human Rights Universalim Universities Upon this Rock USA Today USCCB US Congress Usurpation Utilitarianism Utopianism Vatican Vatican II Verbal Engineering Verbum Vice Victimhood Victor David Hanson Violence Virginia Postrel Virtue Vocation Voluntary Insanity Voters Voting Vulgarity w.bloggar W. Norris Clarke Waiting Walk for Life Wall Street Journal Walter Russell Mead War Warren Buffett Washington Post Watergate Wealth webEdit Weekly Standard Wesley J. Smith Western Civilization Wicca Will-to-Power William Callahan Will of God Windows Live Writer Winter Wisdom Witchcraft WordPress Words WORDsearch WORDsearch 5 WORDsearch 7 WORDsearch 8 WORDsearch 9 WORDsearch 10 WORDsearch 11 Work Works Worship WWJD Yes Yom Kippur Youth ZBS Zero-Tolerance ZfEval-Searching Zondervan

Tag Archive: Grace

Reconciling the World

Posted: Tuesday, November 30, 2010 (9:53 pm), by John W Gillis


Quote of the Day for Tuesday, Nov. 30:

Hans Urs von Balthasar, from “The Sacrament of the Brother,” in The God Question & Modern Man, 1958:

The opposition between what is profane and what is sacred is indeed fully justified in its place, else there could be no movement. Yet in this openness and this reciprocally flowing movement the opposition is transcended by the unity of him in whom and for whom all things have been created, and who has therefore been charged by the Father to bring them home.

Nevertheless, a man will find God in all worldly things and especially in his brother who becomes his neighbor only if he is willing to seek and find God also in himself, in the sanctuary of prayer and the Word and Sacrament of the Church, and the Church has not so much to make propaganda in the world, but above all to pray and to remain in charity.

I’ve been reading mostly von Balthasar and de Lubac in my current Ecclesiology course, and von Balthasar had an arrestingly radical vision of the reach of God’s grace, and of the Church’s role in the manifestation of God’s love for the lost and forsaken in the world. I’ve read plenty od theologians who have presented awe-inspiring visions of God; I don’t think I’ve ever read anyone possessed of such an optimistic – and charitable – sacramentalism.

Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.

We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

2 Corinthians 5:17-20 (RSV)

Victory & Grace: A Contrast in both Style & Substance

Posted: Thursday, November 4, 2010 (11:25 pm), by John W Gillis


There are lots of good reasons why lots of good people deeply dislike long-time U.S. Congressman Barney Frank; so many that exposing his victory speech this Tuesday night seems a bit like piling on. Yet, there it stands: a testimony to his character. Sore losers can be embarrassing enough, but what to make of such a sore winner?

Here is Frank in full Barney mode: self-serving, self-pitying, self-absorbed, self-righteous; with nothing better to say after being elected to a 16th term (if my math is right) representing the people of Massachusetts than to take pot shots at his political adversaries, and turn the screws of partisan division with whatever facts or fables might be at hand.

Perhaps the most astonishing aspect of this to me is the fact that he was opposed by a candidate who conducted himself as a gentleman – just a solid, decent guy. Sean Bielat focused the campaign on Frank, to be sure, but he stayed focused on the legitimate issue of Frank’s recklessness and ideological blindness in his comically poor oversight of Fannie May and Freddie Mac just before their notorious collapse – as well as on his long-standing support for the misguided social engineering policies that predictably produced the massive mortgage defaults at the low end of the housing market which finally drove the economy over the edge three years ago. I guess Frank considers being held accountable for the consequences of one’s public acts & policies to comprise a smear campaign. Unfortunately, too many voters in MA-4 must, too.

As for the “tone” of the overall campaign atmosphere created by the rest of the Republicans in Massachusetts, maybe I don’t frequent the same places Barney does, but I, after having been pretty well plugged in to the process for the past two years, have no idea what he is talking about. Granted, I don’t watch much TV, but the only candidate I saw that was really skewered by the Republicans was independent gubernatorial candidate Tim Cahill – a relentless negative ad campaign underwritten by the RGA (not the Republican candidate, for all that’s worth) that I think ultimately undermined Charlie Baker’s campaign by both focusing on the wrong problem, and making Baker look mean. But the real smear campaigns, as far as I can see, were run by the Democrats! The only real “beneath the dignity” smear campaigns I came across were nasty ad hominem attacks against attorney Bill Hudak, who ran for Congress in MA-6; Sandwich State Representative Jeff Perry, who ran for Congress in MA-10; and (with slightly less vitriol involved) Framingham’s Mary Z. Connaughton, who ran for State Auditor. All three ran as Republicans.

Regardless of what had transpired, if our civics are going to be conducted in at all a civil manner, legitimate election outcomes need to be accepted with a certain amount of graciousness – especially victories, for crying out loud. The cantankerous old man with the forked tongue could take some lessons in personal behavior from the young man who just won election to the U.S. Senate from Florida: Marco Rubio. I see Rubio as one of the real bright lights emerging from the conservative wing of the Republican party, along with folks like Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan, New Jersey governor Chris Christie, Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal, newcomer Congressman-elect Allen West from FL-22, and maybe even Sarah Palin – though she’s pretty heavily damaged goods politically because of the “dumb bimbo” narrative applied to her, yet she’s still very effective at producing the results she wants – the big dummy!

Anyway, here is Rubio’s victory speech Tuesday night. You could hardly construct a more polar contrast to Frank’s contemptuous screed. He begins by graciously acknowledging his adversaries – with some particularly kind words for the Democrat challenger – and then he goes on to humbly call his constituents – not just his circle of supporters! – to a united common cause of committing our society to its future generations. Barney Frank, I pray you’re taking notes:

But then again, perhaps it’s unrealistic to expect a man whose values include explicit support for the legalized killing of inconvenient children to take seriously an invitation to build a society ordered toward the well-being of children…

Divine Manifestation and Humility: Pentecostalism and Eucharistic Hope

Posted: Friday, June 25, 2010 (12:21 am), by John W Gillis


monstrance_sm I was wondering, a while back, what kind of difference it might have made in my life to have encountered a perpetual Eucharistic Adoration chapel when I was a young man seeking some sort of religious grounding for my spiritual life. I’m wondering about it again as I sit before the Blessed Sacrament on another Sunday late-night. Specifically, I’m thinking about that year or so I spent huddled in my apartment, trying to piece together the shards of my shattered life in the wake of the disaster that was my twenties, and seeking a path to actualize my nascent faith in God.

Sitting in the Adoration Chapel each week, I see young people coming in and going out, some acting out elaborate and affected pieties, others more reserved and seemingly more recollected. I was drawn, at a similar age, toward a pentecostalism that promised to substitute an engaging and spiritually charged enthusiasm for the indulgent sensuality and attendant emotional crises I had been embroiled in, and was seeking to escape. I knew that I needed more than a prayer life, that I needed Christian community, that I needed to belong to something that was more than an idea – or worse, a projection of my own interior life.

But I was put off by the worldliness that seemed to underpin the life I witnessed in what I suppose I would have called organized religion. I was a thoroughly beaten young man at that point, an poor as dirt, and all but ready to embrace apocalypticism as the last station call for optimism. Pentecostalism in particular seemed constructed to marginalize me from the very community of the marginalized I felt spiritually bound to. On the surface, with its focus on the breaking-in to the world of the Spirit in charismata, it seems to exemplify the “in the world, but not of the world” ethos of the gospel. But in reality, it seeks the manifestation of God’s blessing in very concrete and even material forms. That’s why “the gifts” tend not toward a deep, quiet, and subtle prudence, but a public form that approaches spectacle. And that is also why the health and wealth gospel is so at home in pentecostalism. If the manifestation of God’s blessing is not actually the end of pentecostal faith, it is at least taken as evidence of the reality of grace in the life of the believer.

As a fragile, immature believer with nothing to show for my relationship with God but a deep sense of sorrow and repentance, pentecostalism was both intriguing for its promise of an affirming manifestation, and foreboding for its unspoken but unmistakable contempt for spiritual poverty and unapologetic humility. What is taken as being “not of the world” in pentecostalism is actually very worldly, insofar as it is public manifestation of blessing itself which is taken as the revelation “in the world.” In the end, I felt out of place in my poverty – not because I lacked manifestations like the glossolalia (which I had, even some fifteen years earlier, learned not to overvalue), but because I so thoroughly lacked the worldly successes that are taken to be signs of the blessing.

The sacramental economy stands in stark contrast to all that. The revelation of God is made manifest in the world in the simplest and humblest manner: a small piece of bread, water, a touching hand, a few softly spoken words. True, the Blessed Sacrament in Adoration is often enthroned within an elaborate gold monstrance; the places of worship themselves, where the sacraments are celebrated and dispensed, are often grand in form and rich in substance. Yet these displays of the wealth of the world are not understood as the blessings God gives to his people, but the blessings God’s people bring to Him in reverence. This is wealth that is “wasted” on God, as Judas had it, while God, in His manifestation, remains the bread of sacrifice: His depiction by the faithful being that of a Man crucified.

The sacraments, far from being evidence of the presence of the Spirit in the life of the believer in blessing, are evidence of the presence of the Spirit in the life of the Church, which the believer approaches in utter poverty and humility. Christ Himself, then, is manifest in humility, and the believer approaches in humility (“Lord, I am not worthy to receive you…”) to be joined in a sacramental communion of humility (“whosoever would follow me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me”), in which the eschatological manifestation of God’s self-revelation in humanity (“by the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity”) is pregnant as a Spiritual first fruits of Eternal life (“the guarantee of our inheritance”).

What has become abundantly clear to me is that the extraordinary charismata of pentecostalism and related religious movements have emerged as some kind of substitute for the sacraments: one more compatible with the modernist spirit of the age. I find it no coincidence that the historical context for this reemergence of the charismatic gifts aligns with the powerful rise of Modernism as a broad philosophy of culture, as well as the emergence of phenomenology as an epistemological method. Epistemologically, Modernism is basically phenomological: able to perceive knowledge only in that which is experienced, which in reality reduces ‘truth’ to, at best, factualism, or, at worst, subjectivism. One could make the argument that objectivism and subjectivism are instead polar opposites which I am here conflating, but they share a common ground in the observing self, and in a difficulty (if not inability) to overcome a consequent self-centered rationalism in order to perceive the transcendent. Pentecostalism, of course, seeks the transcendent, but it seeks it in the experience of the self; in phenomena.

Likewise, it can hardly be a coincidence that the charismatic movement in Catholicism emerged in the decade of the modernizations following Vatican II, when a deep sacramental understanding seemed to evade much of Catholic culture: pizza was known to be offered as Eucharistic sacrifice in one of the more bizarre incongruities to emerge from the era; greater symbolism came to be sought in baptismal rites through the reintroduction of baptismal baths (such emphasis on symbolism exposing a growing vacuum of meaning born of a declining sacramental sensibility); lines were blurred between lay and priestly roles; confession fell into disuse; and marriage fell prey to contraception, divorce, and other – even worse – sacrileges.

Through the 19th and 20th centuries, Modernism sowed the seeds of a wasting dissolution in the liberal denominations that had held to a semblance of sacramental theology after the Reformation, made possible because their sacramentalism was in reality only formal or religious, not essential. From Luther’s denunciations of indulgences in the 16th century, to John Smyth (re)baptizing himself near the beginning of the 17th century, to Napoleon crowning himself Emperor in front of Pope Pius VII two hundred years later, the history of the West from the Protestant Reformation to the rise of Modernism is one of accommodating a religiously Christian society to a repudiation of the authority of the Church – a repudiation not only of authority as power or religious superiority, but of authority as an ontological reality, a sacramental gift: of the knowledge of the Church as the authentic and authoritative continuing presence of Christ in the world.

The repudiation of an authoritative Church by both by Protestant Christianity and early-Modern or Liberal skepticism did less to correct ecclesiastical abuses than it did to provide religious cover for skepticism, which carried on its own program of pseudo-orthodoxy in the guise of “science,” moving steadily toward Modernism’s atheistic naturalism, even removing God from the cosmos (never mind the curriculum), by first removing the presence of God among men in the form of the miraculous, including the sacraments, but more importantly in the form of authority in the Church – more important because religious anti-papists could happily hitch their wagons to the same “progressive” worldview, unaware of and unprepared for anti-clericalism’s final destination in godless totalitarianism. And now, majorities in these denominations cozy up to abortionists, and cluck their tongues at the sight of “conservatives” who are so unenlightened as to fail to embrace the new homosex norms…

Reacting against Modernism, however, were Fundamentalism proper and the main thrust of contemporary conservative Evangelicalism. They rejected the wholesale naturalistic skepticism of the miraculous, to say nothing of atheism, but they retained a skepticism of the miraculous nature of the Church, and formed (often after initial denominational schisms) an astoundingly fragmentary collection of staunchly anti-sacramental faith communities. Furthermore, despite fundamentalist hostility toward Modernism, it is widely perceived that fundamentalism and naturalism share a common set of (modern) assumptions about the relation of facts to reality, as is evidenced in fundamentalism’s insistence on facticity in its understanding of Biblical inerrancy. What  seems less often observed is that pentecostalism, which emerged at about the same time as a sister movement, sharing similar concerns but eschewing the fundamentalism’s focus on dogmatic Biblicism for a more personal (and miraculous) religion of encounter with God, taps into the same mindset of believing exactly what is seen: experienced-based belief.

But experience is peripheral to sacramental faith, and experiential religion turns out to be a poor substitute for the sacramental life. The point of contact between sacramental manifestation and the believing community is faith in the power of God’s promise that He is indeed present, even despite appearances, if necessary. The point of contact, in other words, is not experience, not “what is seen,” but hope. Being rooted in hope, sacramental worship seeks no signs, but looks behind symbols to the realities they re-present, being open to the transformative movement of grace through the sacraments in ways that are often subtle – even humble. Not phenomena, but a still, small voice.

Despite my mildly Catholic upbringing in the 1960s, I think I would have been shocked, in the 1980s, to encounter God present under the form of bread, even sitting on an altar in a gold monstrance. I think I would have realized that, despite the trappings, God was, in all His glory, even more impoverished than me. I think that may have led me to see how profoundly true it is that for God, all things are possible, and that the meanness of my condition was not an alienating factor that kept me from full communion, but a vector for God to embrace me through the agency of His continued manifestation among men. I think I may have discovered the restorative and integrating power of genuine Christian community. I truly praise God for the Eucharistic faith of these young people; I hope they appreciate someday what a gift they have.

More Hope, Less Stress: Better Living

Posted: Monday, September 28, 2009 (11:13 pm), by John W Gillis


Today was Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. I’ve been fittingly pensive and reflective lately, almost to the point of feeling haunted. This is a time of year that used to fill me with energy, but these days seems more likely to leave me thinking about lost opportunities. I became starkly aware last night, while driving downtown to teach my CCD class, of how short a fuse I was on, and how much stress I was feeling. That’s not a good thing for me, and I quickly had to coax myself back off the ledge.

Thinking about how to go about lowering my stress level, I considered how helpful it might be to tune out the political environment, and focus on matters of a less agitated character. As tempting as that may be, it hardly seems the responsible thing to do, and would be easier said than done anyhow. At the end of the day, I have to live in the middle of it all, as does everyone I care about. I may be powerless to effect any real change in the world, but within my tiny little circle of influence, I am not free of the obligation to shed whatever light I may be able to on the greater or lesser questions of the day.

And so I’m left to confront the daily anxiety of backwards-looking regrets and forward-looking resignations. It dawns on me that I’ve never quite come to peace with myself following the crisis of my second coronary stent procedure, almost two years ago to the day. The first one, in May, had almost killed me, but I walked away from it with a sense of relief, feeling I had dodged a bullet, and ready to work my way back to health. But the prospect of the second one, several months later, felt like the bullet I’d dodged had, like a heat-seeking missile, turned around to come back for me. It was a humbling experience: half-expecting to die, unwilling to let anyone know how pessimistic I was, and dumbstruck at the profound chasm between what my life had been, and what it should have been.

And yet the ensuing two years have found me, in many ways, digging the same grave I was working on before: burning the candle at both ends, and allowing busy-ness to trump my need for quiet reflection and reconciliation. But that is hardly the whole story.

I_Testify Five years ago, on Yom Kippur in 2004, I was spending some time in preparation for my first assignment, the following morning, as a reader in the Sunday Liturgy. As I sat in the basement, browsing my reading assignment for the nth time, and listening to some music, the seriousness of what I was about to embark upon hit me with full force. I realized, with full conviction, that justice demanded that, if I were going to proclaim the Word of God to His congregation in the sacred liturgy, my life needed to likewise proclaim the Word, outside of the liturgy. This was a sobering recognition that I needed to give up the shortcuts and compromises I had become accustomed to, and it was a little unnerving. The song that was playing at the time was a perky and heartfelt piece by Margaret Becker called “I Testify.”

Now, I am a quiet and reserved man, not much given to things like testimony, and I had to smile at the irony of the moment. True to my character, I started wondering what difference it would really make what I did with my life, and how it could possibly be important. At that point, the song changed, and as I looked down at my MP3 program to see what was next, I saw it was Joanne Hogg’s rendition of “My Song is Love Unknown.” I had to smile again at the irony, and said to myself something like: ‘Yes, indeed, and that is a glorious truth hidden from so many souls, so much in need of being told. I admit it.” Driven then by what felt like a silly curiosity, my eyes glanced down at the playlist to see what was next: a song called “One More Reason,” followed by “The Lord Reigns.” Sometimes, the Lord just won’t let us miss the point – either of His purpose, or of His lordship. After having a good laugh, I snapped a screenshot of the MP3 player, and said: “You win, Lord, but the ball’s in Your court.”

Despite my continuing foibles, I can hardly deny that the Lord has truly worked a gradual but profound personal transformation in me over these past five years. It’s not that I wasn’t serious about my vocation before that, and hadn’t in many ways been even more profoundly transformed a decade and a half prior, but I learned to let go just a bit more that night. I certainly can’t claim to have realized that imperative to give up all my shortcuts and compromises, but at least I am constantly aware of its imperativeness, and I can truly point to identifiable areas in my life where I have been able to be both more sensitive to Gospel demands, and more responsive, as well. My personality has both hardened and softened in different ways as my tolerance for moral and spiritual compromise has diminished. And while I’m grateful for the growth in wisdom and piety, I’m even more grateful for the grounding such spiritual life gives to the hope I must cling to so tightly on these autumn days, when I survey that terrible, battle-scarred landscape of my life, which won’t let me forget how very much I need the redemption of that Song of Unknown Love. More hope, less stress: better living.

One Year After the Beginning of the End

Posted: Friday, May 23, 2008 (10:08 pm), by John W Gillis


One year ago today, I was lying on an operating room table at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, having jumper cables attached to my chest to try to get my heart beating normally again – I had just had my circumflex artery opened up via angioplasty, and the ticker didn’t take it too well. It wasn’t a very good day… it wasn’t a very good week.

This week wasn’t much better. For the second year in a row, Joyce spent the Wednesday before Memorial Day in a waiting room at BIDMC, waiting for word on a loved one having a procedure following a heart attack. This time, it was her mother, Grace. Fortunately, she came through it without any complications, and is doing remarkably well.

While Joyce was in town awaiting word on her mother, I was having a root canal done, which flared up again this morning with an infection. This is just as I’m finally getting over a debilitating case of achilles tendinitis that came on out of nowhere a few weeks ago. Meanwhile, I’ve been unable to use my left arm for much of anything since coming home from my second angioplasty/stent procedure in September, due to rotator cuff tendinitis in that shoulder. In short, it’s hard not to feel like I’m falling apart. And it’s not just me…

Grace seems like she’s going to be fine for the time being, but she’s also part of a larger pattern I can’t help but see unfolding around me. People I know from my parents’ generation keep appearing on the radar either very sick or dying. My dad has lost four of his brothers since Joyce and I took Kelly and Leigh to visit the Canadian relatives prior to Abby’s birth. There’s been others in different parts of the family, and plenty of friends, as well. After a while, it’s impossible not to notice how much a part of life death is. But it sure is an impolite subject in public life.

My dad was the age I am now when I was about 14 or 15. He seemed old to me then – funny how that works. No doubt I thought I was pretty grown up, too. Despite my conceit, I couldn’t have been more wrong about that. Within a couple years, I’d find myself sitting on my bed in the back room of the basement, reading the Hebrew prophets, being intrigued by simplistic but adventurous eschatological speculations. And I have to ask myself: How much has really changed in 30 years? The fervor has waned and waxed a few times, and of course I’ve come to a much clearer understanding of the nature of the Church, which has cured me of susceptibility to ham-handed eschatologies (a significant difference, admittedly). But what else is really different, other than that I am now a husband and father myself, whose body has started to give out, and who has learned to be conversant with death and disease?

It comes quickly, and it goes like lightning. Life is truly over in a heartbeat. I wrote once, long ago – was it really more than yesterday? – about my need for a “certain urgency,” about my need to realize that the pressure is on before I can motivate myself to do what needs to be done. What it has taken me far too long to figure out is that life itself – or rather, death – provides that certain urgency to me, and to all, all the time. It is over before we have a chance to act, unless we act at every opportunity, rather than waiting for the “right” opportunity. The kids are grown and gone before they can be taught many of life’s serious lessons. And I can only marvel at how life has passed me by.

I didn’t mean for that to happen. But as I’ve incessantly thought things through, I realize now just how much diversion I’ve muddled into, and how, not only every decision I’ve made, but even those I’ve deferred, have closed doors to me that history clamps shut decisively.

One year since my brush with death, I’m one year closer to my immersion in it, and not sure I’ve come any closer to doing what it was I was put here to do. I’m still looking for time, and time is starting to look less like hope every day. Maybe it’s not time I need, after all.