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St. Thérèse of Lisieux and the Demand of Love

This piece on St. Thérèse of Lisieux, the Little Flower, first appeared in the Spring 2021 issue of Evangelization & Culture, the quarterly journal of the Word on Fire Institute, which focused on the Catholic sensibility of Bishop Barron. Learn more and become a member today to read more pieces like this. Since about the thirteenth century, when Guy of Vergy, Bishop of Autun, created a coat of arms as a means of ecclesial identification, a newly appointed Catholic bishop is tasked with designing his own heraldry using images that speak to his personal story of upbringing, proclaim his guiding principle (or motto), and give witness to what or who has greatly impacted his spiritual understanding.  No one who has perceived St. Thomas Aquinas’ profound influence on Bishop Robert Barron could be surprised to learn that his Coat of Arms declares, in gloriously bold…

With Angels and the Company of Heaven, We Are Never Alone

To be a Protestant is to be spiritually lonely. I don’t mean that Protestants don’t enjoy spiritual fellowship with one another. The popular small group movement has for decades been a key dynamic in successful Protestant churches—megachurches especially. People gather weekly or biweekly to read the Bible or some devotional literature, share spiritual insights, and pray together. But anyone who has spent any time in such groups knows that the key to the meeting is not Bible knowledge or spiritual insights from the ages. It’s mostly a place for people to say, “This is what I think” and “This is what happened to me.” It’s attractive precisely because it’s a safe place where people can find a listening ear to talk about their spiritual struggles. Some Catholics enjoy such fellowship as well, but as far as I can tell, such small groups are not…

Beauty Matters, Aesthetic Education Matters

Aesthetic education matters. Noble art cultivates noble souls. Until recently, most civilizations have understood this, encouraging educators to introduce the youth to art, beauty, and good taste. This is what is known as an “aesthetic education.” But how many educators do this today? When taste has been reduced to mere preference—wherein the distinction between superior or inferior taste is meaningless and even offensive—criticism of taste is considered off-limits. This view has gained hold not only in popular culture but even in the schools, threatening the very purpose of education. And while it’s important to be reticent about being too critical and a snob, education—and the soul—depends on the cultivation of an aesthetic sensibility that can identify what constitutes “good” art.  At the heart of education is the development of an aesthetic sense—that is, a receptiveness to the goodness and beauty that ultimately opens the soul to…

The Tricky Balance Between Frugality and Charity

Today is the feast of St. Vincent de Paul, a man known for his extraordinary service. Ellyn von Huben examines how he uniquely balanced the demands of frugality and charity.

Bad Guys: Untold Tales of Good and Evil

A 2006 sketch from the British comedy show That Mitchell and Webb Look features a conversation between two Nazi officers before a battle. One of the men raises the question about why their uniform caps have skulls on them. The pair go back and forth with various speculations for a few minutes before one finally asks the other, “Are we the baddies?” Since everyone agrees that Nazis were and are bad guys, it is comedy gold to depict arriving at the conclusion as a matter of debate. Likewise, browsing this week through old clips from the recently deceased comedian Norm Macdonald, I found a great routine he did in an interview with David Letterman. Talking about his father’s bravery in helping to liberate the Dutch from the Nazis in World War II, Macdonald says nonchalantly about Hitler…

The Fascinating and Frightening Padre Pio

St. Pio of Pietrelcina, or "Padre Pio," has always been somewhat of a frightening figure to Fr. Steve Grunow. But, for him, Padre Pio evokes the same sort of fright that we speak of when we refer to the "fear" of God. What does it mean and why is it appropriate?

“Evangelization Is Colonialism”: Are We Sure About That?

“Evangelization is colonialism,” she said. So, there I was on a Zoom call, part of a biweekly meeting of a Christian writers group. After sharing our latest accomplishments and travails, the topic of discussion turned to evangelization. One group member—I’ll call her Josephine—surprised us by categorically rejecting the very concept of missionary evangelization. She alleged that bringing the Gospel to foreign lands was tantamount to exploitation and oppression. “To send missionaries to Africa and Asia to convert the native people to Christianity is religious colonialism,” she insisted. To support her argument, Josephine recited the familiar litany of evils perpetrated over the recent centuries by waves of Christian European colonizers: the African slave trade, the genocide of Native Americans, and other atrocities. My first instinct was to dismiss Josephine’s viewpoint as just another example of rampant “wokeism.” But the emotion behind her argument…

The Recovery of St. Matthew

This piece on St. Matthew first appeared in the Autumn 2020 Scripture issue of Evangelization & Culture, the quarterly journal of the Word on Fire Institute. Learn more and become a member today to read more pieces like this. As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him. (Matt. 9:9) Perhaps the best-known artistic depiction of this event is Caravaggio’s The Calling of Saint Matthew, kept today at the Church of St. Louis of the French in Rome. In this canvas, four men sit with Matthew—also called Levi—at a table counting money. Jesus and St. Peter stand in the doorway with their fingers extended toward the tax collector: he is being chosen. God is offering grace to the sinner.  In…

The Soul is Healed by Being with Children

Several years ago, I found myself commiserating with a friend over his struggles to have children. For years, it seemed, he and his wife were able to conceive, but incapable of sustaining a pregnancy. Notwithstanding extensive examinations, lab work, and imaging studies to identify a treatable source for their difficulties, they suffered one miscarriage after another. Meanwhile, with each pregnancy came a familiar, grueling emotional cycle. It began with great joy, evolved into profound anxiety, and ultimately, concluded with withering sadness. With each miscarriage, their hopes dimmed that they would ever experience of joy of childbirth. It was a terrible story. As I looked at him with his furrowed brow and his unconsciously shaking head, it had been eighteen months since their last jeopardized pregnancy. It had been a harrowing road. Only now, they had a baby. My friend’s little boy was a miracle,…

5 Gifts of Being Catholic That I Increasingly Love 

When my family and I came into full communion with the Catholic Church in 2019, we were no strangers to the overall contours of the Catholic thing. We had been High Church Anglicans, and our main obstacle was papal authority. By God’s grace, we were finally set free to live in obedience to Christ by acknowledging “the sacred primacy of the Pope and his infallible Magisterium” (Lumen Gentium, 18). But the big doctrinal issues are one thing, and everyday living as Catholics is sometimes quite another. There are so many gifts in the Catholic Church that my family and I did not fully appreciate before we climbed aboard the barque of St. Peter. As we enjoy them now, our lives are so much richer than we could have ever imagined when we stood on the edge of the Tiber, contemplating…