Browsing News Entries

Think Better: An Interview with Ulrich Lehner

Robert Mixa, the Education Fellow at the Word on Fire Institute, recently interviewed Dr. Ulrich Lehner, the William K. Warren Chair of Theology at Notre Dame and member of the European Academy of Sciences and Arts, about his new book, Think Better: Unlocking the Power of Reason. Dr. Lehner specializes in Catholic Studies from 1450–1950 and has written many scholarly works, the best known being The Catholic Enlightenment. In addition to his scholarly pursuits, Dr. Lehner is the author of popular books, such as God is Not Nice: Rejecting Pop Culture Theology and Discovering the God Worth Living For. Robert Mixa: Dr. Ulrich, I am always impressed by your output of scholarly work. What compelled you to write books at a more popular level?  Dr. Ulrich Lehner: The Church has to…

“The Great British Bake Off” Reminds Us What Matters to Real People

You might describe my family as The Great British Bake Off superfans. Our toddler has seen so many episodes of the show she parrots the hosts’ “Ready, set, bake!” with gusto. We hold an annual “Great Stewart Bake Off” at Christmastide where each of our kids tackles an ambitious recipe accompanied by the GBBO soundtrack. We champion our favorite bakers as we watch new seasons and we cry in every finale—our hearts bursting with pride for the accomplishments of the competitors we’ve come to love. It’s a feel-good show in dark and divisive times, but I believe it’s an icon of much more. In each season, a dozen amateur bakers compete for the grand prize. We watch the contestants bake stunning creations and struggle through technical challenges before being judged by an intimidating duo of professional bakers. But…

Slow Down; Stay With Christmas. It’s Allowed

Silent night . . . holy night . . . The Nativity of Christ is frequently presented to us as a silent thing, and even I’ve referred to it as such. In some long-ago piece, I describe it being “as if God had put his hand over the wails and sobs of a suffering world and said, ‘Sshh, it will be alright . . .’” But of course, Christ’s coming was no silent affair. Between the bells of the shepherds and the angelic songs of the heralds, between the braying animals and the crackle of the veil being rent, all around, how could it be? The night was certainly holy . . . but it likely wasn’t silent. Silence, of which we sing so wistfully at Midnight Mass, is at an all-time premium at Christmas; it is so difficult to find a quiet night, let alone sit within…

“About a Boy” Dares to Tell of the Lonely at Christmas

For many of us, this Christmas will feel a lot more like normal than last year. Notwithstanding concerns about new variants, in many places COVID restrictions on gatherings and face coverings are long gone, and we can attend Mass in full churches and host friends and family without legal implications or moral reservations. In other places, however, difficulties remain or have returned. For example, in the United Kingdom, it appears likely that up to four times as many people will be obliged to self-isolate at Christmas this year than last year. The Netherlands has locked down again. And things are grim in the New York City area too. But whether it is business as usual or not, for a lot of people, this Christmas—like many Christmases—may still be a time of loneliness and hardship. “Normal” is…

To Live in Light: Good Advice from Fyodor Dostoevsky

November 11, 2021, marked the 200th anniversary of the birth of Fyodor Dostoevsky, a giant of world literature and a Christian of profound faith. His stories—passionately energetic, psychologically perceptive, philosophically profound, religiously stirring—have influenced many giants in their own right, including Nietzsche, Freud, James Joyce, Albert Einstein, and René Girard. He is rightly considered one of the greatest writers who ever lived.  In honor of his work, and as an invitation to explore his writings, here are 20 “rules for life”—one for each decade since his birth—inspired by the writings of Dostoevsky. 1. Take God seriously—because without him, everything is permitted.  In The Brothers Karamazov, the young skeptic Ivan proposes an idea that has haunted readers ever since: without belief in God and immortality, “everything is permitted.” Man may still be good without God, but he no…

Have Yourself a Jarring Little Christmas

Ebenezer Scrooge was impervious to change. With a crusty visage spotted with age, the cantankerous Scrooge spat at charity, scowled at children, and scoffed at any goodwill within arm’s reach. “If I could work my will,” Scrooge fumed, “every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!” Scrooge, according to his creator Charles Dickens, “was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone . . . a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner!” Little could engender kindness and wonder in this unforgiving miser—little except for time with ghosts over the witching hours of Christmas Eve. Before Christmas Day would dawn, the fortress that is Scrooge would be leveled. He would find himself cowering at a graveside before a black-robed spectre. “Assure me that I yet may change…

The Evergreen Lessons of George Bailey and Jo March

Every Christmas, my family and I watch Little Women and It’s a Wonderful Life. Having all sisters, I immediately loved the real, flawed, sometimes fraught relationships between Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. (And I read the book too, don’t worry). The first time we watched George Bailey stare into the churning river beneath him on the bridge, we cried. And actually, every year since then, we have too. As Christmas approaches and we return to these films, I’ve been asking myself—and my family—what it is about these stories that resonates so strongly.  Perhaps it’s because Jo March and George Bailey have quite a bit in common. Their lives are anchored in their families and communities, and yet both characters long for adventure outside of their hometowns. They are dreamers. And the realities…

“The Best Christmas Pageant Ever”: Unsanitized for Our Spiritual Good

One recent evening, after discovering that one of our children’s godfathers had never read Barbara Robinson’s children’s classic The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, my children wailed in protest. My oldest son ran to the bookshelf and proceeded to read the first chapter aloud to uproarious laughter around the dinner table. I rediscovered this short read from my childhood a couple of years ago, and my children were all hooked. It’s charming and comical, but it’s also one of the very best reminders of the shocking nature of the Christmas story. The plot follows the unexpected participation of the Herdman children in the local church’s Christmas pageant. “The Herdmans were absolutely the worst children in the history of the world,” the book begins. They were practically feral and stayed busy bullying other kids and burning things down. They only showed…

“Die Hard”: Yes, It’s a Christmas Movie

Die Hard a Christmas movie? It might be downright scriptural! It’s one of those questions in popular culture that we bat around every year with different commentators offering different criteria for what is required to fit the description. For my part, it’s enough that the film is set on Christmas Eve, at a Christmas party, and begins with the theme of reconciling an estranged family in time for holiday celebrations. Yes, Die Hard is obviously a Christmas movie. Moreover, many commentators have noted that the hero of Die Hard, John McClane, played by Bruce Willis, clearly embodies a version of a Christ figure. McClane descends from the sky bearing gifts for his own people, but he soon gets bruised and bloodied for…

Here Comes Everybody: The Crowded Road to Jerusalem

As a sinful woman, I have been much humbled to understand that God, in his love and mercy, draws near to the imperfect soul at his own pleasure, no matter what state the soul is in and regardless of what anyone else thinks about it. Grace is a great mystery. What motivates the all-perfect and all-good to come running toward what is so vastly imperfect, faulty, and broken when he is called? It is the same unfathomable love that gives foolish Israel a worldly king when it has demanded one; it is a love that acquiesces in incomprehensible, paradoxical ways in order to teach by example; it is a love that will heal our wounds instantly or over time—depending on the injury—as often as we reopen those wounds and…