We are a symbol-minded species. We create symbols and live by them. They pervade our assumptions and suggest to us ways to express and apply them. In religion—as in mathematics—symbols enable us to consider and reflect. In that sense, the Nativity crèche both charms and instructs. It is a conventional way to symbolize the Incarnation.
Every year while my children were young, the traditional tableau spread out under the Christmas tree. Mary and Joseph waited for midnight when the infant would be placed in a manger filled with real straw. Continue Reading
Today is the feast of the Annunciation. The Gospel story of an encounter between an angel and a peasant girl in ancient Judea has provided us with a treasury of luminous depictions. Much as I love the inventory of them as works of art, only one draws me to wonder and to prayer. The essential commitments of faith do not begin in intellectual assent. That comes later. Intellect ratifies what the heart has already glimpsed. And the eye grasps certain things in an instant; the mind takes longer to grant approval to reasoned argument. Continue Reading
Do Catholics mourn sacred buildings more than each other? You will likely shout a dismissive “No! Of course not!” Nevertheless, the question occurs to me witnessing the significant contrast between the way Catholics have responded to the Notre-Dame fire and, within a week, the Sri Lanka massacre. While money floods in from around the world for the rebuilding of Notre-Dame, there is no such spontaneous rush to contribute to the lives of maimed and mourning Christians in Sri Lanka.
In great measure, veneration of Notre-Dame arises from reverence for symbols and abstractions. Continue Reading
My heart splintered watching Notre-Dame go up in flames. The disorder of my own responses—a jumble of dismay, anger, and foreboding—permits no tidy structure. What follows is a series of thoughts in no strict sequence. Bear with me.
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“Somebody did something” on 9/11. Taking a cue from Ilhan Omar, can we wonder if somebody did something to Notre-Dame? It is a rational conjecture. Watching the cathedral tower burn, it was impossible for the mind’s eye not to go directly to the burning towers of the World Trade Center. Continue Reading
The gates of hell are no closer than they ever have been. No matter the crumbling of our culture or the dereliction of a pope, they have not moved a millimeter. Immobile, they remain where—and what—they were when life first erupted on the planet: an ineluctable border between life and death. Yet we go on invoking them as a talisman against institutional rot or, alternately, as the default comfort in a waning civilization.
What calls attention to the phrase just now is Cardinal Dolan’s February 3rd pastoral letter to all parishes in the New York Archdiocese. Continue Reading