Sheavings

The Virgin Birth and the Zeitgeist

An Anglican cleric once asked the famous scientist J.B.S Haldane what we could discern about the mind of God by contemplating creation. Haldane, a rather outspoken atheist, replied with dry English wit: “He appears to have an inordinate fascination with beetles.” This illustrates nicely the difference between the way ordinary

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Yes Virginia, There is Clericalism

Every time you meet somebody afflicted by a confusion between the sanctity of the priestly office and the sanctity of the person who holds it; or a conviction that the priesthood is all about power, not love and service; or the notion that the only true forum for our gifts

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Words Written in Trembling

A reader writes: I am curious about your theological opinion, if you’re willing, on whether or not this was right, or would be condemned by the Church. And I pray to God this never happens to me. (If you’d rather not respond, you don’t have to, but I’m just confused

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The Wonder of a Race of Poets

Whenever I have to fly somewhere, I find it hard to sleep the night before. It’s not that I’m afraid of flying, for I always sleep like a baby the night before I fly home. No, I think instead that it’s just the excitement of long-distance travel (plus the edginess

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The Works of Mercy: Pray for the Living and the Dead

One of the sillier things one sometimes hears about the Catholic Church is communicated in jokes like the one about the guy who gets to the Pearly Gates and is ushered inside by St. Peter. As Pete’s showing him around the Elysian Fields, they pass by a little gothic structure

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The Works of Mercy: Comfort the Afflicted

Last week, I had an earache. You nod briefly. Okay. Duly noted. Earache. Can we get on to the article? I reply, “You don’t get it. Last week I had an earache.” I don’t mean, “Little twingy pain, like a headache or a sore toe.” I mean “Worst and Most Excruciating

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The Works of Mercy: Forgive Offenses Willingly

The forgiveness of sins, said the Fathers of the Church, is a greater miracle than the creation of the universe. That seems exaggerated, when considered from our perspective. A Catholic does something he feels ashamed of, hies himself to Confession, goes in the little room with the priest, and comes

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The Works of Mercy: Bear Wrongs Patiently

Me assuming the task of writing about “bearing wrongs patiently” is like asking the Incredible Hulk for anger management counseling or seeking out Britney Spears for tips on marriage and child-rearing. I don’t bear wrongs very patiently. Why should I? Those people are wrong! They need to be set right! I’m

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The Works of Mercy: Admonish the Sinner

Of all the works of mercy, probably the most thankless and despised is admonishing the sinner. Nobody wants to do it (except human toothaches and people who never get invited to parties) and nobody wants it done to them. “Repent!” is one of those words that eats at the heart

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The Works of Mercy: Counsel the Doubtful

Doubt can be the emotional equivalent of anything from a brief spring rain to a Galveston-destroying hurricane. People can feel doubt over whether to place two bucks on the Mariners to win (don’t) or about whether or not the God in whom they have believed all their life is a

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The Works of Mercy: Instruct the Ignorant

Back in 1971, when experiments in educational theory from pointy headed intellectuals with no children were just starting to become all the rage, my fellow seventh graders and I were pulled out of what used to be called a “junior high” and packed off to a newly built experiment in

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The Works of Mercy: Bury the Dead

“The body” I was taught growing up, “is just the shoe box for the soul. What matters is the shoes, not the box. So when it’s time to go to heaven, just put the shoes on and throw the box away.” This good solid dose of Gnostic thinking was instilled

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The Works of Mercy: Ransom the Captive

It’s been a while since the Crusades. As a general rule, when our President goes abroad, he does not get waylaid on his triumphal ride home and find himself in the hands of brigands who send wax-sealed notes back to the Vice President saying, “Give us forty thousand pounds and

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The Works of Mercy: Visit the Sick

We moderns can be awfully smug when it comes to Old Testament laws about ritual impurity. As heirs to post-Enlightenment thought, it’s easy for us to basically assume they were nothing but pre-scientific attempts to avoid disease, as though the Old Testament was principally concerned with “How do I avoid

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The Works of Mercy: Harbor the Harborless

One of the most exasperating bits of exegetical trendiness to afflict First World Catholics for the past thirty years or so has been the endless recirculation, like a bad penny, of the True Meaning of the Miracles of the Loaves and Fishes homily. It goes like this: Jesus found himself

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The Works of Mercy: Clothe the Naked

“Nake” is an extinct English word meaning to strip clothes off. To be “naked” is therefore be in a state of “having had your clothes stripped off”. Why does this bit of pedantry matter? Because it speaks volumes about what our ancestors regarded as the “natural state of man”. It

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The Works of Mercy: Give Drink to the Thirsty

A religion that practices Baptism is a religion that doesn’t have very rigorous membership requirements.  No Herculean feats necessary to prove your mettle.  You don’t have to hand your darkest secrets of over the Custodian of the Engrams for him to leverage you into keep the Inner Secrets of the

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The Works of Mercy: Feed the Hungry

Norman Borlaug is not the sort of name you think of when it comes to world-historical heroism. A Norwegian Lutheran son of Iowa, he grew up on the prairie, went to college during the Depression where he studied the thoroughly unglamorous subject of agriculture, enjoyed wrestling, met his wife while

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The Works of Mercy: Introduction

Jesus was a Jew. This does not seem like a news flash until we turn away from observing the obvious and begin to talk about Christian discussions of soteriology. If you aren’t familiar with that three dollar word, it basically has to do with that branch of Christian theology concerned

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Wielding Our Little Tridents

Recently, one of my readers wrote me: Here is a thought I’ve come back to after a time. Understand that I come at this as someone who has a bit of detachment from the idea of “love one’s country” etc…not of disdain, or despite of fellow man, but as one

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Why Not You?

One of the curious side effects of my line of work as a Catholic writer is that people will sometimes confess very odd phenomena they normally won’t discuss with people who aren’t known for believing in miracles. Some years ago, a woman I know cleared her throat awkwardly, looked very

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What Makes the Catholic Faith Unique?

The Catholic faith is utterly unique—because it is so much like so many other religious and philosophical traditions. Many people get confused by this paradox but the strenuous efforts of the debunkers to reduce Jesus to the level of every other religious figure is itself the firmest testimony to that

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“Wives, Be Subject”?

A while back, the Southern Baptists kicked up some dust on the American cultural landscape by treating as the word of God the Pauline exhortation (Ephesians 5:22) that wives “submit” or “be subject” to their husbands. This single line, ripped bleeding from its context by the American press, was noised

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A Ramble Through My “New Catholic” Wish List

I am a “double-jump” convert to the Catholic Faith. I was raised Nothing-in-Particular (with a cloudy pagan regard for “the spiritual” and a deep disdain of “organized religion”). Then, at the age of 20, I had a sort of classic “born again” experience after an encounter with the living God

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