>In my project of revisiting my past in prayer, I’ve reached 1998, the year of my conversion. (And in certain ways a moral low point, which is a weird thing to recognize about the year you became a Christian.) I re-read St Anselm, probably for the first time since college and maybe for the first time ever. Not the “ontological proof of God,” which has never done much for me: Let’s all do math on a rollercoaster, and at the… Read more

for Commonweal: Daniel Swift runs his new book, The Bughouse: The Poetry, Politics, and Madness of Ezra Pound, like a shell game. Genres flash in front of your eyes: literary criticism, political journalism, biography, institutional history. But Pound himself is under none of the shells. The purpose of the game is to teach you that Pound, subjected to every kind of study and system, remains elusive—incoherent and undiagnosable. more (alternate title: “The Mods Must Be Crazy.” You can thank the… Read more

  A book about the special honor accorded virgins, celibates, and others who renounced sex might not be the place you’d expect to find gentle words about the piety of people who really struggle with chastity. Or maybe it would be? As always in Christianity down is up, failure is success, the mighty are cast down and the lowly–including those who consider themselves morally lowly for kind of obvious reasons–are lifted up. For some Christians, Brown finds, sexual temptation itself… Read more

So I spoke on Gay Catholic Whatnot at Marquette University last night, as part of their annual Mission Week. Usually I ramble and go over my time. I was determined not to do that this time and managed to make the opposite mistake (yeah everything’s a metaphor for the spiritual life), coming in way under time so that even with q&a the thing ended early. That meant I didn’t say some important things; I also learn a lot every time… Read more

On Saturday I ended up at a special Mass at which they blessed plaques honoring people who died in slavery and were buried in unmarked graves throughout the Archdiocese of Washington. The gospel choir from St Augustine’s sang us through, including this especially powerful hymn. And this Mass has special–perhaps surprising–relevance to Peter Brown’s study of sexual renunciation in the early Church. The Mass was an expression of our reverence and God’s tenderness toward these bodies which, in life, were… Read more

at the University Bookman: Children fell in love with the tales of John Bellairs (1938–1991) because they perfectly combined creepy and cozy: the laughing skeleton, curled up by the fire with a mug of cider. In novels like The Curse of the Blue Figurine and The Dark Secret of Weatherend Bellairs confronted his child heroes with cruel wizards and apocalyptic prophecies, terrible dreams and grim temptations—often illustrated by Edward Gorey, the other master of elementary-school macabre. Bellairs and Gorey both… Read more

The metaphors by which the saints and spiritual writers have described celibate life have a certain inherent conflict. In one set of metaphors, the celibate person is reserved, protected, kept. Yet there are also a lot of descriptions–Peter Brown quotes many of them–in which the Christian who has renounced sex is described as uniquely exposed, “bared.” I think today a lot of unmarried gay people, trying to live in obedience to our Church, do feel ourselves exposed: without the support… Read more

I edited this anthology of memoir, practical guidance, poetry, family history, and spiritual reflection. Contributions include “Memories of a Black Catholic Childhood,” “When the Shepherd Steals,” “‘Fail of God’ and Other Misadventures in Deaf Catholic Life,” “The Scandal of Fecundity,” and “Leaving the ‘Angry Jesus’ Behind.” It’s an attempt to offer hope and companionship to people who are struggling to stay Catholic (or considering a return to the Church) in spite of many forms of abuse inflicted within Catholic institutions… Read more

[Paul] was concerned to emphasize, rather [than fornication], the continuing validity of all social bonds. The structure of the household as a whole was at stake. This included the institution of domestic slavery. On this, Paul was adamant: slaves, like wives, must remain in their place…. –Peter Brown, The Body & Society: Men, Women, & Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity In Brown’s portrayal of early Christian communities, celibate people could take a few different stances toward the married, sexually-active householders… Read more

The Imperfectionists is a 2010 novel, or necklace of short stories, about an English-language newspaper in Rome. At first it seems weirdly unwilling to be a book about news. There’s a lot of quite resonant portrayal of the business of filling the paper, the desperate hunt for copy or fight for bylines, but for a while I felt like I could be reading about almost any enterprise in which grubby human motives hide behind an idealistic facade. It’s one of… Read more

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