The New Critics and the Barbarians

Thomas_Stearns_Eliot_by_Lady_Ottoline_Morrell_(1934)The poet and writer Dana Gioia penned an essay for the December 2013 issue of First Things titled “The Catholic Writer Today: Catholic Writers Must Renovate and Reoccupy Their Own Tradition.” The essay does not inspire much confidence in the state of “Catholic” writing at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

Our own Gregory Wolfe wrote a response published in Image issue 79, called “The Catholic Writer, Then and Now.” Mr. Wolfe’s essay consists in a broadening of the discussion to all Christian writers (Jews too). It also contains a strong pushback against Gioia’s mostly negative assessment.

In pushing back, Wolfe argues, against Gioia, that the problem is not so much that we lack good writers of faith, but that there is a general cultural unwillingness to recognize these writers of faith for what they are. Writers of faith, in short, are producing as many brilliant works of art as they ever were. It’s the public discussion that has gone silent.

In essence, Wolfe flips Gioia’s argument on its head. For Gioia, the primary factor in the decline of Catholic writers (and Christian writers more broadly) comes from the fact that the writers themselves “ceded the arts to secular society.” [Read more…]

Knee Walk

By Grace Talusan

Our Lady FatimaWe stumbled onto the bus in Lisbon, sleepy after the overnight flight from New York.

The pilgrimage tour guide handed out rosaries while the priest told the bus driver to play a recording of the rosary prayers on the sound system. I fingered the pink beads, following along with the Hail Marys and Our Fathers. By the time we got to the Sorrowful Mysteries, I had fallen asleep, lulled by the warm bus and the whispers of prayer.

Our first stop on the pilgrimage was the Church of St. Anthony of Padua to see the Bleeding Host. Waiting for our tour guide to organize us in front of the church, I got my first good look at my companions: elderly nuns in the habits of their order, women traveling alone who were not nuns, a priest, married couples, and an extended family.

Except for a six-year-old boy, I was the youngest person there by at least fifteen years. [Read more…]

Eden at the Indy 500

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I managed to live in Indiana for forty years before visiting the Indianapolis 500. A friend offered my husband and me tickets on our anniversary weekend, which also happened to be the 100th anniversary of the race itself, an event that was expected to draw half a million people.

“Oh, why do you want to do that?” My family has used this rhetorical question for many years to discourage wanton desires.

We have shared a long-standing prejudice against the race, because it is a place people go to sit in the sun too long while consuming too much alcohol, and my family largely consists of fair-skinned people who do not drink. We have also casually directed this disdain at amusement parks, cruises and the state of Florida for the same reasons.

My dark secret is that I sort of like drinking in the sun. Like nearly all the forbidden things I’ve tried, it feels quite good, until it’s horrible. [Read more…]

A Strange Season for Inter-Christian Families

3438325081_caa9a19ee1_oAmerican culture, at this late and plural hour, seems to have pretty well normalized the notion of the interfaith family, to the extent that if your environs are urban and/or coastal, and your circles revolve around the ranks of top- and second-tier universities, then the multiple-faith union is almost a given, and certainly not a problem.

There’s now the cliché—which the Mark Zuckerberg biopic The Social Network made a joke about—of Jewish boys and Chinese (Baptist? Confucian?) girls. There’s another pattern, mostly in my experience in the Northeast, of Jewish young adults finding their bashert among a certain kind of generationally-sanded, now-affluent Irish Catholic (cf. Caroline Kennedy and Ed Schlossberg, to cite another generation).

Families that truly number two (or more) faiths have a kind of flexibility that can seem infinitely elastic: The Christmas tree gets rechristened into a “Chanukah bush”—with attendant blue-and-silver tinsel and a Star of David on top—a trope that comes in for annual December scorn among both my Jewish and Christian friends. (Except for those evangelicals of my acquaintance who avow a special relationship with the state of Israel.) [Read more…]

A Rabbi, a Priest, and a Wedding: Part 2

Read Part 1 here.

By Danielle Leshaw 

Water DrippingJudaism tells us how to leave.

Leaving the Sabbath. Leaving Israel. Leaving a marriage. Leaving life. We have rituals and words of prayer and entire theologies and words of wisdom about departure. Sometimes we leave with candles and sweet smells. Other times we depart with a divine request for safety as we journey. When leaving our spouse, we sign legal documents and ritualize the end just as we ritualized the beginning. And other times, at death, for instance, we depart with confessing all our sins. It’s only then that we’re ready to enter the next world.

But we have no ritual for leaving Judaism itself. There is no escort. There are no words of blessing. Nobody holds your hand and wishes you well, bestowing you with gifts for the next phase of life.

Sitting in church, I prayed. I stared long and hard at the enormous Jesus with his leg bent ever so slightly, with the white linen loincloth, with his head hung and his eyes closed, blood dripping, draped on the cross. Dear Jesus, please show me what to do right now. I just need some clarity. [Read more…]


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