THE POETRY OF FAITH: Once Upon a Time, Belief Was Normative

Doesn’t it sometimes seem that you were meant to live in a different age?  That the world has turned and somehow, you didn’t get the memo?

I ran across an article on “The Poetry of Faith” which appeared in Time Magazine.  Published on July 1, 1946, it offered a thumbs-up review of a new anthology of Catholic poetry by the British poet Alfred Noyes.  “The greatest writing in human history,” said Time, “is religious writing.”  Oh, how I ache for my beloved Church to be once again held in such high esteem–and for the values of faith and virtue to be paramount in literature and in our hearts!

The article closed with a sample of such excellence–“The Convert” by G.K. Chesterton.

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After one moment when I bowed my head
And the whole world turned over and came upright,
And I came out where the old road shone white,
I walked the ways and heard what all men said,

Forests of tongues, like autumn leaves unshed.
Being not unlovable but strange and light;
Old riddles and new creeds, not in despite
But softly, as men smile about the dead.

 The sages have a hundred maps to give
That trace their crawling cosmos like a tree.
They rattle reason out through many a sieve
That stores the sand and lets the gold go free:
And all these things are less than dust to me
Because my name is Lazarus and I live.

BIGGER BREASTS AND SMALLER NOSES: The Correction Continuum. Is Plastic Surgery Immoral?

Is plastic surgery immoral?

Chances are, you think it’s a bad idea to have breast enhancement surgery (in the vernacular, a “boob job”).  You think it’s (choose one or more): too risky, too expensive, superficial, degrading to women, likely to cause cancer or adverse side-effects in old age, likely to impair breast-feeding….

Chances are, conversely, that you would unquestioningly shell out $3,500 of your hard-earned dollars for orthodontics to straighten your pre-teen son’s teeth.

 *     *     *     *     *

 I was stuck in traffic one day, driving the 30 miles from my office to my home in Oakland County, when I realized that I had passed five—count ‘em, FIVE!—plastic surgery clinics along my route.  In the affluent communities north of Detroit, breast enhancements and “nose jobs” are de rigueur.

What’s worse, a Reuters report just out of Korea claims that students who have passed grueling college entrance exams are being rewarded by their parents with plastic surgery.  In Korea, the most popular cosmetic surgeries have the dual goals of “Westernizing” the nose (giving it an upward tilt) and making the eyes appear larger through double-lid surgery.  One hospital takes it to the next level with an advertised “combo package”:  If a student chooses to modify eyes and nose at the same time, the hospital offers the student’s mother a free Botox injection.

If silicone injections to achieve cosmetic results seem to you somewhat shallow, just what is the imaginary “body modification” line you will not cross in order to achieve a certain standard of beauty?   You will have your own “tipping point” along the CUSP (Continuum of Unessential Surgical Potentialities—I just made that up), stopping somewhere along a line like this:


  • Sex change operation
  • Breast enhancement from size 34B to 42EEE, to boost your career in the entertainment industry
  • Botox of the lips to achieve Angelina Jolie pouty profile
  • Tattoo of a dragon across your back, chest and down the right arm
  • Tattoo of your child’s footprint
  • Pierced nipple or navel or….
  • Pierced lip
  • Breast reduction surgery (for comfort, not for sex appeal)
  • Liposuction for tummy reduction
  • Eyelift to correct sagging eyelids after the age of 50, restoring full vision
  • Rhinoplasty (shortening of the nose)
  • Hair implants to counter premature baldness
  • Acne treatments
  • Surgical removal of a scar or birthmark
  • Pierced ears
  • Reconstruction of the breast after cancer surgery
  • Stitches and restorative surgery following a dog bite
  • Repair of a cleft palate
  • Skin grafts and reconstructive surgery after a fire or chemical explosion


In essence, the Church admonishes us to respect life and physical health as precious gifts entrusted to us by God.  However, as the Catechism warns in 2289:  “If morality requires respect for the life of the body, it does not make it an absolute value.  It rejects a neo-pagan notion that tends to promote the cult of the body, to sacrifice everything for its sake, to idolize physical perfection….”

Beauty is only skin-deep, and we must strive to achieve the “inner beauty” that comes as we advance in virtue.  We must appreciate that “inner beauty” in others we meet, too—thus encouraging confidence in those with plainer features, so that they can accept the body that God has given them.

Truth and Beauty: Father Barron's "Catholicism"

Our cable carrier picks up WGN, the network from Chicago which aired several videos from Fr. Robert Barron’s 10-part series titled “Catholicism.”   The series–at least, four parts of it–will be coming to PBS in October, with the other six videos to be aired on EWTN beginning in November.  I jumped through hoops to see the first ones, adjusting my schedule so that I could attend Mass on Saturday, then sit glued in front of the TV on Sunday morning.  I’m here to tell you that it’s GREAT!!

I was more than happy, then, when I was asked to review the companion book, Catholicism:  A Journey to the Heart of the Faith for the Patheos website.  Here is a part of what I wrote:

For a brief moment when I first opened the book, I enjoyed a sense of smug superiority. The first line in the first paragraph in the Introduction asks the question, “What is the Catholic thing?” Father Barron explains that for Blessed John Henry Newman, “the Catholic thing” was the Incarnation, encapsulated in John 1:14, which says, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”

“No!” I exclaimed to no one in particular. “That’s the Christian thing!” For surely, I thought, Catholics share this core belief with believers from all the Christian denominations.

But two pages later, Father Barron burst my ego bubble, catching me unawares with a distinction that I’d known at some primal level but never elucidated: Catholicism, he noted, has a keen sense of the prolongation of the Incarnation throughout space and time, an extension that is made possible through the mystery of the Church. Jesus didn’t just enter the world on Christmas Day in the year 6 A.D. He enters yet today in the liturgy; in the graced governance of popes and bishops; in the texts, arguments, and debates of the theologians; in Catholic writing and art and in great cathedrals. He enters yet today, I realized, in my own humble prayer and in my daily work.

There’s more, though.  Stop over at Patheos and read the rest.