Surely you know all things, since you are no-thing. You are, and all else needs you in order to be. So surely you know me already, know what it is that I will be trying to say, know me better than I know myself. Augustine says interior intimo meo, and so you are: nearer to me than I am to myself. (A self is a self, says Kierkegaard, by relating to itself and by relating itself to God.) And what is… Read more

I was in the full arrogance of youth, and I wrote a poem. A friend had sent me a different poem, one quite modern in tone and style, complaining to me of its non-sense. I provided a quick study of its flaws – and then – I adopted its theme and wrote an entirely different poem. It took a few minutes. To this day, it remains my friend’s favorite poem of mine. Such arrogance! That I could imagine writing a… Read more

  I think I died that day. I didn’t die, not really – but I did. I did die. In some unfathomable way, I died that day as much as I lived. Everything went away and I came back again: alive and dead, dead and alive. If there is anything I know, it is that there will be no real making sense of it. The day I dragged a knife across my throat and did not die. The day that… Read more

Anger against another person, Jesus says, is liable to judgment (Mt 5:22). What happens in the heart already participates in the future that does not yet exist. In the Synoptics especially, the heart is this vast landscape where shadows rise up into possibility, for good and for ill. These shadows then shape the movement of what is to come. For Maurice Blondel, these prefigurements are themselves part of the complex totality we call “action.” He says that the “science of… Read more

I have a ridiculously hard time praying. I probably feel like most people, who, “Instead of fluent conversation…can only manage a few, halting, scraps of the heavenly idiom” (Hans Urs’ von Balthasar, Prayer). The broken phrases are probably a little bit different and a little bit the same for everyone: snatches of the liturgy, mangled Scripture passages, and plenty of incoherent mumbling. Throw in some saint references and you have a Catholic. Sometimes it’s just, “Please help,” and I don’t… Read more

There is a difference between having a will and the ability to use it. Mostly we collapse this distinction and assume that having freedom means we can use it. To put it more colloquially: all I need to do is decide to do something, and then I can do it. But Christianity has never understood freedom this way, and there are all kinds of ordinary experiences that affirm the Christian view rather than this other one. Freedom is a tricky… Read more

And so you leave our hallways, students. I can you see you up ahead of us wearing your mortar boards and robes, and this is how I will always at last see you: turned away to what is ahead, clothed in the thin silk we gave you. How easy it is to tear, to scuff and pull to ragged edges; how little warmth it offers for the cold. And this is what we gave you: the threadbare wealth of an… Read more

I’m not sure I knew I had a sense of humor until maybe after high school. I remember being so serious then, so very grave, the bearer of many deep troubles for which I had no words. I must have laughed; it’s only that I can’t remember it. Whatever was real then, laughter is inescapable for me now, and it is never a neutral thing. I’ve developed a keen interest in saying something ridiculous with a straight face, and I’ve grown… Read more

“At dinner time,” Gregory the Great writes of Saint Benedict, “a raven daily used to come to him from the next wood, which took bread at his hands.” One day, the saint’s friend the raven stopped by as usual, only this time, the raven swooped in to save his life. The raven knew that the bread on Benedict’s plate was poisoned. The bird hopped about and cried out, “as though he would have said that he was willing to obey,” that is, to… Read more

The other day I had to explain to my therapist what the Carolingian Renaissance is. I think sometimes that I must be a very strange patient. But then, I wonder who wouldn’t feel that they were strange. I’m not about to claim that therapy is for everyone, or that it always works out, or that it’s a straightforward enterprise with predictable outcomes. I find it helpful, which I suppose any damaged person like me would. A long history of trauma… Read more

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