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Humble Lessons from a Custodian

The summer before beginning eighth grade, I landed my first job. For three months, I would serve as junior custodian at Fairview Community Center in the West Minneapolis suburbs. Day in and day out, for $3.85 an hour, I was charged with setting up tables and chairs for senior citizen lunches, sweeping floors, emptying trash, and scrubbing surfaces (including endless, forever skin-shredding,, room-length Venetian blinds). I worked for two veteran custodians who had been with the school district for decades. Tony, my direct supervisor, was a soft-spoken and kind man. He always offered a wry comment with a subtle, but infectious smile. And Tony was unflappable. Whatever was asked of him and in whatever time frame it was asked, Tony would get it done and done well. Three times per week over the lunch hour, he would slip away to swim laps in the center’s twenty-five meter pool.

Hannah Arendt, Totalitarianism, and the Distinction Between Fact and Fiction

I am currently making my way through D.C. Schindler’s marvelous book The Politics of the Real: The Church Between Liberalism and Integralism. This text will be of interest to anyone passionate about the vexed and much-discussed issue of the relation between religion and politics. But I would like to draw particular attention to the epigram that Schindler chose for his book, an observation that is meant to haunt the minds of his readers as they consider his particular arguments. It is drawn from the writings of Hannah Arendt, the twentieth-century German-Jewish scholar most famous for her lucubrations on the phenomenon of totalitarianism, and it is of remarkable relevance to our present cultural conversation. She said: “The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the convinced Communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction (i.e.,…

Salir de la Prisión de la Autoinvención

Desde hace muchos años, mantengo un ministerio en Internet que me permite, a través de los buzones de comentarios, escuchar las preguntas, las quejas y las pontificaciones de miles de personas con respecto a la religión. He observado que estos comentarios se ordenan de forma bastante predecible, centrándose en cuestiones como la existencia de Dios, el problema del sufrimiento, la singularidad del cristianismo entre las religiones del mundo y toda la gama de enseñanzas sexuales de la Iglesia. Pero otro tema que se presenta con notable regularidad es la negación de la objetividad de la verdad y del valor moral. A lo largo de los años me he encontrado con esta postura con frecuencia, pero en las últimas semanas ha surgido una avalancha de objeciones de este tipo a raíz de un reciente video mío sobre el tema. Esta es una respuesta típica: “Apenas treinta segundos,…

Breaking Out of the Prison of Self-Invention

For the past many years, I have been maintaining an internet ministry that allows me, through comment boxes, to listen in on the questions, complaints, and pontifications of thousands of people in regard to religion. I have noticed that these commentaries sort themselves out in fairly predictable ways, centering around issues of God’s existence, the problem of suffering, the uniqueness of Christianity among the religions of the world, and the whole range of the Church’s sexual teachings. But another theme that presents itself with remarkable regularity is the denial of the objectivity of truth and moral value. I have encountered this position frequently over the years, but in the past few weeks, a spate of such objections have surfaced in the wake of a recent video of mine on the subject. Here is one typical response: “Thirty seconds in, and he’s [“he” means me] obviously dumb: objective moral values? Those…

Come Back to Mass!

The past fifteen months have been a time of crisis and deep challenge for our country, and they have been a particular trial for the Catholics. During this terrible COVID period, many of us have been compelled to fast from attendance at Mass and the reception of the Eucharist. To be sure, numerous Masses and Eucharistic para-liturgies have been made available online, and thank God for these. But Catholics know in their bones that such virtual presentations are absolutely no substitute for the real thing. Now that the doors of our churches are commencing to open wide, I would like to urge every Catholic reading these words: Come back to Mass! Why is the Mass of such central importance? The Second Vatican Council eloquently teaches that the Eucharist is the “source and summit of the Christian life”—which is to say, that from which authentic Christianity comes and toward which it…

¡Vuelve a la Misa!

Los últimos quince meses han sido una época de crisis y de profundos desafíos para nuestro país, y han sido una prueba particular para los católicos. Durante este terrible periodo de COVID, muchos de nosotros nos hemos visto obligados a ayunar de la asistencia a la Misa y de la recepción de la Eucaristía. Ciertamente, se han puesto a disposición numerosas misas y para-liturgias eucarísticas en línea, y gracias a Dios por ellas. Pero los católicos saben íntimamente que esas presentaciones virtuales no sustituyen en absoluto a la realidad. Ahora que las puertas de nuestras iglesias comienzan a abrirse de par en par, me gustaría instar a todos los católicos que lean estas palabras: ¡Vuelvan a la Misa! ¿Por qué la Misa tiene tanta importancia? El Concilio Vaticano II enseña elocuentemente que la Eucaristía es la “fuente y cumbre de la vida cristiana”, es decir, aquello de lo que procede…

Stretching Out to Great Things: A Commencement Address for the University of St. Thomas

The text for Bishop Robert Barron’s commencement address given at the University of St. Thomas in Houston on May 8, 2021. I have the very happy responsibility today of congratulating the University of St. Thomas class of 2021! And also to express my pride in becoming today a member of your class. I’m delighted to be in your company. I would also, of course, like to thank and congratulate your parents, your siblings, your friends, and your professors, who have done so much to bring you to this day and who feel a very justifiable pride in your accomplishments. My fellow graduates, I would like to reflect with you, very briefly, on the meaning of the formation in the Catholic intellectual tradition that you have received here at UST. A standard view today, on display in practically every nook and cranny of our cultural life, is that the…

Extendiéndose hacia grandes cosas: Discurso de graduación para la Universidad Santo Tomás

El texto del discurso de graduación del obispo Robert Barron pronunciado en la Universidad Santo Tomás en Houston el 8 de mayo de 2021. Hoy tengo la feliz responsabilidad de felicitar a la promoción 2021 de la Universidad Santo Tomás. Y también de expresar mi orgullo por convertirme hoy en miembro de su clase. Estoy encantado de estar en compañía de ustedes. Por supuesto, también quiero agradecer y felicitar a sus padres, a sus hermanos y hermanas, a sus amigos y a sus profesores, que tanto han hecho para que ustedes lleguen a este día y que sienten un orgullo muy justificado por los logros de ustedes. Compañeros de promoción, me gustaría reflexionar con ustedes, muy brevemente, sobre el significado de la formación en la tradición intelectual católica que han recibido aquí en la Universidad Santo Tomás. Un punto de vista estándar hoy en día, que se muestra en prácticamente todos…

Should Suffering Shake Our Faith?

Premier Christian Radio in the UK just sponsored a survey that investigated how the COVID crisis has affected religious beliefs and attitudes. There were three major findings—namely, that 67% of those who characterize themselves as “religious” found their belief in God challenged, that almost a quarter of all those questioned said that the pandemic made them more fearful of death, and that around a third of those surveyed said that their prayer life had been affected by the crisis. Justin Brierley, who hosts the popular program Unbelievable?, commented that he was especially impressed by the substantial number of those who, due to COVID, have experienced difficulty believing in a loving God. I should like to focus on this finding as well. Of course, in one sense, I understand the problem. An altogether standard objection to belief in God is human suffering, especially when it is visited upon the innocent. The…

¿Debe el sufrimiento sacudir nuestra fe?

La Radio Cristiana Premier del Reino Unido acaba de patrocinar una encuesta en la que se investiga cómo ha afectado la crisis del COVID a las creencias y actitudes religiosas. Hubo tres hallazgos principales: que el 67% de los que se caracterizan como “religiosos” vieron cuestionada su fe en Dios, que casi una cuarta parte de todos los encuestados dijeron que la pandemia les hizo temer más a la muerte, y que alrededor de un tercio de los encuestados dijeron que su vida de oración se había visto afectada por la crisis. Justin Brierley, presentador del popular programa ¿Increíble? comentó que estaba especialmente impresionado por el importante número de personas que, debido a la COVID, han tenido dificultades para creer en un Dios de amor. Me gustaría centrarme también en este hallazgo. Por supuesto, en cierto sentido, entiendo el problema. Una objeción totalmente habitual a la creencia en Dios es…