Steve’s Columns

Of Brightness

A close friend of mine once told me she was having a hard time figuring out my mother.  I responded, “She’s a French Canadian peasant”.  About a year later, after spending more time in her company, my friend told me that she finally knew what I meant. What I meant was that my mother was simple and straight forward, the youngest female sibling of twelve children who contracted a heart condition from infant rheumatic fever, yet grew up eating gorton, blood pudding, and lard and sugar sandwiches. She liked to follow her elder siblings around, reporting their activities and whereabouts …

Of Comedy

The Romantic literary critic, Northrop Frye held that dramatic comedy is a conflict between two opposing societies – the “Society of Youth” and the “Society of the Old”.  Frye thus saw theatrical comedy as a struggle between the evolving culture and the accepted conventions, played out in humor. I recently observed close-up the particular (or peculiar) humor of our evolving culture while I sat for a haircut as some younger patrons conversed about their “relationships”.  One young man who was married within the last year stated that “some days he is absolutely in love with his wife and other days …

Of The Interior Life

The 1999 film Dogma depicted two fallen angels who, by discovering a gap in God’s infallibility, threatened the existence of God and thus existence itself. Dogma was an irreverent comedy which brought objection from many Catholics and Catholic groups since it maligned and mocked the Sacred Mysteries. Advance now to just a few weeks ago when California U.S. Senator Diane Feinstein challenged 7th Circuit Court of Appeals nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, at her confirmation hearing by stating (disapprovingly) to this law professor from the University of Notre Dame: “When [one] reads your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that dogma …

Of Ideas and Norms

The law of God receives a lot of bad press these days.  Not only in the secular media, but also in some Catholic periodicals and pulpits we hear of how the law of God is just too lofty: too high to reach or too hard to follow.  Moral laws that were once considered norms for human activity are now considered ideals for the human imagination.  In point of fact, as fewer people adhere to God’s commandments, the less these commandments act as the norm. The law of God (even for Christians) comes to be seen as a superlative standard that …

Of Lying and Libel

A few weeks back I came upon a two-part political cartoon.  The first part shows a man standing at a podium bellowing out the question, “Who is against abortion?” to which every person in the audience raises their hand. The second picture depicts the same man asking the same audience another question: “Who wants to adopt?” to which every person in the room now lowers their hands – and even their eyes. The point of the cartoon is to caricature pro-life people as hypocrites.  We are supposed “get the message” and be shamed. Some might in fact be shamed; others …

Some Meandering Thoughts on Virtue

The ancient Greek word for virtue is arete. It is often translated “excellence” since it contains within its meaning a sense of attaining a certain perfection.  For the Greeks there was virtue in every craft: carpentry, seamanship, sewing, child-rearing etc. especially if the person so engaged achieved an intimate knowledge of that craft. Hence, it was often said by the ancient Greeks that “virtue is knowledge”. For the Greeks the engine for virtue was habit. Through steady practice and a regular dedication to a profession or art, a person gains greater ease and subtlety in the performance of that art. …

Of Commitment

Just the other day as I pulled into a local gas station, I saw (and heard) a man sitting in another vehicle hanging up his phone and swearing out loud.  He noticed that I had noticed so he seemed a bit embarrassed when he got out of his car.  As he walked near me I asked him if “everything was alright”.  This led to a conversation of how his wife was told by a relative for whom she provides care that it was a stupid idea that she wanted to visit her own mother’s gravesite that day just to say …

Of Awkwardness (or the Refusal to Repent)

Some time ago a parishioner told me of a woman she invited to visit me at the parish office.  I have not seen this woman for years, but we attended grade school together and once attended the same parish church.   Sadly, this woman refused the invitation.  She did so by inquiring about me:  “Is he still a homophobe?” I suspect this woman heard about the proverb I posted five years ago on our outdoor parish sign: “Two Men Are Friends Not Spouses.” For this I was called many choice names at the time and many more since then. I’ve become …

Of Magic

Space does not allow here (nor does my expertise) for delving into the abating friendship of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R Tolkien.  Their lessening camaraderie is said to have resulted somewhat from Tolkien’s criticism of Narnia.  This is a complex matter but it has been surmised that one thing Tolkien censured was the way Lewis used magic or magical symbols in his imaginative Chronicles. Catholics have (or at least they should have) a grave suspicion of magic. Magic is the alleged craft of using forces in nature to gain certain benefits or to drive away specific evils.  Magic has a tendency …

Of Leadership

At a recent daily Mass the following prayer intention was read by the lector: For civic leaders; may they embrace the concept of “servant-leadership”… Now “servant-leader” sounds right enough; after all Jesus told his disciples that “he who is greatest among you shall be your servant” (Mt 23:11). Hence, to pray for our own leaders of State to be servant-leaders must be right; right? The servant-leader concept did not come from Jesus.  It arose in the 1970s with the work of Robert K. Greenleaf, a management researcher who came to believe that leadership in American institutions had become authoritarian through …