Upcoming Catholic Events to Consider Personal, Philosophical Aspects of Atheism

Gentle Reader, here are a couple of upcoming events which may tickle your fancy.  The first deals with the personal experience of a popular Catholic media personality, who didn’t start out as a Catholic, let alone a theist.  The second deals with an in-depth consideration of the Church’s philosophical engagement with Atheism, examined through both common sense and the teachings of one of Christianity’s greatest thinkers.

Blogger, author, and now radio host Jennifer Fulwiler will be at the Catholic Information Center here in D.C. on Monday, September 29th at 6:00 pm, which I’m very much looking forward to attending.  She’s be discussing her book, “Something Other Than God”, which charts her journey from materially successful atheist to spiritually joyful Catholic.  If you’re not already familiar with her story, check out her appearance on The Journey Home with Marcus Grodi on EWTN. On her blog, you can see other dates for her book tour, which this week brings her to the greater DC area.

2.  Continuing somewhat along with the theme of the preceding event, here’s an advance-planning conference, which you philosophers out there may be particularly interested in.  The second World Congress of Aquinas Leadership International will be held at the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception, Huntington, Long Island, New York, from June 25 – June 29, 2015. The topic for the Congress will be something rather pertinent to the societal conversation we’re having at the moment: “Atheism, Religion, and Common Sense”

The reason for letting my readers know about this early, is because the organizers are putting together their list of speakers and presenters with plenty of advance time.  So those of you who might be interested in being a panelist, presenting a paper, or chairing one of the break-out sessions at the conference, should get in touch with Dr. Peter A. Redpath of the Adler-Aquinas Institute, at redpathp@gmail.com.  And if you’re already certain you’d like to attend just as a regular conference participant, please contact Dr. Redpath as well and he will be glad to get you details. I understand from Dr. Redpath that they already have a number of people registered for next summer’s conference, as there was such a positive reaction to the previous one.

Lecture Hall

“The Feasts”: When Catholics Do What We Do

Thanks to everyone who read my review of “The Feasts” by Donald Cardinal Wuerl and Mike Aquilina, as part of the blog tour celebrating the launch of their new book. And thanks as well to the dozens who entered for a chance to win a free copy, courtesy of Image Books.  I’m pleased to announce that the winner is Jeff Quinton of Maryland! If you missed out this time around, check back in the coming weeks as I’ll have more books to review and give away.

Last evening I was able to drop by the Catholic Information Center here in DC and hear Cardinal Wuerl both present an overview of the reasoning behind the book, as well as answer questions from the audience.  He noted that the book was part of a trilogy, along with two other books co-written with Mike Aquilina – also published by Image – in response to the realization that they had to re-state things which many Catholics had taken for granted about knowledge of the Faith.  Thus, as his Eminence put it, the Mass is what we do, the church is where we do it, and the feasts are when we do it.

Cardinal Wuerl recognized that in earlier times, when people simply learnt about Christianity through a sort of osmosis in this country, the parish church and school were the center of community life.  In that atmosphere, Catholics more easily grasped the importance of the Mass, the church building and its contents, and the celebration of the feasts on the liturgical calendar as part and parcel of being Catholic.  Even today, the cycle of the Church year is of immense importance in calling Catholics to lives of constant prayer in all that we do, and also reflecting on our relationship with God through the recalling and celebrating of salvation history.

Today, because the culture is not going to reinforce this knowledge, these books are an attempt to pick up an important pedagogical tool and use it.  They serve as a way of reaching generations which did not have the benefit of the experience that older Catholics did, of growing up in such an environment.  He noted that the feasts allow us, every year, to continually re-experience the journey of faith, which is important for us as incarnate beings.  We thereby come to understand what we believe not just cognitively, but experientially.

I was also struck by something the Cardinal mentioned in the Q&A, when answering a question about his favorite saints.  He said that the first thing he sees when waking up in the morning, hanging on the wall, are a crucifix and an icon/relic of St. Thomas Becket, who of course was murdered on the implicit orders of King Henry II in 1170.  I have a similar experience, in that the first thing I see on the wall opposite when I wake up in the morning are a crucifix and a framed reproduction of Raphael’s “Sistine Madonna”.  Of course for a bishop, the daily visual reminder of the example of Becket, particularly in the present culture, is one that has a particularly deep and personal meaning in his vocation as a shepherd of the people of God.  As Cardinal Wuerl noted, in the midst of everything going on, when we’re caught up in the things of this world, Becket’s example is that the Church as the Body of Christ matters, first and foremost, above all else.

Thank you again, readers, for your patronage of this site, and thanks to Image Books as well for the opportunity to share this excellent book with you.

Detail of "The Feast Day of Saint Roch" by Canaletto (c. 1735) National Gallery, London

Detail of “The Feast Day of Saint Roch” by Canaletto (c. 1735)
National Gallery, London

Celebrating “The Feasts” with Cardinal Wuerl and Mike Aquilina

[I'm honored to be part of the blog tour for Donald Cardinal Wuerl and Mike Aquilina's new book, "The Feasts". Thanks to the generosity of Image Books, you can register for a chance to win a free copy for yourself! Check for details at the conclusion of the review, and be sure to visit the other blogs on the tour as well.]

In their new book The Feasts: How the Church Year Forms Us as Catholics, Cardinal Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, and well-known Catholic author Mike Aquilina examine not only the major and minor feasts of the Church, but the history and theological significance of these significant days throughout the Church year.  Many Christians may never have stopped to think much about why we have these commemorations, when we pause to remember particular persons, events, or truths.  With great clarity, the authors explain the language of feast days, and how they draw us back to honoring and reflecting upon our relationship with God.  Feasts are an opportunity, above all, for expressing our gratitude.

In the early chapters of “The Feasts”, the authors take the time to provide a concise, helpful background on how and why these occasions came to be.  Jesus Himself, after all, celebrated feasts such as Passover and Yom Kippur, which are still marked today by the Jewish people.  In turn the early Christian community, as it began to emerge into a full-fledged faith, adopted its own annual religious events.  Within the first five hundred years after the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, there were already hundreds of feasts, some celebrated locally such as in the memorial of a particular saint, and others commemorated throughout the Universal Church.

Probably everyone’s favorite Christian holiday, even for many non-Christians, is the Solemnity of Christmas, which celebrates the Incarnation of Christ.  Today that meaning is often lost in the glitz and glitter of commercialism, when the point of why people give each other gifts at Christmas often seems to be lost.  Indeed, as the authors point out later in the book, the Puritans in this country attempted unsuccessfully to wipe Christmas celebrations from the calendar.

Cardinal Wuerl and Mr. Aquilina do not deny the secular aspects of the holiday as currently celebrated in many parts of the world, since civilization and Christianity are tied together. They acknowledge the hard fact that for many people, Christmas can be an excuse for excessive materialism.  Many, including some Christians, would rather just take Christ out of “Christ Mass” altogether.

Yet the authors then remind us of something which we heard at Mass just this past weekend, in the reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians.  St. Paul notes that the Incarnation, the coming of God in human form which we celebrate at Christmas, was not a manifestation of an overpowering being.  Rather, He “emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”  That gift of the Divine Self through birth is, of course, the “reason for the season”, as the expression goes.  His servitude is what we ourselves are called to follow, in imitation of Him.

Cardinal Wuerl and Mr. Aquilina also remind us how very ancient the celebration of Christmas is.  Unlike what you may have heard from some quarters, i.e. that Christmas is simply an appropriation of a pagan sun festival, the authors go far back into Church history.  They point out for example that as early as the 2nd century, St. Clement of Alexandria was already arguing that the Birth of Jesus should be celebrated on December 25th, based on his survey of what the Church communities he knew of were already doing locally.  This means such commemorations were taking place long before the legalization of Christianity, let along its establishment as the official religion of the Roman Empire.

For me, the date of December 25th is less of a point of interest than understanding the historical time period of the Incarnation, something which the authors also explore in their chapter on Christmas.  Although God exists outside of time, He chose to enter into our timeline. The willingness to self-limit in such a way out of love for us is, in and of itself, something which should give us pause to consider, anytime we take the celebration of Christmas as being merely for children and merchants.

Christ was born into the world of the Roman Empire, the physical remnants of which are still with us, in ruins, archaeological sites, and museums throughout the world.  At the same time, many of the ideas and principles which laid the foundations of republics such as ours here in the United States, as well as concepts in science, engineering, literature, and so on that were the building blocks of Western civilization, were being taught, debated, and written about.  To look at a Roman column from the 1st century, and reflect on the fact that it stood at the same time Jesus was being born in the little town of Bethlehem, is to become aware of God’s Presence in our own history, not just as some sort of unintelligible entity or divine watchmaker existing independently of it.

Thus Cardinal Wuerl and Mr. Aquilina refer to Christmas as being the other magnetic pole to the Christian year, with Easter being the other.  Salvation history was not something vaguely understood, but rather marked by a most singular event: God humbling Himself into becoming Man.  Without the Resurrection at Easter, there is no hope for us, but if there is no Incarnation at Christmas, then there will be no Easter.  In coming into the world, we understand Christ not a concept, but as a Person, and one who promised to remain with us, particularly in the Eucharist.  Because of this, even when the Christmas season ends, “in a sense it never ends,” as the authors rightly make clear. For “at every Mass we experience the Word made flesh, dwelling among us.”

As human beings, we mark the passage of the hours from day to night, or the year from summer to winter, because we understand the world in this way.  “The Feasts” allows us to step back and see the broad spectrum of the days set aside by the Church, and the how and why we have these special occasions.  They remind us, when we are so often distracted by the things of this world, of the world beyond this one, the one to come, and of Him who is waiting to embrace us.

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GIVEAWAY!

For a chance to win a free copy of “The Feasts”, register with your name and email address by following this link. Only one entry per reader, please. Entries must be submitted by 11:59 pm on Thursday, September 18th. The winner will be announced on Friday, September 19th.

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