Category Archives: Columns
Written and other opinion pieces going into detail on a particular topic.
It’s said that there are places on Earth that are just a bit closer to God. Holiness can embrace you in these places. Consolation can be experienced directly. The breath of God’s Love can be felt. These are the Thin Places.
This is a Celtic observation that the distance between ourselves and God is not so far in certain spots. That the distance between this world and that of Heaven is not so great, that the holy is, for these moments, in these places, within reach.
Perhaps it is a bench in a garden. A pew in a beautiful church. A secluded, sandy spot where the lapping of the ocean can be heard. A view of the mountains. A shrine. An abbey. A field with an endless sky. A dark spot faraway, under a sea of stars. A place your ancestors once worshiped the Lord, where Jesus once walked, where God was. A place where you cannot help but feel it.
What we do in a Thin Place is not set, not planned, not known. Perhaps it is a time to go deeper with a prayer you know, or simply to behold God’s creation, or just spend a moment with the whispering silence, but in these places it seems easier to quiet the tumbling thoughts, to feel the eternity of God stretching out before you. Our contemplations seem to have more meaning, our observations more color, the stillness more depth.
Many people these days have grown to fear silence, but our mind’s chatter of ideas and defenses, worries and anxieties are not of the soul. The soul is in the places under, above and in between. Usually, the soul bursts forth only in silence. The peace of your own soul can take quiet command in these Thin Places, and reveal to you the other half of life. The half you abandoned to live wholly in the world, the half you didn’t know you’d given up, the half that got misplaced behind the chatter, the radio, the television, the phone.
The existence of Thin Places also suggests that Heaven is more near than we believe. It is a notion of the ancient Greeks that after death you go somewhere separate and far off for eternity. The Christian belief is rather that Heaven and Earth intersect. (An interesting Bishop Barron video about this intersection is here.) If Heaven is set on top of the World it only makes sense that they interact, that one can peek through to the other, that the Thin Places must exist.
On the other hand, the Rhineland Mystics might argue that the Thin Places are not a function of the location of heaven because they are, instead, everywhere:
A man may go into the field and say his prayer and be aware of God, or, he may be in Church and be aware of God; but, if he is more aware of Him because he is in a quiet place, that is his own deficiency and not due to God, Who is present in the same way in all things and places, and is willing to give Himself everywhere what is in Him. He knows God rightly who knows Him everywhere.
If this is the case, then all the better.
In anxious moments the peace of God is available if we can still ourselves enough to experience it—regardless of the tension level around or within us. This, of course, is a secret of the saints. All of Creation is a Thin Place. Anywhere you go can be a Thin Place if you can hold fast to the peace of God, the touch of the Prince of Peace. Indeed, you can bring that peace with you into the restless places and, though God, change them. A word of calm or forgiveness can reveal that the distance between us and the holy is sometimes no distance at all, that it can pour into a moment just as much as the chatter of life can seem to drain it away.
Perhaps, then, the Thin Places are doors. The board meeting, the room of screaming children, the end of a long day, are the challenges for those of us not near sainthood, for those of us not adept at bringing peace, only looking, at this point, to find it. But you already know somewhere where it can be found.
We should begin at the Thin Places, give ourselves the time, patience and permission to seek out a spot where God seems near, and to drink in the stillness. Once there, feeling the closeness of Heaven, we can then pray, convey, listen. While the Kingdom of Heaven may be all around us, we can’t all expect to see it everywhere right away. Perhaps it will take some time in the Thin Places for us to begin to understand the rest of life.
And so the mission, in the end, is the same as it was at the start. The next time you feel that you are in a Thin Place, wherever it might be, remember it. Think back to the places where you were able to feel peace. Make a point of returning. Pray there, or be still. Embrace the peace you feel.
They are there for a reason, and so are you.
Twas the Night Of Nicea, and all through the land,
The bishops were gathering, with hopes for a plan.
Three cent’ries before, Jesus had been,
But many still differed on just what that means.
Go and decide, the Emperor had said,
And so they all went, pressing firmly ahead.
Easter’s date to consider, a creed to declare,
Much to decide, with faith and with prayer.
But storm clouds were brewing. A heresy had spread:
Jesus was prophet–a branch, not the head.
Arius led them. And for this he had fought,
But it was not the good news that the apostles had taught.
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Whether a moral, ethical or philosophical statement can be absolutely true is the central issue of our time. We live in a culture bombarded by messages from television, books, radio, magazines and more. The discoveries of archaeology and technology in the last 100 years have placed the entire past and a vision of the future at our doorsteps.
We each have at our fingertips an opportunity Aristotle or Voltaire would practically have given their lives for: We can wade into an almost endless supply of facts and piece together what is true or not true about life, death, the world, the soul and the progressive income tax.
Where science ends, we can rely upon the greatest philosophers and thinkers humanity has ever known to see over the edge. We can climb onto their shoulders and peer out further towards the truth.
The only thing holding us back is a malignant theory of our own invention: The idea that there is no truth to find. As the world has grown smaller and the perspectives of all the cultures have come into focus, some among us have decided that because there are so many belief systems, all of them must be equal.
Can someone be an unapologetic member of the Catholic Church and a proud member of the Libertarian Party at the same time? One is a faith with a strong moral code and high expectations for individuals and societies, the other is a political party which is for liberty across the board and for government only big enough to protect us from aggression and fraud.
There are, after all, many who say these two philosophies are contradictory, that it is impossible to be both, that to do so borders on scandal. See, for example, the Washington Post column Can you be Catholic and Libertarian?, as well as the National Catholic Report piece on Catholicism and Libertarianism Clash Over Property and the Common Good and Catholics Divided on Libertarianism as ‘Heresy’ on the Blaze site.
Moreover there are occasional, impassioned discussions at the Catholic Answers Forums and occasional blog posts both ways around the web such as Can Catholicism and Libertarianism Co-Exist? and Catholic and Libertarian? Cardinal Says They’re Incompatible. This is Why He’s Wrong. The problem with many of these, though, is that they are answering a flawed question. The real question is not can you be a Catholic and a Libertarian, the real question is how can a Catholic be anything else?
With the move of Father Robert Barron to auxillary bishop of Los Angeles it gives Traditium an opportunity to bring attention back to its 2012 post of his Top Five videos, in our opinion. His Word On Fire website, found here, have been meeting the popular culture where it lives, on podcoasts, youtube and the internet in general, for quite some time. He does so in an engaging way, weaving the contemporary with the timeless. Those who haven’t heard of him owe it to themselves to take a look. Here Traditium links to its Top 5 Father Barron videos for those who are open to a different perspective on popular culture and life in general.
She could die now. What happy words.
Laying in a bed in the student ghetto near my college I was reading a book on Zen Buddhism. I had determined that a person should decide for themselves what religion they were, and I was a mutt. The Catholic Church had told my father he could not marry my mother at the main altar of the parish he had grown up in. Then my parents, when I was seven, divorced. So on some weekends I was Methodist, on some weekends Presbyterian or Episcopalian. In truth, I was none of these. I was raised by the culture. I was certainly taught values, often short on explanation, but modernity—such as it was in the suburbs of Detroit, Michigan—raised me more than any church.
So there I was reading books on zen. I was studying business and Japanese since Japan at the time was the competition for the auto industry in Detroit. And I was trying to meditate, considering the East, trying to figure out things. I believed—I still do—that religion is one thing people should freely determine for themselves. I was determined to build my own heresy.
Books on spirituality and “self help” line the shelves of bookstores, stories on the same topics call at people from the magazine racks. The millions of readers of these books and articles seem to end up fluttering from one theory, one cure, even one culture, to the next like moths off to the next bright light. Many seem to get some peace of mind from the busyness of the chase but, given all the activity, the background anxiety must never go away. Perhaps because they are looking in all the wrong places.
Much of this, of course, is that recent generations have been trained to have almost no attention span, but another important component is the simple fact that spirituality without religion is an empty vessel. It is a bright, festively wrapped box with a large bow and nothing inside.
So they flutter on.
Deep down, though, the whole culture sometimes seems to be begging for connection to its soul, a way to understand its spiritual side. It wants meaning from its own culture, a connection to its own past. The modern culture teaches, through scientism, to disconnect from prior beliefs, and through modernism, to aspire to a future which promises the most glittering, colorful and exciting line of empty boxes, stretching toward the horizon as far as the eye can see.
Meanwhile, the Church, with over two millenia of experience of providing meaning, is trying in frustration to evangelize that culture. Despite the questions of one side, and the rich history of answers on the other, the chasm between the culture and the Church seems to be ever widening, and altogether perplexing.
At this moment there is hope that a new pope will be able to bring these sides together. He seems to have a connection to the people, a charisma, an ability to inspire. But has the culture given him its attention because he is the next big thing, and already hinted that they will flutter away from when the next bright light appears?
If this Pope does not bring the precise style of change that people’s personal politics desire, then they will certainly press on to the next sensation that appears in the spotlight, as if they are not running all the while from themselves.
But within the great traditions of this very culture are the truths that can nourish and sustain. The frenzied desperation of believing in self alone offers no peace, and each individual, should they consider it, knows this in their heart. While they keep following from one bright light to the next, they all, deep in their souls, want to stop the chase, embrace peace and stay in the light.
Let me see if I can follow.
Everything we can see was created in a Big Bang explosion with no cause of its own. The resulting universe operates under intelligible laws we can determine over time, which came from nowhere. Our species evolved from animals with no first moment of creation. We ourselves are born randomly and without purpose despite every ounce of our being telling us that we are more than that. We live in a lively and beautiful world, filled with wonders, but are meant to consider ourselves separate and, in the end, alone. We feel a thousand things a day—love, community, admiration, sadness, joy–but none are measurable so they are not important. Despite every civilization from the dawn of time trying to pursue truth, there is no such thing because we can’t prove it in a lab or classroom. And, to be modern and enlightened, we must believe in precisely nothing.
Alternatively, we could turn to our great traditions and live in faith. We could step back from the assumptions the world forces upon us and take a look at the bigger picture for ourselves. We could bow to science in respect and thanks without ageeing that it is the only path to truth. It is difficult to say which of the two views is more enlightened, but it is quite clear which makes more sense.
History and tradition are filled with twists and turns, highs and lows, glories and embarrassments. Sometimes, though, sorting through it all is the path to truth.
When the apostles were sent into the world to convert it, many went beyond the boundaries of the Roman Empire. See generally, The Founding of Christendom, by Carroll. One of these was St. Thomas, who famously had to touch Jesus’ wounds to declare him “My Lord My God” thus fully realizing who He was. See John 20:28.
Thomas went to India. See here. While he was not successful in converting India to Christianity, there is evidence that he went, and evidence of ancient Christian areas in India. He is said to have come to Taxila in Western Punjab (currently in Pakistan) and evangelized. His efforts to convert the region may have been largely wiped out in later years by Kushan attacks, perhaps around 120 A.D.. See Carroll.
Still, stories persist through history of Christianity in India, a Christianity spread by Thomas, in the centuries after Christ. Indeed, there have even been stories of saints.
It turns out there is always hope.
The country seems to be in quite a mess. It appears to be headed for impossible, socialist-style spending with a leader who thinks that’s his birthright and a people who know and just don’t care. The executive branch is attacking the First, Second and Fourteenth Amendments and if people’s paychecks weren’t being cut most folks would be just fine. The culture is not just leaving Christ behind, but seems to have him fading away in the rear-view mirror as it travels quickly who knows where. Ego rules, humility is forgotten, and as a direct result everyone is unhappy and they don’t even know why.
With the New Year upon us, it’s decision time. What should you do with your New Year? What traits should you work on? What do you want to accomplish? What have you missed out on? In this time of reflection, perhaps you should dust off your heresies and see if they need any care or maintenance. It is, after all, a practice much older than you might think.
Growing up in ancient Greece an aspiring student was expected to look at all of the world’s philosophies and carefully choose one of their own. It was a process of examination and a rite of passage. It was a time of reflection and deliberation ending in the choosing of a worldview and then claiming it as yours—in their words, it was a process of hairesis.