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January 28, 2016

Finding Purpose Through the Zombie Apocalypse

AMC’s hit television series, The Walking Dead, is probably not a go-to resource for many Rhode Island Catholic readers in search of spiritual insights. The show, as its title hints, takes place in a world in which some sort of disease causes corpses to come back to life — just enough to wander the Earth in search of still-living people to consume.

In keeping with the entire zombie genre, it’s gory fare. Also in keeping with similar stories, its monsters are more creepy than scary. For the most part, they stagger along making easily identifiable groaning noises. They aren’t quick or stealthy. What they are is relentless, and the dread that they instill has mainly to do with their status as harbingers of the end of the world.

Zombies, as a threat, turn out to be relatively manageable; the dread comes from the question: What now? A central theme of the series is the problem of what meaning there could possibly be in a world overrun with such creatures.

Continue reading in Rhode Island Catholic.

October 15, 2015

What is the ideal relationship between men and women?

When I used to serve as a lector during Sunday Mass in Fall River, Mass., that reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians was like pulling the short straw. You know the one: “Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is head of his wife just as Christ is head of the church, he himself the savior of the body.”

As a recently married young man at the beginning of the third millennium after the birth of Christ, reading Paul’s instructions for husbands and wives took a great deal of care. I had to read the scripture reverently, of course, but with no hint in my voice that I offered the reading as a reminder for wayward modern women. My imagination may merely be filling in the gaps of silence, but to this day, I seem to hear guffaws from the congregation as the words echo in the church.

Continue reading in Rhode Island Catholic.

July 27, 2015

Making Millennials Hear the Confidence of Millennia

Father John Kiley’s “Quiet Corner” column in the June 25 issue of Rhode Island Catholic helped me bring together a few thoughts that have been drifting in and out of my mind lately.

As somebody who works to develop and research public policy for a living — proposals like eliminating the sales tax and implementing school choice programs that bring private school within reach for all families — I’ve found my observations of the younger generation, the “Millennials,” discouraging.

Continue reading in Rhode Island Catholic.

June 21, 2015

The 2015 Portsmouth Institute conference, on “Understanding the Francis Papacy,” was the sixth that Justin has covered, with multimedia recordings and written commentary. Browse through the tabs at right for video to access Justin’s commentary.

Thoughts on Anna Bonta Moreland’s Portsmouth Institute Lecture on Pope Francis

Starting off this year’s conference at the Portsmouth Institute, on “Understanding the Francis Papacy,” Anna Bonta Moreland spoke on Friday morning.  As an Argentinian, herself, and a professor at Villanova University, Moreland’s purpose was to give some biographical background and cultural context for Pope Francis.

Continue reading on Ocean State Current.

Thoughts on Portsmouth Institute Panel on Interreligious Perspectives on Pope Francis

The second session at this year’s Portsmouth Institute conference, with the weekend-long subject of Pope Francis, took up the topic of interreligious dialogue and Pope Francis’s role therein.  A bit of irony snuck in around the edges of the conversation (which more resembled a series of individual speeches): An initial impression of Francis’s popularity — in the United States, anyway — would seem to have much to do with the political application of his theological views.  Yet the speakers on the panel held him up as a lesson to religious groups that have sometimes gotten caught up in their blending of politics and religion.

Continue reading on Ocean State Current.

Thoughts on Ross Douthat’s Portsmouth Institute Speech and Pope Francis’s Role in a Divided Church

Ross Douthat divided his talk at the 2015 Portsmouth Institute conference into two segments.  With the topic of “More Catholic than the Pope?: The New Catholic Civil War,” Douthat looked first at three areas of skepticism about the pope in the United States and then broadened his view globally.  Given his particular insights, the current of larger concern may actually have flowed below the surface his rhetorical structure.

Continue reading on Ocean State Current.

Thoughts on Cardinal Sean O’Malley and the Evangelization of Whom

On day one of the 2015 Portsmouth Institute conference, on “Understanding the Francis Papacy,” the critical question that began to assert itself between the lines, so to speak, was whether the pope has correctly assessed the world as it is currently poised and, therefore, his role in it.

Continue reading on Ocean State Current.

Thoughts on John Carr and the Balance of Individualism

Picking up the second day of the 2015 Portsmouth Institute summer conference, on Pope Francis, John Carr began the Saturday session with an hour of humor and insight (full video below).  If Friday’s speakers — knowingly or incidentally — wove a certain trepidation that American Catholics might have about the new pope through the subtext of their talks, Carr unhesitatingly called on us to carry the message that the pope will bring to our country.

Continue reading on Ocean State Current.

Thoughts on Fr. Dwight Longenecker and Non-Victimizing Evangelization

Father Dwight Longenecker brought with him, to the 2015 Portsmouth Institute conference, the novelty of being a married Roman Catholic priest.  He was among the Anglicans who converted to Catholicism and received a special dispensation from Pope John Paul II to remain priests while married.  For an audience of Catholics, that biographical point was probably the most catchy of his talk.  His most resonant point, however, was that a conversion won by tricks, gimmicks, or pressure is “a false conversion.”

Continue reading on Ocean State Current.

Thoughts on R.R. Reno and Diplomacy of the Individual

During his homily at Mass, this morning, the priest — an affable senior who technically retired from service but still helps out around the parish — mentioned the pope’s recent dip in favorability according to a public opinion poll.  He attributed that outcome to the fact that Pope Francis is insisting that we tend to the poor. There are ways to interpret the priest’s explanation in a way that would be plausible, if not outright true, but it seems at the least to be incomplete. Kicking off the afternoon of the second day of this year’s Portsmouth Institute conference, First Things editor R.R. Reno put Francis in a historical context, specifically the context of Vatican diplomacy.  He titled the talk, “The Diplomacy of Bold Words and Striking Gestures.”

Continue reading on Ocean State Current.

Thoughts on Fr. Roger Landry and Bringing Joy and Meaning to Everything

Father Roger Landry’s session was not so much a talk or a presentation as an instance of preaching.  Watching the video, his intellectual points certainly come through, but the experience of watching him the first time was more personal.  The first person to obtain a microphone during the question and answer period captured some of the sense, with his effusive praise.

Continue reading on Ocean State Current.

Thoughts on Kenneth Colston and Pleasurable (and Voluntary) Asceticism

A teacher of literature by profession, Kenneth Colston spent most of his Portsmouth Institute lecture tracing the significance of Franciscans (and the saint from whom they took their name) in literature.  He mainly left conclusions, therefore, to the listener.  In a sense, he describes an undercurrent of contradiction.  Franciscans in literature are “non-conformist, yet traditional.”  They are “cunning, mild, and orthodox.”

Continue reading on Ocean State Current.

Thoughts on Property, Economics, and Catholicism

An exchange of economic ideas closing out the second night of the 2015 Portsmouth Institute conference, on Pope Francis, gave a real contrast of thinking.  Taking up the side of economic progressivism was essayist and Brown PhD student Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig; taking up the more-free-market side was Cliff Hobbins, a teacher of history and economics at the Portsmouth Abbey school.

Continue reading on Ocean State Current.

Thoughts on Millennials and Pope Francis and Finding Our Chapter in History

In the libretto for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Jesus Christ Superstar — which hit the global scene, controversially, as the ’60s stumbled into the ’70s — a song titled “Superstar” comes right before the crucifixion.  With the insinuation of a modern perspective, the voice of Judas criticizes Jesus.

Continue reading on Ocean State Current.

June 1, 2015

How to interpret Pope Francis

What’s the deal with Pope Francis?

If you’re a Roman Catholic, you are obliged to believe that he’s the leader that God wants the Church to have right now. Contrary to popular misunderstanding, however, that does not mean every statement or action that he undertakes is infallible.

After all, people’s words and actions can have different consequences across the years than might seem probable while they’re happening. Think of Peter’s denial of Jesus. A pundit on the ground in ancient Jerusalem might have opined that Peter, the first pope, had all but killed the infant Church in the process of its messy birth. God had other plans.

Continue reading in the Providence Journal.