Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter Faith, Easter Reasons (2013)

Usually, my first year in a parish, this is the approach I take on Easter. We can spend lots of time talking about sin and redemption, joy and new life, baptism and holiness, but if we haven't yet discussed what happened in the days after Jesus of Nazareth was crucified, then the rest is kind of irrelevant.

The argument is nothing new. It really probably dates to Justin Martyr in the second century. And the key phrase "nobody dies for something they know they made up" I heard turned perfectly by a minister on the radio. Heck, anymore, I can't even remember if I borrowed the "Holy Saturday huddle up" from someone else. Point is, other people said this; I'm just trying to get it out to my people.

(If you'd like to download it rather than stream it, click here, and right-click on the "3.6 MB" under "Apple Lossless Audio" in the bottom right corner.)

Friday, March 29, 2013

Holy Thursday/Good Friday

Triduum moves too quickly. 

Even my five-minute Holy Thursday homily didn't get put up last night because I was too tired at midnight to do so. So here's the audio.

(If you'd like to download it rather than stream it, click here, and right-click on the "1.9 MB" under "Apple Lossless Audio" in the bottom right corner.)

And for your meditations this Good Friday, I'm attaching links to the three excerpts I put up last year from John W. Lynch's masterwork, A Woman Wrapped in Silence

Good Friday I

Good Friday II
Good Friday III

Monday, March 11, 2013

True Mercy Requires Real Remorse

Lately, I have been a bit underwhelmed by the preaching here at St. Ann's and Sacred Heart (ahem), but since at least half of this weekend's homily was lifted directly from Jennifer Fulwiler's article in The National Catholic Register, it actually seemed worth sharing.

The story of the Prodigal Son shows us mercy, but mercy requires honesty and remorse. Fulwiler gives a great illustration of how only Confession aloud really gets us past our rationalizations to real remorse. 

(If you'd like to download it rather than stream it, click here, and right-click on the "1.9 MB" under "Apple Lossless Audio" in the bottom right corner.)  

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

My Papal Wish List

Pope Benedict is resigning, and I'm bummed. So, if I must prepare to relinquish him without the normal rites of mourning and farewell, then I am at least going to give full voice to my heart as to what I want in his successor. This is both "my sharing" and my invitation to you. Speak aloud what you hope for. Post it in the comments or write it your own blog. Splash it as a status update or make a Facebook Note of it. Tweet it with the hashtag #PopeDreams. 

I know this could result in awkward replies. I know some people from the farthest Right or Left may wish wishes quite different from my own. I know some may want a universal return to the Tridentine Mass, and others may want women priests. I can live with them wishing these things. As for myself, I do not have specific "program goals" that I would like to see from Pope Secundus, but rather I have some traits in mind that I would love to see in the next Vicar of Christ. And actually, they all can be found in the popes of the last sixty years. 

First, I want a Pope that can think and write like Pope Benedict does—lucid, structured, humane. He can explain anything and everything Christian, all while avoiding the opposite traps of missing nuance and chasing minutiae.  The only line of the "Papal Resignation" coverage that really burned me came from John Moody's FoxNews Opinion page (who also ridiculously suggested that Benedict's heart was broken that he was never as popular as his predecessor). Comparing their writings, Moody says: 
"Benedict’s first [encyclical] —entitled 'God is Love'— is a caressing, simply worded, logic-based reassurance that our Lord loves us. Yet even his writing about love suffers in comparison with John Paul’s towering, intellectual yet intimate canon of work." 
Sorry, Mr. Moody, you are profoundly off the mark there; you confuse simplicity of style with simplistic thought. Read Called to Communion. Read his Sunday homily at WYD in Cologne. Read paragraphs 44-48 on Purgatory in Spe Salvi (or even just #48) and see his genius: the deep theology, the humane touches, the uncomplicated prose.  

Next, I want a polyglot like John Paul II. I want eloquence not merely of content, but also of voice. Our world is ever-less-inclined to read. So give me a Pope who can speak lots of languages and in near-native accents. Let's hear flawless free-flowing French homilies. The Internet was made for sonorous Spanish soundbites. And frankly, if you can ad-lib in English you can conquer the world—since the English did you the favor of conquering it in the 17th-19th centuries. Today the Church is still moved by John Paul's:
"We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of the Father's love for us and our real capacity to become the image of his Son" 
but we who were at Downsview that day felt it even more keenly and it was humanized for us because the Polish-accented paragraph had begun with "You are young, and the Pope is old..." but then the crowd interrupted, chanting, "The Pope is young! The Pope is young!" at which he looked up, listened for a bit, and then ad-libbed, "Eighty-two or eighty-three years of life is not the same as twenty-two or twenty-three," before looking back down and picking right up with his text, "but the Pope still fully identifies with your hopes and aspirations." In that moment the world had shrunk to the size of a coffeehouse. 

Why must "my Pope" speak well and write well? Because my Pope would keep pushing more and more windows in the Church open like Blessed John XXIII did. All the Popes of the last half century have been open to interact and dialogue with the world, and to use its platforms and its resources. Pope John gave them that vision. John said to the modern world, "Come, let us teach each other a thing or two. Come tell me what you've been up to. Come, science and art and psychology—come show me your successes. Come, and maybe I can leave you with a bit of wisdom in exchange for your time and trouble." John stunned people with his humility, his jovial manner, and his openness. Was Blessed John, as some people think, about to have revolutionaries and skeptics come in to renovate the Church? No. But he may have invited them in to look around and slipped some goodies into their pockets which they might discover on a lonely night when their ideologies had deserted them. Give me yet another Pope who can say "The world is changing swiftly and always asking new questions. So let us ask them too. The truth is nothing at all to be afraid of."

Finally, my fourth ingredient for the next Pope: I want him to have Paul VI's perseverance to carry the Cross. Here I must make a confession: for years I looked down on Pope Paul VI. I saw weakness and maybe a (small m) modernist. I saw him as little more than a testimony to the Holy Spirit's guarantee that in faith and morals the Pope will not teach in error—like weak Liberius before the Arians, like sinful Vigilius with the Monophysites—all I could say was, "Well, at least he didn't utterly collapse." I was a fool. Paul VI stood in the breach when the whole dang civilized world thought him silly and stupid and manipulatable. He knew everyone thought contraception was essential to modernizing the Church. He knew he would be hated. He knew they would laugh at his words. And heck, he did not even have to attempt to overturn any official Church teaching to make them happy; all he had to do was just not speak up. 

But he did speak up. Maybe his voice shook a bit, but he did it—and "the world was not worthy of [him]". Paul VI spent almost all of his papacy watching as the edifices of Christendom seemed to tear themselves down. He must have been haunted on alternating days by doubts that, if only he had been more conservative or progressive, this could have been avoided. He carried that Cross for years. He was willing to—as Galadriel would say—"through the ages of the world fight the long defeat." Benedict's successor will face this too. The road is not getting any more level, and it sure as heck is not a downward grade.  People will think him a fool (as they did of Pope Benedict at Regensburg, which was perhaps the single most important speech of his pontificate), but the new Pope must carry the Cross and persevere. Regardless of whether the next pontiff is much like my first three models, he will certainly have to be like Paul VI.

Some people are interested in the next Pope's color or country. Frankly, I couldn't care less. I know what I want; I've got my Dream Pope. He can write like Benedict and speak like John Paul. He has the open hands of Blessed John and the heart of Paul VI. Is there a cardinal that has all these qualities? Maybe not. Maybe the next Pope has a unique gift that will be a fifth trait that I will also be wishing for the next time I get to I try to cobble together a Successor of St. Peter.

Monday, February 4, 2013

St. Paul's Greatest Hit

St. Paul wrote a lot. He wrote what is the longest single letter we still have from the Greco-Roman era (his Letter to the Romans). And he's kind of famous for what he wrote. 

Nothing he wrote is more famous than Chapter 13 of the First Letter to the Corinthians. You've heard it at probably 70% of the weddings you've attended: "Love is patient, love is kind..." The Catholic Church reads this on the 4th Sunday of the Year (C). And I decided to preach on it.

(If you'd like to download it rather than stream it, click here, and right-click on the "2.9 MB" under "Apple Lossless Audio" in the bottom right corner.)  

This is a pretty basic overview. It's not in-depth on any point. It touches briefly on thoughts from St. Thérèse, Martin Luther (sort of), and J.R.R. Tolkien. It makes fun of Valentine's Day, Milli Vanilli, and myself. And yes, I do a dubious imitation of Alan Jackson singing in it. 

My apologies in advance. 

Monday, January 7, 2013

A Pained Glimpse at Post-Christianity

On Wednesday, I wrote a blog post about how the Harry Potter series is both a great work of humane letters and the ideal pre-evangelization for our modern, post-Christian world. I have been debating whether my next move should be to pontificate on the value of good literature, to lay out a defense against the "Potter is rank devilry" crowd, or to celebrate J.R.R. Tolkien's twelfthity-first birthday by comparing and contrasting his world with J.K. Rowling's. But I may be more useful in first saying a few words about what a post-Christian world looks like.  

Tacky as it may be, I'm just going to go ahead and quote myself to give some context. Wednesday I wrote:
If there is a knock on J.K. Rowling's fictitious world, it's not that it's a non-Christian world, it's that it's a post-Christian world. [...] It's a world where people still take Christmas and Easter holidays, and name Godfathers for their kids, but there is absolutely no Christian content behind these. But guess what? That's where you live too. Nearly every acre of the world you inhabit is either non-Christian or post-Christian.
So which world do we inhabit: non-Chrsitian, anti-Christian, or post-Christian? I doubt most people reading this live in the non-Christian world. In America we've got a San Francisco, a St. Augustine, and a Corpus Christi. Everybody gets Christmas off, and we at least debate whether we should say "Happy Holidays" or "Merry Christmas". India and Islam have left almost no mark on our collective cultural consciousness other than with yoga and some tasty dishes. Europe may currently be more of a melting pot that the U.S. in regards to this, but it also has a much deeper Christian cultural substrata. We are not sans Christianity.

I would not say that I live in an anti-Christian world either. Ministers and pundits may disagree with me, but hey, we're not exactly living in the French or Russian Revolutions. In fact, the movie-of-the-moment is Les Misérables, which, while it does include one of the minor aftershocks of la Révolution française, also contains more talk of God and salvation than any blockbuster since The Passion of the Christ. And perhaps its success is the best example that contemporary Western society is not anti-Christian, but post-Christian. It would not surprise me if hundreds of people worldwide who attended no service on December 25 have tweeted or blogged or Facebook posted the final line of the movie: "To love another person is to see the face of God." This is post-Christianity; it is a rich backdrop that one can always dig into and uncover cool things out of, but it makes no demands on you and contains no assumptions of belief.  

I'll take a post-Christian world over a non-Chrsitian or anti-Christian world any day. I may even take it over a thoroughly settled and peaceful confessional Christian world (it gives you something clear to strive for). If it can keep some sense of its humanity, the post-Christian world can be a rich new mission field. But that doesn't mean it isn't painful to see or needing of great diligence to heal. I close with what I consider the single best depiction of the post-Christian world, and it is already 60 years old. When I wrote my previous post, this was always there in my mind as the exemplar of post-Christianity, both painful and motivating. It is an excerpt from Bishop (later Cardinal) John J. Wright's 1953 introduction to the collected writings of French Cardinal Emmanuel Suhard called The Church Today. I am amazed that the quote exists nowhere on the internet. I have changed the punctuation slightly for easier reading. I should note that 1) a maquis was a member of the underground Résistance française, and that 2) I believe Wright means "pathetic" here in the original sense of "arousing pity, especially through vulnerability or sadness".

One of the most pathetic stories to come out of the French chapter of the history of World War II was a story which a Colonel of the French Army told me personally. It concerns a young man, a partisan of the resistance movement, who was killed by a bullet which ricocheted in the Rue du Bac.

The fatal bullet felled the maquis—described as being in his late teens—in the gutter not far from the convent where St. Catherine Labouré saw with her eyes of flesh the Blessed Mother of God. Within a square mile of the spot there are world-famed churches, shrines, and other hallowed places which pilgrims journey from afar to visit. Within sight of each end of the street are monumental evidences of the Christain faith that has been preached in Paris these seventeen centuries and more.

And yet, when two Catholic sisters drew the dying body of this boy into a doorway which might shelter his last moments, they were sickened at heart by the answer the young lad gave to an earnest effort to prepare him for an eternity that was then but seconds away, so far as he was concerned. 

"Do you love God with all your heart?" one of the religious asked the gasping partisan. Aimez-vous le Bon Dieu?

The answer came in accents of pain, embarrassment, and confusion. Comment dirai-je que je L'aime? Je ne Le connais pas de tout, ce Bon Dieu dont tu paroles! 
"How shall I say that I love Him? I don't even know who He is, this God of Whom you talk!"

Where was he dying, the mortally wounded young soldier? Not in Borneo, nor in the Arctic, nor at the furthermost ends of the earth beyond the reach of priests or the influence of the Gospel. Not in a "mission" country in the usual sense of that too restrictive term. Not in one of the lands which the Propagation of the Faith magazines describe as "pagan" and for which they ask our apostolic alms and prayers.

Not at all. He was dying in the Archdiocese of Paris, la ville lumière, capital city of Christian France, rival of Rome itself among the centers of Western Christendom (as the centuries since the thirteenth certainly have understood Christendom). He was dying within the shadow of a chapel to which the devout flock by thousands. He was prostrate in a street along which saints have walked, a street in which many of us have seen great preachers come and go and pilgrims gather for prayer.

Whence did he come, this lad who could not bring himself to declare his love for God because he did not know enough about Him to call upon Him in the hour of death? Was he from the French colonial empire? Had he been born and brought up in the remote wildernesses of the Senegalese? Again, not at all. He was from Paris, where the very stations of the underground railroad, the Metro, more often than not bear the names of Catholic saints, so that the stops called out in his ears as he went to and from his school or work were a veritable litany of the saints and catalogue of the Christian dogmas. His home was Paris, a city in which it would be impossible to walk a half mile and not see in one direction or another the towers of a cathedral, the domes of a basilica, or the spires of a great church. In all probability, he himself bore the names of two or more saints; it is even likely, too likely, that if he swore in his moments of youthful anger or violence, he invoked the titles of Catholic devotion and blasphemed with the phrases of Catholic faith.

But when he lay dying, with two Catholic sisters striving to comfort his body and elicit the Act of Charity by which he might save his soul, he cried out in empty—perhaps even bitter—agnosticism, his ignorance concerning God. "How shall I say that I love Him? I don't even know who He is, this God of Whom you talk!"

As a priest and a Christian, of course this is hard to read.  And if this was the 1940s, what is it like now? But this is our world. I do not judge it. A culture bears no culpability; it cannot help be what it is. But I have culpability if I do nothing to heal it. To help heal a culture, we need to be willing to use any number of tools to reach out to its members. That's why we need Tolkien and Rowling, Hugo and Homer and Dante. Dostoyevsky wrote that "beauty will save the world", and that's because beauty can open up the eyes of anyone, including a boy who has never heard of God. 

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Want to Change the World? Read Harry Potter.

In the past year and a half, I have encouraged friends, siblings, students, co-workers, secretaries, teachers, near-total strangers, and my fellow priests to try out the Harry Potter series.  It's been fun to watch as fascinated commentary comes back by text, e-mail, or phone. A friend who is kind of a big deal in the home offices of the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS), called me up last Christmas Eve, bursting with awe and excitement as she finished the series. We talked for two hours...and then an hour the next day. A priest who had been somewhat of a naysayer about the series has been filling me up with his insights as he completes each book.  Last month, he had planned to finish the chapter on the Third Task of the Tri-Wizard Tournament in The Goblet of Fire, and go to bed early. He texted me at 11 PM, having read another hundred pages beyond that point before he could find a place to stop. People who "don't like fantasy" get taken in; people who only read philosophical or religious stuff ponder these books for days; people who don't like to read, read these.  

Many may say to this, "This is all very nice. Thank you, Father, for sharing your little 'passion' with us. But the world needs some serious fixing. It's a mess." I agree, and that's why I advocate Potter. What will save the world? If Dostoyevsky were sitting here now he would say, "Homer, Shakespeare, Tolkien, and Rowling—that will save the world," (being too modest to mention himself). Many of my fellow Christians may object, "Only Jesus can save us." Sitting at table with my three best friends over Christmas break this last week, I had made the common lament about us all being screwed until people start thinking more: "Getting people to reason is the key!" A friend had countered, "But doesn't it all really begin with relationship? Doesn't transformation begin with meeting the person of Jesus?" To which I said, "Maybe. Unless the person has up some serious roadblocks to that personal invitation or against faith in general. A lot of people have never had that path opened, many have had it opened and found it wanting, and some would like to have parts of it, but find the whole untenable. Where do you start with them?" 

Dostoyevsky would say, "Give them beauty." Shakespeare would say, "Give them truth." Victor Hugo would say, "Give them justice." To that trio of giants, C.S. Lewis would add, "Show them all three; they may well find Christ through them." And J.R.R. Tolkien would reply, "Yes, and even if they don't, they will find at least find their humanity."

Part of me wants to veer off right now and write about how great literature shapes us as people. (I'll do that later and link it here.) Part of me wants to continue this essay diplomatically appealing to both religious and non-religious types alike, hitting the Christian points of insight here and then bouncing over to show the moral-but-not-religious crowd that Potter is good for agnostic ethics too. While I believe both are true, that would be like trying to ride to town on two horses at once. And as it is, I am a Catholic priest, and the majority of my audience are Christians, and while someday I may write on the superb natural morality and humanist structure of Potter, my current task is plain. I must answer the question: "Why, with all there is to read, would you want the world to waste its time studying Harry? Why not Jesus? Why not at least read fiction with a religious bent or from openly Christian authors?"

That's the whole point. The Harry Potter series is not religious; it's not Christian. Which is good, because the world isn't either. If there is a knock on J.K. Rowling's fictitious world, it's not that it's a non-Christian world, it's that it's a post-Christian world. The series takes place in the country that St. Augustine of Canterbury converted in the 6th century, and the story begins in Anno Domini 1991. You will find the words "soul", "monk", "Saint", "church" "curse", and "hallow" in it, but not "God", "Christ", or "Christianity". It's a world where people still take Christmas and Easter holidays, and name Godfathers for their kids, but there is absolutely no Christian content behind these. But guess what? That's where you live too. Nearly every acre of the world you inhabit is either non-Christian or post-Christian. You want to change that world? You can start by reading it the epic tale of "The Boy Who Lived". 

Christians love Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia and Tolkien's Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. They read them for their own edification and suggest them to others. I do that too. (I am through Lewis' series three times, Tolkien's maybe ten.) But while Aslan and Gandalf can find some success, they don't have the impact with non- and post-Christians that the Believers who recommend them would like. Why? Because either Non-Believers sniff out the evangelization and say "Hey, I like it for the story, but I'm not looking for that", or the allegories and analogies are well-enough hidden that the uninitiated readers neither see them nor get excited in the way the Christians do. CoN suffers more from the first plight, LotR is more likely to have the second befall it. This is because they are different works with different approaches. Narnia is direct Christian allegory in children's book form, and so it can feel heavy-handed. Middle Earth is human formation from a virtue-based worldview, and so requires expounding. (Dante poured himself a goblet of wine after he figured out how to show the Scholastic thinkers' philosophy of man using poetry; Tolkien lit up his pipe after figuring out how to show the same thing using hobbits. See The Fellowship of the Ring, Ch. 2 "The Shadow of the Past" for illustration.) Long story short: To "get" the full depth of Tolkien and Lewis, you need to be at least semi-Christian already.

So what good is Potter? If the world is post-Christian or non-Christian, and so is Potter, but Tolkien and Lewis require at least some Christian thinking, why not just get going on preaching the Gospel straight up? Then we can eventually give them the Christian-rooted literature and skip Ms. Rowling's stuff altogether. Why not? I will tell you why: Because we have forgotten what makes a pagan convert. We think that Peter and Paul were preaching to greedy, selfish, lustful pagans. They weren't. They were preaching to greedy, selfish, lustful literary pagans, and that made all the difference. The Roman knew he was cowardly because God gave him a conscience, but he knew he could be more than a coward because Homer gave him Hector. The Greek lady recognized she was flirting with infidelity because she had moral instincts, but she knew she could resist infidelity because she also had Penelope. Paul found a world humbled by Oedipus's pride, yet hopeful, like Orpheus, to escape eternal death. Literature readied their hearts. When Boniface and Ansgar went to convert the North, they luckily went to convert greedy, selfish, lustful poetic pagans, and that epic poetry made the barbarians sing of battle and sacrifice and service. In 1956, Jim Elliot and four companions were killed by the Ecuadorian Waodani tribe they were trying convert. The natives were greedy, selfish, lustful heroic pagans. They knew heroism; they sang of it; they recognized it in the martyrs' deaths. 

This is what we call pre-evangelization. It comes in many forms. Some wise person once pointed out: "You can't hear the Gospel on an empty stomach". This means if you are looking to preach to the poor, you better be prepared to feed them first. Pre-evangelization is something natural that prepares hearts to hear of the supernatural. It's Peter Claver's jug of water and it's Mother Teresa's cot and pillow. But it is also for the mind. Greeks like Plato and Aristotle may have given Christian theologians the tools to discuss person, substance, and nature, but far more importantly, Homer and Euripides got the average Greco-Roman person ready to hear the story of Jesus, the teacher and the tragic hero. If you want true Christians, start with true humans. True humans aren't perfect ones, but they are those who want courage and love and truth (even though they fail at them) and who hate pain and evil and death (even though they can't escape them). Great stories till up the earth of the heart so that the evangelist can sow the seed. The Iliad humanizes; the Gospel divinizes. The fourth-century Cappadocian Church Fathers understood this, especially St. Basil (whose feast we celebrate today, Jan. 2). In Basil's To Young Men, On the Right Use of Greek Literature, he writes: "Just as dyers prepare the cloth before they apply the indeed, if we would preserve indelible the idea of true virtue, must we also become first initiated in the pagan lore, [and] then at length give special heed to the sacred and divine teachings." Catch that? Basil the Great says if you want the most boing for you Gospel buck, "become first initiated in the pagan lore". What did Tolkien do all day? He read Beowulf and the like. What story haunted Lewis all his adult life until he could retell it—still as a pagan story—in Till We Have Faces? The story of Cupid and Psyche.

This brings us back to J.K. Rowling's seven-book series. Catholics in America forget that most First-Worlders don't follow the Pope. Christians worldwide forget that most of the planet doesn't read the Bible. You also won't find a lot of the world reading Homer anymore. But do you know what this planet does read? Harry. Blooming. Potter. There are almost a half billion copies of Potter floating around this planet. Now, does that mean that people should just latch onto, or try to Christianize, whatever is popular? Surely not. Fifty Shades of Grey is quite popular, and it's about the last thing I would advocate latching onto (though it may be so bad that you could use it as a counter-example). Most popular stuff is middling—neither great nor awful—and so we may enjoy it or use it, but it isn't exactly the next Odyssey. But that's the thing: Rowling could be the next Homer. In its own way, Potter can size up with Tolkien, Dickens, Dante and the Bard. Like Othello and the Iliad, you can draw out a vast structure of natural virtues and morals. Faramir and Éowyn and Sydney Carton and Miss Havisham welcome Rowling's fascinating characters to the pantheon of "The Timeless". On natural merits alone, Potter would be something to read and study, and inasmuch as the world reads Harry, so should the Christian who wants to be conversant in modern topics.  

But I did not sit down to write an overly-long blog post about the next great piece of literature. Rather, my claim is that Harry Potter is the single best pre-evangelization tool available today. This is not merely because Rowling does what all good literature does: reflect the human condition and make us know ourselves better. No, it is because the entire Harry Potter series is a 4,200 page meditation on death, sparked by Rowling's mother's death when the author was only 25. And this is what the world needs to think about. We have forgotten, skipped, sanitized, avoided, and denied what dying means. We don't care for our dying family at home anymore. We don't bathe and clothe our own deceased. We don't host wakes in our homes. We don't hang around until the casket is in the ground and covered with dirt—no, we leave and go to the luncheon. We have bought the lie that it is ok to not visit the dying in their last days because we would "rather remember them like they were: strong and healthy." We have lost the true pain of death and its potential for beauty. And like Hamlet, Rowling says: Come and sit you down and do not budge till I have set you up a mirror where you can see the inmost part of you. Like that same Prince of Denmark, she wants you to know two things: 1) Death is certain and irreversible, and 2) How you face the death of yourself and others is the key to everything.  

Can you begin to see how this is pre-evangelistic? If our world won't even look at the whole-hearted and honest ancient horror of death, then why should it care if Christ is "Victor over death"? The beautiful antiphon at the Vespers that closes Holy Saturday and awaits the Easter Vigil says: "Death, you will die in me; Hell, you will be destroyed by me." That's the Good News, baby, but only if you have been honest enough to hear the Bad News of life first. Otherwise, it's a nice bumper sticker. Even Christians have lost this. We don't just need a pre-evangelization, we need a re-evangelization—starting from death. Priests at funerals want to wear white, and talk hope and joy and resurrection, and invite a "celebration of life" at the very moment that every other heart in the church is finally looking death straight on. Father, those things above are fine, but at least give us five minutes to be honest with the pain, or please spend the wake telling us how gosh darn awful this is and how it's ok to hate it and how this pain is the right response to our loss. Then, and only then, are our hearts ready—like Martha's was after she sobbed at Jesus feet that her brother was dead.  

In another post I will address some of the common objections to Harry Potter. In another post I would be happy to show the path from Homer to Chesterton to Tolkien to Lewis to Rowling. In yet another post I will show how Rowling's work differs considerably from Tolkien's but deserves to stand beside his as the best work of the last hundred years in English. But for now I want to summarize the three reasons why you (and everyone you know over 13) should read Harry Potter.

1) It is both the "work of the moment" and "Iliad of the contemporary world". It is what people today read and think and discuss; it is the characters and situations that they know. As a schoolboy in 200 AD needs to know Virgil to be conversant, and in 1800 he needs to know Shakespeare, today he needs to know Rowling.  And she is a lot more enjoyable than Fitzgerald or Hardy or Camus.

2) Like the best pre-evangelizations of old, Rowling tells great stories, while weaving together intense short books within a giant narrative that whups all challengers. Leaving aside any other benefit, like the best of the Greeks and Romans, like the whole of Shakespeare, there is inside the Potter corpus a whole world of morality, of virtue and vice, of comedy and tragedy. Whether or not a soul gets closer to God from it, those who read it will walk away bettered.

3) While never bringing in Christianity (and without any strictly Christian types or allegories) and perhaps because she never brings it in, Rowling gives the most perfect pre-evangelization to Christ's Gospel. The world longs for friendship, sacrificial love, loyalty, forgiveness, assistance, and courage. Potter stirs up the longing for that. But above and beyond what any other epic literature does, it reminds the modern reader—be they post-, anti-, or semi-Christian—that death is real, and it hurts, and that that's ok. It reminds a world which tries to negate death that death is natural, but also that we do feel it is ever-so-not-natural. Does this directly lead any person to Jesus? No. Does it prepare the heart to understand what Jesus came to be apart of and to fully answer? Yes. 

That is the definition of pre-evangelization.

[PS: I'm tempted to offer some non-spoiler "Best Of" quotes, but gosh I just want to go to sleep right now. Maybe tomorrow.]