Showing posts from April, 2013

Abscess of Fixation: On the Unity of the United States

Friday's city-wide lockdown of Boston occasioned, for me, a glimpse of a concept introduced to my thinking by René Girard: the abscess of fixation. In its original use, "abscess of fixation" apparently described a medical procedure to help purge purge the body of impurities. I guess we'd call it lancing today, puncturing the wound in order to drain it.

Girard, however, uses the phrase in a metaphorical sense. For him, the "abscess of fixation" functions to galvanize a mob, a community, a nation around an enemy. The corporate body becomes fixated upon a central site, a disruptive locus. The whole becomes enchanted by and fixated upon a part: all other concerns are placed in abeyance as the abscess is focused upon.

If that's too abstract, think of it like this. For a teenager, there's hardly a better "abscess of fixation" than the pimple appearing on the chin, nose, or forehead the day of the class picture. One little spot on the body becom…

The Love That Tears Down Fences


I "was just..."

For several hours, I have received texts, tweets, and Facebook messages inquiring into my safety. I was not, thankfully, either a spectator or participant in the Boston Marathon.

In the aftermath of yet another senseless tragedy, I'm struck by what I'd call the "was just" reaction. Personally, I "was just" down by the Atlantic Fish Company the other day. I "was just" in that neighborhood to see Irish dancers a week ago.

Some family member "was just" there moments before the explosion and left before the detonation.

Some family member or friend "was just" arriving when it went off.

An 8-year old boy "was just" there watching the marathon when his life was cut short.

Each of us will remember, again, what we were doing when we learned of the bombing: I "was just..." when it happened.

I "was just" getting out of the shower when I heard of the 9/11 attacks.

I "was just" leaving the residence …

An Interior Desert

So, let me start with a disclosure. Over the past several months, I have been struggling with anxiety. I'm not talking about feeling nervous but a deep, abiding sense deep within I've been unable to allay. I'd like to think of myself as a hyper-organized person, able to manage many projects at once, but recently it's become impossible for me to find any sense of peace. Some nights I would wake up suddenly, unable to get back to sleep; last week, while playing music, I felt nearly paralyzed while playing. There have been times when, in class or at Mass, that my heart begins to race and I start to perspire...outwardly I try to remain calm but, inwardly, I want to run away. 
I'll admit that there was a huge level of shame in feeling this way. I like to be thought well of, to be regarded as having "everything together." Yet, if everything seemed fine on the outside, on the inside I felt like I had wandered into a desert where I could find neither shade nor w…

White Crucifixion

Painted in 1938, Marc Chagall's White Crucifixion reportedly is one of Pope Francis's favorite paintings. It's one of mine, too.

I remember reading about Marc Chagall in a "Reading" textbook back when I was in the 2nd grade...about 25 years ago. The cover of the book depicted, as I recall, a sort of subterranean vehicle in a magma-filled chamber. I seem to recall the story of Pecos Bill being in the book but the section on Marc Chagall - how he used to draw on any surface available to him - particularly captivated my mind. An artist, he could not not express himself at every opportunity.

My appreciation for Chagall arises, I believe, from his willingness to think non-linearly. He tickles the imagination, forcing the viewer to do some work to look at the various figures depicted, to think on why they are where they are and how the various parts - each part telling a bit of a story - works together to tell the whole story. Chagall is not a 30-second news spot. Rat…

Heroes and Villains

As I mentioned the other day, a great deal of my research this semester has been done on the topic of the sexual abuse of minors by Roman Catholic clergy. It's been a painful subject -- were I to do it over again, I'd not do it during Lent...too much penance! -- but one that has been, ultimately, quite valuable.

The aim of my paper was twofold. First, I wanted to look at two "axes" for considering abuse: the temporal axis and the causal axis. In non-pretentious terms, I simply wanted to know "when" the scandal took place, or if it is continuing to take place, and "what" contributed to it. Was it a problem of homosexuality? Celibacy? Authority? Second, I wanted to consider how the stories of sex abuse were reported. If you look at various news reports across the country, it is surprising how much of a family resemblance there is between the way articles appear. This could be because all cases of abuse are alike or, as it is my assumption, it may b…

Notes on a Scandal

I've mentioned a few times this semester that one of my research projects, now submitted for examination, has been into the way the issue of clergy sex abuse has been framed by the media. That is, I'm curious about how stories are reported because, very often, the how is every bit as important as the what.

Think, for a moment, about a story concerning fire. There's an enormous difference, say, between telling a classroom of students about the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 and shouting at the students that the room is currently on fire. One is a history lesson, the other a plea for them to seek safety.

In May, 2011, the John Jay College Research Team released its The Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010 report. This report uses data submitted by almost all of the dioceses and religious orders and congregations in the United States. The report makes use of data submitted; while one may hope that all data were included…

Frustration Anxiety

I was invited yesterday to share my vocation story with a group of undergraduates currently discerning vocations to religious life. It's an honor and great treat to meet obviously talented young people who are willing to make their hearts vulnerable to discernment; when we risk being open to the Spirit, when we dare to consider what it might be to make our lives a more radical response of 'yes' to God's invitation to friendship, we are threatened with the insight from the Letter to the Hebrews, "It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of a living God" (Heb 10:31).

As I looked out at such talented young people, each with so many options and possible paths in life,
I felt compared to share with them something I took from Karl Rahner, an insight into what Rahner called "frustration anxiety." Of Frustration Anxiety, he writes of people who
...think they might miss something, that something might escape them before they have to go; and at the s…