The Devil on the Charles

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Memorial Hall is the ugliest building on the campus of Harvard University, in my view. Built in the 1870s, this Victorian monstrosity is situated between the stately columns of Harvard Yard on the one hand and the Science Center with its modern design on the other. Students frequently gather in the Cambridge Queen’s Head Pub in the basement of Memorial Hall. It was here, on Monday evening, May 12, that the Harvard Extension School’s Cultural Studies Club had planned to reenact a “black mass.” A black mass is a grotesque, sacrilegious ceremony in which the most sacred rite of the Catholic Church is deliberately mocked. Satan and his pomp are invoked, often in Latin, and a consecrated Eucharistic host is desecrated, often in vulgar, revolting ways. That Harvard would host such a bigoted event was a surprise to many. Continue Reading »

Reading Acts with the Reformers

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In 1622, just two years after the Pilgrims had set sail for Plymouth, John Donne preached a sermon on Acts 1:8 to the members of the Virginia Company, another group of New World adventurers. He applied the text of his sermon—“You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth”—directly to his audience: Continue Reading »

John Donne in Lent

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John Donne, it is clear, is not everyone’s cup of tea. In a notable essay in 1990, Stanley Fish wrote this: “Donne is sick and his poetry is sick. . . . Donne is bulimic, someone who gorges himself to a point beyond satiety, and then sticks his finger down his throat and throws . . . . Continue Reading »

Not Just for Catholics

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I am not a Roman Catholic, but I love the churches of Rome. Where else on earth is there such a concentration of hallowed houses of worship, sermons in stone and light, in art and architecture, that reveal so completely the antiquity and historical density of the Christian faith? That is why I was . . . . Continue Reading »

A Holy Calling: To Keep Truth Alive

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His real name was George Pease Williams, but to ward off insensitive school-yard taunts as a young boy he constructed a more elegant middle name for himself, and this is how he was known for the rest of his life: George Huntston Williams (1914-2000). When I arrived at Harvard University in 1972, he . . . . Continue Reading »

The Vicar of Baghdad

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If Jesus came back to the Middle East today, I think he would look a lot like the Reverend Canon Dr. Andrew White, the Anglican Chaplain in Iraq and Vicar of St. George’s Church. The “Vicar of Baghdad,” as he is called, carries out his work in one of the world’s most . . . . Continue Reading »

Lincoln’s Faith and America’s Future

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Though Abraham Lincoln was neither baptized nor joined a church of any kind, he was the most spiritually minded president in American history. His faith was wrought on the anvil of anguish, both personal and national, and because of this he has much to teach us in our own age of anxiety.Some historians interpret Lincoln as a proto-secularist, not only because he never professed Christian faith in a public way but also because he made a number of skeptical comments about Christian teaching in his early years. But it’s well to remember that even great people of faith, including Mother Teresa, experience dark nights of the soul. John Calvin once said that all true faith is tinged by doubt. Continue Reading »

Get Thee to a Nunnery

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Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor dropped two balls on New Year’s Eve. At midnight she pressed the button to signal the descent of the famous ball in Times Square, marking the end of one year and the beginning of another. But, from the perspective of the Obama administration, she had already “dropped the ball” by issuing an order just two hours earlier granting temporary relief on the contraceptive mandate to the Little Sisters of the Poor. Without her intervention, the steamroller enforcement of the Affordable Care Act would have proceeded apace . . . Continue Reading »