Paul Lakeland is the Aloysius P. Kelley, SJ, Professor of Catholic Studies at Fairfield University.
By this author
I was in London last week and all the Catholic talk was of the impending closure of Heythrop College, the Jesuit school of philosophy and theology that has been a constituent component of the University of London since 1970 and that has existed in some form or other for exactly 400 years. Evidently this is a decision that the British Province of the Society of Jesus took only reluctantly and a significanbt blow to lay theological education in the United Kingdom. But why and how it came to this is, if not exactly shrouded in mystery, quite hard for an outsider to determine.
Following up on Ireland’s referendum in favor of same-sex marriage, Frank Bruni’s column in today’s New York Times (May 27, 2015) provides some interesting information but stops short of the difficult question.
When school ends professors go on the road. The conference season kicks into gear, and for teachers of theology it has all begun this year at Georgetown University with the 9th Ecclesiological Investigations Network International Conference, also including half a day at Marymount University across the Potomac in Arlington.
Watching the Netflix original Happy Valley over the last few days—though it was actually made by the BBC— it struck me more forcibly than ever before how artificial the American crime shows are compared to their British counterparts. Not that the British shows don’t have their share of foolishness—far too many stern strutting anguished people for what still is a fairly placid culture. They seem almost as suicidal as the Scandinavians at times. But, and here’s the point, they look like real people, not someone recruited into the police force as they step down from the Miss America catwalk.
Robert Stone’s latest novel, Death of the Black-Haired Girl, is a bleak academic story centered on what can—and no doubt often does—go wrong in a student-professor affair, and the consequences for everyone in their worlds. Set in a fictitious, tony New England college, perhaps Wesleyan or Bowdoin transferred to Massachusetts, it tells the story of Maud Stack and Steven Brookman. Stack is a brilliant but erratic student, Brookman a self-satisfied professor with a wife and child. When Brookman wants out and Stack doesn’t want to let go a public confrontation ends in her death.
Being the mother of the crucified, risen and glorified savior must be a bit like being a retired pope. Just what exactly are you supposed to do? This, in any case, is something of the challenge that the Irish writer Colm Tibn, him of The Master fame, has assigned himself this Christmas, though a less Christmassy book it would be hard to imagine. Toibin's novella, The Testament of Mary, reflects on the events of Jesus's public life and death from the perspective of a mother who understandably wished it had never happened.
It's been a while since I left a movie theater scratching my head but The Master, Paul Thomas Anderson's latest product, did it for me. This movie has received a lot of plaudits for the two central performances by Philip Seymour Hoffman as the Master himself and Joaquin Phoenix as the alcohol-raddled victim of post-traumatic stress disorder who somehow blunders into the closed family world of Lancaster Dodd (the Master) and is taken on as an evidently pro bono project. The film also looks beautiful and I didn't find the two and a half hours dragging much if at all.
This past Sunday the world saw the passing of Joe Cunneen, by any standards a great twentieth century American Catholic. Together with his wife Sally and Bill Birmingham, Joe published Cross Currents for half a century. Yes, I said half a century, fifty years to be precise. In that time he was principally responsible for bringing to the American Catholic audience some of the best writings of continental European theologians, before and after Vatican II.
What is it that makes a reader become interested in a really rather unpleasant character, especially when its the central character, even sometimes the narrator, of a work of fiction? The obvious examples that spring to my mind at least are the awful Bendrix in Graham Greenes The End of the Affair, Tony Soprano, Sherlock Holmes or even Hannibal Lecter. There are of course pretty dreadful specimens with whom we connect out of pity or self-recognition, like the unspeakably self-obsessed George Costanza of Seinfeld fame, and in this case humor is his salvation.
I remember the day five years ago when the head of a conservative Catholic congregation of women religious asked me what I taught. “Catholic studies,” I replied. “Oh,” she said, in a fairly good but probably unintentional impression of Lady Bracknell, “and what exactly is that?”
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