Author: Nathan Turowsky

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Son of Legendary Catholic Author Dies at 95

January 16 brought the news that Christopher Tolkien, best known as the longtime literary executor of his father J.R.R. Tolkien, had died at his home in the South of France at the age of 95. Tolkien was born in 1924 in Leeds, England, while his father was a professor at the University of Leeds prior to obtaining his more famous chair at Oxford. His mother was the former Edith Bratt, J.R.R. Tolkien’s wife and the...

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It’s Japanese.

I’ve watched the video of Pope Francis slapping–in something of the manner of a YMCA self-defense class; his movements are a standard way in martial arts to break an unwanted grip on one’s arm–a young Asian woman in St. Peter’s Square numerous times now, trying to work out what the woman is saying to him. I recognized the language immediately as Japanese, a language in which I majored in college and which I can still...

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Loneliness Today, Part II: Youth Un(der)employment

I work as a substitute teacher at a public school district in Western Massachusetts. It’s one of the more cash-strapped districts in a relatively affluent rural area in the Northeast. In this position, I have had the responsibility to, on short notice, fill in across all grade levels and subject areas. Much of the time I do enjoy the work—I like children, and sometimes I get to teach interesting material, especially at the high school...

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Bishop James Conley Takes Medical Leave of Absence

Today has brought the news that James D. Conley, Bishop of Lincoln, Nebraska and successor of the archconservative stalwart Fabian Bruskewitz in that diocese, has taken an indefinite leave of absence from his ministerial duties, due to serious mental health issues. Bishop Conley himself writes: I also want to tell you about my health because I hope, in some small way, to help lift the stigma of mental health issues. I have been medically diagnosed...

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Loneliness Today, Part I: More on the Youth Encounter

This is the first in a projected series of essays dealing with the phenomenon of “loneliness,” beginning with a discussion of the loneliness described to Pope Francis in the “youth encounter” in Tokyo, and moving from there into a broader view.  In Japanese-American author Ruth Ozeki’s 2013 novel A Tale for the Time Being,[1] teenage protagonist Nao Yasutani leads an unenviable life. Her techie father Haruki was fired from his job in Silicon Valley and...

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A Testimony to Loneliness

One underreported event during Pope Francis’s recent trip to East Asia was a meeting with three Japanese young adults, who delivered personal testimonies to him. These testimonies shed further light on some of the themes of the trip overall. Such themes include the treatment of migrants and the need to confront widespread loneliness in a society that is collectivist by tradition but now very atomized. The three young adults were a young Japanese Catholic, Miki...

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Catholicism in Thailand and Japan, By the Numbers

The Vatican press bulletin recently published a series of statistics about Catholicism in Thailand and Japan in the lead-up to Pope Francis’s visits to those countries. These statistics clarify some points that were long unclear (I’ve seen estimates of the total number of Catholics in Japan ranging from 100,000 to 5 million; the Vatican pinpoints it at 536,000). They also imply some interesting things about the specific forms that Catholic religious life is taking in...

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An Interreligious Victory for the Pontifical Academy for Life

On October 28, the Pontifical Academy for Life released a document entitled, “Position Paper of the Abrahamic Monotheistic Religions on Matters Concerning the End of Life.” The roughly ten-page document was prepared on Pope Francis’s instruction. A copy was formally presented to him after the ceremony in which it was unveiled and signed. The Grand Chancellor of the Academy for Life, Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, signed the document, along with several cardinals. Other signatories included representatives...

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Inculturation and Syncretism

With the ongoing Amazon synod dealing extensively with the relationship between Catholicism and various indigenous South American religious beliefs and practices, the concepts of inculturation and syncretism have rocketed into the Catholic news cycle. These terms are somewhat technical but many people have been able to get the (more or less accurate) sense that one of these things is desirable and the other is not. This piece seeks to provide working definitions and historical examples...

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The Terminological Inexactitudes of Cardinal Burke and Bp Schneider

On Tuesday, September 24, Edward Pentin’s blog at the National Catholic Register published a joint statement written by Cardinal Raymond Burke and his close ally in the episcopate, Athanasius Schneider, the Auxiliary Bishop of Astana, Kazakhstan. The statement insisted on the two men’s fidelity to the Petrine office and love for the person of Pope Francis. (Mike Lewis touched on the document last week in WPI.) Their statement also makes a number of false claims–or...

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What Is Mottramism?

Critics of Pope Francis on social media use many terms to describe his defenders, including “papolator,” “ultramontanist,” “pope-worshipper,” and “bergoglian.” A more clever but less-frequently used name is “Mottramist.” Mottramism is a reference to Rex Mottram, an extremely unsympathetic character from Evelyn Waugh’s classic novel Brideshead Revisited. It’s an intriguing allusion; however, the way the term is used betrays a serious misunderstanding of the point of the character and of Waugh’s novel as a whole....

Dreams and Grace

Reading through Christus vivit recently, I found a section labeled “Dreams and visions” (§§192-197), a six-paragraph-long exegesis of Joel 3:1: “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.” I would like to share a brief thought—or tell a brief story; and Pope Francis says in this section that the young tend to...

I Browsed the “Faithful Shepherds” Website So You Don’t Have To

In his most recent post, Mike Lewis mentioned a website called “Faithful Shepherds,” which is spun off from LifeSiteNews. Faithful Shepherds ostensibly exists to “hold bishops accountable.” Gallingly, given current events in the Church, what the site means by “accountable” is not “morally accountable” but “accountable to a certain set of Catholic political priorities.” For the people at LifeSiteNews, publicly taking pro-choice politicians to task is equally constitutive of orthodoxy as holding pro-life views oneself. ...

Shepherds of the Young

Among the many issues that critics of Pope Francis took with Christus vivit, the apostolic exhortation that emerged from last year’s Youth Synod, a number focused on how the exhortation treated the fact that many teenagers and young adults have serious qualms about Church teachings and practices. Pope Francis and the Synod participants clearly realized that the more politically controversial aspects of Catholic belief present serious obstacles to communion for young people not predisposed to...

Lights and Shadows

Lights and Shadows in Church History

The Rise of Historical Absolutism The New York Times recently profiled Susanna Ceccardi, the new right-wing populist mayor of a previously left-wing town in central Italy, as part of a series on the rise of populist politics in Europe. Much of Ceccardi’s political playbook—scapegoating of immigrants, anti-establishment rhetoric, a genuine concern for people facing precarious work situations, and so forth—is well-known to anybody following the news today. However, one aspect of it, Ceccardi’s rhetorical focus...

Revisiting Orwell in the Era of Intra-Catholic Culture Wars

In 1945, George Orwell, who was born on this day in 1903, wrote a long essay called Politics and the English Language in which he warned of a growing modern tendency to use English vocabulary to specifically political ends—avoiding evocative language to disguise defenses of immoral practices, using long-winded and needlessly abstract words and phrases to lend poorly-considered ideas an air of being well-considered, and using jargon that can only be understood within the context...

Going to the Peripheries

When Silence, Martin Scorsese’s epic film adaptation of the 1960s Japanese historical novel of the same title, hit theaters in late 2016, I was a master’s student at a mainline Protestant school of theology attached to a prominent private university. I was also in the process of entering the Catholic Church. I have a longstanding interest in Japan, my bachelor’s degree is in Japanese literature, and I was making a point of studying East Asian...