About Dr. Regis Martin

Dr. Regis Martin, Professor of Systematic Theology, Franciscan University of Steubenville

When Life Imitates Art – A Cautionary Tale

The death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman at age forty-six from a heroin overdose early last month (Feb. 2) has sent the usual shock waves through the highly publicized stage and screen worlds of Hollywood and New York.  And while it was hardly the first time a life was lost to heroin addiction among the glitterati, it happened this time around to someone singularly gifted in the performing arts.  Here was a star whose nimbus clearly outshone all the others.

“What have we been robbed of, by his death?” asked Anthony Lane in a glowing remembrance in The New Yorker (Feb. 17 & 24).  “Not so much a movie star, I think, as somebody who took our dramatic taxonomy … and threw it away.  Leading man, character actor, supporting player: really, who gives a damn?  Either you hold an audience, so tight that it feels lashed to the seats, or you don’t.”

Read more at Crisis Magazine

The Christmas Miracle

I picture him as a tall Texan, his outsize appearance easily eclipsing everything in sight, save only the immense shrine that he and a busload of tourists have come to Rome to see.  And then, throwing up his hand at the end of an exhausting exploration of the world’s most beautiful basilica, I hear him asking the expert guide the one thing he’s come all this way to know:

How much does it weigh?

I love that story.  In fact, I imagine him wandering endlessly about the Eternal City in witless search of answers to all sorts of endearingly absurd questions.  The Coliseum, for instance, about which he would surely want to know, “Why wasn’t it finished?”  Or the Pantheon, whose opening in the ceiling would have utterly mystified him.  “What’s the point of a dome unless you’re going to close the freaking thing?”

As a species of reductionism, however, revealing the mindset of a man for whom the merit of anything can best be measured by the ton, it is priceless.  One thinks of C.S. Lewis skewering that fellow in one of his books because, in surveying the vastness of the Atlantic Ocean, he can only imagine it as raw material for cornering the salt market.  Reductionism, as someone once said, is the sin of seeing the pearl as the oyster’s mistake.

Read more at Crisis Magazine

John Paul II’s 1983 Visit to Poland: Anniversary Reflections

It was sixty years ago that the Hungarian émigré historian, John Lukacs, published his first book, The Great Powers and Eastern Europe, a masterful treatment of the subject, whose conclusion, including an elegy on the lost world he left behind, has haunted me for years.   Surveying the wreckage of that shattered and divided world, he declared that “only the magnetic force of a rejuvenated, remade, and truly united Western Europe, one that has recovered the erstwhile spiritual greatness of that Christian continent, can eventually develop enough attraction to penetrate the steely barriers separating the West from Eastern Europe’s modern police state.”

That was written in 1953, beneath the cloudless skies of the Eisenhower years, which means that thirty-five more years would need to elapse before the world could witness the final and conclusive collapse of the Soviet Empire in Europe.  It all started a quarter century ago, in other words, beginning with the so-called Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia in November of 1989, which smashed the fist of the single-party Communist state, leaving the rest of us, especially those smugly ensconced amid the flesh pots of the capitalist West, in a state of stunned surprise.

How, we asked ourselves, could a people divided for more than forty years by such a massive and impregnable symbol of Soviet sanctioned oppression as the Iron Curtain, come suddenly together in spontaneous and joyous fashion to dance atop the ruins of the Berlin Wall?

Read more at Crisis Magazine

Let Us Not Forget the Wonder of Creation

In his fantastical account of “The Unthinkable Theory of Professor Green,” G.K. Chesterton invites us to imagine an astronomer regaling his audience in great and gorgeous detail about a strange new planet he’s just discovered.  Only gradually do we realize that this utterly amazing place is in fact our very own world, replete with wonders we’d scarcely been aware of before.

Isn’t this the whole point of travel?   Not to poke around places and people of such weirdness that you’d swear you’d wandered onto a sci-fi movie set.  Do we really want to run into a community of pod people while on holiday?   Wasn’t it bad enough watching “The Night of the Living Dead” on television?  Who needs a close encounter with the real thing on a vacation?

Again, Chesterton has the sense of it.  “It is not,” he tells us, “to set foot on foreign land; it is to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.”  And isn’t this the challenge that awaits us all?   How to arrest the attention sufficiently to allow us to stand in silent awe before the real world?  When jadedness sets in, we need a sudden jolt to set the circuits going again.  We need to open up the hood and let the wind sweep out all that is sour and stale on the inside.   Indeed, without a sense of wonder, and at least some minimal capacity for surprise and delight, we will never awaken to that “dearest freshness deep down things” (Gerard Manley Hopkins).

Read more at Crisis Magazine.

Seeking God in the Silence

Thoughts inspired by a visit to a Cistercian Abbey.

One of the awful torments of modern life—indeed, it is one from whose aggressions no one is entirely safe—is noise. More and more, it fills the space that was once marked by that silence whose absence we seem increasingly not to notice.

Where does one go to escape the din? And if such places exist, how long can you stay? I found out last January when, invited by a Cistercian Abbey in Utah to give a retreat, I spent an entire week in the midst of silence. It was glorious.

Read more at Franciscan Way.

On First Going to Guadalupe

A visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe prompts this theologian to ask, “Where are all the gringos?”

Apart from the apparition itself, which is as supernatural a sight as anything to be seen on planet Earth, perhaps the most striking feature about the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe is the fact that there appear to be only Hispanics and Latinos who actually go there. Vast numbers, to be sure, who present the most edifying spectacle of faith, particularly in the poverty and simplicity of its expression, shorn of every material blessing save that of the certainty of the hope that they are embraced by the arms of the Mother of God.

But where are all the gringos?

My wife and I, who recently returned from Mexico following an intense five-day pilgrimage to Guadalupe, have been asking ourselves that very question.

Read more at Franciscan Way.