Kenneth L. Woodward

A Christmas Mitzvah

From Wal-Mart to the White House, the fight over how to greet our fellow man this time of year has become a public embarrassment. Like Target, Sears, Lands' End and many higher-end retailers, Wal-Mart settled on "Happy Holidays," the innocuous greeting that covers customers of all religious persuasions and those of none.


The massive and moving funeral of Pope John Paul II has provoked the first major controversy since the cardinals arrived in Rome to choose his successor. Citing the shouts and placards demanding "Santo subito" ("Saint soon"), Archbishop Edward Nowak declared to the Italian media last week that the emotional outpouring was a signal that "the people" recognized the late pope's holiness and wanted him declared a saint--immediately.


Giuseppe Frassinetti (died 1868), a holy priest and founder of a religious order, would be a saint today--like his sister, Paola--except for one thing: he lacks two miracles credited to his intercession.

Neutering Santa

Serious Christians have always been ambivalent about how society celebrates Christmas. It's hard to get children to focus on the birth of Christ, and what that means, when the arrival of Santa Claus--and all that that portends in the way of hectic getting and spending--is imminent.


In his light-blue shirt, black slacks and gray leather sandals, Pham Minh Man looks like many other prosperous Vietnamese on a late Sunday afternoon, except for the clerical collar.

The Scoop On The Pope

Outside of the North Korean government in Pyongyang, no bureaucracy is harder for a journalist to crack than the Vatican's. And no one does it better than John L.

God's Woman Trouble

Pity poor Mary Magdalene. For nearly two millenniums she was loved and honored by Christians as the archetypal reformed sinner. Then, a half-century ago, Biblical scholars recognized that she was a victim of mistaken identity: the "real" Mary of Magdala was not a prostitute.

The Fast Track To Sainthood

John Paul II loves a good party and this week in Rome the party is for him. For the 25th anniversary of his election to the papacy, John Paul has called all 195 cardinals of the church to join in the celebration--including 30 new ones who will receive their red hats.

Commentary: The Wound Is Not Healed

Last September Boston College invited me to address the current crisis in the Roman Catholic Church--my church. Four thousand people turned out, not because I was speaker, but because their anger and frustration over the sex-abuse scandal had found no other better outlet.

A Clue To Jesus?

Although Jesus of Nazareth is a universally recognized figure, no one has ever found any evidence for his existence apart from texts. Now, in the form of a 20-inch-long limestone ossuary, a box used by first-century Jews to hold the bones of the dead, Biblical archeologists may have found their holy grail.

A Renovation Of The Rosary

For 500 years, devout Roman Catholics have recited the rosary, a mantra-like series of Our Fathers and Hail Marys designed to stimulate meditation on 15 key events or "mysteries" in the lives of Jesus and his mother.

Opus Dei In The Open

Many of the greatest Roman Catholic saints--Dominic, Francis of Assisi, Ignatius of Loyola--were also founders of great religious orders. To this August list Pope John Paul II will add the name of Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer, the Spanish founder of Opus Dei.

Why We Need Hell, Too

The most famous sermon in American history was a graphic evocation of the horrors of the damned in hell. As Jonathan Edwards expanded on his subject, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," so many moans and cries rose from his proper New England congregation that the learned theologian had to pause while his listeners recoiled in fear of their fate in the life to come.

A Meeting Of The Minds

His office said he was in seclusion, spending his time in prayer. But somehow Boston's embattled cardinal, Bernard Law, managed to slip past the American paparazzi stationed outside his mansion, board a plane unnoticed and make it to a haven inside Vatican City.

Catholic Revival

Clandestine closets and hidden passageways are the stuff of legend in English castles and country homes. But the two "priest holes" at Ingatestone Hall, the Petre family's 470-year-old manor house outside London, are special.

Bing Crosby Had It Right

I stare at the lengthening list of priests accused of pedophilia and notice something others might overlook: most of these men are my age. Like me, they grew up in another era, before the so-called sexual revolution, and shared a Roman Catholic boyhood that was in many ways ideal for pubescent youngsters--the age group they are accused of abusing.The parishes we knew back in the '40s and '50s were more than merely places for Sunday worship.

Religion: How Should We Think About Islam?

The terrorist attacks of September 11 brought out the best and the worst in American religion. Clergy of all collars worked at Ground Zero in New York City, ministering to exhausted firefighters and emergency workers, helping those in the grisly business of identifying body parts and praying at the site's temporary morgue.

Platitudes Or Prophecy?

Sociologists tell us that the United States is experiencing a religious revival--a third "great awakening" echoing those of the 18th and 19th centuries. But if the best-seller lists are any guide, the revival looks more like a collective leaving of the senses.