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Annual Themes



Human life is saturated with the experience of objects. We are, at all times, surrounded by things, whether made or natural. Yet, the ubiquity of things is also the cause of their neglect. How often do we properly attend to the things around us or reflect on the unconscious decisions we make as to their purpose, meaning, and worth? This three-part series examines the very things we so easily overlook and disdain, or focus on and cherish. For behind every encounter with the things of this world lie fundamental judgments as to the nobility of our embodied existence, the dignity of our being creatures in a material world and the meaning of human labor through which created things are transformed into newly fruitful human artifacts.



We used to know ourselves by looking to what was most familiar—to our bodies, families, customs, and traditions. Who we were was tied to place, a community of relations whose bearings remained fixed and stable. Today, such embeddedness is intolerable. Identity is something we create, something we express while compelling the recognition of others. Yet, our new “fluid” selves have yielded only homelessness, an existence without roots in either place or person. This three-part series begins with a closer examination of the concept of identity, its historical transformation and fragility in a modern age. The second issue in the series takes up the theme of tradition (and Tradition) and is followed by a final issue on man’s political nature, with an emphasis on both the common good and questions of religious freedom.



In the beginning was the Word. Human beings, made in the image of God, share in this utterance, this Logos. Language, then, is foundational to our humanity. We are born into it, already attuned to the rhythm and syntax of our mother tongue. In our first years, we learn it almost miraculously, without a thought. Language is that uniquely human art form of the incarnate spirits we are; for it is only with words—sensuous symbolsthat we can speak of the world. Through words we are united to the community of inexhaustible beings in the world and to the inexhaustible community of the One who made it. This four-part series begins with an exploration of what language it is and how it is acquired, moving on to how contemporary language—“Newspeak”—reflects modernity’s rebellion against reality itself. The third issue of the series takes up the weight of words, whether in the context of the liturgy or political discourse. Lastly, we turn to the use of language in reference to myth and literature.



What does it mean to be an adult? It’s a straightforward question evading simple answers. In a clear and definitive tone, the Baltimore Catechism tells us that God made us to know Him, love Him, and serve Him in this world; and to be happy with Him forever in the next. If this is our intended telos, then surely human maturity—that is, adulthood—must take up the tasks of knowing, loving and serving God in a way that corresponds to a given individual’s abilities and situation. This four-part series, then, first takes up the question of what adulthood means, then takes up the idea of knowing God (through education), loving and serving Him (through worship and the states of life) and eternal beatitude (holiness being the ultimate expression of human maturity!).

The Body


The human body—the “thing” that accompanies us wherever we go—is central to most of the burning questions in our culture’s collective mind. The body is just there. And, for that very reason, we are putting it to the test as we reject, starve, exploit, re-build—chemically, surgically, digitally, cybernetically—and finally incinerate it. Though we have been at this for centuries, what has become clearer in recent years is that the dominion of nature at large has at last become the dominion of our incarnate nature. This four-part series addresses major contemporary issues concerning the body, including pornography, virtual reality, beauty, cremation, gender identity, sexuality, infertility, courtship and dating, as well as suffering, illness and death.

Humanum: Issues in Family, Culture & Science
Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family
620 Michigan Ave. N.E. (McGivney Hall)
Washington, DC 20064