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Life threatened by consciousness

Plants can grow only when their roots are in the dark. They emerge from the dark into the light. That is the direction of life. The plant and its direction die when the root is exposed to the light. All life must be grounded in what is not conscious and from that root emerge into the brightness of consciousness. Yet I see consciousness becoming more and more deeply the root of our life. A relation to other lives is seen, one event is brought under the same law as others, and we get closer and closer in our scrutiny to the beginnings, the origins of life. The root of life itself, what is innermost to it, is lit up. Can life sustain this? Can it become consciousness and at the same time remain alive?

Romano Guardini

Letters from Lake Como

Katie van Schaijik

To speak or not to speak: a dilemma in the debate surrounding SSM

May. 21, 2012, at 4:12pm

President Obama's announced support of "same-sex marriage" (SSM) has put the issue in the center of public attention.  Articles and blogs on the subject are proliferating all over the internet.  It's become the stuff of casual conversation even among home-schooled teenagers.  It is practially impossible to keep young children from hearing about homosexuality and asking questions.

This raises a serious dilemma for me, and all of us.  On the one hand,  the SSM lobby relies on and takes advantage of a natural reluctance on the part of most to think and talk about what homosexuality is.  They prefer to keep the discussion focussed on subjective feelings and individual rights: "I love my

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Michael Healy

Misery and Genuine Hope

May. 21, 2012, at 10:21am

A fourth option for dealing with the miseries and pains of life is that of genuine hope.  How does this differ from mere optimism?  How does is compare to pessimism?  Well, it is an attempt to face the evils of life realistically while not succumbing to them as the last word (vs. pessimism); but, in order to do so, hope must break the bounds of just this world of space and time (vs. mere optimism) where “death comes as the end.”  Hope must find a genuine foundation on which to acknowledge misery without despair, but rather with a realistic possibility of breaking through to genuine happiness. 

That true foundation is ultimately the power and goodness of God; therefore, hope is based on

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Devra Torres

The Outsourced Self?

May. 18, 2012, at 12:28pm

This is not a book review.  I haven't yet read the new book by one Arlie Russell Hochschild.  But I want to address the same subject: the striking trend toward paying strangers to do things once thought too personal to entrust to another: what she calls "outsourcing the self."

Just how personal are these things?  That depends.  On the more prosaic side, there's the unremarkable delegation of tasks that are too onerous or time-consuming to attend to oneself: you could call it "outsourcing" when an assemblage of villagers would arrange a division of labor to avoid duplication of everyone's efforts.  Nothing revolutionary here.

At the other extreme is the futile attempt to pay someone to do

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Katie van Schaijik

Cardinal George sounds a strong warning

May. 15, 2012, at 10:21am

An online friend pointed me to a  sobering article in Business Insider on Cardinal George's warnings about the HHS mandate.

George wrote in his column that the "The State was making itself into a Church" and said he longed for "the separation of Church and State" that Americans enjoyed recently, "when the government couldn’t tell us which of our ministries are Catholic and which not."

George compared the Obama's vision of "religious liberty" of the United States to that of the Soviet Union in a passage worth quoting at length: 

Liberty of religion is more than freedom of worship. Freedom of worship was guaranteed in the Constitution of the former Soviet Union. You could go to church, if

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Katie van Schaijik

About being under the circumstances

May. 14, 2012, at 2:43pm

One of the lines that stays with me from the high-flying years of the charismatic renewal in the '80s came from a homily or a talk by (I think) Fr. Michael Scanlon at FUS.  He recounted the day when a fellow-traveler in the renewal asked him, "How are you doing, Father?" He replied, "Pretty well, under the circumstances."  Then came the robust retort: "What are you doing under the circumstances?"

It was a great laugh line for spiritual pep talk.  And it captures an important personalist truth.  We're meant to take charge of ourselves; to master our circumstances, not to be mastered by them.  We are self-determining moral agents, not just undergoers-of-experience.

On the other hand, too

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Michael Healy

Misery and Pessimism

May. 13, 2012, at 6:58pm

Pessimism is an attempt at an “honest” solution to the problem of the miseries of life.  It tries to face squarely the reality of evil, pain, death, change, catastrophe, etc., and then offers a way to shield oneself from these inevitable facts of life by steeling oneself against them, not letting oneself be touched by them, by showing an enduring toughness and self-sufficiency in accepting them.  It espouses only a negative definition of happiness, relief from misery, without any positive components.  The problem with all this “realism” and “honesty” is the underlying assumption that evil, pain, and misery ultimately win out in life and in being.  But is this true?  Is it honest?  Is it

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Jules van Schaijik

Is Kierkegaard expecting too much from mere mortals?

May. 10, 2012, at 9:07pm

A couple of weeks ago, in a post on our member forum, Rhett Segal criticized Søren Kierkegaard for “his categorical rejection of any mixed motives relative to the pursuit of the good. To call for the elimination of any desire for reward or the elimination of any fear of punishment is to deny human nature.”

I just found a great passage in Romano Guardini’s The Lord that confirms and amplifies Rhett’s point.

Guardini notices that whereas Christ often emphasizes the rewards we gain and punishments we avoid by being good, modern ethicists commonly disapprove of such ulterior and mercenary motives. Genuine morality, they insist, does not need to be threatened or beguiled into goodness; it

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Devra Torres

Judge Not?

May. 9, 2012, at 10:19pm

Judge not, that you be not judged.... Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?

--Matt. 7:1,3

Don't compare your inside to someone else's outside.

--All over the internet

The first quote needs no introduction.  This passage, or at least the "Judge not" part, has got to be every bit as popular with non-Christians as John 3:16 is with Tim Tebow.

The second quote is a piece of pop wisdom I ran into thanks to the always-entertaining Susie Lloyd and liked.  (I've gotten far less snobbish in my old age and no longer turn up my nose at wisdom that comes in pop clothing: it's all part of "Diligere veritatem omnem et in omnibus"- continue reading


Katie van Schaijik

Bumping up against a bogus notion of charity

May. 9, 2012, at 2:36pm

The other day a friend sent me a message asking if I'd be interested in reviewing a book she's just published.  I told her I was scared I would hate it, which would put me in a dilemma.  I'm a critic by nature and vocation.  I can't dissemble.  And I'm afraid my honest impressions would discourage her in her work.  

She laughed and assured me that she finds private criticism helpful.  Then she sent me the book.  It came in the mail just now.  

As I held it, disliking the cover art, it occurred to me:  Wait a sec.  "Private criticism"?  Did she mean (perhaps unconsciously) to bind me not to say anything in public? 

Maybe she didn't mean to do that at all, but it's a notion I come across

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Katie van Schaijik

Faith: real and concrete and human

May. 8, 2012, at 10:02pm

This Israeli movie has charmed my personalist socks off.  It now holds a coveted place on my list of top ten fabulous foreign films.  Jules and I heard about it from friend Scott Johnston and watched it together the other night.

Points I loved:

-  How universal human themes come through in the very peculiarity and strangeness (to us) of orthodox Jewish culture.  This is more proof (because we keep needing it) that hings don't become more "universal" when they're render more generic and unexceptional.  On the contrary.

- How raw and real the characters are in their expression of their emotions and in their relationships with each other, and with God.  Nothing theoretical or artificial

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Michael Healy

Misery and Earthly Optimism

May. 7, 2012, at 11:18am

Another way of trying to deal with the miseries of life involves an attitude that may be termed “earthly optimism.”  It some ways it is a more formalized type of escapism, but now developed into theory of life, either on a popular or on a more sophisticated intellectual level. 

On the popular level, we might term this a “Pollyanna” attitude, though I don’t mean thereby to make a judgment about Disney’s 1960 movie of the same name.  (Like every other red-blooded American 10-to-15-year-old male of my generation, I fell deeply in love with Hayley Mills after seeing that movie, rivaling even my devotion to Annette Funicello.  So I do not mean to tread on anyone’s sacred memories here!) 

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Katie van Schaijik

A passing thought on hoarding

May. 7, 2012, at 8:59am

Last summer I became engrossed in the TV show Hoarders. I'd watch it with a mixture of horrified fascination and immense pity. What an unbelievable condition! How sad and bizarre!

This morning it occurred to me to think that hoarders have a gift to offer. They give outward display of an inward condition of the soul afflicting maybe most of us.

Hoarders' lives are gradually overwhelmed by their things. When a room becomes uninhabitable because it's filled with trash, they stop using it. Eventually their living space is reduced to narrow pathways between piles of junk.

Isn't this just the state so many of our souls are in? Don't we let junk pile up? — sins, bad memories, wounds, lies,

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Devra Torres

Procreation and Human Dignity in the Philippines, or What About the Hard Cases?

May. 3, 2012, at 1:59am

Today, I'd like to open a can of worms.  I hope we'll all still be on speaking terms by the time we're done.  But they're important worms.

Last week, I tried to articulate a more personalist take on pronatalism--not, of course, that everyone must have as many children as biologically possible (cf. Catholic Teaching 101), but rather that we shouldn't go around blithely judging that this one or that one should never have been born.

I stand by everything I said about the value of those who happen to be their parents' umpteenth-born, or poor, or don't seem likely to offer the world a lot of entertainment value or marketable skills.  Happy pictures of my own very jolly eighth child, and the

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Katie van Schaijik

Teach your children well

May. 2, 2012, at 5:52pm

One of the students in my coursthip class (though I feel funny referring to him that way, since he's older and wiser than I am) made a great personalist observation yesterday. After class, the discussion ranged over the subject of the cultural epidemic of undermotivated men.  Frank noted that it used to be the case that sons were expected to take up their father's profession, regardless of their interests and aptitudes.  Realizing that that wasn't quite adequate to the mystery of individuality, more recent generations of fathers have instead taught their children, "You can be anything you want to be."  But this has led to a widespread problem of aimlessness.  Kierkegaard called it the

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Michael Healy

Misery and Escapism

Apr. 29, 2012, at 4:18pm

One technique for handling life’s pains and miseries is simply to run from them, to try to distract oneself from the dark side of life and thus not really face the problem. This is, admittedly, not really even an attempt at a “solution” or an answer, but it can allow the individual to go on functioning day-to-day in practical terms.

This can be done with drugs or alcohol, trying to blot out the pain or threat and blissfully overcome it with the aid of artificial stimulants. Another version of this would be trying to “drown one’s sorrows” in the face a particular source of unhappiness or a general weariness or disgust with life. This is often the theme of country songs, e.g. Hank William’s

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Devra Torres

In Defense of Unimpressive Persons

Apr. 26, 2012, at 9:25am

Why eight children?

Because we're personalists.

Let me explain.

After all, with Earth Day just past, our family might strike even sympathetic people as too much of a good thing (and less sympathetic ones as sheer insanity).

But to us, as personalists, the main thing about our eighth child, Gabe,

is not: "Oh, no!  Eight!  Too high a number!"

Likewise, we utterly miss the point about little Danica Camacho (whose name means "morning star")

if we say "Oh, no!  Seven billion!  WAY too high a number!" 

(Danica's mother clearly knows better: you can see it in her eyes.)

Since persons are not things, you can count them, but you can't quantify them.  Since they are not products, you are deeply

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Michael Healy

The Transcendent and the Practical Perspectives on LIfe—II

Apr. 25, 2012, at 3:55pm

Continuing our thoughts on how to experientially grasp or get a hold of this distinction between the transcendent and the practical in life, we will look at Josef Pieper’s next three examples of a transcendent perspective: love, death, and beauty.  As mentioned, this is from his book Leisure, the Basis of Culture. 

(4)  Love is certainly an experience that breaks through and revises our carefully laid out plans for ourselves.  It gives us new priorities and opens up new levels of our own life and being.  To quote a beautiful section from Von Hildebrand’s The Nature of Love

In every intense and complete love a person undergoes a certain awakening. I begin to live more authentically; a

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Father Forlano

Some thoughts in defense of Cardinal Schönborn

Apr. 25, 2012, at 11:00am

Editors note: The following remarks originally appeared as several separate comments under Dr. Seifert's post below.  We asked for and receive Fr. Forlano's permission to collect and post them here.

As a priest working in the hispanic community, I am in the position where a majority of my parishioners are living in ways objectively contrary to Church teaching on the dignity of marriage.  (Most couples are married civilly, if they are married at all).  These people love the Church, are faithful to Mass, and participate in many aspects of parish life.  While I would not allow anyone in an irregular marriage to be a lector at Mass or an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, I don't have

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Michael Healy

Gabriel Marcel

Apr. 24, 2012, at 6:25am

Gabriel Marcel

Gabriel Marcel (1889-1973), born in Paris, was a French philosopher, playwright, musician, and drama critic. He was known as a Christian existentialist or philosopher of existence, though he very much contrasted himself to the existentialism of the atheistic absurdists, Sartre and Camus. Marcel was an original thinker whose works stay very close to his experience. Philosophy and an autobiographical description of the questions and thought processes which led him to his conclusions are closely entwined when one reads his works. He is afraid that "systematizing" can lead one astray from the truths present in our experience.

He was an only child raised in a broken and

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Michael Healy

Søren Kierkegaard

Apr. 24, 2012, at 6:23am

Søren Kierkegaard

Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) was born in Copenhagen, Denmark and rarely left his native land (four trips to Berlin, one to Sweden). He wittily described himself as the greatest philosopher in Denmark. He was a critic of idealistic philosophy, especially that of Hegel, as well as of the state of Christianity in his time. He is considered to be the father of the existentialist movement in philosophy. Existentialism stresses the importance of the decision of each person in his freedom and power.

After exposure to Hegel's philosophy early in his career, Kierkegaard reacted strongly against it, influencing the bent of his thought for the rest of his life. He regularly

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