A Christian Socrates[John Henry Newman] stands at the threshold of the new age as a Christian Socrates, the pioneer of a new philosophy of the individual person and personal life.
The Philosophical Notebook of John Henry Newman
Jan. 21 at 3:30pm
I first joined Facebook to stalk (and I mean that benevolently) my college-bound daughter. For this I endured some ribbing from her younger brothers and sisters, the usual targets of my anti-social-media tirades. My standard rant went something like this:
Children, beware the subtle snares of self-absorption! They don't call it a web for nothing, you know!
Pity those poor wretches with nothing better to do than cultivate pseudo-relationships with virtual “friends”! Whose self-worth is so puny that it craves the thrill of the little red notification flag! Who’ve forgotten the feel of fresh air! Who inevitably come to a sad end because they can’t bear to be parted from their social …
Jan. 17 at 4:55am
One of the best moral lessons I ever learned came through the example of a non-religious friend. She and her sister had been the designated heirs of a rich, childless aunt. But a smarmy, conniving distant cousin managed to manipulate the dying woman and induce her to sign over a large portion of her fortune to him.
My friend's mother was furious with indignation when she found out. Choked with gall. My friend, though, shrugged off the loss, and wouldn't let her mother rant over it.
"You know what Mom? He has to be him and we get to be us. Think of it that way."
When she told me the story, besides being stunned with admiration at her generosity of spirit (so unlike the reputedly religious …continue reading
Jan. 12 at 11:31pm
It’s January 13th. Do you know where your New Year’s resolution is?
Mine is right around here somewhere. Like Mr. Micawber, I’m hoping it will turn up. But in the meantime, I’ve learned one thing.
It only works if you do it.
Obvious? Yes. But it was a revelation for me, and I have reason to believe that plenty of people in high places have yet to figure it out.
The Only Works If You Do It Axiom applies to countless areas of life. For example:
Organizational tools. My kids laugh at my fondness for charts, schedules, and lists. They sprout like toadstools all through the house at the start of each new semester, and sometimes around New Year’s Day and Ash Wednesday, too.
This year …continue reading
Jan. 6 at 10:34pm
Joy is no simple thing, it turns out. Pope Francis invites us to experience the “Joy of the Gospel” and immediately the misconceptions spring up like—let’s see--like bundled-up children on a snow day in Michigan.
Here are two misreadings I’ve run into:
Dec. 27, 2013, at 7:40pm
There was once a politician so power-hungry that he insisted on gathering extensive data about his people
at whatever cost to them, in order to tax them more efficiently.
He cared nothing for the inconveniences and expenses involved in complying with his mandates. He was especially ignorant, hardhearted, or both, on questions pertaining to bringing new life into the world.
When he decreed that everyone should return to their ancestors’ native place, the better to keep track of them, he allowed no exemptions--not even for one obscure young woman who was already nine months along. She accompanied her husband to his native town, despite the danger of giving birth along the way.
She …continue reading
Dec. 23, 2013, at 8:28am
Christmas for me growing up was magical. The tree and the lights, stockings, the candycanes, the music, the manger scene, the "specials" on TV, the stories both fantastic and real, the thrill of anticipation, the annual new dress, the piles of presents...All of it.
After Mass, our family would drive to my grandparents on Long Island, where there would be another tree, more decorations, more presents, a feast and the fun of being with aunts, uncles and cousins. It was, without question, my favorite time of year.
Later, as my immediate family grew more religious and the extended family less so, some tension crept in and clouded the joy. The Santa story began feel less like a happy …continue reading
Dec. 22, 2013, at 3:14am
Scarcely had I waded past the first paragraph of Evangelii Gaudium when I came across a very odd sentence.
It wasn’t about trickle-down economics, and it wasn’t about the salvation of atheists (although I just heard a good line about that: the question is not so much whether those who reject the Gospel can be saved, but whether we can be saved if we don’t preach it).
No, this was not about the usual bones of contention. The odd sentence was this:
The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience.
Wait, what? How can you be …continue reading
Dec. 19, 2013, at 7:37am
Hanging out, as I do, with political conservatives and libertarians, I've encountered a depressing amount of Pope bashing lately. Even Catholics who want to defend him will typically do it by pointing out that the Pope is not infallible in economic matters. All of them seem to take it more or less for granted that Pope Francis is a socialist, if not a marxist. When he says that free markets alone won't bring about a just society, they take him to be calling for state-enforced income re-distribution. They think they prove him wrong by reminding him that capitalism creates more wealth than any other system known to man, while socialism (besides punishing the producers) leads to stagnation …continue reading
Dec. 13, 2013, at 10:03am
I’ve been a mother for almost 9 years, and I’ve been discussing motherhood and parenting for longer still. When you’re a mother, parenting is both the easiest and most perilous topic to broach. Easy, because parenting can create a common bond between people who otherwise would have nothing in common—and if you’re as inept at small talk as I am, it is always a relief to have a common interest to discuss! Perilous, because parenting decisions are inevitably personal and often emotionally charged.
This vulnerability drives people to seek out those with similar approaches to parenting—with similar parenting philosophies—simplified by identification with particular parenting experts, writers, …continue reading
Dec. 13, 2013, at 12:22am
Do you admire Pope Francis?
Are you sure that’s a good thing?
Here’s what Soren Kierkegaard has to say about admirers in his short work, Provocations:
… Admirers are related to the admired only through the excitement of the imagination. To them he is like an actor on the stage except that, this being real life, the effect he produces is somewhat stronger. But for their part, admirers make the same demands that are made in the theater: to sit safe and calm.
What’s the alternative, then? Kierkegaard addresses that, too:
What, then, is the difference betwee an admirer and a follower? A follower is or strives to be what he admires. An admirer, however, keeps himself personally …
Dec. 5, 2013, at 7:00pm
Yes, it’s that time of year again.
Time to gear up for the War Against the War Against Christmas (WAWAC).
This is not a condemnation of the good work that many Christians are doing to remind the world at large what Christmas was supposed to be about. The world could clearly use a reminder.
Nor is it a call to evacuate the public square. By all means, resist the mindset that contemplates the birth of the Word Incarnate—come down out of sheer love to rescue us from misery—and says, “Let’s see, how can we guarantee maximum mammon for ourselves with minimum mention of Him?”
(After all, as I explain it to my five-year-old: What if somebody wanted to celebrate your …continue reading
Dec. 4, 2013, at 10:57am
I’m not the type The Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning was written for. I mean, I’m a sinner, but I don’t hate NFP. I’ve never struggled with it or resented it. Jules and I had so much happy exposure to Dietrich von Hildebrand and John Paul II before we got married that we were never even tempted to use artificial contraception. We saw too clearly that it’s a destroyer of life and love.
We did fall under the influence of Providentialism for a little while. But it wasn’t long before we detected its error. It isn’t the teaching of the Church; it’s a rigorist “adding to the law.” The actual law is much more merciful and sympathetic to the real challenges and stresses of family life …continue reading
Dec. 3, 2013, at 4:26am
In his homily during his daily mass the other day, Pope Francis warned against the spirit of worldliness. He called it “a fruit of the devil who makes his way forward with the spirit of secular worldliness” (http://www.romereports.com/palio/pope-take-note-adolescent-progressivism-protects-human-sacrifices-english-11629.html#.UouFmsScdya). These are strong words, and we have seen so far that Pope Francis is not afraid of calling the devil by his name nor speaking about the momentous choices each one of us has to make.
But is the “world” really that dangerous? What about being open to the world as Vatican II proposed? Should we be afraid of “the world” and retire to our little Catholic …continue reading
Dec. 1, 2013, at 9:31am
Making my way through Pope Francis' Apostolic Exhortation, I come across passage after passage that lifts my personalist heart. Here is just one:
We become fully human when we become more than human, when we let God bring us beyond ourselves in order to attain the fullest truth of our being.
This is the kernel of the mystery of our being-as-persons. The roots of our being lie beyond ourselves, in God. The fulfillment of our being lies in God, through others.
Nov. 29, 2013, at 12:01pm
A recent gathering with Jacques Philippe ended with a question-and-answer session. One question especially caught my attention. I’m certain this participant spoke for large numbers of us. How, she wanted to know, are we supposed to reconcile “Accept your failures” with “Be perfect”?
This conundrum is a stumbling block to many—they’d like to take to heart the encouraging words of people like Fr. Jacques and Pope Francis, who insist that we can enjoy peace and an unshakeable interior freedom despite our weakness and moral failures. But just how do you do that, without shrugging off divine and moral law--in this case, a clear directive, from the lips of Christ Himself, to "be perfect"?
Nov. 21, 2013, at 9:51pm
Jacques Philippe, author of Interior Freedom, Searching for and Maintaining Peace, Time for God, and several other life-changing books, was in town last week.
Below are some of his thoughts (reconstructed from my notes) on living in the present moment. (You'll have to imagine the endearing accent and the occasional pauses to laugh happily whenever he cracked himself up. I got the sense that years of being a spiritual director give a person a lively sense of how ridiculous human beings can be, as well as an enduring compassion.)
* * * * *
Living in the present moment means entrusting the past to God’s mercy, the future to …continue reading
Nov. 18, 2013, at 12:11am
After all my criticism of Eugenio Sclafari, who talked to the Pope without taking notes or recording the conversation and then published the results as an “interview,” I find myself doing something just a little bit similar.
What you are about to read is based on a bunch of notes scribbled at breakneck speed—and since I don’t understand the speaker’s native French, they’re based on a simultaneous translation. It wasn’t a conversation, but a series of talks. The speaker is Jacques Philippe, who, astonishingly enough, addressed us at my parish, Christ the King,
ten minutes away from my house, this weekend. He was the centerpiece of our parish’s women’s retreat. The theme was …continue reading
Nov. 15, 2013, at 5:01am
While in Rome last month, we picked up a book by Thomas Cahill: Pope John XXIII, A LIfe.
Its first pages include two quotations that jump right out at a personalist. The first is by the French theologian Yves Congar about the late Pope: "He loved people more than power."
The second is from the Pope's own remarks at the opening of Vatican II [my emphasis]:
In the daily exercise of our pastoral ministry—and much to our sorrow—we must sometimes listen to those who, consumed with zeal, have scant judgment or balance...To such ones the modern world is nothing but betrayal and ruin. They claim that this age is far worse than previous ages, and they rant on as if they had learned nothing at all …
Nov. 11, 2013, at 2:58pm
The book I translated two summers ago (and wrote about here) is finally available, from Scepter, as both a "real" book and an ebook. In English, it's called Self-Esteem Without Selfishness: Increasing Your Capacity for Love and can be ordered here (or, as they say, wherever fine books are sold). Much wisdom from Dietrich von Hildebrand, Edith Stein, C. S. Lewis, and other luminaries, and many valuable, original, and strikingly practical insights from the author, Fr. Michel Esparza.
And more good news: it looks like the English translation will now be used as the basis for a Dutch edition!
Nov. 10, 2013, at 2:29am
I fully expected to spend this decade in a state of bitterly nostalgic melancholy. I had planned to squander it sitting helplessly by as my babies all got older, lamenting my inability to make them stop.
I’ve been happily surprised to find it hasn’t been like that at all (or only occasionally).
Maybe I speak too soon: my youngest is only five, still happy to sit on my lap and listen to “Big Y, little y, yawning yellow yak. Young Yolanda Yorgensen is yelling on his back.” I reserve the right to eat my words when the day comes that he’s too cool for such things.
But I find myself unexpectedly content to be enjoying my eight children right now, precisely at their present ages. It’s not …continue reading