The will

The most evident feature in an act of will is the efficacy of the personal self.  This efficacy is immediately given: it is reflected in the awareness of the acting person as an act of the will.

John Paul II

Person and Community

Devra Torres

Giving Joy a Bad Name

Jan. 6 at 9:34pm

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:

  • All this emphasis on joy betrays the sort of sentimental affective relativism I thought we'd left behind in the ‘70s--a call to scrap all concern for moral demands and “follow your heart.”

  • All this encouragement to experience joy amounts to compulsory cheeriness: it places suffering or depressed people under suspicion of spiritual inferiority for failure to keep up appearances. And it places everyone else under the obligation to mimic
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Devra Torres

The HHS, Then and Now

Dec. 27, 2013, at 6:40pm

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.


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Katie van Schaijik

Recovering Christmas joy

Dec. 23, 2013, at 7:28am

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

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Devra Torres

Evangelizing the Complacent

Dec. 22, 2013, at 2:14am

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

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Katie van Schaijik

Moral problems aren’t solved by better economic policies

Dec. 19, 2013, at 6:37am

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

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Kate Whittaker Cousino

Parenting Persons

Dec. 13, 2013, at 9:03am

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,

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Devra Torres

Admiration and the Spiritual Couch Potato

Dec. 12, 2013, at 11:22pm

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

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Devra Torres

Merry Christmas, You Miserable Pagan!

Dec. 5, 2013, at 6:00pm

Yes, it’s that time of year again.

Time to gear up for the War Against the War Against Christmas (WAWAC).

Or...maybe not.

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

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Katie van Schaijik

A Sinners Guide for the Self-righteous

Dec. 4, 2013, at 9:57am

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

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Marie Meaney

The Spirit of Worldliness

Dec. 3, 2013, at 3:26am

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” ( 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

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Katie van Schaijik

To be fully human is to be more than human

Dec. 1, 2013, at 8:31am

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.

Devra Torres

Q & A with Jacques Philippe

Nov. 29, 2013, at 11:01am

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"?

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Devra Torres

Jacques Philippe in Ann Arbor, Part Two

Nov. 21, 2013, at 8:51pm

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.

Here he is, signing autographs in the gym!

 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

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Devra Torres

Jacques Philippe in Ann Arbor(!)

Nov. 17, 2013, at 11:11pm

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

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Katie van Schaijik

The personalism of Pope John XXIII

Nov. 15, 2013, at 4:01am

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

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Devra Torres

Self Esteem without Selfishness: Now Available!

Nov. 11, 2013, at 1:58pm

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! 

Devra Torres

The Wide-Awake Life

Nov. 10, 2013, at 1:29am

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

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Devra Torres

Proselytism vs. Evangelism: Round Two

Nov. 3, 2013, at 6:19pm

Last week, we talked about Pope Franics' dismissal of proselytism as “solemn nonsense.”  Many misunderstood.  They fell into three groups:

  • Anti-Catholics, crowing, “See!  Even your Pope says you should keep quiet about religion!”
  • Serious but over-hasty Catholics, gasping: “What a scandal!  Our Pope says we should keep quiet about religion!”
  • Easy-chair Catholics, sighing,

“What a relief!  Our Pope says we can keep quiet about religion!  No more uncomfortable conversations about faith and morality!  We’re called to sit back, make a reasonable attempt to be pleasant, and watch as the vast throngs (who will inevitably notice how pleasant we’ve become) spontaneously sign up for

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Marie Meaney

When Faith becomes Ideology

Oct. 28, 2013, at 3:52am


To speak about faith becoming an ideology seems to be a contradiction in terms, at least to the faithful Catholic. For ideology is a construction, a system covering up and closing one off from reality while giving the false impression of having an explanation for everything; faith, however, is based on truth as revealed by God and is also accessible to reason (in contrast, any kind of belief is called an “ideology” these days, the underlying supposition being that truth cannot be known anyway).  Isn’t faith a gift from God, an infusion of the Holy Spirit, one of the three theological virtues, based on the revelation of the Most High which therefore cannot be false? Revelation itself

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Devra Torres

Solemn Nonsense: A How-To Guide

Oct. 25, 2013, at 12:34pm

In a recent interview, the story goes, Pope Francis dismissed proselytism as “solemn nonsense.” 

That “interview,” it turned out, was an 89-year-old atheist’s after-the-fact reconstruction of his recollection of a conversation he recorded with neither gizmo nor even pen and paper. A grain of salt is clearly indicated.

But suppose the Pope did say this, or something like it?  Has the New Evangelization been declared obsolete and recalled, like an old-fashioned car seat?  Have we al been ordered to convert to indifferentism?

No, not by a long shot.  Alarmed parties are directed to Pope Emeritus Benedict, no fan of the dictatorship of relativism, who has said that the Church grows not by

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