The passion for distinctionThere is none among them [i.e. the passions with which nature has furnished men] more essential or remarkable, than the passion for distinction. A desire to be observed, considered, esteemed, praised, beloved, and admired by his fellows, is one of the earliest, as well as keenest dispositions discovered in the heart of man. … Wherever men, women, or children, are to be found, whether they be old or young, rich or poor, high or low, wise or foolish, ignorant or learned, every individual is seen to be strongly actuated by a desire to be seen, heard, talked of, approved and respected. … To be wholly overlooked, and to know it, are intolerable
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Jul. 28 at 10:52pm
Occasionally, on my morning trek to the coffeepot, I encounter a small child standing next to, say, a little pile of broken glass and strawberry jam.
The child will immediately launch into a convoluted and highly implausible explanation of why the blame for the mess ought to be laid at the feet of some absent (or even fast-asleep) party.
The trouble with this is not just the blatant falsehood, even though, as both a philosopher and a mother, I take a keen interest in truth. It's also that the child so firmly believes that identifying the guilty party is the ultimate destination of his quest. Wiping up the sticky and hazardous mess and carrying on as a slightly wiser and more cautious …continue reading
Jul. 25 at 2:13pm
Editor's note: Ann Schmalstieg is an artist whose work we discovered when she signed on as a member of the Personalist Project some months ago. We were so moved by it—especially the way she seems to capture beauty in suffering—that we asked her to consider posting about it here. You can find more at her website.
Katie invited me to write about my artwork in a guest post some time ago, and I must admit, I was a bit hesitant. Part of the reason why I paint is because words often fall short, so writing is not my preferred mode of expression. Yet, there is value in sharing clearly defined thoughts, not only for viewers of my art, but also for other artists who are working out their own …continue reading
Jul. 25 at 1:37pm
Miss Bates has always struck me as pitiable and ridiculous, a character thrown into the novel largely for comic effect. But Deresiewicz has a different angle. He argues that Miss Bates lives "the novel's highest lesson of all": that it is the little things of everyday—the sorts of things talked over repeatedly by Miss Bates—of which real life is made.
Deresiewicz contrasts the small talk of Miss Bates (and of Austen's novels in general) with the conversations he used to have with his friends, and with the modernist …continue reading
Jul. 23 at 9:31am
In his recent talk on von Hildebrand and superabundant finality, Jules distinguished among different kinds of "superabundant finality". Some superabundant goods of sex (i.e. children) are much more important and central to its essence than others (such as, say, stress relief). He drew an analogy with an ancient apple tree at our home in New Hampshire. He said that its apples are its fruit in a much deeper and fuller sense than other real superabundant gifts connected to the tree, such as shade and fun for boys. I thought those who listened might like a visual. This is the tree he had in mind.
Jul. 21 at 9:14am
I just read the blog-post “I don’t wait anymore” (http://gracefortheroad.com/2012/02/03/idontwait/) where the author describes taking off her purity ring at the age of 25, after having worn it for 9 years. Contrary to the first impression the initial sentences might give, the author does not go on to say that chastity is too hard, repressive or unrealistic. She’s actually not giving up chastity at all. But she took off her ring, since the way chastity was promoted in her Protestant church was wrong, by making false promises and representing God wrongly. She was told: “Be the woman God made you to be, focus on that, and then the husband will come.” Pressure was added through a popular …continue reading
Jul. 20 at 11:09am
Just now I was listening for a second time to the talk Jules gave yesterday morning in Steubenville on von Hildebrand's distinction between the primary "meaning of marriage", i.e. love, and the primary "end of marriage", i.e. children. (I can't think of anything I'd rather do than listen to my beloved talk about marriage.)
Specifically, he tries to show that not only does this distinction not (as some critics charge) undercut the Church's teaching on the inseparability of sex and pro-creation, it deepens and enriches our grasp of that teaching, by drawing out and emphasizing the personal structure of conjugal relations.
Spouses don't use each other to produce children. God doesn't use …continue reading
Jul. 19 at 12:59am
I’ve been reading Jacques Philippe again. This brings on the urge to just string together Jacques Philippe quotes and call it a post, because, after all, who could say it better, or what is there to add?
The book in question is called The Way of Trust and Love: a Retreat Guided by St. Therese of Lisieux (Scepter).
It’s perfect for people like me—and I suspect there are many—who suffer from the uneasy conviction that there must be more to the Little Flower than what we imagine, but who are too allergic to nineteenth-century religious prose to find out for sure.
This short paperback, as accessible as it is profound, will allow you to derive enormous amounts of spiritual nutrition from St. …continue reading
Jul. 17 at 1:47pm
Dietrich and Alice von Hildebrand were married on July 16th, 1959.
In honor of the occasion, I interviewed her yesterday evening here at our summer home in New Hampshire.
PS: "Gogi" and "Gogo" were von Hildebrand's nicknames.
PPS: Sorry about the barking dog early in! Happily, it only lasts only a few minutes.
Jul. 11 at 3:36pm
Something I constantly notice is that unembarrassed joy has become rarer. Joy today is increasingly saddled with moral and ideological burdens, so to speak. When someone rejoices, he is afraid of offending against solidarity with the many people who suffer. I don’t have any right to rejoice, people think, in a world where there is so much misery, so much injustice.
I can understand that. There is a moral attitude at work here. But … the loss of joy does not make the world better—and, conversely, refusing joy for the sake of suffering does not help those who suffer. The contrary is true. The world needs people who discover the good, who rejoice in it and thereby derive the impetus …
Jul. 10 at 11:23am
A facebook friend has linked a list: 15 Things You Should Give Up To Be Happy. It's not my kind of list. It strikes me as a typical instance of cheap pop-psychology bromides masquerading as wisdom. It's not that there's no truth in it at all; it's that much of what's said is reductive, ambiguous and superficial. It glosses over the real problems it pretends to resolve.
Example: The first thing the reader is urged to give up is "your need to always be right." Well, okay. No one should "need" to "always be right." But it's not very helpful in the concrete, is it? Take a case in which I am convinced I am right. You accuse me of lying and I deny it. Is my denial to be interpreted as …continue reading
Jul. 9 at 12:41pm
Actor Dustin Hoffman offers a beautiful, personalist insight from his experience of working on the movie Tootsie. Watch it.
How many women have suffered because they are habitually treated (especially by men) not as persons, not as unique individuals, but only as more or less beautiful specimens of the female type. It's so moving to see that he here realizes not only what a suffering that must be for women, but what a loss it is for men. "How many interesting women I never got to know."
Jun. 30 at 9:56am
I want to continue our conversation about the “self-referential person”--the one who lights a lamp but then gets scared and hides it under a bushel, reluctant to go out into all the (contaminated) earth to preach the gospel.
We can agree there's a big differentce between fearful, self-imposed isolation and the legitimate effort to found new communities and develop a sense of identity for oursleves and our descendents.
That doesn't let us off the hook completely, though: we still have to discern--over and over--when and how to engage the culture and when and how to repudiate it. St.Augustine's speaks of the Israelites taking "gold out of Egypt"
--a metaphor for embracing whatever good is …continue reading
Jun. 25 at 7:36am
Contra a recent National Catholic Register blog post by Pat Archbold, titled “8 Rules for Marrying my Daughter”:
1) Unless your daughter is a minor, you don’t get to have requirements for her prospective spouse. Not only do you not get to choose him for her, you have no veto power over her choices at all. None. You don’t get to lay down criteria. You don’t get to say, “He has to be Catholic,” much less, “He has to have a prayer life.” However reasonable the demand may seem to you, and however objectively advantageous to your daughter, you have no right to insist that the man seeking her hand in marriage be gainfully employed, or have no debt, or come from an intact family. All of that is …continue reading
Jun. 24 at 11:55pm
Today’s topic is one that’s very close to my heart, and one on which I used to consider myself an expert.
Last week, inveighing against the “self-referential person,” I wrote this:
It’s a bunker mentality, and it has a certain appeal to, say, apprehensive parents looking out upon a landscape of reckless hedonists, regulation-happy collectivists, self-absorbed politicians, clueless relativists, resolute terrorists, and useful idiots. They figure their best shot at survival is to ghettoize themselves and their dependents as thoroughly as possible and try to avoid contagion.
The only trouble is, this contradicts the essence of the Church.
I am sometimes actually …
Jun. 21 at 12:20am
I’ve been mulling over Pope Francis’ oft-repeated warnings about the “self-referential church”—as this Vatican Radio article describes it:
…a church that is closed in on itself, stagnant…only looking to and relying on itself. He spoke of a “narcissism that leads to a routine spirituality and convoluted clericalism” and prevents people from experiencing the sweet and comforting joy of evangelization.
The self-referential church neglects the injunction to go out to the “ends of the earth,” avoiding any spontaneous, unscripted contact with the outside world. This is partly out of sheer preoccupation with its own internal affairs, but also because its pastors fail to see the point of …continue reading
Jun. 17 at 1:43pm
Alice von HIldebrand began visiting and speaking at Franciscan University when I was a junior there, in 1986. Her wise and witty words, uttered in that inimitable voice, spoke to my spirit at an unfamiliar depth and with a soul-unifying power. Up till then, my experience had been that intellectual things were sometimes interesting, but they didn't touch my heart. They didn't really rouse me; they didn't reach my self. And emotional things, while absorbing in their drama and immediacy, lacked substance; they seemed rather unreliable and immature—dead-endish. Looking back, I see I was sort of stuck.
By her witness, the dilemma was resolved. The kind of truth that came to me through her …continue reading
Jun. 14 at 10:30pm
John Podhoretz has written a moving tribute to his sister, Rachel Abrams, who died last week of cancer. I think the only thing of hers I ever read was a short story he re-published right after the news was made public. It made me want more. She seems to have been an extraordinary person. I read her mother's book, An Old Wife's Tale, years ago and found it full of warmth and wisdom.
I link it partly because of the way it ends. It's that word again: tenderness.
Speaking to her nearly every day, as I did, was like having my lungs filled with the purest oxygen. Hearing her laugh. God, did she love to laugh. Telling her about my kids, every detail of whose lives she vacuumed up hungrily and …
Jun. 14 at 9:24am
Being been embroiled in an online discussion elsewhere about the Pope's way of critiquing capitalism, I jumped ahead in the book of Cardinal Bergoglio's homilies and addresses (which Devra helped translate) to the section on Catholic Social Teaching.
I found this:
Hence, the origin of existential emptiness refers, as Durkheim himself has said, to a separation of the individual from the social environment— i.e., a lack of sense of belonging, which disfigures the identity. “To have an identity” involves primarily “belonging.” Therefore, to overcome this social debt it is necessary to rebuild the social fabric and social ties.
Jun. 10 at 9:59pm
“What’s the least I need to do to keep you happy?”
That’s an apocryphal (I hope) quote from a new husband, addressed to his bride.
You can predict what sort of marriage is likely to follow, and how long it’s likely to last.
The question is, do we treat God like that? We may feel sure we don’t, but it’s possible to do it inadvertently, even while being convinced we're exemplary Christians.
In one sense, of course, “What must I do to be saved?” (roughly equivalent to “What’s the least I need to do to keep you happy?”) is the most important question a person can ask. If we fail to ask the question, or to live by the answer, we risk eternal misery.
And it is easy these …continue reading