Augustine’s garden

I assembled, in a garden that Valerius had given me, certain brethren of like intentions with my own, who possessed nothing, even as I possessed nothing, and who followed after me.

Saint Augustine


Devra Torres

Has Pope Francis Gone Too Far?

Sep. 14, 2013, at 10:20pm

When Pope Francis was first elected, and people weren’t really used to him yet—wait, are we used to him now?—the air was thick with wild, vaguely alarmed speculation.  Having just helped to edit a translation of a collection of homilies and addresses of his,

I was anxious to lay everyone’s fears to rest.  So I wrote Why You Shouldn't Worry About What Pope Francis Might Do Next.

Six months down the road, some people’s fears are still not resting easy. (“Doesn’t he realize how he sounds?” “Doesn’t he know how the media is going to spin that?” “Wait, did he just say fornication is OK now but celibacy is forbidden?”)

Nor does Papa Francis show signs of subsiding into a harmless, predictable

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Devra Torres

“No Good Options”

Sep. 10, 2013, at 11:31pm

Like many people in many countries, I prayed and fasted on Saturday for peace.  I tried, and failed, to be even-tempered with my family on a (comparitively) empty stomach.  And I tried, without much success, to feel my theoretical belief that prayer and fasting are a practical and effective response to real-life problems.

I should have known better.  We prayed and fasted just a few weeks ago for a friend’s teenage daughter who was struck by a car while riding her bicycle. 

She was in an induced coma in the hospital then, and the doctors were not sanguine about her living through the night.  Today we got word that she’s sitting up, responding, and steadily being detached from more

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Devra Torres

Efficiency for What?

Sep. 5, 2013, at 1:50pm

Last week I mentioned how pleasantly surprised I was by Eugene Boylan’s book, Difficulties in Mental Prayer.  Much of his very helpful advice centered on avoiding artificial formality and stiffness with God. 

Another pitfall Boylan addresses is being needlessly systematic and methodical.  Prayer is not a procedure to be marched through with correct technique for maximum efficiency. 

It’s supposed to be something as simple and beautiful as the “elevation of the mind and heart to God.”  Yet we manage to turn it into a mindless or an obsessive and joyless reeling-off of particular words in a particular order a particular number of times.  Boylan elaborates:

For example, a visit to the

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Katie van Schaijik

Key difference between Catholic and leftist ideas of social justice

Sep. 2, 2013, at 5:14am

NB: I posted this article last week on the Member Feed at Ricochet, a site dedicated to discussion within a "center/right" perspective. It was partly in response to several comments and posts over the months since Pope Francis was elected expressing worry that he appears to be a lefist. I'm re-publishing it here, since it touches on personalist themes and questions too.

Argentine Cardinal Bergoglio’s election to the papacy has caused some consternation on the right.  He has been known to criticize capitalism, decry excessive disparities in wealth, and tout “social justice”—things American conservatives and libertarians naturally associate with a disastrous political and economic leftism. 

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Devra Torres

How Not to Pray

Aug. 30, 2013, at 7:48pm

Here I am, a Christian for more than four decades, still trying to figure out how to pray.

One of the sillier obstacles I’ve placed in my own path, it turns out, is avoiding Difficulties in Mental Prayer, by Eugene Boylan.  I'm not certain why I did this.  Maybe the title wasn’t sufficiently scintillating. Maybe I was prejudiced against people named Eugene.  But I’d gotten it into my head that this was one of those pedantic but edifying books, and that my most palatable option was to continue feeling guilty for not having read it.

I’m happy to report I was wrong,  This is a very helpful book.

Boylan has a gift for demolishing self-imposed, imaginary obstacles that can stall a person’s

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Katie van Schaijik

How do we DO personalism?

Aug. 27, 2013, at 11:45am

A post on the member feed by James Barclay has me thinking. He raises the question of "personalism in action," as opposed to personalism in theory. This distinction is of particular interest for what we might call "the French school" of personalism—the personalism articulated by the likes of Emmanuel Mounier, Simone Weil, and Jacques Maritain, and heroically championed in social action by people like Dorothy Day and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Speaking in very broad lines, we can say that the French school of personalism seems to have been driven especially by concern over social injustice, which it sought to remedy by emphasis on the dignity of work and workers, and protest against the wrongs

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Devra Torres

Coming Out Celibate

Aug. 23, 2013, at 9:36pm

My brother, Joseph Prever,

(known and admired by many under the pseudonym Steve Gershom),

is a faithful Catholic who came out publicly as a celibate gay man the other day.  (He says he got more flak for coming out as celibate.)

He'd told me and a few other relatives and friends a while ago, which prompted me to think very hard about things I'd scarcely ever considered at all.  My thoughts about the entire subject before it touched me personally amounted to "Objective disorder!" and "Love the sinner, hate the sin!"  I haven't changed my mind about either one; but it turns out there's a lot more to say.  What follow are just the impressions of someone who's still working out what it all

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Marie Meaney

Some Reflections on the Spirit of Poverty

Aug. 22, 2013, at 10:34am

Not many are called to a voluntary life of absolute poverty such as St Francis of Assisi, or Mother Teresa and her sisters.  However, everybody is called to be in some respect poor with the poor in order to exercise true caritas on which, after all, we will be judged (Christ tells those who fed, clothed or helped him in some way in the poor, that they will go to Heaven,  while those who didn’t, are cast out). How are we supposed to reach the hungry, thirsty, the suffering, the psychologically wounded, and feed their hearts rather than just their bodies, if we are unable to meet them where they are?  The poor, of course, are not merely those who are in material want, but all those who are

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Katie van Schaijik

Dr. Allender on abuse and recovery

Aug. 21, 2013, at 10:45am

We have friends visiting for a few days and lots to do to get ready before we fly to Europe for our sabbatical next week, so I don't have much leisure for writing posts. But I had to share this. It's an interview with a Protestant psychologist who specializes in therapy for victims of sexual abuse. A friend and PP member, who admired its deep personalist wisdom, forwarded it to me. I find it amazing. Tell me what you think.

Katie van Schaijik

Layers of being

Aug. 16, 2013, at 9:31am

The other day Jules and I had the rare privilege of getting to spend some hours visiting with three of the Carthusian monks at the Charter House of the Transfiguration in Vermont. They are the only Carthusians in North America. They had invited Alice von HIldebrand, who asked us to bring her. (I so regret not taking a picture! I will see if I can record the beautiful story of her connection to the monastery later today.)

To be with them was to be renewed in faith and hope for the Church. Their serenity was palpable. It was impossible not to feel how attuned they are to God and to humanity, despite their almost unthinkable physical isolation.

One of the three, Fr. Philip, a Norwegian, who

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Devra Torres

God and Man at EMU

Aug. 12, 2013, at 1:40am

Last weekend I attended a fascinating conference and debate on Islam sponsored by Ave Maria Radio and hosted by Eastern Michigan University. 

I knew it would be good.  The topic is not one that's usually on my mind’s front burner, but the first conference in the “Build the Church, Bless the Nation” series was strikingly successful at getting beyond clichés and echo-chamber applause lines.  My hopes were high.

Besides, it promised to be a true debate, not like the carefully scripted election-year baloney festivals that go by the same name. 

(Early in the last presidential “debate,” my four-year-old helpfully inserted an ibuprofen tablet into a nostril, keeping my attention diverted during

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Katie van Schaijik

Self-possession precedes self-giving

Aug. 9, 2013, at 11:25am

Since it's her feast day, I am reading about Edith Stein.  I've learned (unless it's something I'd known and forgotten) that she was born on the Jewish day of Atonement, and that her pious Jewish mother considered this to be of great significance. 

And then I find this line from her memoirs. It comes from a moment in her teen years, when she was having to decide what to do with herself: where to go, what to study. Her family was giving her definite hints, but she was resisting their influence.  Her decision had to be her own.

I could not act unless I had an inner compulsion to do so. My decisions arose out of a depth that was unknown even to myself. 

This captures at least two central

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Devra Torres

The Good that Depends on Us: Jacques Philippe Meets Flylady

Aug. 5, 2013, at 10:30pm

Here's Jacques Philippe.

And here's Flylady.

You’d be amazed how much they have in common. 

Marla Cilley, known as Flylady, is a “personal online coach to help you gain control of your house and home.”  She bills herself as part cheerleader, part drill sergeant, and (lucky for me) she takes a special interest in well-intentioned people with no natural flare for organization and no earthly idea where to begin.  (She’s some sort of Christian and occasionally posts a spiritual reflection, but mostly she operates on the natural level.)

Jacques Philippe is a French priest, author, speaker, and spiritual director. He gives deceptively simple advice about peace and freedom and holiness. I’ve written about him here, here, here, and here,

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Jules van Schaijik

Austen on the need to investigate our feelings

Jul. 31, 2013, at 12:45pm

I finished Deresiewicz’ delightful book A Jane Austen Education, which I first mentioned a few days ago. Before putting it back on the shelf, I want to mention another of its insights—one that tracks closely with what I have learned from von Hildebrand about the heart as "the real self" (see his The Heart, chapter 8). It has to do with the need to investigate our feelings.

For Jane Austen the most obvious responsibility we have with regard to feelings is to govern them with our reason. We must not let ourselves be carried away by them, as, for instance, Marianne is in Sense and Sensibility. Even love, indeed especially love, which is the most affective of all human realities, must be

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Devra Torres

It’s Not My Fault!

Jul. 28, 2013, 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

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Ann Schmalstieg

An artist’s approach to beauty

Jul. 25, 2013, 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.

Holding together

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

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Jules van Schaijik

The moral seriousness of Miss Bates

Jul. 25, 2013, at 1:37pm

I picked up A Jane Austen Education by William Deresiewicz yesterday, and already learned something new. It has to do with the extremely talkative Miss Bates, from Emma.

Miss Bates played by Prunella ScalesMiss 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

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Katie van Schaijik

The many superabundant goods of an apple tree

Jul. 23, 2013, 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.

Marie Meaney

False Promises

Jul. 21, 2013, at 9:14am

I just read the blog-post “I don’t wait anymore” ( 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

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Katie van Schaijik

Separating sex and love

Jul. 20, 2013, 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

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