Difficulty of realizing the personhood of othersNothing is more difficult than to realize that every man has a distinct soul, that every one of all the millions who live or have lived, is as whole and independent a being in himself, as if there were no one else in the whole world but he.
John Henry Newman
The Individuality of the Soul
Apr. 5, 2012, at 8:54am
The hallmark of personalism is its focus on interiority. This may explain why I have never yet been able to bring myself to watch Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. I've tried more than once, since so many of my friends recommend it. But I've found the depiction of the brutality of Jesus' physical sufferings not just disturbing, but somehow distracting. They yank me away from sorrowful reflection on the inward drama taking place.
Nothing helps me enter the mystery of the Passion like Newman's sermon on "The Mental Sufferings of our Lord in His Passion." He reminds me that the interior agony in the garden was the "first act" of His oblation, "the seat of the suffering" Jesus …continue reading
Apr. 2, 2012, at 9:07am
Our next two reading circles, on April 21 & May 19, are on Kierkegaard's Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing. It is a great book, worth reading slowly and reflectively. As Kierkegaard says in the preface:
It is in search of that solitary "individual," to whom it wholly abandons itself, by whom it wishes to be received as if it had arisen within his own heart; that solitary "individual" whom with joy and gratitude I call my reader; that solitary "individual" who reads willingly and slowly, who reads over and over again, and who reads aloud — for his own sake.
This kind of reading is not easy for contemporary men and women. All the more reason to make the effort. And, hopefully, doing it …continue reading
Mar. 29, 2012, at 12:29am
We are all immersed in the practical, “workaday” world since we all have pressing temporal needs each day—even the most contemplative monks! Most of us, of course, are much more inundated by daily practical cares than are members of the contemplative orders, who arrange their lives specifically in such a way as to remind themselves regularly of the transcendent. We have to attempt to do this too in a way compatible with our lay vocation in the world; but, we do have to try to transcend just everyday practical cares and worries—which threaten to sweep us along each day in only one perspective. How can we do this and what is the nature of this transcendence?
Spiritual considerations, …continue reading
Mar. 28, 2012, at 6:46am
This morning, at national review online, I found this interesting article by Fr. Robert Barron on The Hunger Games. Using insights about the human tendency towards scapegoating, from Rene Girard, and about Christianity's role in eliminating it from western civilization, he suggests that the books/movie might be prophetic. In a post-Christian society, in which Christ can no longer take our sins upon his shoulders, who can?
The video below, nicely put together, covers the same ground as the article:
Mar. 26, 2012, at 8:39pm
The philosopher Gary Cutting, possessor of an endowed Chair at Notre Dame, recently published in the New York Times a defense of Obama’s birth control mandate and an attack on the authority of the Catholic bishops. He argues the tired old case (as if its new—I’ve been hearing it for over 40 years) that because the majority of Catholics reject Humanae Vitae (forbidding artificial birth control, which as we know is often also abortifacient) therefore the bishops do not represent the Church and their “teaching” has no force. He says flat out, “The immorality of birth control is no longer a teaching of the Catholic Church.”
I was wondering how all this might look if transposed back about 2000 …continue reading
Mar. 26, 2012, at 7:29pm
“We work in order to have leisure,” says Aristotle. By this statement, he does not wish to undermine the importance of the workplace and of accomplishing great things there. All the practical necessities of our lives depend upon responsible people working hard to satisfy the basic needs of society: food, shelter, clothing, etc. Christianity confirms the moral relevance of such concerns by labeling them the corporal works of mercy and says that to help the widow, feed the orphan, etc., is Christianity pure and undefiled.
However, what Aristotle is insisting on—and it is good to be aware of it in today’s world with its tendency to view all things, even people, in a merely utilitarian …continue reading
Mar. 26, 2012, at 12:06pm
Today's meditation in Magnificat is a good example of the sort of piety that may have been perfectly fitting for the Middle Ages, but that, in my view at least, is no longer quite right for now. Today we celebrate the solemnity of the Annunciation and so the meditation is about Mary, and about why she was so well suited to become the Mother of God:
Mary was rapt into God ... she was all moved and guided by him, being absorbed in his blessed will, intensely devoted to his honor—moved and guided by him as a tool in the hand of a workman. ... She was self-annihilated, will-less, passive, and without any longing except for God. And it was by reason of this state of her soul that God found an …
Mar. 21, 2012, at 10:02pm
The other night, watching an episode of Downton Abbey with Jules, I was struck by something the housekeeper, Mrs. Hughes, said. Someone she'd been helping had come to a hard decision about her future and was seeking reassurance from Mrs. Hughes that she was doing right. "It's not for me to have an opinion about that," said Mrs. Hughes.
It wasn't indifference; it wasn't false humility. It was, rather, conscientious self-restraint, and it cost her some effort to exercise it. It was an expression of a value that I think has been almost completely lost in our culture—the idea that I ought to try not to form, nevermind express, opinions about matters that are—objectively—none of my concern. …continue reading
Mar. 20, 2012, at 9:39pm
Karol Wojtyla's most important philosophical work, The Acting Person, is not easy to read. So when I picked it up again recently, I decided to use a book by Rocco Buttiglione, a former professor of ours and a close friend and collaborator of Wojtyla, as a guide to better understand it. That was a good decision. (Though sometimes I feel the need for a third book to help me understand Buttiglione!)
So far I am re-learning some things about the way in which Wojtyla approaches his topic (the human person). This approach is so fruitful and so central to the mission of the Personalist Project, that I thought I should highlight at least 3 characteristic features of it.
1. Learning from the …continue reading
Mar. 20, 2012, at 9:43am
The other day my fourteen year old son asked whether he could go to see the new movie, The Hunger Games, with some friends. He'd read the book, he told me, and thought it really interesting. He described it to me, and it sounded hideously unreal: an imagined life-and-death moral drama without God, and without any sense of eternity.
Maybe it's not all bad, though, since today at Public Discourse, philosophy professor Stephen Heaney, uses the story as a jump-off point for a consideration of totalitarianism and bullying. He explains why the Obama administration cannot be content with birth control being freely available to all who want it, but must force all of us who object to participate …continue reading
Mar. 18, 2012, at 9:31am
Over at Public Discourse, David and Amber Lapp have a thought-provoking article about the decline of marriage among working class Americans.
They conducted interviews of young adults in southwestern Ohio and found reasons to be both concerned and hopeful.
Hopeful, because in spite of the “new normal,” most of the young adults who spoke to us do aspire to marriage, or at least to what marriage stands for in their minds—mainly love, fidelity, permanence, and happiness...
But sobering, because even as working class young adults dream of love, commitment, permanence, and family, they inherit a cultural story about love and marriage that frustrates those longings.
Mar. 15, 2012, at 4:58pm
For Lent I am reading Caryll Houselander's book about Our Lady, Reed of God. It deserves a long thoughtful post, but since I lack time for that, let me at least share one beautiful passage.
Emptiness is a very common complaint in our days, not the purposeful emptiness of the virginal heart and mind but a void, meaningless, unhappy condition.
Strangely enough, those who complain the loudest of the emptiness of their lives are usually people whose lives are overcrowded, filled with trivial details, plans, desires, ambitions, unsatisfied cravings for passing pleasures, doubts, anxieties and fears; and these sometiems further overlaid with exhausting pleasures which are an attempt, and always …
Mar. 12, 2012, at 1:38pm
Saturday morning, over breakfast, Alice von Hildebrand began telling me things she had meant to mention the evening before in her lecture on the role of the heart in human life, but hadn't. Thinking others might like to hear what she was saying, I started recoring. I captured two nuggets I thought especially worth sharing.
The first is on sentimentality as a perversion of the heart, and on Jean-Jacques Rousseau as a perfect example of it: click here to listen
The second, a bit longer than the first, is a beautiful philosophical and scriptural reflection on the meaning of nakedness: click here to listen
Another point came up in our conversation, which I didn't record, but want to add …continue reading
Mar. 11, 2012, at 10:40pm
Socrates’ Advice to Cardinal Dolan: it is better for man to suffer injustice than to commit it.
Many concerned citizens, Catholics, Lutherans, Baptists, Jews, Muslims, and even some atheists, have voiced their deep concern over the attack on the freedom of conscience and religion that we now suffer in the USA. Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York, in his impressive letter of March 2, 2012, expressed his deep concern and shock, alluding even to the hard times which may expect the Catholic Church in view of the unbending and frontal attack on religious freedom by the Obama government. Also Pope Benedict has shown signs of deep alarm, saying to some US bishops during their ad limina …continue reading
Mar. 9, 2012, at 12:27pm
Women’s reproductive health is a hot topic and claims about it are made freely. Given that, it’s worth pausing to reflect about the nature of the woman at the heart of these rights, and the type of health care that can best serve her and her needs.
Women’s health begins with respect for women. Caring for her reproductive health should not be a political agenda, manipulated to serve ideologies or ends. It should not be an agenda driven by profit, in order to sell women pills and commodities. It should not mask contempt for women, in an attempt to encourage her to give in to the urges or demands of men who do not care for her or treat her as a subject with dignity and rights. Authentic …continue reading
Mar. 8, 2012, at 10:30am
Another John Paul II priest takes on the crisis of relativism overwhelming our society, this time by way of personal testimony.
I grew up in the Bernadine years. The years of consensus leadership, of being welcoming and tolerant. Dialogue was the way to address any disagreement, any difficulty.
I don’t recall hearing anything about principles, about virtue, about sacrifice, about the truth. It seems that a whole generation, the generation before me, had been turned off by such things. They distained talk of objective right and wrong. Of good and evil. Of virtue and sin. And they pointed out continually that such dichotomies were either the mark of simplistic and naïve thinking, …
Mar. 6, 2012, at 9:13am
Saturday Jules and I went to a "Newman Night" gathering of local friends. We meet several times a year for a potluck dinner, lively debate and discussion over a selection of readings, then night prayer. The readings this time were all about the HHS mandate. They included this short article by fellow personalist Peter J. Colosi. The debate was about our focus. Should it be on protesting the violation of religious liberty, or should it be on explaining the evil of contraception? Or both?
One of those present and participating was our friend, Fr. Philip Forlano. Sunday evening he sent around the homily he had given at Mass. I asked him if I could publish it and he said yes. Here it …continue reading
Mar. 5, 2012, at 2:11pm
According to recent polls the pro-life cause seems to be winning its argument with the younger generation; yet, the defense of traditional marriage seems to be losing ground. Why is this? I’m sure there are many reasons, but one may be that the pro-life argument is basically simple and strait forward (it’s a human being, quite obviously, in the womb) while the “pro-choice” argument has to get extremely convoluted to try to justify itself. On the other hand, the “homosexual marriage” argument is simple (if people want to marry, let them), while the traditional marriage argument gets complicated (technical definitions of marriage involved, intimate physical details required, objections …continue reading
Mar. 4, 2012, at 9:39pm
The comments and questions posed on my post on the danger of the USA moving to become a totalitarian state have prompted me to ask the underlying question what a “totalitarian state” is.
By this term we can of course refer to kinds of states and regimes which are very different from the USA. Let us briefly survey the characteristics through which totalitarian states or regimes can be characterized and then ask which of these are present and which are absent in the USA: