Proclaiming an idea vs. witnessing to a person

This is how the Apostles’ adventure began, as an encounter of people who are open to one another.  For the disciples, it was the beginning of a direct acquaintance with the Teacher, seeing where he was staying and starting to get to know him.  Indeed, they were not to proclaim an idea, but to witness to a person.

Benedict XVI

Spiritual thoughts: in the first year of his papacy

Devra Torres


Oct. 20 at 11:39pm

The Synod is over!  The Synod is over! Relieved or dismayed, euphoric or alarmed, we can take a deep breath and relax. (No, not really: now it’s time to begin sifting through the results and preparing for the real Synod.)


The commentary has ranged from distraught to elated, but one recurring idea is that it’s been good to get things hashed out: that it’s a good sign we haven’t settled for a bland, generic document-generating process. Over at Shoved to Them Rebecca Frech even has a post entitled “Why I’m grateful to Cardinal Kasper,” 

She argues that a rousing debate about important questions is a wholesome and necessary thing, recalling the words of her high school

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Devra Torres

The Synod: Caricature and Reality

Oct. 13 at 2:00pm

This is not a post about the Extraordinary Synod on the Family. You can learn about what’s actually going on there elsewhere. (Here’s Katie on Pope Francis’ opening remarks and here's the document that's causing today's uproar).

No, this post is about the caricature of the Synod, which you can all too easily bump into--by reading only headlines, or reading entire articles uncritically, or reading them critically but failing to consider the source.


The caricature is this:

The centerpiece of the Synod is the fate of divorced and remarried Catholics, and the sole question at issue is: Justice or mercy? Will the Catholic Church finally relinquish its fixation on rules

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Katie van Schaijik

Personalism and the Judeo-Christian tradition

Oct. 11 at 10:33am

Member Peter asks a question that deserves an answer:

Can someone please explain to me how the personalist project concludes that no other persons besides Jews and Christians have the spiritual resources to acknowledge unconditional worth in all human persons? 

He is referring to the essay laying out our sense of personalism composed at our request by John Crosby. It includes the following paragraph:

According to our personalism, this sense of personal existence has emerged in the encounter with the living God of Judeo-Christian revelation. It can be sustained and deepened only by continuing to live in this encounter. Those who repudiate God cannot preserve the personalist affirmation

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Katie van Schaijik

A call for radical, embodied love

Oct. 6 at 7:12am

In remarks opening the Extraordinary Synod on marriage yesterday, Pope Francis struck several characteristically personalist notes in a few words.

He called for "a fraternal exchange of views" among the bishops—a spirit of openness and receptivity. This is not a power struggle; they are not to vie for victory over one another, but to recognize the partiality of each one's perspective and the value of what others have to offer, trusting that the Lord would lead them to true unity. The fulness of Truth is much greater than any single individual can possess. We attain it together, under grace.

He urged the bishops to "take pastoral responsibility for the questions that this changing time

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Devra Torres

How I Spent My Autumn Vacation

Oct. 2 at 11:07pm

At considerable inconvenience and expense to many generous people, I just spent a week flying to and riding around New England to see nearly every single member of my very extensive extended family. I flew down to Baltimore (because that’s where Southwest likes to take everybody, regardless of their chosen destination) and then up to New Hampshire. I stayed with my parents and then with my sister’s family, which includes not only nine children and one on the way but also Boomer, a dog who’s bigger than most of them.


My father, sister, nephew, and brother-in-law took it in shifts to drive me to a certain strategically located McDonalds which lies halfway

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Katie van Schaijik

On speaking what we feel

Sep. 26 at 12:33pm

Jules and I saw an outstanding production of King Lear in Philadelphia the other day. As always with Shakespeare, I kept marveling over the ineffable breadth and depth and pith and poetry of his insight into human experience. But one line in particular stood out, I think because we've been reflecting so much on the emotions around here lately.

It's among the concluding lines of the drama. Nearly all the principal characters have died or been killed. The Duke of Albany, says:

The weight of this sad time we must obey;

Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.

Especially in weighty moments, we should "speak what we feel." Why? Because it is in and through the emotions that the self

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Katie van Schaijik

About shaking the dust from our sandals

Sep. 25 at 12:31pm

In response to my post on soundness in relationships, friend Rebecca wrote a note at once encouraging and challenging, going right to the heart of things.

Katie, thank you so much for posting this. It makes a lot of sense and I think it's a really valuable contribution to a discussion that needs to happen much, much, more frequently. I would really like to see a follow up (post? discussion? conversation?) about the "shaking the dust from your feet part." Clearly, that injunction to the disciples comes when they're in mission territory. And in regular life, how to help people (not to mention ourselves!) who are "unsound" seems often like a primary form of charity....but how to exercise

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Devra Torres

The Trouble with Hagiography

Sep. 20 at 12:49pm

The Appalling Strangeness of the Mercy of God is a book that was on my meaning-to-read list for months. I’m only partway through the introduction, but already there's a lot to like.

The book is a collection of letters from Ruth Pakaluk, a woman I knew slightly when we lived in New England. In fact, we were sent to visit Ruth and her husband right after our marriage by a priest friend who thought it would be good for us to see everyday matrimony in action—a kind of belated marriage-prep field trip.

Ruth was an atheist girl who went to Harvard, converted to Christianity, got married (her husband Michael put the book together), bore seven children, and then died of cancer at the age of 41.

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Jules van Schaijik

The unity of objectivity and subjectivity in emotion

Sep. 20 at 5:50am

Central to Dietrich von Hildebrand's philosophy of the heart is the idea of "intentionality" or object-directedness. Emotions, he holds, are not just subjective psychological experiences, but meaningful responses—to persons, events or situations. That is why they can be appropriate or inappropriate, reasonable or unreasonable. Like thoughts, emotions have an objective measure, a standard to which they can and should conform.

Introduced to this idea of “intentionality” by von Hildebrand more than 25 years ago, I've always associated it with objectivity. Not in the sense of cool or abstract rationality — we’re talking about the emotions after all — but in the sense of being formed by the

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Katie van Schaijik

If it doesn’t feel like love, it isn’t

Sep. 19 at 9:24am

Some things that feel like love, aren't. Like seduction or eroticism or flattery.

On the other hand, if it doesn't look like love or feel like love—if it's cold and condemning and feels like contempt —it isn't love.

Love actually does feel like love.
Sometimes love has to inflict pain. But it hates having to do that. It's sorry to give pain. It hastens to soothe and comfort afterwards.

We shouldn't delude ourselves into imagining that "hating the sin" equals "loving the sinner."

Condemning sin isn't good or admirable if it coincides with contempt for concrete persons.

Yesterday's Gospel passage was the one of the woman washing Jesus' feet with her tears, while the Pharisees objected to

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Devra Torres

“Soft Addictions”

Sep. 13 at 2:02pm

Browsing through the library one day, I happened on a book about “soft addictions.” It belonged to the self-help genre, and I don’t remember what kind of treatment the author recommended, but it was an interesting idea: the causes and effects, not of physiologically addictive substances, but of relatively innocuous habits like overeating and nail-biting. (This was a long time ago, so electronics were not on the list, but I have no doubt they would be now.)

I thought of it the other day when I ran into two different videos making the rounds. They’re also about addiction, but they’re concerned with showing that certain addictions are “real” because they have a physiological basis or

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Devra Torres

Too Much, Too Little, Too Late

Sep. 6 at 7:33pm

Lots of people are haunted by the sense that they’re not doing enough, not becoming what they were meant to be, not doing what they were put on earth to do. Their efforts seem pointless. For some, this worry amounts to an ever-present low-grade despair, lurking in the background.

There are plenty of possible reasons for this, but rooting out one particular misunderstanding has been especially helpful for me.

Faced with a crisis, a tragedy, or just a looming mountain of laundry or paperwork, it’s easy to get paralyzed for lack of knowing where to begin.  Of course, we could begin anywhere. “Ninety percent of life is just showing up,” says Woody Allen, and “Well begun is half done,” says

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Katie van Schaijik

Truth and mercy in human experience

Sep. 6 at 12:36pm

Cleaning my room today, I came upon an old journal and found this thought, from August 2005. I think it holds up.

I am seeing more and more how the human idea of mercy is protection from truth. True mercy [divine mercy] is an encounter with Truth—which is extremely painful. I suppose it's what Purgatory is all about. We prefer the illusions that give us false consolations.

At the time, I was in the midst of deep personal crisis—experiencing betrayal and bitter disillusionment. I was under intense peer pressure from the surrounding Christian community to deny the truth of my experience in the name of mercy and for the sake of "unity". 

By some grace I knew this advice was false, like the

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Marie Meaney

What Midlife Crisis is Really About

Sep. 3 at 12:54pm

The Marshallin in Richard Strauss’ wonderful opera “Der Rosenkavalier” sings a beautiful aria about time and what it is like to get older. “Die Zeit, die ist ein sonderbares Ding”, “Time is a strange thing” she sings in elegiac tones, bemoaning the fact that she is no longer young, and that the young man with whom she is having an affair will not be hers forever. She sends him away before he has gotten tired of her, only to have to tell him farewell for good after having smoothed out all difficulties for him so that he can marry the young Sophie with whom he has fallen in love. She has to accept the fact that she was forced into a loveless marriage at a young age, and that she is now

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Ian Skemp

Pitfalls of Asserting Gender Roles

Aug. 28 at 12:52pm

In Devra's recent post on "Becoming who you are..." She described the fallacious notion that gender is a mere social construct that inhibits self discovery. 

I, too, reject the notion that gender is nothing more than artificial social norms that restrict us from being who we truly are. After all, God created us Man and Woman, two different types of human. Thus, there is a natural distinction between "masculine" and "feminine." Yet, I find myself annoyed whenever the discussion comes up amongst fellow Christians. Not because I don't take the topic seriously, I just don't like the direction the dialogue takes. I've been trying to pinpoint the common missteps taken by earnest individuals when

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Devra Torres

Becoming Who You Are, Even If You’re Not Sure Who That Is

Aug. 27 at 11:23pm


“Become who you are!” St. John Paul II used to encourage us.  I loved that.  But I ran into a problem: how to figure out what, or who, that was?

People have different ideas on how to go about this. One popular approach is to strip away all your roles. Once you’ve shed all that extraneous stuff, you’ll be able to see what lies beneath it.  You’ll be free, the theory goes, to become who you really are.

Well, that depends: what do we mean by “roles”?  There are lots of possibilities, but here are four, for starters:


One meaning of "role" is all the “socially constructed” aspects of you.  They’re not part of who you “really” are, but they’re so

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Katie van Schaijik

Testing for soundness in relationships

Aug. 21 at 8:44am

I don't know if I can call it the number one lesson of my adulthood to date, but it's up there. I have learned that individuals and groups who seem to be wonderful may actually be badly mired in dysfunction, that is to say, unsound. An unsound group or individual can't manage right interpersonal relations, just as an unsound physical structure can't support weight. No matter how noble their aim and how good and sincere their intentions, they will spread harm and injustice.

Take the Covenant Communiites of the '80s. Take the Legion of Christ. These are my go-to examples, because they're such clear-cut, out-there cases of abusiveness disguised as holiness. Both groups were full of sincere,

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Devra Torres

Please Don’t Be a Human Ping Pong Ball!

Aug. 20 at 12:20am

St. Paul warns the Ephesians against letting themselves be “blown around by every wind of doctrine.”

Another danger these days is letting yourself be blown around by every false headline. Or every true headline. It hardly matters. Whether the journalists are lying or not, the game is to get you to imagine yourself an informed consumer of information, a connoisseur, not a human ping pong ball, bounced forever back and forth by the force of your own predictable reaction to their stimuli.


My grad school roommate Agnieszka once explained to us how journalism operated in her native Soviet-controlled Poland. The government would accuse a completely innocent man of

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Marie Meaney

Heavenly Arithmetic and Supernatural Paradoxes

Aug. 14 at 10:36am

Christ’s reasoning is shocking sometimes, nay seems downright unjust. To the one who has, more shall be given and from the one who has little, what he has will be taken. This seems like cut-throat capitalism. Then again, Jesus seems to go against justice in order to err on the side of mercy, when he tells the workers of the last hour that they will receive as much as those who have labored all day long. He shuts the door in the face of the foolish virgins who are just a tad late, though they have now managed to get some oil (shouldn’t that be rewarded?); the prudent virgins, who were not generous enough to share their oil with them, however, are rewarded. He speaks in parables so that we

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Devra Torres

Trayvon Martin and the Children of Iraq (and Syria, and Gaza, and Central America)

Aug. 11 at 2:03pm

Remember when Trayvon Martin was shot, and President Obama said that if he’d had a son, he’d look like Trayvon?


At the time, I confined myself to assessing the President's sincerity, or lack thereof.  I can’t give him, or any politician, the benefit of the doubt.  I can't assume he just happened to be voicing a genuine, spontaneous feeling of personal connection that just happened to benefit one particular side of a hot-button current-events battle.

But what about that kind of thing? I don’t think it should be dismissed reflexively. It can be used as a tool to manipulate a sentimental populace, certainly, but that’s not its only possible meaning.

I’m Jewish

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