On the serious lifeA serious life means being fully aware of the alternatives, thinking about them with all the intensity one brings to bear on life-and-death questions, in full recognition that every choice is a great risk with necessary consequences that are hard to bear.
Closing of the American Mind
Oct. 1, 2013, at 8:22pm
A few days ago, this improvised prayer was going around facebook (where I do much of my philosophical research):
Heavenly Father, Help us remember that the jerk who cut us off in traffic last night is a single mother who worked nine hours that day and is rushing home to cook dinner, help with homework, do the laundry and spend a few precious moments with her children. …
Remind us, Lord, that the scary looking bum, begging for money in the same spot every day (who really ought to get a job!) is a slave to addictions that we can only imagine in our worst nightmares.
Help us to remember that the old couple walking annoyingly slow[ly] through the store aisles and blocking our shopping …
Oct. 1, 2013, at 7:46am
I usually have an audio book playing low beside me during the night. Improbable as it may sound to those unafflicted with insomnia issues, I find it helps me sleep. My favorite is Whittaker Chambers' Witness. The narrator has a clear, calm, steady voice, and the content of the book is worth pondering and re-pondering.
Last night, during a period of wakefulness, a particular passage leaped out at me afresh.
At this point in the narrative, Chambers is around 40 years old. He has left the Communist party and embraced Quakerism. Living for the first time a conscious and discipled religious existence, he experiences a human completeness that had eluded him to that point. Looking around him, he …continue reading
Sep. 24, 2013, at 10:25pm
When my husband mentions that he teaches business ethics, one occasional comeback is, “Isn’t that an oxymoron?”
In fact, it’s not. Business is not an intrinsic evil. And, as the Occupy movement unintentionally made clear, it’s incoherent to bash corporations in general while gobbling up the goods and services they offer so as to enhance your anti-business hipster chic.
But teaching ethics to MBA types has its challenges. It’s not that they can’t understand truths about good and evil, virtue and vice. It’s just that they can’t hear those truths at all—unless you express them in a language they can understand. You can’t be preachy,
but not only that—you can’t express anything in a way …continue reading
Sep. 24, 2013, at 4:34am
We are traveling. Our plan had been to post about our trip as we go, but so far this has proven too much. We'll try again next week, when we're in Holland and a bit more settled.
Meanwhile, a member wrote in to ask our thoughts about the Pope's interview. I'm hoping Devra will address it. She is much more qualified than I am, having read it in full and having helped translate a book of Cardinal Bergoglio's addresses and sermons. But I can offer a thought in response to the reaction to the interview among so many conservative Catholics.
My thinking centers on an insight from Newman and Wojtlya both—one I find myself pondering more and more in recent years. Newman wrote of the "infinite …continue reading
Sep. 17, 2013, at 3:42am
It seems strange to be talking about beauty as a temptation. Isn’t beauty a ladder to God, a reflection of the good, and a dangerous trap only for those wishing to remain atheists? The “blue flower” (so termed by the Romantics), which is, among other things, the longing for the re-occurrence of a momentous experience of beauty, became an important step, for example, in C. S. Lewis’ conversion-process. Yet it didn’t speak to him in an obvious way of God, and it was tempting for him to seek that experience again, though it (happily) eluded him. For the experience of beauty cannot be forced, or artificially created or be obtained by one’s own free will; it comes as a gift, suddenly, …continue reading
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 …continue reading
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 …continue reading
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 …
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. …continue reading
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 …continue reading
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 …continue reading
Aug. 23, 2013, at 9:36pm
My brother, Joseph Prever,
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 …continue reading
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 …continue reading
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.
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 …continue reading
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 …continue reading
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 …continue reading
Aug. 5, 2013, at 10:30pm
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, …continue reading
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 …continue reading
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 …continue reading