Not meant to be mere instrumentsWhat does God, above all, demand of us? Our love. What is the question Our Lord puts thrice, emphatically to Peter in that great hour when He entrusts him with the care of His flock? It is the question as to his love. “Simon, son of John, lovest thou me?.” Those men err who believe it to be our supreme goal that we become pure instruments of God. … So long as we are a mere channel for the flow of God’s will, so long as we are nothing but an impersonal tool in the hands of God, as we have no desire other than to discharge a certain function in the universe according to the plan of God, we cannot be transformed in Christ. The attainment of our proper supernatural aim supposes an entrirely different attitude on our part. It requires that we surrender ourselves to Christ by an act of love which is nothing if not eminently personal.
Dietrich von Hildebrand
Transformation in Christ
Oct. 13, 2014, 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 …continue reading
Oct. 11, 2014, 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 …
Oct. 6, 2014, 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 …continue reading
Oct. 2, 2014, 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 …continue reading
Sep. 26, 2014, 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 …continue reading
Sep. 25, 2014, 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 …
Sep. 20, 2014, 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. …continue reading
Sep. 20, 2014, 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 …continue reading
Sep. 19, 2014, 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 …continue reading
Sep. 13, 2014, 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 …continue reading
Sep. 6, 2014, 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 …continue reading
Sep. 6, 2014, 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 …continue reading
Sep. 3, 2014, 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 …continue reading
Aug. 28, 2014, 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 …continue reading
Aug. 27, 2014, 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 …continue reading
Aug. 21, 2014, 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, …continue reading
Aug. 20, 2014, 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 …continue reading
Aug. 14, 2014, 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 …continue reading
Aug. 11, 2014, 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 …continue reading
Aug. 7, 2014, at 2:28pm
A couple of recent articles about wrongdoing and forgiveness together with some conversations, both in person and online, have revived my ever-ready ruminating on this subject.
I keep being surprised and disturbed and taken aback by how much basic misunderstanding there is out there, even among otherwise mature and thoughtful Christians.
Let's take a case: person A (we'll call her Ann) is offended by person B (we'll call him Bob.)
Ann says to Bob, "That offended me." And Bob responds, "I certainly didn't mean any offense!"
For many (especially many offenders), this should be the end of the matter. He hadn't meant to offend; time for her to forgive and move on.
But, notice that the real …continue reading