Proclaiming an idea vs. witnessing to a personThis 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.
Spiritual thoughts: in the first year of his papacy
Dec. 22, 2014, at 10:04am
The “winter holiday that dare not speak its name” is upon us. Quick, what are we allowed to say about it?
“Merry Christmas”? No, too exclusive; too religious. “Happy Hanukkah”? “Happy Kwanzaa”? These haven’t caught on as generic greetings, though they’re correct enough. “Happy Holidays”? Yes, that’s fine (though it’s not clear why, since it’s transparently derived from “holy days,” which ought to arouse almost as much suspicion as "Christ" + "Mass").
Last year I wrote about not getting so distracted fighting the War against the War against Christmas that you forget all about rejoicing in the birthday Boy. This year there’s a meme going around that serves …continue reading
Dec. 21, 2014, at 5:54pm
At Mass this morning I was struck again by something I've noticed before. Mary's response to the angel's announcement that she would bear a child, "How can this be, for I do not know man?" is outwardly very similar to Zechariah's, when an angel appears to him and tells him that his wife Elizabeth will bear a son. "How can I know this? I am an old man and my wife is advanced in years?"
Yet, Mary's question is favorably received, while Zechariah is punished with muteness, because he didn't believe the angel's words.
Evidently, the "rightness" and "wrongness" of the response doesn't lie in the words, but in something else.
Mary's response was an expression of pure and reverent inquiry, while …continue reading
Dec. 15, 2014, at 11:09pm
Happy belated Gaudete Sunday!
Here’s a quote brought to my attention by my, let’s see, brother-in-law’s brother. Thank you, John Herreid.
More than ever before the Lord today has made us conscious of the fact that he alone can save his Church. …We are called upon to work with all our might, without anxiety and with the composure of one who knows that he is a useless servant even when he has done his full duty. Even in this reference to our littleness, I see one of the graces of a difficult time. A time in which patience, that daily form of love, is called for.
Dec. 10, 2014, at 4:32pm
I had a funny experience today at my weekly hour of adoration. There was a man in the chapel I'd never seen before. Sixty-something, grey-haired and bearded, he was a bit disheveled looking, with the red-rimmed eyes of illness or addiction. He looked at me with an intense, plaintive expression when I arrived. I smiled and said prayers for him, half expecting to be accosted for cash. (It's happened before at this chapel.)
At some points during my hour he and I were the only ones there, and I felt a little apprehensive. I thought he might be mentally ill. But he stayed in his pew, reading a book another woman gave him, watching people come and go, and quietly weeping. I said more prayers for …continue reading
Dec. 7, 2014, at 10:06pm
When we started homeschooling, I was apprehensive about a good number of problems that turned out to be imaginary.
One was whether I’d enjoy my children's company if I were with them all day, every day. (I did: it turned out they were much more pleasant people when they weren’t in a state of chronic exhaustion.) Another was how on earth I’d find time for all the testing and quizzing I’d need to do to assess their learning.
A week in, I abruptly stopped worrying about that one. To tell the truth, I now knew more than I wanted to about their strengths and weaknesses: more, even, than I’d learned in nine years as a parent who went to all the meetings …continue reading
Dec. 4, 2014, at 2:18pm
Power struggles are a consequence of the fall in Eden. Human persons are meant to live as equals. Christians are called to give ourselves in love and service. The strong, in particular, are responsible to serve the weak, the rich the poor, the well the sick.
But it doesn't follow that all power struggles are wrong. Sometimes they are called for. Whenever someone takes what is ours by right, or usurps a prerogative, or treats us with condescenion instead of the respect we are due, we do well to resist him. To fail to resist may well be a fault of weakness or cowardice or sloth. Often its easier and more comfortable to put up with mistreatment than to fight it. But it's not okay. We ought to …continue reading
Nov. 26, 2014, at 12:59am
I want to call your attention to a strikingly candid (but little-noted) address that Pope Francis gave to plenary assembly of the council of the bishops' conferences of Europe back on Oct. 3rd.
Do read the whole thing here. As Sandro Magister explains, this is not the prepared text: he distributed that but then said this:
What is happening today in Europe? What is going on in the heart of our mother Europe? Is she still our mother Europe, or grandma Europe? Is she still fertile? Has she fallen into sterility? Is she unable to give new life?
...for one thing, this Europe has committed a few sins. We must say this with love: it has not wanted to …
Nov. 22, 2014, at 1:04pm
When I came home from college for the first time, my eyes were opened to just how strange my family was. Everything I had thought “that’s just the way it’s done” about had turned out to be just one option among many. Other people didn’t share my assumptions: In fact, some thought my family’s ways were just as bizarre and alien as I thought theirs were. Then I got home and saw my family through their eyes.
I should add that my college was just about as congenial to my upbringing as it was possible for an institution to be. And it was still a shock. This classmate was horrified by the way I forced the French toast down into the butter when we shared …continue reading
Nov. 21, 2014, at 9:46am
The operative ethical principle in our society seems to be: "Anything goes, provided there's no coercion. If it's between consulting adults, it's no one else's business."
I had a conversation with a Catholic libertarian friend along these lines not long ago, when I linked this article about how Sweden has managed to dramatically reduce prostitution by adjusting its laws to focus on the problem of the exploitation of women. The clients are punished by law; the prostitutes are offered help getting out of the "profession," if they want to. (It turns out that most do.) My friend was skeptical. As a Catholic, he thinks protitution is immoral, but as a libertarian he thinks that since it's …continue reading
Nov. 19, 2014, at 10:02am
I've heard many Christians, including priests, teach that "we have to stay in relationship" and that "nothing is more important than unity." In other words, they hold that it's not okay to cut ties. To me, this seems manifestly false—out of accord with Scripture, Church teaching, and ordinary moral experience.
At 17, I took a life-saving course, and learned that a drowning person has to be approached from behind, because he will instinctively treat his rescuer as a buoy, clutching at him in such a way that unless the rescuer quickly and aggressively disengages and swims away, both will drown.
It's a good metaphor for certain relationships, isn't it? Unless we get out of them, we'll …continue reading
Nov. 17, 2014, at 12:12pm
In a comment under my last post, Freda asks what John Henry Newman might have thought about the recent Synod on the Family in Rome. Specifically, she worries that some of the suggestions made by some of the bishops represent not developments of what came before, but radical departures from it.
I will say a few things about Newman’s distinction between developments and corruptions of doctrine, but the thrust of what follows is a critique of the conservative critics of Pope Francis. I draw heavily on Newman to formulate this critique, but I do not pretend speak for Newman. Rather, I turn to him for help and insight in clarifying and articulating my own thoughts.
If, then, some of the …continue reading
Nov. 12, 2014, at 10:24pm
The suicide of Brittany Maynard, may she rest in peace, and her efforts to persuade others to follow suit, have brought on a lot of conversation about “death with dignity.”
Everybody has an opinion. But we'll get nowhere until we back up and address the question, “What do we even mean by dignity?”
Here are two common meanings that most people seem to have in mind (even if they're not pressed to articulate them).
Nov. 11, 2014, at 6:02pm
Pope Francis upset many on the political right a few months back, when he said that "inequality is the root of social evil." They took him to be calling for socialist-style wealth-redistribution. I heard something different. I heard a deeper (true) point about human relations.
Since the fall in Eden, all human relations have been menaced by the master/slave dynamic. Instead of the "communion-of-love" that characterized our original way of being together, all of us are now constantly tempted to relate to each other according to power dynamics. The strong and rich are tempted to "lord it over" the weak and poor, and the weak and poor are tempted to slavishness and resentment.
Sometimes the …continue reading
Nov. 9, 2014, at 9:31am
Some fortunate souls have mystical experiences. I'm not one of them. But all my life I've been subject to profound "moral experiences"—occasions I can only describe as dramatic breakthroughs in my understanding. Some come very suddenly; others are more gradual. They are existential in character, by which I mean, they're not a simple resolution of an intellectual difficulty, but a kind of illumination of my life and self. They are always accompanied by pain—the searing pain of humiliation—of realizing I've been wrong, and in the wrong. That passing pain is soon followed by a a lasting sense of liberation and peace, and an awareness of interior gains. One of the most significant came several …continue reading
Nov. 9, 2014, at 12:33am
I used to be a serial guru follower. Not back when I was five or six and my parents were flirting with Eastern religions--I was just a mother-and-father follower in those days. Wherever they went, I followed (and they went all over the place, both geographically and religiously. Eventually we all became Catholic and stopped switching allegiances.).
No, I mean that as an adult, I used to search for gurus who would help me stay afloat as a child-rearer, a cook, a manager of money, a grownup human being. (Later I searched for homeschooling gurus and writing gurus.) At the tender age of 25 I abruptly became a homemaker (or began trying to); at 26, a mother. …continue reading
Nov. 5, 2014, at 10:35am
When an editor at the National Catholic Register asked me to write an article expanding on my short post about the Synod, I came up with a long list of Pope Francis's words and themes that strike me as conspicuously personalist. I wanted to show, pace the anxieties of the traditionalists, how consistent he is with his two great predecessors, and really with all the post-conciliar popes.
I only managed to develop one of those points: the emphasis on receptivity. I never got to the way he proposes love and service in place of the power dynamics of the fall; the way he focuses on the affirmation of the good as opposed to condemnation of the bad; I hardly mentioned the imagery of embodiment, …continue reading
Nov. 2, 2014, at 10:46pm
Here’s the message I’ve been trying to get out for years, first of all to myself but also to anyone else who might benefit from it:
Just do whatever’s on your plate! Don’t get discouraged and cynical if you don’t see spectacular spiritual or intellectual progress. Live wholeheartedly in the moment. Age quod agis (Latin for, more or less, “Whatever it is you’re doing, really do it!”)! Don’t be discouraged or paralyzed by failure.
Your own real spiritual state is notoriously hard to get a handle on. Don’t concentrate on futile attempts to evaluate where you stand, as spouse, parent, Christian, or human being. You can’t save the world singlehandedly. In fact (what’s become clearer and …
Oct. 28, 2014, at 2:10pm
In response to a question after a recent lecture, Archbishop Chaput said about the Synod on the Family that “the public image that came across was one of confusion” and that “confusion is of the devil”. I think I understand what he means by this, and to some extent I agree. However, there's another, more positive way of looking at it. Not all confusion is of the devil. Some confusion is even salutary—a necessary stage on the way to wisdom.
The point is made classically in Plato’s Meno. The dialogue begins with Meno confidently telling Socrates that he knows perfectly well what virtue is.
There is no difficulty about it… I have spoken about virtue hundreds of times, held forth often on …
Oct. 26, 2014, at 8:46am
A rare soul has left the world, Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete.
Msgr. Albacete was born Jan. 7, 1941, in San Juan, Puerto Rico. He obtained a degree in physics, and after his ordination to the priesthood he earned a doctorate in theology at the Angelicum, officially known as the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas.
He served as the responsible for Communion and Liberation in the U.S. and Canada, and was chairman of board of advisors for Crossroads Cultural Center, a project which hosts events exploring the relationship between religion and culture.
He was also a co-founder of the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family in Washington, D.C.
I've read several of his articles over the …continue reading
Oct. 24, 2014, at 10:17pm
It’s been a few years since I translated Self-Esteem without Selfishness, and I’m finally able to read it with fresh eyes--for enjoyment, not false cognates and typos.
One recurring problem I encountered during the translating was how to render “amor de alta calidad.” “High-quality love” just didn’t cut it: in English, it sounded like I was describing merchandise, hawking a product—exactly what the author was not doing. In the end I found several more palatable ways to render the phrase.
But Fr. Michel Esparza has some strikingly perceptive observations about love. They touch on something we’ve discussed repeatedly here at the Personalist Project ( …continue reading