Our small hungry shivering selfIt is an uneasy lot at best, to be what we call highly taught and yet not to enjoy: to be present at this great spectacle of life and never to be liberated from a small hungry shivering self — never to be fully possessed by the glory we behold, never to have our consciousness rapturously transformed into the vividness of a thought, the ardour of a passion, the energy of an action, but always to be scholarly and uninspired, ambitious and timid, scrupulous and dim-sighted.
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:
Mar. 3, 2012, at 2:54pm
Americans are used to believing, and have thought since their beginning in 1776, that they are the freest country in the world—nay the very embodiment of freedom, and the firmest column of the “Axis of Good”, opposing the forces of the “Axis of evil,” and quite especially all totalitarian states in which human rights go without the unconditional respect they command, and in which freedom and liberty are trampled upon. It is certainly true that the US has in many situations, most notably in the disarmament of one of the most diabolical totalitarian states, Nazi Germany, lived up to the great historic mission of this country. (And I, as Austrian who was born just three months before the end …continue reading
Mar. 2, 2012, at 11:08am
Increasingly over the years I have been understanding the essential truths of Christian personalism as being radically opposed to the master/slave hermaneutic of human relations established at the fall of Eden. We are framed for love. We come from love; we're made of love; we're called to give ourselves in love and service. That's how we are fulfilled as persons, as individuals and as communities. It's how we realize through our freedom our being made in the Image and Likeness of God.
The fall of Eden was essentially a refusal to love and serve. A preference for domination and servility.
It's interesting to consider the nature of the temptations Satan posed to Jesus in the desert. …continue reading
Feb. 29, 2012, at 9:31am
The already-infamous article recently published by the Journal of Medical Ethics, defending the option of infanticide or "after-birth abortion" for pretty much any reason whatever—since, no matter how slight the reasons of the parents, "they will always trump the alleged interest of potential people" (the newborn babies) which "amounts to zero"!—is horrible not only because of its content, but also for the brazen, unembarrassed tone in which it is written. The authors clearly think that their position is perfectly respectable: controversial, to be sure, but as legitimate as any other that might be taken up in an ethical debate.
It is a deplorable side-effect of utilitarianism that no …continue reading
Feb. 28, 2012, at 11:46pm
In continuing reflection on the wonderful mystery of “Holy Sorrow” (again with the help of Dietrich von Hildebrand’s Transformation in Christ), Christ tells us “Blessed are they who mourn…” even though we are commanded to “Rejoice always!”
This means that the aspect of our lives in this world which makes it a valley of tears is truly valid, even though not the final truth, “for they shall be comforted:”
To all those who have to suffer on earth—the oppressed and disinherited, the sick and the poor, the lonely, the downcast, the afflicted—this word reveals that the valley of tears is not reality ultimate and definitive. It implies that they are to come into their own in that final home …
Feb. 26, 2012, at 5:36pm
In my recent post on the superficial treatment of sex on TV, I ended up expressing basically just the natural emotions of annoyance and disgust at the situation. While valid, such responses are nonetheless inadequate from a Christian perspective. As Dietrich von Hildebrand points out in his classic work Transformation in Christ, “supernatural life represents something radically new, apart from other new aspects it introduces, in that its fullness reveals certain vestiges of that coincidentia oppositorum—that union of apparently irreconcilable opposites—which is the privilege of divine life.” In this case, the seeming opposites which the Christian is meant to combine are a deep sorrow …continue reading
Feb. 26, 2012, at 11:15am
One of the earliest lessons I learned from Alice von Hildebrand came from a talk she gave in Steubenville in my undergrad days.
"You are not responsible for the face you were born with. You are responsible for the face you die with."
Often in the years since I have heard her speak of "holy cosmetics": the beauty the human face acquires over time, by living in right accord with "the hierarchy of values."
It's the opposite trajectory to the horrible one depicted so vividly in Oscar Wilde's insightful novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray. A life of evil and indulgence over time renders a person ugly, even if he was originally endowed with great physical beauty. The body displays the debauched …continue reading
Feb. 25, 2012, at 2:30pm
Theodore Dalrymple, who is also Anthony Daniels, professes to be an atheist. He is, in any case, a true philosopher—a man with rare powers of insight and expression, who reflects deeply and fruitfully on human experience, its moral meaning and implications. A doctor and psychiatrist by training, he spent many years serving badly messed up people in horrible places, in Africa and in English inner cities.
He has an article about sex selection abortion in the Telegraph today, pointing out the moral incoherence of the current outrage over the discovery that it is practiced fairly routinely in England.
The Abortion Act provides, de facto, abortion on demand, and this has been so for many …