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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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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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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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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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Katie van Schaijik

Not whether I meant to offend, but whether I did offend: that is the question

Aug. 7 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

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Devra Torres

Do Personalism and Business Mix?

Aug. 4 at 10:51pm

I’m still editing Foundations of Management, that book by Juan Antonio Perez Lopez, my husband’s late mentor. I continue to be happily surprised at how personalist-friendly it is. The book is lengthy and systematic, but this post will be neither: just a little something to whet the appetite.

On the Limits of Coercive Power


Juan Antonio distinguishes between power and authority.  Power in business organizations is generally measured in terms of money: if you have enough of it to offer—or sufficient power to take enough of it away—you can force anyone to do anything, can’t you? Whether it functions as a carrot or a stick. It’s the “universal

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Katie van Schaijik

Dietrich von Hildebrand and Victor Frankl

Aug. 4 at 10:49am

Having heard somewhere that Dietrich von Hildebrand had "discovered" Victor Frankl, author of Man's Search for Meaning and founder of Logotherapy, I asked Alice von Hildebrand to tell me the story the other day.

Here is her ten-minute reply.

Some of her details are off. For instance, according to The Victor Frankl Institute website, he was in a concentration camp for 3, not 7 years. But the gist is true and touching.

N.B. "Gogo" was von Hildebrand's nickname.

Von Hildebrand's Wikipedia page mentions the journal in which he published Frankl's essay:

A vocal opponent of Hitler and Nazism, in 1933, upon Hitler's rise to power, Hildebrand fled from Germany, first to Italy, and then to Vienna

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Katie van Schaijik

Life and death in a look

Aug. 2 at 12:09pm

I've noticed in recent years that my favorite thinkers-about-love regularly refer to "the gaze of love." I have immediately in mind Dietrich von HIldebrand, Karol Wojtyla, Jean Vanier, and Roger Scruton. Plato, of course, called the eyes "the windows to the soul." It is in and through the eyes of someone who loves us that we feel and experience ourselves as loved, as valuable, and hence discover our reality as personal selves.

Maria Fedoryka discusses the point in the talks she gave for us a few years back. When parents gaze with love into the face of their tiny child, they are, in a profound sense, communicating to that child her very being, her sense of self: "You are good; you are

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Katie van Schaijik

Searching for community

Jul. 30 at 10:13am

One of my ongoing mental preoccupations is the problem of community. How do we establish it without getting it wrong? What are the sound principles of "intentional" communal living? By "intentional" I mean a kind of communal life that is deliberately adopted and cultivated, as opposed to what occurs spontaneously just from the fact of our living in society.

I've been pondering it since my undergraduate days, when my discovery of philosophy coincided with the imploding of the covenant communities that had been a major influence, for both good and bad, in the spirituality at my alma mater.  

At Steubenville I had learned "how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity." Never

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Katie van Schaijik

A conversation with John F. Crosby

Jul. 28 at 11:07am

No single person has done more to shape our understanding of Christian personalism than our former professor, John F. Crosby. Last week he and his wife, Pia, visited us in New Hampshire, and he kindly agreed to sit down with me for a recorded conversation about personalism and phenomenology, von Hildebrand, Newman and Wojtyla.

One of the questions I asked had to do with von Hildebrand and Vatican II. Von Hildebrand is well-known for his passionate opposition to the liturgical abuses that followed in the wake of the Council. Less well-known is his profound influence on the substance of its teachings. 

Click here to hear the recording of his answer to that question.

(Sorry about our dog whining in the background!)

Members can listen to the full interview at the Member Feed.

Pia and John Crosby sitting at our kitchen table with Alice von Hildebrand.

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