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Devra Torres

Giving Joy a Bad Name

Jan. 6 at 10:34pm

Joy is no simple thing, it turns out.  Pope Francis invites us to experience the “Joy of the Gospel” and immediately the misconceptions spring up like—let’s see--like bundled-up children on a snow day in Michigan.

Here are two misreadings I’ve run into:

  • All this emphasis on joy betrays the sort of sentimental affective relativism I thought we'd left behind in the ‘70s--a call to scrap all concern for moral demands and “follow your heart.”

  • All this encouragement to experience joy amounts to compulsory cheeriness: it places suffering or depressed people under suspicion of spiritual inferiority for failure to keep up appearances. And it places everyone else under the obligation to mimic
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Devra Torres

Evangelizing the Complacent

Dec. 22, 2013, at 3:14am

Scarcely had I waded past the first paragraph of Evangelii Gaudium when I came across a very odd sentence.

It wasn’t about trickle-down economics, and it wasn’t about the salvation of atheists (although I just heard a good line about that: the question is not so much whether those who reject the Gospel can be saved, but whether we can be saved if we don’t preach it). 

No, this was not about the usual bones of contention.  The odd sentence was this:

The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience.

Wait, what?  How can you be

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Devra Torres

Admiration and the Spiritual Couch Potato

Dec. 13, 2013, at 12:22am

Do you admire Pope Francis?

Are you sure that’s a good thing?

Here’s what Soren Kierkegaard has to say about admirers in his short work, Provocations:

… Admirers are related to the admired only through the excitement of the imagination.  To them he is like an actor on the stage except that, this being real life, the effect he produces is somewhat stronger.  But for their part, admirers make the same demands that are made in the theater: to sit safe and calm.

What’s the alternative, then?  Kierkegaard addresses that, too:

What, then, is the difference betwee an admirer and a follower?  A follower is or strives to be what he admires.  An admirer, however, keeps himself personally

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Marie Meaney

The Spirit of Worldliness

Dec. 3, 2013, at 4:26am

In his homily during his daily mass the other day, Pope Francis warned against the spirit of worldliness. He called it “a fruit of the devil who makes his way forward with the spirit of secular worldliness” (http://www.romereports.com/palio/pope-take-note-adolescent-progressivism-protects-human-sacrifices-english-11629.html#.UouFmsScdya). These are strong words, and we have seen so far that Pope Francis is not afraid of calling the devil by his name nor speaking about the momentous choices each one of us has to make. 

But is the “world” really that dangerous? What about being open to the world as Vatican II proposed? Should we be afraid of “the world” and retire to our little Catholic

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Devra Torres

Q & A with Jacques Philippe

Nov. 29, 2013, at 12:01pm

A recent gathering with Jacques Philippe ended with a question-and-answer session. One question especially caught my attention.  I’m certain this participant spoke for large numbers of us.  How, she wanted to know, are we supposed to reconcile “Accept your failures” with “Be perfect”?

This conundrum is a stumbling block to many—they’d like to take to heart the encouraging words of people like Fr. Jacques and Pope Francis, who insist that we can enjoy peace and an unshakeable interior freedom despite our weakness and moral failures.  But just how do you do that, without shrugging off divine and moral law--in this case, a clear directive, from the lips of Christ Himself, to "be perfect"?

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Marie Meaney

When Faith becomes Ideology

Oct. 28, 2013, at 3:52am

 

To speak about faith becoming an ideology seems to be a contradiction in terms, at least to the faithful Catholic. For ideology is a construction, a system covering up and closing one off from reality while giving the false impression of having an explanation for everything; faith, however, is based on truth as revealed by God and is also accessible to reason (in contrast, any kind of belief is called an “ideology” these days, the underlying supposition being that truth cannot be known anyway).  Isn’t faith a gift from God, an infusion of the Holy Spirit, one of the three theological virtues, based on the revelation of the Most High which therefore cannot be false? Revelation itself

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Devra Torres

Solemn Nonsense: A How-To Guide

Oct. 25, 2013, at 12:34pm

In a recent interview, the story goes, Pope Francis dismissed proselytism as “solemn nonsense.” 

That “interview,” it turned out, was an 89-year-old atheist’s after-the-fact reconstruction of his recollection of a conversation he recorded with neither gizmo nor even pen and paper. A grain of salt is clearly indicated.

But suppose the Pope did say this, or something like it?  Has the New Evangelization been declared obsolete and recalled, like an old-fashioned car seat?  Have we al been ordered to convert to indifferentism?

No, not by a long shot.  Alarmed parties are directed to Pope Emeritus Benedict, no fan of the dictatorship of relativism, who has said that the Church grows not by

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Devra Torres

Towards a Spirituality of Unknown Variables

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

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Devra Torres

A Problem of Translation?

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

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Devra Torres

Has Pope Francis Gone Too Far?

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

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Devra Torres

Efficiency for What?

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

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Devra Torres

Kicking the Anasthesia Habit

Jul. 11, 2013, at 3:36pm

Something I constantly notice is that unembarrassed joy has become rarer.  Joy today is increasingly saddled with moral and ideological burdens, so to speak.  When someone rejoices, he is afraid of offending against solidarity with the many people who suffer.  I don’t have any right to rejoice, people think, in a world where there is so much misery, so much injustice.

I can understand that.  There is a moral attitude at work here.  But … the loss of joy does not make the world better—and, conversely, refusing joy for the sake of suffering does not help those who suffer. The contrary is true.  The world needs people who discover the good, who rejoice in it and thereby derive the impetus

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Devra Torres

On the Self-Referential Person

Jun. 21, 2013, at 12:20am

I’ve been mulling over Pope Francis’ oft-repeated warnings about the “self-referential church”—as this Vatican Radio article describes it:

…a church that is closed in on itself, stagnant…only looking to and relying on itself. He spoke of a “narcissism that leads to a routine spirituality and convoluted clericalism” and prevents people from experiencing the sweet and comforting joy of evangelization.

The self-referential church neglects the injunction to go out to the “ends of the earth,” avoiding any spontaneous, unscripted contact with the outside world.  This is partly out of sheer preoccupation with its own internal affairs, but also because its pastors fail to see the point of

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Katie van Schaijik

Belonging and identity

Jun. 14, 2013, at 9:24am

Being been embroiled in an online discussion elsewhere about the Pope's way of critiquing capitalism, I jumped ahead in the book of Cardinal Bergoglio's homilies and addresses (which Devra helped translate) to the section on Catholic Social Teaching.

I found this:

Hence, the origin of existential emptiness refers, as Durkheim himself has said, to a separation of the individual from the social environment— i.e., a lack of sense of belonging, which disfigures the identity. “To have an identity” involves primarily “belonging.” Therefore, to overcome this social debt it is necessary to rebuild the social fabric and social ties.

It reminds me of a segment of the Jean Vanier talk I linked a

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Devra Torres

It’s Here!

Jun. 6, 2013, at 11:40am

Now available from Scepter--a wonderful collection of Pope Francis' homilies, letters, and addresses from before he was Pope Francis.  This is the one I was helping to edit and wrote about here and spoke about here. You can get it on Kindle, too.

Enjoy!

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