Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, C.S.J.

Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, C.S.J.

Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, a member of the Congregation of St. Joseph, Brentwood, NY, holds degrees in philosophy (Ph.L), musicology (Ph.D.), theology (M.A.), and liturgical studies (Ph.D). She has taught at all levels of Catholic education and writes with a particular focus on a theology of beauty and the sacred arts. Her e-mail address is

Articles by Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, C.S.J.

The North American Martyrs

Oct 19, 2016 / 00:00 am

Some the most breathtaking scenery in the United States is found throughout Upper New York and northward to the St. Lawrence Seaway.      Two famous pilgrimage shrines are located in this area and deserve special attention for their historic and religious significance.  In this country, October 19th is the feast of the North American Martyrs. First, some history. New France In the seventeenth century, French authorities sent a number of expeditions to conduct fur trading in this territory and named it New France.  Soon, French Jesuit missionaries followed to minister to their own and to convert the Native Americans to the Catholic faith. Today this direct form of proselytism toward a native people would be considered out of step with ecumenical norms. The Jesuit missions began their work early in the 1630s. Our story picks up twelve years later with eight French Jesuits who were martyred while working among these Native Americans.  Here is their story. The Huron Indians By the seventeenth century, the Huron Indians, who belonged to the Iroquois Federation, had developed a fairly high way of life. They spoke in the Wendat language, and their religious beliefs had been fixed for years.  Perhaps the Jesuits did not fully appreciate this fact. The Hurons encountered both the Dutch and the French. The Dutch were primarily merchants who established trading posts at the confluence of the Mohawk and Hudson; the French came south from present-day Quebec to establish fur trading posts. Jesuit Relations: Instructions to the French Jesuit Missionaries Much of what we know about the Jesuits’ work among the Hurons was recorded in annual reports, “Jesuit Relations,” written by Fathers Paul LeJeune, S.J. and Paul Ragueneau, S.J.  The “Relations” gave the Jesuits a long list of practical instructions to be followed when ministering to the Hurons.  Three of the many are: “You must have sincere affection for the Savages, looking upon them as ransomed by the blood of the Son of God, and as our brethren, with whom we are to pass the rest of our lives.” “You must so conduct yourself as not to be at all troublesome to even one of these Barbarians.” “You must bear with their imperfections without saying a word, yes, even without seeming to notice them.  Even if it be necessary to criticize anything, it must be done modestly, and with words and signs which evince love and not aversion.  In short, you must try to be, and to appear, always cheerful.”     By 1642, Father Isaac Jogues, S.J., leader of the missionary group, planned to work among the Hurons along the south side of the Mohawk River from east to west. It was only natural for the Native Americans to resent the overtures of the missionaries despite the respect given to them. Why would “black-robed” foreigners want to change their way of life and their religious beliefs? Suspicious, they eventually blamed the Jesuits for the outbreak of small pox and other diseases.   At various times, between1642-1649, the Jesuits were brutally tortured – accused as witch doctors.  Most of them were bludgeoned to death under the tomahawk.   First Group of Jesuit Missionaries The first group of French Jesuits answered the call to minister in this region.  These included Father Isaac Jogues, and two donnés, René Goupil and John Lalande.  Due to deafness, Goupil could not be ordained a Jesuit but was trained as a doctor and surgeon.  After years of ministering to the Indians along the St. Lawrence River, Jogues and Goupil were captured.  Goupil was the first of the eight to be martyred – he was bludgeoned to death.   For thirteen months, Jogues lingered from brutal torture. Knowing that his index fingers and thumbs were essential to the celebration of Mass, his captives mangled them. Curiously enough, his escape to France prompted a desire to return to his mission.  Accompanied by John de Lalande, the nineteen-year old donné, Jogues returned to the Mohawk Mission in New York. With papal approval, he celebrated Mass even with stubs as fingers.  On his return to the region, he resumed his work but was soon tortured again.  This time he succumbed.  The date was October 18th, 1646.  Lalande himself was killed the next day.   Second Group of Jesuit Missionaries The second group of Jesuits was martyred within the confines of Midland at Martyrs’ Shrine, Sainte Marie. In 1635, Father Anthony Daniel founded the first Huron Boys’ College in Quebec and worked among the Hurons for twelve years until, on July 4th, 1648, still wearing Mass vestments, he was attacked as he ended the celebration of Mass.  His martyred body was thrown into the flames of the burning church.   The thirty-three year old, Father Jean de Brébeuf was a gifted linguist and mastered the Huron language. Gentle in manner, massive in body, it is said he had the heart of a giant.  Like Brébeuf, Father Gabriel Lalemant was a gifted scholar, professor and college administrator, but unlike Brébeuf, his body was frail.  Eventually both were captured, tied to stakes and underwent one of the worst martyrdoms ever recorded in history. The Jesuit Relations describes in detail how grisly were their tortures: “The Indians dismembered their hearts and limbs while they were still alive, and feasted on their flesh and blood” (L. Poulot, “North American Martyrs,” New Catholic Encyclopedia, 507). Brébeuf suffered for three hours before dying on March 16th, 1649. Lalemant died the next morning.   Father Charles Garnier was assigned to the Huron mission at Sainte Marie for thirteen years and then to the mission at Saint Jean.  He was beloved by his congregants, but in 1649, was tomahawked to death about thirty miles from Sainte Marie. Father Noël Chabanel, S.J. Perhaps the saddest and most poignant story of all is reserved for twenty-eight year old Father Noël Chabanel who was assigned to work with Father Charles Garnier.  Though he was a brilliant professor of rhetoric and humanism at home in southern France, he had no ear whatsoever for the Huron language. Plagued by a sense of uselessness, he was convinced that his ministry had failed. Feeling a strong repugnance to the life and habits of the Huron, and fearing it might result in his own withdrawal from the work, he bound himself by vow never to leave the mission. Today, in all likelihood, superiors would frown on this extreme position. Chabanel was martyred on December 8, 1649, by a “renegade” Huron.  Yet to the end, he persevered in his missionary activity. In 1930, Pius XI canonized the North American Martyrs.  The Canadian Catholic Church celebrates their feast day on September 26th.     The Shrines at Midland and Auriesville Because the two shrines are not far from one another, they are popular places to visit at the same time during the summer months or during October when the fall foliage is at its peak period. Martyrs’ Shrine at Midland has a church and museum that feature seventeenth-century maps, songs written by Brébeuf, a history of the shrine, and the stories of the Canadian martyrs. It offers the pilgrim a walking tour to get a sense of how the Jesuits lived, worked, and prayed among the Huron Indians.  One can see the simulated rustic village that comprised a chapel, living quarters, and classroom where the Jesuits carried out their apostolates. The shrine at Auriesville has a similar layout.  One of its most popular features is the expansive outdoor Stations of the Cross, a familiar feature of Jesuit retreat houses.  There is a large auditorium which seats 6,000 pilgrims. “The Blood of the Martyrs … the Seed of the Church” From the earliest days of Christianity, martyrdom for the faith has always been part of the Christian psyche. It was understood that those who openly professed their faith might have to suffer for this pearl of great price. But, it was better to stay alive. When the missionaries were assigned to work in New France, martyrdom could not be ruled out, just as danger and death cannot be ruled out for policemen or firefighters.  Missionaries were expected to die for the sake of Christ, though they did not seek it out. It is a stark reality that remains a constant for missionaries today. But let us not forget that there are so many ways to be martyred, real and metaphorical. The North American Martyrs were high-minded men, cultured, refined, and well educated.  For them, the savage, bloody road of martyrdom was transformed into a way of beauty, a road that remains sacred ground.  Our Lady of Martyrs Shrine at Auriesville and Martyrs’ Shrine at Midland are among the most frequently-visited pilgrimage sites in the world – both sacred ground.  Those who do visit them are disposed to receive special favors from the saints for whom the shrines are named.  It is said that during her lifetime, Dolores Hope, wife of comedian Bob Hope, made a pilgrimage to Auriesville almost every year.

A Tribute to Vin Scully

Oct 12, 2016 / 00:00 am

He’s been dubbed: “The Poet-Philosopher of Baseball,” “A Voice for the Ages,” “The Velvet Voice.” He’s been compared to Walter Cronkite, Mark Twain, and Garrison Keilor.   In 1982, the Hollywood Walk of Fame honored him with a star among the Greats of stardom in the same year the National Baseball Hall of Fame enshrined his name among the Greats of baseball. Vin Scully may be the very model of sartorial perfection, but it’s not the wardrobe that has endeared him to baseball for sixty-seven years. It’s his deep baritone voice and the power of his words. A Catholic Education There’s much to be said for childhood dreams.  At eight, when he wrote an assignment about his future, Vin imagined himself as a sports commentator. That dream has come true. Vin Scully was born in the Bronx, N.Y. and received his elementary school education from the Sisters of Charity.  At Fordham Prep and Fordham University, both conducted by the Jesuits, his eager mind opened itself wide to the liberal arts, to Latin and Greek, science, literary and refining arts. He acted in plays, engaged in debate, learned to read and write well, and above all, to speak well; this is eloquentia perfecta, the hallmark of Jesuit education. When his head was not in books, he took up menial jobs to make ends meet delivering beer, pushing garment racks, and cleaning silver in the basement of the Pennsylvania Hotel in New York City. Vin Scully, the Renaissance man graduated from Fordham in 1949 with a major in communications. With the Brooklyn Dodgers In 1947, baseball executive Branch Rickey signed Jackie Robinson to play infield on the Brooklyn Dodgers team.  Against a tide of opposition, Rickey was determined to integrate the ball club.  Against a tide of opposition, the all-round athlete broke the color barrier in major league baseball at a great personal cost to him and his wife Rachel.  If you wanted to see electricity personified, you went to Ebbets Field where you could fix your eyes on Jackie at home plate and on the base pads tantalizing the opposing team.  There was nothing like it.  Said Rickey, “There was never a man in the game who could put mind and muscle together quicker than Jackie Robinson.” Three years later, a twenty-two year old Vin Scully joined veteran Dodgers announcers, Red Barber and Connie Desmond to complete the broadcasting team.  As the rookie, Scully was assigned to announce only two innings.  Before long, he was announcing World Series games. He was not yet thirty. Scully called Jackie Robinson “perhaps the most exciting, most driven player I’ve ever seen.” He spoke fondly of two other players:  “Gil Hodges was probably my all-time favorite.  He was as straight an arrow as they come.”  Duke Snider was “a true star. Subject to teasing from teammates. Great talent.” When, in 1955, the Brooklyn ‘Bums’ won their only World Series, Scully stood and proclaimed: “Ladies and Gentlemen, the Brooklyn Dodgers are the champions of the world.” Heartbreak in Brooklyn In 1957, the Dodgers relocated from Brooklyn to Los Angeles.  For years, Walter O’Malley, the team’s major co-owner, had been searching for a more suitable land on which to build a new ballpark. When he and Robert Moses, the controversial construction coordinator of New York City, could not agree on a real estate price for a new Brooklyn location, O’Malley lost no time in accepting the offer of Los Angeles officials to purchase land suitable for building the ballpark he had wanted to build in Brooklyn.  Their departure triggered a virtual depression in Brooklyn.  The fans lost not only their team but also their beloved announcer.  Scully had pledged his loyalty to the team and followed them to Los Angeles.   When, in 1959, the Los Angeles Dodgers honored Roy Campanella, one of the stars on the Brooklyn team, he was wheeled onto the field for a ceremony of lighting candles in his honor.  (He had been injured in a car accident leaving him paralyzed.) Vin Scully stood, and in tribute, spoke these memorable words: “The lights are now starting to come out, like thousands and thousands of fireflies, starting deep in center field, glittering to left, and slowly, the entire ballpark. A sea of lights at the Coliseum. Let there be a prayer for every light, and wherever you are, maybe you, in silent tribute to Roy Campanella, can also say a prayer for his well-being. Campanella, for thousands of times, made the trip to the mound to help somebody out: a tired pitcher, a disgusted youngster, a boy perhaps who had his heart broken in the game of baseball. And tonight, on his last trip to the mound, the city of Los Angeles says hello.” Honorary Doctorate from Alma Mater In May, 2000, Vin Scully received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Fordham University. In his address to the graduates, he shared some memories of his years at Fordham.  . . . “I was once you.  I walked the halls you walked.  I sat in the same classrooms.  I took the same notes and sweated out the final exams.  I played sports on your grassy fields. I hit a home run here—in Jack Coffey Field against CCNY—the only one I ever hit.” Fordham, he said, evoked three words for him: home, love and hope. Home, because he spent eight years at Fordham both in the preparatory school and as an undergraduate. Love, because he made lifelong friends, and hope because Fordham is where his dreams thrived. He urged all present “to take some time away from the craziness around you to foster the things that are important. Don’t let the winds blow away your dreams or your faith in God. And remember, sometimes your wildest dreams come true.” In presenting the award, Michael T. Gillan, dean of Fordham College of Liberal Studies, noted that “when Jesuit schoolmasters developed their plan of studies in the 16th and 17th centuries, they defined “the goal of Jesuit education as eloquentia perfecta … which connotes a mastery of expression that is informed by good judgment and consistent principles. Those Jesuit schoolmasters of another age, if they had known anything about baseball, would certainly have approved the rhetorical gifts of the man who has been the voice of the Dodgers for the past fifty-one years, Vincent E. Scully.” The Scully Anaphora For years, every Scully broadcast has repeated the same avuncular opening:  “It’s time for Dodger baseball! Hi, everybody, and a very pleasant afternoon/evening to you, wherever you may be. Pull up a chair and relax;” The poet-philosopher announced the games painting vivid word pictures with his musical voice, tinged with Irish inflection. Scully held himself to three rules:  Avoid criticizing managers and umpires; keep your personal opinions to yourself; avoid using clichés to describe a play. The Scully trademark, he insists, is silence—silence to allow the roar of the crowd to touch the listening audience. Scully in His Own Words      There are numerous quotes attributed to Mr. Scully. In describing Tom Glavine as a strike-out pitcher, he mused: “He’s like a tailor, a little off here, a little off there, and you’re done, take a seat.” The talent of Stan Musial of the St. Louis Cardinals amazed Scully:  “How good was Stan Musial? He was good enough to take your breath away.” Vin was known to spin some philosophy out of the play at the moment.  In 1991, he remarked: “Andre Dawson has a bruised knee and is listed as day-to-day (Pause).  Aren’t we all?”   Then there were his philosophical quips: “Good is not good enough when better is expected.” “Statistics are used much like a drunk who uses a lamp post—for support, not illumination.” “Losing feels worse than winning feels good.”      One day, when Vin joked that Joe Torre might be apprehensive about returning from third base to catcher after getting hit by a foul tip.  “If he were apprehensive, Torre would forever be known as “Chicken Catcher Torre.”  At this, the crowd groaned. Awards Listed among Vin Scully’s many awards are: 1976 Most Memorable Personality in L.A. Dodger history by Dodger fans 1982 Induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame as the Ford C. Frick Award recipient. Four times, voted as the country’s Outstanding Sportscaster.   Twenty-two times voted, as California Sportscaster of the Year by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association. 2009  NAB Broadcasting Hall of Fame 2009  Ambassador Award of Excellence by the LA Sports & Entertainment Commission 2014 The Gabriel Personal Achievement Award from the Catholic Academy of Communication Professionals. Personal Life Vin Scully has not been one to wear his feelings in the open.  Yet, he has experienced two family tragedies.  In 1972, after fifteen years of married life, his wife died from an accidental medical overdose.  The next year, his thirty-three old son Michael was killed in a helicopter crash while working for the ARCO Transportation Company.  A chemist, he was inspecting oil pipelines for leaks near Fort Tejon. Vin credits his strong Roman  Catholic  faith for helping him cope with family grief and then to resume his work as an announcer. “As long as you live,” he reflects, “keep smiling because it brightens everybody’s day.” The Final Inning The longevity of Vin Scully’s baseball life has drawn to a conclusion.  As part of a conference call before the Dodgers played the Giants on Sept 19th, Scully he spoke about all the attention he had received in the closing days of his long career: “First of all, I attribute it to one thing and one thing only,” Scully reflected, “God’s Grace to allow me to do what I’ve been doing for 67 years. To me, that’s really the story. Not really me, I’m just a vessel that was passed hand-to-hand, down through all those years. So I don’t take it to heart as some great compliment. I just realize that because I’ve been doing this for 67 years, that’s why everybody wants to talk about it. So I think I’ve kept it in proper perspective” (Courtesy of MLB Network). Finally, a favorite Irish prayer and blessing from Mr. Scully: May God give you for every storm, a rainbow, For every tear, a smile, For every care, a promise, And a blessing in each trial. For every problem life send,] A faithful friend to share, For every sigh, a sweet song And an answer for each prayer. Dear Mr. Scully, ad multos annos.  

Yeast as a Metaphor: Élisabeth and Félix Leseur

Oct 5, 2016 / 00:00 am

It’s a wonderful phenomenon—yeast.  It permeates lifeless flour and causes it to rise and expand.  The power of yeast effects the brewing of beer and the making of wine.   The yeast plant is a fungus that grows without limits to its borders.  Only if yeast is alive and active will it interact with the dough. On her TV program, “Martha Bakes,” the talented Ms. Stewart cannot contain her delight when she makes yeast dough: “Look at the sheen—so soft and shiny! The aroma is “bee-you-tee-ful,” and the fragrance gratifies all the senses!” Follow these instructions: proof active yeast, blend it into the flour mixture, and let it rise to double the size.  From yeast dough come baked goods such as breads, sticky buns and sugar buns, and monkey bread.  “Soo pretty, soo delicious,” Ms. Stewart swoons over her culinary works of art. Yeast as a Metaphor In the Matthean parable (13:33), the reign of God is like yeast that a woman took and kneaded into three measures of flour.  Eventually the entire mass of dough began to rise.  The image of yeast was a favorite in the Early Church.  Everyone understood the inner power of yeast with its limitless ability to make things grow, even in small beginnings with “three measures of flour.”  They grasped the comparison.  The yeast referred to the Church as an unlimited and growing reality, “destined ultimately to be present everywhere and to affect everything, though by no means to convert everything into itself” (Walter J. Ong, “Yeast: A Parable for Catholic Higher Education,” America Magazine, April 7, 1990).  The Church is catholic because it has always been expanding into new and shiny ‘dough’ without limit. Katholicos, from kata or kath and holos, means “through-the-whole or “throughout-the-whole.” The Laity: Worldly and Yet Unworldly     The laity are catholic, yeast in business and finance, entertainment, nursing and medicine, arts and science, law and law enforcement, politics, and sports.  They are the inner power with its limitless ability to make things grow, even in small ways. The laity find their holiness in the world with its financial concerns and family responsibilities.  Those who marry and have children become not just a family but also the Domestic Church. In 1987, the Catholic Church held a World Synod on the Laity, one of many, beginning with Vatican II in the 1960s.  According to the synod’s final document, the laity are equal with clergy and consecrated religious in the life and mission of the Church.   The call to holiness of the laity differs from the vocation of consecrated religious.  The laity are to be in the world in an unworldly way.  They approach life with wisdom that teaches the limited and relative value of material things. This would seem to be a contradiction in terms.  How to be worldly and unworldly at the same time?   It cannot be easy, for at times, the challenges seem insurmountable.  Yet, it remains for the lay vocation to find a theology of being present in the world. It is a practical spirituality of the family and the workplace.  For the laity, this is where holiness resides.*   Holiness of the Laity The holiness of the laity began with Jesus himself.  He was a rabbi and teacher, as were his disciples. Peter was a married man, and for all we know, so were the other apostles, the exception being John, the Beloved Disciple.   St. Paul addresses and refers to those he evangelized as ‘saints,’ meaning that they were on their way to becoming saints.  In the Early Church, there were no consecrated institutes of men and women.  All Christians grasped the importance of living as disciples and ambassadors of the Lord. As increasing numbers of Christians came to view the world as wicked, they flocked to the desert to live alone. When the desert grew so overcrowded with these solitaries, they came together and formed religious communities.  Thus, the start of monastic orders of men and women. Prayer Consecrated men and women, and especially those who live in cloisters, spend several hours a day in prayer. This is not the way of the laity. Their days focus almost entirely on family and the means of supporting it.  Their prayer is measured not in hours but in minutes—two here, five there, perhaps a Holy Hour or Retreat Day on rare occasions. The conciliar document on the sacred liturgy encourages Catholic families to pray portions of the Liturgy of the Hours (#102-111).  The Hours are not private or devotional prayer but the prayer of the entire Church, the Church at prayer.  Praying the psalms nourishes Catholic family life whose welfare is daily beset with conflicting external forces. If prayer is the underlying power of strong family life, then parents can find ways to incorporate parts of the Hours into their daily schedule. In prayer, married couples derive the strength of God’s grace to live their married vocation.   As children mature, they too must learn to travel the road to discipleship in the Lord.  Small children can be taught to pray a psalm or two at bed time. If this is not feasible during the week, then prayer on weekend is an alternate possibility.   A minimal and external Christianity will not fortify today’s Domestic Church but only a vibrant Christianity in which Christ is a living reality.  It takes a few minutes to pray short sections of the Hours, even on public transit.  It is a consoling thought to recall that “in him, we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).   At Pre-Cana instructions, couples can learn the practice of making the Hours an integral part of their married life. Can Yeast Corrupt? The image of yeast is not always positive.  In First Corinthians 5:6-8, St. Paul mentions what all Jews understood.  At the Paschal festival time, they were to destroy all yeasted products because leaven was a metaphor for the corruptive influence of evil, for puffing up the self, leaving no room for God.    Proofing the yeast in warm water will yield bubbles around the surface, and the yeast will become puffed up if it does not interact with the flour dough.  The puffed up yeast will die.  In this sense, neither the laity, nor any minister in the Church, can afford to be puffed up with pride. Élisabeth Leseur (1866-1914) and Félix Leseur (1861-1950) The story of Élisabeth Arrighi Leseur exemplifies the limitless power of marital love.  Élisabeth was born into a wealthy French Catholic family of Corsican descent.  As a child, she had contracted hepatitis, a disease from which she suffered all her life.  At twenty-one, she met Félix Leseur, a medical doctor, who also came from an affluent Catholic family.  Shortly before they were to be married, Élisabeth discovered that Félix was no longer a practicing Catholic.  Soon he became well known as the editor of an anti-clerical, atheistic newspaper.   Despite the circumstances, the couple married, for Élisabeth was deeply in love with Félix.  They were unable to have children, a fact that made their marriage all the more difficult.  His attack on her religious devotion prompted an even more serious fidelity to the faith. She bore the brunt of his hatred of the Church with patient love.  At thirty-two years of age, Élisabeth experienced the grace to a deeper form of prayer.  She was convinced that her task now was to love her husband and pray for his conversion while remaining steadfast during his taunts against religion, and the Church in particular. Homebound and Bed-Ridden Élisabeth’s deteriorating health forced her to lead a sedentary life.  She received visitors and was able to conduct a vibrant apostolate from the confines of her home.  She became a devotee of St. Francis de Sales who wrote for the layperson in the seventeenth century. His Introduction to the Devout Life, perhaps the most famous spiritual guide of all time, is an offshoot of the Ignatian Exercises. During this period, Élisabeth kept a secret spiritual diary.   When, at the age of forty-five, Élisabeth underwent surgery and radiation for the removal of a malignant tumor, she recovered and continued to receive visitors to her home. Three years later, she succumbed to cancer.  Her life has been recommended for sainthood. Why?  We turn the page to continue the narrative of her husband. Dr. Félix Leseur After Élisabeth’s death, Félix found a note addressed to him.  Not only did it predict his conversion, but he would also become a Dominican priest.  His hatred of the Church prompted him to expose her note as a fake, and he decided to do so at Lourdes, the famous Marian shrine in France.  There, something prevented him from carrying out his intended project—call it God’s intervening grace. As Élisabeth had predicted, he experienced a conversion and published her spiritual journal.  In 1919, Félix entered the Dominican Order, was ordained a priest four years later, and spent his remaining years speaking about his wife’s difficult yet remarkable life with him.   In 1924, the future Archibishop Fulton J. Sheen made a retreat under Fr. Leseur’s direction.  It was at this time that he learned of Élisabeth’s life and her husband’s conversion.  In 1934, Fr. Leseur, O.P. worked to begin the cause for her canonization, and the Archbishop shared the story of this remarkable married couple in many presentations.  Élisabeth is currently a Servant of God, the first step in the cause for sainthood. Élisabeth Leseur’s suffering was not wasted. On the contrary, her lifelong devotion to Félix was central to his conversion.  She became the yeast that permeated the lifeless soul of her husband.  It forever transformed his life so that he could affect change in the lives of others. Love begets love. *The Ignatian “Prayer for Finding God in All Things” by Joan L. Roccasalvo, C.S.J. can help the busy person find God throughout the day.  Copies are available from the Institute of Jesuit Sources, Boston, MA.


Sep 28, 2016 / 00:00 am

Everyone has a theory about leadership, but all of us want strong, effective, and moral leaders. They’re in great demand but hard to find. Families and schools, sports teams, businesses, and faith traditions rise or fall on leadership. Governments, armies, and nations rise or fall on leadership. According to James MacGregor Burns, historian and political scientist, leadership is “the process by which groups, organizations, and societies attempt to achieve common goals.” Political leadership is a matter of personality, and it concerns the relation of authority and power with the people. Yet, within this definition lies a mysterious and mercurial quality known as temperament—the most difficult characteristic to gauge in a leader, the most challenging to pin down.  Different leadership styles and different temperaments produce varying degrees of success or failure, a topic requiring lengthy discussions. In this essay, we will consider three aspects of leadership: personal and professional qualities of leaders, vision, and decision-making. Personal and Professional Qualities of Leaders To paraphrase the Hallmark motto: The nation should care enough to elect the very best men and women with proven effective leadership, strength of character, and moral probity. Character Leaders should reflect on a key question: Who must I be, and what must I do to bring about and advance the vision I have for the common good?  Having learned the art of self-discipline, strong leaders are master listeners, master communicators, and masters of their emotions.  Honesty lives at the core of their moral compass; it undergirds and supports the public trust. Strong, effective, and moral leaders speak the truth to themselves and to others without shaving it.   On the eve of Britain’s entrance into World War II, Winston Churchill delivered the stark and sobering truth to a nation in distress:  “I have nothing to offer you but blood, toil, tears, and sweat.”   George Washington was acclaimed for his integrity, wisdom, and astounding courage on the battlefield, and Nelson Mandela, as a “colossus of unimpeachable character.” Rose Kennedy was not a public figure but the matriarch of a family of political leaders.  She inspired thousands of men and women through her courage in the face of so many family tragedies. The Burmese-Myanmar politician, statesperson, and author Aung San Suu Kyi has inspired women throughout the world for her courage to withstand fifteen years of house arrest by the authorities who considered her an enemy of the state.  She writes in Freedom from Fear: “It is not power that corrupts but fear.  Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it, and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.”   Communication Skills Effective leaders have the ability to communicate clearly and persuasively. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was a charismatic patrician. With his clear sense of noblesse oblige, he led the country through the Great Depression.  From his struggle with polio, he learned to empathize with others.  Roosevelt’s fireside chats gave him a direct, personal, and immediate contact with the country.  He simplified his grand-scale programs capped by the motto, “The New Deal” which gave jobs to the millions of unemployed roaming the streets in despair. As a sickly child and young adult, President John F. Kennedy spent many solitary hours with books.  The breadth of his reading history and politics, literature, science, travel, and biography served as one source of his eloquence, whether in prepared speeches or presented spontaneously.  His press conferences became the stuff of conversation pieces in Washington. The press corps was riveted as much on Kennedy’s oratory as on his responses to questions. Here was a master communicator thoroughly enjoying his own press conferences. Winston Churchill’s strongest quality as a leader was his ability to inspire others, despite the ominous circumstances Britain was facing during his tenure as Prime Minister.  The source of this ability lay in his own character—and of course his ability to find the right words to fit the country’s mood.  On the eve of World War II in 1940, Churchill declared before the House of Commons: “We shall go on to the end.  We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be.  We shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”  Labor MP Josiah Wedgwood promptly responded:  “That was worth 1,000 guns, and the speeches of 1,000 years.”   In April 1963, when President Kennedy made Churchill an Honorary Citizen of the United States—Churchill’s mother was an American—the President offered this word of praise: “He mobilized the English language and sent it into battle.”   Sense of Humor Strong leaders have a developed sense of humor that may enhance their Office.  “I am the man who accompanied Jacqueline Kennedy to Paris, and I have enjoyed it,” declared the President in the spring of 1961 on their visit to France.   Acerbic wit was never far from President Lincoln’s lips or from Winston Churchill’s.  In a letter to his good friend, Joshua F. Speed, Lincoln wrote, “When the Know-Nothings get control, it [the Declaration of Independence] will read: 'All men are created equal except negroes, foreigners and Catholics.' When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty—to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy.”  Regarding his pro-slavery opponents Lincoln declared, “Whenever I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally.” One evening as a tired and wobbly Churchill was leaving the House of Commons, the Labor MP Bessie Braddock accused him of being disgustingly drunk.” He replied: “Bessie, my dear, . . . you are disgustingly ugly.  But tomorrow I shall be sober, and you will still be disgustingly ugly.” Vision Leaders have vision, a quality that conceives of an idea or sees a picture into the future before others can visualize it.  St. Ignatius of Loyola chose and trained leaders who would be affable, attractive, and persuasive messengers of his vision and not those who were rich or powerful.   In Back to Methuselah, George Bernard Shaw wrote: “You dream dreams and say “Why?”  But I dream dreams that never were and say “Why not?”  His words were paraphrased by Robert F. Kennedy in his 1968 campaign for the presidential nomination.    Transformative leaders can rouse a nation to action when their goals are persuasive. They articulate a shared raison d’être in words such as the Rev. Martin L. King, Jr. orated in his “I have a dream” speech.”  He asked men and women to dream today and tomorrow of a better America. In his inaugural address, John F. Kennedy put his vision this way: “And so my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.” He simplified this vision in the motto: “The New Frontier.”  This phrase encompassed pursuits in science and the arts, foreign affairs, race and inequality.  He invited the country to become pioneers on this noble quest.  Soon the Peace Corps appealed to the generosity and self-sacrifice of American youth to serve all over the world.     It is no small thing for leaders to touch our hearts and minds by appealing to “the better angels of our nature,” a phrase of Charles Dickens which Lincoln quoted in his First Inaugural Address. Decision-Making Leaders make decisions throughout the course of a day or over a longer period of time.  Some decisions are so consequential they can change the public image of an organization.  Such was the case with a decision taken at Vatican II regarding the fate of Gregorian chant.  At the close of the Council, it was hastily whisked away from parish Masses in North America, though it was kept alive in a few monasteries. Popular songs, accompanied by thumping guitars and percussive bongo drums, hastily replaced it.  Latin gave way to the vernacular. The pros and cons cannot be debated here, but music scholars were shocked at the sudden change. Gustav Reese, a noted expert on Gregorian chant, could barely contain himself at the hierarchy’s decision.  In a passionate cry, he exclaimed:  ‘What have you done to the chant!’ To avoid open criticism of the Church, other scholars described the drastic changes in neutral and measured language as the most dramatic and consequential of all the changes made at Vatican II. Internal struggle was marked by “defiance versus intractability.”  This struggle “has sapped the church of its vitality not to mention the effect it continues to have on matters that are “aesthetic, political, sociological, or even purely technical.”     In times of crisis how do leaders make decisions?  Some leaders make decisions without consultation, while others call for collegiality. Collegial leaders point the way forward to advance the purpose of the organization.  Still, the personality of the leader plays an important role in this model. Whereas strong leaders get the best and brightest to execute their vision by delegating responsibility, weak leaders fear initiative and creativity from their workers.  They lack trust in the abilities of others. To sum up this complex topic, St. Paul exhorts leaders of the community “to lead their lives worthy their calling” (Eph. 4:1).

The President Who Nearly Was

Sep 21, 2016 / 00:00 am

In this political season—some call it the theater of the absurd—discussions about women presidents evoke strong views. In the1960s, there was one woman whose contributions to society were so far reaching that, if the times had been more propitious to women, she could have been elected President of the United States.  But it was not to be. Eunice Kennedy (1921-2009) Eunice was the fifth child and the third daughter born to Rose and Joseph P. Kennedy. As the granddaughter of John F., “Honey Fitz,” Fitzgerald, the famous mayor of Boston, she inherited her mother’s natural political instincts; from her father, the energy, initiative and drive of a human dynamo.     Rosemary was the third child and first daughter born into the Kennedy family.  Unlike the bright brood of eight other brothers and sisters, she was found to be retarded. Eventually, this fact changed the lives of millions of retarded children and adults because Eunice looked after her older sister for the rest of her life.    “I had enormous respect for Rosie,” Eunice said of her sister. “If I had never met Rosemary, never known anything about handicapped children, how would I have ever found out?  Nobody accepted them any place.” Through Rosemary’s limitations, Eunice discovered her ministry—really her genius—to spend herself and achieve marvelous things for retarded children throughout the world.   Academic and Professional Preparation Educated at the Convent of the Sacred Heart, Roehampton, London and at the Manhattanville College of the Sacred Heart, Eunice graduated from Stanford University in 1943 with a Bachelor’s degree in sociology.  She worked for the Special War Problems Division of the U.S. State Department and eventually moved to the U.S. Justice Department as executive secretary for a project dealing with juvenile delinquency.   In 1951, she served as a social worker at the Federal Industrial Institution for Women before moving to Chicago to work with the House of the Good Shepherd women’s shelter and the Chicago Juvenile Court.   In 1953, she married Sargent Shriver, an attorney who later worked in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations.  He was the driving force behind the creation of the Peace Corps; the founder of the Job Corps, and the architect of Johnson’s “war on poverty.”  During his service as the U.S. ambassador to France from 1968 to 1970, Eunice studied intellectual disabilities there.        Advocate for the Mentally Retarded Among advocates of every kind, Eunice excelled as this country’s advocate for the mentally retarded.   In 1962, an exhausted and distressed mother of a retarded child phoned Eunice at her home.  No summer camp would accept her child, she said. Eunice responded with largesse by opening her own home as a summer camp—free of charge—at Timberlawn, the family estate in Maryland,. She would get in the pool and teach the youngsters to swim, loving them as her own children. Eunice and Her Brothers Eunice’s advocacy for the mentally retarded was overshadowed by the political pursuits of her three brothers, but she far surpassed them as the natural politician.  More than once it has been said that Eunice would have made a fine President of the Unites States. Eunice made it a habit of calling the offices of her more famous brothers urging them to another project for the retarded. Teasingly, they dubbed her repeated requests nagging. Yet, they dared not ignore them. President Kennedy set up research centers on mental retardation.  Robert Kennedy inspected squalid state mental institutions, and Sen. Edward Kennedy helped write the Americans with Disabilities Act.  “It was extraordinary of her to conceive that she too, could play a role comparable to that of her brothers,” Edward Shorter says, author of The Kennedy Family and the Story of Mental Retardation.  “Her leadership role would be in the area of mental retardation rather than on the big political stage.” In 1968, Eunice founded the Special Olympics.  Today, they include more than 2.25 million people in 160 countries. “She had the genius to see that she, in fact, was capable of major achievements helping these kids, and that is what she did.  She dedicated her life to it,” writes Shorter.   Awards Among the many awards Eunice Kennedy Shriver received, the most notable are: 1984  Presidential Medal of Honor by Ronald Reagan highest civilian award in U.S. 1990  Eagle award from the U.S. Sports Academy 1992  Award for Greatest Public Service Benefiting the Disadvantaged 1995  Second American to appear on a U.S. coin while still living 2006  Papal Knighthood and made Dame of the Order of St. Gregory 2009 Smithsonian Institute’s National Portrait Gallery unveiled an historic portrait of her, the first portrait of the NPG has ever commissioned of an individual who had not served as a US President or First Lady. 2010 The State University of New York at Brockport, home of the 1979 Special Olympics, renamed its football stadium after Eunice Shriver.  (Awarded posthumously) Later Years     At 85, Eunice was not about to retire or relax.  She continued her tireless work on the issues concerning those with special needs “because in so many countries, the retarded are not accepted in the schools, not accepted in play programs, just not accepted. We have so much to do.”     Eunice Kennedy Shriver and her husband were devout Roman Catholics and lifelong Democrats. Both staunchly pro-life, Eunice was a member of Feminists for Life. She died in 2009, her husband, in 2011.   The epilogue of the Book of Proverbs is a fitting tribute to Eunice Kennedy Shriver, a woman of noble character.  She lived for others. Proverbs 31:10-31 Epilogue: The Wife of Noble Character     10 [a]A wife of noble character who can find?     She is worth far more than rubies. 11 Her husband has full confidence in her     and lacks nothing of value. 12 She brings him good, not harm,     all the days of her life. 13 She selects wool and flax     and works with eager hands. 14 She is like the merchant ships,     bringing her food from afar. 15 She gets up while it is still night;     she provides food for her family     and portions for her female servants. 16 She considers a field and buys it;     out of her earnings she plants a vineyard. 17 She sets about her work vigorously;     her arms are strong for her tasks. 18 She sees that her trading is profitable,     and her lamp does not go out at night. 19 In her hand she holds the distaff     and grasps the spindle with her fingers. 20 She opens her arms to the poor     and extends her hands to the needy. 21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household;     for all of them are clothed in scarlet. 22 She makes coverings for her bed;     she is clothed in fine linen and purple. 23 Her husband is respected at the city gate,     where he takes his seat among the elders of the land. 24 She makes linen garments and sells them,     and supplies the merchants with sashes. 25 She is clothed with strength and dignity;     she can laugh at the days to come. 26 She speaks with wisdom,     and faithful instruction is on her tongue. 27 She watches over the affairs of her household     and does not eat the bread of idleness. 28 Her children arise and call her blessed;     her husband also, and he praises her: 29 “Many women do noble things,     but you surpass them all.” 30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;     but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. 31 Honor her for all that her hands have done,     and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.  

The Dark Night of the Soul and The Dark Night

Sep 14, 2016 / 00:00 am

Search the Internet, and you’ll find literature in abundance regarding the hackneyed phrase, dark night of the soul. Last week, the phrase surfaced again with the canonization of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, founder of the Missionaries of Charity. The Dark Night of the Soul and The Dark Night: Some Distinctions In the lexicon of popular phrases, the dark night of the soul should be distinguished from the dark night as developed by St. John of the Cross in his treatise, The Dark Night.   Worries and annoyances that weigh us down each day are part of the human condition. No more, no less. Rarely are they considered the dark night of the soul. To accept and face hardship as part of the human condition is a sign of maturity. It may surprise even spiritual directors to read that John does not use the phrase, the dark night of the soul, nor does it appear in his poem or treatise. The Dark Night has a precise and rich context. Its focus lies on God’s innovating activity upon the soul destined for transformation.  The soul remains in spiritual darkness, passive yet docile and responsive to the divine touch.   By contrast, the dark night of the soul focuses on the individual self and one’s particular trial—any trial—that causes sadness, agitation, turmoil, or distress in one’s life. It has a one-dimensional perspective—the self. Moses and the Divine Darkness      In the Book of Exodus 20, Moses approaches the dark cloud where God dwells. This is a metaphor for his journey into the dark of night where it is impossible to see. Darkness is a symbol for the encounter with God who is incomprehensible. Here Moses encounters God in the darkness only to be enlightened by that very same darkness. Put another way: Moses’ eternal progress is the movement from human light to divine darkness.  The vision of Moses begins in the light.  But as he becomes more perfect, he is led by God into the darkness where he is enlightened.   Thus the life of prayer and contemplation is represented paradoxically as a journey from light to darkness.  It is only through this maze of darkness that the soul can reach God who is beyond all intellectual comprehension.   To remain in one’s own light is to die.  To walk through the darkness where God dwells is to live in the light. St. Gregory of Nyssa (d 394), one of the Eastern Church Fathers, used Moses to exemplify and develop a symbolism of darkness. His 1Life of Moses is considered the crowning work of his mysticism.  Gregory was followed by Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagate (d 5th-6th c) who became the major resource for the study of the divine darkness.      The Dark Night Proper   The Dark Night, the title of a poem and treatise on prayer, was written between 1578-85 by St. John of the Cross, the great Spanish Carmelite saint, mystic and poet (d 1591).  It complements his treatise, The Ascent of Mt. Carmel, in which the soul learns to love God by pulling up and rooting out his or her vices.  Whereas vices puff up the ego, the love of God scours the ego clean. The Dark Night is a metaphor describing the mystical union between the soul and God in prayer.  In this dark night, the soul is detached from all that is not God, undergoes privation of light but remains on the road to darkness because it will lead to the light.  Thus John builds his systematic exposition of the spiritual life upon this metaphor.   The dark night comes not at the beginning of one’s journey to God.  It usually happens when souls have entered the unitive way, that is, when their wills and hearts are united in perfect harmony with God’s. History has proved that God consistently sends trial to the souls who seek perfection, but lay persons and consecrated men and women experience different dark nights suited to their different vocations. The biographies of saints as well as the masters of the spiritual life are in agreement.   In The Graces of Interior Prayer, Fr. A. Poulain, S.J. tells us who he likely ones are to receive these trials.  “And as persons who are leading a purely contemplative life are not obliged to undergo the arduous labors the active life entails, God sends them interior crosses by way of compensation.  And then they feel these crosses more keenly, being more thrown back upon themselves” (400).   It appears that Mother Teresa is an exception to this rule.  Her life serving the poorest of the poor was not just active.  It was arduous.  The work day of the sisters is usually between ten and twelve hours of manual labor.  Yet the Rule of the Missionaries of Charity requires them to spend at least two hours in prayer and contemplation every day in addition to other exercises—the Office, Examen, and spiritual reading.  Formed and guided by the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, these sisters are true active contemplatives. The Dark Night and Passive Purification The Dark Night is essentially an experience of infused contemplation.  One cannot ask for it; one ought not ask for it.  In The Dark Night, the purification is accomplished by God and not by the will of the individual who could never accomplish this task.  John describes this metaphor: A mother weans her child away from the sweetness and consolation of being nourished at the breast, and of having her child experience its own independence away from the mother.  This purification is accomplished by the mother and not by the child.  Passive purification. The dark night first affects and purifies the individual’s spiritual senses.  These are:  spiritual pride and avarice, spiritual lust and anger, spiritual gluttony, envy, and sloth.  Persons succumb to spiritual gluttony, for example, when they seek sweetness, delight, and satisfaction in prayer, striving more to savor the sweet experiences rather than the desire to please God. Spiritual sloth delights in spiritual gratification, but when the soul is told to do something unpleasant, it remains lax.   The first and chief benefit of this dark night of contemplation is the knowledge of self and of one’s misery and lowliness but also of God’s grandeur and majesty. The second is the purification of the spiritual faculties:  the intellect, the will, and the memory. John compares this experience to a fire consuming a log.  In both books, the soul does little more than dispose itself for the divine action.   Here are the first two stanzas of the poem anticipating the explanation of Books One and Two: One dark night, Fired with love’s urgent longings --ah, the sheer grace!— I  went out unseen, My house being now all stilled. In darkness, and secure, By the secret ladder, disguised, --ah, the sheer grace!— In darkness and concealment, My house being now all stilled. Mother Teresa’s Dark Night We can never know what activity takes place inside another person.  Yet, we know that dryness, aridity, and restlessness in prayer afflicted Mother Teresa as well as doubt in the existence of God.  She remained a woman of joy, faithful to her religious vocation as a missionary. Read some of her reflections, marked by darkness: “In my soul, I feel just that terrible pain of loss of God not wanting me—of God not being God—of God not existing.”   “I find no words to express the depths of the darkness.  If you only knew what  darkness I am plunged into.”  “In the darkness . . . . Lord, my God, who am I that you should forsake me?  The child of your love—and now become as the most hated one.  The one—you have thrown away as unwanted—unloved.  I call, I cling, I want, and there is no one to answer . . . Where I try to raise my thoughts to heaven, there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives and hurt my very soul.  Love—the word—it brings nothing.  I am told God lives in me, and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul.”  The self-offering of St. Ignatius sums up Book Two and the total offering of Mother Teresa, now St. Teresa of Calcutta:   “Take, Lord, into your possession my complete freedom of action: my memory, my understanding, my entire will; all that I have, all that I own.   It is your gift to me.   I now return it to you to be used simply as you wish.   Give me your love and your grace.   It is all I need.” 

Proud of employment, willingly I go

Sep 7, 2016 / 00:00 am

We have just celebrated the last civic holiday of the summer. On Labor Day, we reflect on our role as co-workers in God’s vineyard and, with our talents, continue the activity of God our Creator.   Work deepens the truth that we are all made in God’s image and likeness.  Mr. Shakespeare has a word to send us off:  “Proud of employment, willingly I go.”   The Church’s special care and concern of the worker began in earnest with Leo XIII’s encyclical, Rerum Novarum (1891) when it treated the theme of work. Included in the encyclical was the defense of workers and, in particular, their exploitation.  Since then, every pontiff has integrated Catholic social thought concerning workers as part of the Church’s teaching.  Politicians of all religious stripes have quoted from their writings as part of their own social platforms. According to Ronald Reagan, “the best social program is a job.” Bearing Fruit Work is one way men and women discover their dignity because the building up of the culture is the fruit of labor. The Psalmist uses the image of a garden to describe the just ones who labor in it.  They are fruitful in all they do because they remain rooted in the Lord.  These men and women “will flourish like a palm-tree and grow like a Lebanon cedar. Planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God, still bearing fruit when they are old, still full of sap, still green, to proclaim that the Lord is just (Ps 92:12-15). . . . The just are like trees planted near streams; they bear fruit in season and their leaves never wither.  All they do prospers” (Ps 1:3-4).   How many cultures have handed down to us the fruits of their labor and the fruits of their creativity!  The Jews through their worship, for example, have given us the weekend as well as the 150 psalms permeated with beauty. Among other benefits, the Greeks gave us Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle who laid the foundations for medieval and modern philosophy. The Romans were master builders, especially of roads, waterworks, and bridges. Had it not been for the medieval European monks, who would have preserved ancient and Christian culture for future generations?   Unemployment In virtually every instance, John Paul II considered unemployment an evil and a social calamity.  He placed this responsibility at the feet of the vast enterprise of employers. For our current pontiff, Pope Francis, “work is not a gift kindly conceded to a recommended few.  It is a right of all . . . and in particular, the young must be able to cultivate the promise of their efforts and their enthusiasm, so that the investment of their energies and their resources will not be useless” (Dec. 2015). Men and women are our primary natural resource, and the Church has grave concerns about the unemployed and those who are under employed, the working poor.  From these two groups can come other evils; the first among them is hunger.  Social unrest, like disease, crime, and violence are bound to follow. Indignities of Unemployment As an evil of the social fabric and against individuals, unemployment robs persons in good health, ready and willing to work, from supporting themselves and their families. What happens to the family when parents lose their jobs through no fault of their own?  The individual members in the family suffer in psychological as well as financial ways. Loss of the weekly paycheck weighs on the family unlike any other burden. Losing One’s Job Unemployment comes in different ugly shapes and sizes. It affects Blue Collar workers, Wall Street traders, educators, and other professionals. Even CEOs can be ousted from their high places. How many are those who have gone from standing tall in satisfying and lucrative jobs to the humiliation of sleeping in nooks and crannies of store fronts, huddled up and penniless? How many men and women have experienced the indignity, the embarrassment, and the emotional heartburn of losing one’s job?  The worker is summoned to the supervisor’s office only to be told his or her services are no longer needed.  A cold speech is delivered in staccato fashion:  ‘I’m sorry, we have to let you go, but it has to be this way. Thank you for your service.’  Often, severance pay does not accompany the loss of employment.  How many have been dismissed without even being told?  The names of college adjunct teachers are routinely deleted from the roster without any explanation, personal or otherwise.       And what of those new college graduates? John Paul II has written of the particularly painful problem “when the young, after preparing themselves with an appropriate cultural, technical, and professional formation, can’t find a job and see their sincere will to work frustrated, as well as their willingness to take up their responsibility for the economy and social development of the community” (Laborem Exercens:18). The indignities of unemployment! Statistics on Employment      The August unemployment figures have been estimated at a low 4.8%, though this impressive figure feels like a lie to so many” (Sarah Kendzior: Quartz, April 20, 2016). 62.6% is the figure given for those who are not participating in the work place. This means that approximately 37% is the unemployment rate.  According to the Wall Street Journal, 4.8% hides the devastating lie for millions of Americans. The jobless rate is low because more and more people are no longer participating in the work place.  This low percent fails to include discouraged workers and those in part-time jobs who seek full-time employment. Another consideration has to do with sporadic work.  A person who works one hour a week earning $20.00 for that hour is considered employed. How can breadwinners support a family on the minimum wage? They can’t, these working poor. While Labor Day focuses on the value of work, loss of employment and financial crisis can provoke despair. Surely there is a limit to how many rejections unemployed persons can sustain before they throw up their hands and succumb to hopelessness, including temptations to end it all through suicide. During times of unemployment the individual can make matters worse by rubbing it in: ‘I’m a loser; I’m a failure.  Everyone knows it’  ‘Why has God permitted put me in this situation when I’ve done my best?   The Open Wound What can the unemployed do during the trial of unemployment?  To begin with, it is important to live in the present moment and structure one’s time. While coping with this extreme hardship, energies can be given over to constructive activities that otherwise might not have been possible.  Unemployed men and women have discovered their true vocation quite by accident during the so-called lost time of unemployment. During this time, it is also important to sharpen one’s professional capabilities, for example, public speaking, retooling one’s writing skills, reading well and memorizing fine poetry.  Numerous agencies need volunteers, especially in tutoring school children.  Finally, there is no better advocate to plead one’s cause than St. Joseph the Worker.

Spotlight on education at Matteo Ricci College

Aug 24, 2016 / 00:00 am

Matteo Ricci College (MRC) is one of eight schools and colleges that form part of Seattle University, a Catholic institution conducted by the Society of Jesus.  With the Humanities as its core, MRC offers three degrees: a Bachelor of Arts in Humanities (BAH), a Bachelor of Arts in Humanities for Leadership (BAHL), and a Bachelor of Arts in Humanities for Teaching (BAHT).  Mission of MRC MRC educates teachers and leaders for a just and humane world. The study of Western culture is the surest place to begin. Pseudo-educators claim it’s a waste of time.   Yet, the facts don’t lie.  We are the beneficiaries of Greco-Roman culture preserved, reinterpreted, and handed down through the Catholic Church’s medieval monastic tradition and continued through the Italian Renaissance. To be human is to be in a story, and to forget one's story leaves a person without a present identity, without a past and without a future.  At MRC, cultural history is taught so that students can draw moral lessons from it.  Those who don’t learn from these lessons are condemned to repeat and relive them.     With the small class size at MRC, professors can take a personal interest in each student.  In this environment conducive to learning, a close collaboration between student and professor is pursued.   This encourages greater participation in class. Shouldn’t MRC be the envy of most serious students?  You would think so.  What’s in a Name?  MRC is named after the 16th - century Jesuit priest Matteo Ricci (1552-1610) who spent his adult life as an educator and missionary in China.  At that time, the doors of the Chinese empire were closed to foreigners from the West.   It was Ricci who brought Western civilization to China, and Chinese literati reciprocated by sharing with him their ancient and venerable culture.  For him, inculturation was a reality centuries before the term was invented. He founded the modern Chinese Catholic Church.   Ricci astonished the Chinese because he loved them. An authority on so many subjects and disciplines—mathematics, astronomy, apologetics, literature, popular catechesis, poetry, art and music—he brought this treasury of gifts to his mission. His intellectual gifts were prodigious: a photographic memory, linguistic ability to speak flawless Chinese, ingenuity to write maps, assemble clocks, read the stars.  As if this weren’t enough, Ricci had a keen ear for music and reportedly sang with great sweetness.   This “wise man from the west” is recognized as “the most cultivated man of his time and one of the most remarkable and brilliant men of history.”   Known throughout the realm as Li-Ma-T’ou, this missionary scholar remains the most respected and beloved foreign figure in Chinese culture. Some in the Chinese government view him as the “Second Founder of Modern China.”   This is the man after whom MRC is named.  He is its model of a complete liberal arts education cast in the Jesuit mold. Student Protest against the Curriculum of MRC In May, some two hundred enrolled students at (MRC) staged a week-long sit-in objecting to the core curriculum: The focus on Western culture and values was declared irrelevant. Studies in Western Civilization had failed to serve the academic interests of these students.  The students demanded of the administration that the classic core curriculum in the Humanities be discarded in favor of a new program of studies to reflect special interest groups of race, class, gender, and disability.  Additionally, they demanded that only qualified faculty be hired to teach courses that reflected their interest in identity group studies of race, class, gender, and disability. The Dean of the MRC was to be fired. Student demands focused on “dissatisfaction, traumatization, and boredom,” that is, “the Humanities program as it exists today” which “ignores and erases the humanity of its students and of peoples around the globe.”  . . . “We are diverse, with many different life experiences, also shaped by colonization, U.S., and Western imperialist, neo-politics, and oppression under racist, sexist, classist, heteronormative and homophobic, transphobic, queerphobic, ableist, nationalistic, xenophobic systems which perpetuate conquest, genocide of indigenous peoples, and pervasive systemic inequities.” Students spoke of oppression perpetrated by the Administration:  “The first manifest demand is a complete change in the curriculum from a Whiteness-dominated curriculum to a non-Eurocentric interdisciplinary curriculum.  If the (MRC) is unable to tackle these requirements, we demand that it be converted into a department so as to be accountable to another college.”    What Students at MRC Seek If MRC students are seeking social justice and equality for all, if they are to make sense of this complex world, they ought to study the Humanities. If they are curious about how other cultures have learned to develop feelings of compassion, tolerance, respect, empathy, they ought to study the Humanities. If they are curious about how creative other people can be, if students are determined to live in a democracy of free citizens, the Humanities should be studied. Without the Humanities, democracy would not exist.   The Crisis of Higher Education In this country, we are experiencing an intellectual crisis that has already affected our work force, our politics, and our culture.  Western civilization, the human culmination of centuries of learning is under attack by an identity-driven student population exemplified by the protesters at MRC.  Whereas many academic leaders fail to uphold the purpose of teaching Western civilization, the faculty at MRC values it.  Whereas academic leaders don’t believe that the Humanities have any fundamental influence on their students, the faculty at MRC is invested in it.  Shared values—this is what brings the world together.   MRC is not alone in promoting a Humanities core curriculum. Many non-sectarian and private colleges proudly offer a core curriculum around which other subjects are framed. At least twenty-five colleges and universities in the United States offer the Great Books tradition to their undergraduates. These books are part of the great conversation about the universal ideas of cultures and civilizations, always related to ethical and religious values.  Many educators believe that nearly half of college graduates show no measurable improvement in knowledge or critical thinking. They speak and write incorrectly; they do not read.  Their constant companions? Electronic devices with accompanying head sets. Weaker academic requirements, greater specialization in the departments, a rigid orthodoxy and doctrinaire views on liberalism are now part of the university’s politics and cultural life.   Clash of Goals If the demands of these special interest groups—race, class, gender, and disability, were met, MRC would cease to exist. A program of identity studies clashes with the raison d’être of a college named after Matteo Ricci, a name synonymous with the richest of classic studies.    The student protesters are demanding to be extricated from the program that distinguishes itself in the pantheon of Catholic higher education.   Who would be so foolish as to look down on, much less protest, such a rich curriculum that prompts the most influential employers to hire MRC’s crême de la crème?  Let the disgruntled students go elsewhere with their partisan interests and narrow viewpoint.  They lose. Ricci Speaks to College Students Matteo Ricci has left us several proverbs that can inspire college students.  But not just college students:    “Man is a stranger in this world.”  “The virtuous person speaks little.” “Time past must be thought of as gone forever.  Don’t waste time.” “True longevity is reckoned not by number of years but according to progress in virtue.  If the Lord of Heaven grants me one day more of life, He does so that I may correct yesterday’s faults; failures to do this would be a sign of great ingratitude.” The canonization of Father Matteo Ricci, S.J. ranks high on the ‘to-do list’ of Pope Francis whose high regard and love for him are well known.  This is the Servant of God, Matteo Ricci, S.J.

Jane and John go to college, and so do their parents

Aug 17, 2016 / 00:00 am

In a week or two, freshmen from around the country will begin their college education. The first year, the most important of the four, is meant to build a strong academic foundation for the remaining three years and even beyond.   Freshmen year often awakens in the student a love for learning. In college, self-identity is chiseled out, attitudes and values mature, friendships and new loves, discovered. The halls of university academe can be an exciting place to hope and dream about one’s future. Attending college is both a privilege and responsibility.  Here the phrase, noblesse oblige applies (literally, nobility obliges): Those who have received much are expected to share their gifts with others to make society a better place in which to live.  Seeking a Liberal Arts Education Colleges typically organize their curriculum around their mission statement. An institution of higher learning worthy of its name offers a core curriculum, also known as the humanities or liberal arts.  Some have general requirements. The humanities offer a splendid array of disciplines, and one of them will be chosen as the focus of students’ special attention in junior and senior year.  Courses include: foreign language(s), linguistics and literature, philosophy, theology/religious studies, social sciences, the refining arts—music and art.  The liberal arts develop the student as an intellectually rounded person exposing students to disciplines that broaden their horizons and add meaning to life.  It has been said that a specialist without a liberal arts background is only half a person. Importance of the Humanities Did you know that two-thirds of humanities majors find satisfying positions in the private sector?  If the college one attends does not require the humanities, here are eight benefits for choosing them on one’s own: They help us understand others through their languages, histories, and cultures. They foster social justice and equality. They reveal how people have tried to make moral, spiritual, and intellectual sense of the world. The humanities teach empathy. They teach us to deal critically and logically with subjective, complex, and imperfect information. They teach us to weigh evidence skeptically and consider more than one side of every question. Humanities students build skills in writing and critical reading. They encourage us to think creatively.   They develop informed and critical citizens.  Without the humanities, democracy could not flourish. (Curt Rice, “Here are 9 reasons why humanities matter. What’s your number 10?”) Listening to the Parents  Before the 1990s, most parents were satisfied with the college education of their sons and daughters who had graduated with more than a passing knowledge about great ideas and universal questions.  In recent years however, an increasing number of parents have expressed dissatisfaction: “I spent $100,000.00 for my daughter’s (my son’s) education at a four-year private college.  She graduated with a degree in Peace Studies.  She has no job.”  Content of subject matter and intolerance of diverse opinions are two major concerns. Content of Subject Matter Too many colleges have abandoned required courses—no foreign language, no language arts.  What great literature and poetry are students studying?  A prevailing attitude sees the Great Books Tradition as little more than the political opinions of dominant groups.  What of philosophy and religious studies? Why aren’t students exposed to the ancient philosophers who wrestled with perennial questions:  Who am I? What am I doing, and why am I doing it? What is the purpose of my life? Few colleges offer a course in world religions. As for history and American government, they’re bunk. War after war—it’s all an inventory of political grievances; our American government is composed of corrupt politicians.  And what of art and music history?  Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Bernini?  Are they the preserve of dead white males, a phrase used by collegiates?  Is the answer offering the “gutter phenomenon” of Rock, Rap, or Hip-Hop which use orgiastic and foul language and offering shock art like the photograph, “Piss Christ,” by Andres Serrano?  A few years ago, why did Syracuse University offer a course called “Hip-Hop Eshu: Queen B*tch 101?” To exalt Lil’ Kim?  Parents are willing to spend generously on education that expands the mind with a classic education but not for studies whose content is without purpose.  Why should they squander hard-earned dollars on a core curriculum that is a sham or on courses that entertain pubescent students with a degraded popular culture? Such institutions are caricatures of what used to be referred to as higher education. Liberal Intolerance Until the 1990s, the phrase: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it" was operative on college campuses.  Today, those who speak what is opposed to the majority must refrain from giving their opinions that are open to critical and healthy discussion. In former days, institutions required students to challenge each other to think clearly and logically about a topic.  In class, the Socratic methodology was employed to insure that students’ views could be articulated without reprisal.  In Jesuit education for example, students are required to argue both sides of an issue, including those topics that are abhorrent to defend or condemn.   To give one example, if a person holds to what he or she considers a good action, does intention alone make for a moral act?  As students work their pros and cons, eventually someone will cite Hitler whose good intention was to exalt the German people beyond all others.  However, he ostracized German Jews whom he derided as polluting the German race.  This view led to the barbaric means he took to achieve his end—their annihilation.  The conclusion to the discussion? The immoral end does not justify a moral means or intention. The intention and the end must together be moral acts. Since the 1990s, intellectual diversity has gradually muffled honest debate. A Confession of Liberal Intolerance Recently, the liberal columnist, Nicholas Kristoff, published two essays in the New York Times on the present status of liberal thinking in this country: Nicholas Kristoff’s “Confession of Liberal Intolerance” and “The Liberal Blind Spot.” Some of his observations apply to what unsuspecting freshmen might find on certain campuses with varying degrees of intensity. Increasing numbers of liberal professors and students pride themselves on their diversity and their tolerance of diversity—diversity of various minority groups but not of conservatives—Evangelical Christians, and practicing Catholics.  Kristoff calls this “liberal arrogance”—“the implication that these groups don’t have anything significant to add to the discussion.” The unwritten motto may be: “We welcome people who don’t look like us, as long as they think like us.” Or, “I disapprove of what you say, so shut up.” Or I close my mind to what you may want to say because it’s not worthwhile saying, in my view. Thus we hear: “We’re tolerant. You are entitled to your truth, but keep it to yourself.  And don’t force it on me.” What Is Truth?   Alan Bloom, the author of The Closing of the American Mind, made the argument in the 1980s that American youth are increasingly raised to believe that every belief is merely the expression of an opinion or preference.  They are raised to be “cultural relativists” with the default attitude of “non-judgmentalism” (Patrick Deneen, “Who Closed the American Mind?”). Parents object: “My son, my daughter entered college with a moral compass with a belief that there is such a thing as objective truth.  But in my son’s college, only the relativity of truth and the absolutism of relativity are taught across the board.  Thus, there is no longer any possibility of objective truth.” The Crisis of Higher Education We are experiencing an intellectual crisis that has already affected our work force, our politics, and our culture.  College costs are escalating, while too many colleges and universities without a core curriculum or without any substantive requirements are failing this generation. Western civilization, the human culmination of centuries of learning is pummeled by a pop culture.  Too many academic leaders fail to uphold the purpose of teaching Western civilization.  Academic leaders don’t believe that the humanities have any fundamental influence on their students.  There are no shared values. The result?  The advent of identity courses: Feminist studies, African-American, Latino, LGBT studies.  As long as everyone is tolerant of everyone’s classes, no one can get hurt.  Yet not all institutions of higher learning fit this description. Many non-sectarian and private colleges offer a structured curriculum or a core curriculum around which other subjects are framed. At least twenty-five colleges and universities in the United States offer the Great Books tradition to their undergraduates. These books are part of the great conversation about the universal ideas of cultures and civilizations. The authors of Academically Adrift, the most devastating book on higher education since Alan Bloom’s book, The Closing of the American Mind, found that nearly half of undergraduates show no measurable improvement in knowledge or “critical thinking” after two years of college. Weaker academic requirements, greater specialization in the departments, a rigid orthodoxy and doctrinaire views on liberalism are now part of the university’s politics and cultural life. Freshmen entering college today should be aware of the crisis of liberal education which is in conflict and incompatible with the traditional aspirations of the liberal arts. Advice to Freshmen Choose your friends wisely. Confide in a very few. Find a small group of friends who are serious about studies and who know how to balance work with play.  Form or join a reading group. Establish healthy eating and sleeping habits. Don’t pull all-nighters. Don’t go out on the week nights.  Study for about 50 minutes.  Take a ten-minute break.  Then return to study. Repeat.  Make a habit of this process—study, break, study. If you put your energies into academics, you will be handsomely rewarded later on. Don’t get behind in your assignments.  Make certain that you are up-to-date on all of them.  In the case of writing papers, get started on your research as soon as the assignment is given.  Work a little on the research every day. Keep a dictionary and thesaurus at hand at all times. Make it a habit of looking up the meaning of words.  Words are power and the right word is a sign of right thinking. Be your own leader.  Do not follow the crowd if you sense they engage in actions contrary to your beliefs.  For example:  doing drugs or binge drinking. Be reflective.  Reflection means going below the surface of an experience, an idea, a purpose, or a spontaneous reaction to discover its meaning to you.   Find an older mentor, not necessarily a professor, but someone whom you have observed has wisdom and common sense.  Place your confidence in this person as your unofficial adviser. Remember:  Your college life is an open book.  Whatever you do or avoid doing becomes common knowledge—quickly.     Every College Has its Own Soul Every college builds its own identity, its own reputation. Some colleges are known for the seriousness with which they pursue academics.  Some are known as “party” schools.  Still others are best known for their sports prowess. According to John Henry Newman, the ideal university is comprised of a community of scholars and thinkers, engaging in intellectual pursuits as an end in itself.  Only secondarily, does it have a practical purpose, for example, finding a job.  Today, most people would scoff at this assertion.  For them, today’s goal of education is to find a job.   The facts however don’t lie.  Those with intellectual pursuits as an end are the most likely to secure the best positions.  A university is a place where one looks out toward everyone and everything … without boundaries.  A university is a place where one discovers and studies truth. A person of faith holds sacred this belief. According to Newman, knowledge alone cannot improve the student; only God is the source of all truth; only God can impart truth. Today, this notion alienates students at secular colleges and universities.  

Back to School: The Catholic Philosophy of Education

Aug 10, 2016 / 00:00 am

“It’s back to school,” the many ads remind us.  The noble work of education will soon begin anew.   The word, educate, from the Latin educere, means to lead out of. Educators worthy of the name lead their students out of the darkness of ignorance to the light of truth, knowledge and wisdom.  The Catholic Philosophy of Education To realize its Divine mission, the Church has developed a view of education that claims the right over all other agencies to make final decisions about the education of its youth.  There are several principles of the Catholic philosophy of education that mark it with distinction.  With the obvious age-appropriate adaptations, they affect all ages and academic levels.  Belief in a Personal God First, that belief in a personal God is essential to all Catholic thinking in any and every phase of human activity. This includes formal education which proclaims Jesus as its primary Exemplar.  It follows that the Church rejects any philosophy of education or position that sacrifices the eternal and supernatural to the temporal and natural (V.P. Lannie, “Catholic Education IV,” The New Encyclopedia 5: 168). Academic Excellence Second, Catholic education imparts far more than amassing facts and information.  Scholarship and faith belong together, the whole person, seeking ultimate Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.  Students should be taught to wonder at the goodness and truth surrounding them. Catholic education builds character. It develops in its students a Catholic moral compass and a Catholic sensibility to understand how society and democracies function. The curriculum’s first order of business is academic formation and excellence. Students must learn correct grammar and use language skillfully, even artfully. This means reading well, writing with imagination, precision and power, and speaking the country’s predominant language correctly. It is typically true that whoever uses the right word thinks precisely and persuasively as in the famous Hopkins’ poetic line, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.”  English is a difficult language to master, but it must be said that immigrants to this country often learn to speak better English than those who are born here. In the musical, “My Fair Lady,” the character of Henry Higgins sings, “Why Can’t the English Teach Their Children How to Speak.”  He lampoons Americans’ mutiliation of English with the line, “Well, in America, they haven’t used it in years.” A playful jab, but jab it is. Catholic and Christian Humanism Third, in Catholic humanism, God is found not just in the sacred but also in the secular where Christian values and virtue can be uncovered.  The religious and the profane are mutually inclusive, “charged with the grandeur of God.” Whatever is human is inherently Christian.  No enterprise, no matter how secular, is merely secular for we live in a universe of grace and promise.  The humanities are associated with depth, richness, feelings, character and moral development. This is why the literary and refining arts are so important.  Their purpose is to impart wonder and enjoyment, sensitize the feelings of students and eventually influence their behavior.  The humanities are intended for all students and not just for the elite. The Student and the Educator Fourth, St. Thomas Aquinas puts it concisely: Education is a lifelong process of self-activity, self-direction, and self-realization. The child is the center of attention, the “principal agent,” in the educational process.  The instructor is the “essential mover” who teaches by the witness of his or her example and consistently brings to their lessons a high degree of preparedness. The teacher’s role is critical to Catholic education (Ibid).  The students’ real life situations initiate the process of learning.   Educators lead their students out beyond their life setting—their Sitz-im-Leben.  Experience teaches students to discover for themselves by engaging the five senses. This includes, for example, making or doing beautiful art forms or listening to beautiful music. Affectivity must be channeled in socially-accepted ways. For the most part, “Rap” culture exalts anti-social affectivity. In his apostolic exhortation, “Evangelii nuntiandi,” Pope Paul VI reflected: “Today students do not listen seriously to teachers but to witnesses, and if they do listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.”   Catholic educators teaching in public schools can adapt Catholic principles to the public school curriculum especially when these are also embraced by other faith-traditions.     The Benedict Effect At his papal election in 2003, why did Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger take the papal name Benedict?  It was the Benedictine monks, who, systematically and comprehensively, rebuilt Europe after the barbaric invasions of Rome in the 5th century. Some European leaders refuse to acknowledge Europe’s Christian roots and, specifically, the Church’s role in building on Greco-Roman culture, Christianizing it, and handing it on to future generations. At a time when Europe was cast in darkness, the Church led it out of the darkness; the Church was Europe’s light. Not opinion, but fact. St. Benedict, the Benedictine Order, and the Monastic Centuries In the middle of the sixth century, a small movement changed the landscape of the European world.  Benedict of Nursia (480-547) introduced a new way of life and thinking that has brought vitality to contemporary men and women. He laid the foundation of Benedictine monastic life with his monks first at Subiaco and Rome, and then at Monte Cassino.   Benedict composed his Rule of disciplined balance that fostered order and peace.  If “pray and work” (ora et labora) was the Benedictine motto, the way to live it was through beauty, piety, and learning.  Every monastery was built on an expansive tract of land, and  eventually, it became a miniature civic center for the townspeople.  One could say that the monks sacralized the landscape.   Monastic Schools Of the many contributions the Benedictine monks made to European culture, education remained a prominent value. In the Middle Ages, education was conducted within the confines of the monastery by monks, and later, by nuns.  They offered religious and general education to youth who intended to enter the monastic or clerical life and to youth who were preparing for public life.  They lived at home.  Young children of six or seven years of age were taught the basics. The majority, especially potential monks and nuns, were taught to read Latin, writing, chant, arithmetic, and learning how to read time on the sundial. The main text was the Psalter.  From the eighth century onward, students were taught the seven liberal arts, the trivium, grammar, logic, and rhetoric, and the quadrivium, arithmetic, astronomy, geometry, and music.  The ideal monastery of the Benedictine Order was that of Saint Gall in present-day Switzerland where the town flourished around the monastery. In our century, Catholic education continues to flourish across the world in developed and in developing countries. Conclusion: Catholic Education in the United States The Encyclopedia of Catholicism asserts that “throughout history, there is likely no more compelling instance of Catholic commitment to education than the school system created by the U.S. Catholic community.  The story of American Catholicism goes back to the very first Catholic settlers in the New World.”  Despite the various declarations of freedom in early American history, anti-Catholicism prevailed through groups such as the Know-Nothing Society of the 1850s.  They existed to eradicate Popery, Jesuitism, and Catholicism.   Between 1840 and 1900, at least sixty European religious orders of women and men were teaching in this country’s parochial schools.  Conclusion Finally, the philosophy of Catholic education integrates several aspects of the faith into the curriculum but always in age-appropriate ways: Biblical tradition, Early Christian Church plus heresies and the results,  Spirituality and prayer, Liturgy,  Doctrine, Ecumenism:  a study of the world religions and the Third World. Today, apologetics is needed more than ever to defend the Church against old and new approaches to anti-Catholicism.  Our students should be taught the art and skill of civil debate—to learn the principles, internalize them, anticipate opposing views, and then defend the principles.  (This précis of the philosophy of Catholic education has been presented in its ideal conception and not necessarily as it exists with the integrity described.)

Martyrdom Then and Now

Aug 1, 2016 / 00:00 am

The brutal end for Edith Stein and her sister Rosa came quickly.  On August 2nd, 1942, the Nazis arrested and transported them by cattle train in route to the death camp at Auschwitz. Days later either on August 8th or 9th, they were sent to the gas chambers–simply because they were Jews.  On October 11th, 1998, the Catholic Church canonized Edith Stein, Jewish philosopher, atheist-turned-Catholic convert, Discalced Carmelite nun, and martyr of the Catholic Church.  She was known in religion as Sr. Teresa, Benedicta a Croce, (St. Teresa, Blessed by the Cross).  From Darkness . . .  Born in 1891 the youngest in a large devout Jewish family, Edith Stein’s father died an early and sudden death.  Though Edith admired her mother’s piety, her own faith was giving way to atheism.   At the University of Freiburg, Edith excelled as a philosophy student.  In the process of earning her doctorate in phenomenology in 1916, she abandoned her Jewish faith.  She was sympathetic toward the prevailing philosophical view that rejected the existence of the soul. Yet two mentors influenced her thinking:  Edmund Husserl (d 1938) and Max Scheler (d 1928), both Jews and Lutheran converts. Husserl trained his students to look at everything with strict impartiality, for the intellect  has a capacity for receiving truth. Does God exist? Her heart remained open as she searched for an answer to this question. Scheler was convinced that religion alone makes the human being human. Edith was deeply affected and drawn to Scheler’s compelling statements. . . . Into the Light  Truth often comes to us through the witness of other people’s lives, a fact Edith experienced in two instances.  Both changed the direction of her life.   During World War I, Edith’s colleague and friend, Adolf Reinach was killed in battle.  On an invitation to the Reinach home to organize his papers, Edith met his widow Frau Reinach.  Here was a woman suffering intensely, and yet Edith saw only hope and joy in her face. Her rational arguments began crumbling in the face of the mystery of the cross, which eventually transformed her from an atheist to a believer.  Still, the road to the Catholic faith remained at a distance. While visiting a friend, Edith came across the autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila.  After reading it through the night, she put down the book and thought within herself, “This is the truth.”  Teresa’s experience was hers; Teresa’s words were paraphrased: “I was so blind!  Whatever made me think that I could find a remedy apart from you?  Such stupidity–running away from the light.”  St. Paul would call this “the futility of the mind” (Eph 4:17).  Francis Thompson would refer to such a spiritual journey in his soaring autobiographical poem, “The Hound of Heaven:”  “Naked I wait thy love’s uplifted stroke,  My harness piece by piece thou hast hewn from me.” Edith’s eyes were opened, and the road to her conversion, within sight.  She bought a catechism and a Missal, studied them both, and went to her first Mass, after which she asked the pastor to baptize her.  Apprised of her background, he suggested that she read St. Thomas Aquinas, a philosopher and theologian, as a proximate preparation for her reception into the Church.  On New Year’s Day, 1922, at the age of thirty-one, Edith Stein was received into the Church.  Her mother wept with inconsolable sadness. Integration of Mind, Heart, and Will Following her conversion, Edith took a teaching position in Speyer at a secondary school conducted by the Dominican sisters.  As an inspiring leader, she won the hearts of the teachers and students alike.  In addition to teaching, she lectured, especially to women.  On one occasion, speaking to them, she declared, “The nation . . . doesn’t simply need what we have.  It needs what we are.”  During her tenure at the school, she developed a spirituality of the Christian woman. In 1925, the noted philosopher, Eric Przywara, S.J., asked Edith to translate St. Thomas beginning with his disputed questions on truth. His request convinced her of the importance of academics as a vocation to follow. St. Thomas’ works served not only as a path to truth but also as an analytical way to personal experience of God.  For him, there is a unity between the thinking person and the person who contemplates and loves.  As Edith put it, “The perfection of love does not consist in a certainty of knowledge but in an intensity of being seized” (Herbstrith, 86 quoting Stein Thomas von Aquin, I, Teil, 268, 86).      During those years at Speyer, Edith dedicated herself to a life of prayer, which for her, was the hidden but energizing power of her professional life and her many works of charity. Her public lectures saw the fruit of prayer.  Eventually however, she lost her teaching post because she was a Jew.   The Cologne Carmel, Kristallnacht, and the Carmel at Echt In October, 1933, at forty-two Edith asked to be received into the Carmelite monastery at Cologne and was accepted.  Her family was crushed by the decision and could not understand it.  Her last day at home was a Jewish holiday, the Feast of Booths.  She went to synagogue with her mother, and the next morning, left for Carmel.   On November 9th, 1938, Kristallnacht, “the night of broken glass,” as it came to be known, the Nazis intensified their persecution of Jews. During this year, a large-scale offensive was enacted against the Jews, and thousands were forced to leave Germany.  Edith grieved for those victimized by racial hatred, especially over her family and friends.  With the horror of Kristallnacht, the German Jews abandoned all hope to live in peace.  “All through the night, Jewish citizens were rounded up, driven from their homes with Billy-clubs, and their businesses were demolished or confiscated.  In a matter of hours, their lives as members of German society had been destroyed.  Even the synagogues had been burned” (Herbstrith, 164).  Germans and Jews alike now understood that any public outcry on their part would be met with ruthless and immediate punishment.   It was becoming more dangerous for the Carmelites in Cologne to house Edith and her sister. On New Year’s Eve, Sr. Teresa Benedicta  and Rosa were transferred to the Dutch Carmel of Echt.  Two years later when the Nazis occupied Holland, they rounded up all Jews who were now forced to wear a conspicuous yellow star.  The Carmel in Switzerland offered her asylum, but as there was no room for Rosa. Edith felt she must decline their assistance.   From Westerbrook to Auschwitz In his journal dated July 30th, 1942, Dr. William Harster, the Commanding Officer of Security Police and the Public Security Administration in charge of The Hague, wrote among other entries: “Since the Catholic bishops have interfered in something that does not concern them, deportation of all Catholic Jews will be speeded up and completed within the coming week.  Noappeals for clemency shall be considered” (Herbstrith, 191). Four days later, Sr. Teresa, her sister, and twelve hundred Dutch Jews were arrested and put on a train to Westerbrook, a transitional concentration camp in Holland.  “Come, Rosa, we’re going for our people,” she declared.  Early in the morning of August 7th, Number 44074, Edith Theresia Hedwig Stein, and her sister Rosa were brought to Auschwitz, Poland.  August 9th is the date assigned to their death in the gas chamber there.  In 1979, a friend of Edith Stein, Father Johannes Hirschmanns, S.J. wrote that although Auschwitz remained a place stripped of love, it also revealed that the Cross was stronger than hate. Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings  In 1938, even as Hitler’s threats engulfed Europe, the American composer Samuel Barber wrote his Adagio for Strings. Full of pathos that evokes tears, it is perhaps the most intense eight minutes of music of the twentieth century, music that parallels Edith’s life.  Inch by inch the gentle, circular melody ascends.  It intensifies to a climactic crescendo sending shivers up and down the spine. Suddenly, abruptly, the music breaks off.  After a tense moment of silence, it resumes, as if whimpering, then dies away.  Atrocity in Nice, France At this writing, a complete report about the gruesome murder in Nice of Father Jacques Hamel last Tuesday is unavailable.  Why did the two Islamic assailants choose the quiet Normandy town of Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray to carry out their execution—the words are almost impossible to pen—the cutting of Father Hamel’s throat … and at the time of the celebration of Mass?  Why did the assailants record the chilling assassination as it was taking place?  The parish church had not been registered as high risk. Trembling, Mayor Hubert Wulfranc broke down in tears and could hardly speak: “A brutal act of barbarism has taken away our priest and gravely wounded a parishioner.” He was speaking for the entire town for whom Father Hamel was a beloved figure.  One after the other, they recalled the priest’s dedication and holiness. Rushing back from World Youth Day, Archbishop Dominique Lebrun of Rouen commented after Father Hamel’s assassination:  “The only weapons the Catholic Church can take up are prayer and fraternity among people.” Here is another example that recalls the terror in the early Church when known Christians were rounded up and brutally murdered simply because they called themselves Christian. May the soul of Father Jacques Hamel rest in peace.

Can the Catholic Church die?

Jul 27, 2016 / 00:00 am

In the first three hundred years of Christianity, it was entirely possible for the fledgling Christian religion to be killed off, for it was this religion under constant threat of persecution. It was inconceivable that a stray minority could or would overcome paganism.   Why was Christianity so special?  Christians were convinced that Jesus Christ had risen from the dead.  Preaching dignity for all, he was the Messiah, the hope of the nations.  Jesus Christ was the answer to the universal question: What is the meaning of life? In the early fourth century, 90 percent of the population followed one god or another.  People  shopped around for a god just as today one would shop for food stuffs in a supermarket.  But the Christians would not follow the crowd. They refused to worship or sacrifice to the gods.  For this, they were made scapegoats when natural disaster struck. It was a high crime to profess being a Christian, and the punishment for it?  Cruel death. Yet, the Jesus Movement spread across the Roman Empire with pagans themselves embracing Christianity.  The theologian Tertullian (2nd to 3rd century) could declare: “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church; it is certain because it is impossible.” From the Acts of the Apostles to the Present In the Acts of the Apostles it is written: “For if this council or this work be of men, it will come to nought.  But if it be of God, you cannot overthrow it, lest perhaps you be found even to fight against God” (Acts 5:38).  From apostolic times to the present, the demise of Catholic Christianity has been predicted with certitude and anticipated with relish. Civilizations have come and gone, cultures have been overthrown; they have corrupted from within.  Novel philosophies and cults have risen and fallen.  Despite ongoing difficulties, from within and without, Catholic Christianity has stood, ever proposing and professing its unity, holiness, fullness of faith, and apostolic ministry.  Still, all is not well. Fast forward. Of the 44 percent of Americans who have left the religious tradition of their youth, about 10.1 percent are former Roman Catholics. Their return to the Church is unlikely any time in the near future, according to the findings of the Pew Research Center.   Every year during the Easter Triduum, the Church welcomes thousands into full communion with the Body of Christ.  In contrast, large numbers walk out of the Church each year.  Some of those who left years ago are prominent figures in public service today and currently in the news: Vice-president hopeful Mike Pence, Gov. John Kasich, Congresswoman Mia Love, and FBI Director James Comey. “The church in America must face the fact,” writes Fr. William J. Byron, S.J., “that it has failed to communicate the Good News cheerfully and effectively to a population adrift on a sea of materialism and under constant attack from the forces of secularism, not to mention the diabolical powers that are at work in our world” (“On Their Way Out,” America Magazine (January 2, 2011). Former Catholics may not be able to put their finger on the exact reason for leaving the Church, but it may boil down to a few phrases:   “I don’t get anything out of weekly Mass. Homilies are like dry straw.” “The Catholic Church is all about dos and don’ts.” “The clergy abuse scandal and its cover-up have driven me away.” As if to underscore the sad phenomenon of plummeting numbers, Cardinal Timothy Dolan addressed it in 2011 when he addressed the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops:  “Perhaps our most pressing pastoral challenge today is to reclaim that truth, to restore the luster, the credibility, the beauty of the Church, ‘ever ancient, ever new,’ renewing her as the face of Jesus, just as He is the face of God.  Maybe our most urgent priority is to lead our people to see, meet, and hear anew Jesus in and through His Church.”  “Urgent” is the key word. If the Catholic Church were a business, its leadership would seek every possible means to reverse these untenable losses. And immediately.  The “new evangelization,” beginning with our youth, seeks to reverse course. The Church Compared to a Symphony Orchestra The secret of Catholic Christianity lies not so much in the “the outer walls of the Catholic cathedral, with their cracks and crevices and their weather-beaten masonry” but in “the wondrous artistic beauty of the interior hidden from the outer structure” in the mystery of its internal life. (Karl Adam, The Spirit of Catholicism, 13).  The splendor of the Church’s dogmas of the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the Mystical Body of Christ, the beauty of venerating Mary and the saints, and the beauty of the instructions of the Church Fathers on prayer, contemplation, mysticism and morality, on the Church’s effective social teaching—all these expressions of Catholic Christianity can plant the seeds of faith as well as strengthen one’s faith in their beauty.  At its best, Catholic Christianity is a splendid symphony orchestra, an inherently beautiful work of art to behold.   The mission of the Church, like a symphony orchestra, is to attract the audience with its deep and expressive beauty.  An orchestra without that uplifting spirit and joi de vivre is bound to disappoint its audience. Such an orchestra dies if it ceases to attract through its beauty. And what of the Church? The Prognosis?  Can the Church die from within or be destroyed from without?  Given the revolving door of converts coming in and cradle Catholics going out, can today’s Church grow and speak as a beautifully persuasive voice?  Didn’t Jesus assure Peter, the rock on which he built the Church, that the powers of death would not prevail against it (Mt 16:18)? Still, the human element, of itself, can become deformed and disfigured. Prayerlessness, the drive for power, worldliness and loss of fervor provide fertile ground for critics eager to brand the Church as corrupt.   We need more apostles like Mary Magdalene who first proclaimed the Lord’s resurrection to the disciples.  She ran to them in haste and was beside herself with joy to announce the good news.  This then is a Church that promises much and assures eternal happiness.  The Church’s vocation is to proclaim its beautiful truth and to do so beautifully.

Needed: More Canonized Mothers and Fathers

Jul 20, 2016 / 00:00 am

When Zélie and Louis Martin, the parents of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, were canonized in 2015, it must have crossed the minds of many in the Church:  Why aren’t there more canonized saints among married women and men?  Vatican II and the Call to Universal Holiness: the Laity/Married People/ In the Dogmatic Constitution, “The Church,” the Fathers at Vatican II explicitly called for the universal holiness of all according to their vocation in life.  Jesus preached holiness of life to each and every one of his disciples: “You therefore are to be perfect, even as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48).  All the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or stature are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity.   The document was emphatic about the holiness of all, that lay men and lay women were called to holiness, not in the same way as consecrated religious men and women.  Consecrated life was no longer more esteemed than consecrated married life.  Everyone is called to holiness according to the vocation one has chosen.  Only the manner in which it is lived marks the distinguishing characteristic: “Married couples and Christian parents should follow their own proper path to holiness by faithful love, sustaining one another in grace throughout the entire length of their lives.  They should imbue their offspring, lovingly welcomed from God, with Christian truths and evangelical virtues.” (29)  In the home, yes, in every room of the home, God’s graces are present and at work to sanctify family life—conjugal love and the love among the other members of the family. Many times heroic virtue is needed to cooperate with these graces. Heroic Virtue Canonizations of consecrated men and women far exceed those consecrated in marriage. So it’s a fair question:  If sainthood is “the exemplary practice of Christian virtue so that one becomes a model and ideal of Christian discipleship,” then surely more devout parents ought to be considered for sainthood as well (Harper’s Encyclopedia of Catholicism).  Heroic virtue can be found among spouses in service-oriented positions as they share in the ministry of the other spouse. Heroic virtue can be found among mothers and fathers whose self-giving to each other and to their children has virtually no limit.   Charged with the responsibility of raising children in the faith, parents educate their children to be citizens in this world and for the next.  Contemporary Challenges The difficulties that challenge modern families are well known.  One problem lies in the unwillingness of the members to listen with attention and respect—adult to adult, sibling to sibling, parent to child, child to parent. The lack of discernment—the habit of making decisions at the level of faith—is another basic problem. Today many young adults reject Catholicism.  By choosing agnosticism, atheism, or no organized religion at all, they cause their parents great distress. Where have their parents gone wrong?  What can they do to reinvigorate the faith of their children and bring them back to their senses? The family that has been called to become the Domestic Church descends into an arena of discord. When this happens, the nobility of the family collapses.   Parental Anxieties Gone are the days when saints were described as without faults.  Saintly mothers and fathers have their un-saintly days.  When an exhausted parent thinks, “I can’t give any more of myself,” this is not complaining but concern about failure to give one’s best to the children. If mothers and fathers are honest with themselves, they worry.  Worry about what?  Financial matters, religious and social concerns, medical issues, discipline and good order, whether or not they are worthy role models for their children.  Breaking Marriage Vows It is no longer rare for a spouse to walk out on the other with or without provocation with simple statements that defy credibility: “I don’t want to be married to you anymore.”  Or, “I can’t take the responsibility of being a father or a mother.” Or, “I’ve fallen in love with another person.”  While dealing with the deep loss, the remaining spouse is forced to shoulder much more responsibility. With the steady increase of single-parent homes, the one adult is often obliged to work two jobs, and even three, to support the family with all the concerns involved.   What Canonized Mothers and Fathers Could Do for the Church? The vocation to married life is as blessed as the celibate vocation, but the Church is top-heavy with canonized celibate saints and martyrs.  It is true that the latter have given special witness through the ages.  It is also true that we venerate those few canonized married saints scattered throughout the ages, for example, St. Monica, mother of St. Augustine.  For twenty years, her prayers were offered for his conversion from a life of debauchery to the saintly life of theologian and Bishop of Hippo.  Then there have been Saints Henry and Louis IX,  Kings of Germany and France, respectively; Elizabeth of Hungary, and Thomas More, Lord Chancellor of England. Each gave witness in his or her own way.  Imagine what an increase of canonized mothers and fathers would do for the public image of the contemporary Church! What we need is public witness to consecrated married life, public witness to build up the family struggling to live up to their vocation as the Domestic Church, and public witness that convinces the world that  there are many more “holy families” than the one in Nazareth of two thousand years ago!  

The House We Live In

Jul 13, 2016 / 00:00 am

The photos tell heartrending stories of a nation and a world in great pain.  In America, racial division and violence; elsewhere, religious persecution, economic chaos, political intrigue—you cannot read about or listen to the daily reportage without thinking for a moment: "The world is a mess." For a template of this unrest, one need only look to the Mideast—whether in Lebanon, Syria, or Israel. Powder kegs are ready to explode at any given moment—anywhere. No one should be surprised at our collective anxiety and heightened alertness. One Body We are all members of the Body of Christ, the metaphor used by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 12. We are all members of the same Body with different ministries to build up the Body; when one member hurts, we all hurt.  No greater harm can be done than to hate or harm another member of the Body. Similarly, no greater support can be given than to fulfill the precept of patient love for every member. How many times have we listened to these words in Sunday sermons? One House In 1945, Frank Sinatra made famous the song, “The House I Live In,” an image of the American dream.  Originally intended to combat racial prejudice and anti-Semitism at the end of World War II, the song pays tribute to all Americans.  The lyrics for “The House I Live In” were written two years before by Abel Meeropol who used the pseudonym, Lewis Allen.  The music was composed by Earl Robinson.  Sadly in this very same house, it is easy to learn hatred of others through fear.  Last week, so much blood was spilled, and we are “blind with weeping,” to quote Shakespeare. The original lyrics of “The House I Live In” are printed below. Given the events of the past week, they are particularly poignant and worthy of reflection. “The House I Live In” (Introduction) What is America to me?  A name, a map, the flag I see, A certain word, “Democracy.” What is America to me? … The house I live in, the friends that I have found, The folks beyond the railroad and the people all around, The worker and the farmer, the sailor on the sea, The men who built this country, that’s America to me. … The house I live in, my neighbors white and black, The people who just came here, or from generations back The Town Hall and the soap box, the torch of Liberty, A place to speak my mind out, that’s America to me. … (Bridge section) The words of old Abe Lincoln, of Jefferson and Paine, Of Washington and Douglas, and the task that still remains, The little bridge at Concord where Freedom’s fight began, Our Gettysburg and Midway, and the story of Bataan. … The house I live in, the goodness everywhere, A land of wealth and beauty with enough for all to share, A house that we call Freedom, the home of Liberty, And the promise for tomorrow, that’s America to me. … The town I live in, the street, the house, the room The pavement of the city or the garden all in bloom The church, the school, the clubhouse, the million lights I see But especially the people, that’s America to me.… … (Additional stanzas) (Bridge section) The things I see about me, the big things and the small,  the little corner newsstand and the house a mile tall.   The wedding and the churchyard, the laughter and the tears,  and the dream that’s been a-growing for a hundred-fifty years. … The place I work in, the worker at my side,  the little house or city where my people lived and died,  the howdy and the hand-shake, the air and feeling free,  and the right to speak my mind out, that’s America to me. … The town I live in, the street, the house, the room,  the pavement of the city and the garden all in bloom,  the church, the school, the clubhouse, the million lights I see,  but especially the people, but especially the people, That’s America to me.

Leisure and Summer Time

Jul 6, 2016 / 00:00 am

With the celebration of Independence Day, the door to summer activities is opened wide.  Leisure is taken more seriously than at any other time in the year.  What do the following have in common: engaging in sports, traveling, reading a book, taking a walk or a car ride, gardening or carpentry, taking a coffee break?  The eminent philosopher Josef Pieper answers that they are qualitatively the same because they refresh a person for returning to the routine of work (Leisure: the Basis of Culture, 21).  Leisure:  What Is It?   Leisure is a satisfying kind of activity and not just cessation from work, not idleness, not wasting time. It disengages us from daily cares freeing us to enjoy pleasurable activities as well as natural and artistic beauty.  Leisure permits the human psyche to put life’s circumstances in perspective. Compulsive texting and the ubiquitous, undisciplined, and gratuitous use of cell phones steal away these moments. In the Judeo-Christian Scriptures, though there is no word for leisure, rest and refresh are found than forty times. Jesus prompted his followers “to come apart and rest awhile” (Mk 6:31). Leisure is characterized by certain universal similarities, bringing with it freedom from external constraint, joy and meaning to life. Leisure evokes creativity but varies from one person to another and from one culture to another.  Leisure for one may be work for another. Many work on the weekend, especially during summer months, so that others may relax on the weekend.  The Need for Leisure Leisure time, time to relax, however brief or prolonged, is a universal need.  Yet, often a relentless work ethic dismisses it as time wasted.  Many guard leisure as a precious value, but in practice it is challenged everywhere.  Still, it is a prerequisite for the survival of every culture, the rallying cry of Josef Pieper in his literary gem.    Our bodies register the need for leisure. ‘We work to live and not the other way round’—Aristotle’s thought and repeated by other sages.  Leisure evokes reverence for nature, for the arts, and most of all, reverence for God and for one another as images of God.   Leisure in Practice  Our creative activities help to lighten burdens and comfort our spirits.  Every culture pursues leisure in its own way.  During leisurely hours, we enjoy the beauty of civic, religious, and national holidays and the majestic vistas of national parks and playgrounds.  Holidays in many European towns see families gathering outdoors to enjoy each other’s company, different styles of music as well as folk singing and dancing; often they don traditional costumes of their locale.   The Fourth of July evokes American pride in our colonial history. It was during those sweltering Philadelphia days at the end of June and early July in 1776 that our Founding Fathers hammered out our Declaration of Independence. Every Fourth, it is customary for some Americans to read aloud this founding document to rekindle our love for this prized possession that celebrates life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Independence, won by the early colonists against all odds.   Labor Day, for example, helps us to value both work and leisure. Art exhibits together with music and literary events celebrate the human spirit.  A society, long deprived of leisure, pre-disposes itself to compensate with cheap pleasures that debases human dignity.  A Word about Work    Work may be viewed in three ways. First, work may be overvalued for its own sake, so that it interferes with family or other responsibilities.  Second, work may be seen as drudgery if it lacks higher motivation.  Finally, there is useful work or enjoyable work. Here, we see ourselves as cooperating with the Divine Artist, to build up the world. Ceaseless work and overwork destroy the spirit because, in practice, they tend to view men and women as machines. Acedia and ennui, states of listlessness and boredom, dull the sense of wonder, a thought implicit in the psalm verse: “Be still and know that I am God” (Ps 46:10). Without periodic rest to restore the soul, acedia and ennui, afflict one’s overall well-being that weaken the taste for God and spiritual activities.  Loss of employment and financial crisis can provoke despair because they trigger acedia and ennui.  While coping with such extreme hardship, families should anticipate and pray for better days ahead.   The Protestant Work Ethic Why do Americans find it so difficult to put aside time to relax? Collectively, we Americans rank among the most driven people in the world. Puritanical tendencies are resolved only by justifying leisure as earned by work.  Moreover, worship on the Sabbath, the highest form of human activity, can become distasteful and a waste of time because it doesn’t produce anything tangible; it is perceived as unproductive, and therefore, meaningless.  Unlike business transactions, liturgy is an end in itself. Leisure is also a preparation for worship, and Western civilization is indebted to the Jews for keeping holy the Sabbath. In fact, they gave us the weekend beginning on Friday at sundown. As if to confirm the need for leisure, Jesus tells us: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28).  Leisure Today Despite the grim news and horrific images that enter our homes daily, even relentlessly, we must still guard our inner peace and put aside some time for leisure. The human race may be flawed by limitation and sin, but at heart we do want to find peace supported in the family, in the Church, and in society at large.  The world has divorced leisurely pleasure from God, an error in logic that is entirely ours. God is our highest pleasure in whom we take delight ‘whether we eat, drink, or whatever we do;’ these we should do for God’s glory’ (1 Cor 10:31).  To destroy our taste for alternating rest with work is to interfere with the foundation of life.   Here James Weldon Johnson (d 1938), the distinguished African American poet, author, and civil rights lawyer, active in the NAACP, depicts God at work and God completing his work of art: THE CREATION And God stepped out on space, And He looked around and said: “I'm lonely-- I'll make me a world.” ----- And far as the eye of God could see Darkness covered everything, Blacker than a hundred midnights Down in the cypress swamp. ----- Then God smiled, And the light broke, And the darkness rolled up on one side, And the light stood shining on the others, And God said:  “That's good!” ----- Then God reached out and took the light in His hands, And God rolled the light around in His hands, Until He made the sun; And He set that sun a-blazing in the heavens. And the light that was left from making the sun God gathered it up in a shining ball And flung it against the darkness, Spangling the night with the moon and the stars,  Then down between the darkness and the light He hurled the world; And God said:  “That's good!” ----- Then God Himself stepped down-- And the sun was on His right hand, And the moon was on His left; The stars were clustered about His head, And the earth was under His feet. And God walked, and where He trod His footsteps hollowed the valleys out, And bulged the mountains up. ----- Then He stopped and looked and saw That the earth was hot and barren. And God stepped over to the edge of the world And He spat out the seven seas-- He batted His eyes, and the lightning flashed-- He clapped His hands, and the thunder rolled-- And the waters above the earth came down, The cooling waters came down. ----- Then the green grass sprouted, And the little red flowers blossomed, And the pine tree pointed its finger to the sky, And the oak spread out his arms, And the lakes cuddled down in the hollows of the ground, And the rivers ran down to the sea; And God smiled again, And the rainbow appeared, And curled itself around His shoulder. ----- Then God raised His arm, and He waved His hand Over the sea and over the land, And He said:  “Bring forth! Bring forth!” And quicker than God could drop His hand, Fishes and fowls And beasts and birds Swam the rivers and the seas Roamed the forests and the woods, And split the air with their wings, And God said:  “That's good!” ----- Then God walked around, And God looked around On all that He had made. He looked at His sun, And He looked at His moon, And He looked at His little stars; He looked on His world With all its living things, And God said:  “I'm lonely still.” ----- Then God sat down-- On the side of a hill where He could think; By a deep, wide river He sat down; With His head in His hands, God thought and thought, Till He thought:  “I'll make me a man!” ----- Up from the bed of the river God scooped the clay; And by the bank of the river He kneeled Him down; And there the great God Almighty, Who lit the sun and fixed it in the sky, Who flung the stars to the most far corner of the night, Who rounded the earth in the middle of His hand; This great God, Like a mammy bending over her baby, Kneeled down in the dust Toiling over a lump of clay Till He shaped it in His own image. ----- Then into it He blew the breath of life. And man became a living soul. Amen.  Amen. ----- When it was all completed on Day 7, the Creator-God looked out over his cosmic masterpiece. Pleased with his work of art, he declared, 'that’s good.' Then, he sat down and rested.

Two Pillars, Two Heroes of the Church

Jun 29, 2016 / 00:00 am

Apostles of the Lord—two pillars, two heroes of the Church. June 29th belongs to Saints Peter and Paul. Of Pillars and Heroes At the Acropolis, the Parthenon exemplifies beauty of architectural strength.  Through centuries of natural disasters and ravages of war, its pillars have bolstered the upper structure.  Similarly, Peter was considered a pillar of stability in the Community of Jewish Christians, as Paul was of the Gentile converts. The Infant Church began to thrive because their stability was rooted in Christ, and their leadership, buoyed up by the steady hand of Providence. The heroes Peter and Paul suffered martyrdom in Nero’s persecution (54-68).  The notion of hero is ably described by Raymond Chandler, writer and sleuth, in this way: “Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. He is the hero; he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor—by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it, and certainly without saying it. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world” (The Atlantic Monthly, November 1945). Critics’ Choice? If you could suggest someone to lead the Early Church, would Peter be your first choice?  Imagine Mary Magdalene and Paul running as competitors in the party of Jesus. John, the Beloved Disciple, surely an inspiring figure, lacked leadership traits; James the Elder was perhaps too rigid and straight-laced.  Jesus’ choice to lead the Twelve rested on Peter: ‘”I give you the keys of the kingdom,” he declared, “for on this Rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Mt 28:16-20; Lk 24:36-49; Jn 20:1923; 15-19).   Apart from Jesus himself, the name most often mentioned in the Gospels is Peter’s. He forms part of the Lord’s inner circle of three.  But before Peter assumed the ministry of service, it was necessary that he become a ‘new man.’ Peter’s Transformation Peter the fisherman, uneducated and gruff, impetuous and tactless, was gradually transformed into Peter, the chastened leader, the spokesman for the Community.  Failure taught him humility.  Leadership became a ministry of mercy. Paul Paul was a classic Diaspora Jew from Tarsus in southeastern Turkey.  As a Jew, a Roman citizen, and as a beneficiary of Greek culture, Paul traveled about with ease. He was the right man in the right place at the right time, the Lord’s perfect raw material and perfect setup to work among the Gentiles.  Belonging to three worlds, this urbane man, was first an Orthodox Jew reared in a strict family. He was sent to study with Gamaliel in Jerusalem.   Second, he was the beneficiary of Greek culture, and language.  Paul was never a ghetto Jew.  Finally, Paul was a Roman citizen even though only those born in Rome were considered as such.  His conversion experience on the way to persecute Christians is famous. Paul was an exceptional thinker and a born leader. As a skilled orator with fire, flair, and persuasive qualities, he knew his audiences and tailored his speeches to them. Using his authority to serve the Gospel, he became all things to all. To the Philippians, he was gentleness personified; to the Galatians and Corinthians, he expressed exasperation. He rebuked them but willingly received their love. Paul was not one of the original Twelve. Yet, his letters to the various Gentile churches preceded the written record of the Gospel writers, and they form the first canonical writings of the Church’s belief and teaching.  A non-eyewitness evangelized non-eyewitnesses caught up in the love of Christ, the first theologian in the Church and its greatest missionary.  If Shakespeare’s phrases have entered our daily vocabulary, so too Paul’s many phrases, for example: “Your body belongs to God.  … Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, and that God’s Spirit lives in you” (1 Cor 3ff)?  “Now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor 13:13).  “Where sin did abound, grace did more abound. . . . For those who love God, all things work together unto good.  . . . What then shall we say about these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Could oppression, or anguish, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  . . . Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Rom 5:21; 8:28; 8:31; 8:35; 12:21). “We are God’s works of art created in Christ Jesus to live the good life as he meant us to live it from the beginning” (Eph 2:10). Conflict over the Mosaic Law It was only a matter of time before conflict surfaced over a burning religious question. Does salvation depend on faith in Christ or on faith in Christ with circumcision and the obligations of the Mosaic Law? In order to be saved, must Gentile converts first become Jews? Responding in the affirmative were Peter, the elders, and the small group of Judaizers.  Paul and Barnabas, his fellow-helper, resisted such a form of Christianity.  After considerable discussion of the problem, Peter changed his position to favor Paul’s.  Paul was able to convince Peter and the others to oppose the obligatory circumcision of these converts and their adherents of the Mosaic Law, but not without heated discussions. Paul opposed Peter to his face with the attitude of one equal facing another. He had argued convincingly that he no longer saw “a role for the Mosaic Law God himself gave to his chosen people or for the customs and practices included in Jewish tradition for centuries” (Maria Pascuzzi,  Paul: Windows on His Thought and His World 132). Salvation comes through the grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ rather than in assuming heavy burdens of the Mosaic Law that even Jews found excessive.    The Council of Jerusalem (A.D. 50) eventually adopted this position in the cause of Christian liberty. It was won against the narrow Judaizers and smoothed the way for the conversion of the Gentiles. “The Council thus freed the young Church from its Jewish roots and opened it up to the world apostolate rather than confront it.  Paul’s position was vindicated” (Joseph A. Fitzmyer, “A Life of Paul,” Jerusalem Bible. 46:28-30) Office and Charism Think of Peter and the words Office, structure and stability may come to mind.  Think of Paul and you may think of Bishop Fulton J. Sheen or Billy Graham.  In the fourteenth century when preaching was at a considerably low point, Saints Vincent Ferrer and Bernardine of Siena preached to large crowds to build up their fervor. Today these saints would make the preaching of the two pale in contrast. The Council of Trent discussed many pressing issues, among which regarded where authentic ministry is attached, to the person or to the Office?  Is it effective by means of the person or the Office?  It was decided that a stable Church cannot exist solely on individual charisms.   The Catholic Church would never let a charism like Billy Graham’s stray from the Office. Charism, without structure, creates chaos.  Marriage requires passion and charism as well as and commitment and stability, each being open to the other.   Preface for Today’s Feast  The Preface for the feast of Saints Peter and Paul reads as follows:  “For by your providence, the blessed apostles Peter and Paul bring us joy:  Peter, foremost in confessing the faith, Paul, the outstanding preacher.  Peter, who established the early Church from the remnant of Israel, Paul,  master and teacher of the Gentiles that you call.   And so, each in a different way gathered together the one family of Christ  and revered together throughout the world, they share one Martyr’s crown.”  Today’s Apostles The Catholic faith is not a lovely museum piece to be admired from outside protective glass. It is a vital force, a thing of truth and beauty to be lived with joy.  This reality is our calling card to the world’s stage. Image: Sts. Peter and Paul. Thomas Hawk via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

The Bishop and the Chancellor: Martyr-Saints

Jun 22, 2016 / 00:00 am

They stood with the few who resisted his insatiable power. During the reign of Henry VIII (1509-47), John Fisher served as the Bishop of Rochester, and Thomas More, Lord Chancellor of the Realm. Their personal styles could not have been more different; as men of faith, they were one. Today the Catholic Church honors John Fisher and Thomas More, the sainted martyrs of Henry VIII’s brutal and turbulent reign.   Setting the Stage In 1533, Henry sought through papal fiat but failed to procure a divorce from Catherine, his Queen and lawful wife of nineteen years.  Smitten with new love, he was determined to marry his mistress, Anne Boleyn. Catherine had failed to “produce” a male heir and successor to the throne. Hence, his first marriage was invalid, so he reasoned. Henry’s emotions overruled his reason.  And it was his emotions that drove him by a short route to certain chaos. The next year, by an Act of Parliament, Henry rejected the Pope’s supreme authority in England.  A second act, the Act of Supremacy established him as the Supreme Head of the Church in England.   The “Defender of the Faith” now challenged the faith. “The King’s great matter” would dislodge England’s Catholic moorings and ravage every phase of English life. Henry’s England exemplifies the maxim of Aquinas: “A small error in the beginning is a big error in the end” (Quia parvus error in principio magnus est in fine.)   For the next twelve years, from 1535 until 1547, the year of his death, Henry had at least fifty men and women executed for high treason. In addition to John Fisher and Thomas More, there were members of the Society of Jesus and other religious orders, the secular clergy, and every class, trade, or profession who gave their lives rather than deny their faith. Because of their high Offices, Fisher and More were beheaded whereas the ‘lesser’ fifty were hanged, drawn, and quartered.   Brutal deaths, all.  St. John Fisher (1469-1535)  Bishop John Fisher had held important ecclesiastical Offices in the Church.  He left his mark at Cambridge for establishing two colleges there and for attracting eminent scholars to both Cambridge and Oxford. The stern and austere Fisher was a no-nonsense type who upheld both spirit and letter of the law.  When it came to “the King’s great matter,” Fisher sided firmly with Queen Catherine who maintained the validity of her marriage.    Cardinal Wolsey, the Lord Chancellor steering the divorce activities, specifically warned Fisher not to meddle in the controversy. The Bishop ignored him.  On discovering that one of the bishops forged his handwriting to give assent to the divorce, this tall, emaciated figure stood and orated: “This is not my hand [writing] nor my seal.”  He excoriated them for caving to Henry’s demands, thereby incurring the King’s wrath. Yet, through Fisher’s efforts, a clause was added to Henry’s new title as Supreme Head of the Church in England so that one could assent to it uttering the words, “so far as God’s law permits.”  This qualifier did little good as it was ignored or not known by most.  Fisher’s days were numbered. When he and two fellow bishops appealed to Rome concerning Henry’s seizing of canonical powers, the three were arrested. In 1535, John Fisher was executed in the churchyard of All Hallows near the Tower, and his head was displayed on London Bridge.  Later his body was reburied in the Tower church of St. Peter-ad-Vincula.  Despite the later efforts of the English government to suppress Fisher’s popularity, the Bishop has remained a universally-admired clergyman and humanist throughout Europe. In high praise for John Fisher, Erasmus declared: “He is the one man at this time who is incomparable for uprightness of life, for learning, and for greatness of soul.”   St. Thomas More (1478-1535): Patron Saint of Lawyers and University Students Thomas More enjoyed a thorough legal education even though he had seriously considered entering the monastic life.  For four years, he lived with the Carthusian monks at the London Charterhouse. The Carthusian Order, it should be noted, is the most austere in the Church, never needing reform because it was never found to be deformed. Thomas came to see that his vocation lay in the world and not in a monastery. His intellectual rigor and good humor, his diplomacy and keen sense of fairness, his deep Carthusian spirit attracted attention.  These attributes contributed to his steady rise through the ranks of his legal profession. Thomas More was a great man.  Henry knew it; the people knew it, and Europe knew it. When he was not yet forty, Thomas’s first wife died leaving him with four children.  Soon after, he married Alice Middleton, a woman of means. It was during these years that Thomas firmly established himself as a leader among the humanists in London. Erasmus referred to More as “England’s only genius,” a barb meant to show up England’s dearth of scholars. Thomas remained at the court for twelve years beginning in 1518.  As Parliament began to ponder “the King’s great matter,” Councilor Thomas maintained his silence on the matter—unlike John Fisher. Here is the conversation between Wolsey and More after one Council meeting in which Thomas opposed a devious letter sent to Rome favoring the divorce:  Wolsey:  You’re a constant regret to me, Thomas.  If you could just see facts flat on, without that horrible moral squint; with just a little common sense, you could have been a statesman. More:  Oh, Your Grace flatters me. Wolsey:  Thomas, are you going to help me? More:  If Your Grace will be more specific. Wolsey:  The King needs a son; what are you going to do about it? More:  I pray for it daily. Wolsey:  That thing out there is at least fertile. More: But she’s not his wife.  Wolsey: No, Catherine is his wife, and she’s as barren as a brick. . . . All right, pray, pray by all means.  But in addition to prayer, there is effort. My effort is to secure a divorce.  Have I your support or have it not? More: A dispensation was granted so that the King might marry Queen Catherine, for state reasons.  Now we are to ask the Pope to dispense with his dispensation, also for state reasons? Wolsey:  I don’t like plodding, Thomas; don’t make me plod longer than I have to—Well? More:  Then clearly all we have to do is approach His Holiness and ask him. Wolsey: I think we might influence His Holiness’ answer (suggesting that the Pope be pressured.) More:  Well . . . I believe, when statesmen forsake their own private conscience for the sake of their public duties, they lead their country by a short route to chaos. Wolsey: You’d like that, wouldn’t you?  To govern the country by prayers? More:  Yes, I would. (Robert Bolt: A Man for All Seasons) Thomas replaced Wolsey as Lord Chancellor of the Realm in 1529. Wolsey had failed to negotiate the divorce. Now the project belonged to him. Though Thomas served as Lord Chancellor until 1532, he resigned his post when he could no longer serve with a clear conscience. He retired to his home in Chelsea, but not for long. As the most prominent layman in the Realm and the only one except for Fisher who refused to endorse the marriage, pressure mounted to break his silence.  He tried for as long as possible, relying on a maxim of the law which states that “silence is construed as giving one’s consent” (Qui tacet consentire). Even the law failed to convince. Not silence, not the law but a full-throated assent to the marriage was what Henry wanted.  Thomas was arrested, imprisoned, and condemned to death for refusing to bend to the marriage. This was high treason and condemned him to death by beheading. Execution After months in the Tower, Thomas was beheaded in 1535. He died “the King’s good servant but God’s first.” Throughout Europe, his execution was mourned.  “So powerful was the memory of his personality that a whole school of biographers wrote his life in the late sixteenth century” (New Catholic Encyclopedia 9: 1139).  In 1935, Pius XI canonized John Fisher, Thomas More, and the other martyrs who had been put to death during Henry VIII’s bloody reign. Utopia (1516) Of all Thomas More’s writings, his most famous work is Utopia. In it he develops several models of good and upright living. As a work of humanism, it considers solutions to political problems and to right governing. Though pride and greed will always be part of the human condition, still, the use of right reason born out of sound philosophy serves as a lodestar guiding the human condition.  Paul Scofield as St. Thomas More Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons (1960) has eclipsed all earlier attempts to portray Thomas More on the stage.  In 1966, Fred Zinnemann, produced and directed the moving screenplay, almost entirely based on Robert Bolt’s play.  The film won six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor awarded to the British actor, Paul Scofield, the very personification of Thomas More. He played the role both in London and on Broadway, the latter appearance leading to a Tony Award. The Title:  “A Man for All Seasons” The title of the play and film derives from a contemporary of Thomas More, Robert Whittington who in 1520 wrote of the future saint:  “More is a man of an angel’s wit and singular learning.  I know not his fellow. For where is the man of that gentleness, lowliness, and affability?  And, as time requires, a man of marvelous mirth and pastimes, and sometime of sad gravity?  A man for all seasons.”   John Fisher and Thomas More were made saints because they stood with the very few; and with them, willingly gave their lives for the soul of Catholic England.   Image: Sts. John Fisher and Thomas More. Credit: Lawrence OP via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

A Tribute to Fathers

Jun 15, 2016 / 00:00 am

From ancient times, men have reflected on the role of fathers and their family relationships.  In the 1972 crime film “The Godfather,” Don Vito Corleone (Marlin Brando) counsels his eldest son Santino (James Caan):  “A man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man.”  Studies show that fathers who put family first are usually good husbands and fathers.  Fathers come in all different shapes, sizes, and personalities, a fact best seen in father-roles on the screen and television. The Movies In the “Father of the Bride,” the versatile Spencer Tracey plays a comically neurotic father. Weeks before his daughter’s wedding, he’s subject to apoplectic fits as costs for the event continue to rise.  In “Life with Father,” Clarence Day (William Powell), a thrifty banker, is a stickler for rules in a family with four boys. Clare’s dislike of surprises makes for fun when, time and again, his wife Vinnie (Irene Dunne) outwits him with her confounding ‘woman’s logic.’   Yes, we have super-Dads like Atticus Finch (Gregory Peck) who, in the film, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” exceeds our expectations of fatherhood.  A widower and defense lawyer with two young and impressionable children, Atticus is devoted to them not only as father but also as a patient teacher.  In the television drama, “Blue Bloods,” Frank Reagan, played by Tom Selleck, is the Police Commissioner of the NYPD.  Not only is he the beloved patriarch of the Reagan family but he has also earned the respect, admiration, and affection of his officers. An Outstanding Father on Nightly News A few years ago, Bret Baier, the Anchor of Fox Special Report, took a leave of absence when his infant son Paul underwent heart surgery.  He and his wife remained at Paul’s bedside round the clock, and this experience only deepened their Catholic faith.  War-Heroes  Despite their disabilities, wounded male veterans still manage to fulfill their roles as loving husbands and fathers. Long and arduous rehabilitation becomes a family project because facing the future alone, especially if it entails living without limbs or sight, is unthinkable. There is nothing more moving than to see young children help their struggling Dads move about their homes in new and limited modes of living.  The actor and activist, Gary Sinise, also a wounded veteran, now assists other wounded veterans in a variety of ways. Married with four children, Sinise is a faithful Catholic. Present State of Fatherhood In this country, life without fathers is now established as a major social concern.  More than 27 million children, four out of ten, live apart from their fathers, and half of them do not see them. In most TV sitcoms, if a father is present, he is portrayed as a bumbling, aloof, and unnecessary member of the family.  The high cost of absentee fathers is reflected in school dropouts, substance abuse, teen pregnancy, nefarious behavior against teachers in public schools, and crime and violence in the streets.  Father-absence contributes to social problems, emotional dereliction, male aggression, and low academic achievement.  Some have blamed the collapse of the father-figure on the Freudian Oedipus-complex. Millions of children have fathers who are physically present but emotionally absent.  These numbers have increased with the growing number of premarital births and a continuing high divorce rate.  Divorce is no longer the main reason that children do not grow up with both of their parents.  In recent years, divorce has declined, but single parenthood has increased. As yet, we do not have firm numbers on those fathers who are addicted to drugs, alcohol, gambling, or pornography.  Today there are more idle or unemployed men than at any time since the Great Depression.  This is partly due to issues in the work place. If fatherlessness were classified as a disease, it would be an epidemic and a national emergency.  While super-Dads exceed our expectations, derelict fathers debase their exalted vocation.  Discussions about women having it all and all at once are a fallacy. Most women cannot conceive children, give birth to them, and raise and support them without the presence of a loving father in the home.  It must be said however that single mothers try doing it all the time.   The Biblical Father-God In his book, The God of Jesus Christ, Walter Kasper writes that “the relation of father-child is not only an inalienable aspect of being human, but it also cannot be replaced by other relations; father is a primal word in the history of humanity and religion.  It cannot be replaced by another concept and cannot be translated into another concept” (138). The same holds true of the mother-child relationship. Father and mother are primary words incapable of being reduced or replaced. God, the mystery beyond all mysteries, transcends gender and human language.  Nonetheless, the Divine I-AM-The ONE Who IS is revealed in the Hebrew Scriptures as Adonai, (Lord), Melech (King), Avinu (Our Father).  These are figurative and not literal ways of speaking about the source and creator of the cosmos.  Jesus and His Father  In the Christian Scriptures, Jesus addresses his Abba, the intimate form of his very dear Father, connoting their intimate relationship.  When did Jesus pray to his Father?  He prayed before making a decision, after apostolic work, before the Lord’s Prayer, in Gethsemane, and on the cross (Lk 6; 12; 5:15-16; 11:1; Lk 2:41; 23:34, 46).  In the Johannine Gospel alone, the Father is mentioned about 110 times.  What did the Father mean to Jesus? The Gospel’s entire Chapter 17 expresses their mutual love in which men and women are invited to share. If the word Father is purged from the Gospels and liturgical language, then the Trinitarian dogma collapses, God the Father is dead, Jesus Christ is his Only Son, Christianity collapses as does Catholicism. The biblical belief in the Fatherhood of men and women has been revealed to us. Jesus taught his disciples to pray “The Lord’s Prayer” beginning with the verse,“ Our Father, who art in heaven.” As we pray, so we believe; as we believe so we pray.   Without the Fatherhood of God, how do we begin our prayers?  ‘In the name of the (      ),’  ‘Glory be to the (    )  and to the Son (whose Son?) and to the Holy Spirit?’ “The Father must be the addressee of praise, thanksgiving, and petition” (Kasper, 155-6). The Eucharistic sacrifice is addressed to the Father, and Christians are baptized in the name of the Father. . . .    The Odyssey:  Telemachus In Homer’s Odyssey, there is a touching moment between Odysseus (Lat. Ulysses) and his son Telemachus, who is determined to find out what has happened to his father who left home to fight in the Trojan War when his son was still a baby.  Telemachus has yearned for a lifelong relationship with his father.   In Crisis of Manliness by Walter Newell observes that too many boys today are like Telemachus who long for a father who will nurture and guide them through a hard world.  Many boys are from broken homes and are forced at a very early age to be their mother’s protector from oppressive men.  At the same time, they struggle to bring themselves up in a way that would make their absent fathers proud of them.  Each year Newell tells his students the story of Telemachus and his father in Homer’s Odyssey. As the narrative advances, the classroom grows silent because his students realize that they are Telemachus.  Part of the dialogue is given below: “Sir,” said Telemachus, “as regards your question, so long as my father was here it was well with us and with the house, but the gods, in their displeasure, have willed it otherwise and have hidden him away more closely than mortal man was ever yet hidden. . . .” “And Ulysses said, “I am no god; why should you take me for one?  I am your father on whose account you grieve and suffer so much at the hands of lawless men.” As Telemachus spoke, Ulysses kissed his son, and a tear fell from his cheek on to the ground, for he had restrained all tears till now.  But Telemachus could not yet believe that it was his father, and said: “You are not my father.  You are some god who is flattering me with vain hopes that I may grieve the more hereafter.  No mortal man could of himself contrive to do as you have been doing and make yourself old and young at a moment’s notice, unless a god were with him.  A second ago, you were old and all in rags, and now you are like some god come down from heaven.” [Ulysses has cleaned himself up and changed his clothes to make himself look presentable.] Ulysses answered, “Telemachus, you ought not to be so immeasurably astonished at my being really here.  There is no other Ulysses who will come hereafter.  Such as I am, it is I, your father], who after long wandering and much hardship have got home in the twentieth year to my own country. I will tell you the truth, my son.” As Ulysses spoke, he sat down, and Telemachus threw his arms about his father and wept. (William J. Bennett: The Book of Man, 365-68). Saving the Best Earthly Father until Last Mention of St. Joseph in the New Testament is limited to very few passages, one of which regards the loss of Jesus in the Temple. After chaos, confusion, and turmoil, after a frantic search for him all over, Mary and Joseph returned to Jerusalem to look for their son. “Three days, they found him in the Temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.   . . . . When his parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him: “Why have you treated us like this?  Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety” (Luke 3: 41ff).  As the exemplar of fathers, St. Joseph holds a special place of honor in the Catholic Church as well as in other faith-traditions. In addition to his feasts on March 19th and May 1st, this illustrious descendent in the patriarchal line of David, this model of artisans, this protector of family life richly deserves to be honored with all fathers on their day. He shouldered the twofold responsibility: loving and protecting Mary, his beloved spouse, and guiding into adulthood the Son of the Most High, the Incarnate Word of God.  But let us never forget that Jesus took his legitimacy as well as the secondary characteristics of his gender from Joseph who taught him how to be human in the real world.  Even God’s Son had to be taught something that only an earthly father could teach. In his male identity, Jesus was truly the son of an artisan.  He was Joseph’s son.  Image: St. Joseph and the Christ Child by Pieter van Lint via Wikicommons. 

Chair for the Study of Atheism at the University of Miami: II

Jun 8, 2016 / 00:00 am

(Last week’s essay focused on the implications of the new Chair for the Study of Atheism at the University of Miami established by Louis J. Appignani.  Three different kinds of atheism and some causes of atheism were also included in the discussion. Here is the completed article.) “God is dead,” asserts modern culture. For the autonomous man and woman, “in control of their destiny,” belief in God is superfluous.  So goes their logic. Exodus of Catholics from the Church In this country, Catholics constitute the largest religious group leaving their faith-tradition.  CEOs of famous companies have shared their views with church leaders: ‘If our businesses were losing customers at the same rate as the Catholic Church, we would study the causes and make the necessary changes to reclaim our clientele—ASAP. Why did Mr. Appignani and others leave the Church? If the Church has failed them, what can leaders do to bring them back to the faith? How to Address Atheism from the Catholic Perspective? There is no substitute for good example.  Faithful Catholics preach the best homilies.  Still, how does the Church address atheism in a systematic way?  Catholic theologians, leaders, and educators suggest four approaches, summarized below.   First strategy to Address Atheism:  Adaptation A few theologians support a strategy that imitates the approach of St. Paul, to become all things to all people, becoming atheists to atheists or adapting the Gospel to the atheist’s mentality. This approach was advocated by “death of God” theologians such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer. When St. Paul was preaching at Athens, he incorporated the worship of the Unknown God into his sermon about belief in God (Acts 17:6). After trial and error, this approach was deemed a failure (New Catholic Encyclopedia 17, 29). Second Strategy to Address Atheism:  Confrontation  This position reasons that only a madman or a fool can assert the death of God.  The first step is to abandon this position.  The second is to convert and profess complete belief in God.  This approach was endorsed by Karl Barth and Jacques Maritain.  In our ecumenical age, this confrontational approach is considered too drastic (Ibid).. Third Strategy to Address Atheism: Integration A third strategy is integration: Atheism can be integrated and developed into Catholicism by showing that the atheist’s own view of the world, of history, of society, logically leads to God and does not exclude God at all.  On the contrary, integration leads to God and to the providential plan of salvation, to liberation, to love, and to the joy of life lived within the Trinitarian mystery. There are three main branches of this strategy:  the scientific, followed by Teilhard de Chardin; the political, followed by the Latin American theologians like Leonardo Boff; and the metaphysical strategy of Paul Tillich and Karl Rahner.   These approaches of integration enter into positive dialogue with scientists, philosophers, artists, politicians, and others who do not share a religious belief.  Integration manages to appreciate their way of understanding and explaining things.  Yet, while the principle of causality is at the heart of all matter, it cannot directly prove the existence of a personal God. Father Michael Buckley, S.J. opines that it is more beneficial to the atheist and the Church if appealing to the contemplative-kerygmatic approach precedes abstract philosophy (Ibid., 29-30).  Fourth Strategy to Address Atheism: Double Conversion For theologians like Richard Niebuhr, Henri DeLubac, and Hans Urs von Balthasar, atheism implies a double distortion, a distortion of the natural and supernatural orders.  The first conversion, the horizontal level attempts to convince the atheist that religious belief in Christianity does not go counter to men and women; it does not belittle their dignity nor does it hamper their freedom.  The message of Jesus brings and develops light, life, and freedom. Christianity is intended to underscore one’s ability to realize and make room for transcendence, both horizontally and vertically (Ibid).  For the natural order of things, von Balthasar offers first a statement and then a series of questions:   There is an I, and there is a you. Who is this person within who says I? What am I precisely? Am I pure chance?  Why am I I and not you? Not merely why, but that I am? Why do you love me?  Why me? If I do the things I shouldn’t do, and don’t do the things I should—am I not a riddle unto myself.  Doesn’t someone owe me an answer for this contradiction within me? On the positive side of things, my spirit has been bestowed from outside of me.  In happy amazement I can experience myself deep down immersed in my heart, my imagination, my feelings, my emotions, my moods (The Von Balthasar Reader, 59ff). Von Balthasar quotes Blaise Pascal who casts the riddle of the self in his own way:   “What sort of freak then is man! How novel, how monstrous, how chaotic, how paradoxical, how prodigious!  Judge of all things, feeble earthworm, repository of truth, sink of doubt and error, glory and refuse of the universe! Who will unravel such a tangle! . . . What then will become of you, man, seeking to discover your true condition through natural reason? . . . Be silent.  . . . Learn that man infinitely transcends man. (63; From Pascal: Pensées, 1966 trans. A.J. Karailaheimer, 64-65.) “God Is Inescapable”  Henri De Lubac observes that “man cannot get around God, cannot do without God; God is inescapable; meanwhile Nietzsche battles against God whom he regards as nothing but an enemy of life.  Therefore, God must be killed. Atheistic humanism was bound to end in bankruptcy, for man is himself only because his face is illumined by a divine ray.” To De Lubac’s remarks, Father W. Norris Clarke, S.J. points out the error in the famous Cartesian phrase: “I think; therefore I am” and must be rephrased to: “I am, therefore I think.”   Or better yet, “I am thought of; therefore, I am.” The Clarke corrections re-establish the right order of creature to Creator. The second conversion, the supernatural level is the conversion toward the work of salvation that God accomplishes in Christ. The gospel is no longer a fairy tale or an absurd story.  It is the truth that makes men and women, restores them to health interiorly and fills them with joy (New Catholic Encyclopedia 17, p 30). Double Conversion through the Eucharistic Liturgy of the Church Catholics who have left the Church cite as one reason for doing so the failure of Sunday worship to inspire them. Too many parish churches and even cathedrals of the Latin Rite offer prayerless liturgies with unprepared, dull and meaningless homilies. Instead of singing Gregorian chant and other suitable music, songs that belong in a cocktail lounge are used, cantors and choirs warble or sing off key, and lectors garble scripture readings. Not awesome but awful, not beautiful but banal, the perfect incentive for people to walk out.  They do. And most don’t return.   First and most important is the preparation of those responsible for the service: the celebrant, lector and cantor, the director of music and choir, the altar servers and ushers.  Each role conspires to bring about a prayerful experience.  The second step toward transcendence happens in the same liturgy in which the graces of the Liturgy of the Eucharist proper are offered and received.  In every sacrifice of the Mass, the work of salvation is accomplished in and for the Body, and by extension, in and for the world. The Eucharist restores, refreshes, and renews those in attendance.  Awesome Liturgies Where are these beautiful Eucharistic liturgies?  The liturgies at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., Corpus Christi Church, 121st St. near Columbia University, and at St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Cathedral, both in New York City, are three house of worship known, even famous for their reverent and beautifully-executed liturgies. The liturgies prompt worshipers to feel as though they have prayed just a stepping stone away from heaven. Several conversion stories are linked to the beautiful Eucharistic liturgies of these churches.   What Atheists Can Teach Believers Atheists can render believers a favor by pressing us to examine and purify our belief in God. They do well to point up false and pietistic notions of God, especially in symbols like the elderly father to depict God the Father, that of the dove, the Holy Spirit, or a triangle to depict the Trinity.  God, the ineffable source and creator of the universe, is beyond all human language but is often spoken of in figurative language.   All of us, including skeptics and atheists, can experience God’s love that enters into the very struggles of our lives to make them whole.  Jesus is the face of God in whom we live, and move, and have our being (Acts 17:28). Image: Aaron Burden via

Chair for the Study of Atheism at the University of Miami I

Jun 1, 2016 / 00:00 am

Just days ago, the New York Times reported that the University of Miami has established a Chair of Atheism, Humanism, and Secular Ethics, believed to be the first of its kind in the world. Louis J. Appignani, an 83-year old retired executive of the modeling school, Barbizon International, has donated $2.2 million to fund the Chair. Mr. Appignani, the son of Italian immigrant parents, was raised in the Bronx and attended Catholic schools until his college years.  He then studied at Baruch College at the City College of New York (CCNY) where he was influenced by Bertrand Russell’s philosophy.  Leaving the faith of his youth, he became an atheist. Now living in Florida, Mr. Appignani continues donating large sums of money to causes that support studies about atheism and free thinking. Miami has the seventh most Catholic population of any American city, and 31 percent of Miami residents claim to be Catholic. The president of the University of Miami has stated that the Chair does not represent advocacy for atheism or secular ethics but is simply placing this study on an equal footing with other Chairs.  Mr. Appignani put it this way: “I’m trying to eliminate discrimination against atheists.  So this is a step in that direction, to make atheism legitimate.” 35 percent of millennials say they identify as atheist, agnostic, or with no religion in particular. At the University of Miami, St. Augustine campus ministry promotes various programs and events to strengthen the faith of these millennials, help them deepen their relationship with God, discern and discover their vocation in life, and grow into strong Catholic leaders concerned for others.   What Is Atheism? (The remainder of this essay has relied on the Pew Research Center, articles from the Catholic Encyclopedia [1914 ], written by a group of theologians, the New Catholic Encyclopedia and Supplement [1967, 1979] by J.P. Reid and B. Mondin, respectively, and from the article, “Atheism” in HarperCollins Encyclopedia  of Catholicism [1989], by Michael J. Buckley, S.J.) The word atheism (Gr: a theos, without or no god), is used to deny the very existence or reality of God.  “The meaning of atheism depends upon the ‘god’ that is denied. . . .(Buckley, “Atheism,” 108). Atheism is a system of thought, but much more than an idea, by which a man or woman lives without God.  This system can deteriorate into a hardened way of life covering all aspects of life, into a total world view. The Nones and Affiliated Atheists According to a recent report by the Pew Research Center, the largest number of Americans who claim no religious affiliation has risen rapidly in a short time to 31percent of the population in 2014, up 6 percent from 2007.  68 percent of atheists are men, and the median age of atheist adults is 34.  About two-thirds of atheists identify as Democrats and call themselves political liberals. 8 percent of those who call themselves atheists also say they believe in a God or a universal spirit.  65 percent say they seldom or never discuss their views on religion with religious people.  About 32 percent say they look primarily to science for guidance on questions of right and wrong, up from 20 percent in 2007.  Proud to Be Atheist According to the New Catholic Encyclopedia 17, “atheism is one of the main and most characteristic signs of our time.  Never before in the history of mankind have religious belief, in general, and the Christian faith in particular, been assailed by so many criticisms or been so radically repudiated.  While in previous ages to believe in God was almost natural to man, the same is not true of today’s men and women.  In fact, it is to be assumed that modern man and woman live without God.” Several organizations that espouse atheism can be found on the Internet.  This month, non-believers will lobby Congress and hold a “Reason Rally” at the Lincoln Memorial to display their numbers and promote the separation of church and state. “The conciliar Fathers dedicated an important section of the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World to the study of the different types of atheism, to their causes and to the answers the Church should give to them.  It addressed two forms of systematic atheism: the humanistic atheism of the Western world.  Here it is assumed that human freedom is incompatible with the dignity of religious belief; and the materialistic atheism associated with communism, grounded on economic and social reasons” ( New Catholic Encyclopedia 17). In 1965, Pope Paul VI created the Secretariat for Relations with Non-Believers.  This new agency was charged with the responsibility of studying the phenomenon of atheism based on scientific research in historical-doctrinal, sociological and cultural, and psychological perspectives.   The Psalmist may have written ‘only the fool says there is no God’ (Ps 53:1-6), but for the past 200 years, atheism has shown little trace of embarrassment at the charge. Societies promoting atheism are growing by leaps and bounds.  Atheism as a Way of Life: practical atheism, pseudo-atheism, and absolute atheism  Practical atheism is the most common and most curious of atheistic attitudes.  In this form of atheism, persons conduct their very way of life by ignoring the force of moral law and moral standards. They exclude God and live without God irrespective of philosophy, morals, or of religious faith. This group may worship false gods by promoting economic exploitation and social injustice.  Not only are they unaware of their atheism but would deny they are atheists.  (New Catholic Encyclopedia  1) The sad fact is that many leaders in this group have been educated in elite Catholic institutions where concern for the poor and where practicing a faith that does justice are essential to their core mission. Fidel Castro and his brother Manuel, educated in Jesuit schools, forced Cuba into economic atheism rooted in communism. The negative atheist does not know God, his denial, the result of ignorance rather than indifference. For St. Paul tells the Romans (10:14): “Unless they believe in him, how shall they call upon him.  And how shall they believe unless someone preaches to them?” Pseudo-atheism denies God, but in their hearts they yearn for the presence of God.  Pseudo-atheists may not even realize what they are actually doing.  They are searching for the Unknown God mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles (17:23f).  They believe in God in whom they think they don’t believe. They may be agnostics—those who doubt the existence of God. College students can fall into this category mainly because their parents failed to raise them with any religion. (New Catholic Encyclopedia  1) Radical and absolute atheism excludes God consciously, consistently, and actively. Radical and absolute atheists deny the existence of any spiritual and transcendent uncaused Cause of all things—God.   Militant atheists are recruited from this group. Their denial of God becomes the affirmation of all affirmations. The denial of God sets up an entirely original set of values which posits man’s complete autonomy.  The absolute atheist rejects the reality of God because of his closed mind or his insufficient reflection on the evidence of God’s existence.   The absolute and self-confident atheist is utterly convinced of the truth of his position, which rests chiefly on two arguments.    The first argument is that there is no direct evidence of God, nor can God’s reality be inferred from anything in the world of experience. The universe is intelligible—so far as man has succeeded in deciphering it.  Consequently, there is no need to posit the Creator of all things.  The second argument is based on the presence of evil in the world. This argument is based on emotion and runs like this: Where is God in suffering? A powerful and all-loving God would not permit suffering to happen, especially to the innocent. Therefore, God must be a sadist or an impotent entity.  Or, God is dead. Such inescapable questions haunt persons of faith and those of no faith because they affect us at the very core of daily living.   And yet, even in dark hours, we do sense a ray of light that holds meaning for us.  (New Catholic Encyclopedia 1) Summary  There are several causes of atheism:   The mystery of God means that we can assert nothing about God;   False humanism, that is, human freedom cannot be reconciled with the affirmation of a Lord who is author and purpose of all things;   The problem of evil and suffering; Hedonism and materialism; Scandal and the failure of Catholics to live faithfully their respective vocations.  Living faithfully means putting on Christ for all to see.  It means living as ambassadors for Christ and witnessing to him always and everywhere.  Jesus called the Twelve. In dramatic fashion, he called the rabbi and virulent persecutor of Christians, Saul of Tarsus.  Their disciples called others. That legacy and vocation, and that responsibility have been passed down through the ages. They are ours. (Next week’s essay will discuss ways to address atheism from the Catholic perspective.) Image: University of Miami by Jaine via Flickr. (CC BY-NC 2.0)