An excellent and informative op-ed in the New York Times today:
Only 13 days separated the passing of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the founder of the Special Olympics, from the death of her brother Ted last week. But amid the wall-to-wall coverage and the stream of retrospectives for the senior senator from Massachusetts, it was easy to forget that he wasn’t the only famous Kennedy sibling to enter eternity this month.
Liberalism’s most important legislator probably merited a more extended send-off than his sister. But there’s a sense in which his life’s work and Eunice’s deserve to be remembered together — for what their legacies had in common, and for what ultimately separated them.
What the siblings shared — in addition to the grace, rare among Kennedys, of a ripe old age and a peaceful death — was a passionate liberalism and an abiding Roman Catholic faith. These two commitments were intertwined: Ted Kennedy’s tireless efforts on issues like health care, education and immigration were explicitly rooted in Catholic social teaching, and so was his sister’s lifelong labor on behalf of the physically and mentally impaired.
Augustine once said something to the effect that Original Sin was the easiest doctrine for him to believe in. All he had to do was look around. Although that may be the case, it may also be one of the hardest doctrines to explain. In this post it is my intention to examine in by no means an exhaustive way the testimony of Scripture. In the subsequent post I will then begin a reflection on the more metaphysical implications of the doctrine.
The doctrine itself comes not from Genesis 1-3 but from Romans 5:12. The meaning of the universality of sin is only understood in light of the universality of grace. Since the death of Christ is capable of saving all, then all the world must have been under the captivity of sin. Read the rest of this entry »
In his exuberance for the progress of scientific knowledge, Francis Bacon coined the paradox, antiquitas saeculi, juventus mundi—“Antiquity is the youth of the world.” By this he meant only the now commonplace view that human knowledge progresses. What we commonly regard as ancient is so only according to a backward reckoning from the present. By the forward reckoning of the world itself, however, the present age qualifies as the eldest of epochs. Therefore, the views of the present—not those of the remote past—ought to enjoy the prestige and deference ascribed to hoary old age.
At least on occasion, however, it seems that Bacon got his age typology backwards. The most recently founded fields of study, for instance, often show a peculiar and youthful zeal for proving the obvious. Read the rest of this entry »
It is tempting to dismiss the latest album from the band Phoenix as the work of shallow men. The French band, who sing in English (mon Dieu!), might be reduced to a charming recipe: mix addictive melodies and dancing beats, blend with gently angst-filled lyrics, top with references to Franz Liszt and Mozart, and serve chilled, poolside.
This judgment is tempting, but I think it sells short what lead singer Thomas Mars and his bandmates are doing. Underneath all the seductive pop is a reckoning with deeper struggles. They want something greater than the frenzy. They want eternity, but they are not sure how to get it. Read the rest of this entry »
Since today’s lectionary readings include Paul’s exhortation on the “great mystery” of Christian marriage, I thought it a seasonable time to reflect on that beleaguered institution. Paul’s profound meditation features the imperative that furnishes the interpretive key for the entire passage, “Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.” One might also have heard the bowdlerized “shorter form,” which substitutes for the aforementioned verse (and others) the more treacly encouragement to “live in love.” In an age in which love is so easily sentimentalized, something is lost in the process. The stern, objective ring of “subordination” has the advantage of making the minimum requirements of marriage admirably clear—and refreshingly unromantic.
As I prepare to kick off a series of reflections on the impact of evolutionary theory on the doctrine of Original Sin and our first parents, I must start with a brief analysis of the state of the question of “first parents.” Can we hold that there were more than two original human beings? After all, the Catechism states in paragraph 375:
The Church, interpreting the symbolism of biblical language in an authentic way, in the light of the New Testament and Tradition, teaches that our first parents, Adam and Eve, were constituted in an original “state of holiness and justice”. This grace of original holiness was “to share in. . .divine life”. Read the rest of this entry »
People often ask me why I joined the Society of Jesus. I usually reply, in one fashion or another, that I fell in love with her saints. I remember how my heart would burn as I read about Xavier’s journeys to the Orient, St. Jean de Brebeuf’s martyrdom among the Iroquois, and St. Edmund Campion’s stirring “brag.” Such examples abound. And, although I myself have never verified the claim, it is said among Jesuits that there has never been a time when the Society did not have a saint in her ranks.
Because of the accelerating pace of cultural change, however, I have often keenly felt the gulf separating me from those models. How would St. Ignatius have responded to globalization? Would St. Peter Canisius have used a cell phone? How would St. Isaac Jogues have related to his college professors? It is easy to doubt that sanctity is possible in modern conditions. Even Mother Teresa, who died only recently, seems to provide few clues. Documentaries record her fumbling endearingly with gadgets as commonplace as cameras; and her collection of letters, Come, Be My Light, would be hard to date to the 20th Century if not for the occasional mention of a plane flight.
St. Alberto Hurtado Cruchaga (1901-1952), the Chilean Jesuit whose feast the Church celebrates today, begins to fill in this hagiographical gap. Read the rest of this entry »
Some of you may have seen recent previews for Scorsese’s new movie Shutter Island, but more exciting is the movie he is making after that, a movie that he has been trying to make, he claims, for 10 years: An adaptation of Shusaku Endo’s Silence. And what a cast! The film is expected to air in 2010, so be sure to pick up a copy and get to work reading. Rumor also has it that a local Jesuit friend of mine has been sought out to help with Japanese cultural details. If he divulges any early secrets, I will let you all in on them.
Today being the feast day of Alberto Hurtado, recent Jesuit saint, I’m going to jump to the present day on the question of Jesuit poverty and its best examples. Little has changed since Socrates argued in his own behalf in the Apology: “I, on the other hand, have a convincing witness that I speak the truth, my poverty.” The same holds true today. Poverty is a powerful witness. To the present day Sophists who point to ulterior motives, we point to poverty and say: “This is our witness.” And we do this most effectively when we point to our best representatives. As recent stand out examples, I want to offer three brief reflections on Alberto Hurtado, Pedro Arrupe, and Rick Thomas, three recent Jesuits. Read the rest of this entry »
Readers of this page will likely know that the American Church’s most distinguished theologian, Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J., died last December. A recent leisurely Sunday afternoon afforded me the opportunity to reread Dulles’ A Testimonial to Grace. The book autobiographically recounts Dulles’ journey from his freshman year at Harvard – which he describes as “a wild and chaotic year, marked by an excess of drinking” – to his entry into the Catholic Church several years later. The story told therein is as fresh and relevant now as when the book was first published in 1946.
We live an age marked by self-proclaimed religious “seekers.” These men and women (often young people) might be characterized as people who have left the faith tradition in which they were raised and now belong to no organized religion. They claim to be “seeking” the truth (perhaps “God”) in a process they frequently describe in terms of a search or journey. Dulles once belonged firmly among their ranks; the first chapter of A Testimonial to Grace is even titled “The Human Search.” Taking Dulles as a model (no pun intended – if you don’t get this joke, please read more of Dulles’ theology), the following are four characteristics of Dulles’ search which contemporary seekers might do well to emulate. Read the rest of this entry »
You’ll notice that there was very little activity today. That is because today was the vow day for most Jesuits: August 15, Feast of the Assumption. We the Scholastics who write here made our first vows in these words:
Almighty and eternal God, I, N., though altogether most unworthy in your divine sight, yet relying on your infinite goodness and mercy and moved with a desire of serving you, in the presence of the most holy Virgin Mary and your whole heavenly court, vow to your Divine Majesty perpetual poverty, chastity, and obedience in the Society of Jesus; and I promise that I shall enter that same Society in order to lead my entire life in it, understanding all things according to its Constitutions. Therefore I suppliantly beg your immense Goodness and Clemency, through the blood of Jesus Christ, to deign to receive this holocaust in an odor of sweetness; and that just as you gave me the grace to desire and offer this, so you will also bestow abundant grace to fulfill it.
Following this profession, we all received the eucharist from our Provincial. After that moment, we were Jesuits, though we also made a promise to enter into the Society. Unlike other Orders, these first vows are not temporal but perpetual. But they are perpetual conditional vows. The condition is this: “If the Society will desire to retain them. For although they on their own side bind themselves perpetually for their devotion and stability” the Society can still dismiss a man under certain conditions. But from this moment on in the perspective of the new vowed man, a new way of proceeding takes over. One is no longer in charge of his own life. A vowed Jesuit is “free to represent his thoughts and what occurs to him,” says Ignatius, but “he should be ready in everything to hold as better that which his superior judges to be so.”
This is a special day for all Jesuits. Please pray for each of us that we have the “abundant grace to fulfill” those vows that we have offered up to the Divine Majesty.
Death is never convenient, no matter how long anticipated or how stoically accepted. I experienced this to some small degree as I boarded a red-eye flight last week, bound for Georgia and my grandfather’s funeral. His body had been failing steadily over his last months, and the family had received frequent updates on his condition until the very end. Nonetheless, when death finally came, it demanded recognition with its customary imperiousness.
Perhaps because of the interruption that death inevitably entails, there is something fitting about the Southern custom of pausing for funeral motorcades. The neighbors of the bereaved participate at least for a brief moment in his experience. It is hard to imagine a courtesy of this sort in Boston or New York. Granted, it might not happen on the interstates of Atlanta either (which is full of former Bostonians and New Yorkers anyway). However, as we processed down the two-lane highways of Dearing, Georgia; where white, clapboard churches are as common as urban Starbucks, and every gas station doubles as a “feed and seed” or a “bait and tackle;” unfamiliar cars dutifully took their ease. Read the rest of this entry »
I take a break to answer this question since it was a matter of some debate at The American Catholic following a few posts on Jesuits in the military. The articles have been written by one Donald R. McClarey. In response to a comment about Ignatius leaving the military, one commentator (Rick) states: “Seems the Company of Jesus is related to the military in its very makeup and its founder’s roots and vision.” Donald chimes in a couple of posts later, agreeing: “And Saint Ignatius was the General of the Order, required military style obedience, used military imagery throughout his writings and had no qualms about Jesuits serving as military chaplains. Rick nails it.” Well, most of that is not quite right. Actually, it is quite wrong, but is a prevalent myth that circulates. So I thought it high time to clear up a few questions. Read the rest of this entry »
Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., watches as a participant attending a town hall meeting in Lebanon, Pa. is restrained by another participant on Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2009. Republican-turned-Democratic Sen. Specter faced hostile questions, taunts and jeers as he gamely tried to explain his positions. (AP Photo/The Patriot-News, Christine Baker)
The national debate on health care reform touches on just about everything except heath care. For instance, some people have made it a referendum on the appropriate size and reach of government. Others see in it a way to curb the appetites of greedy corporations. Still others have turned the debate into a vehicle to further a pro-choice agenda, causing some to balk understandably at the notion of government-financed abortions. If you can think of a pet ideology, then it has probably been trotted out within the last few weeks. In many ways this national brouhaha continues the themes and fights of last year’s presidential campaigns. Characteristic of presidential-style campaigns, each faction wants to make its point as simply as possible, and each provides supporters with the easily digested, bite-sized talking points: no to big government, no to socialized medicine, no to corporate fat cats, no to poverty, etc. Read the rest of this entry »
The debate on health care (sort of) has dominated the news over the past week. On Wednesday I will post something on the health care debate, but until then please participate in the poll. Of course you can Google this, but don’t do that. Go with your gut instinct.
Soul searching, self-evaluation, meditation, and prayer–step aside! I can tell you who you are at the deepest level (and all for about $25). If you appreciate my ability to predict your doom then you might like my ability to explain why you cannot roll your tongue, why cilantro tastes bad in your tacos, or why you seem more likely than others to get angry in the same situation. It’s a treasure map. And I know where it is. And I can get it. And it is in your genes. Read the rest of this entry »
On this day, Nagasaki was devastated by “fat man” as he fell from the sky and wiped out hundreds of thousands of people. Just a few days earlier on the feast of the Transfiguration, “little boy” fell on Hiroshima. These two events, like the transfiguration and the resurrection which it prefigured, can never be lost to history. Like the shadows which they imprinted on Japanese sidewalks through the power of their blast, so they must remain imprinted on our souls as memory of our capacity for evil. Twenty-five years after Hiroshima, Pedro Arrupe, SJ wrote: Read the rest of this entry »
I’m starting a series of posts on some Jesuit considerations on spiritual matters. The first couple will be on poverty, and then the others will follow.
My intention is not to cause a stir among Jesuits about whether or not we live poverty well. Many will argue that Jesuit poverty is an oxymoron, “just look at the Jesuit residence at Georgetown” they will say. Fair enough. But the scandal is not restricted solely to religious communities. It is only compounded in them, since they have taken a vow precisely against what can be called the worst of modern vices: consumption. However, this vice is just as rampant among “orthodox” Christians as well. Nor do we need to look far to other “orthodox” groups like the Legionaries to see what money does. It ate away at their spirituality and became central to their very identity. Though they themselves did not always consume, they provoked consumption in the worst possible way among many in the Church, so that an infatuation with money ruined part of the order — and those Churchmen who were too close. Jesuits have a problem, and a serious one at that. But we are not the only ones. And it has nothing to do with being “liberal.” It has to do with straying from the Gospel and our own founding charism. Read the rest of this entry »
2. MANHOOD FOR AMATEURS: The Wilderness of Childhood. A beautiful short non-fiction piece by Michael Chabon on the loss of childhood wildernesses in the New York Review of Books. I still think nostalgia is dangerous, but this is too exquisite to pass up. Just proof that beautiful is not always true.
3. HOW TO LICK A SLUG. Nicholas Kristof’s stab at mourning lost childhoods. He and Chabon must be vacationing together. Very entertaining piece.
to serve as a soldier of God beneath the banner of the cross in our Society, which we desire to be designated by the name of Jesus, and to serve the Lord alone and the Church his Spouse, under the Roman pontiff, the vicar of Christ on earth, should, after a vow of perpetual chastity, poverty, and obedience, keep the following in mind." From the Formula of the Institute, 1540