Kierkegaard and why we need a Church

September 27, 2010

Over the past year in a couple of the classes I’ve taken, I’ve had the pleasure of dabbling is some of the middle and late works of Søren Kierkegaard.  Kierkegaard is a literary genius—passionate, ironic, employing different genres and pseudonyms to keep his readers always just a bit off balance.

Some of the characters he creates are Christians, others not, and it’s always tricky to figure out where exactly the writer himself stands in the midst of his literary labyrinths.  But by the end of his life, Kierkegaard was both writing openly as a Christian and saying some pretty challenging things about Christianity.

Kierkegaard is often associated with fideism and at times he seems to be arguing that Christians necessarily must embrace logical contradictions, which seems neither very Biblical nor very sensible to me.  But there are ways of talking Kierkegaard down off his fideistic ledge and separating what is profound and challenging in his work from what is rhetorical excess.  Not everything a character says, after all, should be attributed to the author.

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Jesuit daily reflections

September 21, 2010

There are a growing number of good resources for Ignatian spirituality on the web, and I discovered a new one today, daily reflections sponsored by the Magis Institute.  Today’s reflection was written by my good friend Joe Simmons, SJ, who was a part of the Jesuit Mission Band mentioned earlier on these pages.

I admit, I love the painting too.

I have heard Jesuits preach about Caravaggio’s famous painting, “The Calling of St. Matthew,” for the past four years now.  Are all Jesuits this unoriginal, or is there something especially compelling about this painting that speaks to the heart of the sons of St. Ignatius?
Michelangelo Caravaggio depicts a gaunt Jesus pointing at Matthew, who is seated around a table of well-dressed tax collectors in a shady customs post.  An oblique ray of light cuts through the darkness just above Jesus’ pointed finger.  The light bathes Matthew’s face, which betrays a look of tempered surprise – “surely, not I Lord,” he seems to say.  Matthew knows he is not a wholly worthy disciple of Jesus – look at the company he keeps and the life he lives, after all!  And yet there is Christ, pointing at him and summoning, “follow me.”

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A Jesuit shout-out from the Pope

September 17, 2010

I might be risking the sin of pride by saying this, but we Jesuits have some pretty cool saints.  One of the great unmerited blessings of this vocation is to be able to think of men like Francis Xavier, Peter Claver, and—today—Robert Bellarmine as elder brothers.  And among those saints, I’ve always gotten a special thrill from the martyrs of the British Isles.

If, like me, you were avoiding homework yesterday by poring over transcripts of the papal visit to Scotland on Whispers in the Loggia (yes, I am a really big dork), you might have noticed that the Pope mentioned one of those Jesuits, St. John Ogilvie, as an example for the Scottish clergy.

John Ogilvie (1579-1615), was raised a Calvinist but converted to Catholicism at the age of seventeen.  This meant he had to leave Britain to study on the Continent, first in Belgium and then in Germany and what is today the Czech Republic.  There he studied in a Jesuit college and joined the Austrian province of the Society of Jesus.

He went through the usual lengthy formation process, was ordained in 1610, and wanted immediately to return to Scotland.  His superiors thought Scotland too dangerous at first (and they were proven right), but he was finally able to sneak into his homeland in 1613 disguised as a horse dealer.

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A good priest

September 13, 2010

Unless it’s on Bing Crosby, I’ve begun to cringe when I see a Roman collar in a movie.  If there’s a priest in a contemporary film I’m prepared for him to be lascivious, greedy, cruel, ambitious, hypocritical, or inept—and sometimes all of the above.  So when I ventured to the cinema last week to see George Clooney’s The American, I braced myself when Paolo Bonacelli appeared on screen as the genial Padre Benedetto.

The priest came off amiably enough at first:  an old Italian with the sort of practical wisdom that comes from having been around a long time and, presumably, having heard a lot of confessions.  Padre Benedetto realizes that George Clooney’s character, Jack, an American arms maker hiding out in a small Abruzzo town, is not who he pretends to be, and, without coming off as heavy-handed, he seeks his conversion.  He can sense the emptiness in Jack’s heart.

Given the usual Hollywood treatment of the clergy, I was ready for skeletons to come tumbling out of Padre Benedetto’s closet, and, indeed, he does have a rather dark secret in his past:  an illegitimate son named Fabio.  But, surprisingly, Padre Benedetto doesn’t come off as a hypocrite or lose our sympathy because he makes no effort to disguise his transgression or excuse his sin.  He also sincerely loves his son despite knowing of the latter’s involvement in various petty criminal enterprises.  Padre Benedetto is a sinner, knows it, and still does his best to be a Christian and a priest.

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Communion and Liberation on September 11

September 12, 2010

The following reflection by Communion and Liberation on September 11 provides some good material for thought and prayer:

ISLAMOPHOBIA AND MOTHER TERESA

The proposed construction of an Islamic center and mosque at Ground Zero has resulted in the outrage of many Americans and the recent public discussion about “Islamophobia” in America.  These events provoke us to affirm the following:

1. We notice a growing tendency to manipulate circumstances to serve as a pretext to create a public furor that demands people make a choice between one of two pre -packaged, ideological positions. We refuse to engage in a debate about whether or not to build a mosque at Ground Zero. The reality of Islam in America brings up questions that go much deeper than that of the construction of one mosque.  Indeed, one critical and open question is how contemporary American culture comes to grips with the human person’s religious sense.

2. Many of those among the cultural elite, as well as many who hold the levers of power in our nation, have abandoned the religious tradition that informed the lives of the vast majority of their ancestors: Christianity.   Read the rest of this entry »


Hawking’s God

September 7, 2010

Stephen Hawking has recently stirred the pot again with his new book, “The Grand Design” in which he asserts that the laws of physics, not God, are all that is needed to explain the beginning of the universe from nothing to something.  Here is an excerpt from Chapter 1:

We will describe how M-theory may offer answers to the question of creation. According to M-theory, ours is not the only universe. Instead, M-theory predicts that a great many universes were created out of nothing.

Their creation does not require the intervention of some supernatural being or god. Rather, these multiple universes arise naturally from physical law. They are a prediction of science.

Each universe has many possible histories and many possible states at later times, that is, at times like the present, long after their creation.

Of course, this excerpt is not enough on which to base too many comments.  But since I had the opportunity to speak to a friend of mine who was in town when this came out, a Jesuit astrophysicist,  I asked him what he thought of Hawking’s comments.  Read the rest of this entry »


Countdown to Newman: “The Danger of Accomplishments”

September 4, 2010

+AMDG+

Newman two years before his death in 1890.

To prepare a bit for the Pope’s imminent visit to England, I made John Henry Newman, Fr. Ian Ker’s literary and intellectual biography of the great English Cardinal, one of my few constant traveling companions over the summer.  I found so many provocative passages in the reading that it’s hard to know where to begin relating them.  However, since students across the country are returning to school during these weeks, I thought I might begin modestly by highlighting a single sermon that Newman preached—while still an Anglican—on the Feast of St. Luke: “The Danger of Accomplishments.” It might be aptly retitled today, “The Danger of Higher Education.” Read the rest of this entry »