A Polish philosopher

July 21, 2011

One of the pleasures of this Jesuit life is being a part of such a remarkably mobile international organization.  In my community at Loyola Chicago, one regularly sits down to dinner next to a Bolivian, a Nigerian, a Brazilian, a German, and a Pole.  And the latter two don’t even fight.

The last of these, our resident Polish priest, has been urging me for some time to take a look at a favorite Polish philosopher, whose name had too many consonants in it for me to remember.  I admit, I wasn’t overly eager to dive into tomes of what I was sure would be grim and turgid prose.  When I returned to the house after our Christmas break, however, I found a book by Leszek Kolakowski in my mailbox.  I had been outflanked by the Polish intelligentsia!

Once I read the title, I was won over:  My Correct Views on Everything.  The title comes from the rejoinder Kolakowski wrote in The Socialist Register to the British Marxist E.P Thompson.  Both Thompson and Kolakowski had started off as communists, and both had experienced some disillusionment after the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956.  Kolakowski’s questioning had run deeper, however, and led him to see that Marxism itself, and not just its manifestation in Stalinism, was rotten to the core.

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Happy Faults, Good Thieves, and Divine Mercy

April 27, 2011

This weekend’s beatification of Pope John Paul II means that the spotlight will shine even brighter on Divine Mercy Sunday this year.  While a few liturgical purists criticized the late pontiff for injecting such “Polish piety” into the liturgical calendar so close to Easter, it seems to me that divine mercy is at the heart of the Easter message.

If this intuition isn’t obvious, perhaps it’s because we’re in the habit of selling mercy short.  And if we fail to grasp how beautiful, how shocking, how dazzling mercy is, perhaps this is because we’re inclined to confuse it with a legal acquittal or a God who shrugs his shoulders and says “Whatever” to our sins.  Mercy, it seems to me, is much, much more than that.

We often say we’re sorry, usually without much thought, and in reply we usually hear, “That’s OK,” “Don’t worry about it,” “No problem.”  Rarely, if we knock over someone’s coffee cup or show up late for a meeting do we hear in reply, “I forgive you.”

Perhaps it’s best that such weighty words are not expended on social trivialities, but we shouldn’t so disassociate forgiveness from apologies that we begin to think that when confronted with our sins God just mutters “No problem” and gets on with running divine errands.

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Catholics and abortion: The question of priorities (Part II)

January 24, 2011

Last week, I argued that how Catholics respond to attacks on the lives of the unborn tests whether or not we believe the Lord’s words in Matthew 25.  My comments were in response to the question of whether it is appropriate for American Catholics to prioritize the issue of abortion to the degree that they have.  In today’s post, I will argue that for practical, as well as theological, reasons, it is right for Catholics to make abortion issue number one.

While opposition to abortion has been a part of Christian teaching since the Church first encountered the practice in the pagan world—as seen in the Didache, possibly the earliest non-Biblical source of Christian moral teaching, which states explicitly, “You shall not kill by abortion the fruit of the womb”—the pro-life movement is by no means limited to Catholics, or even Christians.

The basic ethical insight I discussed in last week’s post—that human dignity does not depend on a person’s utility or how we feel about that person—has been adopted as the foundation of our modern system of human rights.  In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson—no lover of orthodox Christianity—declared the right to life to be “self-evident” and “unalienable” because it is derived directly from the Creator.

In this foundational insight, American ideals and Catholic social thought overlap, so it is appropriate that American Catholics have shown particular leadership on the right to life issue.  As one prominent American archbishop put it, abortion is “the preeminent civil rights issue of our day.”  Some, however, such as Commonweal’s George Dennis O’Brien or Newsweek’s Lisa Miller have lambasted bishops who have taken such a stand, often insinuating that they are either gullible Republican dupes or scheming partisans themselves.

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Islam, Ignorance, and Diversity

September 1, 2010

In the spring of 2000 I spent a semester in Jerusalem, taking classes at Bethlehem University (a Palestinian institution) and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.  Shortly before becoming a Jesuit I made another pilgrimage to the Holy Land, in the spring of 2006.

While in the Holy Land the second time I heard two Western tour guides, on separate occasions, tell an encouraging story about inter-religious cooperation.  When Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass in Bethlehem’s Manger Square in the spring of 2000, the guides said, the mosque on the edge of the square silenced the call to prayer it normally broadcast at noon so as not to disturb the papal liturgy.  According to the guides, doing so was an unprecedented gesture of goodwill.

There’s only one problem with this cheerful tale:  it isn’t true.

I was in Manger Square that morning when the pre-recorded call to prayer came blasting over the Mosque of Omar’s loudspeakers midway through the Prayers of the Faithful.  The lector paused, everyone stared at their feet in embarrassment for a few moments, and, when the recording finished, we went on with the Mass.  When I visited six years after the fact, I had a conversation with a local Christian who told me that the interruption of that liturgy is still seen as a painful reminder of that community’s minority status.

Last week’s discussion of the proposed Park 51 mosque reminded me of the tour guides’ story.   Read the rest of this entry »


A brief ecclesiastical history of Kazakhstan

April 20, 2010

When I first began writing for Whosoever Desires, one of our readers suggested I should say something about my two years in Kazakhstan and, in particular, about the state of the Kazakhstani Church.

I worked in Kazakhstan from 2002-2004, straight out of college, well before the thought of becoming a Jesuit had crossed my mind; my concerns and inclinations at the time were, I confess, decidedly more worldly than they are today.  I found that there are two basic drives motivating Peace Corps volunteers:  an idealism trying to make the world a better place and a thirst for adventure.  Like most, I possessed a bit of both.

First a few basics about Kazakhstan.   Read the rest of this entry »


World Day for Consecrated Life

February 2, 2010

Ask someone what day it is today and the response you are likely to get is “Groundhog Day.”  Unless you ask a pagan Celt, who will know that it is the festival of Imbolc.  And Catholics?  The catechized ones will likely tell you that it is the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord or Candlemas.

Few people will tell you that it is World Day for Consecrated Life.  But it is—unless you are in one of those dioceses that move the celebration to the following Sunday, an unfortunate practice which is a matter for another post.

When Venerable John Paul II established February 2 as the World Day for Consecrated Life back in 1997, he said that the purpose of the day was threefold: First, to thank God for the gift of consecrated life.  Second, “to promote a knowledge of and esteem for the consecrated life by the entire People of God.”  And the third reason, in John Paul II’s words,

regards consecrated persons directly. They are invited to celebrate together solemnly the marvels which the Lord has accomplished in them, to discover by a more illumined faith the rays of divine beauty spread by the Spirit in their way of life, and to acquire a more vivid consciousness of their irreplaceable mission in the Church and in the world.

That phrase about “their irreplaceable mission” got me thinking about a conversation I recently had with an abbess of a Poor Clare monastery.  Mother Abbess was telling me how important it was for her community to protect the discipline of enclosure, because once one begins to make small exceptions the Rule, soon the cloister may be lost entirely.  Upon remarking how central enclosure is to the charism of the Poor Clares (who make a special fourth vow of enclosure) she remarked that if religious abandon their charism, they forfeit their reason to exist, and soon will cease to exist.  The history of—no, perhaps better, the contemporary situation of—religious life bears ample evidence to this fact. Read the rest of this entry »


The Magisterium and History

November 9, 2009

+AMDG+

The_Inspiration_of_Saint_Matthew_by_CaravaggioI’m currently taking a course on the thought of Joseph Ratzinger, so his thoughts tend to show up a lot on these posts.  Here’s an interesting quote from him in light of Nathan’s post, in which Ratzinger, as prefect, comments on the relationship between theologians and the Church’s teaching authority:

[Donum Veritatis] states—perhaps for the first time with such candor—that there are magisterial decision which cannot be the final word on a given matter as such but, despite the permanent value of their principles, are chiefly also a signal for pastoral prudence, a sort of provisional policy.  Their kernel remains valid, but the particulars determined by circumstances can stand in need of correction.  In this connection, one will probably call to mind both the pontifical statements of the last century, especially the decisions of the then Biblical Commission.  As warning calls against rash and superficial accommodations, they remain perfectly legitimate: no less a personage than J. B. Metz, for example, has remarked that the anti-Modernist decisions of the Church performed the great service of preserving her from foundering in a bourgeois-liberal world.  Nevertheless, with respect to particular aspects of their content, they were superseded after having fulfilled their pastoral function in the situation of the time (The Nature and Mission of Theology, 106).

Given the context of Metz (no magisterial “yes-man”), the “bourgeois-liberal world” would probably have been the milieu of German, Protestant academics, who proved generally accommodating to the Nazi party. Read the rest of this entry »