Homily for the 2nd Sunday of Lent: The “Transformation Perspective”

March 3, 2012

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Gn 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18; Ps 116:10, 15, 16-17, 18-19; Ps 116:10, 15, 16-17, 18-19; Rom 8:31b-34; Mk 9:2-10

As Catholics, we all know that we oppose something called “secularism.”  We want to keep Christ in Christmas.  We want the Church to be strong, to have freedom to worship and to shape culture and policy.  But thinking of secularism exclusively in terms of its legal and economic aspects has a downside: it encourages us to lay the blame on “them”—on godless lawyers, lobbyists, and CEOs.  It gave me pause, then, when I ran across definition of secularism, proposed by a prominent Catholic philosopher, that invited me to look at myself.  According to his definition, the heart of secularism is the denial of the “transformation perspective” (A Secular Age, 431).

And by “transformation perspective” he meant simply the belief—common to most religions—that we are transformed through sacrifice, that a “higher life” and new desires are possible for us through religious practices: through the discipline of passions, meditation, the study of holy books, etc.  From the secular perspective, on the other hand, desires and behavior are never really be transformed.  And since we can’t expect people to live frustrated, the best we can hope to do is damage control.  Hence the secular solution to the dangers of sex becomes not chastity but condoms, the secular solution to the problem of overeating becomes not moderation but Splenda, the secular solution to political corruption becomes not integrity but a system of checks and balances.  The “transformation perspective,” on the other hand, rates virtue above technique.

To this “transformation perspective” reflected generally in religious traditions, Christianity adds a new element: Read the rest of this entry »


On the Feast of St. Joseph Pignatelli, SJ

November 14, 2011

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At least nowadays, Jesuit spirituality is often presented in stark opposition to the so-called “negative” spiritualities—traditions that emphasized self-emptying, withdrawal from the world, and fulfillment in the life to come (as opposed to the present).  Jesuits, of course, play no little role in crafting their own image, and it’s true that we usually emphasize the “world-affirming” aspect of the Ignatian patrimony (it’s a reputation, after all, that’s much easier to live up to—and everyone appreciates truth in advertising).  Hence, we proudly point to the long tradition of “Ignatian Humanism,” the mysticism of “finding God in all things,” and our “worldly” pragmatism.  There is certainly a great deal of truth in this characterization, and one could spend a lifetime gathering and documenting supporting evidence.

But today’s feast of St. Joseph Pignatelli, S.J. (1737-1811), reminds us that the “world-affirming” element of the Jesuit tradition is only one part of the story. Read the rest of this entry »