Archive for the ‘Reflections’ Category

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Finding One’s Center – Fr. Romano Guardini

April 18, 2014
Many people don’t know that Pope Francis planned to write his thesis on Romano Gurardini the distinguished theologian and liturgist who had a profound influence on Joseph Ratzinger.  Ratzinger even named one of his most important books with the same title as that of one of Guardini’s (The Spirit of the Liturgy) (We need to read and apply what Ratzinger wrote now more than ever, by the way.) Magister corrected his own entry which now reads: "It was precisely on Guardini that the Jesuit Bergoglio was planning to write the thesis for his doctorate in theology, during an academic sojourn in Germany in 1986 at the philosophical-theological faculty of Sankt Georgen in Frankfurt: a plan that was later abandoned." Pope Benedict, the day he stepped-down, quoted Guardini twice in his final speech as Pope.

Many people don’t know that Pope Francis planned to write his thesis on Romano Gurardini the distinguished theologian and liturgist who had a profound influence on Joseph Ratzinger. Ratzinger even named one of his most important books with the same title as that of one of Guardini’s (The Spirit of the Liturgy) (We need to read and apply what Ratzinger wrote now more than ever, by the way.) Magister corrected his own entry which now reads: “It was precisely on Guardini that the Jesuit Bergoglio was planning to write the thesis for his doctorate in theology, during an academic sojourn in Germany in 1986 at the philosophical-theological faculty of Sankt Georgen in Frankfurt: a plan that was later abandoned.” Pope Benedict, the day he stepped-down, quoted Guardini twice in his final speech as Pope.

From the book Romano Guardini: Spiritual Writings

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If young people were to read my memoirs, they would surely be amazed that someone could be as unclear about himself as I had been. The primary cause for this confusion lay above all in me, in the complexity of my personal being which only slowly found its center point.

What brought about my own religious life was also what put great pressure on my religious life until my university years. I was always anxious and very scrupulous. For a young person, this condition is more difficult than an easygoing sense of life. An easygoing sense of life is at least a life, while the self-preoccupation of the anxious conscience is destructive. Help for this condition can properly come only from an older person who sees the anxiety.As a youth, however, I did not meet such a person. Added to this condition for me was the tendency toward depression which later became acute. Nevertheless, this tendency was also a source of creativity for me.

My scrupulosity and tendency toward depression could have led even in my early years to an intense inner life, full of strong experiences. But this did not happen. When I look back on my life, I am not able to see the entire time up until my university years. Nothing comes to me from my early childhood memories — memories which usually make the beginning of an autobiography worthwhile. I do not want to suggest that those years were empty. What unfolded later in my life must have had its roots in my early years.

But everything from my childhood lies as though under water. I have never had the sense of a happy childhood nor the desire to return to my childhood. I would not like to return to my childhood. I wish to add, however, that my parents truly loved us, and we them. We four brothers were closely united despite all conflicts, tensions, and difficulties, and it has remained that way even to this day.

When I finally arrived in Freiburg in 1906, I experienced an indescribable despondency. The prospect of becoming a priest threw me into a dark depression. I no longer understood myself. Today I know that what expressed itself in this despondency was the resistance of an entirely unlived out nature to the necessary deprivations of the priesthood.

Also, since birth, I have borne the inheritance of the depression that my mother experienced. Such an inheritance is not in itself bad; it is the ballast that gives a ship its ability to travel deep seas. I do not believe that there is creativity and a deep relationship to life without having a disposition toward depression. A person cannot eliminate it, but must include it in his or her life. As part of this, one must accept it in an innermost way from God, and must try to transform it into a good for other people.

I did not have this insight into depression when I went to Freiburg. After I arrived there, the flood waters of depression climbed so high in me that I thought I was sinking, and I considered putting an end to my life. I found peace in a few specific places; this sounds pathetic, but it is true. In Freiburg’s cathedral, the Munster, the altar for the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament stood to the right of the main altar. When I knelt on the steps of this side altar, the despondency lessened — only to return soon afterward. How long the depression continued I no longer know. In my memory it seems endless. It was in fact not more than a couple of weeks. But it is not only the external duration which makes time seem long.

One day I was going to St. Odilien Church, where a natural spring of water bubbles up, which is a pleasure to watch. On the return way, on the beautiful street that passes the Carthusian house, I prayed the rosary. The sadness lessened, and I became peaceful. It was my first encounter with this prayer, which I later prayed so frequently. Since that moment I have never doubted my call to the priesthood. The dark flow of depression has always continued in my life, and more than once it has climbed very high. It was clear to me, however, that I was being called to the priesthood, and I have kept this conviction into the present.

I must say more about Wilhelm Koch, who was one of our professors of theology in Tubingen. Above all, I must recall that Koch was the person who freed me from the demands of scrupulosity. As I said earlier, scrupulosity had afflicted me since my childhood; during my first semester in Tubingen, I became unbearable. I attribute this senseless self-preoccupation in good part to the fact that my nerves were so sensitive and have never entirely healed. Scrupulosity is connected, too, to my tendency toward depression, and it can to a certain extent have a positive effect because it makes one serious.

But it can also destroy judgment and energy, to say nothing of the danger of inner panic that can drive anxious persons in the wrong direction so that they throw aside all moral and religious restraints.

In any event, Koch had the custom of hearing the confessions of a few students. Some of us — Karl Neudorfer, Josef Weiger, and I — asked him for this favor, and he agreed. He heard someone’s confession in the following manner. At the agreed upon time, the confessee arrived at Koch’s room, and walked back and forth with him in the room. This allowed the penitent to tell all that he had on his heart — whether about studies or practical matters, religious questions or moral issues — and to say what he thought about these things.

Then Koch put on his stole, asked the penitent to give a summary of all that was discussed, and then gave the absolution. In this way, I experienced what a wonderful source of life the sacrament of reconciliation can be when it is performed properly. I learned to stand at a distance from my anxieties, to distinguish unimportant concerns from important ones, and to see the appropriate tasks of my personal and religious formation.

Since Koch was a good person, he offered us some advice that we followed. At that time, we had no knowledge of human sexuality, and he saw how this ignorance burdened us. So he sent each of us to a professor of psychiatry, who was empathetic to us and recommended a good book about sexual matters. This endeavor was a bit risky since Professor G. was not a Christian. The book was entitled Die sexuelle Frage (The sexual Question), by Forel. It treated sexual matters with a matter-of-factness and detail that served us well. We read the book aloud together and found that the whole subject became demystified.

These steps to inner freedom had the net effect of turning the semester into a good experience. I cannot say that my anxiety totally disappeared. Since it is really part of my very makeup, it always runs as a possibility beneath the surface of my life. I have attained however, a critical distance from it and now am able to distinguish among its demands and assess each of them.

In the course of my last year at the University of Bonn, I was invited to accept a faculty position at Bonn in practical theology and liturgical studies. I had the intuition, however, that I should not deviate from my inner sense of direction, and therefore that I should not take this position. As I mention this, I would like to say that, since the awakening of my spiritual life, I had come to trust my inner orientation, and I have made my life’s various decisions concerning professional, spiritual and personal matters on the basis of this inner sense of direction.

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Notes On Ambition And Dietrich Bonhoeffer — Christian Wiman

September 13, 2013
Life is always a question of intensity, and intensity is always a matter of focus. Contemporary despair is to feel the multiplicity of existence with no possibility for expression or release of one's particular being. I fear sometimes that we are evolving in such a way that the possibilities for these small but intense points of intimacy and expression -- poetry, for instance -- are not simply vanishing but are becoming no longer felt as necessary pressures.

Life is always a question of intensity, and intensity is always a matter of focus. Contemporary despair is to feel the multiplicity of existence with no possibility for expression or release of one’s particular being. I fear sometimes that we are evolving in such a way that the possibilities for these small but intense points of intimacy and expression — poetry, for instance — are not simply vanishing but are becoming no longer felt as necessary pressures.

I once believed in some notion of a pure ambition, which I defined as an ambition for the work rather than for oneself. But now? If a poet’s ambition were truly for the work and nothing else, he would write under a pseudonym, which would not only preserve that pure space of making but free him from the distractions of trying to forge a name for himself in the world.

No, all ambition has the reek of disease about it, the relentless smell of the self — except for that terrible, blissful feeling at the heart of creation itself, when all thought of your name is obliterated and all you want is the poem, to be the means wherein something of reality, perhaps even something of eternity, realizes itself. That is noble ambition. But all that comes after — the need for approval, publication, self-promotion — isn’t this what usually goes under the name of “ambition”?

The effort is to make ourselves more real to ourselves, to feel that we have selves, though the deepest moments of creation tell us that, in some fundamental way, we don’t. (Souls are what those moments reveal, which are both inside and outside, both us and other.) So long as your ambition is to stamp your existence upon existence, your nature on nature, then your ambition is corrupt and you are pursuing a ghost.

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Still, there is something that any artist is in pursuit of, and is answerable to, some nexus of one’s being, one’s material, and Being itself. Inspiration is when these three things collide — or collude. The work that emerges from this crisis of consciousness may be judged a failure or a success by the world, and that judgment will still sting or flatter your vanity. But it cannot speak to this crisis in which, for which, and of which the work was made. For any artist alert to his own soul, this crisis is the only call that matters. I know no name for it besides God, but people have other names, or no names.

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This truth places the artist under the most severe pressure: if that original call, that crisis of consciousness, either has not been truly heard or has not been answered with everything that is in you, then even the loudest clamors of approval will be tainted and the wounds of rejection salted with your implacable self-knowledge. An artist who loses this internal arbiter is an artist who can no longer hear the call that first came to him.

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These days I am impatient with poetry that is not steeped in, marred and transfigured by, the world. By that I don’t necessarily mean poetry that has some obvious social concern or is meticulous with its descriptions, but a poetry in which you can feel that the imagination of the poet has been both charged and chastened by a full encounter with the world and other lives. A poet like Robert Lowell, who had such a tremendous imagination for language but so little for other people, means less and less to me as the years pass. On the other hand, a poet like Gwendolyn Brooks, with her saturation of rough, real Bronzeville, or Lorine Niedecker, with her “full foamy folk” of eastern Wisconsin

I worked the print shop
right down among em
the folk from whom all poetry flows
and dreadfully much else

these poets seem to be throwing me lifelines from their graves.

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The Lutheran pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a radiant moral presence amid the murderous twentieth century, was safe in the United States when Hitler’s intentions began to be made clear. He could have stayed here, could have assumed a prestigious post at Union Theological Seminary and spent his life as a comfortable and influential public intellectual. But the decision was not all that difficult for him:  he went back to a disintegrating and dangerous Germany because, as he said, if he did not suffer his country’s destruction, he could not credibly participate in its restoration. He went back because, as he had written earlier, “Only the obedient believe. If we are to believe, we must obey a concrete command.”

For all the modern talk about keeping an author’s work and life separate, all the schoolroom injunctions against mistaking art for autobiography, there are some works that life electrifies with meaning, some sayings only action authenticates. The charge is not always a positive one: Sylvia Plath’s late poems are so disturbing and powerful precisely because she committed the awful act around which they danced.

The act is not always a willful one: the Hungarian poet Miklos Radnoti, after a long forced march with hundreds of other doomed men, was killed by the Nazis and dumped into a mass grave in 1944. After the war, when his body was exhumed and identified, his wife discovered in his coat pocket a small notebook filled with poems he had written during his last days. Prophetic, apocalyptic, and yet brutally specific, the poems are at once unflinching and uncanny. “The reader approaches these with a certain veneration,” writes the poet and translator George Szirtes, “as though they were more than poems. Slowly, everything assumes a mythic shape and the life embraces the oeuvre so comprehensively that the one disappears in the other.”

Bonhoeffer was a theologian, not an artist (though he did have a gift for the kind of encompassing compression and lucid paradox that are hallmarks of poetry), but the effect is the same:

The important thing today is that we should be able to discern from the fragment of our life how the whole was arranged and planned, and what material it consists of.

For acquired knowledge cannot be divorced from the existence in which it is acquired. The only man who has the right to say that he is justified by grace alone is the man who has left all to follow Christ.

Every real action is of such a kind that no one other than oneself can do it.

It hardly matters whether or not one “agrees” with any of this. The words have an authenticity and authority beyond mere intellectual assertion: they burn with the brave and uncompromising life — and death — that lie behind them.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed at the Flossenbürg concentration camp on April 9, 1945.

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Bonhoeffer, after, after being in prison for a year, still another hard year away from his execution, forging long letters to his friend Eberhard Berge out of his strong faith, his anxiety, his longing for his fiancee, and terror over the nightly bombings: “There are things more important than self-knowledge.” Yes. An artist who believes this is an artist of faith, even if the faith contains no god.

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I often ask myself why a “Christian instinct” often draws me more to the religionless people than to the religious, by which I don’t in the least mean with any evangelizing intention, but, I might almost say, “in brotherhood.”
-Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Reading Bonhoeffer makes me realize again how small our points of contact with life can be, perhaps even necessarily are, when our truest self finds its emotional and intellectual expression. With all that is going on around Bonhoeffer, and with all the people in his life (he wrote letters to many other people and had close relationships with other prisoners), it is only in the letters to Bethge that his thought really sparks and finds focus.

Life is always a question of intensity, and intensity is always a matter of focus. Contemporary despair is to feel the multiplicity of existence with no possibility for expression or release of one’s particular being. I fear sometimes that we are evolving in such a way that the possibilities for these small but intense points of intimacy and expression — poetry, for instance — are not simply vanishing but are becoming no longer felt as necessary pressures.

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A Love Poem By A Poet Incapable Of Love – Christian Wiman

September 12, 2013
Bridges over the Vltava River in Prague

Bridges over the Vltava River in Prague

When I was twenty years old I spent an afternoon with Howard Nemerov. He was the first “famous” poet I had ever met, though I would later learn that he was deeply embittered by what he perceived to be a lack of respect from critics and other poets. (I once heard Thom Gunn call him a “zombie.”) My chief memories are of his great eagerness to nail down the time and place for his midday martini, his reciting “Animula” when I told him I loved Eliot, and his asking me at one point — with what I now realize was great patience and kindness — what I was going to do when I graduated from college later that year. I had no plans, no ambitions clear enough to recognize as such, no interest in any of the things that my classmates were hurtling toward.

Poetry was what I spent more and more of my time working on, though I found that vaguely embarrassing, even when revealing it to a real poet, as I did. Equivocations spilled out of me then, how poetry was all right as long as one didn’t take it too seriously, as long as one didn’t throw one’s whole life into it. He set down his martini and looked at me for a long moment — I feel the gaze now — then looked away.

The irony is that for the next two decades I would be so consumed with poetry that I would damn near forget the world. One must have devotion to be an artist, and there’s no way of minimizing its cost. But still, just as in religious contexts, there is a kind of devotion that is, at its heart, escape.

These poems, these poems,
these poems, she said, are poems
with no love in them.
These are the poems of a man
who would leave his wife and child because
they made noise in his study.
These are the poems of a man
who would murder his mother
to claim the inheritance.
These are the poems of a man
like Plato, she said, meaning something I did not
comprehend but which nevertheless
offended me. These are the poems of a man
who would rather sleep with himself than with women,
she said. These are the poems of a man
with eyes like a drawknife, with hands like a pickpocket’s
hands, woven of water and logic
and hunger, with no strand of love in them. These
poems are as heartless as birdsong, as unmeant
as elm leaves, which if they love love only
the wide blue sky and the air and the idea
of elm leaves. Self-love is an ending,
she said, and not a beginning. Love means love
of the thing sung, not of the song or the singing.
These poems, she said…
You are, he said,
beautiful.
That is not love, she said rightly.
Robert Bringhurst, “These Poems, She Said”

For years I carried this poem by the Canadian poet Robert Bringhurst in my mind like a totem. I loved its quality of highly dramatized speech, the sense it gives that we might actually say to each other things like “these poems are as heartless as birdsong, as unmeant as elm leaves.”

I loved the mix of intellect and sensuousness, abstraction and concretion, passion and intelligence. Most of all, though, I loved what the poem was saying, and how it seemed to so perfectly dramatize tensions I felt in my life every day: between art and the people I loved, between art and my responsibilities in the world and to other people, between art and my hunger for an experience of life that was immediate, unmediated, mine. As W. B. Yeats put it more than a hundred years ago, had such an experience ever actually happened, “I might have thrown poor words away / and been content to live.”

If you’ve never been consumed by an art, it might seem strange to think of it in these terms — as an antithesis to life, almost, or at least as a kind of parasite. But the fact is, art can compromise, even in some way neutralize, the very experience on which it depends. If to be an artist is to be someone upon whom nothing is lost, as Henry James said, then it follows that to be an artist is to be in some permanent sense professionally detached.

An artist is conscious of always standing apart from life, and one of the results of this can be that you begin to feel most intensely what you have failed to feel: a certain emotional reserve in one’s life becomes a source of great power in one’s work. That poem by Bringhurst serves as both an example of this power — it carries a strong emotional charge even as it articulates emotional distance — and a reprimand to it, labeling all that supposed artistic discipline, all that self-exonerating crap about being “a person upon whom nothing is lost,” as merely a species of self-love.

Given all this, it’s not surprising that some religious poets have felt a difficult tension between their devotion to art and their devotion to God. Hopkins actually renounced poetry for a number of years. His reason was that poetry wasn’t consistent with the seriousness of his vocation, but you don’t need to read much of Hopkins to realize that the real reason was that the intensity of his creative experiences competed with the intensity of his religious experiences, and he felt himself presented with a stark choice.

Then there’s George Herbert. He was also a priest, an Anglican, though not until late in his life, after he had served two terms in Parliament. Though Herbert sometimes linked poetry to God and experienced grace through words, he was conscious of some secular element at the very heart of making art, some necessary imaginative flair in himself that needed to be subdued, or at least tidied up and made fit for sacrifice:

Farewell, sweet phrases, lovely metaphors:
But will ye leave me thus? When ye before
Of stews and brothels onely knew the doores,
Then did I wash you with my tears, and more,
Brought you to church well drest and clad:
My God must have my best, ev’n all I had.
From “The Forerunners”

I have always responded deeply to these two poets — I don’t know that any poet, of any time, is more companionable to me than Herbert (“Sorrow was all my soul; I scarce believed, / Till grief did tell me roundly, that I lived”). But I’ve never experienced the tension between poetry and God in quite the same terms.

The Scottish runner Eric Liddell, whose story is told in the movie Chariots of Fire, once explained why he couldn’t give up running — not yet, at any rate — to be a missionary in China: “I believe that God made me for a purpose,” Liddell said, “but he also made me fast, and when I run I feel his pleasure … To give up running would be to hold him in contempt.” I like this notion: God doesn’t give a gift without giving an obligation to use it. How one uses it, though — that’s where things get complicated.

And the fact is, during all those years when that Bringhurst poem was my own little private anthem, when I practiced absence like a kind of discipline, moving forty times in fifteen years, owning nothing that wouldn’t fit in the trunk of my car, distancing myself from my family, my home, my very self in order to feel these energies in my art — during all that time, I did not think of God.

I mean, I thought of God, but only as a kind of intellectual stopgap, an ultimate synonym for ultimate absence, some vague and almost purely rhetorical gesture that signaled little more than a failure of both words and intellect. In retrospect it seems to me obvious what was going on, what ultimate insight was lacking from, and therefore clouding and diminishing, every sight, what hunger ruined my taste, even as it increased my desire, for the world. “Who here is the finished man / whose hands know only what is gone?” I wrote at the time in a poem I’ve never published. “All night he holds it as he can, / his losses lost again in song.”

During one of those years I lived in Prague. I was living with someone at the time. Unlike some of the relationships I was in during those years, this one was intimate, long lasting, and remains part of the bedrock of my consciousness. We lived in one of those grim, gray apartment blocks that surround every Eastern European city, but we lived on the top floor, so we had a tremendous view of Prague for about thirty dollars a month. (This was the year after the Velvet Revolution, when tourists were scarce and prices were still low.)

One day when I was studying Czech at the kitchen table and my girlfriend was taking a bath in the other room, a falcon landed on the windowsill — maybe three feet from me. A decade later, after that bedrock in my brain had ruptured in ways I realize are never quite going to heal, I wrote a poem called “Postolka,” which in Czech means falcon or, more accurately, kestrel:

When I was learning words
And you were in the bath
There was a flurry of small birds
And in the aftermath
Of all that panicked flight,
As if the red dusk willed
A concentration of its light,
A falcon on the sill.

It scanned the orchard’s bowers,
Then pane by pane it eyed
The stories facing ours
But never looked inside.

I called you in to see.
And when you’d steamed the room
And naked next to me
Stood dripping, as a bloom

Of blood formed in your cheek
And slowly seemed to melt
I could almost speak
The love I almost felt.

Wish for something, you said.
A shiver pricked my spine.
The falcon turned its head
And locked its eyes on mine

And for a long moment I’m still in
I wished and wished and wished
The moment would not end.
And just like that it vanished.

This is a love poem by a person who is incapable of love. It’s a rapture of time by someone who never quite enters it, a celebration of life by a man whose mind is tuned only to elegies. It is also, I’ve come to think, in a peculiar and very modern sense, a devotional poem, or at least an early unconscious attempt at one, though God is nowhere in it. That’s what makes it modern.

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Start With Why – Simon Sinek

May 17, 2013
The Golden Circle is a naturally occurring pattern, grounded in the biology of human decision making, that explains why we are inspired by some people, leaders, messages and organizations over others. The Golden Circle is a model that codifies the three distinct and interdependent elements (Why, How, What) that makes any person or organization function at its highest ability. Based on the biology of human decision making, it demonstrates how the function of our limbic brain and the neocortex directly relate to the way in which people interact with each other and with organizations and brands in the formation of cultures and communities.

The Golden Circle is a naturally occurring pattern, grounded in the biology of human decision making, that explains why we are inspired by some people, leaders, messages and organizations over others. The Golden Circle is a model that codifies the three distinct and interdependent elements (Why, How, What) that makes any person or organization function at its highest ability. Based on the biology of human decision making, it demonstrates how the function of our limbic brain and the neocortex directly relate to the way in which people interact with each other and with organizations and brands in the formation of cultures and communities.

Described as “a visionary thinker with a rare intellect,” Simon Sinek teaches leaders and organizations how to inspire people. With a bold goal to help build a world in which the vast majority of people go home everyday feeling fulfilled by their work, Simon is leading a movement to inspire people to do the things that inspire them.

You would think the Church would know everything Simon seems to know and just naturally go about achieving all the things the Wright Brothers, Martin Luther King and the Apple company do. But it doesn’t. Sinek points out the Martin Luther King didn’t have a plan but a dream.

Every Sunday my parish priest gathers a group of what Simon would probably call the last adopters and reads a homily that sounds as though it was written elsewhere and not for any of the people who are gathered there. I dutifully gather with all the others and listen. But people like Simon make me think: here is an organization, the Church, that has all the right answers and doesn’t get anything done in the political or cultural marketplace. What’s wrong with that picture? What is not happening? Is Sinek on to something here?

A trained ethnographer and author of Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, Sinek has held a life-long curiosity for why people and organizations do the things they do. Fascinated by the leaders and companies that make the greatest impact in the world, those with the capacity to inspire, he has discovered some remarkable patterns of how they think, act and communicate. He has devoted his life to sharing his thinking in order to help other leaders and organizations inspire action.

He is best known for discovering the Golden Circle and popularizing the concept of Why, the purpose, cause or belief that drives every one of us. The Golden Circle is a naturally occurring pattern, grounded in the biology of human decision making, that explains why we are inspired by some people, leaders, messages and organizations over others. The Golden Circle is a model that codifies the three distinct and interdependent elements (Why, How, What) that makes any person or organization function at its highest ability. Based on the biology of human decision making, it demonstrates how the function of our limbic brain and the neocortex directly relate to the way in which people interact with each other and with organizations and brands in the formation of cultures and communities.

Sinek’s unconventional and innovative views on business and leadership have attracted international attention and have earned him invitations to meet with an array of leaders and organizations, including: Microsoft, MARS, SAP, Intel, 3M, the United States Military, members of the United States Congress, multiple government agencies and entrepreneurs. Sinek has also had the honor of presenting his ideas to the Ambassadors of Bahrain and Iraq, at the United Nations and to the senior leadership of the United States Air Force. Perhaps someone should add Pope Francis to that group or the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and get them to listen to Simon.

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The Easter Message of Religious Freedom — Joseph Loconte

April 15, 2013
The painter della Francesca captured himself in a self portrait, asleep on the job in front of the tomb. The risen Jesus looms behind.

The painter della Francesca captured himself in a self portrait, asleep on the job in front of the tomb. The risen Jesus looms behind.

The Bible’s resurrection tales show us faith based on peaceful persuasion. Contrast this approach with the culture wars that currently wage about our heads. I’ve been thinking I need to adopt this approach or find a way to realize it. It reminds me of the Caravaggio painting that adorns this page, that straight forward presentation of the Lord to the disciples at Emmaus. They may be jumping out of their chairs and gesticulating wildly but you can tell that the Lord is not being persuaded. This is the way it is, he seems to be saying, why would you choose any other?

Mr. Loconte, a professor of history at The Kings College, is writing a book on the history of religious toleration. This was in the WSJ shortly before Easter.

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As Christians around the world prepare to celebrate Easter, they reflect on God’s purposes amid suffering and death. They look forward to the hope of the resurrection. Yet there is another aspect to the Easter story that should be as important to the skeptic as it is to the believer: its message of religious toleration. Whether read as history or allegory, the resurrection stories in the gospels offer an approach to faith that challenges the militant religions of our own day.

Consider the account in Luke’s gospel about two disciples of Jesus, just days after his crucifixion, fleeing Jerusalem for their home in nearby Emmaus. They are fugitives: Jesus was executed on the charge of sedition, after all, and it is not safe for his followers to remain in the city. His horrific death has cast them into a storm of grief and doubt.

Somewhere along the road to Emmaus, Jesus appears to the men as “a stranger” — they don’t immediately recognize him — and a conversation ensues. The stranger upbraids them for their politicized religion, that is, for thinking that Israel’s Messiah would be a military or political liberator. Rather, he explains, the Messiah was meant to suffer for the sake of his people in order to win them spiritual freedom: “And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he explained to them what was said in the Scriptures concerning himself.” Finally, by the end of their journey — after talking and debating and sharing a meal together — the travelers recognize who the stranger is.

The disciples have been guided, not coerced, out of their skepticism. Their objections have been met with reason, not force. The stranger has described the world they were meant to live in, a world drenched in beauty, peace, justice and love. They are cut to the quick: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scripture to us?”

Realizing what has happened, emboldened by their new faith, the travelers rush back to Jerusalem to share the news about Jesus with their friends. Told with remarkable modesty and vulnerability, this account is one of the earliest conversion stories in Christianity. It helped to set the pattern for evangelism in the early church.

In all of the New Testament’s resurrection accounts, the method of Jesus for winning hearts and minds — his emphasis on peaceful persuasion — couldn’t be plainer. All depict the patience and kindness of God in the face of human doubt. Yet, in one of the tragic turning points in the history of the West, this biblical ideal was rejected. The church, imitating the Roman state under which it had suffered and ultimately thrived, soon endorsed the methods of Caesar: the use of imprisonment, torture or death to combat unbelief.

The church of the martyrs became the church of the Inquisition. Catholic thinkers as profound as Thomas Aquinas justified the use of violence to win converts and put down dissent. “Even if my own father were a heretic,” declared Pope Paul IV, “I would gather the wood to burn him.”

Protestants soon followed suit. Leaders such as John Calvin, with Bible in hand, used the power of the state to brutally enforce the new religious orthodoxy.

The advance of Christianity in the West brought with it many blessings: an ethos of compassion for children, the poor, the sick and the outcast. It established a basis for human dignity unknown in antiquity. Nevertheless, nearly everywhere the church went — whenever it encountered resistance or disbelief — a culture of suspicion and violence followed. Christian author C.S. Lewis once declared: “If ever the book which I am not going to write is written, it must be the full confession by Christendom of Christendom’s specific contribution to the sum of human cruelty and treachery.”

Eventually, after a series of religious wars, the Christian church confessed its negation of Christian charity. By the late 17th century, a steady stream of tracts, pamphlets, sermons and books — disseminated by the explosive growth of the printing press — delivered a singular message about the sacred rights of individual conscience. Christian thinkers such as William Penn, Roger Williams and John Locke would help the church recover its older tradition of toleration, as old as the New Testament itself.

Indeed, a firm basis for religious freedom would be found in the Bible, supremely in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. “I did not come to judge the world,” Jesus told his followers, “but to save it.” Here is an Easter story — a message of the grace of God toward every human soul — for believers and doubters alike.

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Reflections on Louise Glück’s October – Derek Jeter

April 3, 2013

october-sky

OCTOBER – Louise Glück

1

Is it winter again, is it cold again,
didn’t Frank just slip on the ice,
didn’t he heal, weren’t the spring seeds planted

didn’t the night end,
didn’t the melting ice
flood the narrow gutters

wasn’t my body rescued,
wasn’t it safe

didn’t the scar form, invisible
above the injury

terror and cold,
didn’t they just end, wasn’t the back garden
harrowed and planted

I remember how the earth felt, red and dense,
in stiff rows, weren’t the seeds planted,
didn’t vines climb the south wall

I can’t hear your voice
for the wind’s cries,
whistling over the bare ground

I no longer care
what sound it makes

when was I silenced,
when did it first seem
pointless to describe that sound

what it sounds like can’t change what it is –

didn’t the night end,
wasn’t the earth safe when it was planted

didn’t we plant the seeds,
weren’t we necessary to the earth,

the vines, were they harvested?

2

Summer after summer has ended,
balm after violence:
it does me no good
to be good to me now;
violence has changed me.

Daybreak. The low hills shine
ochre and fire, even the fields shine.
I know what I see; sun that could be
the August sun, returning
everything that was taken away –

You hear this voice?
This is my mind’s voice;
you can’t touch my body now.
It has changed once, it has hardened,
don’t ask it to respond again.

A day like a day in summer.
Exceptionally still. The long shadows of the maples
nearly mauve on the gravel paths.

And in the evening, warmth. Night like a night in summer

It does me no good; violence has changed me.
My body has grown cold like the stripped fields;
now there is only my mind, cautious and wary,
with the sense it is being tested.

Once more, the sun rises as it rose in summer;
bounty, balm after violence.
Balm after the leaves have changed, after the fields
have been harvested and turned.

Tell me this is the future,
I won’t believe you.
Tell me I’m living,
I won’t believe you.

3

Snow had fallen. I remember
music from an open window

Come to me, said the world.
This is not to say
it spoke in exact sentences
but that I perceived beauty in this manner.

Sunrise. A film of moisture
on each living thing. Pools of cold light
formed in the gutters.

I stood
at the doorway,
ridiculous as it now seems.

What others found in art,
I found in nature.
What others found
in human love, I found in nature.
Very simple. But there was no voice there.

Winter was over.
In the thawed dirt, bits of green were showing.

Come to me, said the world. I was standing
in my wool coat at a kind of bright portal—
I can finally say
long ago; it gives me considerable pleasure. Beauty

the healer, the teacher

death cannot harm me
more than you have harmed me,
my beloved life.

4

The light has changed;
middle C is tuned darker now.
And the songs of morning sound over-rehearsed.

This is the light of autumn, not the light of spring.
The light of autumn: you will not be spared.

The songs have changed; the unspeakable
has entered them.

This is the light of autumn,
not the light that says
I am reborn.

Not the spring dawn: I strained, I suffered, I was delivered.
This is the present, an allegory of waste.

So much has changed. And still, you are fortunate:
the ideal burns in you like a fever.
Or not like a fever, like a second heart.

The songs have changed, but really they are still quite beautiful.
They have been concentrated in a smaller space, the space of the mind.
They are dark, now, with desolation and anguish.

And yet the notes recur. They hover oddly
in anticipation of silence.
The ear gets used to them.
The eye gets used to disappearances.

you will not be spared, nor will what you love be spared.

A wind has come and gone, taking apart the mind;
it has left in its wake a strange lucidity.

How privileged you are, to be still passionately
clinging to what you love;
the forfeit of hope has not destroyed you.

Maestoso, doloroso:

This is the light of autumn; it has turned on us.
Surely it is a privilege to approach the end
still believing in something.

5

It is true there is not enough beauty in the world.
It is also true that I am not competent to restore it.
Neither is there candor, and here I may be of some use.

I am
at work, though I am silent.

The bland

misery of the world
bounds us on either side, an alley

lined with trees; we are

companions here, not speaking,
each with his own thoughts;

behind the trees, iron
gates of the private houses,
the shuttered rooms

somehow deserted, abandoned,

as though it were the artist’s
duty to create
hope, but out of what? what?

the word itself
false, a device to refute
perception — At the intersection,

ornamental lights of the season.

I was young here. Riding
the subway with my small book
as though to defend myself against

this same world:

you are not alone, the poem said,
in the dark tunnel.

6

The brightness of the day
becomes the brightness of the night;
the fire becomes the mirror.

My friend the earth is bitter; I think
sunlight has failed her.
Bitter or weary, it is hard to say.

Between herself and the sun,
something has ended.
She wants, now, to be left alone;
I think we must give up
turning to her for affirmation.

Above the fields,
above the roofs of the village houses,
e brilliance that made all life possible
becomes the cold stars.

Lie still and watch:
the give nothing but ask nothing.

From within the earth’s
bitter disgrace, coldness and barrenness

my friend the moon rises:
she is beautiful tonight, but when is she not beautiful?

Several confessions to make here before reviewing Louise Glück’s October. I’m a cranky old man highly distrustful of women, not without exposure to many but almost because of that – particularly due to the corruption and dishonesty of my two sisters and my mother. Not that I don’t love them or didn’t love them, mind you, but because I loved them. Nothing fucks you up more than shitty people. Mark that down on your calendar somewhere. Stick it on your refrigerator door.

So after surviving what seemed to be more than a lifetime of betrayals and chaos, much of it due to the fault and weaknesses of that latter triumvirate of viragoes, my two sisters and mother, I have emerged in my October of life, much like Ms. Glück appears to have in hers.

That is an amazing sentence coming from someone who is admitting to such unrepentant sexist distaste for any woman poet or writer. PayingAttentiontotheSky is at once littered with all sorts of exceptions to my sexist prejudices, look at my love of Flannery O’Connor, Dorothy Sayers, Anne Carson, Dorothy Day, Madeleine Delbrêl, Anne Sexton, Emily Dickinson, Wislawa Szymborska and the incomparable Simone Weil.

At least those are the ones I have created special categories for or have selected poems that have deeply affected me. Obviously I am not who I claim to be, thank God. I don’t know why I cling to my misogynistic inclinations, perhaps it is the outgrowth of that “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me” proverb that has reached the inconcludable heights of “Fool me six times…blah-blah-blah”

The reason I have this affinity for Louse Glück is that she is a poet for the survivor of violence and this is something that all PTSD vets and women who have experienced violence can find solace in. The narrator of October is searching for a way of being in the aftermath of her soul-robbing experience of violence. It begins with an awakening which is not quite so, a life lived in the half-light of disbelief:

didn’t the night end,
didn’t the melting ice
flood the narrow gutters

wasn’t my body rescued,
wasn’t it safe

didn’t the scar form, invisible
above the injury

Did all that really happen and is it really over? I remember those days coming back from Vietnam, the utter change from being there and then not. Later realizing I had never processed that sea change, it had just happened. I was numb to all that was alive around me. Then, blessedly I was overseas again, serving in Japan and of course none of that made sense at all. It never made sense again, really. It all seemed so pointless, until I came to rest with the Risen Christ:

when was I silenced,
when did it first seem
pointless to describe that sound

Am I not a survivor, the narrator seems to be questioning herself.  And the gradual realization of that changed life of that half-light where “violence has changed me.” Withdrawn to the mind, no longer acknowledging her own bodiliness unable to awaken to the best of intentions:

It does me no good; violence has changed me.
My body has grown cold like the stripped fields;
now there is only my mind, cautious and wary,
with the sense it is being tested.

What rescues Glück in her October epiphany is the inescapable existence of beauty, transcendent beauty. Beauty that can be experienced in so many different ways. For me I discovered it most recently in the arms of a lover to whom I had given a copy of Glück’s Collected Poems, which is where I found October, finding it as I did in my tried and truest way by opening the book and reading what I saw there. I call that my St. Augustine method of locating truth. OK if you don’t know that story you can find it here. Try it sometime, it works.

What I like about the poem, and you can see if you don’t agree after reading it, is how the narrator switches voices, perhaps tone of voice would be more precise. When she is closest to recalling her violence affected self, it becomes shortened and clipped. As she emerges into powerful reflections on what happened to her and searching how to be in its aftermath the voice regains its natural rhythm of full sentences:

Come to me, said the world.
This is not to say
it spoke in exact sentences
but that I perceived beauty in this manner.

And looked back on the older self, the one with the stilted voice,  she had passed from being:

I stood
at the doorway,
ridiculous as it now seems.

And speaking of St. Augustine again this is the interplay of the mind, mens,  observing itself, notitia sui with the affection, amor sui, of  what Augustine identified with the imago dei of the human, the creature created in the image of God:

The ground of the intellect, the mysterious source from which all intellectual activity surges forth, Augustine called mens. It would be wrong to translate this simply as “mind,” for that reduces its meaning too drastically. Mens is closer to esprit in French or Geist in German, designating the full range of spiritual energy. Mens is capable of a doubling or mirroring activity by which it poses itself as an object for its own contemplation. This Augustine calls notitia sui, or self-knowledge.

Though this sounds rather abstract, we all acknowledge notitia sui whenever we say, “What was I thinking?” or whenever we engage in introspection under the guidance of a therapist or counselor, searching out our motives and bringing to consciousness our often unconscious impulses. And when mens comes to self-awareness through notitia sui, it falls in love. Again, we sense this whenever, through introspection or counseling, we come to a richer understanding of ourselves and experience, thereby, a deeper level of self-acceptance.

What Augustine finds so intriguing about these dynamics is that though their components are separate from one another, though they can be clearly distinguished one from the other, they do not constitute a dividing of the mind into three. For example, when I say, “What was I thinking?” I’m certainly distinguishing mens from notitia sui, but I’m not falling into schizophrenia.

It was precisely this tensive ambiguity that makes the analogy so apt. The Father, Augustine claimed, is the mens of God, the dark, elemental ground of the divine life. The Father is capable of a perfect and utterly interior act of self-othering. The mirror or Word of the Father, his notitia sui, is the Son. When Father and Son gaze at each other, they breathe hack and forth their mutual love, and this is the amor sui of God, or the Holy Spirit. Hence we have three dynamisms but not three Gods; we have a lover, a beloved, and a shared love, within the unity of one stance, not a one plus one plus one adding up to three, but a one times one times one, equaling one.
Fr. Robert Barron, Catholicism

This is a common device in poetry and literature and once you can identify its movement you can fully enter the mind of the writer and follow along easily with what they are saying. Glück’s approach to beauty is through nature, as is my lover Luisa’s. She loves being outside and would never be drawn to my apartment, particularly for the animals I keep and my own big-cat existence. All of which she hates but can’t escape from. But that’s another post for another day.

Returning to Glück’s approach to beauty through nature:

What others found in art,
I found in nature.
What others found
in human love, I found in nature.
Very simple. But there was no voice there.

No voice, she recounts accurately. The pagans and their love of nature had everything except God, who although creator was not part of his creation, hence the lack of a voice. Nature reeks of God and leads us to Him but you cannot pray to it. Wallace Stevens will tell you the same thing in his The Snow Man: 

The Snow Man
One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

No, Ms. Glück’s awareness of beauty has awakened within her to a new autumnal sense of mind, one that has a new sense of appreciation for herself as survivor and is the subject of October. My lover and I have made the same journey with each other using profane love as our guide. That’s why this poem is so important to us; or, at least, I hope it will be. Because the one thing that love does for you is make you laugh and laughter shoots the world full of hope, something that Ms. Glück claims she has “forfeited.” Because I am Catholic I am privileged, really, to be still passionately clinging to what I love, as Ms. Glück is to her loves.

A wind has come and gone, taking apart the mind;
it has left in its wake a strange lucidity.

How privileged you are, to be still passionately
clinging to what you love;
the forfeit of hope has not destroyed you.

Section Five is her new view of the world:

It is true there is not enough beauty in the world.
It is also true that I am not competent to restore it.
Neither is there candor, and here I may be of some use.

That is true; there is only enough beauty for us to capture an awareness of the transcendental beauty that hovers over around and through our lives, shot through as it were. We cannot restore any of it, inadequate creatures that we are. We putter about the edges with our dismal science and attend to all the fatherless children growing up in stunned sadness. But candor, yes, that is something we can all provide to each other. It certainly is Ms. Glück’s talent.

She seems to deny one of the three theological virtues, hope, at the end of her poem but as I personally attested to above, love will shoot you so full of that you could no more eliminate hope than laughter from this world.  One recalls Robert Frosts closing lines from Birches:

I’d like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate willfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earth’s the right place for love:
I don’t know where it’s likely to go better.

I’d like to go by climbing a birch tree,
And climb black branches up a snow-white trunk
Toward heaven, till the tree could bear no more,
But dipped its top and set me down again.
That would be good both going and coming back.
One could do worse than be a swinger of birches.

All good Catholics who pray the rosary are hopeful swingers of birches, with a knowledge that encompasses our hope of resurrection of the body, where life can bear no more and in death, dips its top and sets us down again in heaven: “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” October is a lovely poem, a good Catholic poem as I lay claim to it here, before my atheist lover gets her grubby hands on it, and I hope you enjoy it.

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The Human Ecology of the Catholic Church – Derek Jeter

October 4, 2012

St. Augustine formulated an adage that beautifully sums up the essentials of Christian anthropology: “O Lord, you have made us for yourself; therefore our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” A basic assumption of Biblical people is that everyone is hard-wired for God in the measure that everyone seeks a fulfillment that cannot be had through any of the goods of this world. Long before Augustine, the psalmist prayed, “only in God is my soul at rest.”

When personal freedom is reduced to sexual freedom, the Church’s moral teaching becomes an object of disdain and even at times of hatred. It is dismissed and then actively opposed. Dialogue with the world imposes therefore a constant search for ways to express the faith more effectively in shaping cultural situations. Since much of our moral theology, particularly what is taught about the protection of human life and the nature of the gift of human sexuality, is derived from the natural moral law, a comment that Pope Benedict XVI made when he spoke to the Bundestag in his recent trip to Germany needs to be further explored. Arguing against legal positivism, Pope Benedict spoke about the natural moral law less as an analysis of the natural finality of a human activity than as a moral theory that expresses a human ecology. In other words, he was saying, if I understood him correctly, that natural moral law can be expressed not only in terms of ends, but also in terms of relationships. This might insert moral theology into the theology of communion.
Francis Cardinal George, The Significance Of Vatican II

Alongside the ecology of nature, there exists what can be called a “human” ecology, which in turn demands a “social” ecology. All this means that humanity, if it truly desires peace, must be increasingly conscious of the links between natural ecology, or respect for nature, and human ecology. Experience shows that disregard for the environment always harms human coexistence, and vice versa. It becomes more and more evident that there is an inseparable link between peace with creation and peace among men.
Benedict XVI, World Day of Peace Message, 2007, no. 8)

“You have set your glory above the heavens.
   Out of the mouths of babes and infants
you have founded a bulwark because of your foes,
   to silence the enemy and the avenger.


When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
   the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
   mortals
that you care for them?


Yet you have made them a little lower than God,

   and crowned them with glory and honor.
You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
   you have put all things under their feet,
all sheep and oxen,
   and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
   whatever passes along the paths of the seas.”
Psalm 8:2-8

When Francis Cardinal George refers to natural moral law, we know that it is sourced in general revelation and that there are certain knowable truths revealed by God through creation. Natural moral law advocates believe that there are certain moral laws or norms that are true and can be discerned by all men and women as men and women. The Declaration of Independence states as much when it claims certain truths are “self-evident.” Abraham Lincoln opposed slavery on precisely those terms. The pro-life movement roots its ultimate opposition to those who claim the “right” to abortion uses this same language: abortion is a moral wrong.

It is important to recall not so much the act of creation as the method and what that means to us as Catholics and Christians:

It was later theology, appealing to 2 Maccabees 7:28, which said that God created the world “from nothing.” This means that the world receives its entire being and constitutive identity from God, not from itself or from anything other than God. We are utterly dependent upon God. To be is to come to be from and with others, hence the “ex”in existence. Just as I owe my existence to other persons, the cosmos as a whole owes its being and life to another, God. Moreover, God is not merely the one who started it all going, but the one who at every moment holds it in existence. The most basic dimension of reality is this relationship.

The expression “creation from nothing” points to the mystery of being and of our contingency, which occasionally registers in our feelings of wonder and awe. In the last analysis, there is no reason why there is anything at all, except God’s gracious and free act. The cosmos of which we are a part is intended and desired by God. It is neither necessary nor arbitrary, a product of chance or chaos. The sovereign freedom with which God creates means that life is a gracious gift. I am invited to interpret my own experience of the indebtedness of existence as gift and grace.

But there is a second point which a bit of reflection on the notion of creatio ex nihilo reveals. In understanding reality as related to God in this radical way, Christian faith also believes that there is absolutely nothing in the nature of created reality which could be a constitutive principle of separation from or contradiction to God. While Paul’s words to the Romans were written in another context, they are nonetheless beautifully appropriate here:

“For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38)
John Sachs, The Christian View of Humanity

In Christ, God “tells” us that human flesh and blood are capable of divine life. Our real humanity, the same humanity which Jesus shared, is destined for a share in God’s own divine nature:

Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may become participants in the divine nature.
2 Peter 1:4

Gaudium Et Spes: A Basic Christian Anthropology
Christian faith, therefore, has a particular vision of the world and of humanity, a vision that is founded upon the relationship between God and God’s creation as revealed in the person and ministry of Jesus Christ. Gaudium et Spes, one of the four Apostolic Constitutions resulting from the Second Vatican Council, sets forth a basic Christian anthropology in its first three chapters. The key elements are found in

(1)  the inviolable dignity of every human person,
(2)  the essential centrality of community and
(3)  the significance of human action.

The dignity of all men and women, created in God’s image, is grounded in their unique relationship of intimacy with God (12). Human persons are spiritual, embodied creatures (14-15) who, above all, are blessed with freedom which, guided by conscience (16), comes to its fulfillment in love of God and neighbor. Because this freedom has been damaged by sin and is threatened by death, it can only come to its fulfillment through God’s grace (13, 17). Its fulfillment is an endless sharing in God’s own divine life (18).

Because the dignity of human persons is rooted and perfected in God, faith’s recognition of God is not hostile to human freedom and dignity, as some forms of atheism claim. Christians must work with all who labor for the dignity of human beings and basic human rights (19-21). In a spirit of dialogue and cooperation, they look to Jesus Christ, the final Adam, where for the eyes of faith, the mystery of humanity is revealed (22).

The dignity of every human person does not diminish the fact that one can be human only in community with others. Apart from relationships to others, we can neither live nor develop. From the very beginning humanity is created as community and all men and women are called as a single family to universal communion with one another and with God (23-24). This requires a social order based not on individualist ethic (30) but on the common good. It must be “founded on truth, built on justice, and animated by love” (26). Social structures must grow from and express a basic reverence for others, especially for those who think or act differently, so that the basic equality of all is recognized (27-29), and the fruitful participation of all in society is ensured (31).

Human action is understood to be an unfolding of God’s own creative work (34). Therefore, Christian faith demands that human beings labor to build up the world, attending to the genuine good of the human race and so develop themselves as truly human persons according to the divine plan (35). The rightful autonomy of the different arts and sciences is willed by God and to be respected by all (36). Christians will, however, adopt a critical attitude in their endeavors recognizing the real and pervasive power of sin.

The perfection and happiness which God wills for the creation cannot be identified naively with “progress,” especially where technology is developed and implemented without moral principles (37). Finally, the transformation of the world can come only from the power of love. Convinced in faith that the effort to bring about a universal communion of justice and peace is not a hopeless one, the church summons believers to dedicate themselves to the service of the earth and its peoples and so to prepare for that final act in which God will receive the world and bring it to perfection as God’s Kingdom (38). The expectation of the “new earth” is precisely what should strengthen concern for cultivating this earth, in which the Kingdom is already present and growing in mystery (39).
John Sachs, The Christian View of Humanity

The world is here to be saved, or as Christopher Dawson saw it, to be sanctified:

The Life Of The World Is Always A Life That Must Be Saved
The life of the world is always a life that must be saved.
It must be chosen intentionally, labored and sacrificed for. It is life that must be rescued from the many powers of death and destruction which threaten it. As Christians, we are part of a biblical tradition that asserts this explicitly of God. The world has a future because in Jesus Christ it has been chosen intentionally, labored and sacrificed for by God. God so loves the world (John 3:16). The key word here is world, not just me, certainly not just my soul, not even us or our collective souls.

The Christian understanding of salvation must recover its inherent universality and inclusiveness. It is something which involves not just human beings, but the whole of creation.

But it is important to consider for a moment what it really means to say that God wishes to save the world. If the reality of the world as a living, active, intentional and self-constituting whole is what God wishes to save, then it seems to me that God’s saving activity is not something that happens alongside or instead of but in and through the world’s activity, especially in and through human action.

Therefore, the necessity that salvation come from God and the necessity that human beings take responsibility for the world’s well-being are directly proportional. The greater our belief in salvation from God, the greater the obedience of faith to acknowledge our active responsibility for the world. God does not wish to save us from doing. God wishes to save us from all that would prevent us from doing.

According to the Yahwist narrative, humankind is intimately related to the Creator in a way that distinguishes it from the rest of God’s creatures. This is not because human beings are enlivened by the breath of God (Genesis 2:7), for God has breathed this breath into all the animals (Genesis 7:22). Rather, the dignity of human beings is especially evident in their partnership with God in caring for creation. As tenders of the garden and stewards of creation, human beings are not mere underlings with a task to perform. If they are superior to the other creatures, it is because through them the creative, divine Spirit is present and active in a unique way. As a result, humans are more capable of and responsible for the well-being of the creation. Human beings are from God and the earth as well as with God for the earth. Thus the salvation which God desires and promises the world as its sure future is precisely what makes us acknowledge our human responsiblity for the world.
John Sachs, The Christian View of Humanity

God’s Word does not call creation into some kind of merely factual existence, but to being-with-God. To be means to live with God, to participate in some way in God’s life. When we withdraw from the world or find our lives without relationship, we encounter a living death and what has been prophesied as Hell in a later life.

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Catholic and American – Derek Jeter

October 3, 2012

In my takeaways from the Communio Study Group I mentioned the nature of Catholic communion and the internal unity of the Church that John XXIII was expecting to act as a as a leaven in order to restore the unity of the human race. John XXIII saw the world of the mid-twentieth century as a place of grave crisis. One of the more tragic periods of history, he said, was marked by a great disunity among the peoples of the world. “History that had been marked in recent decades by war and fratricide, by Nazism and racism, by Communism and class warfare,[it] had forgotten not only God; it had forgotten that the human race is one human family.” 50 years later one could be snarky and say not much has changed but in some ways the challenges to the Catholic Church are more clearly defined. And perhaps even easier to understand in this America of the 21st century.

A question that occurred to me was how my relationship with my country is different from my relationship with the Church. How is being a Catholic different from being an American? As an American I am an individual who participates in a democracy that grants me a privileged status as a Vietnam Veteran. Thanks to my war service I receive disability benefits and thanks to the payments I made to social security I get retirement benefits. In both those cases I belong to a group that the secular society has chosen to reward.

As a Catholic however I am marginalized by my government. My government supports abortion and uses my taxes to fund it both here and overseas. I find Catholic Charities, hospitals and social service agencies under siege as they attempt to fulfill the conscience and teachings of Matthew 25 in the public square.

Were gay marriage to become the law of the land I worry that the courts may direct my Church to perform the marriage sacrament so as not to be prejudicial against gay Americans. I have seen Catholic Charities in Boston close its doors to its adoption agencies for refusal to place children with gay couples. Will Churches be next? What about hospitals after Obama Care kicks in with its proscriptions against health care workers who wish to exercise a conscience clause and not participate in abortions or providing contraceptive medications?

HHS Secretary Sibelius has already gone on record to say that if they (Catholics) have a problem with doing those things they shouldn’t be working in health care in the first place. Will Catholic hospitals be sold so as to continue under the new Obama plan: At a public hearing on the sale of Caritas Christi, the health-care system of the Boston archdiocese, the director of the 6-hospital system admitted that he could not guarantee the continuation of the institution’s Catholic identity after the transfer. James Karam argued in favor of the sale, to the Cerberus capital firm, because he said the only alternative would be closing the hospitals

This article in the WSJ recently on events in Chicago as Obama Care rolls out:

On Monday, Catholic Charities of Chicago — the social-welfare arm of the archdiocese — joined other Illinois Catholic organizations to file a lawsuit against the Obama administration’s mandate that would force these Catholic groups to offer free contraceptives through their insurance, in violation of church teaching. The suit’s message is direct: Mr. President, your mandate will make it impossible for us to do our jobs.

Judging from how President Obama now sounds like George W. Bush when he talks about the Catholic Church, the president appreciates the political harm his mandate is doing. At a campaign stop last Thursday in Ohio, he repeated what has become a stock line: “When I first got my job as an organizer for the Catholic churches in Chicago . . . they taught me that no government program can replace good neighbors and people who care deeply about their communities [and] who are fighting on their behalf.”

In terms of religious liberty, the new lawsuit breaks no new legal ground. What it does is offer a window into how much the decency of daily American life depends on churches using their free-exercise rights. Our nation’s third-largest city provides an especially compelling example.

Chicago’s Catholic Charities employs 2,700 full- and part-time staffers delivering relief aimed at helping people achieve self-sufficiency. They do everything from stocking food pantries to helping people with HIV/AIDS, resettling refugees, housing seniors, and training people for jobs.

Last year alone, that translated into 19 million meals in the form of groceries for single moms, another 2.5 million meals served to the hungry or homeless, 458,000 nights of shelter for families and children, and 897,481 hours of homemaker services for seniors. And these numbers don’t include the thousands of inner-city children served by the archdiocese’s Catholic schools but not on the Catholic Charities budget.

When you ask the Rev. Michael Boland, president and CEO of Catholic Charities, what percentage of those he serves are Catholic, he answers that he doesn’t know, because they don’t ask. The Obama administration’s mandate would change that. Particularly galling, he says, is the charge that his church is engaged in a “war on women” — when 80% of those his organization serves are women and children.

As the lawsuit puts it: Enforcing the mandate could soon require Catholic Charities to “stop providing educational opportunities to non-Catholics, stop serving non-Catholics, and fire non-Catholic employees — actions that would betray their religious commitment to serving all in need without regard to religion.”

Yes, the bulk of the Catholic Charities budget these days comes from government funding. There’s a perfectly legitimate public question about what accepting that funding means for both society and the church.

It’s not, however, the only public question. Another important one is this: Will our society rely on civic institutions or the government to deliver these services? Does anyone really believe we would be better off turning over the work of Catholic Charities to states or the feds — with their higher costs, greater bureaucracy, and loss in efficiency?

In a recent report, Catholic Charities notes that it costs Medicaid (read: taxpayers) $43,000 per year for every senior in a nursing home. By contrast, Catholic Charities provides day care for seniors at $6,461 per year, home-delivered meals at $1,188 and services such as housecleaning for $4,028. Any one of these services can keep an elderly citizen in his own house instead of being sent to a nursing home (one of the great drivers of Medicaid’s escalating costs).

Overall, 92 cents of every Catholic Charities dollar goes to recipients, which is one reason Catholic Charities is so often chosen for contracts. The church can provide such value because for every staffer, it has nearly seven volunteers. That works out to a volunteer army of 17,000 people, larger than Chicago’s police force.

It’s worth asking what Chicago might look like if these religious volunteers were limited to employing and serving only those who share their faith. And not just Chicago. Across America, volunteers with other faith groups are also reclaiming lives and neighborhoods in a way that even Mr. Obama says is far superior to any government program.

Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York recently wrote:

Coercing religious ministries and citizens to pay directly for actions that violate their teaching is an unprecedented incursion into freedom of conscience. Organizations fear that this unjust rule will force them to take one horn or the other of an unacceptable dilemma: Stop serving people of all faiths in their ministries — so that they will fall under the narrow exemption — or stop providing health-care coverage to their own employees.

The Catholic Church defends religious liberty, including freedom of conscience, for everyone. The Amish do not carry health insurance. The government respects their principles. Christian Scientists want to heal by prayer alone, and the new health-care reform law respects that. Quakers and others object to killing even in wartime, and the government respects that principle for conscientious objectors. By its decision, the Obama administration has failed to show the same respect for the consciences of Catholics and others who object to treating pregnancy as a disease.

This latest erosion of our first freedom should make all Americans pause. When the government tampers with a freedom so fundamental to the life of our nation, one shudders to think what lies ahead.

So how does my life as an American contrast with my life as a Catholic? If the former features my identity as an individual with rights and privileges divvied up by my secular masters and fellow citizens then the latter is one where I explore my personhood and an anthropology that derives its power from who I am and the spiritual character of my soul. This is what John XXIII wanted to pass on to the world.

Our Lord’s account of redemption, restoring human nature from original sin and winning back for us what we had lost, has bought us something much greater than we could ever have lost. “And where sins abounded, grace did more abound (Romans5:20). Through Jesus Christ, who is the way to eternal life, anew creation was called into being. Man redeemed has become the brother and co-heir of the Son of God. This is why the Church begins one of her prayers in the Mass with the words, “O God, by whom the dignity of human nature was wondrously established and yet more wondrously restored.”… Original sin had destroyed man’s bridge of access to God, and only from God’s side could that bridge be rebuilt. Jesus Christ rebuild it.
Josef Pieper and Heinz Raskop, What Catholics Believe

As a Catholic, my religious tradition explodes from the Jewish Old Testament:

The divine Will is perfectly good and righteous and holy and just. God is the only god you can’t bribe. And since that is the character of Ultimate Reality — and since in order to be really real we must conform to the character of Ultimate Reality — therefore the meaning of life is to be holy, to be a saint. Morality flows from metaphysics because goodness flows from God. “You must be holy because I the Lord your God am holy.”

The connection is repeated like a liturgical formula in the Torah. Unlike the gods of the polytheists and unlike the god of the pantheists, God has no dark side. And that is why we shouldn’t have a dark side either. The consequences of the Jewish metaphysics for ethics have been world-shaking. The whole world got a Jewish mother, a Jewish conscience, because the world got the Jewish Father.

This divine goodness is not just perfect, it is more than perfect. It spills out beyond itself like sunlight. It is agape, generosity, altruism, self-giving, self-sacrificial love. God seeks intimacy with Man, God seeks to marry Man. “Your creator shall become your Husband,” says Isaiah (54:5). To that end, He makes covenants, to prepare for the fundamental covenant, marriage. No pagan ever suspected the possibility of such intimacy, even with their finite, anthropomorphic gods: that is, the relationship scripture calls “faith,” or fidelity. And therefore no pagan ever understood the deeper meaning and terror of “sin” either, for sin is the breaking of that relationship. Sin is to faith what infidelity is to marriage. Only one who knows the wonder of marriage can know the horror of infidelity.
Peter Kreeft, Jesus As Metaphysician

How else, but for Christ, could we have known that God loves us? I mean really loves us, not just with proper philanthropy but with utterly improper passion. Even if any man dared to hope this, what ground could there possibly be for such a crazy hope? What data do we have? What evidence? Certainly not nature (“nature red in tooth and claw” Lord Alfred Tennyson, In Memoriam AHH), or human life (“solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” Thomas Hobbes, The Leviathan), or human history (“the slaughter-bench at which the happiness of peoples is sacrificed” Georg Hegel). The only data we have to know that God is love is Christ.
Peter Kreeft, Jesus As Metaphysician

That knowledge comes from our personhood and our very being:

Being is not just presence, but active presence, tending by nature to pour over into active self-manifestation and self-communication to others. And if personal being is really being itself only at its supra-material levels, then it follows that to be a person as such is to be a being that tends by nature to pour over into active, conscious self-manifestation and self-communication to others, through intellect and will working together.

And if the person in question is a good person, i.e., rightly ordered in its conscious free action, then this active presence to others will take the form of willing what is truly good for them, which is itself a definition of love in its broadest meaning, defined by Thomas as “willing good to another for its own sake.” To be a person, then, is to be a bi-polar being that is at once present in itself, actively possessing itself by its self-consciousness (its substantial pole), and also actively oriented towards others, toward active loving self-communication to others (its relational pole). To be an authentic person, in a word, is to be a lover, to live a life of interpersonal self-giving and receiving. Person is essentially a “we” term. Person exists in its fullness only in the plural. As Jacques Maritain puts it felicitously:

Thus it is that when a man has been really awakened to the sense of being or existence, and grasps intuitively the obscure, living depth of the Self and subjectivity, he discovers by the same token the basic generosity of existence and realizes, by virtue of the inner dynamism of this intuition, that love is not a passing pleasure or emotion, but the very meaning of his being alive.
Jacques Maritain, Existence and the Existent

Thus subjectivity reveals itself as “self-mastery for self-giving… by spiritual existing in the manner of a gift.”
Jacques Maritain, Challenges and Renewals

Josef Pieper has also caught well the intrinsic bipolarity of personal being as spirit, when, commenting on a brief sentence of St. Thomas, he unfolds it thus:

The higher the form of intrinsic existence, the more developed becomes the relatedness with reality, also the more profound and comprehensive becomes the sphere of this relationship: namely, the world. And the deeper such relations penetrate the world of reality, the more intrinsic becomes the subject’s existence. . . These two aspects combined — dwelling most intensively within itself, and being capax universi, able to grasp the universe — together constitute the essence of the spirit. Any definition of “spirit” will have to contain these two aspects as its core.
Josef Pieper, Living the Truth

Transpose “spirit” into “person,” as being itself existing on the spiritual level, and Pieper and I are both expressing the same insight.
Fr. W. Norris Clarke, Person, Being, and St. Thomas

Call it human soul or person or spirit, this is who we are and how we need to treat each other. It is precisely what the atheist secular society rejects in its insistence on the “individual,” “rights,” and “fairness” code words for excusing the worst sort of morality and behavior.

What would underlie the dialogue between Church and World? I will address that in my next post.

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Don’t Think Twice

June 30, 2012

It ain’t no use to sit and wonder why, babe
It don’t matter, anyhow
An’ it ain’t no use to sit and wonder why, babe
If you don’t know by now
When your rooster crows at the break of dawn
Look out your window and I’ll be gone
You’re the reason I’m trav’lin’ on
Don’t think twice, it’s all right

It ain’t no use in turnin’ on your light, babe
That light I never knowed
An’ it ain’t no use in turnin’ on your light, babe
I’m on the dark side of the road
Still I wish there was somethin’ you would do or say
To try and make me change my mind and stay
We never did too much talkin’ anyway
So don’t think twice, it’s all right

It ain’t no use in callin’ out my name, gal
Like you never did before
It ain’t no use in callin’ out my name, gal
I can’t hear you anymore
I’m a-thinkin’ and a-wond’rin’ all the way down the road
I once loved a woman, a child I’m told
I give her my heart but she wanted my soul
But don’t think twice, it’s all right

I’m walkin’ down that long, lonesome road, babe
Where I’m bound, I can’t tell
But goodbye’s too good a word, gal
So I’ll just say fare thee well
I ain’t sayin’ you treated me unkind
You could have done better but I don’t mind
You just kinda wasted my precious time
But don’t think twice, it’s all right

Suze Rotolo, who became widely known for her romance with Bob Dylan in the early 1960s, strongly influenced his early songwriting and, in one of the decade’s signature images, walked with him arm-in-arm for the cover photo of his breakthrough album, “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan,” died on Friday at her home in Manhattan. She was 67. This is not news, it happened in 2011.

The song, “Don’t Think Twice,” is pretty much shut off from the Internet and the copywright owner has hunted down and eliminated all the copies I could find of it.

 

My Suze Rotolo was Helen Ziobrowski who dumped me on February tenth of 1967 after I showed up from Ft Dix Basic Training with my Army uniform on at her Vassar College campus. I was devastated but never spoke to her again, so saved making an idiot of myself.  I counted the days for three or four years and never got over it.

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Loneliness Can Connect Us With God – Mark Davies

June 27, 2012

Aloneness and Loneliness
As part of my trying to understand other individual’s experience of loneliness I asked a friend if wouldn’t mind sharing a time of his life when he was lonely. Though happily married and one of the least lonely persons I know, I also know him to be very sensitive and intuitive about such matters. He agreed and I suggested that we get together for lunch. “Fine,” he said, “say next Thursday, at the hospital cafeteria around 12.” I thought this a somewhat a strange place for a luncheon, but it was certainly convenient for me and I agreed.

He began our luncheon by asking if I remembered any of the girls I went out with in high school. That surprised me, and immediately I began to review some of my old flames (when I broke up with them or they with me-how lonely was I then!). Then he shared about a girl in his high school called Nancy. He even showed me an old picture he had of her, and I could see instantly why he was quite taken with her. She was a beautiful girl with long blond hair and an incredible smile. Though he became friends with her he never went out with her. She always had another boyfriend. Yet all through high school and even into university he was in love with her. But she never reciprocated.

He concluded his story by telling me, “The last place she ever worked before moving away was here at this hospital as a nurse. She met some doctor here, and they married and moved away. That was over ten years ago and I don’t know what ever became of her. But you know what? I still have dreams about her. Maybe one or two a year. For the last four years I’ve been keeping them in my journal. I have my journal divided into sections: one titled God; another titled life; another for memories. Yet I’ve kept my “Nancy dreams” under the heading of loneliness. I’ve never been able to figure out why.”

I was transfixed as he continued on with his fascinating story, “Mark, you know me. You know I am happily married, and that I love my children. I couldn’t ask for more in life. But for years after she had gone I used to come to this hospital and walk through the cafeteria looking and hoping. ‘Maybe she will be here. Maybe I’ll see her again.’ I’m not sure what I was looking and hoping for, only now I don’t think that it was her. I think that I was looking for something else.” Then he sighed, apologized for not being what he considered very helpful, and after an awkward time of silence said, “Maybe it’s just me, but sometimes I find life to be a lonely affair.”

His words and his pain were real. I too have felt this loneliness that is not so much of an experience as it is part of life. It’s not something foreign to our existence, some sort of disease that strikes us like some social leprosy. There is something deeper to this loneliness. That somehow, no matter how good life, gets it is never going to completely answer our loneliness.

I remember the first time I ever realized that I was truly alone. It was on a summer holiday with my wife and children. We had come to a Northern Ontario lake where I vacationed when I was a boy. It was here that I first learned how to swim and fish and drive a boat. The lake itself is spectacular and I had not seen it since I was a teenager. Upon arriving I could hardly contain myself. Immediately I borrowed a boat from the owner of the Lodge and piled my family in. Off we were to explore the lake. It was almost overwhelming for me to return to this most special of all places when I was a boy. Yet the further out in the lake we went, the more bays and inlets I recognized and pointed out, the more bored my family became with it all.

By the time we returned I was furious. How could they find this wonderful lake boring? It felt like a slap on the face. After some harsh words with my wife, they left me down at the beach alone. It was a long time before my anger dissipated. It was replaced by depression. And then standing there looking out over the soft water it hit me: here I was with the people I loved most in this world, and who loved me most in this world yet no matter how hard I tried, or how hard they tried they could not see this lake the same way I did. They could not know me like I did. No one could. The only constant traveling companion I have known throughout my life is me. It was there on that beach that I felt, not just lonely, but really alone in life. Stark naked alone.

I no longer felt any relationship with this familiar lake and its shoreline and its rocks and trees. Like a tree planted in the ground I was there, a complete and utter entity unto myself. Bounded by my own skin and breath. And it was frightening. To really understand in an undeniable way I journey through this life alone. That no one (except God) can really know my story, my life my being.

Could it be that what the existentialists suggest is true? That ultimately in this life we are alone? Is loneliness a passing experience that we seek to escape? Is it some sort of companion that only makes itself present when we are vulnerable to it?

The mystics suggest that it is only through accepting and exploring our loneliness that we will become connected with that which matters most-God. That through the often difficult journey of solitude we will find our true identity, and be rightly connected to God, to ourselves, and to others-the holy trinity of relationships. Yet rarely if ever do we meet our loneliness by seeking solitude. We may isolate ourselves from others, but this is a shutting off, rather than a way of seeking. St. Augustine in his Confessions noted that “Thou hast made us for Thyself, O God, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in Thee” (1961, p.21). Is loneliness that eternal part of who we are?

Going Home
As I round the corner I see the white house with the black trim that I was raised in. Something in me beats a little faster. The house that is so familiar seems somehow fresh and new. Inside it are my loved ones: my mom and dad, my wife and children. This is the place where I was raised. The place where I learned to skate with the little girl next door. The place where I remember Christmas dinners with my brothers, sister-in-laws, nephews, nieces, aunts and uncles. The place where, sitting on the verandah on a hot summer’s day, friends who were driving by would stop for something cold to drink.

I know that this was a place where I knew lonely times as well. But for the life of me I can’t remember them. I know there are people who have never known home. People who never felt like they were wanted, or loved, or accepted. Theirs must be a deep seeded loneliness. An incredible emptiness.

I mount the front stairs two at a time I and no longer feel any loneliness. Quite the opposite. There is nothing missing. I feel complete and at peace. Home is the place of deep meaningful relationships, with myself, my family, my friends. It is what I know, and what knows me. Home holds warmth and security where life’s wounds can be healed. It is a place of identity and acceptance. You belong and you know you belong. You don’t need to prove it, or even accept it. Its just there, part of you. As I enter the front door there is only the anticipation of my loved ones. Home is being connected: it is the antithesis of loneliness.

Perhaps there is some loneliness that we should never even attempt to cure or rid ourselves of. Perhaps loneliness is that which calls us to deeper more meaningful relationships with ourselves, our God, and others? One of the great paradoxes of loneliness is that it is at once one of the most personal experiences we will ever have, yet one of the most universal. We are all lonely in our own way. If we were never lonely, would we ever reach out to others, or inward to ourselves? I am tempted to say that I know the cure for loneliness: it is called home. But I know that my cure is incomplete. Loneliness is too complex, too personal for easy answers.

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