Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Why I Cannot Vote for Barack Obama

Without further ado, the main reasons why I cannot, in good conscience, vote for Barack Obama.

1) Abortion. Since the national and total legalization of abortion caused by Roe v. Wade, 48,920,704 human persons have been slaughtered in the womb in the United States. This level of systematic murder joins the ranks of Stalin's Great Purge, Mao's Cultural Revolution and Hitler's Holocaust as one of the greatest crimes against humanity. For the record, no President has ever seriously contributed to the pro-life movement's ultimate goal of changing our culture. For this, every pro-life American, to some degree, is guilty of political compromise and complacency on this issue. Barack Obama is another in a long line of progressives who makes my stomach turn as he proudly declares his commitment to the "right" of women to abortion. The stench has long past being bearable and I would never vote for a person who takes a deep breath and then smiles.

2) Foreign Policy Foibles (and the Life and Death Consequences). Obama is not (at least for now) a hard-boiled neo-con, but he has gathered around him a foreign policy team heavy with them. Among his biggest neo-con backers come from (not surprisingly) the Clinton administration: former Secretary of State Madeline Albright and former Middle East envoy Dennis Ross to name two. Others include former Carter National Security Council Director Zbigniew Brzezinski and Project for the New American Century enthusiast Ivo Daalder. On Iraq, Obama remains true to his word (again, at least for now) on responsible withdrawal and no permanent military presence. On other foreign policy issues, I find that he is quickly developing a position that continues to support American hegemony as our highest national interest. He has not spoken at all of Latin America and our meddling there under the guise of the "War on Drugs." He has advocated a unilateral invasion of Pakistan if we had "proof" of Osama bin Laden's whereabouts. And he became the first Presidential candidate EVER call for a unified Jerusalem under Israeli rule, negotiations be damned. I find none of this surprising and all of it unacceptable.

3) Spending. Since last week, the national debt has climbed to $9,547,505,862,771.27 and, like McCain, Obama has no plan for beginning to pay it down. Obama is on the right track: raising taxes. But he has no plans of using any of that revenue for debt reduction, but for more spending. Some of the spending I would support, but much will no doubt go into our bloated military budget and continued subsides for corporations. The burden this creates for future generations is still staggering and Obama shows no concern.

4) Judges. What I am looking for remains the same, but the likelihood of getting even one constitutionalist out of an Obama administration is very slim.

Mason Slidell

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Why I Cannot Vote for John McCain

As a Catholic, I believe that all our actions have a moral dimension to which we are held to account. This, of course, includes the actions we take in the voting booth. In this election cycle, we are facing a cornucopia of challenges and I wish to write out some of my thoughts with respect to John McCain and Barack Obama.

First, a disclaimer. In my next two posts, I will explain why I cannot vote for McCain or Obama. I am not making the claim I hold the divining rod and everyone should conform to my viewpoint. I make my decision based upon my erstwhile effort to interpret and apply Catholic Social Teaching to these two candidates. Admittedly, I am focusing on the negatives over their positives. I am not sure if that is borne out of my pessimism or my idealism.

So, the main reasons why I cannot, in good conscience, vote for John McCain are as follows. And yes, the issues descend from more important to less important.

1) Embryonic Stem Cell Research. McCain has a solid record of supporting the dignity of the human person in the womb, but fails on biomedical research using embryonic stem cells and fetal tissue. This is unacceptable.

2) Torture. McCain clearly stated early in the primary season that waterboarding is torture and that it should not be used by the military or intelligence community. He is to be applauded for that stance. The problem: when McCain had the chance to have his words direct his actions, he chose to vote against a bill that would have banned the use of waterboarding and other "aggressive" techniques by the CIA. Like support for ESCR, this is unacceptable.

3) Iraq War. First, I argue that the Iraq War is unjust as it violates the first condition layed out in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 2309. The first condition is that the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave and certain. As Iraq has never attacked or cooperated with an attack on the United States proper, we have no basis for calling them aggressor. Any attacks perpetrated by Iraq against the American military during the no-fly zone period cannot be defined as lasting, grave or certain. It seems to me that each condition is predicated on the condition it precedes, so since the first condition is not met, then the war is not justifed. I will give McCain credit for being a good military strategist post-invasion, but his good judgment in military tactics does not make up for the bad judgment on the policy question. The invasion of Iraq was sold to the American people on the falsehood of WMD. After that argument crumbled, the Bush administration seemed to wander in the desert with the mission in Iraq changing from day to day. McCain has never questioned the administration on the faulty rationale of the invasion and seems to refuse to acknowledge that, knowing what we know now, the invasion was wrong. And with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki flexing his political muscle by calling for no permanent American military presence and publicly expressing that he is more than comfortable with a timetable for withdrawal, we see the Bush administration and McCain a little ticked off that Maliki no longer wants to play ball. I do not trust McCain's neo-con inspired foreign policy.

4) Neo-conservative Ideology. I view the neo-con project as having two wings, one of which is political while the other is economic. The basic goal of the neo-con is straight out of the playbook of the Warsaw Pact: impose ideology on everyone you can. Instead of communism, it is capitalism and democracy. Remain calm; I am not seeking to destroy the laws of nature and of nature's God. I do oppose, however, the threat the neo-conservatism poses to subsidiarity. Masking beyond the neo-con discussion of freedom and liberty is a campaign for the preservation of American hegemony. Iraqis and Afghans are free to choose, as long as they choose to give the United States permanent military installations, preferred access to their natural resources and preferred treatment in business dealings. That is not freedom, but slavery.

5) Free Trade. McCain has never faulted from the free trade position. The effects of this policy have come to be well known since the implementation of NAFTA in 1994. The manufacturing industry has collapsed in the United States. The jobs that have been moved to Mexico, China, Vietnam, etc. have increased labor exploitation in those countries as corporations “race to the bottom.” Another evil consequence of global free trade that is underreported is the increase in human trafficking for slavery and sexual gratification made possible by lax enforcement of immigration and custom laws. Free trade between countries with comparative economies should be the goal. So free trade between the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom would make sense. But free trade between 1st world and 3rd world economies is a recipe for exploitation of the least in both countries. McCain has refused any calls to reevaluate our free trade agreements in light of labor and environmental concerns.

6) Taxes. The national debt of the United States now stands at $9,525,785,767,950.96. This is, of course, a staggering amount of debt that must be dealt with in rapid order. For the first time in American history, we are fighting two wars and have not raised the revenue necessary to pay for them, resulting in this enormous financial burden for future generations. To call for more tax cuts in this situtation is fiscally irresponsible and reckless.

7) Personal Character. McCain is an admitted adulterer. He has confessed to having extramarital affairs with other women during his first marriage to Carol Shepp, one of which was with his present wife Cindy Hensley. McCain has sought forgiveness from his first wife and presumably from God and I am perfectly fine with such a noble action in the face of his own failings. It seems that McCain has learned from his previous mistakes and there is no credible evidence that he has cheated on his current wife. I do raise this point, however, to demand consistency from myself. I am not ready to have another adulterer in the White House.

8) Judges. One of the long term legacies of any President is the men and women chosen to serve on the federal bench. I share the views of former Justice John Marshall Harlan, II who argued that the judiciary should not be a haven for reform movements seeking to circumvent the political process. I want a Supreme Court with a single-minded focus on safeguarding constitutional liberty and states' rights and one reluctant to overturn legislation. This constitutionalist philosophy argues for judicial restraint and a reduced role of the courts in policy-making. I worry greatly about the political pressure Presidents face today to see the Supreme Court as a panel of demi-gods. Both political parties have developed an obsessive court-worship and I fear McCain will not have the political will to withstand calls for more conserative activists on the bench.

I will post the reasons I cannot vote for Obama in a few days.

Mason Slidell

Highlights from Australia, Part II

And now to wrap up Australia. I would say the best is saved for last, but my favorite address was the one at Barangaroo, and not just because the name is so cool. But there lots more good stuff coming, so read on:
Discourse to Seminarians and Religious

Faith teaches us that in Jesus Christ, the incarnate Word, we come to understand the grandeur of our own humanity, the mystery of our life on this earth, and the sublime destiny which awaits us in heaven (cf. Gaudium et Spes, 24). Faith teaches us that we are God's creatures, made in his image and likeness, endowed with an inviolable dignity, and called to eternal life. Wherever man is diminished, the world around us is also diminished; it loses its ultimate meaning and strays from its goal. What emerges is a culture, not of life, but of death. How could this be considered "progress"? It is a backward step, a form of regression which ultimately dries up the very sources of life for individuals and all of society.

We know that in the end - as Saint Ignatius of Loyola saw so clearly - the only real "standard" against which all human reality can be measured is the Cross and its message of an unmerited love which triumphs over evil, sin and death, creating new life and unfading joy.

Each of you has embarked on the greatest and the most glorious of all struggles, to be consecrated in truth, to grow in virtue, to achieve harmony between your thoughts and ideals, and your words and actions. Enter sincerely and deeply into the discipline and spirit of your programmes of formation. Walk in Christ's light daily through fidelity to personal and liturgical prayer, nourished by meditation on the inspired word of God. The Fathers of the Church loved to see the Scriptures as a spiritual Eden, a garden where we can walk freely with God, admiring the beauty and harmony of his saving plan as it bears fruit in our own lives, in the life of the Church and in all of history.

Never forget that celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom means embracing a life completely devoted to love, a love that enables you to commit yourselves fully to God's service and to be totally present to your brothers and sisters, especially those in need. The greatest treasures that you share with other young people - your idealism, your generosity, your time and energy - these are the very sacrifices which you are placing upon the Lord's altar.
Benedict issues a call to all Religious and Seminarians to follow faithfully their path of formation. He highlights especially the standard that Ignatius pointed to, the Cross, as that path alone that is sure and true. Religious are subject to the same temptations to consumerism and decadent living as anyone else. For this reason, they must make the Scriptures and Celibacy two bastions of their lives. The Scriptures keep him or her rooted in Christ and his love, and Celibacy expresses that love universally, sacrificing self for the purity of a gift offered.

Tonight we focus our attention on how to become witnesses.

Dear young people, is it not because of your faith that friends in difficulty or seeking meaning in their lives have turned to you? Be watchful! Listen! Through the dissonance and division of our world, can you hear the concordant voice of humanity? From the forlorn child in a Darfur camp, or a troubled teenager, or an anxious parent in any suburb, or perhaps even now from the depth of your own heart, there emerges the same human cry for recognition, for belonging, for unity. Who satisfies that essential human yearning to be one, to be immersed in communion, to be built up, to be led to truth? The Holy Spirit!

Love is the sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit! Ideas or voices which lack love – even if they seem sophisticated or knowledgeable – cannot be "of the Spirit". Furthermore, love has a particular trait: far from being indulgent or fickle, it has a task or purpose to fulfil: to abide. By its nature love is enduring.

the Holy Spirit is God eternally giving himself; like a never-ending spring he pours forth nothing less than himself. In view of this ceaseless gift, we come to see the limitations of all that perishes, the folly of the consumerist mindset. We begin to understand why the quest for novelty leaves us unsatisfied and wanting. Are we not looking for an eternal gift? The spring that will never run dry? With the Samaritan woman, let us exclaim: give me this water that I may thirst no more! (cf. Jn 4:15).

Let his gifts shape you! Just as the Church travels the same journey with all humanity, so too you are called to exercise the Spirit’s gifts amidst the ups and downs of your daily life. Let your faith mature through your studies, work, sport, music and art. Let it be sustained by prayer and nurtured by the sacraments, and thus be a source of inspiration and help to those around you. In the end, life is not about accumulation. It is much more than success. To be truly alive is to be transformed from within, open to the energy of God’s love. In accepting the power of the Holy Spirit you too can transform your families, communities and nations. Set free the gifts! Let wisdom, courage, awe and reverence be the marks of greatness!
Benedict's intensity shines forth at the Vigil mass. We hear clearly the voice of Augustine, one of Benedict's great influences, speaking through him from his Confessions. The Augustinian dualism between all that perishes and is mortal and that which is immortal finds expression in Benedict's separation of the consumerist mindset and novelty from eternal life and the Spirit. One could attempt an argument from neo-Platonism here, but that would be misguided. Augustine's neo-Platonism was embraced along with a firm rejection of the dualism that he has known as a Manichee. Hence, his neo-Platonism was strictly Christian and not vice-versa. He was a Christian first and foremost, with all that that involved in regards to the Incarnation and God's love for the world. Benedict speaks similarly. As often as he rejects the consumerist quest for novelty, he praises the beauty of creation and of human achievement. He simply wants our youth to be alive, and to stop stuffing themselves with our cultural fast food that clogs the arteries and squeezes the heart.
Closing Mass

Here in Australia, this "great south land of the Holy Spirit", all of us have had an unforgettable experience of the Spirit's presence and power in the beauty of nature. Our eyes have been opened to see the world around us as it truly is: "charged", as the poet says, "with the grandeur of God", filled with the glory of his creative love.

Dear young people, let me now ask you a question. What will you leave to the next generation? Are you building your lives on firm foundations, building something that will endure?

Empowered by the Spirit, and drawing upon faith's rich vision, a new generation of Christians is being called to help build a world in which God's gift of life is welcomed, respected and cherished - not rejected, feared as a threat and destroyed. A new age in which love is not greedy or self-seeking, but pure, faithful and genuinely free, open to others, respectful of their dignity, seeking their good, radiating joy and beauty. A new age in which hope liberates us from the shallowness, apathy and self-absorption which deaden our souls and poison our relationships. Dear young friends, the Lord is asking you to be prophets of this new age, messengers of his love, drawing people to the Father and building a future of hope for all humanity.

The world needs this renewal! In so many of our societies, side by side with material prosperity, a spiritual desert is spreading: an interior emptiness, an unnamed fear, a quiet sense of despair. How many of our contemporaries have built broken and empty cisterns (cf. Jer 2:13) in a desperate search for meaning - the ultimate meaning that only love can give?

Being "baptized" in the one Spirit (cf. 1 Cor 12:13) means being set on fire with the love of God. Being "given to drink" of the Spirit means being refreshed by the beauty of the Lord's plan for us and for the world, and becoming in turn a source of spiritual refreshment for others. Being "sealed with the Spirit" means not being afraid to stand up for Christ, letting the truth of the Gospel permeate the way we see, think and act, as we work for the triumph of the civilization of love.
Benedict again quotes a Jesuit, this time Gerard Manley Hopkins, to express the beauty of creation and of God's natural world. The rest speaks for itself. Benedict's yearning is evident as he practically begs those who are young to actually care for coming generations. Think of someone other than yourself! he practically yells. He longs to see a new age, and asks that the youth of our times be prophets of that new age. The image from Jeremiah of empty cisterns that hold no water is beautiful. The Holy Spirit wants to fill these, if only they will be repaired. Yet we have been satisfied with empty cisterns, with the "novelty" that they hold. They may not hold water, cracked as they are, but they hold a lot of other "stuff." Such is the consumerist mindset. Instead, Benedict asks for a civilization of love, and for us to be its prophets.

Markel, SJ

Monday, July 21, 2008

Highlights from Australia, Part I

Over these next two days, I will provide what I think are the highlights from the Pope's discourses in Australia. It is somewhat daunting for some to read all of his addresses to all of the different groups. They are rather long, and time is short. So I have put together clips of what I think are the most beautiful and relevant of his talks, along with brief thoughts.

Just to throw in a personal bit, Benedict often mentions the World Youth Day cross and icon. He compares them to the Olympic torch carried throughout the world. I went to Austria on one particular trip with a group of youth asked by Cardinal Schonborn to lead a youth rally in Vienna. When we arrived we were given the World Youth Day cross, and on one particular day carried it all around the city, dedicating the city to Christ. One particular stop was on the very balcony where Hitler had stood after his conquest of Austria. We held the cross on that balcony in the center of Vienna and then carried it back downstairs. I carried it out the door and was met by a man who was very angry. He asked me how I could carry a symbol of tyranny at the very same spot where the greatest tyrant of the 20th century had stood. My only answer was that the cross has often been used as a symbol of tyranny, but that in and of itself it is never anything but a symbol of hope and freedom.

This theme marks Benedict's talks. Picking up from John Paul II, paragraph 24 of Gaudium et Spes is threaded through each of his addresses. While religion has been used for violence and evil, it in itself is the only hope for humanity, offering to it the fullest image of its own true possibility. As we will see in the highlights, this is true not only of humanity, but also of all creation. Only in Christ can humanity know its true image, and only in living this image can it be a proper steward of the natural environment. In these talks, Benedict is simultaneously at his Greenest and most Humanist.
Welcome Ceremony

Rightly, you are seeking to close the gap between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians regarding life expectancy, educational achievement and economic opportunity! This example of reconciliation offers hope to peoples all over the world who long to see their rights affirmed and their contribution to society acknowledged and promoted.

With many thousands of young people visiting Australia at this time, it is appropriate to reflect upon the kind of world we are handing on to future generations. In the words of your national anthem, this land "abounds in nature's gifts, of beauty rich and rare". The wonder of God's creation reminds us of the need to protect the environment and to exercise responsible stewardship of the goods of the earth. In this connection I note that Australia is making a serious commitment to address its responsibility to care for the natural environment.
In this opening address, the two themes are clear: respect for the dignity of each human person, no matter how "different" than I; and respect for creation. Throughout we will see a variation on this theme, expressed in the dichotomy between Enlightened Self-Interest, which drives the model of society envisioned by Adam Smith, and Self-Giving Generosity, which alone is possible through grace and the Christian leaven.
Welcome at Barangaroo

Yet the views afforded of our planet from the air were truly wondrous. The sparkle of the Mediterranean, the grandeur of the north African desert, the lushness of Asia’s forestation, the vastness of the Pacific Ocean, the horizon upon which the sun rose and set, and the majestic splendour of Australia’s natural beauty which I have been able to enjoy these last couple of days; these all evoke a profound sense of awe. It is as though one catches glimpses of the Genesis creation story - light and darkness, the sun and the moon, the waters, the earth, and living creatures; all of which are "good" in God’s eyes (cf. Gen 1:1 - 2:4). Immersed in such beauty, who could not echo the words of the Psalmist in praise of the Creator: "how majestic is your name in all the earth?" (Ps 8:1).

And there is more – something hardly perceivable from the sky – men and women, made in nothing less than God’s own image and likeness (cf. Gen 1:26). At the heart of the marvel of creation are you and I, the human family "crowned with glory and honour" (Ps 8:5). How astounding! With the Psalmist we whisper: "what is man that you are mindful of him?" (Ps 8:4). And drawn into silence, into a spirit of thanksgiving, into the power of holiness, we ponder.

What do we discover? Perhaps reluctantly we come to acknowledge that there are also scars which mark the surface of our earth: erosion, deforestation, the squandering of the world’s mineral and ocean resources in order to fuel an insatiable consumption. Some of you come from island nations whose very existence is threatened by rising water levels; others from nations suffering the effects of devastating drought. God’s wondrous creation is sometimes experienced as almost hostile to its stewards, even something dangerous. How can what is "good" appear so threatening?

So again, we ponder. And we discover that not only the natural but also the social environment – the habitat we fashion for ourselves – has its scars; wounds indicating that something is amiss. Here too, in our personal lives and in our communities, we can encounter a hostility, something dangerous; a poison which threatens to corrode what is good, reshape who we are, and distort the purpose for which we have been created. Examples abound, as you yourselves know. Among the more prevalent are alcohol and drug abuse, and the exaltation of violence and sexual degradation, often presented through television and the internet as entertainment. I ask myself, could anyone standing face to face with people who actually do suffer violence and sexual exploitation "explain" that these tragedies, portrayed in virtual form, are considered merely "entertainment"?

Do not be fooled by those who see you as just another consumer in a market of undifferentiated possibilities, where choice itself becomes the good, novelty usurps beauty, and subjective experience displaces truth.
Christ offers more! Indeed he offers everything! Only he who is the Truth can be the Way and hence also the Life. Thus the "way" which the Apostles brought to the ends of the earth is life in Christ.

When God is eclipsed, our ability to recognize the natural order, purpose, and the "good" begins to wane. What was ostensibly promoted as human ingenuity soon manifests itself as folly, greed and selfish exploitation. And so we have become more and more aware of our need for humility before the delicate complexity of God’s world.

But what of our social environment?.... How can it be that domestic violence torments so many mothers and children? How can it be that the most wondrous and sacred human space – the womb – has become a place of unutterable violence?

My dear friends, God’s creation is one and it is good. The concerns for non-violence, sustainable development, justice and peace, and care for our environment are of vital importance for humanity. They cannot, however, be understood apart from a profound reflection upon the innate dignity of every human life from conception to natural death: a dignity conferred by God himself and thus inviolable. Our world has grown weary of greed, exploitation and division, of the tedium of false idols and piecemeal responses, and the pain of false promises. Our hearts and minds are yearning for a vision of life where love endures, where gifts are shared, where unity is built, where freedom finds meaning in truth, and where identity is found in respectful communion. This is the work of the Holy Spirit! This is the hope held out by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
There is a clear connection between Abortion and Environmental Pollution. Both the Left and Right have it wrong. There is a new vision, the Christian vision. This welcoming address is perhaps the most beautiful and poetic of all, capturing Benedict's wholistic vision for a world that is greed free, directed not by enlightened self-interest, but by loving generosity, a generosity that includes in its scope the creation given to man by God for his safe keeping. Humility before the "complexity of God's world" marks the new way of seeing that Benedict calls us to. This opening talk sets the thematic and emotional tone to the following addresses.
Meeting with Ecumenical Representatives

To move forward, we must continually ask God to renew our minds with the Holy Spirit (cf. Rom 12:2), who speaks to us through the scriptures and guides us into all truth (cf. 2 Pet 1:20-21; Jn 16:13). We must guard against any temptation to view doctrine as divisive and hence an impediment to the seemingly more pressing and immediate task of improving the world in which we live. In fact, the history of the Church demonstrates that praxis is not only inseparable from, but actually flows out of didache or teaching.

For this reason, ecumenical dialogue advances not only through an exchange of ideas but by a sharing in mutually enriching gifts (cf. Ut Unum Sint, 28; 57). An "idea" aims at truth; a "gift" expresses love. Both are essential to dialogue. Opening ourselves to accept spiritual gifts from other Christians quickens our ability to perceive the light of truth which comes from the Holy Spirit.
A mutual sharing of gifts is required for all ecumenical dialogue. Again, the theme of gift-giving is highlighted. Self-donation is at the core of all relationships that involve the heart of human beings. Yet precisely for this reason grace is needed, since so frequently self-interest is confused for self-donation. The cross alone brings our eyes back into focus.
Meeting With Representatives of Other Religions

Religions have a special role in this regard, for they teach people that authentic service requires sacrifice and self-discipline, which in turn must be cultivated through self-denial, temperance and a moderate use of the world's goods. In this way, men and women are led to regard the environment as a marvel to be pondered and respected rather than a commodity for mere consumption. It is incumbent upon religious people to demonstrate that it is possible to find joy in living simply and modestly, generously sharing one's surplus with those suffering from want.

The world's religions draw constant attention to the wonder of human existence. Who can help but marvel at the power of the mind to grasp the secrets of nature through scientific discovery? Who is not stirred by the possibility of forming a vision for the future? Who is not impressed by the power of the human spirit to set goals and to develop ways of achieving them? Men and women are endowed with the ability not only to imagine how things might be better, but to invest their energies to make them better. We are conscious of our unique relationship to the natural realm. If, then, we believe that we are not subject to the laws of the material universe in the same way as the rest of creation, should we not make goodness, compassion, freedom, solidarity, and respect for every individual an essential part of our vision for a more humane future?

We could say that all religions aim to penetrate the profound meaning of human existence by linking it to an origin or principle outside itself. Religions offer an attempt to understand the cosmos as coming from and returning to this origin or principle.
Again, in his address to an interreligious group, it is fascinating what themes Benedict highlights. The environment is again mentioned, alongside the commodification of the human person. Following John Paul II, Benedict has brought in some Marxian critique in order to highlight the Christian emphasis on the value of each person for his or her own sake. Religions serve the purpose of pointing to the transcendent as a means of transforming the present world. Benedict points to that transformation as one toward a simpler lifestyle, solidarity, self-discipline, wonder. Religion must be the forerunner of simple lifestyles and the rejection of commodified culture. How hard that message is for Americans! In our fat culture we either will not see this willfully, or we flip the coin and idolize self-image. Religion of all kinds points the human person toward a lifestyle of self-donation, which of its very nature is a life of simplicity and solidarity.
Meeting with Disadvantaged Youth

False "gods", whatever name, shape or form we give them, are nearly always associated with the worship of three things: material possessions, possessive love, or power. Let me explain what I mean.

If we are greedy, if we refuse to share what we have with the hungry and the poor, then we make our possessions into a false god.

People often think they are being loving when actually they are being possessive or manipulative.

The power God has given us to shape the world around us is obviously something good. Used properly and responsibly, it enables us to transform people’s lives. Every community needs good leaders. Yet how tempting it can be to grasp at power for its own sake, to seek to dominate others or to exploit the natural environment for selfish purposes! This is to make power into a false god. Instead of bringing life, it brings death.

Loving is what we are programmed to do, what we were designed for by our Creator. Naturally, I am not talking about fleeting, shallow relationships, I am talking about real love, the very heart of Jesus’ moral teaching: "You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength" and "You must love your neighbour as yourself" (cf. Mk 12:30-31). This, if you like, is the programme that is hard-wired into every human person, if only we had the wisdom and generosity to live by it, if only we were ready to sacrifice our own preferences so as to be of service to others, to give our lives for the good of others, and above all for Jesus, who loved us and gave his life for us. That is what human beings are called to do, that is what it means to be truly alive.
"How tempting it can be to grasp at power for its own sake, to seek to dominate others or to exploit the natural environment for selfish purposes! This is to make power into a false god.... Loving is what we are programmed to do, what we were designed for by our Creator."

What a beautiful summary of Benedict's message. More tomorrow.

Markel, SJ

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Low Returns on the American Way

The American Human Development Index has applied to the US an aid agency approach to measuring well-being – more familiar to observers of the Third World – with shocking results. The US finds itself ranked 42nd in global life expectancy and 34th in survival of infants to age. Suicide and murder are among the top 15 causes of death and although the US is home to just 5 per cent of the global population it accounts for 24 per cent of the world's prisoners.

Despite an almost cult-like devotion to the belief that unfettered free enterprise is the best way to lift Americans out of poverty, the report points to a rigged system that does little to lessen inequalities.
Read more here.

Markel, SJ

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Is Obama Funny?

My apologies (if you care) for being away so long. Life has been busy.

Yesterday's New York Times ran an article inquiring into the psyche of late night comedians (that is a tough job I am sure). The basic question is one I have been asking as I watch them myself: where are the jokes about Obama? The overall answer from the article seems to be that Obama has yet to distingish himself comedically.

I sort of see where they are coming from. If someone where to ask me what makes certain politicans funny, various words or phrases would pop into my mind fairly quickly: Clinton: sleazy womanizer, G.W. Bush: dumb and verbally disjointed, Gore: robotic, Cheney: angry old man, McCain: also angry old man. But Obama? I am not sure, though I think the recent JibJab cartoon would be my first inclinaton. He gives off a "kumbaya" vibe.

As young people I talk to get many of their ideas about current events from Stewart, Colbert and Letterman, I think those of the comedic persuasion should say more about this.

Mason Slidell

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Bonaventure in the Spiritual Exercises

On this feast of St. Bonaventure, I've always like this quotation in the Spiritual Exercises from the Rules for Thinking with the Church:

Eleventh Rule . To praise positive and scholastic learning. Because, as it is more proper to the Positive Doctors, as St. Jerome, St. Augustine and St. Gregory, etc., to move the heart to love and serve God our Lord in everything; so it is more proper to the Scholastics, as St. Thomas, St. Bonaventure, and to the Master of the Sentences, etc., to define or explain for our times the things necessary for eternal salvation; and to combat and explain better all errors and all fallacies. For the Scholastic Doctors, as they are more modern, not only help themselves with the true understanding of the Sacred Scripture and of the Positive and holy Doctors, but also, they being enlightened and clarified by the Divine virtue, help themselves by the Councils, Canons and Constitutions of our holy Mother the Church.
There are several brilliant elements that we can all take up as principles for our study. First, read the positive doctors. They move our heart and soul and affections toward God. Second, read the Scholastic doctors. Now, why did Ignatius think that his followers should read the Scholastics? He says, because they explain "for our times" what is necessary for salvation. In other words, they were good at explaining in the contemporary context the path to salvation using their method of disputation along with theology and philosophy. They found a pertinent pathway for combatting the errors of their time. Ignatius goes on to explain why they are so helpful. First, they are more modern and so have at their disposal a better understanding of scripture thanks to better knowledge of the context of the Bible thanks to better historical research. Second, because they are more modern, they have at their disposal new teachings of the Church to enlighten the way.

That is what a simple reading of this paragraph says. Now, I have heard several people read this paragraph as if Ignatius were advocating that we study only the positive and scholastic doctors. But that is not what he says. He says we should read those who best combat the errors of our time, taking into account whether they are more modern so as to write with better access to scriptural hermeneutics and the updated and re-articulated teachings of the Church. That is what he advises us to do. So, read Bonaventure and Thomas, please! But also read Jean-Luc Marion and Paul Ricoeur and Gabriel Marcel and John Henry Newman and all those other great Christian-inspired philosophers. That would be to read this paragraph obediently.

Markel, SJ

Monday, July 14, 2008

GC 35: Decree 3

I decided to liven things up a little with a Van Gogh sketch. Hope you like it.

Decree III of GC 35 is entitled "Challenges to Our Mission Today: Sent to the Frontiers." The second part of the title is taken from Benedict's letter to the Congregation Fathers prior to its commencement in which he praised the Society for its work on the margins and the frontiers, not just in terms of mission territory, but more precisely on intellectual and religious frontiers. Decree III picks up this challenge and runs with it, though with much caution and care. Parts I-III re-establish the mission of the Society, place it in a new "postmodern" context, and propose the primary mission of the Society in our times as one of establishing right relationships.

The document begins by quoting from GC 34 concerning the primary mission of the Society:
“the aim of our mission received from Christ, as presented in the Formula is the service of faith. The integrating principle of our mission is the inseparable link between faith and the promotion of the justice of the Kingdom.”
This has become standard speak for Jesuits since GC 32. No surprise here. The Fathers then go on to set the context for the mission of the Society in our times, and thankfully they turn to Benedict for guidance, quoting from his letter again:
“Your Congregation takes place in a period of great social, economic, and political changes; sharp ethical, cultural and environmental problems, conflicts of all kinds, but also of more intense communication among peoples, of new possibilities of acquaintance and dialogue, of a deep longing for peace. All these are situations that challenge the Catholic Church and its ability to announce to our contemporaries the Word of hope and salvation.”
Ethical, cultural, environmental problems, conflicts and possibilities. That is our context. Paragraph 10 continues:
In the midst of this cultural upheaval, post-modernism, mentioned also by GC 34 , has continued to shape the way the contemporary world and we Jesuits think and behave.
This is a slippery word, postmodernism, and should be used carefully. I understand that committee documents like this one have to use words fairly loosely, but let me comment briefly on it. Postmodernism often means, in simple terms, the rejection of the metanarrative offered by modernity. This metanarrative was guaranteed by and presided over by the priests of modernity, namely, scientists and machiavellian political thinkers. When Christians embrace forms of postmodern thinking, they do so only insofar as they reject most forms of modernism -- which is a good thing as far as I am concerned. However, along with that rejection must come a nuanced acceptance of a metanarrative, since that is precisely what the paschal mystery is. I consider myself a postmodern, but I do not reject the narrative of salvation that is mine as a Catholic. When "Jesuits think and behave" according to this loose theory, they should be aware of what they accept.

The Society's apostolic response to our world is threefold: It seeks to build in the world right relationships with God, with one another, and with Creation. Each of these three has its perspective set by the one prior, so that just as in the Contemplatio, the order of love is maintained. I think one interesting way to help unpack these three sections is in terms of the vows that Jesuits take. A right relationship with God is maintained by Obedience; with others by Chastity; and with Creation by Poverty. This template will help us unpack the body of decree III.

Building right relationships with God, the Jesuits, as Benedict says, are called to “reach the geographical and spiritual places others do not reach or find it difficult to reach." This involves risks and mistakes. Jesuits have made many mistakes in this regard, overstepping the bounds of orthodoxy. And yet, unless de Lubac had pursued his theology with the courage that he did, we may never have seen Vatican II. Sometimes the sensus fidei is only uncovered through trial and error, and Jesuits, in full humility and obedience, must be open to exploring the bounds of theology so that they can thus discover its boundaries and aid others in seeing those more clearly, especially in our "postmodern" world. However, without obedience, this is no longer a service to the Church, but only to ourselves, and becomes no more than indulgent intellectualism.

Their relationships with God firmly in place by means of the Exercises, Jesuits attempt to help others through the Exercises to discern their service of others. The Decree begins this section with a Composition of Place, providing a birds eye analysis of the problems effecting peoples:
From the perspective of those living at the margins, globalisation appears as a massive force that excludes and exploits the weak and the poor and has intensified exclusion on the basis of religion, race, caste, and gender. A political consequence of globalisation has been the weakening of political sovereignty by many nation-states all over the world. Some states experience this phenomenon as a particular type of global marginalisation and the loss of national respect. Their natural resources are exploited by transnational interests, unconstrained by national laws and often abetted by corruption. Violence, war and arms trafficking have been fomented by powerful economic interests. Our commitment to establish right relationships invites us to see the world from the perspective of the poor and marginalised, acting with and for them. In this context, the Holy Father reminds us that the preferential option for the poor ”is implicit in the Christological faith in a God who for us became poor, to enrich us with his poverty (2 Cor 8-9)” . He invites us with a prophetic call to renew our mission “among the poor and for the poor”.
It is hard to deny any of this, or to say that it is especially helpful. Yet a reminder of our place with the poor is never misplaced in the Society of Jesus. Just as our greatest sins against chastity are the result of compartmentalized living, so with the Society in its work for Justice. It must become an integral mission, not a bourgeois liberal hobby that it often appears to be. Our apostolate of education, of course, bridges the gap beautifully between rich and poor. Decree III points to it as a central part of healing relationships.

Finally, "ecological solidarity." With Benedict XVI, Decree III focuses on the effects that misuse of the earth's resources has had on the poor and third world countries, making them the guinea pigs and dumping grounds for first world waste and experimentation. In summarizing this third step, the Fathers state, quoting from Benedict's powerful message for peace in January, 2008:
In our preaching, teaching, and retreat direction, we should invite all people to appreciate more deeply our covenant with creation as central to right relationships with God and one another, and to act accordingly in terms of their political responsibility, employment, family life, and personal lifestyle.
Here, "ecological solidarity" is inextricably bound up with poverty, with the lifestyle of Jesuits communities, but also to those to whom we preach and teach. "We should invite all people," and for Jesuits that often means the rich. What employment to they choose? All the CEO's coming our of our schools, do they respect the dignity of human labor and the dignity of creation, or does that come second to the concern for money? Sadly, it often comes second. History has shown much of our education in faith blunted by concern for success.

The document names as our five apostolic priorities: Africa, China, Intellectual Apostolate, Roman Houses, and Refugees. An example of the combining of the intellectual apostolate with service of the poor and ecological concern is offered in Salmeron and Laynez who attended the Council of Trent as theologians, but who were told by Ignatius to live and work in a hospital. The two forms of ministry for us must remain inseparable. The Decree concludes with a call for integration in living this apostolate in our communities:
Our mission is not limited only to our works. Our personal relationship with the Lord, our relationship to one another as friends in the Lord, our solidarity with the poor and marginalised, and a life style responsible to creation-- all play an important role. They authenticate what we proclaim and what we do in fulfilling our mission. Indeed Jesuit community is not just for mission, it is itself mission.
Personal lifestyle in community must follow. No more expensive dinners for our own benefit. No more TV's in our own rooms that expend so much energy. No more wasted car trips, personal cars for community members. Such things must be of the Society of the past. As Benedict has urged on his way to Australia, the Spirit who inspires us to work with the poor and to serve creation also calls us to make that an integrated element of our lifestyles. This is a call primarily to Jesuit houses in the U.S. and Europe. Many in the southern hemisphere already live this way. Yet where we live comfortably, we do not want to afflict the comfortable. Or if we do so, we often do so as Democrats and not as priests of Christ and religious men. Our witness for the poor and for the protection of God's creation must cease then to be a Democratic stance, or the stance of middle class yuppies. No, it must be a sign of our total commitment to Poverty and to the restoration of the earth called for by Paul in Romans 8.

Sadly, this document on Mission once again makes no mention of the unborn. The mention of abortion seems to remain something of a taboo in Jesuits circles. The majority are pro-life, yet many are uncomfortable speaking about the issue. Often I think, their "postmodern minds" are split between liberal and conservative jargon. Sadly so. What relationship needs more healing than the one between fathers and sons mentioned in the last verse of Malachi?

In the end, this document is fairly weak, but points toward a solid future of mission for the Society if we will follow it. Most encouraging are the number of footnotes taken from JPII and Benedict. They show that our mind is back with the Church, while we continue doing extremely important work on the frontiers of ministry.

Markel, SJ

The Spirit in Creation

As always, Benedict has a way of tying everything into a coherent whole. John Allen posts here the full interview with Benedict en route to Australia. Questions range from faith in Australia to priest sexual abuse to climate change to youth. Benedict ties them together primarily with the theme of World Youth Day, which is the Holy Spirit, and in consequence, Creation:
The essential message is indicated by the words which constitute the motto of this World Youth Day: we speak of the Holy Spirit which makes us witnesses of Christ. Therefore, I would like to concentrate my message precisely on this reality of the Holy Spirit, who appears in different dimensions: it’s the Spirit who operates in Creation. The dimension of Creation is very present, because the Spirit is the creator. This seems to me a very important theme in the present moment. But the Spirit is also the one who inspires Scripture: in our journey, in the light of Scripture, we can move forward together with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Christ, thus it guides us in communion with Christ, and finally it makes itself manifest, according to St. Paul, in the charisms, that is, in a great number of unexpected gifts that change in different times and give new energy to the church. Therefore, these dimensions invite us to see the traces of the Spirit and to make the Spirit visible to others.
Because the Spirit works in Creation, misuse of Creation is an attack on the creative work of God through his Spirit:
But on the other hand, there’s always a presence of the faith in new forms, and in new ways; in the minority, perhaps, but always present for all the society to see. And now in this historical moment, we begin to see that we do need God. We can do so many things, but we cannot create our climate. We thought we could do it, but we cannot do it. We need the gift of the Earth, the gift of water, we need the Creator; the Creator re-appears in His creation. And so we also come to understand that we cannot be really happy, cannot be really promoting justice for all the world, without a criterion at work in our own ideas, without a God who is just, and gives us the light, and gives us life.
This is a beautiful collage of all his main points: Faith and the need for God, Climate, Justice. Benedict plays with the analogy of the earth in order to make a point about God, and vice-versa. Humanity needs God. Without God, who dwells at the center of the human heart, the heart will die. We cannot create our climate; our climate is God, and we breathe him whether we know it or not. The same is true of the Earth: we do not create the earth. It is gift, and while "we though we could do it... we cannot do it." We cannot control the world according to the Cartesian mathematical view of reality. It gifts itself to us as the Spirit does, and it must be received and treated as gift. Creation has a criterion, not imposed by ourselves. 
As I already underlined in response to the first question, certainly this problem will be very present at this World Youth Day, because we’re talking about the Holy Spirit, and in consequence, about Creation and our responsibilities with regard to Creation. It’s not my intention to enter into the technical questions which politicians and specialists have to resolve, but to offer essential impulses for seeing the responsibility, for being capable of responding to this great challenge: rediscovering in Creation the face of the Creator, rediscovering our responsibility before the Creator for the Creation which he has entrusted to us, forming the ethical capacity for a style of life that’s necessary to assume if we want to address the problem posed by this situation and if we really want to arrive at positive solutions. Therefore, [I’ll seek] to awaken consciences to see the great context of this problem, within which the detailed responses are not our responsibility, but rather that of politicians and specialists.
I can't wait to hear what he says about a new style of life. Let us be prepared to listen and to change our way of living so as to better listen to the Spirit in Creation. 

Markel, SJ

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Pope and Climate Change

More on climate change and our responsibilities from our Papa here:
Benedict also signaled he would speak about global warming during his Sydney visit because it was an issue of concern to young people.

The pope said there is a need to "wake up consciences" about the issue.

"We have to give impulse to rediscovering our responsibility and to finding an ethical way to change our way of life," he said. Politicians and experts must be "capable of responding to the great ecological challenge and to be up to the task of this challenge," he added.
Markel, SJ

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Bloodsucking and Chastity

Another gaffe by McCain. This guy just can't keep his stories straight. This one is particularly funny though, which team do you really prefer: Packers or Steelers?

On another note, the NYTimes has an interesting op-ed today about a series of teen books that are sweeping the nation like Harry Potter did. These are the Twilight series, about a girl who falls in love with a vampire boy in Washington state.
The heroine is Bella, who gets sent off to finish high school in a really, really rainy part of the state of Washington. She catches the eye of a gorgeous boy in her biology class named Edward. He turns out to be a member of a commune of vampires, who have banded together to fight their inclination to drink human blood.

Edward, who has never been attracted to a woman, mortal or immortal, in more than a century of postdeath existence, falls for Bella at first sniff. (It’s all about the smell.) And he is going to be faithful to her forever, even when she gets old and dies. But as much as he adores her, he won’t have sex with her because he worries he might kill her with his superstrength in the heat of the moment.

So, they are forced to spend all their time kissing and cuddling and talking about their feelings.

“Only a vampire, ladies,” said Jessica Valenti, the author of “Full Frontal Feminism.” She worries that in the real world, young men are spending so much time watching pornography on the Internet that they will never be satisfied with normal women and normal relationships.

This sure sounds like trouble to me: A generation of guys who will settle for nothing less than a porn star meets a generation of women who expect their boyfriend to crawl through their bedroom window at night and just nuzzle gently until they fall asleep.
Is this pure trouble? That is an interesting question. In a culture of men saturated from early age by pornography, can they be expected to behave when it comes to a serious relationship? The author seems to hope that there is a possibility of some new training. The article later points out the possible secret of success:
Maybe the secret to her success is that in her books, it’s the guy who’s in charge of setting the sexual boundaries. Edward is a version of that legendary, seldom-seen male who won’t take advantage of his date even if she rips off her clothes and begs him to take her to bed.
In a culture that is increasingly torn between complete unattached hooking up and monogamy, these novels are apparently not looking for the middle ground that the Times desires, but rather is advocating monogamy. Hence the title of the article, "A Virginal Goth Girl." I particularly like the line in the article: "He turns out to be a member of a commune of vampires, who have banded together to fight their inclination to drink human blood." Yes, there is a place for mortification of desire in regards to sexuality, as surprised as the author of the Times seems to be to this. What a great image of chastity and lust: sucking someone's blood. I haven't (yet?) read these, but if you have, your feedback would be welcome.

Markel, SJ

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Reflections on My Jesuit Cloud of Witnesses

Tomorrow I will continue with commentary on Decree 3 of GC 35. But for today, primarily because I just finished Ron Hansen's exceptional new novel, Exiles, on the death of the five Franciscan sisters who died in the wreck of the Deutschland and Hopkins' writing of that poem as it related to his life, I want to offer a brief personal reflection on those deceased Jesuits who have most influenced my life and thought.

Francis Xavier and John Gerard

Two who do not make my official list but who had an important influence on my life as a teenager are Francis Xavier in Louis de Wohl's novel Set All Afire and Br. John Gerard in his The Autobiography of a Hunted Priest. There is an especially poignant scene in de Wohl's novel where de Sales sucks the poison out of a boil on a sick person so as to overcome his feeling of nausea towards him. Such stories may seem disgusting to us, but many saints forced themselves to perform similar actions. That which is of the flesh does not easily put on the Spirit, and St. Francis of Assisi's embrace of the leper shows that often such symbolic and real acts of love are necessary. Dorothy Day is a good recent example of such powerful acts.

John Gerard's autobiography is wonderful and well written. There are many good reflections throughout, and his description of his escape from the Tower of London captivated me as a teenager. When I finally made it to England, that was the first place I wanted to go see.

Edmund Campion

I chose Edmund Campion as my confirmation saint after reading Evelyn Waugh's novel based on his life. It has been a while since I read that novel, but I still remember poignant descriptions of his training and formation as a Jesuit, his dedication to prayer, his courage in returning to England, and, most magnificently of all, Campion's Brag, which is a must read for anyone, Catholic or not, simply for its eloquence and power. He was the type of Christian soldier that I wanted to be.

Miguel Pro

Miguel Pro has held a similar captivation for me. A humorous person who excelled at mimicry, he returned to Mexico after his studies in Belgium as an undercover priest. Using different disguises, he was able to survive for quite a while until he was caught and killed with his brother before a firing squad. Several powerful or humorous scenes have stuck with me from his life. He had once just completed saying mass when Mexican soldiers stormed the house and found him inside. They demanded to know if there were any priests in the house, and so Miguel promptly led them around the house, opening hiding places and closets to help them look, and then led them out the door assuring them that he would stay on the look out. Another time in a packed Guadalupe basilica square he suddenly began crying out, "Viva la Virgen de Guadalupe!" getting the entire square to join in until almost a million voices were chanting. This was when Catholicism was outlawed. Just before he died, he famously cried out, "Viva Cristo Rey!" I still cannot hear that cry in Mexico or anywhere else, whether at prayer meetings or at mass, without chills running down my spine.

I would recommend Ann Ball's biography, as well as collections of his letters. Also, Graham Greene's The Power and the Glory offers a great painting of the life of an undercover priest in Mexico in the 1920's and was inspired by Miguel Pro.

Rutilio Grande

In February of 1977, just a month before he was shot to death while driving to mass, Rutilio proclaimed from the Church pulpit:
I am fully aware that very soon the Bible and the Gospels will not be allowed to cross the border. All that will reach us will be the covers, since all the pages are subversive—against sin, it is said. So that if Jesus crosses the border at Chalatenango, they will not allow him to enter. They would accuse him, the man-God ... of being an agitator, of being a Jewish foreigner, who confuses the people with exotic and foreign ideas, anti-democratic ideas, and i.e., against the minorities. Ideas against God, because this is a clan of Cain’s. Brothers, they would undoubtedly crucify him again. And they have said so.
He was right, and his life was demanded of him for his courage. The above sermon is astonishing from Rutilio, since for so long he was known for his timidity and fear while in formation. He had no self-confidence and would constantly second-guess himself. Yet, like St. Peter, when placed in the furnace, he came out pure as gold. Possibly for this reason Rutilio was important to me in the novitiate. I admired his turnaround and his courage. A close friend of Romero, who experienced a similar turnaround when made Bishop, he gave his life for his people.

I would recommend Bill O'Malley's Voices of Blood, which has several other wonderful stories in it. Also the movie Romero in which Rutilio plays a part. Ron Hansen's A Stay Against Confusion has a beautiful chapter entitled "Hearing the Cry of the Poor" that I would recommend to all.

Peter Canisius

The evangelizer of Germany, Peter Canisius made a special request once of his novice master to allow him to take a vow to always live in actual poverty, as Ignatius' recommends all Jesuits pray for during the Exercises, unless his Superiors prohibit him. Documented in James Broderick's brilliant biography, he has been a special source of inspiration for the living of my vow of poverty.

Pierre Favre

One of the three original members of the Society of Jesus, Favre was known for his sensitivity and discernment. William Bangert's To the Other Towns is a simple biography of Favre that alerts one to his unique capacity for spiritual conversation and ability to read souls. In his Spiritual Diary, Favre offers penetrating insights into the cross, spiritual warfare, chastity, evangelization, penance, prayer, and spiritual conversation. An untapped resource on spiritual warfare, Favre frequently reflects on the role of angels in the spiritual life, no doubt learned in part from the meditation on The Two Standards in the Exercises. His simple manner of speaking allowed him to be extremely successful in re-evangelizing Germany and preparing the way for Canisius. He was considered the best at directing the Exercises and for his spiritual intuitions into people's lives. He has offered me a lot of advice in regards to living the vow of chastity. I recommend to all who feel up to it his Spiritual Diary.

Pedro Arrupe

Pedro Arrupe was a Jesuit who I did not expect myself to be drawn to. I thought he had hurt the Society, allowed too much to happen during his time of governance, and was too weak. That early assessment was wrong. Like any person in a position of leadership, he made mistakes, but the gifts he offered to the Society far outweigh those mistakes. I first came to be challenged by him when I read Mission and Identity: Selected Letters and Addresses. The book is rich with reflections on the meaning of the life of poverty and what it means to live as a Jesuit without compromise. It is hard to find, but for those who can, I recommend it. Arrupe also offered to me rich meditations on the Sacred Heart, the Trinitarian charism of Ignatius, and many other beautiful aspects of Jesuit life. Several collections can be found of his writings, and I recommend them all. He challenged me, and ultimately it was in reading the text above that I decided to enter the Jesuits. I was at a discernment retreat and on reading on particular text on the call to discipleship and away from mediocrity and compromise, I was sold.

Henri de Lubac

Henri de Lubac is without a doubt the most influential theologian in my life and also one of the riches spiritual writers who I continue to read. I first picked him up in college to read The Drama of Atheist Humanism and continued to read him in the novitiate, scouring The Mystery of the Supernatural. It is his spiritual writings that I would like to highlight here though. One of the best works on the spiritual life that I have yet to find is a collection called Three Jesuits Speak in which de Lubac recovers the writings of three close friends of his killed at young ages in the resistance movement in France. Yves de Montcheuil, Charles Nicolet, and Jean Zupan never had an opportunity to put many of their reflections into writing. De Lubac offers a brilliant collection. I was blown out of the water in the novitiate when I read some of the meditations on friendship and love by Nicolet, and Montcheuil offers profoundly penetrating short reflections on living as a disciple in our times when God is, for all intensive purposes, dead. Read this book. Second, read his reflections on the Church in a small hard to find book entitled The Church: Mystery and Paradox. In the last chapter, de Lubac offers his analysis of what it means to be a Christian today, and particularly a saint. Read it. Finally, read de Lubac's diary At the Service of the Church. Few Jesuits were humiliated as he was by his own order and the theological world, and yet few have received his humiliation with more grace than he did, nor have they been vindicated by history and particularly by Vatican II as de Lubac was. He has offered to me a theology and a spirituality that I can aspire to live as a Jesuit, and he will be a lifelong friend.

Gerard Manley Hopkins

In his recent review in America magazine of Ron Hansen's new fictionalized account of Hopkins, Exiles, James T. Keane sums up much of Hopkins' career with his famous lines: "birds build -- but not I build; no, but strain,/ Time's eunuch, and not breed one work that wakes." In many ways he was right. The Wreck of the Deutschland was only published posthumously. Yet I would prefer to describe Hopkins life from another poem, St. Alphonsus Rodriguez: "But be the war within, the brand we wield/ Unseen, the heroic breast not outward-steeled,/ Earth hears no hurtle then from fiercest fray." This describes best his life, a life often of inner torment, but also of victory. Hansen's novel begins with a quotation from Milton's Samson Agonistes:

Retiring from the popular noise, I seek
This unfrequented place to find some ease,
Ease to the body some, none to the mind
From restless thoughts, that like a deadly swarm
Of Hornets arm'd, no sooner found alone,
But rushing upon me thronging, and present
Times past, what once I was, and what I am now.

Hopkins had ample time for such thoughts, of considering the kind of poet he could have been. And yet his obedience has offered to us not just a truly astounding collection of poems, but also a life-poem, rich for meditation. What could have been? Hansen asks that question near the end of the book, and offers some thoughts. Yet what was is who God created, and it is a beautiful vessel, sensitive, humorous, eccentric, but with its own haecceity, "thisness/" that can speak to us.

Hopkins will continue to enrichen my prayer and especially to challenge me in obedience. He never grumbled, never second guessed. Rather, more important than the poems on paper he could write was the poem of himself that he offered to God and to the Society. I will end this post with a beautiful reflection from his spiritual journal:
What is my wretched life? Five wasted years have almost passed in Ireland. I am ashamed of the little I have done, of my waste of time, although my helplessness and weakness is such that I could scarcely do otherwise. And yet the Wise Man warns us against excusing ourselves in that fashion. I cannot then be excused; but what is life without aim, without spur, without help? All my undertakings miscarry: I am like a straining eunuch. I wish then for death: yet if I died now I should die imperfect, no master of myself, and that is the worst failure of all. O my God, look down on me.

Markel, SJ

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

GC 35: Decree 2

Decree 2 of GC 35, "A Fire that Kindles Other Fires," takes its name from a quotation of Saint Alberto Hurtado. With this note, the Society signals that it is continuing with this congregation the updating that Vatican called for from each religious order. This updating looks back to Nadal and Ignatius and other members of the early Society, but also to its most recent saint as models of its holiness and "way of proceeding."

Decree 2 is a decree on Identity, on what it means to be a Jesuit today. The second to last paragraph of the decree summarizes brilliantly what the document attempts to spell out: being a Jesuit means imaging Jesus:
There are new challenges to this vocation today. We live our identity as companions of Jesus in a context where multiple images, the innumerable faces of a fragmented culture, compete for our attention. They seep into us, take root in the fertile soil of our natural desires, and fill us with sensations that flow through and take control of our feelings and decisions without our knowing it. But we know and proclaim one image, Jesus Christ, true image of God and true image of humanity, who, when we contemplate him, becomes flesh in us, healing our inner brokenness, and making us whole as persons, as communities, and as an apostolic body dedicated to Christ’s mission.
This is the language of the early Society, the language of attachments, the greatest attack on Jesuit life and on any good Christian life. Finally, we are hearing strong language again from our congregation Fathers. Paragraph 1 of the Spiritual Exercises explains that what the Exercises are about is freedom from attachments. Period. Freedom from all that prevents one from following Christ. This paragraph above from Decree 2 nails the meaning of the Exercises, which is also the meaning of Jesuit Identity. In an authentic Jesuit life, Jesus becomes flesh in that individual Jesuit and community, and other images that creep slowly into so many Jesuit lives and communities, images that are not Christ, are rooted out. How profound! Jesuits have always been accused of being worldly, and this is the profound tension (I know, an overused word) within which they live. Nadal after all did say that "the world is our house." No cloister for us. We have a spirituality of worldliness, just as Jesus did, who loved the world. But we all know there are two worlds, and like a sign between the signifier and the signified, we move between the two, bridging them as we attempt to model Christ's incarnation, bridging the human and divine.

The quote above also echoes what is written in paragraph 2 of Decree 2, speaking similarly of images:
What unites us as Jesuits is Christ and the desire to serve him: not to be deaf to the call of the Lord, but prompt and ready to do his most holy will. He is the unique image of the unseen God, capable of revealing himself everywhere; and in a tantalizing culture of images, he is the single image that unites. Jesuits know who they are by looking at him.
Jesuits, as Gerard Manley Hopkins taught us so eloquently, examine each thing carefully, turning them over in their hands, looking for that aspect of it that images Christ. Typically, in a "culture of images," those things that most catch the eyes are those that least image Christ. We must learn again how to see. Such is Jesuit spirituality: a spirituality of new eyesight, of discernment. Thus, the first section of the decree is entitled "Seeing and Loving the World as Jesus Did." Ignatius came to this new capacity for sight only
through confronting, at an existential level, the falseness of the desires that had driven him. It was at Manresa that this confrontation took place. There the Lord, who taught him like a schoolboy, gently prepared him to receive an understanding that the world could be seen in another way: a way freed from disordered attachments and opened up for an ordered loving of God, and of all things in God.
"CONFRONTING at an existential level," challenging those desires that usually drive us. Such is the Ignatian way, to allow for a purifying of desire, since desire always effects the mode of seeing. Dorothy Day, influenced deeply by the spiritual conferences of Fr. Onesimus Lacouture, SJ, once wrote:
How shall we have the means to help our brother who is in need? We can do without those unnecessary things which become habits, cigarettes, liquor, coffee, tea, candy, sodas, soft drinks and those foods at meals which only titillate hte palate. We all have these habits, the youngest and the oldest. And we have to die to ourselves in order to live, we have to put off the old man and put on Christ. That it is so hard, that it arouses so much opposition, serves to show what an accumulation there is in all of us of unnecessary desires.
Accumulation is the rule of fallen life, whether in the "old" Society or in the "new" one. In the new one, people are blatantly self-indulgent. I will be the first to call the new Society bourgeois. Yet in the old Society, accumulation reigned supreme as well. Just go to an old Jesuit's room after he dies and dig into his walls and you will find the five and ten dollar bills from stipends and closets stuffed with odds and ends. But the Society called for by GC 35 must be done with self-indulgence, with bourgeois living, and must prepare for an "ordered loving of God" again as our first charism calls for.

The congregation Fathers then name the three characteristics of being a Jesuit who is thus ordered to the vision of La Storta:
These are: the following of Christ bearing his Cross; fidelity to the Church and to the Vicar of Christ on earth; and living as friends of – and thus in – the Lord in one single apostolic body.
First, following Christ and bearing his Cross. For a Jesuit this means that
Following Jesus, we feel ourselves called not only to bring direct help to people in distress, but also to restore entire human persons in their integrity, reintegrating them in community and reconciling them with God. This frequently calls for an engagement that is long-term, be it in the education of youth, in the spiritual accompaniment of the Exercises, in intellectual research or in the service of refugees. But it is here, aided by grace and drawing on whatever professional capacities we may have, that we try to offer ourselves to God fully, for his service.
Second, fidelity to the Church and the Pope. The Society is to be distinguished for its obedience:
It is in the nature of its obedience, above all, that the Society of Jesus is distinguished from other religious families. One need only recall the letter of Saint Ignatius, where he writes: “We can tolerate other religious institutes outdoing us in fasting and in other austerities that they practise according to their Rule, but it is my desire, dear brothers, that those who serve the Lord our God in this Society be outstanding in the purity and perfection of their obedience, the renunciation of their will, and the abnegation of their judgment.”
The congregation takes up the challenge of obedience in a later decree.

Third and finally, in Community. These three features make up Jesuit life, unique in their application to Jesuit living.

Thus, Jesuit identity is founded upon imaging Christ uniquely in a world of distorted images where, committing themselves to the following of Christ in obedience in the Church and in community, Jesuits offer to the world a new way of seeing, an eyesight blind to self-indulgence and addiction and open to passion for all that is Good, True, and Beautiful:
The consumerist cultures in which people live today do not foster passion, but rather addiction and compulsion. They demand resistance. A passionate response to these cultural malaises will be necessary and unavoidable if we are to enter into the lives of contemporary men and women.
The Jesuit houses I step into these days do not show me this "passionate response." I see more addiction than passion in the Society today, addiction to comfort, television, drink, and self-indulgent intellectualism. But the vision has been given, and the possibility for a renewed Society is present, one in which passion for the apostolate with a preferential option for the poor, keeping the unborn in mind, will be possible. Then finally will more people look at us as a whole, as a communal body, and sincerely ask “who are you, that you do these things…and that you do them in this way?"

Markel, SJ