Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Annunciation, Transfiguration, Dostoevsky

Today is the Annunciation, a tremendous feast day, so I feel inclined to have some fun.  We'll start with some exegesis, and then end up with Dostoevsky.  Hard to beat that.

When Gabriel appears to Mary, there is a good chance that she is at prayer.  What is the evidence for this?  If Jesus was born on the 15th of Tishri, the first day of the festival of Succot, as there is evidence (which I won't go into here) to believe, then nine months previous would be the first day of Chanukah, or the 25th of Kislev.  There were prayers for women to say during Chanukah, and on the first night, she would pray the Ushpizin prayer:
"Oh surround us with the pure and the holy radiance of thy glory that is spread over our heads as the eagle over the nest. He stirreth up and thence bid the stream of life flowing upon thy handmaid".  
Mary would have been praying for the glory of God to spread over her, and Gabriel tells her that the power of the Most High will overshadow her.  Ok, that's kind of neat.  But it's a lot better than that.  If Mary was praying during the feast of Chanukah -- the feast of the rededication of the temple after it was taken back from the power of Antiochus IV Epiphanes and the Seleucid Greeks -- then she was praying during a time when people were particularly conscience of the fact that there was no ark of the covenant.  

Flip your bible for a second to 2 Maccabees 2:4-12.  There is an interesting legend or tale that the author of 2 Maccabees records there.  According to legend, he says, as Judah was being deported into Babylon in 586BC, Jeremiah orders that the ark of the covenant be hid on the mountain where Moses has seen the Promised Land -- Mount Nebo.  Purportedly, the ark was indeed hidden there, but when those who had followed Jeremiah wanted to mark the way to the cave, Jeremiah responds in verses 7-8:
The place shall be unknown until God gathers his people together again and shows his mercy. And then the Lord will disclose these things and the glory of the Lord and the cloud will appear, as they were shown in the case of Moses, and as Solomon asked that the place should be specially consecrated."  
The author of Maccabees tells this story in connection with the feast of Chanukah, the rededication of the temple of the Lord.  But, of course, even though the temple was rededicated, there was still no ark.  The Holy of Holies remained empty.  So when is the time when God will "show his mercy" and the "cloud will appear?"  

Well, first of all, there is a clear reference here to the Transfiguration.  Luke consciously uses the Greek word episkiadzo in Luke 9:34 to refer to the "overshadowing" of Jesus, Moses and Elijah.   The time has come for the ark to appear again, and it is found on a mountain just as it was buried according to legend on a mountain.  Except now, Jesus is the new ark.  

But, in anticipation of the Transfiguration, Luke uses this same word once more.  That place is in Luke 1:35.  There, a good Jew would have recognized that the time that Maccabees was referring to is drawing near.  Mary, at prayer during the feast of Chanukah, begins to fulfill the prophecy recorded during the first Chanukah.  The temple is about to be rededicated.  The Holy Spirit will "overshadow" her, a word used rarely in the Septuagint, and importantly in Exodus 40:34-34 to refer to the cloud of God's glory overshadowing the tent of presence with the ark in it.  This overshadowing presence of God in the Old Testament is extremely important, since the first overshadowing could be said to take place at creation when the Spirit hovers over the waters; at Sinai when the cloud descends on the mountain; over the tent of presence with the ark in it; and in the dedication of the temple of Solomon.  The overshadowing that that God will do over Mary refers to the tremendous cloud of God's presence all over the Old Testament. Mary is the new location of God's presence.  At creation, the Spirit was over the waters of the abyss, the "space" where creation would take place.  Mary is the "space" of the New Creation. The cloud of God was over the mountain of Sinai where the Law was given.  Mary is the mountain of the New Law.  The presence of God was over the tent of presence where the ark was kept.  Mary is the new tent of presence, the dwelling place of the ark.  She is also the new Holy of Holies of Solomon's temple where only the High Priest could enter:  Jesus, the new High Priest.  

The text in Maccabees, however, connects the ark again with Moses, as does the Transfiguration.  The ark will appear when the new Moses, who built it, appears again.  Just as no one knows where Moses was buried, so with the ark.  They will appear together.  This happens before the Transfiguration in Luke though.  Again, it begins with Mary.  She is overshadowed, making her the new tent of presence where the ark dwells.  But she is also the new Moses.  Moses is the first prophet of the Old Testament to follow the pattern of a Calling Narrative.  And, we know from Deuteronomy that the Messiah will be a new prophet greater than Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15-18).  Mary follows the same pattern.  The pattern goes something like this:

God calls; prophet is afraid; God assures that he will take care of everything and delivers message, usually saying in some way that he will "be with you;" prophet wonders how this can happen because of his own inadequacy and weakness; God says that it will be his own power that will make this happen; prophet says Yes. 

Moses is the first and greatest prophet to follow this pattern.  Luke is careful to structure Mary's annunciation following this same pattern.  Why?  She is not only the bearer of the New Ark, she is also the new prophet Moses receiving the New Law within her, greater than the old law, and greater than Moses.  In Matthew, Jesus is the new Moses, giving the new law in the sermon on the Mount.  I think that in Luke, Mary is the new Moses, bearing a new ark that she helps build with her very own body, "overshadowed" by the Spirit so that she can give birth.  

The new Chanukah can now take place, the fulfillment of the dedication of the temple, since now the ark is here, and Moses has been found.  We have a new Moses, a new ark and a new temple.  

Fun stuff.  I don't know if it all works, since I'm just throwing this together as I go, but I think it hangs together.  Ok, so we have dealt with the Spirit telling Mary that the power of the God will episkiadzo her.  But he will also "come upon" her, also in verse 35.  That word is eperkomai. Most translations say that the the Holy Spirit will "come upon" her.  That is weak.  Weak!  This word in the Old Testament most often refers to the Day of the Lord, usually a terrible day, the day of the Messiah, when God will judge the earth.  So God is going to "come upon you, as on the day of the Lord, a day of judgment."  In other words, while Mary is listening to Gabriel use these words, she is hearing a lot of things.  She hears that the Day of the Lord, the great and terrible day prophesied in the last verses of the Old Testament, is now here, right now, in her.  It is going to happen inside of her.  Jesus is that Day.  The climax of history, and the moment of judgment is now upon Israel, and literally upon Mary, who represents the purified Israel.  So now, within a single verse, Moses and Elijah have appeared.  Moses through the word episkiadzo and Elijah through the word eperkomai.  How does Elijah appear?  He will bring about that great and terrible day, we are told by Malachi in the last two verses of his book.  Before that terrible day of the Lord, the one that is now here, Elijah must appear.  That will be John the Baptist primarily, but Mary in her own way is the prophet of the Day of the Lord.  It comes upon her first of all Israelites.  She is a microcosm of Israel, and the Day comes to her first.  

So the Annunciation is a mini Transfiguration.  Mary is both Moses and Elijah, the great prophets of the Old Testament, inaugurating the Day of the Lord, the New Ark, the rededicated Temple, the New Law, all of these things within herself.  Now that's feminism!  

So how could she possible say Yes to this?  Wasn't she terrified?  I can imagine a terrible struggle going on within her.  On the one hand, she recognizes that something incredible is about to happen.  On the other hand, she will be stigmatized now for life.  Who will believe that she is impregnated by the Holy Spirit?  Now I suppose if Joseph was told by the angel right when Mary conceives that she was pregnant and they marry right away, no one would know that Mary got pregnant before the wedding.  But we don't know that for sure.  Maybe Joseph didn't find out until Mary began to show.  Maybe God tested Joseph and he only found out later.  We don't know if anyone found out.  The whole town may have known and thought that Mary had cheated on her betrothal with Joseph.  And then when they get married, it starts to look like Joseph might have gotten her pregnant, and so now they are marrying to cover it up. I have often wondered if Jesus spent so much time specifically with prostitutes because behind his back growing up, the gossip was that Mary couldn't wait till marriage.  Even though he knew this was not true, maybe he had a special love for the sexually weak.  

In any case, Mary knew that a new and hard life was in for her.  She had to have tremendous trust.  I'm going to steal a passage from Crime and Punishment to wrap up this reflection.  It is one of my favorite parts of the book.  It is when Sonia reads the story of Lazarus from John 11 to Raskolnikov.  I am taking it out of context, but I think it fits in nicely here. Go read the whole section on your own! Raskolnikov is with Sonia, who is preparing to prostitute her body just to make a little money to save her family.  But she also has deep faith, and it is that part I want to highlight in this quote.  Raskolnikov is speaking to himself:  
"And if she has not gone out of her mind... but who says she has not gone out of her mind?  Is she in her senses?  Can one talk, can one reason as she does?  How can she sit on the edge of the abyss of loathsomeness into which she is slipping and refuse to listen when she is told of danger?  Does she expect a miracle?  No doubt she does.  Doesn't that all mean madness?" 
He stayed obstinately at that thought.  He liked that explanation indeed better than any other. He began looking more intently at her.  
"So you pray to God a great deal, Sonia?" he asked her.
Sonia did not speak; he stood beside her waiting for an answer.
"What should I be without God?" she whispered rapidly, forcibly, glancing at him with suddenly flashing eyes and squeezing his hand.  
"Ah, so that is it!" he thought.  
"And what does God do for you?"  he asked, probing her further.
Sonia was silent a long while, as though she could not answer.  Her weak chest kept heaving with emotion. 
"Be silent!  Don't ask!  You don't deserve!" she cried suddenly, looking sternly and wrathfully at him.  
"That's it, that's it" he repeated to himself.
"He does everything," she whispered quickly, looking down again. 
"What should I be without God?  He does everything."  That summarizes the message of Mary. She, like Sonia, was on the brink of something incredible, even terrible.  How could she possibly say Yes to this?  It was beyond her small frame, her youthful age.  Yet that did not matter to her.  The enormity of it was nothing.  Why?  

"He does everything."  

Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

Bishop John D'Arcy on Obama Invitation


by Bishop John D’Arcy, Bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend

March 24, 2009

On Friday, March 21, Father John Jenkins, C.S.C., phoned to inform me that President Obama had accepted his invitation to speak to the graduating class at Notre Dame and receive an honorary degree. We spoke shortly before the announcement was made public at the White House press briefing. It was the first time that I had been informed that Notre Dame had issued this invitation.

President Obama has recently reaffirmed, and has now placed in public policy, his long-stated unwillingness to hold human life as sacred. While claiming to separate politics from science, he has in fact separated science from ethics and has brought the American government, for the first time in history, into supporting direct destruction of innocent human life.

This will be the 25th Notre Dame graduation during my time as bishop. After much prayer, I have decided not to attend the graduation. I wish no disrespect to our President, I pray for him and wish him well. I have always revered the Office of the Presidency. But a bishop must teach the Catholic faith “in season and out of season,” and he teaches not only by his words - but by his actions.

My decision is not an attack on anyone, but is in defense of the truth about human life.

I have in mind also the statement of the U.S. Catholic Bishops in 2004. “The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.” Indeed, the measure of any Catholic institution is not only what it stands for, but also what it will not stand for.

I have spoken with Professor Mary Ann Glendon, who is to receive the Laetare Medal. I have known her for many years and hold her in high esteem. We are both teachers, but in different ways. I have encouraged her to accept this award and take the opportunity such an award gives her to teach.

Even as I continue to ponder in prayer these events, which many have found shocking, so must Notre Dame. Indeed, as a Catholic University, Notre Dame must ask itself, if by this decision it has chosen prestige over truth.

Tomorrow, we celebrate as Catholics the moment when our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, became a child in the womb of his most holy mother. Let us ask Our Lady to intercede for the university named in her honor, that it may recommit itself to the primacy of truth over prestige.
Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Marching on Mason Slidell and All Other Infidels

I just have to post this picture. It makes me look so holy. And don't worry, this is the only time I wear a cassock, when I'm doing sodality/CLC events. This is an 8th grade group and we pray a rosary every Friday together. Very impressive gang of boys. Keep us in your prayers.

Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

Obama at Notre Dame

The Cardinal Newman Society has begun a petition to Notre Dame president Fr. John Jenkins, CSC not to allow Obama to give the commencement at Notre Dame:
“It is an outrage and a scandal that ‘Our Lady’s University,’ one of the premier Catholic universities in the United States, would bestow such an honor on President Obama given his clear support for policies and laws that directly contradict fundamental Catholic teachings on life and marriage,” the petition reads.
I tend to waffle on this one, but I don't think inviting the President of the United States is an outrage or scandal for a Catholic University. Other offices, sure, an argument can be made there. But the President is a symbol of national unity and of one's country, and I don't think the culture war for life will be won by this form of entrenchment policy. Rather, the pro-life movement will win its cause when it can reach out to the president, work with him, and also challenge him. Notre Dame should issue a clear statement that it does not agree with Obama's pro-choice policies and positions. The university can call on him to change his positions in a statement, but can also welcome him, I think, as President of the United States. Inviting him to speak is not the same as an endorsement of his policies. I don't think the tension between prophetic witness and striving for common ground is necessarily compromised by this invitation.

Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

In Solidarity With Gaza

From Gaza.  Let us keep them in our prayers this Lent.  I think I'll join this priest in giving up bread.  We must show some form of solidarity with this awful situation.  The full text of the letter is here:
I summarize my letter to you by lifting our suffering to God and to you. Our people in Gaza are treated like animals in a zoo, they eat but remain hungry, they cry, but no one wipes their tears. There is no water, no electricity, no food, but fear, terror and blockade … Yesterday the bakery refused to give me bread. The reason being that the baker refused to feed me with flour that is not worthy of humans so that he will not disrespect my priesthood. The good flour had finished, and what flour he had was inappropriate for human consumption. I have avowed to not eat bread for the duration of this war.

We want you to raise your continuous prayers to God, and not to hold a mass or service without remembering the suffering of Gaza before God. I am sending short messages from the Bible to our parishioners to increase the hope in their hearts. We have all agreed to pray this prayer at the top of every hour: “O Lord of peace rain peace on us, O Lord of peace, grant peace to our land. Have mercy, O Lord, on your people and do not keep us in enmity forever. Please stand with us now and sing this prayer with us.
Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Human Dignity: Beyond Mathematics, Logic & Scientific Experimentation

Some wonderful words of the Holy Father from his address to Cameroon's Muslim Community.
Cameroon is home to thousands of Christians and Muslims, who often live, work and worship in the same neighborhood. Both believe in one, merciful God who on the last day will judge mankind (cf. Lumen Gentium, 16). Together they bear witness to the fundamental values of family, social responsibility, obedience to God’s law and loving concern for the sick and suffering. By patterning their lives on these virtues and teaching them to the young, Christians and Muslims not only show how they foster the full development of the human person, but also how they forge bonds of solidarity with one’s neighbors and advance the common good.

My friends, I believe a particularly urgent task of religion today is to unveil the vast potential of human reason, which is itself God’s gift and which is elevated by revelation and faith. Belief in the one God, far from stunting our capacity to understand ourselves and the world, broadens it. Far from setting us against the world, it commits us to it. We are called to help others see the subtle traces and mysterious presence of God in the world which he has marvelously created and continually sustains with his ineffable and all-embracing love. Although his infinite glory can never be directly grasped by our finite minds in this life, we nonetheless catch glimpses of it in the beauty that surrounds us. When men and women allow the magnificent order of the world and the splendour of human dignity to illumine their minds, they discover that what is "reasonable" extends far beyond what mathematics can calculate, logic can deduce and scientific experimentation can demonstrate; it includes the goodness and innate attractiveness of upright and ethical living made known to us in the very language of creation.
Mason Slidell

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The End of Civil Marriage

Same sex marriage is on the march. It is the law in Connecticut and Massachusetts, with Vermont very likely to follow in the next few months. Some variation of same sex civil unions are the law in the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont and Washington. The big enchiladas of California and New York seem to be only a matter of time.

I am ready to advocate for a political compromise in order to salvage what remains. The state can issue a civil union license to any two individuals regardless of gender. Civil marriage would cease to exist. The term is an odd construction anyway. After all, there is no such thing as civil baptism or civil anointing of the sick. But beyond that, the battle for the preservation of civil covenant marriage is dead. Though the murderer is not proponents of same sex marriage, but the blunderers who allowed for no fault civil divorce beginning in the 1960s. Heterosexual men and women who wanted easy commitment and even easier disillusionment dealt the fatal blow to civil covenant marriage.

The enduring legacy of the no fault generation has been the political indoctrination that marriage is just another contract, nothing more and nothing less. Natural Law appeals to the teleological order of the family or a rights/duties ethic are completely beside the point. The American understanding of a right is simply the evolving standard of what society in the given moment sees as inalienable. The longer we have tolerated the debasing of marriage to mere contract, the more momentum built (especially among the young) to see nothing whatsoever wrong with easy marriage for everyone as a civil right.

The Christian approach to dealing with homosexuality has only exacerbated the problem. When it comes to homosexuality, many Christians lose their common sense and devolve into irrational fear. Instead of dealing calmly with the moral and cultural issues like we would deal with any other matter of sin or imperfection, we instead held the homosexual in pure disgust. We advanced the ludicrous notions that all homosexual men want to molest boys or that homosexuals are twisted, vile perverts living on the outskirts of society. It became the greatest of all sins to be ostracized because of the bile that ran through their black hearts. How stupid! As the homosexual rights movement mainstreamed in the 1980s and 1990s, young people (especially my generation) found out that our parents had lied to us. Homosexuals were as normal as any of us. They had jobs and were influential members of society and even sometimes had a sense of humor! Not only that, but we found out that they were our brothers and sisters and cousins and life-long friends and we were horrified to learn that they had suffered physical and emotional abuse because we tolerated them being labeled as something a little less than human. By distorting who homosexuals actually are (that is normal, fallen people who are in need of Christ and the Church), Christian parents laid the foundation for the young's rejection of their teachings about homosexuality.

Our energy is ill spent defending civil marriage from homosexuals, especially since we do not defend it from heterosexuals. As part of the compromise for universal civil union license, a law would also be passed that would require respect for the decision of many churches, synagogues and mosques not to grant religious ceremonies for homosexual unions. And hopefully an added benefit would be for religious organizations to encourage the couples that it marries to have stricter civil union contracts with the hope of giving greater opportunity for the stability of the marriage.

In the future, I hope we learn the lesson that demonizing in order to alleviate irrational fears will always distort our ability and credibility to teach truth in love.

Mason Slidell

Monday, March 16, 2009

Faith and Science: A Question

I have a question in the realm of theology and science.  Perhaps one of you can help me.  I am a teacher of sacred scripture, and one of my intentions while teaching the book of Genesis is to instill in my students the idea that there is no contradiction between faith and science, the myths that make up the creation accounts, and evolutionary accounts of the origins of life.  I have many ways of doing this.  One is to explain that the word "day" in Hebrew, "yom" frequently means several other periods of time for Hebrew speakers as it means 24 hours. Also, the mythic poem that makes up Genesis 1 actually follows our understanding of the evolving formation of the universe, progressing from the creation of inanimate forms, to vegetative life, to animal life, and finally human life.  No contradiction there.  I also point to the second creation account beginning in Genesis 2:4b, and how the author speaks of God taking from the muck of the earth.  Why are we ok with being formed from muck but not from an ape ancestor?  If we understand that muck to be a reference to a nonhuman ancestral life form, then we can reconcile the idea of evolution with God breathing his spirit, an immortal soul, into them, thus separating them from other creatures like them.  So far so good.  

My question is with the idea of one Adam and one Eve.  My text book makes it very clear that the Church teaches that all human beings descend from one set of human parents who sinned, thereby passing on to all of their descendants the original deprivation we call original sin.  This teaching is taken primarily from the encyclical letter Humani Generis, which as far as I know has never been revoked as teaching.  In particular, one paragraph applies here:
37. When, however, there is question of another conjectural opinion, namely polygenism, the children of the Church by no means enjoy such liberty. For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains that either after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parent of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents. Now it is in no way apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled with that which the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the Teaching Authority of the Church propose with regard to original sin, which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam and which, through generation, is passed on to all and is in everyone as his own.
Apparently, we cannot accept polygenism to be true.  But if this is the case, I feel faced with several dilemmas.  First, if we are unwilling to allow for multiple sets of first parents who sinned, then how did the human race progress?  The usual fundamentalist answer goes something like this: Many rabbinic sources claim that Adam and Eve had 30 children.  These children married one another and eventually spread out across the known world.  There is as yet no prohibition against incest, so this was not an issue, since the very idea of incest was impossible when you are the only human beings alive.  The difficult scripture passage usually raised against this position comes from Genesis 4:16:
Cain then left the LORD'S presence and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden. Cain had relations with his wife, and she conceived and bore Enoch.
It appears that Cain leaves and finds another wife.  Thus, there must have been other human beings alive.  But that is easy to answer, I suppose, by pointing out that the text never says that Cain found a wife in Nod.  It says he left and settled in Nod and then slept with his wife.  It is just as plausible that he took her with him as that he found one in Nod.  No problem there it seems.

But the problem is that this has a hard time squaring with evolutionary theory. According to basic Darwinian evolution, evolution effects gene pools and therefore groups of populations. According to a general understanding of the theory:
The more orthodox definition of evolution is as a change in the gene pool of a population over time. The gene pool is the set of all genes in a species or population. In defining evolution as a change in the gene pool it means that evolution is a population level phenomena. Therefore, only groups of organisms evolve. Individual organisms do not evolve.
Francis Collins agrees in discussing this point in his book, The Language of God:
Genetic analyses suggest that approximately ten thousand ancestors gave rise to the entire population of 6 billion humans on the planet.  How, then, does one blend these scientific observations with the story of Adam and Eve?  In the first place, the biblical texts themselves seem to suggest that there were other humans present at the same time that Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden.
He goes on to mention the case of Cain and his wife.  So, is there a real disagreement between faith and science here?  Humani Generis, consistent with Catholic teaching on the question, reaffirms: 
Whatever new truth the sincere human mind is able to find, certainly cannot be opposed to truth already acquired, since God, the highest Truth, has created and guides the human intellect, not that it may daily oppose new truths to rightly established ones, but rather that, having eliminated errors which may have crept in, it may build truth upon truth in the same order and structure that exist in reality, the source of truth.
Is this one of those case?  There have been quite a few reformable declarations made by the Holy See that have been modified over time.  The case of Dignitatis Humanae at Vatican II could be considered one.  This was not a rupture with past teaching, but a coming to terms with a different historical understanding of the consistent teaching of the Church concerning religious freedom of conscience in a different world situation.  Another example could be the prohibitions against positions such that Isaiah may have been written by three authors.  For a time, the Church made this declaration, presumably to protect the holy scriptures from being interpreted out of relevance.  But over time, a more balanced approach to discoveries concerning multiple authors was reached.  So is this one of those cases?  Can we say that we understand the first chapters of Genesis to no longer prohibit an understanding of a group of first human ancestors who all fell into sin, and that Adam and Eve represent "Man" and Woman" as a group who at the dawn of time fell away from God?  Otherwise, how do we reconcile faith and science in this very concrete case?  It seems to me that it is such concrete cases that we must be able to answer to show that Truth is truly One.  

Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

Friday, March 13, 2009

Neoliberalism: Boooo

Stanley Fish on neoliberalism. Which he actually endorses. But he also makes a good argument against it. Read the whole thing here.
What I’ve learned (and what some readers of this column no doubt already knew) is that neoliberalism is a pejorative way of referring to a set of economic/political policies based on a strong faith in the beneficent effects of free markets. Here is an often cited definition by Paul Treanor: “Neoliberalism is a philosophy in which the existence and operation of a market are valued in themselves, separately from any previous relationship with the production of goods and services . . . and where the operation of a market or market-like structure is seen as an ethic in itself, capable of acting as a guide for all human action, and substituting for all previously existing ethical beliefs.” (“Neoliberalism: Origins, Theory, Definition.”)

In a neoliberal world, for example, tort questions — questions of negligence law — are thought of not as ethical questions of blame and restitution (who did the injury and how can the injured party be made whole?), but as economic questions about the value to someone of an injury-producing action relative to the cost to someone else adversely affected by that same action. It may be the case that run-off from my factory kills the fish in your stream; but rather than asking the government to stop my polluting activity (which would involve the loss of jobs and the diminishing of the number of market transactions), why don’t you and I sit down and figure out if more wealth is created by my factory’s operations than is lost as a consequence of their effects?

As Ronald Coase put it in his classic article, “The Problem of Social Cost” (Journal of Law and Economics, 1960): “The question to be decided is: is the value of the fish lost greater or less than the value of the product which the contamination of the stream makes possible?” If the answer is more value would be lost if my factory were closed, then the principle of the maximization of wealth and efficiency directs us to a negotiated solution: you allow my factory to continue to pollute your stream and I will compensate you or underwrite the costs of your moving the stream elsewhere on your property, provided of course that the price I pay for the right to pollute is not greater than the value produced by my being permitted to continue.

Notice that “value” in this example (which is an extremely simplified stand-in for infinitely more complex transactions) is an economic, not an ethical word, or, rather, that in the neoliberal universe, ethics reduces to calculations of wealth and productivity. Notice too that if you and I proceed (as market ethics dictate) to work things out between us — to come to a private agreement — there will be no need for action by either the government or the courts, each of which is likely to muddy the waters (in which the fish will still be dying) by introducing distracting moral or philosophical concerns, sometimes referred to as “market distortions.”
Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

Mark Shea on the Fifth Commandment

From here:
Another trick we often use to justify the taking of innocent human life is the Minimum Daily Adult Requirement approach to Catholic moral teaching. This involves that notion that the Ten Commandments describe the uppermost limits of human achievement. So, for instance, when a nation is in the grip of war fever (as ours was in 2003), just war requirements (which are intended to make it extremely difficult to go to war) get treated as a sort of imprimatur and blessing on war, instead of what they are: a set of hard-to-satisfy requirements that aim to fill us with very grave doubts about the wisdom of ever taking this horrible step.

Rather than seeing the just war requirement as a massive restraint intended to remind us of the gravity of war, we labor to jerry-rig arguments (often very specious ones) to show that just war requirements are "satisfied" -- and then, once we have skated past these, we go to war with alacrity and eat popcorn while boasting about the cool "shock and awe" visual effects on the nightly news. Those who are eager to go to war are fairly easy to spot: They tend to be itching to fudge the definitions, to claim that Special Circumstances make it okay to ignore this or that particular criterion, and to be quick to make much the same sort of appeals about the need to bring just war doctrine "up to date" as abortionists do when they talk about "updating" our definitions of "innocent," "human," and "life."
Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

Thursday, March 12, 2009

"The World will look up and shout 'Save us!' And I’ll whisper 'No.'"

I first read Watchmen while in college, shortly after completing another graphic novel by Alan Moore entitled V for Vendetta. I was immediately drawn to its dystopia, initially because of the Nietzschian phase we all go through in college (or was that just me). As I have grown older, I am still a fan of Watchmen and I thought the film adaptation was a wonderfully precise piece of cinema that, frame by frame, captured the gritty essence of the story.

I find that essence to be simple: the superhero cannot save you. Watchmen restores the balance for me in dealing with the superhero phenomenon in American literature. I admit it: I normally have disdain for the superhero genre. The superhero serves as an all too human Savior who has the inner strength and the outer resiliency to face the greatest evil and conquer it. The romantic portrait of humanity makes me gag. I know! I know! I can hear the accusations already – I am revealing my closeted Jansenism. Well I say balderdash! The superhero, in his traditional portrayal, is an anti-Christ. Our human nature is generally corrupt, but not fundamentally corrupt, as the story goes. There is one man (or two or three men or women) who is capable of rising above, nay, conquering this human nature to combat the forces of evil. Is such a thing possible? Well, grace can surely perfect nature, but grace is non-existent in the superhero world. Christian themes are just not present.

And this is why I like Watchmen. Moore takes the genre to its natural end. The Watchmen form as masked vigilantes with the best of intentions, but we all know what the road to hell is paved with (besides the skulls of bishops). The demigod Doctor Manhattan resembles the nonchalant coldness of Zeus. Nite Owl II and Silk Spectre II are adrenaline junkies rendered lifeless (both existentially and sexually) without “crime fighting.” Rorschach is a psychopath yearning for someone to compromise his inability to compromise (and gets his wish). And Ozymandias – well that one is obvious. The only vigilante both aware of his severely deformed character and even slightly remorseful at the end of his life is the Comedian.

It’s all a joke. Absolutely! Salvation of the world by power, murder, elitism and manipulation is very much a joke. This is the redeeming value I find in Watchmen. It is not nihilistic, but bleak and rightly so. It is an examination of our inability to save ourselves and a meditation on our willingness to accept the vilest of horrors in order to gain a little temporary safety.

Mason Slidell

Your Comments, With de Lubac as Model

Well, again I am thankful for many of the comments sent. I know that at least some of us Jesuits have read them and welcome the transparency that they generate among ourselves and those who work with us and know us.

What I am doing in this post is putting together some of the more helpful comments that you sent so that they can be read all together. I want to begin with an e-mail I received and have permission to post here in part. This is from a Jesuit Father in the Philippines, and I was profoundly moved by his e-mail. He informed me first that he knew Fr. de Lubac from his time in Paris, and so I asked him to relate some of his stories from the last days of de Lubac. As you all may know, for both Mason and myself, de Lubac is a model and example of what it means to be a good priest and academic. This e-mail puts us in a position I think to look very seriously at the question of reform and what it means to be a holy priest of God. Thanks to the Jesuit who sent this to me:
Be very demanding with yourself for your intellectual (and spiritual) formation. The Church needs very well trained priests because the secular world is very serious about the formation given to all professions. Read by yourself, it is the best way, since many courses are not consistent or orthodox.
Father de Lubac was indeed a very humble and wonderful man. I started to visit him when I was a young philosophy student at La Sorbonne. At the time, he was not cardinal and had been put aside by the French jesuits who were so liberal, because he was critical about the way the clergy was using wrongly Vatican II to cover up their infidelities. For many years I visited him at least once a week. One of the most touching and impressive memories is when I publicaly defended my doctoral dissertation at La Sorbonne in 1981, just before entering the novitiate. I had informed him about it but I was not expecting him to attend. The defense is a difficult moment, lasting for several hours, under the fire of an agressive jury of professors. It is part of the game. The room was packed. Father de Lubac, suddenly , made his entrance, being late. He was very well known and it impressed the jury in my favour! Such a kind and friendly gesture from this old father, just to show his support to the young lay man I was.

I was not able to attend the ceremony when he was created cardinal since I was a scholastic in the US. For my ordination as a priest, he would have liked to be present, in France, but he just had a stroke from which he never recovered. Little by little he lost his ability to write and to speak. Terrible trial for such a man.

And then, I accompanied him during his last days on earth. He was staying at the Little Sisters of the Poor in Paris. I was a young priest, teaching philosophy at the Seminary of Paray le Monial. When his secretary told me it was the end, I went to Paris to stay with him. He died so peacefully, so well prepared. The funeral was beautiful at Notre Dame, presided by Cardinal Lustiger. He was buried in one of the Jesuit tombs in one of the cemeteries of Paris, near his good friend Cardinal Danielou SJ. I received many items from him after his death : his latin breviary (the one I am using every day), his latin Missal ( I use it to celebrate Holy Mass), his red baretta... I lost a real father. It was one of the greatest friendships I ever experienced in my life. The superiors disliked the fact I was closed to him but it did not, does not affect me. It was such a grace to be close to him.

Real friendship, the one in which you can share your very soul, your spiritual and intellectual interests, is very precious and it can be a gift you will find in the Society of Jesus. I pray that you will have such a grace.
This sent chills down my spine when I first read it. I do have real friendship in the Society, and it is a tremendous gift. But I have also had the very similar experience of being with a close Jesuit friend and mentor, Fr. Rick Thomas, as he was approaching death. The opportunity for us to be taught by our elders in the Society is tremendous. To be that close to such a holy man (de Lubac), a man who was silenced by the Church for a time before he was reinstated as one of the preeminent theologians at Vatican II, what a gift. This was the man who wrote "The Splendor of the Church" while he was silenced. Such an attitude of obedience is something I believe the Jesuits must return to.

Yet let us not forget that first he was silenced. De Lubac was not afraid to do theology, to pursue the truth even when it got him into trouble. These are the "frontiers" that Benedict XVI referred to. Many Jesuits at that time: Danielou, de Lubac, both Rahners, Lonergan, von Balthasar, often vehemently disagreed with one another. Yet at what other time since our founding have we had such intellectual powerhouses? And at what other time have we done such good for the Church, in large part responsible for the aggiornamento of Vatican II. There was a Spirit at work there that was not afraid of disagreement, yet (at least in the case of de Lubac) was willing also to listen to the cautionary words of the Holy Father, even when it was clear that various forms of politics were at play. Such is the human and divine aspect of the Church, the paradox, that he wrote so often about.

Now, to some of your comments:
Let me start with the positive: most Jesuits are not the ideologues that the majority of orthodox Catholics think. Most seem to be fairly middle of the road men, who are happily Catholic, but maybe a little lukewarm. Others, those in love with the Exercises and who promote Ignatian spirituality, are on fire. It's contagious. I mean here Ignatian spirituality in the original sense, ie not reducing the examen to my day's "high and low.
Jesuits are painted in a number of ways, and often it is the most well known ones who give us our reputation, for good or bad. Sadly, this ignores the incredible number of men in this very large order who are serving Christ humbly and faithfully.
Most Jesuits I know do not celebrate Mass daily. They attend one, without even concelebrating. In the biographies of saints, many times it stresses the fact that out of his great devotion he celebrated Mass daily.
I think if the Jesuits put Christ and Eucharist back at the center of things, the rest will follow.
The Mass; the Eucharist. These must be the center of our lives. No one questions that, I don't think. It is a matter of following and applying.
Don't water things down..speak the TRUTH! America makes excuses all the time for behavior...enough! Jesuits are so well educated and are so equipped to teach on Catholic teachings, scripture, etc. To whom much has been given, much will be expected.
We are well equipped, but I think this comment raises a good point. Unfortunately, sometimes this education is used to deconstruct belief rather than to build it up, especially in our institutions of higher education. Deconstruction is at the service of belief, in order to strengthen belief, not to render the poor student with nothing to fall back upon. We can advocate searching in our classrooms without destroying the foundations of faith.
What I think the Jesuits need is a return to the roots of the order, a simplification and a revitalization.

For too many liturgical abuse, decent from church teaching, hostility to the Church and the hierarchy is the norm rather then the exception. Now I am not saying the society as a whole is like this.
Liturgical abuse is rather prevalent in the Society. This was a frequent comment, and the fact that it is widespread is no secret. Without being liturgical nazis, it is important for many Jesuits to realize that most people, at least young people, are not going to mass for a performance. The personality of the priest is not important. Before the reforms in the liturgy, who ever heard of going to this mass or that mass because of the personality of the priest? The liturgy has its own rhythm to it, and that rhythm should drive the priest, not the priest the rhythm.

Sadly, the attitude of hostility toward the hierarchy is also found in the Society. But I do believe that dialogue is possible without dissent, and many of you point to this need in the Jesuits. We must stop appearing as a rival magisterium, and more as an Order of service to the mission of the Church.
From my own experience: most Jesuits are straight and usually we are too busy being Jesuits to be having long discussions of what people's sexual preferences are. The focus on this issue doesn't relate to my lived experience.
Enough of the silliness about the "gay mafia" running the Jesuits. Let's get on with the work of the Gospel.
Later, although I did not believe in Christ, I picked up a used copy of Ignatius exercises to give to my mother given that it accorded with her beliefs. Yet I was compelled to read it. Could not wait to get home. It was then, when I opned it and started reading, that Christ unequivocably manifested himself. I was not expecting this.
The Spiritual Exercises are the heart and soul of the Jesuits. Proficiency by each and every Jesuit in offering the spirituality of the Exercises is a must.
Jesuit bashing is often a favourite pasttime of some diocesan seminarians and priests. It is unfortuate, precisely because there are just so many good Jesuits.
Please, all you diocesan seminarians out there. I know you love bashing Jesuits. But please, keep it good humored. Otherwise people believe you and think we are evil. Let's work together to humbly build up the Church. I don't mind good-humored bashing, but much that I got at Steubenville and now from diocesan seminarians is not good-humored.
For the new Jesuits, the best thing that you can do for your community and the church is to perservere, striving to be the best Jesuit you possibly can be.
Once upon a time, the “learned clergy” was a cornerstone of the Church and could be found throughout the US. Nowadays because of the crunch to get priests into parishes, if a bishop can afford to send his priests for anything beyond the M.Div. (a professional degree, not an academic one), he sends his brightest to get canon law degrees (likewise professional and not intellectual) so that they can serve on tribunals. I don’t mean to cast aspersions on congregations or dioceses, I just mean to highlight an important commitment that the Society of Jesus.
I’ve been disheartened too many times by Jesuits who dabble in this and dabble in that and who developed a kind of entitlement about what they deserve and what they ought to be allowed to do. This sense of entitlement comes off very poorly among lay people who don’t have the straightforward resources like money and time at their disposal the way Jesuits do.
Self-entitlement is a great problem among those who consider themselves elite, and sadly, that spirit is still found in the ranks of Jesuits, especially toward the hierarchy. Many of you mentioned this as well. We must be the humble, poor men that the Exercises call us to be.
I think the Jesuits need to reform in the same way the Redemptorist (my Congregation) and many others need to reform: by returning to our charisms as expressed by our founders in our individual original rules. We were all founded for a particular reason and we fulfilled that reason, more or less, until the chaos of the 60's of which the changes in the Church are only a part.
Let's get to our task of combatting atheism and building bridges of dialogue around the world.
There is a culture of abuse in our Church, and by that I don't just mean 'only' sexual abuse. It comes from the left and the right, takes on various forms and postures and infects from many sides, attacks the Spirit, attempts to fragment and push Christians and non Christians away from Jesus Christ.
This culture of abuse, from both the Left and the Right, results in a lot of hard feelings among Catholics. Just as Republicans and Democrats are increasingly forming into ghettoes around the U.S., so too Catholics. Less and less I feel are people who disagree talking with one another about their differences, accepting criticism, and trying hard to enter into the perspective, the skin, of the other, as Atticus tells us in "To Kill a Mockingbird." With this attitude, the Church will remain visibly fragmented, even if ontologically One.
Not only the Jesuits need to return to the personal encounter with Christ in the Eucharist and to approach Him with absolute humility, sincerity and the willingness to place Him and the ALL of the mandates of his gospel above all things, if we are to remain the salt of the earth.

Jesuits are great when the faith is strong and they have a legitimate target to attack. But like any great weapon if they develop a fault in their guidance system they can be incredibly self-destructive. In my opinion their greatest fault lies in their unwillingness to take criticism and criticise each other.
Our target is not one another or certain kinds of Catholics. Our target is not human persons, but rather one person, the devil and his angels, and the ideas they disseminate.
In my part of the world, at times the Jesuits appeared to be more interested in creating assembly lines for the production of a Catholic middle class than in the salvation of their charges. Never mind the heavy stuff like the mystical nature of the Eucharist; the basics like knowing the difference between right and wrong seemed less valuable than being proficient in the game of Rugby Union. As Chesterton wrote, we Christians have known all along that a duke might be damned - at times, it felt as if you would be damned if you didn't achieve good exam results, or perform well in the Glasgow University Bursary Competition. This was the priority.
This is another criticism I have heard from many corners. It is not always justified, but may often be. There is a great story told about Father Rick Thomas when he was a Regent. He took one of his classes of students to the race track to look at how the race horses were cared for. They had their stables cleaned out several times daily, were groomed regularly, and extremely well fed. Then he took them to some projects to see how people there lived. The lesson was not lost. With that kind of education we can't go wrong. At least if we keep churning out lawyers and doctors, they will have the option for the poor at heart.
I think that the Jesuits are victims of a dissonance (largely of their own making) between public expectations and the reality of their vocations. To many American Catholics, even (or perhaps particularly) among those with no personal experience with members of the order, the perception of the Society of Jesus is still that of an elite cadre, the "Navy Seals" of the religious. They train for decades to become black belts in theology, philosophy, and science; they have profound mystical insights derived from intense spiritual exercises; they mold children into men; and they are zealous in their defense of Mother Church. Of course, even the most casual acquaintance of an actual Jesuit priest knows that this is a grossly inadequate caricature.
We are just men trying to serve Christ according to our charism. At this time, there is still a lot of recovery taking place. But the above comment is a common experience that many Jesuits resent and others foster.
So, the crisis is not one of the Jesuits failing absolutely at their mission -- although the astute comments here reveal places where improvements can be made. If the church is semper reformanda, then so are the orders of religious.
Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Economics Benedict Style

If you have not read this, you need to read it. We have long anticipated Benedict's new social encyclical, and unfortunately, it has been postponed again. But maybe some of the nuggets have been leaked out in a recent dialogue that took place on February 26. Here it is (along with my interruptions).

Pope Benedict’s response to Fr. Giampero Ialongo during a talk with the priests of the Diocese of Rome in Vatican City, February 26, 2009:
[...] I would distinguish two levels. The first is the macroeconomic, which realizes itself and reaches the last citizen, who feels the effects of a mistaken construction. Naturally, it is the duty of the Church to denounce this. As you know, for a long time we have been preparing an encyclical on these points. And on the long road I see how difficult it is to speak with competence, but if it is not undertaken with competence, a certain [assessment of] economic reality cannot be credible. And on the other hand, it is also necessary to speak with a great ethical awareness, let’s say [one] created and awoken by a conscience formed by the Gospel. So there is a need to denounce these fundamental errors that are now shown in the fall of large American banks, basic errors. In the end, it is human greed as a sin, or, as the Letter to Colossians says, greed as idolatry. We must denounce this idolatry that is against the true God, and the falsification of the image of God as another God, “mammon.” We have to do it with courage but also with concreteness. Because great moralism does not help if it is not based on an understanding of realities, which helps also to understand what can be done concretely to change the situation. And naturally, to be able to do this, the knowledge of this truth and the good will of all are necessary.
The Pope raises a strong challenge to those who would attempt to fix the current economic problem. It will not be easy, and the tools required by the physicians must be more than just economic theory. First, an awareness that maybe there are fundamental flaws in the whole construct. Second, economic competence. Third, great ethical awareness. A truly formed conscience with great ethical sensitivity. Fourth, knowledge of truth and good will. Not an easy set of qualities to find in many people.
Here we are at a crucial point: does original sin really exist? If it doesn’t, we can make an appeal to clear reason, with arguments that are accessible and incontestable to each, and to the good will that exists in everyone. In this simple way we can progress well and reform humanity. But it is not so: reason — even ours — is darkened; we see this everyday. Because egoism, the root of greed, is to want the whole world for myself. It exists in all of us. This is the darkening of reason: it can be very learned, with beautiful scientific arguments, and it can even be darkened by false premises. So it goes with great intelligence and with great steps forward along mistaken roads. We can also say that the will is bent, as the Fathers say: it is not simply ready to do the good but seeks itself above all or the good of its own group. So to actually find the road of reason, of true reason, is not an easy thing; it develops itself in a dialogue. Without the light of faith, which enters in the darkness of original sin, reason cannot progress. But faith meets the resistance of our will, which doesn’t want to see the road that is also a road of renunciation of itself and a correction of the will in favor of the other and not for itself.
This paragraph is the heart of the matter. We cannot, says Benedict, "make an appeal to clear reason, with arguments that are accessible and incontestable to each." What? Is this the Pope of the Regensburg lecture? Yes, but remember, a very balanced and brilliant Pope. When speaking to Islam, Benedict emphasized the importance of reason in the pursuit of truth. Indeed, there is no such thing as faith without reason, since it is reason itself that gives assent to the propositions of faith based upon certain premises (historical, cultural, familial, etc), whether or not Islam will admit to this.

But there is also, according to Benedict, no reason without faith. Every act of reason is a decision made a.) with insufficient knowledge, since we are beings limited by space and time, and b.) by an act of interpretation of the meaning of various pieces of information data, and c.) dependent, in the situation of the human social condition, on the testimony of others. This last one is the most important one. All human reason is based on testimony, which colors every act of reason that we make. And so, reason does not have a firm foundation of its own. Human reason is finite and culturally conditioned. And even worse, it is clouded by Original Sin.

So, just as Benedict spoke to Islam about the need for Reason, he speaks to Economists and proponents of various forms of Globalization; to Neo-Conservatives and to those who still believe that history has come to an end; to all Neo-Hegelian Rationalists: "In this simple way we can progress well and reform humanity. But it is not so." Sadly, it is not so. Or else we have no need for a Savior. "Because egoism, the root of greed, is to want the whole world for myself." Aristotle already told us as much: "the soul is, in a sense, all things." The soul, in an act of knowledge, takes in the universal form of a thing, and thus becomes all things. Does this then mean that God gave us an imperfect spiritual and intellectual structure to work with? No.

What happened was a reversal. The body is taught to absorb all things to itself. This is how it preserves itself in existence. It takes other material things, and it turns them into itself. But Reason in the soul is to turn itself into other things. It is to become all things, not absorb all things into itself. That would be Kantian reason: to create all things into the image and likeness of my mental categories. But the Thomistic model is for the mind to become all things. Because of Original Sin, the proper activity of the mind, to essentially be an inbuilt tool of Solidarity, has instead been usurped by the the lower part of the person (by the material rather than the personal), and turned into an instrument of absorption. And because the Will is also darkened, it can do nothing to direct Reason away from attempting to control all things, absorb all things. "It can be very learned, ... and be darkened by false premises." Left to itself, Reason does not know where to begin. Reason cannot simply know the Truth.

"We can also say that the will is bent, as the Fathers say: it is not simply ready to do the good but seeks itself above all or the good of its own group. So to actually find the road of reason, of true reason, is not an easy thing; it develops itself in a dialogue. Without the light of faith, which enters in the darkness of original sin, reason cannot progress." The Will seeks the good of its own group. Evolution requires it to be so. And so the soul, created directly by God, gets usurped into the evolutionary model when Original Sin comes along. To find the role of Reason, then, paradoxically requires dialogue and Faith. Reason cannot begin reflection by sitting in front of a fire (unfortunately), Cartesian style. Philosophy is not a solipsistic enterprise. Kant never traveled more than 60 miles from his home his whole life. And it is reflected in his philosophy. The fact that Descartes developed his philosophy while sitting alone is also reflected in his thought. Without dialogue, truth cannot be found. Reason is too limited. Faith, paradoxically in our world, opens Reason up to become all things by alerting it to its universal pretensions, not to absorb all, but to become all. The act of understanding is an act of service, not an act of domination. True Reason must be cruciform, stretching out its arms to enfold the whole world. A true act of Reason is, as Paul says, to become "all things to all men." Faith also meets the resistance of the Will, and helps it to see the Good which it seeks as outside of its own group and its own selfish desires and as residing in the good of the other, and the Other, as a whole.
So I would say that we need the reasonable and reasoned denunciation of errors, not with great moralism, but with concrete reasons that are understandable in the world of today’s economy. The denunciation of these errors is important; it has always been a mandate for the Church. We know that in the new situation created by the industrial world, Catholic social doctrine, beginning with Leo XIII, seeks to make these denunciations — and not only denunciations, which are not sufficient — but also to show the difficult roads where, step by step, the assent of reason, the assent of the will, together with the correction of my conscience, the will to renounce in a certain sense myself in order to collaborate with the true meaning of human life and humanity, are required.
Economists must take up their crosses as well.
Having said this, the Church always has the duty to be vigilant, to search with all its might to discover what is the reason of the economic world, to enter into this reasoning and illuminate it with faith which liberates us from the egoism of original sin. It is the duty of the Church to enter into this discernment, into this reasoning, to make itself heard — also at different national and international levels — in order to help and correct. And this is not easy work, because many personal and national group interests oppose a radical correction. Maybe it is pessimism but it seems realistic to me: so long as there is original sin we will never arrive at a radical and total correction. Still we must do everything toward at least provisional corrections, enough to let humanity live and to block the domination of egoism, which presents itself under the pretenses of science and the national and international economy.
Sure, I don't think the Pope is going to come out and say: "Listen, an economic model that is no longer wedded to self-interest and the profit motive is one that I advocate." Most Catholic economists would become atheists. As would most Catholic businessmen. However, to likewise claim that the Pope has no problem with an economics of enlightened self-interest, but only with greed, is naive and a misreading. This is a common claim of the Theo-Conservatives. But Benedict makes it clear here that he is looking for a "radical correction" of a "mistaken construction" as he says in the first line of the response, provisional as this correction may always have to be. This correction must "block the domination of egoism," which is stimulated, as he has already said, by Reason under Original Sin. Let us get this straight. Under Original Sin: Reason = Ego = Greed = Domination = Pretense (at the service of manipulation by the most powerful). I don't see how we can avoid this reading of Benedict here. Therefore, "enlightened self-interest" (read: "rational" self-interest) is masked egoism under Original Sin. Authentic solidarity will have no place in this model; only absorption to the ego. And since relationships are never devoid of power dynamics, self-interest is all about manipulation of the other. Such is the Gift-Structure of humans under Sin. It becomes an Absorption-Structure. Pseudo-Dionysusian self-difussion loses out. The formula must instead be: faithful self-interest (with the interest of the truly rational self being the interest of the whole, since this is the ultimate goal of reason). Only a cruciform economics will acknowledge that power distorts the equality of the self-interested market and will never allow it to be truly Free.
This is the first level. The other is to be realists. And to see that these great objectives of marcoscience are not realized in microscience — marcoeconomics in microeconomics — without the conversion of hearts. If there are no just people, there is no justice. We must accept this. So education in justice is a priority, we can also say the priority. Because St. Paul says that justification is the effect of the work of Christ, it is not an abstract concept, regarding sins that do not interest us today, but it refers to justice as a whole. Only God can give us it, but He gives it with our cooperation at different levels, at all possible levels.
So the Jesuits have the right idea at least. We need a faith that does justice, and teaches others to do so. But there is only one person that did justice, and that person was Christ.
Justice cannot be created in the world solely with good economic models, which are necessary. Justice is realized only if there are just people. And there are no just people if there is no humble, daily work that changes hearts and that creates justice in hearts. Only like this is corrective justice spread. Therefore the work of the parish priest is so fundamental, not only for the parish, but also for humanity. Because if there are no just people, as I said, justice remains abstract. And good structures will not be realized if justice is opposed by the egoism of competent people.
Our humble, daily work is fundamental to achieve the great objectives of humanity. And we must work together at all levels. The universal Church must denounce, but also announce what can be done and how it can be done. Episcopal conferences and bishops must act. But all of us must educate in justice. It seems to me that the dialogue of Abraham and God (Genesis 18:22-33) is still true and realistic today, when the former says: Would you really destroy the city? Maybe there are 50 just people, maybe ten just people. And ten people are enough to save the city. Now, if there are not ten, even with all the economic doctrines, society will not survive. So we must do what is necessary to educate and guarantee at least ten just people, but if possible many more. With our call we can make it so that there are ten just people and that justice is truly present in the world.
"Now if there are not ten [just people], even with all the economic doctrines, society will not survive." Wow, I can't say I've read a one-liner that hit me like that in a while. Who but Benedict can take the story of Abraham's dialogue with God and apply it to contemporary global economics? That is good biblical scholarship. And, he returns us to that word again: Dialogue. Reason is non-existent without dialogue. But so is Faith. Faith requires dialogue with God and others, but especially continual dialogue with God in a conversation that constantly threatens our presumptions about his will. We usually call this prayer.
In effect, the two levels are inseparable. If, on one hand, we do not call for macro-justice, the micro does not grow. But, on the other, if we do not perform the very humble work of micro-justice, the macro also does not grow. And always, as I said in my first encyclical, with all systems that can grow in the world, beyond the justice that we seek, charity remains necessary. To open hearts to justice and charity is to educate in the faith, it is to lead to God.

Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

Friday, March 6, 2009


By the way, I just wanted to thank all of you who commented on the need for Jesuit renewal and what forms it should take.  I asked the question for very selfish reasons: because I wanted to know how I need to change in order to meet the needs of God's people.  Nothing quite like having someone else tell you about yourself as a great way to learn a lot at least about how you come across.  And Jesuits don't always come across very well.  

I also think that all the other Jesuits who read this were probably both somewhat chastened, like myself, by your comments, and also heartened by your encouragement.  We are trying to reform. I know this to be true from many many conversations.  But we want to do it right, not accepting a shortcut as the real deal.  The dangers of doing that are apparent in all simple solutions to complicated questions.  Nor is an enforced external uniformity usually the best way to do things. Our uniformity should come, not from ourselves, but from the mission given to us by the one we serve.  So thanks for the patience.  
On the subject of the undivided heart, we have occasion to reflect and be afraid. The undivided heart is a good thing, as long as you love somebody. In fact, a divided heart that loves someone is better than an undivided heart that loves nobody – the latter would actually be undivided egoism. It would mean having one’s heart full, but with the most corrupting thing there is: oneself. Of this type of virgin and celibate, unfortunately none too rare, Charles Peguy has rightly said: ‘Because they do not belong to someone else, they think they belong to God. Because they love no one else, they think that they love God.
Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap, in "Virginity"
Nope, we're always serving someone. And too often we believe we belong to Christ, when we actually belong to "academia" or "the cause of justice" or "orthodoxy." None of those are people.  And part of the problem is that the post-modern world has had as devastating an effect upon Jesuits as upon everyone else.  The Order fragmented.  But the best hope for the Jesuits is not a re-integration through external compulsion -- though correction from Rome is fine, of course.  Lasting change will come simply by belonging to God again, and to nothing else.  At the heart of Ignatian spirituality is freedom from all attachments.  ALL attachments.  To belong to God.  So thanks for your help in pointing this out to us.  I suppose I should move on to new topics now.  Poor Mason has had to put up with my Jesuitical diatribes.  

Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

"Three Jesuits Speak"

I think I may have mentioned somewhere before that "Three Jesuits Speak" by de Lubac is one of my all time favorite spiritual works. Maybe I just read it at a good time, but every time I return to it, it continues to offer depths of insight that particularly help me affectively, opening my heart to new desires. The following long quote is, I think, a good explanation of the whole point of the Spiritual Exercises, as well as the whole goal of the spiritual life, and definitely the goal of Lent. Maybe it will help you.
“Oh my dear friend, I want to give myself to you in a personal way, I want to enrich you, though I am myself so poor, with what is most truly, most inherently myself. It is not my body that I want to surrender to you but rather my soul. But here is an insuperable problem here: I am irremediably walled up in myself: How could the two of us ever be able to say ‘I’ together? Tell me, are we not spiritually imprisoned? Nevertheless, I want to escape into you. My only way to escape is to take possession of what can be possessed in you. I assume your gestures, your expressions, your voice and make them my gestures, my expressions, my voice. I assume your knowledge, what you have read and experienced, your struggles, your falls; I make them my own. And if I delve into your nature like this, my dear friend, as one digs down into a mountain, it is not through covetousness, nor is it because I want to take possession of what I find or to assimilate you into myself. Rather, I am looking for a passageway. I am digging a trench. Please try to understand what I am doing by the very direction my efforts take. I am going from superficial skin into the depths of your soul. If I therefore try to assume your gestures, for example, it is because I really want to reach your heart. And I want to possess you heart in order to take the measure of your desires. And I want to possess your desires only in order to reach you will. And I want to possess your will only in order to reach the source, your freedom, in other words, your person, hidden there at the source. My dear friend, if ever I should succeed in this, if ever I should touch you, bring me into yourself!” Charles Nicolet, SJ, quoted in "Three Jesuits Speak" by Henri de Lubac
Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

The film adaptation of Watchmen is finally here! The reviews are mixed, but Roger Ebert dug it, so I am all in.

Mason Slidell