Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Boycott Bug

What is it, when people boycott a product or service, that they hope to accomplish?  What are the end results of a successful boycott?  There are two possibilities:  1) the person who is responsible for the particular product or service being boycotted loses so much business that he or she is forced to change or 2) the company is destroyed.

Charles Boycott

In the many definitions of the word "boycott" that I found online, the words "coercion" (see also "to combine in abstaining from, or preventing dealings with, as a means of intimidation or coercion"), "punishment," or "force" predominate.

There were several times when Jesus had the option to use force or coercion. The first took place when he went into the desert, after having been baptized in the Jordan River. There he was approached by an affable fellow who suggested three distinct ways in which he could apply his power toward eminently reasonable ends: the end to world hunger, ironclad self-protection, the adulation of all directed where it ought to go. Why did he instead choose physical hunger, vulnerability, and that most fragile and ill-used gift: human freedom?

Later, during his active ministry, Jesus could have either rearranged the thoughts of those who wanted to kill him, or he could have simply forgotten about them for a moment, and they would have vanished. Or think of what it must have been like, his body skewered to the wood by those iron spikes, and his enemies taunting him to save himself if he's so almighty powerful. And he was perfectly capable of doing so, of ending the torment there and then and showing those idiots whom they were mocking.

At the very least, he could have instructed his disciples to boycott the Pharisees, the scribes, and the Romans!

Or after he'd risen from the dead, he could have given some instruction on how to punish those who disagree with you and to force wrong-headed people to change their minds.

Could there be another way to respond to those with whom we disagree, or are coercion and punishment the only options available to us? Somehow, Christianity grew and became an international cultural phenomenon even while those who followed Christ had no power. Somehow, without coercion or punishment, those who came into contact with Christians were convinced.

In place of power, those early Christians had love. Christianity spread, like a raging fire, through envy. People looked at those early followers of Jesus and they wanted the same beautiful lives that they saw the Christians living. More than anything, Christians led attractive lives.

If we want to coerce and punish those with whom we disagree, it means we've given up entirely on Christ's method, which is attraction and embrace.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

What the bishops are on about...

No provision in our Constitution ought to be dearer to man than that which protects the rights of conscience against the enterprises of the civil authority. - Thomas Jefferson, 1809

On Friday, January 27, Bishop David A. Zubik, of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, published a strongly-worded statement concerning the new Health and Human Services mandate, which would force all businesses and institutions with more than 50 employees to offer a government-approved health insurance plan that covers contraceptives, sterilizations, and abortifacients. In his statement, Zubik writes, "Kathleen Sebelius and through her, the Obama administration, have said 'To Hell with You' to the Catholic faithful of the United States." Bishop Zubik is not the only US Catholic bishop to write to condemn the HHS mandate. To date, over one hundred bishops have been documented as writing on this subject.

Are the US bishops venturing into party politics, in a way heretofore unseen? The answer is a firm "no." The US bishops have not suddenly changed their pastoral approach to Pope Paul VI's encyclical Humanae Vitae, which contains the Church's teaching on contraception and birth control, in favor of a political approach. They have written, in a document that seeks to answer the questions of the faithful, that they are concerned with something entirely different: "a law in effect since 1973 says that no individual is required to take part in 'any part of a health service program or research activity funded in whole or in part under a program administered by the Secretary of Health and Human Services' if it is 'contrary to his religious beliefs or moral convictions' (42 USC 300a-7 (d)). Even the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, which requires most of its health plans to cover contraception, exempts religiously-affiliated plans and protects the conscience rights of health professionals in the other plans. Currently, no federal law requires anyone to purchase, sell, sponsor, or be covered by a private health plan that violates his or her conscience." The US bishops, therefore, are concerned with the freedom of conscience, first of all; the Catholic objection to the new HHS mandate does not concern this or that group's decision to use contraception but rather over a principle that is almost as old as the Church herself: libertas ecclesiae or the freedom of the Church to govern herself.

In the year 311 AD, the Roman emperor Galerius, who had persecuted Christians throughout his reign, signed the "Edict of Toleration" or the "Edict of Serdica," which acknowledged that the Christians had been a "very tough nut to crack": "[Christians had] followed such a caprice and had fallen into such a folly that they would not obey the institutes of antiquity" and were for this reason, granted an indulgence; the edict further stated: "Wherefore, for this our indulgence, they ought to pray to their God for our safety, for that of the republic, and for their own, that the commonwealth may continue uninjured on every side, and that they may be able to live securely in their homes" (Edict of Toleration). With this capitulation, the Roman government guaranteed religious freedom, not just for Christians, but for every religion. Two years later, this universal religious liberty was spelled out in the "Edict of Milan" (313 AD) by the Emperor Constantine, who wrote: "Ut daremus et christianis et omnibus liberam potestam sequendi religionem quam quisque voluisset," which translated, means: “In order to give Christians and all others the power to follow the religion each one wants” (the emphasis is mine). It is important to note that this edict, set forth by the newly-converted Christian Constantine, offered freedom to "omnibus, all others."

Since 313 AD, the history of this principle, libertas ecclesiae, has provided both Church and various states to engage in the process of "fathoming to its depths the profundity of the word freedom, recognizing the inalienable space of the conscience, and laying the foundations for future Western civilization," explained Dr. Marta Sordi, the chair of Ancient History at the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Milan for over twenty years and author of two volumes on the subject of the early Church, in an interview with Stefano Zurlo.

The United States was founded by people who believed passionately in freedom of religion. The first Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, in the Bill of Rights (December 15, 1791), states, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...". This concept did not spring from the Founding Fathers' imaginations but was rather the fruit of the reflection and experience of generations of thinkers, which took place over the course of almost two millennia. Now that the freedom of religion has been codified and written into law, no citizen of the United States, not even the President, has the right to violate the freedom of conscience of any church or individual in America. As Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York and President of the United States Conference of Catholic bishops (USCCB) writes, "Never before has the federal government forced individuals and organizations to go out into the marketplace and buy a product that violates their conscience. This shouldn’t happen in a land where free exercise of religion ranks first in the Bill of Rights" (video, released January 20th).

The USCCB has prepared a very clearly written, two-page document that addresses certain misunderstandings that have arisen as a result of the Catholic Church's response to the new HHS mandate. Here is one example of a question the document addresses, followed the bishops' response to that question: "Do religious employers violate the consciences of women who want birth control, by refusing to cover it in their employee heath plans? Answer: No, they simply decline to provide active support for procedures that violate their own consciences. If an employee disagrees, he or she can simply purchase that coverage or those procedures elsewhere."

The United States bishops have been galvanized by an injustice perpetrated by the US Department of Health and Human Services and thus by the man who has ultimate responsibility for its decisions: President Obama. Their outrage is in response to the threat to libertas ecclesiae and in no way signals a new or different approach to promulgating Humanae Vitae in the United States. By suggesting that employees of Catholic institutions and dioceses should be free to purchase contraception elsewhere, the Church is defending the consciences of its employees and members by allowing them the freedom to choose good or evil.

In 2007, the USCCB published a document titled, "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizens" that has been under attack by some, including bishops (notably Bishop Joseph Martino and Bishop Charles Chaput) for containing "several passages (Sections 34-37) that are capable of overly-broad interpretation," wrote Deal Hudson for the Catholic Advocate. The USCCB, however, has decided not to revise the document for the 2012 election. Bishop Stephen Blaire, chair of the bishops' Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, told the National Catholic Reporter that he had canvassed several chairs of other bishops' committees and found, "No one said the document needs to be scrapped. There was from the beginning a consensus to work with the text that had been approved in 2007."

Bishop Zubik's statement includes this passage, "A million things are wrong with this: equating pregnancy with disease: mandating that every employer pay for contraception procedures including alleged contraceptives that are actually abortion-inducing drugs; forcing American citizens to choose between violating their consciences or providing health care services; mandating such coverage on every individual woman without allowing her to even choose not to have it; forcing every person to pay for that coverage no matter the dictates of their conscience." He attacks the mandate, though, and not the political party to which the president belongs. He rallies his readers to political action: writing letters to every appropriate political leader, voicing outrage; but he does not tell the members of his diocese how to vote in the next election. He is following the same principle that caused the bishops of the USCCB to unanimously support "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizens." Bishop Blaire, when explaining his support for "Forming Consciences," clarified, "We had to remind people that this is not a voter guide. I am very strongly committed to the idea that it is not the role of the Church to tell people how to vote. Our role is to provide some moral perspective so people can form their moral conscience." Bishop Blaire's distinction is one that both liberal and conservative Catholics should ponder with care. The Church's role is first and foremost to proclaim Jesus Christ and to witness to His presence among us, and Jesus, speaking to his followers, gave the principles that allow us true freedom: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted..." (Mt 5).

- first published on

How good and how pleasant


Here is a fascinating account of the Assumption of Mary from an apocryphal text attributed to Joseph of Arimathaea. What strikes me the most in this text is the way that Thomas receives a pretty harsh rebuke from St. Peter: "And seeing and kissing each other, the blessed Peter said to him: Truly thou hast always been obdurate and unbelieving, because for thine unbelief it was not pleasing to God that thou shouldst be along with us at the burial of the mother of the Saviour."

Now, if it were me, I think I might have said something like: "Come on, Pete! I repented of that. Get over it already! You wouldn't want me to be constantly reminding you of how you denied our Lord, would you? Besides, you don't know what you're talking about, because I might not have been with the rest of you at that burial, but I witnessed something pretty darn amazing myself..."

But dear Thomas only responds thus: "And he, beating his breast, said: 'I know and firmly believe that I have always been a bad and an unbelieving man; therefore I ask pardon of all of you for my obduracy and unbelief.' And they all prayed for him."

This is how I want to respond, too! It's so much more attractive, so honest, so much saner. And so counter-cultural, I might add!

And then the whole truth comes out, and Thomas is vindicated: "And the apostles seeing the belt which they had put about her, glorifying God, all asked pardon of the blessed Thomas, on account of the benediction which the blessed Mary had given him, and because he had seen the most holy body going up into heaven."

What did Thomas say to this? Did he proclaim, in triumph, "Ah, see! I'm not so bad after all! I'm just as cool as the rest of you... You better never look down on me again, because I rock!"? No, the text says, simply, "And the blessed Thomas gave them his benediction, and said: 'Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!'"

Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!

Dearest St. Thomas, please pray for all of us because if we want to dwell together in unity, so much needs to be sacrificed! Help me to be this in love with destiny, Lord!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Don Luigi Giussani 1922-2005

Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. (John 12:24)

Five years ago, when I had heard that Monsignor Luigi Giussani had died, my first thought was, "Oh, good; now I can meet him."

I hope that this confession doesn't cause pain to those who knew him and loved him. I felt guilty about thinking it. Why should the death of any other person be "good"? But this thought was insistent, and I immediately began to address my thoughts to Don Gius, and to welcome him into my daily life. This fact may surprise many people, particularly those who know that in 2005, I had very mixed feelings about Communion and Liberation, the lay ecclesial movement that he founded. How could I claim him as a friend when I steadfastly refused to join the local community that sincerely followed his charism?

On the day of Fr. Giussani's funeral, I was in my office at work. The funeral was to be live broadcast over the internet, but I wasn't internet savvy enough to know how to pull it up. I went into the office next door, and asked my friend and colleague, Paul Zalonski, to help me. Then I invited him to watch it with me, saying, "It's not every day that you get to see the funeral of a saint." We watched the funeral together, and Paul was able to explain some of the Italian, as well as interesting liturgical details to me. It's so funny for me to think about my own ambivalence at the time and also Paul's lack of familiarity with CL because now we are both in the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation.

Even then, I recognized that there were many things about Communion and Liberation that I could not account for. Though the local community did not look like my preconception of a Christian community (at all!), there were troubling details that I couldn't account for: a radical change that took place in the lives of a couple of the members, the faithfulness and simplicity with which many accepted invitations, a striking passion for culture, an unusually familiar (I mean, they seemed very familiar with Christ when they addressed him) approach to prayer, a certain something that happened when we sang together...

I am also a reader, and I had met Giussani, first of all, in his writings and second, in the stories that were told about him. Everything about the man was tremendously attractive to me. His intensity for life, the love with which he embraced all of reality, his passionate attention to whomever was in front of him, but most of all I was deeply attracted to the way in which he entered into the Gospels when he read them. His was no intellectual engagement with themes and theologies. His genius lay in the natural way he saw, in front of his eyes, the events of Christ's life. He lived "inside the skin" of Peter, John, and Andrew -- Scripture was, for him, the history of his own dialogue with Christ. When he spoke about Peter, on the shore eating the breakfast that Christ had cooked for him, Fr. Giussani's listeners could taste the roasted fish. He invited us all into his own participation, so that we, too, could feel Christ's eyes on us as he asks each one of us, "Do you love me?"

The effect he has had on those who follow his charism is too profound and various to characterize well; however one exceptional fact seems necessary to mention: Fr. Giussani's unique passion led others to a fascination with Christ. In a Church where it is commonplace for our teachers and leaders to exhort us to adore Christ, to learn from Christ, to worship Christ, to imitate Christ, or to embrace Christ, it is rare, perhaps even completely new, to find Christian teachers who inspire fascination for Christ.

Yet, fascination and wonder characterized those first persons in the Gospels who were introduced to Christ. Everyone who met Christ wanted to know, "Who is this man?" They kept coming back to be near him because they didn't know what he would do next, but they were along for the ride.

Don Gius challenged us to take this same ride, and I am forever grateful to him.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Shouting and other expressions of love

Fr. Rich, a friend of mine and the author of some of the most beautiful songs (Nazareth Morning, The Things That I See, New Creation, You, My Father Sings To Me, etc.) that have been born out of the charism of Communion and Liberation, once told a story about his first conversation with Don Giussani, when he went to visit him in Italy. Somehow the conversation turned to the work that Fr. Rich was doing with the teens in GS. He was collaborating closely with another friend, Chris. He told Fr. Giussani that he was constantly on the verge of quitting his work with GS because Chris was always shouting at him, and he couldn't stand to be shouted at.

Fr. Giussani asked Fr. Rich why Chris shouted.

"He only shouts at people he loves," said Fr. Rich.

"Well, then?" said Don Gius, with a shrug.

Friday, January 22, 2010

finally, some words!

My Experience at The New York Encounter:

Times Square in New York must be one of the strangest places on earth. The buildings on every side of the square loom so high that they are all one can see, and on every surface, electronic billboards display video advertisements that flash and jitter to capture the ephemeral attention of the crowds that jostle everywhere. During our two-block walk from the subway station to the Marriot hotel where the first New York Encounter (a two-day cultural festival organized by members of the lay ecclesial movement, Communion and Liberation) was held, I am approached four times by people offering to sell me tee shirts, tours of the area, noisy toys, or tickets to a Broadway play. Passing into the Marriot hotel lobby, and up the escalators to the sixth floor, one enters an entirely new world. At the New York Encounter, no one seizes me by the coat to sell me anything. The only noise is of animated conversations – the sounds of friendship. Welcomed at the desk, the volunteer there, a woman I’ve never met before, pours me a cup of water from her personal bottle when she overhears me say that I am thirsty.

The exhibits consist of foam board posters propped on easels. Each one is the result of a long work of collaboration among friends. For the Los Angeles Habilitation House (LAHH), a non-profit organization whose aim is to train and find employment for adults with disabilities, the posters display photos of its founders and the people who receive their services. The faces in these photos have a strange quality: not merely happiness but the knowledge of belonging and of being happy together. Much information about the history of the organization and its daily operations is available, also, but the overall impact of the exhibit is that it documents a friendship.

Other booths, representing groups that have sprung from the life of Communion and Liberation, line the walls in two separate rooms: the annual Med Conference and Ed Conference, AVSI USA, the Meeting at Rimini, CLU, Traces Magazine, and GS among them. Each of these is striking, not for its design or organization (some even use hand-lettered signs), but for the people sitting at each table. Though the faces are different, the expressions resemble those in the photos at the LAHH exhibit. Though it is immediately evident that everyone loves the particular works that they represent, there is something more interesting to them. They want to know who I am, what brings me there, what I think, what I want. When I show interest in a book at the AVSI booth, the man there gives me copies of all three of the books there, without asking for a nickel in return. At the GS booth, I spoke with Monica Ciantia, who told me that a teenage boy had just been there. After asking his name and where he was from, she realized that he wasn’t involved in GS, so she asked him how he came to be there. He told her that he’d been bored, saw the sign for “New York Encounter” and came to see what it was about. Monica said to me, “Can you imagine? In the middle of Times Square, he was bored?! Isn’t it amazing?” What is more amazing is that this boy, who he is and that he was bored, are what captivate Monica.

On the first night of the festival, the keynote speaker is John Sexton, the President of New York University. He spoke about great teachers he’d had throughout his education. These great teachers all shared a particular quality; they were able to bring disparate elements together in order to account for the whole of reality. He concluded with the observation that “In this moment when the inscrutable other is in our lives, how are we going to react? [With a ] clash of civilizations or an embrace? Can we create a community of communities?”

Such a community already exists, and it is called the Church. This fact became more and more evident as each of the next four speakers spoke about their experience at the Meeting for Friendship Among Peoples in Rimini, Italy. First, Emilia Guarnieri, one of the original founders and organizers of the Rimini Meeting, spoke about the history of the Meeting and the ongoing work of mounting such a large cultural festival each year. Animated by a desire to know and learn more about the constructive work being done in all areas of culture, the friends who organize the Meeting have been accompanied, from the beginning, first by Monsignor Luigi Giussani and now by Father Julián Carrón. She said, “We would have never had the presumption to love the others [whom we invite to present or participate in the Meeting], except that we were loved ourselves, first.” The other speakers, Brad Gregory (history professor from Notre Dame University), Daniel Sulmasy (Franciscan friar and medical ethics professor at the University of Chicago), and Joseph Weiler (law professor at New York University) each spoke of their impressions of the Meeting in Rimini. From these accounts, two factors stood out for all who spoke: 1) the depth and diversity of the exhibits and speakers, which include science, art, music, history, literature, sports, and religion (representing many faiths, not simply Catholicism), and 2) the volunteerism evident at the Meeting in the 30,000 volunteers, annually, who pay their own way in order to provide basic services at the Meeting.

On day two of the New York Encounter, we returned to the Marriot Hotel in Times Square to attend a presentation on the book, Is It Possible to Live This Way: An Unusual Approach to Christianity, Volume 3: Charity, by Monsignor Luigi Giussani. The presenters were Stanley Hauerwas and Father Julián Carrón, with Monsignor Lorenzo Albacete moderating.

Professor Hauerwas began by providing a general overview of the text, with particular attention to its content and style. What impressed him was the way in which each thought is expressed in such a way that it invites further thought in the reader, and he remarked, “grammar makes all the difference,” using Giussani’s phrase, “the truth of life lies in affirming Being,” as an example. The genius of this insight, Hauerwas explained, lies in “how we are taught to see that things didn’t have to exist. They are gift.” It is in “concentrated attention to the particular,” an attitude that Giussani’s book invites, that one can achieve a non-violent apprehension of the other. One conclusion that Hauerwas drew from the book is that, “the great enemy of charity is the abstract [... which is a] willful attempt to live lives of distraction;” the alternative to abstraction is tenderness. Hauerwas asserted that Giussani’s approach “threatens our desire to control.” Another key point that Hauerwas underscored was that the “great enemy of love in our culture is sentimentality.” He affirmed that Giussani’s great contribution is his recognition that “Love is Jesus, [and] the first object of man’s charity is Jesus Christ.” Far from being a “generalized humanism,” Love is a person of flesh and blood, who died for us. The sacrifice that Christ made demonstrates that “to do what is true, a sacrifice is needed.” Giussani does not spare us this truth but rather insists on it: “[Giussani] tells us the truth, even when we don’t want to hear it.” Hauerwas concluded his presentation by reading a moving sermon he had written; his purpose was to illustrate the way in which Giussani’s book at influenced his thought and work.

Then Julián Carrón spoke, introducing the book with these words: “Fr. Giussani introduces [us into] a dialogue on the nature of religious experience within the dynamic of daily life – not superimposed on life but [as a phenomenon] to do with the structure of the ‘I’. These words carry within them the claim that they answer to life.” Carrón explained that the words we use often come freighted with meanings borrowed from the surrounding culture or the prevailing mentality. The word ‘Love,’ in particular, is often reduced to a sentimental or moralistic definition, which leads to the question of whether loving, can be a real interest in an other or is it simply egotism? The antidote to this misuse of words is to have a true experience. Carrón insisted that “God’s love is fundamental,” and that in front of His gratuitous love, all our interpretations crumble. While demonstrating that man’s nature is needy and wanting, Carron explained “we try to fill this emptiness by trying to possess people or things, [which is] violent and pretentious.” As a result, we “sink into skepticism.” The only way out is to meet something unforeseen. Carron connected the experience of the early Church with that of Christians today: “We find it difficult to identify with the novelty that Christianity introduced to the ancient world,” a place of many cultures and religions, “amazing in its profusion,” much like ours today. Carrón asked, “What did Christianity have that was so new and attractive?” Ancient peoples imagined that their gods were, like them, beset by desires, which implies that something was missing in them. When the gods loved, it was as an expression of this lack, and it was characterized by ‘Eros.’ When “Christianity burst forth,” an entirely new love was introduced into this world. Love was now “a gift of Being,” and an answer to the heart of man. This new Love was characterized by ‘agape.’ “In Christ, God makes a gift of Himself [...] The New Testament affirms the absolute precedence of the Love of God. [...] We love, then, because He loved us first.” Carrón explained that this is why Christianity was so attractive in the ancient world: it “corresponds to man’s wanting nature. [...] Christianity is the surprise and fascination provoked by this attractiveness. [...] It is this affection for Christ, and surprise, that generates a subject capable of being interested in the destiny of every man, not in an ideological way, but as a moved gift of himself which is a testimony to the original precedence [of Christ’s love].” Carrón concluded his talk by affirming, “God’s love comes before and is not connected to our goodness. It is totally gratuitous. He takes us just the way we are. God’s preference is the starting point for every one of our initiatives. [This fact] also identifies our method: gratuity. [...] Remaining amazed at Christ’s pity on our nothingness [...] is what overcomes every sense of powerlessness [...] so we can accept every sacrifice [...] even giving one’s life so another can live. This is exactly what Jesus did for each one of us and what a Christian mother would do for her child.”

After the book presentation, I visited the two larger exhibits, one on the novel, Life and Fate, by Vasilij Grossman (1905-1964), and the other mounted by Euresis, entitled, “The Earth, A Human Habitat: The Exceptional Features of Our Small Planet.”

In “Life and Fate,” the organizers write, “The main theme of this novel is the absolute, indomitable nature of man in the face of any form of power-- a nature witnessed to by the great questions about the meaning of existence, well describing the heart and reason of man, even in the most dramatic circumstances of human life.” In a series of panels, the exhibit provides historical background and documents the difficulties in bringing the book to print; the novel was banned in Russia and the manuscript, all notebooks, and even Grossman’s typewriter ribbons, were burned. Ten years after the author’s death, in 1974, his friends were able to smuggle microfilm photos of the manuscript pages to the west where the book was first published in 1980. It was not published in Russia until 1988, and some think it is the greatest Russian novel of the twentieth century.

As I approached the exhibit, “The Earth, A Human Habitat,” there was a large group following one of the guides. I met two guides, Giorgio Ambrosio, a physicist who works on developing highly sensitive and powerful magnets with the Fermilab, a proton-antiproton collider in Batavia, Illinois and Massimo Robberto, who works on the Hubble space telescope at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore. These two specialists in their respective fields described panels in the exhibit with evident enthusiasm, despite the fact that the science content of most of the panels was drawn from various disciplines, including biology, chemistry, geology, and physics. The original exhibit was first presented at the Meeting in Rimini, but to create this English language traveling exhibit, the scientists collaborating on the translation had to edit it down to about half the size. The discussions became a moment of collaboration and collegiality that deepened friendships among the scientists. What made it worth the work to put together such a great exhibit? Ambrosio said, “The exhibit starts from wonder. We asked one question, “How does the earth support human life?” From this point, scientific inquiry can remain open, and after all the research, we discover many more questions! It is something that is even more wonderful!”

In the evening, the New York Encounter screened the classic silent film, “The Passion of Joan of Arc,” directed by Carl Theodor Dreyer and starring Renée Jeanne Falconetti. I had already watched this film twice. On both occasions, the silence became a palpable aspect of the film. In the silence, there is nothing to mediate between the viewer and Joan’s suffering and death, and one experiences her acute solitude to the point of discomfort. Several composers have created scores for the film, including an oratorio, “Voices of Light,” written in 1988 by Jewish composer, Richard Einhorn. For the New York Encounter presentation of this film, the festival organizers invited the Metro Chamber Orchestra, directed by Phil Nuzzo and the Communion and Liberation Choir, directed by Christopher Vath. Together they gave a live performance of Einhorn’s “Voices of Light” during the film. This music dramatically changed the experience of viewing this film. Rather than dwelling most on Joan’s solitude in her suffering, the music suggested that Joan was indeed accompanied by Another, by the God in whom she never lost certainty. Her martyrdom was a victory and a deliverance, facts that are expressed in the film without accompaniment; however, the music gave this victory a dimension, so that it took flesh.

The final presentation of the New York Encounter, “Words and the ‘I’: How Literature Helps Us to Judge Our Experience” took place the following morning. The presenters were Paul Elie, Senior Editor at Farrar, Straus & Giroux, John Waters, journalist and playwright, and Greg Wolfe, publisher and editor of Image Journal. During this panel discussion, the presenters discussed the question of literature’s role in lived experience.

Meanwhile, the electronic billboards continued to flash at passersby on the street below. Times Square continued, as though the Beauty taking place in the Marriott Hotel were a million miles away. And yet, we were there, in the heart of the confusion and promises of partial fulfillment. We were there, offering to Times Square, and to the world, this new gaze on reality, the source of the world’s hope!

Monday, January 11, 2010

every day

George De La Tour, St. Joseph the Carpenter

My local fraternity group says the following prayer everyday as part of our rule:

Holy Mary, Mother of God,

preserve in me the heart of a child,

pure and clean like spring water;

a simple heart

that does not remain absorbed

in its own sadness;

a loving heart

that freely gives with compassion;

a faithful and generous heart

that neither forgets good

nor feels bitterness for any evil.

Give me a sweet and humble heart

that loves without asking

to be loved in return,

happy to lose itself

in the heart of others,

sacrificing itself in front

of your Divine Son;

a great and unconquerable heart

which no ingratitude can close

and no indifference can tire;

a heart tormented by the glory of Christ,

pierced by His love

with a wound that will not heal

until heaven.

- Fr. Leonce de Grandmaison

The prayer also appears in the sidebar of this blog. The San Carlo priests pray this every day.

George De La Tour, The Education of the Virgin

Dumbstruck by the Mystery

...our temptation is always to impose our prejudices or our measure on reality -- except when we are faced with a fact that leaves us dumbstruck, and instead of dominating the fact ourselves, we are dominated, overcome by it. If there were no moments of this kind, the Mystery could do anything, but in the end, we would reduce everything to the usual explanation. But not even a Nobel Prize winner can stop himself from being dumbstruck before an absolutely gratuitous gesture. If there were not these moments, we would find answers, explanations, and interpretations to avoid being struck by anything. It is good that some things happen that we cannot dominate, then we have to take them seriously, and this is the great question of philosophy. If the conditions for the possibility of knowledge (see Kant) impose themselves on reality or if there is something that is so powerfully disproportionate that it does not let itself be "grasped" by the conditions of possibility, then the horizon opens. If this were not the case, then we could dominate everything and be in peace, or at least without drama. Instead, not even the intelligence of a Nobel Prize winner could prevent him from coming face-to-face with a fact that made him dumbstruck -- instead of dominating, it was he who was dominated. Here begins the drama, because I am called to answer. It is the drama that unfolds between us and the Mystery, through certain facts, certain moments, in which the Mystery imposes itself with this evidence. These are facts that we cannot put in our pocket, which we cannot reduce to antecedent factors.
-- Julian Carron in "Friends, that is, Witnesses."