Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Catholic Imagination (AKA: Sensuous Catholicism)

I posted some time ago a description of the program I'm running this semester. Over the last few weeks, I decided to change the name from "The Catholic Touch" to "The Catholic Imagination." I thought for awhile about calling it "Sensuous Catholicism" but, like the "The Catholic Touch," there was a fear of evoking hints of the sex-abuse scandal. So we're being more benign.

So here's another articulation at the rationale:

Thomas Aquinas believed that human knowledge originated in the senses. This should sound pretty sensible: we "know" the football play because we practiced it, we "know" how to cook because we've chopped and broiled, mothers know the scent of their babies clothes, and even Thomas in John's gospel "knew" it was Jesus when he put his hand into the open wound. Entire industries have been built around our senses: vibrating game controllers, perfumes and colognes, richer and more luxurious textiles, stranger and more fantastic foods. Ours is a world of sense!

So it seems to me that we have lost something of this sensuous quality in the Catholic tradition. For so long, the Catholic Imagination was sculpted and shaped by the sensations that accompanied the day-to-day life of faith: rosaries, adoration, kneeling, incense, stained glass windows, statues, holy water. Our catechism classes or CCD have often neglected this aspect of our faith and focused, instead, on handing over propositions and ideas that are divorced from reality.

In a word, for a long time you have been in possession of the script to a great stage production. Yet often we've had to be content with only the text, perhaps a good preview, of the show. My proposal is that this year we act out our Catholic faith here at Fordham University, using the diverse resources only New York City can offer us.

I'm not saying that you haven't lived out your faith. I'm saying that my suspicion is that many of us are unaware of how deep and rich our tradition is. So this year what I would like to do is offer the Catholic Imagination as a program that intends both the cover some of the basics of the faith (catechesis) as well as incorporate some tactile experiences that will help incarnate what it is that we believe. So if the catechism is the stage directions that guide the performance, then the more experiential approaches are going to be our way of enacting our faith with our whole selves.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Now that things have settled down...

Well, it seems like Joseph isn't talking to me any more. Alas. I guess I'll have to find something else to blog about....

...such as what life as a young Jesuit is like.

This morning I woke up fairly early (5:30 am) and had time to do Yoga. In the still of the morning, I love nothing more than to take my time giving thanks to God for the start of a new day. As I assume various poses, I imagine the stretching of my body mirroring the opening of my inner life to be responsive to God's movement in my day. 

What I've noticed is that the practice of Yoga has brought me a sense of inner peace as my exterior and interior are aligned through stretching and breathing. The tension of the previous day is relaxed away, my muscles and joints are awakened for a new beginning. Having achieved some sense of balance and physical awakening, I settle into my chair for some more formal prayer time - usually beginning with Pray-As-You-Go and then moving into a meditation on the day's reading. Since I've been in a relatively peaceful state (although you might not have guessed it from this weekend's tussle), my prayer each morning has just been a resting in the peace of the Lord. No fireworks, no great insights, just the peace of God's holy presence. 

Following my morning prayer, I met Drew Marquard, SJ for a 7:30 session in our home gym. We've been doing CrossFit this semester. Amazing. Simply amazing. I'm so sore right now but I've never felt physically more healthy. Then we had breakfast, watched the season premier of Smallville, and once I finish this post I'll take a shower and settle into reading a good bit of Husserl. I have class from 2:00-4:00 and then I'll go to Mass at 5:10 at Loyola Hall, eat dinner, and then get ready for the Blaqrobes' (the Jesuit team in Fordham's intramural league) softball game at 8:00 (I'm pitching again). At 9:15 I'm meeting with some students and then, hopefully, by 10:30 I'll be back home in time to do my Examen (my prayerful review of the day) and catch up on some pleasure reading.

I mention this because, very often, I get asked just what it is that I do all day. And, to be truthful, it varies from day to day. My days are full and, I feel, quite balanced between the many areas of interest that give me great life and energy.

And, on that note, I go. 30 pages of Husserl might not sound like a lot, but it's a rough go. I'm glad I have John Drummond as a teacher - he is exceptionally clear and has been great at explaining the text so far, so I'm confident that what I don't get on my own effort I'll get with his aide.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Good Ignatian, Bad Ignatian Part II

At the risk of appearing obsessive, I want to call attention to a message Joseph Fromm left in his comment box. Before I do so, a few things to note:

  1. Following my initial post, Joseph deleted the post I referenced. The post and the comments have both vanished. Why?
  2. When I responded to his response on his site, the post was deleted. I guess I should not be surprised: why should he allow another person's views to be presented in full when it is his longstanding tactic to cut-and-paste only those bits of peoples' writings that he (mis)understands.
  3. I don't mean to sound obsessive, but I'm not letting Joseph off too easily. He doesn't like having attention called to himself or his posts, nor is he willing to engage in some measured debate. He prefers guerrilla blogging tactics where he takes shots from afar and retreats into the shadows.

So without further ado, this is his latest response over on his blog:

I deleted both posts, not because my positions were untenable, but because they caused you disorder. As a Jesuit you know that it is improper for one to discuss the spiritual gifts that we receive form our Savior. So, I will not provide you a lengthy discourse on the subject, you can read a light treatment on the subject in my blogger bio. Your blog is much different than mine; I think this reflects more of our individual states in life. I could not possibly blog about the tin whistle or my experience with yoga. I did not address you in any of the posts that you cite, so I did not “bully” you. If you choose to take issue with me over someone who is a public advocate of abortion and has assisted in the suicide of a friend that is your business. As for the post on Terrence Klein, I referenced another blog, did you write a comment in their combox? I juxtaposed in my post title, Klein’s argument that conservatives are fundamentalists and reversed his premise. Klein wrote a publicly published piece, is his work above criticism? The last time I debated you, you burned the bridge, so forgive me if I did not rush right in. I deleted your combox comment because you crossed a line of civil Christian conduct. I have Jesuits and Ignaciophiles from all over the world that read and support my blog. I will continue my work knowing that not everyone will agree with me. It would be a rather boring world if everyone agreed exactly with everyone else on every subject, would it not? I pray that both of our lives are reflected in the light of Christ, and that we will be able to reconcile fully in person in the future with a firm handshake, knowing that Christ is our Master.

Let's begin by making some distinctions (this is my new favorite word, especially in treating issues within philosophy).

First, I am fully aware that I was not referenced in either of the posts I mentioned. I don't reckon that I need to be the one bullied in order to call out a bully. It would not have been difficult in the least to scroll through the archives and pick numerous other instances of Joseph's labeling of others. He never offers a sustained, reasoned argument for his criticisms.

Second, I'm taking issue with your tactics, not with your content - if you even can be said to have content. Your blog aggregates various news stories - I suspect you use Google reader to pick up any mention of Jesuits - and then you post them with your labels affixed. Sometimes we get a little paragraph explaining why you take exception to whatever that moment's issue is for you, but in general you just give a bunch of links.

Third, people are free to criticize any piece of published work. But, Joseph, you snipe at people, you don't offer an argument. In a spirit of charity, I'm encouraging you to re-evaluate your style and to offer arguments for your positions, rather than quickly affixed labels.

Fourth, I think you have much to learn about "civil Christian conduct." I don't know how it fits into your schema of Christian life that it is ever appropriate to situate people within a plane of "Good Jesuits and Bad Jesuits" as though you were the arbiter of goodness. As I said originally, you may well be fully qualified to do so, but you've not offered us any sense of just what it is that gives you the credentials to adjudicate the rectitude of one's understanding and appropriation of the Ignatian tradition.

Fifth, I know you have quite a bit of site traffic, but I sincerely doubt if it's from adoring fans. I reckon many people like myself log on once a day to see what bizarre thing has been posted. I've no doubt some Jesuits love to see Tom Reese referred to as 'lunatic fringe' but I'm not one of them.

Sixth, we never really debated and, even if we had, you deleted all of your comments back in early June. You were incensed the I had the audacity three months ago for you to give an account of your ability to judge. As I've said repeatedly, I'm not saying that you don't have this right, but it would be enormously helpful if you would offer your credentials. In the "debate" in question, I gave a litmus test for making my distinctions: the work of God's Holy Spirit encourages peace, reconciliation, and inspires love; the work of the evil spirit is divisive, breeds suspicion, and instills fear and distrust. I believe I made myself fairly clear in how I saw that distinction playing out in regard to your blog, but that seemed too much for you to take. It didn't burn the bridge, I merely set forth the terms of engagement which you spurned.

Seventh, and finally, I am not looking for agreement. I want transparency. On my blog, I talk about nearly everything: someone once compared my blog to confession. So from yoga to cooking, tin whistle to prayer, softball to vocation promotion, I have no problem covering any issue. But they are my issues and my words and, when I write something, I offer a reason for it. A very close Jesuit friend and I disagree on just about every social issue imaginable but I understand his reasons for his positions and he understands mine. This gives us an endless supply of fodder for conversation and makes for lively and engaging debate. Our fraternal love for one another only deepens as we can explore our differences. But this mutual love can grow only because we are honest with each other and we can offer a rationale for the positions we take. That's all I want: give us reasoned argument rather than pot-shots.

I love being a Jesuit. I have never in my life been happier and I count myself blessed from morning to night to have been called to be a Companion of Jesus. Every day I walk out into a world that can, so often, seem devoid of hope and joy. In preaching and trying to live fully the Gospel of Jesus Christ it is my burden and blessing to be a bearer of this saving Word to a world sorely in need of healing. If I have learned anything in my studies, it is the importance of reasoned argument and respectful engagement. So again, Joseph, I'm offering this in a spirit of charity: provide reasons, arguments, and give an account of how it is that you come to judge out of your "Ignatian Experience." If you are speaking the truth and being a vessel of that truth, then you should feel empowered by this and confident that your reasonable readers will glom onto what you've said. Do not sell us short: I, for one, know that I am ever in pursuit of a more complete understanding of the truth and, if you can help me to see it, I will be overjoyed to see more clearly. But I do not respond well to bullying tactics or guerilla blogging that takes shots at people --- there is nothing charitable or, in my schema of Christian living, of God's Spirit in that.

So I extend a hand and an invitation: a hand in peace and an invitation to deeper engagement.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Good Ignatian, Bad Ignatian?

This morning, I'd like to lay my cards on the table. This may or may not surprise folks, but I hate bullies. As one who was occasionally bullied as a kid, I have a particular disdain for those who like to intimidate or inflict injuries on others. In getting older and gaining perspective, I realized that the bullies who picked on me were typically empty, sad, and terribly lonely people who needed someone weaker than they to make themselves feel strong, fulfilled, and purposeful. 

What interests me is that, as I look back on it, bullies tended to feel themselves as upholding some standard or norm. I remember once a guy in high school getting pushed around because he was judged a "fag" and "his kind" didn't belong in our school. In this case, the bully was defending some notion of hetero-normative behavior and exacted a toll on the guy who didn't comport to his standard. I think bullies do this very often: they set the standard by which they judge and then assault those who do not fit their image. 

It's obvious that bullying never goes away. I see it pretty regularly on the internet, especially in blogs. There's some irony in this: the bullies who picked on me, and who seem to get portrayed in the media, often appear to be pretty stupid and really not capable of having a blog. So the blog-bullies are at least literate enough to express themselves verbally rather than with their fists. Perhaps the blog-bully has replaced the playground-bully; words have taken over for fists, nasty comments have replaced wedgies. 

I've noticed quite a bit of bullyish behavior coming from Joseph Fromm of  Good Jesuit, Bad Jesuit. Over the past few weeks, he has posted what are, in my eyes, fairly objectionable posts about certain people such as Terry Klein of Fordham University (a friend of mine and one of the best priests/teachers I've ever encountered) where he labels Terry a "Leftist Fundamentalist."  This label is not only ludicrous (and it sounds like an oxymoron), it's wholly inaccurate. Joseph's post, however, affixes only the "leftist fundamentalist" tag on Father Klein and then links to another blog; Joseph doesn't offer his own reasons for his objection, but allows another to do all the talking. But, then again, why would a bully need to offer a reasoned justification for his labeling of another? The bully, of course, is self-assuredly correct in his assessment of any situation.

Or just this week, Joseph posted a little thing on Ann Lamont. I'm not defending Ms. Lamont, but in the comments section Joseph offered something that really startled me. In responding to Father Mark Mossa, Joseph writes, 

So this got me to thinking: Joseph, what exactly is your Ignatian experience? I mean, you reference that you've had a Jesuit spiritual director, but what else qualifies you to make judgments that, in your mind, work out of a paradigm provided by the Spiritual Exercises or the Ignatian tradition? 

Have you made the 30-day retreat? Several 8-day retreats? Do you have a living sense of the Ignatian tradition - a prayer life informed by the Exercises? Have you studied the Spiritual Exercises with a credible authority? Have you been guided and mentored by a tradition-immersed figure (perhaps someone who actually publishes on the topic in scholarly journals) or received training in spiritual direction? Have you read the Constitutions as an organic framework out of which the life of the Jesuit flows? 

You see, Joseph, without some sense of your qualifications to judge people good or bad, you come off as a bully. Now in a spirit of charity, I'd love to be able to say that you are wholly qualified to make these calls. But it seems to me that you are slipping into some bizarro Ignatian Relativism (you'd not like that latter word, I reckon) where your experience lets you make judgments that are unassailable by others because they are your Ignatian experiences. This suggests that you don't quite get the spirit of discernment that rests at the heart of the Exercises: how is God touching your life and calling you into deeper service as a disciple of Jesus. The "Ignatian Experience" you are purporting to work out of seems to be an act of Ignatian syncretism (another of your favorite words) that has adapted to the relativistic, subjectivistic culture of our day. In other words, you're giving the impression that your selective interpretation and appropriation of elements of the Ignatian tradition make you something of an adjudicator. But without a sense of your standing within the tradition, it gives the appearance of cafeteria Ignatian-ism.  

But let me give you an opportunity to respond. Show us that you're not a bully. Show all of us how your blog somehow contributes to the upbuilding of God's Kingdom; show us how it incites a greater ardor and passion to be disciples. A properly critical blog possessed of a discerning spirit most certainly is able to point out the flaws and shortcomings of our Church, but your blog's smug and self-righteous tone lacks any semblance of charity. 

So help me, Joseph. I want a criterion to judge a good Ignatian from a bad Ignatian. 

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Untutored Eye

I've been really busy this week, but since I have to preach tonight I thought I'd post the homily.

Lk 6:39-42

Jesus told his disciples a parable:
“Can a blind person guide a blind person?
Will not both fall into a pit?
No disciple is superior to the teacher;
but when fully trained,
every disciple will be like his teacher.
Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye,
but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own?
How can you say to your brother,
‘Brother, let me remove that splinter in your eye,’
when you do not even notice the wooden beam in your own eye?
You hypocrite! Remove the wooden beam from your eye first;
then you will see clearly
to remove the splinter in your brother’s eye.”

The Untutored Eye

To help us dwell on this evening’s gospel, I would like to draw upon two competing schools of exegesis: the Cowellian school founded by Simon Cowell and the Abullian school begun by Paula Abdul. While you probably thought their talents were limited to being judges on American Idol, allow me to suggest that each one represents a different style of interpreting the gospel.

The Abdullian school interprets tonight’s famous refrain to “Remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter in your brother’s eye” as a call to self-improvement. I think many of us hear the gospel in this way: before you go judging anyone else, you’d better get yourself sorted out. Put your affairs in order before you try to correct anyone else.

We could summarize this with the phrase: “Who are you to judge?”

The proper response, according to this interpretation, is for one to go home and spend a lot of time on self-improvement. Buy some self-help books, tune into Dr. Phil, and with a lot of hard work you’ll make yourself into a good performer of the gospel.

This interpretation goes by another name: Pelagianism, and it was condemned as a heresy at various councils in the fifth and sixth centuries.

The second school, the Cowellian, takes a different approach. Instead of patting you on the head and sending you off to work things out for yourself, this school realizes that you are probably incapable of learning to see rightly if left only to your own devices. So this school takes seriously an oft-overlooked line: “No disciple is superior to the teacher; but when fully trained, every disciple will be like his teacher.”

On this interpretation, we are called to realize that all of us have untutored eyes. All of us need to submit ourselves to the tutelage of the master, the true light of the world. It is this light we encounter in the First Week of the Exercises and which GC 35 recounts as helping us to discover and to recognize our weaknesses and inconsistencies but also the depth of our desire to serve. This light guides us into the Second Week where we gaze upon Christ our Lord and know ourselves to be sinners, yet called to be companions of Jesus as Ignatius was.

On a more pedestrian level, let me close with an instance of why the second interpretation makes eminent practical sense.

Anyone who attends a Blaqrobes softball game will hear teammates encouraging the batter with calls of, “Good eye! Good eye!” Now every now and again – and our record attests to this – players will fall into a slump. It’d be an awful dereliction of duty for the manager to say, “Ok, you’re not hitting well. Go off and sort it out for yourself and, when you’ve got it, come back and be a star.”

Quite the opposite is the case. The manager, or another experienced player, steps out and takes a good long look at the batter.

“Choke up.” “Step away from the plate.” “Swing earlier.”

This is advice that comes from outside, from the manager, from the teacher. And if this sort of relationship with another player who, at best, bats a .500 average, imagine how much better one would play under the tutelage of one who bats 1.000.

Our invitation tonight it to place our untutored eyes, our untutored selves, at the feet of the master who wants nothing more than to teach us his ways. With eyes made new, we will judge rightly because our familiarity with the things of God gives us discerning hearts. It is these hearts – enkindled with zealous love and the desire to serve – that make us available to be sent into the Lord’s vineyard, for the greater service of the Church and the greater glory of God.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Dinner at 7

After I return from the gym this morning, I'll spend the rest of my day in the kitchen preparing a dinner for (about) twenty people. It has become something of a custom for me to host semi-regular dinners here at Ciszek for some of the younger members of the theology and philosophy departments, Jesuits, and other graduate students.

My menu tonight:

Prosciutto-wrapped cantaloupe
Sauteed green beans with tomatoes and basil
marinated summer squash
tortellini bolognese (my own sauce)
Nectarine and blueberry crisp

In recent years, Fordham University has made fabulous young hires in both theology and philosophy and it has been one of my great delights to have gotten to know many of these faculty members. Extending hospitality toward members of the Fordham community - both faculty and fellow graduate students - helps for them to get to know us, to understand what the whole "Jesuit project" is, and gives them a sense of having a role in our formation process that extends far beyond just teaching us in class.

If I can remember to do so, I'll have to make sure that I bring my camera tonight and take some pictures.

In other news, things remain fairly quiet. I've been really blessed these last few weeks with excellent prayer (which makes, as you can imagine, the discipline of prayer much easier) and I'm feeling energized and excited by the beginning of the term. I'm also glad that I've kept up my daily yoga practice as I find it to be a sort of embodied prayer. And, with all the twisting and turning, it's great for the digestive system...a good thing, given the menu I have planned for tonight!

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Into the Breach Once More

If you're a regular follower of my blog, you'll know that this is my third year at Fordham University. A full year of courses awaits, to be sure: Integration Seminar, Natural Law, Husserl, Fundamental Theology (all this semester) to be followed by Integration II, Transcendental Thomism, Levinas, and Merleau-Ponty (next semester). I think it's safe to say that there's a fair bit of work between now and the beginning of May!

Now the added bit of excitement to the third year of philosophy is the fabled Regency Assignment. Regency is the period of Jesuit formation that follows First Studies and often, although certainly not always, involves a man teaching in one of our high schools.

Although it's less dramatic than lining up for the Sorting Hat at Hogwart's, it's still an exciting time. Many of us daydream about where we'll do our regencies; indeed, many of us were directly influenced by young regents when we were in high school. So now the time approaches when we'll have the excitement of discerning just where it is that we will spend the next 2-3 years of our Jesuit lives.

My semester began today with Integration seminar. We read JP II's 'Fides et Ratio' and, for next week, we're to read a significant chunk of Aristotle's 'Physics.' Yep...ooodles of fun. While others are enjoying the balmy heat of the Bronx (it's 90-degrees outside now), I'll be curled up on my bed reading Aristotle and daydreaming about teaching legions high school students next year!

Monday, September 01, 2008

My Protégé

Music teachers, probably like coaches, can wait for a lifetime for their protégé to appear. How fortunate for me that my niece, Emma, has a natural inclination toward the tin whistle and will soon be following her uncle's footsteps. Well, not all of them: the Jesuits don't admit women.

Flute playing priest finds YouTube fame