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Monday, November 19, 2007

May they sleep in peace

I saw this beautiful prayer for the month of All Souls posted at A Concord Pastor Comments .....

Peace be with those who have left us and have gone to God.
May they be at peace.
May they be with God.

May they be with the living God.
May they be with the immortal God.
May they be in God's hands.

May they sleep in peace.
May they live in peace.
May they be where the name of God is great.

May they be with the living God now and on the day of judgment.
May they live with God.
May they live in eternal light.

May they live in the peace of the Lord.
May they live forever in peace,
With God in peace.


Dig two graves

- When setting out on a journey of revenge, dig two graves - Confucius

I saw that the latest question asked at On Faith was about forgiveness ... How can we forgive our enemies? Should we, even if they have committed atrocities? ..... and I was intrigued because last night I finally got to watch the Spiderman 3 movie, and it had a theme of forgiveness vs revenge. At On Faith, I read the answer given by Tom Reese SJ, which was interesting, and I saw at the bottom of the page a link to the Forgiveness Project at the Woodstock Theological Center where he works. From there I went to one of the talks given by William Bole - The Politics of Forgiveness, and the Culture of Revenge. It was also interesting so I thought I'd post just the beginning of the talk here below.


[...] This question of forgiveness and revenge is very much with us today and it’s resonating in our culture – including our popular culture. One night this past September, I clicked on the television to watch the 10:00 news and caught the tail end of an episode of “Criminal Minds,” a series about FBI profilers. The episode was apparently about someone who went postal, murdering a few of his co-workers, and I gather that he perished in the end. As the show closed, with images of lives lost and rescued, a voiceover intoned, “Confucius said, ‘When setting out on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.’ ”

I thought: now this is wisdom that I’d welcome from a prime-time television drama. And, curious about the prevalence of such wisdom, I searched for discussions of revenge on the Internet. I was sobered to find some other messages, different messages, including Web sites with names like “Revenge Unlimited” and “ThePayback.Com,” which give tips on how to settle scores with friends, lovers, co-workers, and any others who have given you offense. And this being America, some of these sites also peddle revenge products, like dead-fish packages (which, for those interested, go for $19.99, shipping included). Payback.Com says, “There's nothing that gets your message across better than a smelly, nasty dead fish!” No doubt, if your message carries as odorously.

Anyhow, hearing the words of Confucius that night on television was something of a coincidence, because I had been out at Boston College, at a forum on the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the great Lutheran theologian who was born a hundred years ago and died a martyr against Nazism. Bonhoeffer was a pacifist who never renounced his belief that all violence is antithetical to Christian faith, as revealed by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. He once wrote that no deed on earth could justify an act of revenge or any manner of retribution, including “retributive justice.” And yet, he chose to take part in a conspiracy to assassinate Adolph Hitler, a choice that sealed his martyrdom when he was just 39 years old.

That same week, I was reading a piece in The New Yorker by Lawrence Wright, about the future of Islamic jihad (in the edition dated September 11, 2006). In that piece, he talked about a Palestinian sheikh named Abu-Muhammad al-Maqdisi, described by Wright as “one of the most renowned ideologues of the radical Islamist movement.” What caught my interest, especially in light of our topic tonight, was Maqdisi’s apparent belief that he is not in the business of revenge. Sure, he spends his days whipping up holy war on the West, but he draws the line at suicide bombings, and he had this to say in July 2004, after a string of suicide attacks by Al-Qaeda in Iraq: “There is no point in vengeful acts that terrify people, provoke the entire world against mujahideen, and prompt the world to fight them [meaning the jihadists].”

So, during a week or two in September, I heard a TV drama convey traditional wisdom about the futility of revenge, I checked in on Web sites that not only recommend revenge but facilitate the dirty deed, I heard talks about a Christian peacemaker who, some say, resorted to retribution, and I read a piece that talked about an Islamic warrior who disavows vengeance. Forgive me if I don’t give a straight answer to the question of how people are working through these concepts of forgiveness and revenge.

What I will give, in these brief remarks, is an illustration of revenge and retribution in politics, particularly in the politics of extremely fractious societies. Then I’ll illustrate an alternative road, what we, at Woodstock, see as a fledging, international politics of forgiveness, a turn toward reconciliation in the midst of social fractiousness. And I’ll part with a few remarks about the space between forgiveness and revenge, with a bow in the direction of our friend and colleague Bob Bies, and in doing so I’ll prowl around this question of whether revenge can ever be right .......


Fr. Reese ends his answer at On Faith with these words ... Forgiveness and reconciliation is not easy, it takes strength. It takes maturity and patience. It takes political courage. And it takes a lot of faith. I'm happy to say that by the end of the movie, Peter/Spiderman had arrived at the same conclusion.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Joseph A. O’Hare's homily for the Jesuits killed in El Salvador

- Photo from video, A Question of Conscience, 1990

This month it will have been 18 years since six Jesuits, their housekeeper, and her daughter, were killed in El Salvador. Creighton University (and that online retreat I'm following) has links to a memorial page for them. Here below is something from that page - a homily at a memorial Mass for those killed in El Salvador, given by Joseph A. O’Hare, S.J. at St. Ignatius Church in New York City on November 22, 1989 .....


The occasion for our liturgy is the tragedy of last Thursday, Nov. 16, when six Jesuits and two of their household family at the Central American University in San Salvador were brutally murdered and mutilated in the early morning hours. We mourn not only for them, but for all the victims of this wasteful war that for more than 10 years has bled a tiny, tortured country. We mourn for the 70,000 people of El Salvador who have died in this war and the hundreds of thousands who have been displaced by the fighting. We remember the martyrs that preceded last Thursday’s victims, Rutillo Grande, a Jesuit assassinated in 1977, the same year that a right-wing paramilitary group ordered all Jesuits to leave the country or face a sentence of death. We remember Archbishop Oscar Romero, struck down by an assassin’s bullet in 1980 while celebrating Mass. We remember also the four American women missionaries who were kidnapped, assaulted and murdered by military forces in December of 1980.

Our celebration today, then, is marked by a deep sense of sorrow at the loss of human life and the cruelty of 10 years of fruitless fighting. But our sorrow is based on a strong sense of solidarity with the people and the church of El Salvador. It is a solidarity based on a common faith in a God of justice, on a common mission that all Jesuits share, with the Jesuits of El Salvador and on the common identity that unites a Catholic university in El Salvador with all Catholic universities throughout the world. Our sense of solidarity, however, also arises from the more troubling fact that the national policies of our two countries have been, for good or ill, inextricably linked. And finally, our solidarity with the people of El Salvador is based on fundamental Christian hope, which declares that no matter how dark the signs of death, in the end the radiance of life will prove victorious.

We are one with the people of El Salvador in a shared faith that this world is in the end God’s world and He is the Lord of our history. For this reason, we are committed to the cause for which the martyrs of Nov.16 died: the dignity of the human and the kingdom of justice to which the Lord of history calls us.

This faith in the primacy of God’s justice stretches beyond the divisions of race and nations to unite all of us in a common human family. It echoes the early call of the prophet Isaiah that we heard in the first reading this morning: The Servant of the Lord “brings true justice; he will never waver, nor be crushed until true justice is established on earth. … I, Yahweh, have called you to serve the cause of right, I have taken you by the hand and formed you; I have appointed you as covenant of the people and light of the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to free captives from prison, and those who live in darkness from the dungeon” (Is. 42:1-7).

This morning we confirm our commitment to this cause for which the Jesuits of Central American University in El Salvador gave their lives. They were not men of violence; they were men of peace and reason. Yet they died violently. Like the Servant of Yahweh, they did not cry out of shout out aloud or break the crushed reed, but neither did they waver nor were they crushed. They did not leave the country in 1977, when right-wing death squads put them under a penalty of death. Nor did they leave earlier this month when Government controlled radio stations broadcast warnings against their safety. Nor will they leave now, when the Attorney General of the Government blames the unrest in the country on church leaders. While these six Jesuits have been struck down, others will rise up to take their place. We pledge ourselves to the covenant with the people that cost them their lives. For us to forget them, or to decide that the costs of justice are too high for us to pay, would be to betray not only their memory but our faith that this is God’s world and that He is the Lord of justice.

For the Jesuits assembled here, our solidarity with last Thursday’s martyrs has a more personal foundation as well. Many of us knew some or all of them. Several of them have studied here in the United States. For my part, I remember listening to Ignatio Ellacuría, during the 33rd General Congregation of the Jesuits in Rome in the fall of 1983, when he spoke with passion of the agony of his people and of the need for a response to the institutionalized violence of massive poverty and repression that crushed the vast majority of the people of El Salvador.

Father Ellacuría’s words echoed the common commitment of Jesuits today to serve faith and promote justice and to see in this twofold mandate the grand intention that would inform all Jesuit works, no matter how varied. “What is it to be a companion of Jesus today? It is to engage, under the standard of the cross, in the crucial struggle of our time: the struggle for faith and that struggle for justice which it includes. … Thus, the way to faith and the way to justice are inseparable ways. It is up this undivided road, this steep road, that the pilgrim church must travel and toil (“Jesuits Today.” Declaration on Jesuit Identity of the 32nd General Congregation of the Society of Jesus, 1975).

“Service of faith and promotion of justice” is a contemporary expression of our Jesuit mission. The reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians that we heard this morning echoes an old statement of this mission that defined the “sum and scope” of the Jesuit Constitutions. From the very origins of the Society, nearly 450 years ago, these Constitutions have declared that the character of our life (vitae nostrae ratio) is that Jesuits are to be men “crucified to the world and to whom the world is crucified” (Gal. 6:14).

How prophetic of the way these Jesuits of El Salvador lived and died are the words of St. Paul (2Cor. 6:4-10) evoked in this statement of the “sum and scope” of Jesuit life: “We prove we are God’s servants … by the word of truth and by the power of God; by being armed with the weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left, prepared for honor or disgrace, for blame or praise; taken for impostors while we are genuine; obscure yet famous; said to be dying and here we are alive; rumored to be executed before we are sentenced; thought most miserable and yet we are always rejoicing; taken for paupers though we make others rich, for people having nothing though we have everything.”

This hymn of St. Paul to the paradoxes of the Gospel has from the origins of the Society of Jesus defined our aspirations. Certainly today as we think of the Jesuit martyrs of El Salvador we can see that they were men who lived the sum and scope of our Constitutions, crucified to the world and to whom the world was crucified, and who died promoting justice and serving faith.

For the Jesuits of the United States, most especially those working at the 28 Jesuit colleges and universities in this country, there is an added sense of solidarity with the martyrs of last Thursday, based on the common identity of Catholic universities throughout the world. In eliminating the rector and vice-rector and some of the most influential members of the faculty of the University of Central America, the assassins cut out the heart of one of the most respected intellectual institutions in the country. As you know from newspaper accounts, these men were not merely murdered, but in a gesture of deliberate contempt, their brains were spilled out on the ground by their murderers. This chilling symbol was to demonstrate the power of bullets over brains. It represents the contempt of men of violence for the power of the truth.

There are those who have said, and who will say in the days and weeks ahead, that the Jesuits in El Salvador were not disinterested academics, that they had deliberately chosen to insert themselves into the political conflict of their nation. If they had remained within the insulated safety of the library or the classroom, their critics will charge, if they had not “meddled in politics,” their lives would not have been threatened.

But such criticism misunderstands the nature of any university, and most certainly the nature of a Catholic university. No university can be insulated from the agonies of the society in which it lives. No university that identifies itself as Catholic can be indifferent to the call of the church to promote the dignity of the human person.

Pope John Paul II, himself a man from the university world, has often challenged Catholic universities to confront the crucial issues of peace and justice in our world today. On his last visit to this country in September 1987, the Pope called on Catholic universities to recognize the need for the reform of attitudes and unjust structures in society. He spoke of the whole dynamic of peace and justice in the world, as it affects East and West, North and South: “The parable of the rich man and the poor man is directed to the conscience of humanity, and today in particular, to the conscience of America. But conscience often passes through the halls of academe, through nights of study and hours of power.” Again last April in his address to the Third International Congress of Catholic Universities, Pope John Paul insisted that a Catholic university must measure all technological discovery and all social development in the light of the dignity of the human person.

It was this distinctive mission of a Catholic university that inspired the Jesuits of El Salvador to seek, not only through teaching and writing, but also through personal interventions, a resolution of the terrible conflict that has divided their land. Those of us who carry on this mission of faith and justice in the relatively comfortable circumstances of North America can only be humbled by the total commitment to the ministry of truth that stamped the lives of the Jesuit scholar teachers of El Salvador and in the end cost them their lives.

This liturgy is not the time for political analysis or political advocacy. At the same time, we would not be faithful to the truth of this moment if we did not recognize than another more troubling source of our solidarity with the people of El Salvador is the history of the last 10 years, in which the Government of the United States has worked closely with the Government of El Salvador. The policy of the United States toward El Salvador, in theory at least, has had respectable objectives: to control extremist forces on left and right, to encourage an environment in which the people of El Salvador can choose through democratic process the government they wish. But our Government has also insisted that massive military assistance to the Government of El Salvador is necessary to achieve these goals.

Before his assassination in 1980, Archbishop Romero has written to President Jimmy Carter asking him to curtail American military aid to the Government because, in Archbishop Romero’s opinion, such aid only escalated the level of violence in that country and prevented the achievement of a negotiated political settlement. Now, nearly 10 years later, can anyone doubt the accuracy of Archbishops Romero’s warning? Does anyone believe that the national security of the United States can possibly be endangered by the results of the civil war now raging in El Salvador? At a time when our Government leaders and our corporate executives hasten to socialize with the leaders of the Communist giants elsewhere in the world, why must we assemble our military might to deal with revolutionary movements in tiny Central American nations? Are our national interests really at stake? Or are we obsessed with the myth of the national security state, a myth that is discredited each day by events elsewhere in the world? After 10 years of evasions and equivocations, a tissue of ambiguities, the assassinations of Nov. 16 pose, with brutal clarity, the question that continues to haunt the policy of the United States toward El Salvador: Can we hand weapons to butchers and remain unstained by the blood of their innocent victims?

The final word of this liturgy cannot be one of anger or denunciation. It must be one of hope. For this too, in the end , is the ground of our solidarity with the people of El Salvador. If Jesuits are men crucified to the world and to whom the world is crucified, it is only because we believe that out of the crucifixion of our Savior, El Salvador, came life and comes life. With the people of El Salvador we believe in the words of Jesus cited in today’s Gospel: “Unless a wheat grains falls on the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest: (Jn. 12:24).

When Christians celebrate the Eucharist, they take the bread, break it and remember Him who took His life, broke it and gave it that others might live. With deep hope in the Resurrection of the Lord, we pray that the final word in the drama of El Salvador be one of life and hope rather than death and despair. We pray that the irony of that tiny tortured country’s name, El Salvador, will be redeemed by the resurrection of its people.


Friday, November 16, 2007

William Barry SJ - women and ordiantion

I learned how to un-delete :-)

For those who are interested, here's most of my earlier post which features a bit of what William A. Barry SJ wrote about women and ordination in one of the chapters of his book Paying Attention to God: Discernment in Prayer. He begins the chapter mentioning the callings of Teresa of Avila and Therese of Lisieux, then speaks of some women with whom he's aquainted ....


[...] In the contemporary Catholic Church in the United States and elsewhere there are hundreds of women who identify with Therese's desire [to be a priest]. They feel that God has called them to ordained ministry in the church, and they find themselves unable to follow through on the Lord's call because of the stance of authority in the church .....

For a number of years I have been a co-worker in ministry with and sometimes spiritual director to a number of women who feel so called. Their experiences are not in the public domain, nor do these women want to publicize themselves. Yet, I believe, the church needs to know about their experience as as part of its ongoing discernment of what God is trying to accomplish ... I have felt some urgency to try to get into the public domain the experience of the women with whom I have worked. The urgency is compounded by the growing realization that many of God's people are being deprived of Eucharist because of the death of priests. As more and perhaps different experiences become part of our shared life the church will gain more charity about God's intentions ....

Each of the women I have in mind has been praying seriously for years and has sought regular and competent spiritual direction. Each makes at least an eight day directed retreat every year, and a number have also made the full Spiritual Exercises (30 days) under capable direction. Those whose prayer experience I know best have developed a relationship of intimacy with God and his Son Jesus that has moved from the discernment of the beginner to that of a companion of the Lord. They have asked to be with Jesus on mission, even on dangerous mission, and have been consoled by his acceptance of their desire. They open themselves honestly and humbly to their spiritual directors and look for challenge because they want to follow their Lord and not go up a garden path. In other words, they are continually testing the spirits as best they can. They ask the Lord whether they are deluding themselves about the desire for priesthood since the door seems to be even more firmly closed now than ten years ago. Nothing in their prayer experience points towards such a discernment of delusion. In fact the opposite seems to be the case ......

All my instincts, training and experience lead me to the conclusion that these women are experiencing an authentic call of God ..... All of us in the church need to take seriously the experiences of women such as I have described. Is God saying something to us about ministry in the church through them? And if so, what is he saying? In Experience and God John E. Smith affirms the necessity of shared experience for a religious community: "A living religion, or rather a religion which hopes to save its life, cannot ultimately afford to avoid the critical test of shared experience. On the contrary, from shared experience comes its life." So too new life for the church's ministry may only come by reflecting on shared experience.


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Tom Reese SJ on Torture

The latest question asked at On Faith is whether the use of torture is ever justified. I thought I'd post the comprehensive answer given by Fr. Reese, senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center, one with which I agree ......


Dirty Harry for President

Although Hollywood is routinely condemned by conservatives as a hotbed of liberal elitists, in fact it perpetuates the American myth that violence is the way to overcome evil.

We grew up on cowboys and Indians, war movies and espionage thrillers that showcased the good guys beating up and killing the bad guys. And if the heroine is in danger, then the end justifies the means, any means. We all booed when the criminal tortured by Dirty Harry was released back into society by the court. We cheered when Harry blew him away. Don’t get mad, just get even.

The American faith in the efficacious use of violence led us astray first in Vietnam and now in Iraq. And when you are fighting an evil such as Communism or terrorism, the argument goes, any means is legitimate.

There are numerous reasons why torture is wrong.

• Torture is a violation of U.S. and international law.

• If we torture, we cannot object to the torturing of our solders and agents. This is why the U.S. military opposes torture. Senator John McCain, a victim of Vietnamese torture, speaks eloquently to this point.

• Although movies and novels can create artificial scenarios where information is needed in minutes in order to avoid catastrophes, in fact these situations rarely if ever arise in real life. It would require 1) an immediately impending catastrophe, 2) a captive, 3) who actually has information, 4) that could be used to stop the catastrophe, 5) who will give accurate and timely information under torture, and 6) we are capable to putting into action a response in time to avert the disaster. The stars are rarely so aligned except on TV programs like "24."

• The experts who have studied the question find that torture does not work. Information given under torture may in fact be false. People who know nothing will admit to anything and give false information to stop the pain. People who know something can lie. Other interrogation techniques provide better information both quantitatively and qualitatively.

• The work of torture attracts sadists who are more interested in torturing than in getting information. These people cannot be controlled, and we cannot trust their judgments about what is appropriate. And a decent person who engages in torture soon becomes degraded by the experience. Is this a line of work you would recommend to your son or daughter? As John Paul II said, “the dignity of man is as much debased in his torturer as in the torturer’s victim.”

• The history of Christian and Islamic martyrs shows that people can resist and that they become heroes to their communities when they are killed.

• Torture was wrong when done by the Romans, by the Inquisition, by Queen Elizabeth, by Hitler, by Stalin and by Mao. This is not the company we wish to keep.

The Vatican and catholic bishops have argued strongly against the use of torture.

The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church states that “the regulations against the use of torture, even in the case of serious crimes, must be strictly observed…. International juridical instruments concerning human rights correctly indicate a prohibition against torture as a principle which cannot be contravened under any circumstances.” It quotes John Paul II as saying, “Christ’s disciple refuses every recourse to such methods, which nothing could justify….”

Christians must work for the abolition of the death penalty and all forms of torture, said Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace according to Catholic News Service. "Christians are called to cooperate for the defense of human rights and for the abolition of the death penalty, torture, inhuman or degrading treatment" both in wartime and in times of peace, the cardinal said. "These practices are grave crimes against the human person created in the image of God and a scandal for the human family in the 21st century," he said.

“Genocide, torture, and the intentional targeting of noncombatants in war or terrorist attacks are always wrong,” according to the draft of “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility from the Catholic Bishops of the United States,” which will be considered by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops at the annual meeting, November 12-15.

Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien of Baltimore, who headed the U.S. Archdiocese for the Military Services for 10 years, argues that military chaplains are expected to intervene to stop torture. “Where there is an acceptance of direct killing of noncombatant civilians, for instance, there is no chaplaincy worth its name. Where torture is justified in eliciting prisoner information, chaplaincy is ineffective or nonexistent.”

It would be ironic and perverse for Christians, who worship a man who was tortured and killed, to use torture themselves.


Monday, November 12, 2007

Happy Birthday, Fr. Arrupe

It will be 100 years (on November 14th) since Pedro Arrupe was born, and here and there on the web you can find mention of the occasion. Fr. Arrupe was/is somewhat controversial but I have the greatest respect for him not despite this but because of it. He's the father, in some ways, of liberation theology, and put into practice in a radical way Ignatius' belief that love is best shown in deeds rather than words.

Here below is some of a Sept. 2007 talk given by Kevin F. Burke, S.J., Academic Dean at the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley - THE LEGACY OF FR. PEDRO ARRUPE, S.J., IN CELEBRATION OF THE 100TH CENTENARY OF HIS BIRTH - link.


Interpreting Pedro Arrupe

I would like to open my reflections on the legacy of Pedro Arrupe with several quotations. Taken together they capture something about this strange organization – the Society of Jesus – that St. Ignatius Loyola founded in the 16th century and that Arrupe himself led in the late 20th century. They also provide us with a sense of the feelings that Arrupe himself incited. The first quotation comes from a letter from written by one ex-president of the United States, John Adams, to another, Thomas Jefferson, in 1816. Adams writes:

If ever any Congregation of Men could merit eternal Perdition on Earth and in Hell, it is the company of Loyola.

The second quotation is the opening paragraph of lead story published in Time Magazine on April 23, 1973 entitled “The Jesuits: Catholicism Troubled Front Line.”

Some of their critics have consigned them, in holy outrage, to the lower regions of hell. Some of their defenders, with equally fervent conviction, see them as saints destined for the higher reaches of heaven. Whatever their presumed destination, they are arguably the most remarkable company of men to embark on a spiritual journey since Jesus chose the Twelve Apostles. With a certain pride, they have adopted the name their enemies once used against them in derision. They are the Jesuits.

What is true of the Jesuits in general seems especially true of the man pictured on the cover of that particular edition of Time Magazine thirty-four years ago, the 28th Superior General of the Society of Jesus, Pedro Arrupe. He himself attracted admirers and detractors of equally fervent passion. Perhaps it is a testament to Fr. Arrupe’s importance that, years after he died in 1991 he can still excite very strong feelings of various kinds. Consider, for example, the following comments from a letter addressed to me by one Gerald T. Griffin of Falmouth Maine on July 6, 2005. Mr. Griffin writes:

Dear Father Burke,
I just got done reading a review of your book, Pedro Arrupe: Essential Writings. Now, I realize, Father, that you were only ordained in 1986, so your empirical knowledge of the administration of Reverend Pedro de Arrupe y Gondra, S.J. from 1965 to 1983 is limited. None of Father Arrupe’s writings are essential and he is best forgotten as the 28th Father General…. [Mr. Griffin goes on to point out several of Fr. Arrupe’s most egregious crimes – which he names Drinanism and Berriganism – and then concludes with this brief paragraph:] Father Arrupe’s betrayal of St. Ignatius resulted in the collapse of the Jesuit Order in the United States where Jesuits on the faculties of high schools and colleges are an endangered species. The less said about Father Arrupe, the better. His legacy is one of Mortal Sin clubs (sodomy and abortion) at B.C. and Holy Cross.
Yours in St. Michael the Archangel,
Gerald T. Griffin

From this perspective it seems that Fr. Arrupe betrayed not only the vision of St. Ignatius but the trust placed in the Jesuit order by Church and the papacy. Mercy Sister Janet Ruffing, a professor of spirituality and spiritual direction in the Graduate School of Religions and Religious Education at Fordham University offers a different assessment. She writes:

Everything Arrupe advocated was based on deep fidelity to the church – a relationship of personal loyalty to the popes under whom he served and of fidelity to the implementation of the agenda of Vatican II, which included an entirely new relationship of the church to the world, a renewal of religious life based on an adaptation to the changed social contexts of modern life, and an authentic renewal of the original charisms of religious communities.

And finally, Fr. Arrupe’s successor and the current superior general of the Jesuit order, Fr. Peter Hans Kolvenbach, S.J., calls Dom Pedro a spiritual master, comparing him to St. John the Baptist.

Pedro Arrupe is a spiritual master in the line of John the Baptist. Like John, he speaks prophetically from a life of ascetical simplicity and compassion. He confronts the great ethical and religious questions of the day, challenging not only his brother Jesuits and other men and women in vowed religious life, but all Christians and all people, to be rooted in truth and guided by love. He calls for authentic spiritual renewal, integrating prayer with the life of service. But above all, Father Arrupe is profoundly and passionately committed to Jesus Christ. Like John, he draws attention away from himself to Christ. He makes John’s words his own: he must increase; I must decrease.

In his own lifetime, Fr. Arrupe was controversial – seen by some as too hard-line and traditional and by others as too permissive of “new ways” that were damaging to the life of the church and to the traditions of religious life within the church. I can say, looking back on the years when I was attending Jesuit high school and college, that my teachers thought Fr. Arrupe was nothing short of a great man. Like Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, he faced the difficulties and challe ges of his complex and turbulent times with brilliance, holiness, and courage. Several years ago, in the Introduction to a small collection of his writings that I edited, I wrote of Father Arrupe:

He was the Superior General of the Society of Jesus when I entered the order in 1976 and in many ways – ways too numerous to count – he inspired, taught, encouraged, and formed me as a Jesuit. He was a hero to those entrusted with my early formation in the Jesuits and he quickly became my hero. More importantly, although I never met him personally, I count him among my spiritual friends and fathers in faith.

I will be up front on this point: I side with those who consider Pedro Arrupe a great man. He ranks with the three or four greatest Catholic leaders and saints of the 20th century, people like Oscar Romero, Mother Theresa and Pope John XXIII. He was, of course, a human being and, as such, a person of his times and his own training, with shortcomings of temperament and experience, with passions, biases, and even peculiarities. But his life itself serves as a parable of contemporary Christian discipleship. I believe his visionary leadership represents a gift to us who, a generation or two later, long to follow the path he followed out of love for Jesus Christ and a fidelity to his gospel ......

Finding God in All Things’ after Hiroshima

[...] In the early 1960s the church and the world were still feeling the aftershocks of the Second World War, the horrors of Auschwitz, the massacre of six million Jews, and the dawn of the Cold War and the nuclear age. How was the church to respond to this changed world? How do believers live in the world? These and similar questions motivated Pope John XXIII to call the Second Vatican Council.

The Council met from 1962 to 1965 and ignited an extraordinary process of renovation in response to the signs of the times. Vatican II dramatically reshaped Catholic liturgy and devotions. It renewed the forms of religious life and rediscovered the role of the laity. It shifted its relationships with other Christian churches and redefined its relationship to other religions, to secular institutions, and to the world itself as “secular”.

Taking his cue from the Council, Fr. Arrupe urged Jesuits to rediscover their call to contemplation in action, to a spirituality of a profound engagement with God in the World. The first companions who founded the Jesuits understood this to mean a spirituality of “finding God in all things.” For Arrupe and the Society he led it meant finding God even in the tragedies and tensions of world history and personal history, finding God in a world marked and symbolized by Hiroshima and Auschwitz, a world fraught with division and oppression. And the real trick is finding God and not just our own images of God, our own projections of what we think a god should look like. This requires us to discern the signs of the times, an important biblical saying adopted by Vatican II in its Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World.

Fr. Arrupe helped the Society of Jesus rediscover its fundamental call to discernment, its call to read the signs of the times. Before the council Jesuits ran schools, sent missionaries to so-called ‘mission lands,’ and did retreat work and spiritual ministries. After Vatican II, with a renewed sense of discernment, Jesuits found they were not so much called to abandon their schools or missions or retreat work, but to do all these things in new ways. We serve the Church by being at the growing edge where the church is constantly running up against the world. In the early 1970s, at General Congregation 32, the Society of Jesus asked itself this question: What is it to be a companion of Jesus today? The answer it gave is memorable. It is to engage, under the standard of the Cross, in the crucial struggle of our time: the struggle for faith and that struggle for justice which it includes.

Men and Women for Others: Jesuit Education after Arrupe

The call to embrace a faith that does justice had an enormous impact on Jesuit education. In 1973, on the feast of St. Ignatius Valencia, Spain, Arrupe gave one of his most famous speeches. Its title has become a motto for Jesuit education: “Men and Women for Others”(23, 171). His audience was comprised of the alumni of Jesuit schools from various parts of Europe, many of whom came from wealthy and prestigious families. Early in his talk, Arrupe asked his audience whether their Jesuit teachers had adequately educated them for justice. He then observed, “You and I know what many of your Jesuit teachers will answer to that question. They will answer, in all sincerity and humility: ‘No, we have not’” (173). Arrupe explained:

Education for justice has become in recent years one of the chief concerns of the church. Why? Because there is a new awareness in the church that participation in the promotion of justice and the liberation of the oppressed is a constitutive element of the mission which Our Lord has entrusted to her… Today our prime educational objective must be to form men-and-women-for-others; men and women who will live not for themselves but for God and his Christ – for the God- human who lived and died for all the world; men and women who cannot even conceive of love of God which does not include love for the least of their neighbors; men and women completely convinced that love of God which does not issue in justice for others is a farce. This kind of education goes directly counter to the prevailing educational trend practically everywhere in the world

A generation later, one cannot help but notice that a palpable shift in Jesuit life and ministry has taken place. The task of “educating men and women for others” has become almost a byword in the various circles of Jesuit education. Many Jesuit schools now promote some version of this saying as an official or unofficial motto, and changes in the curricula and campus ministries of the schools reflect the shift to justice-centered evangelization (172). The Thirty-Second General Congregation of the Society of Jesus, which Arrupe called and over which he presided in 1974-1975, declared: “The mission of the Society of Jesus today is the service of faith, of which the promotion of justice is an absolute requirement.” This, perhaps more than anything else, represents the defining achievement of his term as Superior General of the Society of Jesus .....


I echo the final words of Fr. Burke's talk .... Pedro Arrupe is indeed a great man.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

American Gangster & Serpico

- Crowe as Roberts

Today when my sister dropped by, she told me about a movie she had just seen - American Gangster - directed by Ridley Scott and starring Denzel Washinton and Russell Crowe. It's based on the true story of real-life drug lord Frank Lucas, who made millions in the late 60s and early 70s in New York City by selling heroine he imported directly from Vietnam, smuggled through customs in the coffins of dead US soldiers. The story is also about real-life police detective Richie Roberts who not only brought him to justice, but with his help revealed major corruption in the New York City police department. It sounds like a very good movie and if you want to read more about it, try Roger Ebert's review.

As my sister told me about the movie, my thoughts turned to a similar film of a real-life cop in New York who blew the whistle on corruption - one I liked very much - Serpico. Here's the New Your Times review of the movie ...


Early in 1970, two New York City police officers, Detective Frank Serpico and Sergeant David Durk, put their careers and their lives on the line. After getting the runaround for months from their superiors, who preferred not to listen, they called on David Burnham, a reporter for The New York Times, to tell him their story of graft and corruption within the Police Department.

Detective Serpico and Sergeant Durk had places, dates, and names, information that, when published, prompted Mayor Lindsay to appoint the Knapp Commission to investigate the charges, leading eventually to the biggest shake-up in the Police Department's history.

In his book Serpico, published this year, Peter Maas recalls this story exclusively from the point of view of Detective Serpico, the bearded, bead-wearing, so-called hippie cop who, in February 1971, under circumstances that were puzzling, was shot in the face and critically wounded while attempting to make a narcotics arrest. When he recovered, Detective Serpico resigned from the department, exhausted and fearing for his life. Today he reportedly lives abroad, the bullet fragments still lodged a few centimeters below his brain.

Sidney Lumet's Serpico, which opened yesterday at the Baronet and Forum Theaters, is a galvanizing and disquieting film adapted from the Maas book by Waldo Salt and Norman Wexler. It is galvanizing because of Al Pacino's splendid performance in the title role and because of the tremendous intensity that Mr. Lumet brings to this sort of subject. The method—sudden contrasts in tempo, lighting, sound level—seems almost crude, but it reflects the quality of Detective Serpico's outrage, which, in our society, comes to look like an obsession bordering on madness.

The film is limited only by its form, which carries the limitations of the Maas book one step further. Only Detective Serpico and Mr. Burnham are identified by real names. Everyone else has a fictitious name, in consideration, I suppose, of potential suits for libel and invasion of privacy. I assume the filmmakers may also have been hampered by other people's consideration of personal gain. Why should a man give a movie company the rights to his life if he's likely to wind up playing a supporting role in someone else's film?

The use of fictitious names is not in itself disquieting, only the suspicion that we are getting the truth—but sort of. One must suspect that Sergeant Durk played a much more important part in the Serpico story than is played by the character named Bob Blair (Tony Roberts) in the film.

The form also prevents Mr. Lumet and the screenwriters from much speculation about the motives that sustained Detective Serpico and made him the one officer in the precinct who refused even free meals, much less thousands of dollars in monthly payoffs from gamblers and numbers racketeers.

Detective Serpico is a driven character of Dostoyevskian proportions, an anti-cop cop. It's no accident, I suspect, that he has a great fondness for wild disguises, and that in his private life he adopts the look and manner of a flower child's vision of Christ.

Mr. Lumet and Mr. Pacino manage to suggest such a lot of things about Detective Serpico that one wishes they could have enjoyed even greater freedom in exploring the character of this unusual man who, like the worker priests in France, tried to change the system by working within it.

Serpico was photographed (by cameraman Arthur J. Ornitz) entirely in New York, a city that Mr. Lumet knows better than any other director working today. He also knows actors and has surrounded Mr. Pacino with a fine cast of supporting players of whom John Randolph, as an okay Bronx police captain, is the most prominent.

Aside from a couple of romantic interludes that threaten to bring things to a halt, the only major fault of the film is the absolutely terrible soundtrack score by Mikis Theodorakis. It is redundant and dumb, the way English subtitles might be.

If you can stop up your ears to this musical nonsense, which includes Neapolitan street airs whenever Detective Serpico's Italian immigrant parents threaten to appear, you should find the film most provocative, a remarkable record of one man's rebellion against the sort of sleaziness and second-rateness that has affected so much American life, from the ingredients of its hamburgers to the ethics of its civil servants and politicians.


- Pacino as Serpico

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Norman Mailer RIP

I saw in the news that Norman Mailer has died. For those that want to, you can read his BBC obit here. You can also read an excerpt of the first chapter of Mailer's book, On God: An Uncommon Conversation on this page - link. From the little of it I've read, Mailer's ideas of God seem an interesting mix of Gnosticism and Teilhard de Chardin :-) Here's just the beginning of it ....



Chapter 1

On God as the Artist

michael lennon: Scientists believe that the universe is expanding. Is this accelerating nature of the cosmos reflected in your concept of a god who can grow and develop?

norman mailer: I start from another direction. Having been a novelist all my working life, I may know a little about human beings. I should. They have been my study. You might say my theological notions come out of such questions as, Who are we? What are we? How do we develop? Why, indeed, are we in existence? And is there the presence of a Creator in what we do?

So the larger cosmic speculations are of less interest to me. In truth, I would hate to rely on the ever-changing state of advanced physics for my ideas.

ml: In places, you've said that God and the Devil are lesser divinities in liege to larger powers who might be the ultimate creators. Who or what do you feel is the ultimate power in the universe? Who created the universe?

nm: I feel the same way about the ultimate Creator as I feel about the expanding universe: All that is too large for my speculations. But I don't see any inherent logical contradiction in saying that I do believe our God created the world we live in and is in constant conflict with the Devil.

ml: In St. George and the Godfather, you say, "The world's more coherent if God exists, and twice coherent if He exists like us." I'm afraid this logic smacks of wish fulfillment. God need not exist merely to satisfy your desire for order. Perhaps the world is incoherent; perhaps the cosmos is disordered.

nm: Where does my desire for order come from? Not only do we humans have a fundamental desire for order, we have an obvious tendency as well toward disorder-a true conflict between order and disorder. So I say it may be worth the attempt to search into such questions.

ml: That may require hearing your thoughts on the relationship between the nature of the deity and codes for human living.

nm: Oh, Christ, Mike, I don't think in these formulae. I want to get to something more basic to my thought, which is that much of the world's present-day cosmology is based on such works of revelation as the Old and New Testament, or the Koran, yet for me Revelation is itself the question mark. Revelation, after all, is not God's words but ours, words debated back then, if you will, in committee and assembled by working theologians with varying agendas. After all, why would God bother to speak in such a fashion? There's no need. God could have imparted such thoughts directly to us. Revelation has always struck me as a power trip for high priests who were looking to create a product that would enable them to lead their flock more securely, more emphatically. Their modern-day practitioners quote constantly from Scripture on TV, use it as their guide rail, and run into intolerable contradictions that are guaranteed to cripple their power to reason. I will go so far as to say that to be a Fundamentalist is to exist as a human whose reasoning powers have been degraded into inanition before any question for which a Fundamentalist does not already have an answer.

I confess, then, that I feel no attachment whatsoever to organized religion. I see God, rather, as a Creator, as the greatest artist. I see human beings as His most developed artworks. I also see animals as His artworks. When I think of evolution, what stands out most is the drama that went on in God as an artist. Successes were also marred by failures. I think of all the errors He made in evolution as well as of the successes. In marine life, for example, some fish have hideous eyes-they protrude from the head in tubes many inches long. Think of all those animals of the past with their peculiar ugliness, their misshapen bodies, worm life, frog life, vermin life, that myriad of insects-so many unsuccessful experiments. These were also modes the Artist was trying-this great artist, this divine artist-to express something incredible, and it was not, for certain, an easy process. Indeed, it went on forever! I would guess that evolution was tampered with, if not actually blindsided on occasion, by the Devil. I think there were false trips that God engaged in because the Devil deluded Him-or Her. Forgive me if I keep speaking of God as "Him," that's a habit that's come down to me from Revelation. Obviously, to speak of God as "Her" is off-putting, but to speak of "Him/Her" or "It" is worse.

In any event, it makes sense to me that this strife between God and the Devil has been a factor in evolution. Whether God had a free hand or the Devil was meddling in it from the commencement-either way, some species were badly conceived. Sometimes a young artist has to make large errors before he or she can go farther.

I can hear the obvious rejoinder: "There's Norman Mailer, an artist of dubious high rank looking to give himself honor, nobility, and importance by speaking of God as an artist." I'm perfectly aware that that accusation is there to be brought in. All I say here may indeed be no more than a projection of my own egotistical preferences .....


Friday, November 09, 2007

San Giorgio Monastery at the movies

- Claude Monet, San Giorgio Maggiore at Twilight

I've just read a couple of movie review of an Italian film - In memoria di me (In Memory of Me/Myself). One review was actually a comment posted at the IMBd and was fairly positive. The other was a review at The Catholic Herald and was pretty negative. The movie is loosely based on a 1960 novel by Furio Monicelli, The Perfect Jesuit, and tells of a young man, Andrea, who enters a Jesuit noviciate at the San Giorgio Monastery on an island in Venice. After reading the reviews, I don't think I'll see the movie but one thing which did interest me was where the movie took place - the monastery. Below I have posted a little from the reviews and below that, some info about the San Giorgio Monastery.

- Looking down on the cloisters from the bellfry of San Giorgio

Here's a bit of the review from IMDb ....

The world of Saverio Costanzo's In Memory of Me (In memoria di me) is collective, yet interior. This is a beautifully composed, austere film with sparse but significant dialogue. When Andrea (Christo Jivkov) arrives at the big Jesuit monastery (shot entirely at San Giorgio Maggiore near Venice) the Father Superior (Andre Henneke) tells him to report on his fellow novices if they don't measure up. Mutual public criticism is a regular thing. The uniform is sweaters and slacks. Andrea's room on a big corridor is minimal, but he has a laptop; there are few of the medieval accoutrements shown in Philip Groning's documentary about La Grande Chartreuse, Into Great Silence. This is a low-contact culture. People don't even say good morning in the communal bathroom. They stare at each other, but hardly interact .....

Some of the scenes as time passes are more symbolic than realistic. Also subtle is the way Costanzo alludes to the possible temptations of homosexuality in this lonely, all-male setting, without any overt scenes—these are temptations, not actions. At first it seems this, or the moral issue of informing on associates, will be the main theme, but it's the spiritual journey that slowly draws all our attention. The title alludes to the fact that dedication to the priestly life means abandonment of the "me," the ego—after the training, it's only a memory ..... Elegant cinematography (by Mario Amura) alternates austere shots of hallways and chapel with intense close-ups of the men's faces. A clever soundtrack by Alter Ego uses piano concertos and waltzes in surprising ways, and ends with the kyrie from a contemporary Luba mass.

And the review from The Herald, to which I'd give more weight as it's written by a Jesuit ....

On an autumn day set in the present time a young man, Andrea (Christo Jivkov), arrives at a Jesuit noviciate to begin training for the priesthood ..... This is a joyless place of silence, study, suspicion, spying, intrigue, eavesdropping, self-obsession and tortured speculation. Acidulated spiritual conferences, icily given by the father superior (André Hennicke) and novice master (Marco Baliani) – mostly taken from the first week of Ignatius Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises – extol immolation. In two hours there is only one smile (at the end) and no laughter. Instead, there are sidelong glances, long gazes, pensive expressions and immobile features. Insomniac nights are broken by stealthy, sometimes prying walks along sterile marble corridors and across box-bedded cloisters .....

Saverio Costanzo, the director, has not made a documentary about Jesuit life, then or now, but loosely uses Monicelli’s novel to examine existential themes and the contrast between religious faith, embodied in repression, and humanist emancipation ..... Religious vocation, meanwhile, is depicted as pointless masochism. The fundamental motivation of the Spiritual Exercises is ultimately to put the Christian life into concrete, particular terms that lead to the discovery of God in all things. In this claustrophobic atmosphere there is no evidence of community, no pastoral activity outside the noviciate walls, and no obvious preparation for a life of mission in the world ..... Somehow, I suspect that In Memory of Me will not result in the same number of inquiries about Jesuit life that followed The Mission.

Now for the location, San Giorgio Monastery ....

The San Giorgio Monastery is a Benedictine monastery in Venice, lying on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore. It stands next to the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore, and is now the seat of Cini Foundation ..... The monastery was founded in 982 AD following the donation from the Doge Tribuno Memmo to Giovanni Morosini, who was then the first abbot ..... During the centuries the monastery became a theological, cultural and artistic center of primary importance in Europe ..... Paolo Veronese painted the massive The Wedding at Cana ..... After the fall of the Republic in 1797, the monastery was deprived of its most precious books and works of art; Napoleon sent The Wedding at Cana to Paris, and at present it is exposed in the Louvre museum ..... in 1806 it was suppressed ..... Only a few monks obtained to remain to officiate the church, while the monastery became a weapons depot. For more than a century it continued to be a military presidium, undergoing a grave deterioration ..... In 1951 the Italian Government granted the monastery to the Cini Foundation, which restored it and revived its cultural tradition.

- areal view of the monastery

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Queens and martyrs

This is one very confused post. I began it still thinking about the Elizabeth I movie and planning to write more about Elizabeth of England and Mary of Scotland and the Babington Plot, in which some Catholic sympathizers and a Jesuit (John Ballard) were arrested and killed for planning to depose Elizabeth and free Mary from her 18 years of captivity. I was kind of intrigued with the idea that a Jesuit was implicated. That lead to looking for info ....

Here's just a a mention from John O'Malley's book, The First Jesuits ...

Ignatius was eager to have some Jesuits accompany Phillip II when in 1554 he went to England espoused to Mary Tudor, but none were invited by that prince, who like his father showed little enthusiasm for the Society .... The Jesuits did not enter England until 1580, and even then there were just three of them - Robert Parsons, Ralph Emerson, and Edmund Campion. The next year Campion was apprehended and executed for "treason".

And here's a little from the website of the British Jesuits ...

[...] William Allen, leader of English Catholic exiles and later a Cardinal, with the support of Robert Parsons and other Jesuits persuaded Mercurian to approve a Jesuit mission to England. The first missioners, Parsons, Campion and Ralph Emerson, departed Rome in April of 1580. By the end of 1581, Campion had been executed and Parsons was back on the continent, never to return to England.

The history of the Elizabethan Jesuits is the stuff of legends and hagiography: clandestine meetings, priest-holes, raids, escapes from the Tower of London, imprisonment, torture and martyrdom.

So intense was persecution that periodically Father General Claudio Acquaviva questioned the mission's continuation. Parsons, along with Jesuits in England such as Robert Southwell and John Gerard, strengthened the resolve of lay Catholics through the Spiritual Exercises. On the continent Robert Parsons and others occasionally sought to alleviate the suffering of Catholics in England by encouraging invasion of England and deposition of Elizabeth ...

I'd heard of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales, most killed during the reign of Elizabeth .... guys like Edmund Campion and Robert Southwell, both Jesuits.

But then there's also Foxe's Book of Martyrs, which mentions in part the 300 odd Protestants killed by Mary Tudor, Elizabeth's Catholic predecessor and half-sister.

The Spiritual Exercises and acts of courage and faith, regicidal plots and hanging-drawing-quartering and burning at the stake ... what a mix. I'm just left with a sad, creepy feeling about politics or religion or both. One sort of redeeming oddity - Mary [Tudor] was interred in Westminster Abbey on 14 December in a tomb she would eventually share with Elizabeth. The Latin inscription on a marble plaque on their tomb (affixed there by James VI of Scotland [Mary Queen of Scot's son] when he succeeded Elizabeth to the throne of England as James I) translates to "Partners both in Throne and grave, here rest we two sisters, Elizabeth and Mary, in the hope of one resurrection". - Wikipedia

- their tomb

James Alison- love your enemies

I've been reading an article (a talk, actually) by Fr. James Alison, - Love Your Enemy: Within a Divided Self. It begins with a mention of the discovery of mirror neurons and the possible support that may give to René Girard's theory of mimetic desire. I've left out that beginning part and started with his discussion of the limitations of reciprocity (born in part of mimicry) in human relationships and the way that reciprocity is broken by Jesus/God.

I've only posted bits - best to read the whole thing.


Let us take a look at the passage of Matthew’s Gospel which our hosts at St Martin-in-the-Fields have suggested to us by their title for this lecture series. You are all familiar with the phrase:

Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,

and yet comparatively rarely do we give it its full context, as I will do shortly. The result is that it is presented to us as a kind of heroic moral demand, the sort of thing that would make one somehow especially noble, if unworldly. That is, when it is not presented in a more sinister light, as if it could be paraphrased “Jesus wants you as a doormat”. This is what happens when the phrase is used to urge meekness upon a battered spouse, or passivity upon someone who is genuinely being victimized by someone else. And this of course is the danger of reading a phrase which is illustrative of who we are and how we function, and thus is directive, something which sets us free as it gets along side us and enables our perspective on things to be broadened, as if it were a moral commandment spoken straight to our conscious mind which we must therefore struggle to fulfil irrespective of circumstance.

In fact, however, the context of that phrase, as supplied by St Matthew, is rather different. Here are the verses in question (Mt 5, 43-48):

You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Now of course the phrase “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy” appears nowhere in the Hebrew Scriptures. And yet all Scriptures, whatever they actually say, are capable of an interpretation such that those who give voice to them turn them into bulwarks for the cultural creation of identity. Give people a common enemy, and you’ll give them a common identity ...... we are confirmed in our assumptions that we should do good to those who do good to us, and take revenge on those who do evil to us. It is this normal human cultural way of living out reciprocity which Jesus is pointing to. He knows that we are reciprocally-formed animals; he seems to understand that we are ourselves radically imitative creatures who are very seriously dependent on what others do to us, for what we do.

Jesus is offering a contrast between this way of being, this pattern of desire which runs us, and how God desires. God, he says, causes ‘the sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust’. And our typical reading of this is as if Jesus were saying that God is somehow indifferent, in that removed, detached sense which we normally give to the word “indifferent”. Rather as though God were saying “Well, they’re such a bunch of losers, that I may as well give up hoping they’ll get up to anything good, so I may as well just carry on doing the kind of regular, creative, thing, causing it to rain or be sunny, which seems to be my lot in life regardless of whether they get anything right”.

Far from it! The sort of “indifference” about which Jesus is talking could not be more removed from that sort of apathetic detachment. Jesus is making a point about a pattern of desire which is not in any way at all run by what the other is doing to it, is not in reaction in any way at all, but is purely creative, dynamic, outward going, and able to bring things into being and flourishing ..... the instruction “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” comes as the mid-point, the point of passage, between these two different patterns of desire: the first pattern in which our identity is given to us and grasped onto by us imitative creatures as we mirror each other in our reciprocity; and the second pattern of desire in which our identity is given to us by someone moving us entirely independently of being moved by us. The instruction is not one about being a doormat, it is one about how to be free ......

What God’s love looks like is being creatively for the other without being defined over against the other in any way at all. That is what is meant by grace and freedom. It is going to involve breaking through the strong-seeming but ultimately fragile dichotomies of “in group” and “out group”, “pure” and “impure”, “good guys” and “bad guys” which are quite simply the ambivalent functions of our cultural identity, and coming to love other people without any over against at all. Living this out is going to look remarkably like a loss of identity, a certain form of death. And living it out as a human is what it is to be a child of God, and to be perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect.

I think that we are now in a better position to look at the second half of our title for this evening: the divided self. The main point I want to make is that the divided self is not a particular individual tragedy. It is the normal condition of our being brought into the world ..... One of the things our friends know about us, but we don’t know about ourselves, is that the people we find most difficult, the ones who really get on our nerves, are the ones who are most like us ......

It is here, I think, that we can start to see the genius of Our Lord’s instruction, one which, as I say, completely takes for granted the mimetic, projective nature of humans and of the fact that it is how we are in relation to others which runs our reason, and not our reason which runs the way we are towards others. He makes it clear throughout the Sermon on the Mount that the only path towards having a non-divided self is by loving our enemies, forgiving those who do us harm, and praying for those who persecute and hate us. And this is because it is only in our relationship with others, “out there”, that we have any access at all to what constitutes us “in here”.

And this seems to be true as a matter of experience as well: as I have prayed for and tried to learn to look on certain people in my own experience with whom I have been locked into what seemed at first glance like righteous hatred, I have found that the veriest glimpse of the tiniest iota of affection towards them produced a huge harvest of self-acceptance and peace within me. I could have prayed for years to be able to forgive myself and not got anywhere at all: it was in being able to let the other go, forgive the other, that I began to be able to forgive myself. It is for this reason that I think that telling people that they need to forgive themselves is to place a terrible burden on them. It is to direct them to fruitless introspection and breast beating, since none of us has direct access to what makes us conscious. The only way to forgive yourself is projectively, which is to say, in another person. As you forgive another, so you will find yourself being let go .....

If we want to come to know what really is true about our world, then we will have to learn to have our knowledge set free from being forged in hatred. That, it seems to me, is the basic framework for what, at the publicly expressed invitation of Pope Benedict, my Church is now proposing to study seriously: how to talk about a natural law which is universal in scope and true independently of those who hold it. I suspect that as we grow in our discovery of how mirror neurons work, the phrase “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” may turn out to be closer to the founding principle of that natural law than any of us had any right to expect.


Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Elizabeth or Mary

- Redgrave and Dalton

Jeff mentioned the latest movie about Queen Elizabeth I in a recent post .... I'm not Elizabeth's biggest fan but tend to sympathize more with her adversaries, including Mary I of Scotland, whom she executed. I'd like to say I base my feelings in this on history alone, but I've been just as influenced by the tweaked points of view of movies and novels :-)

One movie on those times that comes to mind (Netflix has it) is Mary Queen of Scots, a 1972 film starring Vanessa Redgrave as Mary, Glenda Jackson as Elizabeth, and Timothy Dalton as the creepy Lord Darnley. You've got to love a movie that has both Catherine de' Medici and John Knox as characters. The film is to be remade next year with Scarlett Johansson in the title role.