Friday, April 30, 2010
Thu Tran, on right, next to the author, Atchison, Kansas 1981
The Vietnamese refugees, especially the "boat people" gave the world and the Americans a great witness to the love of liberty and provided testimony to the noble cause of freedom in South Vietnam. I assisted Thu Tran settle in Atchison, Kansas. He had been an enlisted man in the Navy and was an accomplished boat pilot. This brave man used his skills to pilot 28 people to freedom. In Kansas He worked hard and sent much of his money back to his father in South Vietnam through little goods and medicines he purchased at K-mart. The communists confiscated half and allowed his father to sell the rest on the black market. Thu Tran eventually headed west for Stockton, California and I went east to Illinois. I have lost touch with him. If any does know him, please have him contact me. I re-print below an essay he wrote for a class at the community college.
Following the end of the Vietnam War, Apr. 30, 1975, the liberty of South Vietnam was forced to die. Hence, thousands of South Vietnamese left their country with tears and pain to find freedom by walking through the jungles in Laos and Cambodia toward Thailand, or by sailing throughout the South China Sea toward the Philippines, Hong Kong, or crossing the Gulf of Siam toward Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia. As a person who loved to be free I had tried two times before I managed my last trip on Apr. 28, 1978 to escape from the Vietnamese Communist Government and sailed to Malaysia for freedom. In my life, I have had so many indelible memories, but the sailing that I had experienced across the Gulf of Siam by boat was one of the most indelible memories I have. It was impressed deeply in my memory because I had to pay its cost with pain, tears, and even fear of death, and because I was responsible for 28 lives seeking liberty through so many obstacles that could bring us back to communist political re-education camp or prison or even death by killing by the Thai, or Malaysian sea pirates, or by sea storms. It all started the very beginning of April, 1978, at Rach Gia, a city on the Southwest coast of Vietnam, in the Gulf of Siam. As local fishermen guessed that the sea would be calm during April until October each year, it was a good chance for us if we would sail at this time. An urgent plan was set up carefully because we had to do it on the sly, and materials were gathered such as fuel, medicine, compass, binoculars, and maps. We had to buy these on the black market with a high price and with the difficulty of hiding them from the government eyes. Finally, the materials which we needed for the trip, including food and water had been concealed in the boat by moving a small quantity each day.
The boat, which was used for the sailing, was old, 49 ft. long, 14 ft, wide, with a 22-hp. machine. It had been built just for sailing near the coast, not for sailing on the open sea a' It was bought from fishermen with gold by the contributions of all the people on the trip. It took us almost a month to prepare for sailing. Finally we departed. According to my plan, the boat would sail normally just as many fishermen's local boats starting on their fishing trips out of the port. We passed through the communist harbor patrol boats and control station, and then at night we would return to an appointed time and place to pick up companions. It was dark and without the moon on Apr. 28, 1978. The boat sailed out to the Gulf of Siam carrying 29 refugees aboard. There were 3 children, 5 women, and 21 men. I was the boat's pilot because none of the men aboard could pilot or even sail the boat out to sea. We had 3 local fishermen on the boat, one of them was a mechanic. They could help me pilot the boat when we sailed alongside the coast, but they knew nothing about navigation when the boat operated on the sea. During the next day we were still in Vietnam territorial waters. we were still worried about being captured by the Vietnamese communist cruiser, and we were afraid of any type of boat even though smaller than our boat. At this time I thought of teaching the men aboard the basics of navigation and training them to be pilot assistants by teaching them how to read the compass and navigation map, and how to keep the direction of the boat when it passed through waves. Then after that I assigned the men aboard into 4 groups as I had been trained when I was in the South Vietnamese Navy . This idea brought me out of the problem that concerned me before: how could I pilot the boat reaching Singapore without pilot assistants ? Could I pilot the boat all day and night long though a week? Of course, I couldn't do it without any pilot assistance. But now we could do it by all 4 groups aboard.
April 30, 1978 was the morning on the second day of the trip. I had waited for this time since the fall of Saigon, April 30, 1975. Three years I had lived in my country without freedom. Now freedom seemed to be appearing. Suddenly I felt my warm tears running down on my cheeks when I saw a figure of a commercial ship through the binoculars. It meant that we already had reached the international waters, and we would not be captured by the Vietnam communist cruiser. At mid-night, though, the boat stopped because the speed transmission box had been broken. After being repaired we continued sailing but now the problem was more oil required for the speed transmission box. This made us have to change the direction toward Thailand instead of Singapore because the oil now would not be enough to supply the boat to reach Singapore, but could be enough if we sailed toward Thailand. The fear of Thai sea-pirates suddenly increased inside all of us, especially the women and their husbands, because we now had to sail into the center of the pirate's sea. Most of the people on the refugee boats crossing through the Gulf of Siam toward Thailand had been raped, killed or abducted by Thai pirates. There were few of them reaching freedom without meeting sea pirates. We knew that, but we had no choice ; on the other hand, we could die when the engine run out of oil and the boat run out of food, water, and the land still could not be seen.
May 1st, 1978 . Early morning on the third day of sailing, we saw a beacon on the route which we were going to sail to Thailand An hour later we recognized an American oil rig ship and we sailed toward it to ask for help . We were not allowed to climb up the ship but they gave us some oil, fuel, food, water, and showed us the new direction to reach the closest city of Thailand, Songkhla.
It was 30 minutes after sailing toward Songkhla from the American oil rig ship when a Thai pirate boat came to us. After robbing our property, they helped-tow our boat out of the pirate sea and toward their territorial waters. Hours later they left us and let us know the direction to reach Songkhla. Hence, we sailed nearly another day to arrive at Songkhla. But before we saw the land we passed through a sea storm which frightened us in the darkness of the sea . The boat was driven by the big waves; the engine stopped : the pump halted. The men aboard had to bail out the water inside of the boat with their hands until the next morning.
When the sun came up and the sea became calm, the engine was repaired, and then we continued sailing toward the land. We reached Songkhla at noon on the fourth day of the trip . It took more than 4 days to cross through the Gulf of Siam but the purpose still far away because at Songkhla's port we met a Norwegian commercial ship and through the conversation with the sailors on board we knew that the Thai government at Songkhla wouldn't accept any more refugees because the diplomatic situation between Thailand and "Red" Vietnam wouldn't be good at all if Thai continued to welcome the Vietnamese political refugees. Then we had to change the direction again.
After receiving more food, fuel, oil, water and medicine from the Norwegian ship we continued sailing toward Singapore. This time we felt more safe than when crossing the gulf because we were sailing along Thai and Malaysian coast except for only one thing; that is we didn't know much about this coast and its aqueous rock This situation could be dangerous to us if our boat might be sunk by aqueous rock. Finally, I decided that we would continue to sail along the coast by day . At night we would stop and rest. On the fifth day of the trip we passed the territorial waters between Thailand and Malaysia. On this night we rested in a small town on the Malaysian coast. On the sixth day of the sailing we were robbed once again by Malaysian fishermen just nearby the town where we had stopped last night. It made our spirits suddenly come down lower than ever. Now we were afraid of all boats, even though the boat might be smaller than our boat that appeared around us. Hence we had second thoughts and decided to stop at any place on the Malaysian coast that would accept us as political refugees . We knew that we would never reach Singapore as we wished, and the sailing would be stopped very soon on this day.
We reached Kuala Trengganu, W. Malaysia the afternoon on the sixth day of the sailing, May 4, 1978, right on the small island, Merang Refugee Camp, which the Malaysian Government built up for political refugees coming from Vietnam by boats. The camp had been sponsored by the United Nations, and when we landed on the beach the people in the camp poured out to watch us, because of wondering, and because of hoping to find their relatives . Reflecting upon their actions, suddenly I recalled the recent trip - sea pirates, sea storms. We were lucky to pass through them. But luck was not always possible. Maybe their relatives were not lucky enough to reach freedom and the Gulf of Siam could be their graves I suddenly felt salt on my lips; my warm tears were coming down. I followed the group led by Malaysian officers. Finally, I turned back and watched the boat and the sea while I thought "There is nothing dearer than human liberty.”
Thu T. Tran
“For the people who have loved liberty; And Remembering the people who lie dead under the Gulf of Siam”
College English IA Class Atchison, Kansas Highland Community College; October 3, 1982
Thirty five years ago Saigon fell and the Republic of South Vietnam was conquered by the invading North Vietnamese Army -- Communist oppression fell upon a great land. We are fortunate in this country to have received many refugees from Vietnam. The Catholic faith is very strong among them. Here are a few high points of their great witness to the faith.
1. Our Lady of La Vang
In 1798 many Christians took refuge in the jungle near Quang Tri, a village in central Vietnam. Many people died from the cold weather, sickness and starvation. At night, they often gathered in small groups to pray the rosary. One night they were visited by an apparition of Our Blessed Mother in a long cape, holding a child in her arms, with two angels at her sides. She comforted them and told them to boil the leaves from the surrounding trees to use as medicine. She also told them that from that day on, all those who came to this place to pray, would get their prayers heard and answered. All those who were present witnessed this miracle.
Pope John Paul wrote in 1999 -- "In going to the Shrine of Our Lady of La Vang, so dear to the hearts of the Vietnamese faithful, pilgrims entrust to her their joys and their sorrows, their hopes and their sufferings. In this way they turn to God and make themselves intercessors for their families and for their entire people asking the Lord to instil sentiments of peace, brotherhood and solidarity in the hearts of all men and women, so that all the Vietnamese will be every day more closely united, in order to build a world in which it is pleasant to live, based on the essential spiritual and moral values and where each person can be recognized in his dignity as a child of God, and turn freely and with filial love to his Father in heaven who is "rich in mercy" (Eph 2:4). I am particularly close to you in my thoughts at this time when the Church in your country is honouring the Mother of the Saviour; I entrust you to the intercession of Our Lady of La Vang and cordially impart to you and all your pastors an affectionate Apostolic Blessing, which I extend to the pilgrims who will visit the shrine in the spirit of the Jubilee and to all the Catholic faithful in Viet Nam."2. The Vietnamese martyrs, canonized in 1988 by Pope John Paul II. See the following website.
3. The incredible story of Bishop Thaddée Le Huu Tu O.Cist; see this website.
4. The Testimony of Hope by Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan: from a book blurb: "Every year, John Paul chose someone to preach a course of spiritual exercises for himself and the Roman Curia at the Vatican. In the Jubilee Year 2000, he asked Vietnamese Archbishop Nguyen van Thuan. Testimony of Hope is the complete text of those Spiritual Exercises. In this moving work, the Archbishop addresses our need for hope at the beginning of the Third Christian Millennium. As a prisoner in a communist concentration camp for 13 years, 9 of them in solitary confinement, Archbishop Nguyen van Thuan faced what he describes as the "agonizing pain of isolation and abandonment." Recounting the details of those long years, he reveals the secret which allowed him to cling to hope in the midst of despair. Nguyen van Thuan 's message to John Paul II and to us is this: the same hope that he found in imprisonment is also the hope for the world at this momentous point in history. Faced with any darkness, we have reason for confidence: Christ, Hope of the World. [Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan was made the bishop of Nha Trang in 1967, and in 1974, coadjutor of bishop of Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City). Arrested only a few months after his appointment, Archbishop Van Thuan was imprisoned by the Vietnamese government for thirteen years and then "released" to house arrest. In 1991, Van Thuan was expelled from Vietnam. He went to Rome and began his work in the Roman Curia as Vice President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace."
Thursday, April 29, 2010
The Pope John Paul II Forum is an educational venture, exploring and communicating the legacy of Pope John Paul II. In the document on Christian Education the Council Fathers said "The Christian outlook should acquire a public, stable and universal influence in the whole process of the promotion of higher culture." (GE §10) John Paul II said in Gift and Mystery that this apostolate to culture was always a top priority of his, along with his concern for the family: "In my own life I have identified these priorities in the lay apostolate and pastoral care of the family . . . and in serious dialogue with the world of learning and culture." (90)
The Catholic university is one way that the Christian outlook can acquire a public and stable influence. Its influence will be universal only through the formation of laity for apostolate in all areas of life, society and culture. The role of the John Paul II Forum is to be an agency ready to respond with ideas, personal presence, and grass roots initiatives for the enrichment of faith. Pope John Paul II said in his book on Sources of Renewal (1972/79) that "enrichment of faith" is the principle and postulate for the implementation of Vatican II. Is it not time for entrepreneurs of the spirit and ideas to step forward? We are not for profit, relying on what Maritain calls the "poor temporal means" but still "beggars for heaven." We cannot bury our talents in the ground, but we must use them, trade with them, increase them so that we can give a proper account to the Lord when he returns.
We want to work for that enrichment of faith through this forum by:
- teaching the teachers in College and High School in the ways of faith and reason
- gathering students with inspiring teachers formed in the ways of faith and reason
- teaching the Catholic professionals in Houston (and beyond)
And here is what we shall always teach --
- The importance of both faith and reason in coming to know the truth
- The high dignity and eternal destiny of the human person
- The reality of God in all things and above all things
- The objective basis of morality in natural law and the full human good
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Today is a special day for those who follow the lead of Pope John Paul II -- it is the feast day of St. Louis de Montford. The discovery of the writing and the devotion of St. Louis served as a turning point in his life. For here he found a "Marian devotion that was based completely on Jesus Christ, the Incarnation and Redemption. De Montford's work was one of those books that it was not enough to have read. It had to become life. Years later he still remembered carrying it around with him for a long time, even at a sodium factory, with the result that its handsome binding became spotted with lime. From then on, his love of Mary, the Mother of God, sprang from the very heart of the Trinity and jesus Christ. It deepened into an intellectual vision that would eventually also incorporate his developing insights into the Church and the human person." Brendan Leahy, "Totus Tuus: The Mariology of John Paul II," in John Paul the Great, ed. William Oddie (2003)
Leahy is right -- this book must be lived, not just read. Its deep impact on the Pope can be gauged by the very motto of his papacy "Totus tuus," or "All yours" words from De Montford's consecration to Mary.
In the the words of John Paul II: "Totus Tuus. This phrase is not only an expression of piety, or simply an expression of devotion. It is more. During the Second World War, while I was employed as a factory worker, I came to be attracted to Marian devotion. At first, it had seemed to me that I should distance myself a bit from the Marian devotion of my childhood, in order to focus more on Christ. Thanks to Saint Louis of Montfort, I came to understand that true devotion to the Mother of God is actually Christocentric, indeed, it is very profoundly rooted in the Mystery of the Blessed Trinity, and the mysteries of the Incarnation and Redemption. And so, I rediscovered Marian piety, this time with a deeper understanding. This mature form of devotion to the Mother of God has stayed with me over the years, bearing fruit in the encyclicals Redemptoris Mater and Mulieris Dignitatem." (Crossing the Threshold of Hope).
On this day, the Feast of St. Louis de Montford, I wish to thank my student, Sri. We are reading together Augustine and Aquinas on grace and today was a last meeting for this semester. We have read Augustine's Nature and Grace and Spirit and Letter; and we read parts of the Summa on grace. He is thoroughly familiar with the work of St Louis and he explained it to me in light of our reading of Augustine. Later in the day he returned from Veritas bookstore with a few books on this devotion which he gave to me. I am now ready to follow the lead of Pope John Paul II in preparing for the consecration.
If anyone is interested in making this important act of devotion, get a copy of "True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin," by St Louis de Montford, or visit the following website
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
In his talk Sunday afternoon, Father Crooker, CSB, spoke about the mystery of simple things that God uses for sacramental purposes -- water, bread, salt. You would not think that such small things could have such an profound impact. Chapter six of St John's gospel is so rich. It starts with a simple story of hunger and nourishment -- and involves the miracle of the loaves. But then Christ leads people to understand that he is the true object of hunger and he gives himself to us as food. That is the hard saying. Our Lord asks, will you also turn away and go? Fr Crooker repeated with great emotion - "Lord, where else can we go?"
So through the mystery of bread and wine, we receive the Eternal son of God, one in being with the Father, born of the Virgin Mary. Why such insignificant materials, Fr Crooker repeated. Why not more elegance? That is the way of the sacred mysteries - the Sacraments. So too, with the priesthood. God uses men who have no special capacity -- yet they are given the power to bring the bread of God to the faithful; to undo knots of sin which humans cannot untie. And they teach and proclaim the gospel. All are unlikely candidates. It is something profoundly mysterious. There is one sure lesson -- trust in his astonishing words.
Fr Crooker shared with us the story of his efforts to respond to a call to serve as a priest, It took some starts and stops, but he came to join the Basilian order, and he has served faithfully for almost 57 years. Fr Crooker told us that he always is aware his unworthiness and this is related to the mystery of the sacrament of priesthood. He spoke gratefully of the examples of the Popes who have reigned during the last 150 years The Church is fortunate to have their witness.
In chapter 8 John Paul II also marvels at the great mystery and gift in answering directly the question "Who is the Priest?" Here are the five points he makes about Priest as ---
1. A steward of the mysteries of God (1 Cor 4:1-2) - first, the priest does not own the treasures or goods he dispenses, but acts as a steward, who must manage them "justly and responsibly."
2. Living a wonderful exchange between God and man - a man offers his humanity to Christ, so that Christ may use him as an instrument of salvation. This is a great fulfillment of our humanity to bless God at the altar of the whole earth.
3. Centered on the Eucharist -- man must never lose sight of the debt man as a creature owes to the Creator and with Christ, offer himself to the Father. By this sacrifice, Christ the priest "makes righteous in the Father's eye all mankind and indirectly all creation." So the Eucharist "must be the most important part of the priest's day."
4. Acting "in persona Christi" - the Eucharist is memory and presence; the priest not only recalls the sacred events of Christ's passion, but through the Holy Spirit he makes Christ present.
5. Always deepening the "Mysterium Fidei" - the mystery of faith refers to the Eucharist, but also the priesthood and the common priesthood of all the faithful; for all the faithful share in the Eucharistic sacrifice and participate in the three fold mission of Christ. Pope John Paul II says this is "the deepest reason behind the priestly vocation" (79).
6. Redeemer of the World -- "Christ is a priest because he is the Redeemer of the world." So John Paul speaks about the renewed discovery of "man as a person." And he concludes "I see ever more clearly the close link between the message of that Encyclical (Redemptor hominis) and everything that is found in the heart of man through his sharing in Christ's priesthood." (82)
Such deep mystery and countless blessing come from the insignificant hands of the priest. A thank you to Father Crooker and all of the priests in this Year of the Priest. Gift and mystery is the most suitable phrase for their presence among us.
Monday, April 26, 2010
Sunday, April 25, 2010
John Paul explains the mystery of vocation as the mystery of divine election. We hear the passage from the Gospel of John -- "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit would abide." (Jn 15:16) This saying of Jesus pulls any Christian to heed the opportunities of the hour and to live in faith and hope. The gift transcends the individual, John Paul said, so we must speak with humility.
Karol Wojtyla set out on the path of study -- the study of Polish language and culture -- and this study made possible much of the fruit of his mature thought. I highly recommend the first two chapters of Rocco Buttiglione's Karol Wojtyla: The Thought of the Man who Became Pope John Paul II to have a deeper understanding of the Polish roots of John Paul's life and work. As he studied at the Jagiellonian the Nazi's invaded Poland. Karol worked in a stone quarry and participated in an underground theater, eventually joining an underground seminary. His priestly mentors were heroic men who faced intimidation and death from Nazis and then Stalinists. Some were sent to Dachau (3,000 Catholic priests were interned at Dachau alone!); later, others were subjected to the Stalin show trails (and countless priests were sent into that vast Gulag of torment and suffering). All the while these brave men protected Karol as he studied his St. Thomas Aquinas and learned his theology from "the center of the great theological tradition." The tragedy of war made the value and importance of his priestly vocation very clear: "The spread of evil and the atrocities of war" and the tremendous goodness and kindness he experienced from many people during those hard times illuminated the call to priesthood for him. He said that their lives were still "brightened by the light of beauty which radiates from music and poetry." (40)
John Paul highlights the "Marian thread" of his vocation. Our Lady of Perpetual Help, the Carmelite scapular, the living rosary, the Angelus, the apparitions, and Saint Louis de Montfort all formed him deeply to see that "Mary leads us to Christ" and "Christ leads to his Mother." His great motto, Totus Tuus, comes from de Montford's dedication or entrustment prayer: "Totus tuus ego sum et omnia Tua sunt. Accipio Te in mea omnia. Praebe mihi cor Tuum, Maria." (Mystery and Gift, 30). "I am all Yours, and all that I have belongs to You." Later in 1987, Henryk Gorecki composed a choral piece (Totus Tuus, opus 60) to celebrate John Paul's visit to Poland.
Karol Wojtyla was rdained on All Saints Day, 1946 in the private chapel of the Archbishop of Krakow. Pope John Paul II shares a profound and moving meditation on the ceremony, especially considering the prostration on the floor each ordinandi makes. "In lying prostrate on the floor in the form of a cross before one's ordination, in accepting one's own life -- like Peter -- the cross of Christ and becoming with the Apostle a 'floor' for our brothers and sisters, one finds the ultimate meaning of all priestly spirituality. Standing in St Peter's during the Vatican Council, he wrote a poem about the experience. Here are a few lines he shares in the book, Gift and Mystery:
Peter, you are the floor, that others
may walk over you . . . not knowing
where they go. You guide their steps
. . .
You want to serve their feet that pass
as rock serves the hooves of sheep.
The rock is a gigantic temple floor,
the cross a pasture.
Prophetic words from Karol Cardinal Wojtyla.
Saturday, April 24, 2010
Friday, April 23, 2010
"When we see that persecutions or contradictions threaten us with some great trouble we must retire under the Holy Cross, with the true confidence that all will end to the advantage of those who love God."
St. Francis de Sales
I received information from Rev. Thomas F. Dailey, O.S.F.S. at DeSales University about his bibliography of Pope John Paul II. It is a tremendous resource and I recommend that you visit it.
Click here for the bibliography.
Father Dailey is the Director of the Salesian Center for Faith and Culture, another great initiative for renewal as called for by Vatican II and Pope John Paul II.
Thank you Father Dailey for this good work.
I should mention that I was educated by the Oblates of St Francis de Sales at Bishop Ireton High School in Alexandria Virginia. The Oblates provided me with an education in Christian Humanism and my first exposure to Newman, Aquinas, T. S. Eliot and William Blake.
Facing the crisis, we must cross "the threshold of hope." Here is what that means.
In a previous blog, "Be not afraid as watchword" I quoted sections of the Pope John Paul II's remarkable book Crossing the Threshold of Hope. I left off the last few paragraphs which I reprint today. They explain a point that lies behind the assumption made by many during this abuse crisis -- namely, the demands of chastity are too high. Those who clamor for the end of celibacy, or attribute the crisis to the demand of celibacy, deny the possibility of chastity.
"You observe that contemporary man finds it hard to return to faith because he is afraid of the moral demands that faith makes upon him. And this, to a certain degree, is the truth. The Gospel is certainly demanding. We know that Christ never permitted His disciples and those who listened to Him to entertain any illusions about this. On the contrary, He spared no effort in preparing them for every type of internal or external difficulty, always aware of the fact that they might well decide to abandon Him. Therefore, if He says, "Be not afraid!" He certainly does not say it in order to nullify in some way that which He has required. Rather, by these words He confirms the entire truth of the Gospel and all the demands it contains. At the same time, however, He reveals that His demands never exceed man's abilities. If man accepts these demands with an attitude of faith, he will also find in the grace that God never fails to give him the necessary strength to meet those demands. The world is full of proof of the saving and redemptive power that the Gospels proclaim with even greater frequency than they recall demands of the moral life. How many people there are in the world whose daily lives attest to the possibility of living out the morality of the Gospel! Experience shows that a successful human life cannot be other than a life like theirs.
To accept the Gospel's demands means to affirm all of our humanity, to see in it the beauty desired by God, while at the same time recognizing, in light of the power of God Himself, our weaknesses: "What is impossible for men is possible for God" (Lk 18:27).
These two dimensions cannot be separated: on the one hand, the moral demands God makes of man; on the other, the demands of His saving love-the gift of His grace -- to which God in a certain sense has bound Himself. What else is the Redemption accomplished in Christ, if not precisely this? God desires the salvation of man, He desires that humanity find that fulfillment to which He Himself has destined it, and Christ has the right to say that His yoke is easy and His burden, in the end, light (cf. Mt 11:30).
It is very important to cross the threshold of hope, not to stop before it, but to let oneself be led. I believe that the great Polish poet Cyprian Norwid had this in mind when he expressed the ultimate meaning of the Christian life in these words: "Not with the Cross of the Savior behind you, but with your own cross behind the Savior."
There is every reason for the truth of the Cross to be called the Good News."
Thursday, April 22, 2010
"His heart was not pure enough, nor was his arm strong enough, to impose holiness and chastity upon the people he aspired to govern."
"Luther has unpeopled the solitudes where prayer watched under the guard of mortification."
And if one aspires to a purer day?
"Turn you eyes to the tabernacles, of which you have tender reminiscences . . . to its confessional, to its holy table, its pious mysteries, the efficacy of which you have experienced."
What of its efficacy? Do we believe in the efficacy of the sacraments, in the efficacy of grace? No. The present crisis stems from a crisis of faith.
I would like to begin setting a larger context for understanding the sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church. We cannot let the New York Times set the agenda for understanding the nature of the crisis. The Catholic faithful may be buffaloed by the pressure of the daily reports of scandal combined with innuendo of papal complicity and pseudo-theological pronouncements. There is no question that we face a crisis of grave proportion. We are reaping a bitter harvest from decades of wrong doing, poor judgment, cover-up and neglect. We can pray that the Holy Father and courageous bishops expunge the wicked, protect the children, and teach the truth of the gospel. I would like to use this blog to draw upon the resources of Pope John Paul II and other writers to provide a larger context for a better understanding the various aspects of the problem, and specifically identify the philosophical and theological issues.
I want to begin by considering an essay by Lacordaire, great Dominican of the French restored order. In a collection of essays Political and Social Philosophy edited by Rev. D. O'Mahoney (St Louis: B. Herder Book Company, 1924) we find two essays on chastity, "Catholicism and chastity," and "Rationalism and chastity."
The ideal of chastity versus the indulgence and honor paid to sexual depravity reveals a "ground on which the world and the Gospel can never meet in accord and harmony." Note that Lacordaire does not say the world and the Church, but the world and the gospel, for members of the church can betray the gospel. But it was through chastity he says that the Church stormed Rome; Rome had "deified shame and voluptuousness," but "Chastity set up in the Pantheon its double sign: the cross, the flesh of a man suffering by voluntary self-immoltation; and by its side, the image of the spotless Virgin." Thus "the honor and publicity of depravity was replaced by honor and publicity of chastity." Lacordaire says that chastity will become the sign by which "men always recognize the priest." Lacordaire says that if the sign of chastity remains on his brow, men will "forgive him much," including avarice or pride. The people will not forgive the fault of frailty in matters sexual.
Father Lacordaire speaks about the trial of centuries by which the chastity of the priesthood proved itself. The world may call attention to "some isolated scandals, but the whole body of the priesthood has remained safe and secure." The "fury of its enemies," Lacordaire predicts, will break itself to pieces "against that ark which the priesthood carries with it."
But now we see that ideal of chastity abandoned by too many in the Church and the fury of its enemies now come to hit its mark and smash that ark. What will be Catholic influence if the yoke of sanctity be abandoned? Vice is a "pestilential breath" that will but dry up the sources of life. The danger of this crisis lies in part in the pseudo-theological pronouncements that chastity is not possible and that vice must be accommodated throughout. Must we now confound "the general state of morals and manners in Christendom with that in pagan Greece and Rome."
J.B. Henri Lacordaire, OP
no desire for its pleasure...
To be a member of every family
yet belonging to none...
To share all sufferings; to penetrate
all secrets; to heal all wounds...
To daily go from men to God to
offer Him their petitions...
To return from God to men
to offer them His hope...
To have a heart of fire for charity
and a heart of bronze for chastity...
To bless and be blest forever.
O God, what a life, and it is yours,
O Priest of Jesus Christ
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Pope John Paul II draws some profound lessons from the work of St Anselm on Faith and Reason.
"The role of philosophically trained reason becomes even more conspicuous under the impulse of Saint Anselm's interpretation of the intellectus fidei. . . . . Its [reason's] function is to find meaning, to discover explanations which might allow everyone to come to a certain understanding of the contents of faith. Saint Anselm underscores the fact that the intellect must seek that which it loves: the more it loves, the more it desires to know. Whoever lives for the truth is reaching for a form of knowledge which is fired more and more with love for what it knows, while having to admit that it has not yet attained what it desires: . . . The desire for truth spurs reason always to go further; indeed, it is as if reason were overwhelmed to see that it can always go beyond what it has already achieved. It is at this point, though, that reason can learn where its path will lead in the end . . . [and thus] at the summit of its searching reason acknowledges that it cannot do without what faith presents." Fides et ratio §42
We have queried on previous blogs how does one get from the disciplines, separately existing and specialized, to a vision of the whole? The preferred mode, and the one to be expected at any rate, from professors and students at a Catholic university is to go through faith. At the summit of any search "reason acknowledges that it cannot do without what faith presents." Dante, now Anselm, reminds us that love is constitutive of the educational enterprise. In the Purgatorio Virgil calls down to the weary Dante and says that "here a man must fly with the swift wings of desire." (Image at top is from UT Austin Dante site; it is William Blake's drawing of Virgil delivering the message to Dante).
Renewal requires men and women with the desire for beauty and wholeness, and faith.
On Sunday April 25 the Forum is sponsoring a talk by Father Robert Crooker, CSB. The event is open to all and it will be held at 2pm in the Ahern Room of Crooker Hall on the campus of the University of St. Thomas. He will speak about the Priesthood, taking some inspiration from Pope John Paul II's Gift and Mystery: On the Fiftieth Anniversary of my Priestly Vocation. This will be a way for us to celebrate the Year of the Priest. Pope Benedict XVI has declared a “Year for Priests” beginning with the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on June 19, 2009. The year will conclude in Rome with an international gathering of priests with the Holy Father from June 9-11, 2010. I hope that people will join us to mark the occasion. Father Crooker was ordained in 1953. So this June marks the the Fiftieth=Seventh Anniversary of his Priestly Vocation. We will be delighted to hear from him on the richness and beauty of priestly vocation. You can see and listen to an interview with Fr Crooker on the Salt and Light website, available here.
Selections from Pope John Paul II's book, Gift and Mystery: On the Fiftieth Anniversary of my Priestly Vocation, maybe found here.
In discussing the Marian thread in his vocation Pope John Paul II talks about frequent pilgrimages to Kalwaria Zebrzdowska (picture above). He said that these spiritual experiences were "fundamental in shaping that journey of prayer and contemplation which gradually brought me to the priesthood, and which would later continue to guide me in all the events of my life."
Monday, April 19, 2010
Today I received in the mail one of the last books written by my teacher Ralph McInerny, Dante and the Blessed Virgin (Notre Dame, 2010). And it so happens that my son is writing a paper on Dante for his freshman English class at St Thomas High School. I have been immersed in the Commedia for the last few days.
The visit by Stratford Caldecott provoked us to ask how is it that each discipline will find the logos and be lead to the vision of the whole? How will each discipline finds its way to the contemplation of beauty?
Dante's Commedia is a reminder of the scope of our problem and its "solution." I cannot resist: "When I had journeyed half of our life's way, I found myself within a shadowed forest, for I had lost the path that does not stray." And he says "that savage forest" was "dense and difficult." Ah -- so begins the journey. Well, I have spent the last week with my son journeying down into the dark realm of the inferno among the lost, and we have trudged the circles around the mount of purgation, finally emerging with Beatrice to glimpse paradise. Believe me, the dark allegories speak much of academia. I am haunted by the image of Geryon (Inf xvii.10-18). But rather than linger there, let us make for the bright light.
McInerny cuts right to the heart of all: the Blessed Virgin Mary. In chapter four, "The Queen of heaven" he takes us to canto 23 of the Paradiso in order to note "the role of Dante's personal devotion to Mary, which complements the recognition of the universal role of the Mother of God." (103) We find this verse: "The name of that beautiful flower that every morning and evening/ I invoke, drew my entire soul and reminded me of the greater focus" (Par 23.88-90) In a rich chapter, McInerny explains the images, the theology, and philosophy in this ultimate destination of the journey. Looking back, Dante recognizes that Beatrice first awakened the love that rises to heaven (Par 26.15). And in the struggle to love the good more perfectly, McInerny says "we need the help of friends, the support of the community in which we live, and above all, God's grace." (121)
We need the conspiracy of Mary, St. Lucy, and Beatrice to send us our Virgil. (Inferno, canto 2). As Dorothy Sayers points out in her notes to the Inferno, those women are a "threefold image of divine grace in its various manifestations." (82) They send Virgil. Sayers explains Virgil's mission as a preparation for grace because Dante is not so far lost that he cannot respond to "the voice of poetry and of human reason; and this under Grace, may yet be used to lead him back to God." We must feebly imitate Virgil in our various ways and means. The love of the lovely must be roused in each dim and narrow path.
Try every needful means to find and reach
And free him, that my heart may rest consoled.
Sunday, April 18, 2010
Saturday, April 17, 2010
In February 2010 a group of faculty and a student discussed Mr. Caldecott's book. Here are a few snippets of that discussion:
Terry Hall: We can begin by looking at the title of Caldecott’s title Beauty for Truth’s Sake: On the Re-enchantment of Education—especially the subtitle. Why “re-enchantment” and not just “enchantment?”
Charles Stewart: There is an assumption here. He seems to be implying that education was once “enchanted” and something has now been lost. The term “enchantment” is a rather ambiguous term. How do we define “enchantment”?
John Hittinger: Many things have been lost. For example, specialization often leads to a narrow focus. This is what we see in the sciences. Another example, is the focus on practicality…training students for a job, rather that educating students for broader things in their future. What is lost in specialization and practicality, is the “big picture” and the larger narrative. What is the motivation in seeking the truth, is it something something beautiful. The idea of enchantment and beauty reminds me of Pope John Paul II’s opening paragraph in Ex corde Ecclesia; he mentions “Joy in Truth” [i.e. “…joy of searching for, discovering and communicating truth”] as the very reason for a Catholic university.
CHARLES STEWART: So is that how you would define “enchantment”--“joy in truth”?
JOHN HITTINGER: Yes. And that is how the search for beauty is also the search for truth -- beauty brings joy. "That which when seen, pleases
MICHELE SIMMS: These are ideas that I have been thinking about. I see education having a greater role in students’ lives than just landing them a job. In business we have blurred the lines of what we teach with how we teach. We have commoditized/commercialized education, so that sometimes we refer to students as “products,” “customers,” “clients,” and “consumers.” This is not education. Learning is discussion, dialogue…dialectic. On page 28 Caldecott, mentions that knowledge should be valued for its beauty, and not simply for its power. I like the notion how a symbol is a manifestation of the invisible. It is the invisible that holds the most value. The invisible puts the “great” in “great music.”
TED REBARD: The modernist trend in higher education attempts to demystify learning, especially science and math. And it has been successful. Machiavelli, Hobbs, and Descartes led to a reduction of knowledge to the quantifiable parts. Science reduced to mathematics. Naturally this led to materialism, in which nothing is transcendent. As a result there is no access to quality—to them quality is unapproachable and does not exist. Without the aim for quality, the basic aim is for power…artificial, arbitrary power. Therefore, Caldecott emphasizes the idea of the trivium, in balance with the quadrivium, where we go back to pre-Descartesian way of studying science and math. Peter Kreeft wrote “modernity's technological know-how and power has not made us happier, wiser, better, or more saintly than our ancestors.” [Christianity for Modern Pagans: Pascal's Pensées (1993); see also "Darkness At Noon: The Eclipse of the Permanent Things", Chapter 2 of C.S. Lewis For The Third Millennium (1994)].
MICHELE: We see this trend in Business…that so much is driven by statistics and numbers.
JOHN HITTINGER: This reduction to parts, leads to the specialization of parts and fragments.
JARED MITCHELL: On page 17, Caldecott mentions the fragmentation of disciplines into “bits we can use and consume”. One solution that he proposes is the unity we find first in the family, and then ultimately in the Trinity. These are ideas we find in the writings of Christopher Dawson.
JOHN HITTINGER: I found it interesting, on page 38 how Benedict (poetic element), Dominic (scientific), and Ignatius (Practical) could be symbols of the whole culture. Dawson once remarked on symbols in society. [Dawson viewed the papacy as the "necessary symbol" manifesting divine hierarchy, the unity of diversity; C. Scott, A Historian and His World: A Life of Christopher Dawson (London, 1984): 150.]
CHARLES STEWART: I was also struck by the mention of these three saints and what they represent in Catholic Intellectual Tradition. The Greeks used the term συμμετρία (symmetria) to denote beauty. This meant much more than mere symmetry, or mirror-halves. It conveyed the ideas of contrapposto (counter-balance) and harmony. It is this balance-of-three that we continually encounter in academia: (a) art- science- practice, (b) body-soul-spirit, (c) as professors and students: research-service- teaching, (d) faith- reason-action, etc. This balance between our Hands-Heart-Head is modeled in the harmony of he Trinity: tri-unity; the E Pluribus Unum; unity in diversity, i.e. “university”. [Further thoughts: It seems that this “balance-of-three” is a western phenomenon, rooed in our Trinitarianism. In the east, there is a more dualistic approach (Zoroastrianism, Gnosticism, Islam, etc.) or polyvalence (Hinduism)].
. . .
JOHN HITTINGER: Dawson takes ideas from Newman, turning historicism (as opposed to reductionism) upon itself. There is indeed a limited or relative set of values found in the Romanesque, Gothic, and Baroque. These periods correspond to, once again, Benedict (poetic element), Dominic (scientific), and Ignatius (Practical). Each of these periods has distinct expressions of beauty. Just as the compositions of Bach is a unique expression Baroque music. I remember teaching students at the Air Force Academy and having a very rich exchange regarding liturgy and Baroque architecture. The cadets were fascinated by these monumental expressions. The experience of beauty can lead to an understanding of truth.
TED REBARD: Study of beauty is sometimes predicated on travel (like a pilgrimage). If one visits Florence, Rome, and Venice, one cannot help but be struck by the achievements of sacred space, such as St. Peter’s. They cannot be told about this beauty. They must experience it.
JOHN HITTINGER: Traveling abroad forces people to “get outside” themselves and confront images and circumstances that they are not familiar with. It opens their eyes (both their physical vision and their “mind’s eye”).
CHARLES STEWART: John Hittinger, you were saying that beauty can lead to truth. Are you saying that beauty is a means to some other end?
JOHN HITTINGER: Beauty is not merely a means to an end. Truth and Beauty are inextricably linked. So that in seeking truth one finds beauty, and in seeking beauty one finds truth.
TERRY HALL: The Transcendentalists were unified, regarding their ideas of beauty. Beauty is not a means to truth, but intertwined with truth. They described beauty as radiance. The rays reach out and impact the viewer. This is enchantment…
CHARLES STEWART: …captivation…captivity…? Are you saying that Beauty is not passive, but active?
TERRY HALL: Yes. Radiation is active. Activation. Permeation.
CHARLES STEWART: If beauty is active, is it therefore, revelatory? Is it not discovered, but received?
TERRY HALL: Beauty is a gift. There is receptivity by the viewer.
JOHN HITTINGER: Pope Benedict XVI, in Caritas in Veritate (Love in Truth), says that love and truth have a "gift" character.
Thursday, April 15, 2010
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
He says at the outset of the chapter -- "If we accept them as we should, not as a legend, but as a vital part of our faith, then we must ask what they mean in the life of the Lord, and what their significance in our own Christian existence." (486)
To be a Christian is to be a man or woman of memory. Our memory is the memory of the sons of Zebedee and the memory of Peter and Andrew. Is this why our Lord chose two sets of brothers to be his witnesses? They are brothers because they share memory! And it is also the memory of the "colleagues" at Emmaus, it is the memory of the little flock at Bethany, it is the memory of the apostles in the upper room, it is the memory of Mary our mother ("Son, behold your mother"). The memory of the Lord fills and overflows the shared lives and memories of the communities of Christ. One brief word conjures it up; one shared meal fuels its love.
And our memories generate hope. Hope lies before us in the dawn of the resurrection. In that gray of the dawn after the Resurrection we discern the figure of the Risen Lord, poised between time and eternity and through love our memory turns to anticipation, so we must call out "Teacher!" "Lord!"