Sownynge in moral vertu was his speche, and gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche.
"Rowan Williams" and "Flannery O'Connor" are two names I never expected to write in the same sentence. Nonetheless, I wasn't entirely surprised to discover that the present Archbishop of Canterbury once gave a lecture on O'Connor's work. A published poet as well as a theologian, the spiritual head of the Anglican Communion is well-versed in the Catholic spiritual and theological tradition and has done a fair amount of reflection on the relationship between art and faith. Thus, the idea of Rowan Williams writing about Flannery O'Connor isn't nearly as random as, say, the Patriarch of Moscow writing about Walker Percy.
So: the fiction writer is out to 'do justice' to the world, in a phrase of Conrad's which O'Connor obviously liked . . . but to believe nothing is to see nothing, and every artist, like it or not, works within a framework of assumptions about humanity and its world. The visible appearances that are the indispensable building blocks of the writer's work are already organised in this way or that; and the claim of Catholic doctrine is that it offers the most comprehensive, least selective way of reading the world that could be imagined because it identifies the real finally with the good . . . in the strongest possible sense - the sense for which the good must be the lovable, or perhaps is good because it is loved. Doing justice to the visible world is reflecting the love of God for it, the fact that this world is worth dying for in God's eyes. The tightrope that the Catholic writer must walk is to forget or ignore nothing of the visually, morally, humanly sordid world, making nothing easy for the reader, while doing so in the name of a radical conviction that depends on the world being interrupted and transfigured by revelation. The event that disrupts and questions and changes the world is precisely what obliges the artist not to try and recreate it from scratch. Irony is going to be unavoidable in the exercise.If you'd like to read the rest, click here. AMDG.
It is not a word we have encountered much so far in this discussion. For O'Connor, the artist takes the risk of uncovering the world within the world of visible things as a way of 'doing justice,' confident because of her commitment that what is uncovered will be the 'reason' in things, a consonance that is well beyond any felt harmony or system of explanation but is simply a coherence and connectedness always more than can be seen or expressed. Because of this trust, she can push towards the limits of what is thinkable and 'acceptable,' let alone edifying. She is always taking for granted that God is possible even in the most grotesque and empty or cruel situations; she pursues the unacceptable in the ironic faith that the pursuit will vindicate God, at least to the extent that God is intrinsic to whatever is uncovered in the work of writing. . . .
For a while, I've been meaning to write something about the French Jesuit paleontologist and philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. I've yet to find sufficient time and inspiration to craft the Teilhard mega-post that I'd like to see on this blog. For now, here are some words from Teilhard that have often spoken to me and may speak to you as well, either in Lent or at any other time of the year:
Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way
to something unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability -
and that it may take a very long time.
And so I think it is with you.
Your ideas mature gradually - let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don't try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.
If you're anything like me, you've probably had an experience like the one I'm about to describe. You start by embarking on what you optimistically describe as a "working vacation," bringing along essential reading and paperwork in the hope that you'll find the time to attend to academic or professional obligations while still managing to relax and enjoy a break from your normal routine. Projects like the "working vacation" are seldom a complete success, the constituent elements of "work" and "vacation" being an uneasy mix even under the best of circumstances. At the end of your vacation, you realize that though you've had a lot of fun you haven't made much of a dent in the pile of books and papers you brought along with you. As a result, the days following your vacation are devoted to catching up on all the work you intended to do during your vacation - often racing against the clock, for you probably wouldn't have planned on a "working vacation" in the first place if you didn't have a cluster of deadlines or due dates awaiting you on your return to work or school. Sound familiar?
For a time [after Asbury rejected a visit from the minister] they sat there in silence. Then his mother looked up. He was sitting forward again and smiling at her. His face was brightening more and more as if he had just had an idea that was brilliant. She stared at him. "I'll tell you who I want to come," he said. For the first time since he had come home, his expression was pleasant; though there was also, she thought, a kind of crafty look about him.At this point, I should probably offer a little more context. Earlier in the story, Asbury recollects a meeting he had with a particular Jesuit he had met in New York, Ignatius Vogle, S.J. Asbury had encountered Father Vogle at a public meeting on Buddhism and had been impressed by the priest's polite but confident assertion of Christian doctrine in the face of dismissive questions and comments by other meeting attendees. On his putative death bed, Asbury recalls his meeting with Father Vogle and thinks about how "the priest appealed to him as a man of the world, someone who would have understood the unique tragedy of his death, a death whose meaning had been far beyond the twittering group around them." To explain to his incredulous mother why he wants a visit from a Jesuit, Asbury offers the following:
"Who do you want to come?" she asked suspiciously.
"I want a priest," he announced.
"A priest?" his mother said in an uncomprehending voice.
"Preferably a Jesuit," he said, brightening more and more. "Yes, by all means a Jesuit. They have them in the city. You can call up and get me one."
"What is the matter with you?" his mother asked.
"Most of them are very well-educated," he said, "but the Jesuits are foolproof. A Jesuit would be able to discuss something besides the weather." Already, remembering Ignatius Vogle, S.J., he could picture the priest. This one would be a trifle more worldly perhaps, a trifle more cynical. Protected by their ancient institution, priests could afford to be cynical, to play both ends against the middle. He would talk to a man of culture before he died - even in this desert! Furthermore, nothing would irritate his mother so much. He could not understand why he had not thought of this sooner.Eventually, Asbury's mother sends for a priest, who - to Asbury's dismay - turns out to be an elderly, half-deaf and one-eyed moralist rather than an urbane sophisticate. Asbury's - and perhaps O'Connor's - view of the Jesuits mirrors a particular perception of the Society of Jesus commonly held by many of our friends as well as our foes. The worldly, cynical, cultured Jesuit is a stock figure in Catholic fiction, a caricature with some basis in fact that nonetheless represents only a small part of the broad spectrum that makes up the Society of Jesus. The underlying truth in O'Connor's "Jesuit" vignette goes beyond the perception that Jesuits are "able to discuss something besides the weather," as I hope to explain below.
I'm taking a very brief break from a wonderful week at Georgetown to comment on an item you may have seen in this morning's paper (or, alternatively, that you may have learned about from Matt's blog). The Templeton Prize, a $1.5 million award given annually to an individual who has aided "progress toward research or discoveries about spiritual realities," has been bestowed upon Montreal-born philosopher Charles Taylor, a longtime professor at McGill who now teaches at Northwestern. This well-deserved award offers an opportunity to reflect on how its recipient's thought was shaped by the bilingual and bicultural realities of the city, province and country in which he was born and raised. As Peggy Curran writes in today's Montreal Gazette:
Imagine Canada as a laboratory, an incubator where many of the issues troubling today's multi-ethnic, culturally diverse, western communities had a dry run.Read the rest here. While you're at it, read the Gazette's other articles on Taylor's life and influence and on his new award. AMDG.
The earliest experiment was Quebec, a place where two linguistic groups and assorted religious denominations have spent the past 400 years hammering out a sometimes uneasy peace.
Fifty years ago, Quebec launched the Quiet Revolution, a startlingly swift transformation into a modern, dynamic, self-confident society during which it would shuck off much of its Roman Catholic baggage without a backward glance to become one of the most secular societies in the Western world.
Philosopher Charles Taylor says there's no mystery to the topics that have occupied his mind and dominated his academic research for more than half a century. It's right there in his biography, in the tug-of-war between Quebec and the rest of the Canadian mosaic, and in Montreal, the bicultural city he still calls home.
"There's no question, almost everything I have done has been shaped by where I come from," Taylor, 75, said in an interview from New York, hours after winning the world's largest monetary prize for a lifetime spent trying to reconcile the secular and the spiritual realms.
His anglophone father, Walter, was a partner in a steel factory. His mother, Simone Beaubien, was a dress designer and a French-speaking Catholic. Taylor grew up immersed in two languages and two cultures - his sister is the journalist (and former McGill University chancellor) Gretta Chambers. Talk at the dinner table was of politics and Quebec's place in the Canadian puzzle.
At McGill, Taylor studied history, but was fascinated by theology, particularly by the authors of writings that inspired the church's overhaul in the Second Vatican Council.
In 1952, at Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship, he studied philosophy, but was troubled by the "unstructured hostility" toward religious belief. It was there he began to challenge the virulent secularism that he felt pervaded the social sciences.
Back home in Quebec, the gangly, soft-spoken Taylor - now married with five daughters - tested the political waters. He ran unsuccessfully for the New Democratic Party four times, once against the young Pierre Trudeau in 1965, before settling down at McGill.
There, he delved deeper into the concepts that still preoccupy him - our sense of identity, the struggle to balance individual and collective rights, and understanding when the needs of groups within a society require protection. Taylor endorsed the notion of Quebec as a distinct society, and believes citizens should have a more active role in how democracies run.
Though spring break doesn't begin until tomorrow, I spent most of last week away from Fordham - in Montreal, to be precise. The trip fell into a category that a former law professor of mine described, in response to a question about whether a particular trip was made for business or pleasure, as "pleasurable business." My explicit purpose in going to Montreal was to help out another Jesuit who had to go there on official business. My companion had never been to Montreal and doesn't speak French, so I went along to assist both as one who knows the city and speaks the language. Montreal is one of my favorite places in the world, so I was very happy to have a reason to return there for the first time since I entered the Society.
Today's New York Times considers the position of Palestine's shrinking Christian population a year after Hamas assumed control over the government of the Palestinian Authority:
Jack Massis, 51, a grocer here in [Taybeh, the] last entirely Christian village in the West Bank, speaks matter-of-factly about how two of his teenage sons were beaten with clubs last month.Read the rest here. AMDG.
They had argued with members of a Muslim family that had moved three years ago to the edge of Taybeh, a picturesque village in the hills near Ramallah with a dwindling population of 1,300. Mr. Massis' sons had used a road that ran along the newcomers' property, which the newcomers insisted was private. The sons spent the night in the hospital, and five members of the Muslim family spent a few days in jail.
In the year since Hamas came to power, some of the fears of a newly Islamist cast to Palestinian society are being borne out. Christians have begun quietly complaining that local disagreements quickly take on a sectarian flavor. And reports of beatings and property damage by Muslims have grown.
. . .
But few point directly at Hamas, looking instead to the overall stresses on Palestinian society and its increasing thuggishness. As Mr. Massis said of his sons' beatings, "There are such problems every day."
While it is hard to gauge what role intimidation and nationalist sensibilities play, there is widespread denial of any official persecution. Some prominent Christians praise the Hamas leadership for allowing the Christian community its religious freedom and conducting itself in a more honorable fashion than the previous government did.
. . .
To explain their troubles, many Palestinians point to the economic hardship and unemployment caused by the cutoff of outside aid and Israeli security measures that bar most Palestinians from working inside Israel; the disruptions from internal Palestinian instability and lawlessness; and in some cases, corrupt elements connected with the secular Fatah party that dominated the Palestinian Authority for the decade before 2006.
Other factors make the Christians particularly vulnerable. In the Palestinian Authority areas of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, their numbers are now down to 55,000 or 60,000, or 1.7 percent of the Palestinian population. Those who remain must struggle to preserve their weakened communities and lands from encroachment by stronger parties. And Christians lack the protection other Palestinians claim from large clans or their own militias.
The Christians' problems are writ large in Bethlehem, where most Palestinian Christians live. Fifty years ago, its population was 90 percent Christian; that has fallen, because of emigration and relatively low birth rates, to just 35 percent.
On Saturday night, I joined several of my cohorts from Ciszek Hall at a sold-out showing of Into Great Silence at the Film Forum in Manhattan. The first thing I have to say about this film is that I loved it and that I would happily see it again. As I noted in my last post, Into Great Silence was produced under unusual conditions. After having waited over a decade to receive permission to film within the cloister of the Grand Chartreuse, director Philip Gröning was given unprecedented access to one of the most austere Catholic monasteries in the world. For six months, Gröning became an unobstrusive fly on the wall in the cells and corridors of the Grand Chartreuse, filming the monks at prayer, during meals, on walks and in the midst of activities both ordinary (such as chores around the house) and exceptional (like the reception of two new novices). Gröning's privileged access to the intimate details of the monks' lives came with a price: he was not permitted to interview the monks (though one offers some valuable spiritual reflections on camera) and he could not give the film any narration or a soundtrack beyond the sounds he captured within the monastery. To say that Gröning made the most of these restrictions would be an understatement. Into Great Silence is a truly extraordinary film, unlike any I've ever seen.