Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Sources of stability.

Perhaps inevitably, Monday's post on Lent in Jerusalem has put me in a nostalgic mood. My first visit to Jerusalem, which happened to coincide with the start of Lent eleven years ago, came when I was a student at Georgetown; my guide on that trip was Father Tom King, a mentor and major influence on my life who has also been the subject of a number of previous posts on this blog. Remembering Father King this week, I somehow got thinking about "Sources of Stability," an essay that he wrote for the January 21, 2000 edition of The Hoya, Georgetown's newspaper of record.

"Sources of Stability" made a strong impression on me when I first read it, and it still impresses me now. The Hoya's online archives have moved enough times that I'm not confident that the current URL for "Sources of Stability" will remain the same for long; as an exercise in fair use and in hopes of making this essay more readily available to readers of this blog, I've accordingly decided to post the full text of "Sources of Stability" below:
As one enters the Lauinger Library, one passes under a Latin text: Cognoscetis Veritatem et Veritas Liberavit Vos. That is, "You will know the truth and the truth will make you free." It is Jesus speaking, as recorded in John 8:32. The quote assumes many are in a captivity of mind and spirit, but it also tells of an assent that brings liberation. I have known such a liberation; it did not happen in a library. And yet without books, I would not make sense of what occurred.

During my college years at the University of Pittsburgh, I was like many of the students I see at Georgetown, tense and unsure of myself. One evening, I seemed to be aware of Christ very close to me. I did not see or hear a thing, but He was asking me, "Do you want to be a priest?" I had dismissed that thought many years earlier, so I was amazed to find a "YES" coming forth with a rush of wild energy. I sat dazed as everything around me looked different. I recalled the fears, expectations, self-images and appetites I had known. They meant nothing to me. I was freed.

Books enabled me to understand: I had heard talk of a religious vocation, and I was not comfortable with the term. Then I came across a book by Gabriel Marcel that spoke of "an invitation to faith." "Invitation" was the word I wanted. For I was not commanded or summoned; I had assented freely for what seemed the first time. In reading the Confessions of St. Augustine, I learned of his struggle to say yes; following this he asked the Lord, "From what profound and secret depth was my free will suddenly called forth in a moment so that I could bow my neck to your easy yoke?" That remains my question. I know some people have found Christianity a burden; I never found it that way. Others have found it confining; I can only say it is a liberation. I was freed from the captivities I see all around me. With excitement and passion I read the authors who speak much of freedom: Kierkegaard, the subject of my first course at Georgetown, and Jean-Paul Sartre, about whom I wrote my dissertation.

I also read The Education of Henry Adams wherein Adams told of his professors teaching him to question everything while professing nothing. I have found that professing Christian faith goes well with an ability to question all things. At Georgetown for thirty years I have both questioned and professed, for Georgetown promotes the ideals of reason and Christian faith. How well they go together! Without questioning I could never teach, and without faith I would have nothing worth teaching.

But there is an additional text that speaks to me. I enter the Lauinger Library and above me are the words: "Cognoscetis Veritatem et Veritas Liberabit Vos." I feel I have the inside story.
I once asked Father King if he remembered the title of that "book by Gabriel Marcel," and he replied in the negative; I suppose what matters isn't the title or even the substantive content of the book but rather the single phrase that helped the young Tom King figure out what he wanted to with his life. Each of us might do well to ask what phrase (or image, or moment) did this for us. AMDG.


At 4/13/2011 6:05 AM, Blogger dpr1982 said...


Thank you for posting this. Bring back so many memories, reflections and emotions regarding Father King. As a matter of fact, prior to seeing your posting, a few days ago I stumbled onto a blog containing an obituary-cum-reflection-cum-interview of various Hoyas of classes past discussing their memories of the great TK.


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