I’ve commented for print elsewhere about the nods to liturgy in the Pope Francis interview. I think I’ll look at one section of the piece that shows a preference for field work over the laboratory.
The three key words that I commended to La Civiltà Cattolica can be extended to all the journals of the Society, perhaps with different emphases according to their natures and their objectives. When I insist on the frontier, I am referring in a particular way to the need for those who work in the world of culture to be inserted into the context in which they operate and on which they reflect. There is always the lurking danger of living in a laboratory. Ours is not a ‘lab faith,’ but a ‘journey faith,’ a historical faith. God has revealed himself as history, not as a compendium of abstract truths. I am afraid of laboratories because in the laboratory you take the problems and then you bring them home to tame them, to paint them, out of their context. You cannot bring home the frontier, but you have to live on the border and be audacious.
For ministry, this seems right. I feel grateful to be at one border: where young adults sort out the difficulties between growing up and establishment, between ignorance and knowledge, between inexperience and wisdom.
The word insertion is dangerous because some religious have taken it as a fad, and disasters have occurred because of a lack of discernment. But it is truly important.
On those frontiers:
The frontiers are many. Let us think of the religious sisters living in hospitals. They live on the frontier. I am alive because of one of them. When I went through my lung disease at the hospital, the doctor gave me penicillin and streptomycin in certain doses. The sister who was on duty tripled my doses because she was daringly astute; she knew what to do because she was with ill people all day. The doctor, who really was a good one, lived in his laboratory; the sister lived on the frontier and was in dialogue with it every day. Domesticating the frontier means just talking from a remote location, locking yourself up in a laboratory. Laboratories are useful, but reflection for us must always start from experience.
My favorite science courses in college were in geology. Yes, there was some lab work. But field work: seeing rocks and fossils in the wild–that was an essential part of the understanding.
As for my favorite science, there’s nothing quite like the thrill of placing one’s eye to a telescope and being millions of miles or light years away.