Dives in Misericordiae 11a: Sources of Uneasiness

Divine_Mercy_Sanctuary_in_Vilnius4After the affirmation of DiM 10, St John Paul turns to the problems of the age. This numbered section is titled “Sources of Uneasiness.” And there are some. The nuclear arms race continued into the 1980’s:

Thus, in our world the feeling of being under threat is increasing. There is an increase of that existential fear connected especially, as I said in the encyclical Redemptor hominis, with the prospect of a conflict that in view of today’s atomic stockpiles could mean the partial self-destruction of humanity.

The devaluation of people, and the exaltation of material things–does this ring a bell with what we hear from the current pope?

But the threat does not merely concern what human beings can do to human beings through the means provided by military technology; it also concerns many other dangers produced by a materialistic society which-in spite of “humanistic” declarations-accepts the primacy of things over persons.

An extension of this materialism is the inclination to power over others.

Contemporary (humankind), therefore, fears that by the use of the means invented by this type of society, individuals and the environment, communities, societies and nations can fall victim to the abuse of power by other individuals, environments and societies.

It’s not a thing of the past:

The history of our century offers many examples of this. In spite of all the declarations on the rights of (people) in (our) integral dimension, that is to say in (our) bodily and spiritual existence, we cannot say that these examples belong only to the past.

Dives in Misericordia, the second encyclical of Pope John Paul II, is available online here, and is copyright © 1980 – Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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A Discussion of the Principle and Foundation and Its Relationship to Three Meditations

Introductory note: I wrote this paper last summer during my studies at Creighton University for the course Introduction to the Spiritual Exercises. I reproduce it with a few edits.

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:11-12, NRSV)

lamb of GodThese days I feel a great affinity with the Principle and Foundation. If the Spiritual Exercises are indeed “all about discipleship” (as described in class) then annotation number twenty-three is the gate through which women and men have the opportunity to be transformed from believers into disciples. It strikes me as a shift from childhood into maturity. Almost fifteen centuries before Ignatius, a Pharisee-turned-apostle wrote to the Corinth faith community, and seems to have nailed the meaning for me, and that maturity to which I aspire. Saint Paul concedes that even as an adult, it is still in process for him—the dim present-day view. I also realize I have some way to go. But that glimpse of God, his face to mine, and the yearning to be known … I presume God knows, and the Principle and Foundation is the gate, built by Ignatius, through which I walk.

Having served in campus ministry the past (seven) years, and having witnessed something of the frustration of wheels-spinning-stuck-in-the-mud in American suburban parishes in the many years before that, I’m convinced that more people could move from the stasis of “saved Christian.” There, many of us lament our missed opportunities. We nurture our sense of entitlement (as the One, True Church) and presume “God’s will” will land us the people we used to have, with the fervor people used to feel, with the rose-colored tint that naturally comes with our golden age of choice.

What’s the relevance of the Principle and Foundation? First, that God lovingly crafted all of creation, including human beings, and including the retreatant. The baptism acclamation based on Ephesians 2:10 comes to mind: “You are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus.” (RCIA 595) God’s agency in the world is not a “work” in the sense of labor as human beings might understand it. It is artistry, a gesture of love.

David Fleming’s contemporary reading moves beyond the modern slogan “Love people, use things,” by suggesting that created things should be held in reverence by the seeker (Fleming 1996, 27). Our choice not to use, utilize, or otherwise engage things of the world doesn’t imply a disrespect, a casual casting off. The serenity portrayed in Ignatian spirituality suggests a simple setting aside.

As for what some might call a tension between the “sacred” and “profane,” Fleming (ibid.) suggests a holding ourselves in balance. This seems more akin to Ignatius’ post-Manresa experience when he set aside his extreme approach to living a disciple’s life. As one author describes it (Aschenbrenner 2004, 69) the saint’s inner fire became “trimmed and focused much more precisely,” ready for “the discerned nuance of God’s greater glory or Ignatius’ uniquely greater service.” Sometimes it’s as much about our getting out of God’s way as it is clearing our path of clutter.

I also see the Principle and Foundation as a guide for fruitful ministry. “Praise and reverence” as the original reads, is easy enough for good Catholics. We go to liturgy. We bow, genuflect, and kneel in the right way and at the right moments. David Fleming’s contemporary rendition notes the balance of “success or failure” in a list of things about which we are urged to be indifferent. We pastoral ministers can benefit from a deeper consideration of that. We are employed for a paycheck in the service of an institution. But Christ employs us for loyalty and clarity in presenting and sharing faith and discipleship with others. Quite often there is a different standard from what our parish administrations hold as optimal. How many people show up for programs, committees, and ministry rosters? Did the Sunday collection match 1/52 of the annual budget?

I can acknowledge the Pelagian danger of Ignatius’ aim of “sav(ing) his soul.” But the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19-20 seems like a better banner to hoist on our hilltop, the command to go and make disciples, and to recall Christ’s abiding presence with us. Would that more of our parishes utilized that as a “mission statement,” rather than some well-meaning, but concocted formula like we were just another non-profit occupying real estate.

The Principle and Foundation can serve as a gateway into a more meaningful experience of the Exercises. The Call of the King serves a similar purpose as the person moves into the Second Week. The Call presumes an ongoing process, that an individual has digested the nourishment of the previous week. But there may be problems for many modern retreatants. We discussed this in class, looking at John Veltri’s “call mode” and “healing mode.” I probed a bit deeper into some of Veltri’s thoughts on this. He raises three oft-cited objections: the near-absence of royalty in our imaginations, the male and/or battle imagery, and the post-modern loss of heroes and heroines.

If anything, the past decade-plus of covering up abuse scandals might heighten that last loss for many devoted Catholics. Add to this that more than ever, western culture seems to revel in the deconstruction of heroes political (e.g. Nixon, Clinton) or celebrity (e.g. Martha Stewart), cheering their downfall, but curiously, rooting for many of them on the upswing.

Veltri (“The Kingdom Exercise and the Use of Myth in Spiritual Direction,” ch 25, online edition) was unconvinced these challenges were insurmountable, but he acknowledged the need to create some kind of mythology for today’s retreatants. This rings true to me. Given the massive popularity of superhero movies as well as action films, I suspect these genres fill a great need in many people for someone to admire. Need I suggest that many of today’s young adults would willingly follow Harry Potter into the Chamber of Secrets? We may have lost the king. We may like to use public figures as punching bags. But we haven’t lost our taste for heroes.

My sense of The Two Standards is less that it presents a person with a choice of good or evil. The presumption for a believer is that we will choose good, or at least, we will want to choose the side of Jesus. This Second Week meditation is a reality check. Evil is subtle and we are not immune from seduction in this life. The contemporary reading of the Exercises alludes to the kenosis canticle of Philippians 2 (Fleming, ibid., 113). I was struck by Saint Paul’s preliminary comment not cited, “Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 2:4-5) Ignatius realizes it is not enough to gather under the banner of Christ, and that this meditation, as well as The Three Classes of Persons are intended to refine a willing disciple. Following Jesus is more than an external flag we wave for the benefit of others and likely ourselves.

Asking for the mind of Christ: this is an intimate and hidden grace we seek. It is not as obvious as a banner fluttering in the breeze, or a harsh and active flame in the night. It flies in the face of the narcissism of modern celebrity—and I believe there is as much a real danger to a disciple who may crave the regard of her or his small social circle.

It comes back to a very basic question that impacts not only the voyage through the Spiritual Exercises, or for me, my conduct in lay ministry. It is about a discipleship that always points, always gestures to One beyond my own self. Striving for that balance to honor self, but be willing and happy to subsume my liberty, memory, understanding, and will. I suspect that will be a lifelong project.

Aschenbrenner, S.J., George A.. Stretched for Greater Glory. Chicago: Loyola Press, 2004.

Fleming, S.J., David L.. Draw Me Into Your Friendship: The Spiritual Exercises, A Literal Translation and a Contemporary Reading. Saint Louis: The Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1996.

International Commission on English in the Liturgy, trans.. Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. 1988.

Veltri, S.J., John. Orientations, volume 2. Guelph: Loyola House, 1981, accessed online here.

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Laudato Si 36: Far-Sightedness

Earth from Apollo 8The encyclical letter Laudato Si is available here on the Vatican website. Pope Francis cites the need for far-sightedness, and criticizes those seeking to gain the fast buck. But the culture’s laser focus on immediate gratification isn’t confined to the gods of economics.

36. Caring for ecosystems demands far-sightedness, since no one looking for quick and easy profit is truly interested in their preservation. But the cost of the damage caused by such selfish lack of concern is much greater than the economic benefits to be obtained. Where certain species are destroyed or seriously harmed, the values involved are incalculable. We can be silent witnesses to terrible injustices if we think that we can obtain significant benefits by making the rest of humanity, present and future, pay the extremely high costs of environmental deterioration.

Placing profitability a bit further back in the queue is an important value here, even if the “cute” factor is out the window.

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Alexander HamiltonI heard the chatter about putting a woman on the $10 federal reserve note. US Treasurer Rosie Rios took some heat for suggesting a woman share the bill with Alexander Hamilton.

That’s not a horrid idea. It works in Australia. (Page to the bottom of this page.) Except for the Queen alone on the $5 note, the other denominations all have a woman on one side and a man on the other. Maybe we should ditch the buildings on all US paper money and put women on the reverse side of all the money. Or redesign all the notes so that buildings were in the background and people as the main theme.

Having women on money isn’t new in the US. It’s just an old idea. And most of the women who appeared before presidents were goddesses. I’m sure that will go down well in some Christian camps were it revisited.

I can think of women, largely non-political, whose faces could be put on money without much of a fuss. I would hope musical artists would be considered–people like Billie Holiday, Patsy Cline, and Amy Beach. Mary Cassatt or Georgia O’Keefe, yes. If Dorothy Day didn’t want to be marginalized as a saint, I wonder how she would react to being on the flip side from George Washington. Some others: Babe Didrikson, Frances Perkins, Amelia Earhart, Elizabeth Ann Seton.

You readers can probably think of others. Let’s assume we’re stuck with dead presidents. Whom would you pair with George, Tom, Abe, Alex, Andy, U.S., and Ben on the flip side of their respective paper notes?

And after you share your opinion in the commentariat below, tell the feds what you think here.

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Anticipating Pope Francis in the US

An interesting piece in Zenit: an interview with Msgr. Guillermo Karcher, Papal Master of Ceremonies. Including this bit:

However, he will also be able to “elaborate new concepts,” (he)said, beginning with “studying” the middle class, as he assured in that “humble and beautiful answer” given during the press conference on the plane. “If in Latin America his attention was dedicated to the poor, now the Pope will be able to enlighten people that work, that pay taxes, that have to support a family …”

Hmm. Poor people also work, pay taxes, and support families. Only they do so in situations markedly more unjust than the American or European middle classes. I would suggest that in my country, the injustices are also piling up as of late. Like here. Our culture, for example, likes to harvest the early incomes of professionals. But keep the 1% happy.

Beyond the expectations, “we allow the Holy Father his surprises,” Msgr. Karcher added. “We know how ‘creative’ he is in the evangelical sense. Wherever he goes, he seeks a message of reconciliation, of building the future …”

My guess is that Pope Francis will craft a message of solidarity within the 99%. I think also a sense of reconciliation across class and cultural boundaries within the States. The principle of presupposition won’t vanish from the Holy Father’s repertoire–there will be an assumption that good-hearted, well-intentioned people will be responsive to God’s nudge.

I suspect there will be presupposition in casting a gaze on the wealthy. Everybody needs to be included in the effort to build a future. Personally, I think people should be free to check out of the plans of a majority. Unfortunately, the wealthy and powerful often insist on running with their own plans.

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One of the principles of the Spiritual Exercises made it unvarnished into the Catechism (2478). It is rather an anti-principle of the internet, where often enough, the worst possible interpretation is placed on a person (they are a felon, a heretic, a sinner, a murderer, a spy, or worst of all, a troll).

The principle is given to a spiritual director and reads:

To assure better cooperation between the one who is giving the Exercises and the exercitant, and more beneficial results for both, it is necessary to suppose that every good Christian is more ready to put a good interpretation on another’s statement than to condemn it as false. If an orthodox construction cannot be put on a proposition, the one who made it should be asked how he understands it. If he is in error, he should be corrected with all kindness. If this does not suffice, all appropriate means should be used to bring him to a correct interpretation, and so to defend the proposition from error.

Jim Manney, SJ, blogged on this a few years ago. He ponders an expansion of the Presupposition into everyday life:

How good it would be if spouses, politicians, business associates, and fellow Christians did what Ignatius advised, and were more ready to put a good interpretation on another’s statement than to condemn it as false.

It is not the way of the world. But it is the way of the Gospel. It’s probably past time for those of us in the blogosphere to apply this more rigorously in our exchanges.

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Dives in Misericordiae 10e: Disquiet

Divine_Mercy_Sanctuary_in_Vilnius4Let’s wrap up section 10:

In the span of the fifteen years since the end of the Second Vatican Council, has this picture of tensions and threats that mark our epoch become less disquieting? It seems not. On the contrary, the tensions and threats that in the Council document seem only to be outlined and not to manifest in depth all the dangers hidden within them have revealed themselves more clearly in the space of these years; they have in a different way confirmed that danger, and do not permit us to cherish the illusions of the past.

It has now been fifty years since the Council, and in many cases quiet has not descended upon many of those in the Church or outside of it. I doubt this is an endorsement of sixty-plus years ago. We have no reason to believe the illusions of the 50’s, no matter what century in which they occurred, were any less deceptive.

The only way out, as it always is, is forward. My sense is that many church leaders lost their nerve in the late 60’s, and allowed needed renewal to slip away. I cannot accept the disquiet of 1968 would indicate a return to the past, even if we could accomplish such a thing.

Dives in Misericordia, the second encyclical of Pope John Paul II, is available online here, and is copyright © 1980 – Libreria Editrice Vaticana

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