Craven Politicians and the NRA

Posted in Social Justice, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 26, 2014 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Shooting rampage in Isla Vista, CaliforniaI’m sitting in the Louisville airport with not much time before catching my flight to write a full post on the subject of the mass murder in Santa Barbara this weekend. I have been at the Abbey of Gethsemani with a group of Merton scholars on retreat and without regular internet access, so my ability to follow the news was incredibly limited. I have spent some time now trying to piece together what happened and, like The New Yorker‘s Adam Gopnik, I have been moved and haunted by Richard Martinez’s brief press conference following the murder of his son, Chris.

Martinez is 100% correct. In addition to the particular circumstances that led that individual to kill six people, his misogyny has been identified among other factors, there are general circumstances and responsible parties that make possible the condition for the possibility of mass murder. The LA Times reported that the shooter purchased his semi-automatic handguns legally.

Personally, I am against all firearms. As a Franciscan friar and a Catholic Priest, I cannot maintain (nor would I) any other position. As someone who believes in the truth of the Gospel, I likewise find it impossible to hold an alternative view. Yet, I am also not entirely without a pragmatic side, recognizing the legitimacy of hunting rifles for food and safety in remote parts of this country and the world.

However, there is no legitimate alternative purpose for handguns other than to kill other human beings. Therefore, there is no legitimate right that anyone has to own them. Period.

Martinez’s comment about the responsibility of “craven politicians” and the “NRA” is absolutely correct. I have written elsewhere about the insane tragedy that played out in the wake of the Newtown shootings when the congress could not muster the fortitude to pass overwhelmingly popular legislation on firearm background checks — legislation that did not go far enough, but was something that any rational person could support.

I encourage everybody to read Gopnik’s reflections here: “Christopher Michael-Martinez’s Father Gets It Right About Guns.” He includes links to stories and data about how other, respectable, nations have responded to mass murder tragedies such as what we experience regularly in the US. Stricter laws have made for safer communities.

To handgun and semi-automatic weapon advocating Catholics: take note of Gopnik’s correct statement about the incompatibility of being “pro-life” and “pro-gun.” These days I can conceive of no greater hypocrisy on this subject and in the wake of these tragedies than women and men marching in Washington on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, or other comparable “pro-life” events, with an NRA membership card in their wallets and purses.

Photo: European Press Agency

The Persistence of the Mental Illness Stigma

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on May 22, 2014 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

stigmatizing-mental-illnessThere is an excellent guest op-ed piece in today’s New York Times written by two high-school women who articulately express the their experience of the travails of chronic depression, its isolating quality, and the stigma that remains attached to the reality. I was moved by their desire to unveil some of the solitary, and thereby confounding, dimension of such illness through their practice of journalism, only to be prevented by their school’s administrators. The argument against publishing such interviews with peers was “concern” for the students, yet this road constructed with seeming best intentions actually led to the reiterating hell of isolation and reinforcement of social stigma that needs to be lifted.

These young women deserve a lot of credit and I’m proud of the New York Times for publishing their piece. I have a number of friends — some in religious life, some not — who suffer from illnesses including chronic depression and general anxiety disorder. Part of their challenge, which is truly unnecessary, is the inability to freely share their experiences for all the reasons these two young women write about in their essay. I hope that this won’t be the end of the discussion. I also hope that their high school realizes that if it’s good enough for the NYT, it should be good enough for a school paper.

Here’s the full piece:

“Depressed, But Not Ashamed” by Madeline Halpert and Eva Rosenfeld.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — MOST of our closest friends didn’t know that we struggled with depression. It just wasn’t something we discussed with our high school classmates. We found that we both had taken Prozac only when one of us caught a glimpse of a prescription bottle in a suitcase during a journalism conference last November. For the first time, we openly discussed our feelings and our use of antidepressants with someone who could relate. We took a risk sharing our experiences with depression, but in our honesty, we found a support system. We knew we had to take the idea further.

In the United States, for people between the ages of 10 and 24, suicide is the third leading cause of death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Untreated depression is one of the leading causes of suicide. According to the National Comorbidity Survey: Adolescent Supplement, 11 percent of adolescents have a depressive disorder by age 18.

We were not alone. We wondered why, with so many teenagers dealing with depression, it was still addressed in such impersonal ways.

As editors at our high school newspaper, we decided to fight against the stigma and proposed devoting a whole edition to personal stories from our peers who were suffering from mental illness. We wanted honesty with no anonymity.

We knew that discussing mental health in this way would be edgy, even for our progressive community in Michigan. But we were shocked when the school administration would not allow us to publish the articles.

With the help of other journalism students, we interviewed teenagers from around our school district who shared stories of depression, eating disorders, homelessness, prescription abuse, insomnia and anxiety. Many discussed their personal struggles for the first time. All agreed to attach their full name — no anonymity or pseudonyms. Following online recommendations of the Student Press Law Center, we asked the parents of each student to sign consent forms for the articles.

As we were putting the stories together, the head of our school called us into her office to tell us about a former college football player from our area who had struggled with depression and would be willing to let us interview him. We wondered why she was proposing this story to us since he wasn’t a current high school student. We declined her suggestion. We didn’t want to replace these deeply personal articles about our peers with a piece about someone removed from the students. After we asked her why she was suggesting this, she told us that she couldn’t support our moving forward with the articles.

From an administrative perspective, this made some sense. It is her job to protect the students to the best of her ability. She believed that the well-being of those who shared their experiences — and most important, their names — would be put at risk because of potential bullying. She also mentioned that she had consulted a mental health professional, who told her that reading about their own depression could trigger a recurrence in some of the students and that those who committed to telling their stories might regret it later.

Our school has a very tolerant atmosphere, and it even has a depression awareness group, so this response seemed uncharacteristic. We were surprised that the administration and the adults who advocated for mental health awareness were the ones standing in the way of it. By telling us that students could not talk openly about their struggles, they reinforced the very stigma we were trying to eliminate.

The feeling of being alone is closely linked to depression. This can be exacerbated if there is no one to reach out to. Though there are professionals to talk to, we feel it doesn’t compare to sharing your experiences with a peer who has faced similar struggles. And, most important to us, no one afflicted with a mental illness should have to believe that it’s something he should feel obliged to hide in the first place. If someone has an illness such as diabetes, she is not discouraged from speaking about it. Depression does not indicate mental weakness. It is a disorder, often a flaw of biology, not one of character.

By interviewing these teenagers for our newspaper, we tried — and failed — to start small in the fight against stigma. Unfortunately, we’ve learned this won’t be easy. It seems that those who are charged with advocating for our well-being aren’t ready yet to let us have an open and honest dialogue about depression.

Full Text of Secretary John Kerry’s Boston College Commencement Address

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on May 19, 2014 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

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Although I didn’t attend my school’s commencement exercises this year, I’ve heard from a number of people who were in attendance about how good the Secretary of State’s address was. The United States State Department released the full text of his address, which is included below, and the messages conveyed live up to the expectation. I draw your attention to the fact that the BC Law School alum included references to St. Augustine, Pope Francis, St. Paul and, of course, St. Ignatius. Recalling Boston College’s founding as an institution for higher education to educate the Irish Catholics of Boston excluded from other universities (we’re looking at you, Harvard), Kerry shared some personal reflections about his own faith and how the BC tradition has informed his views of Climate Change, war and peace, the dignity of all human persons, among other subjects. Oh, and he gave a shout out to and quoted Fr. David Hollenbach, SJ, a current BC professor of theology.

SECRETARY KERRY: Your Eminence Cardinal O’Malley, Father President Leahy, Father Monan, Father Devino, members of the faculty, my fellow recipients of honorary degrees, parents, siblings, and the distinguished class of 2014: Congratulations to everybody here today.

You know I thought I had a lot to worry about as I was listening to the introduction, between Afghanistan and Iran and so forth. But now I’m worried about where Challenger is. (Laughter.) I will leave here knowing that Boston College liberates eagles. (Laughter.)

It’s a great honor to be with you. You all might remember from English class that the great American novelist Thomas Wolfe wrote that you can’t go home again. Or maybe you know that quote because it’s the same thing that your parents are telling you now. (Laughter.)

Well, Wolfe had obviously never been to Boston College. It is nice to be off an airplane, but my friends, it is great to be home. I am really happy to be here. (Applause and cheers.)

I know that many of you stayed up all night so you could see your last sunrise at BC. (Cheers.) Some of you thought it would never come, graduation that is. I’ve got news for you: Some of your parents and professors didn’t think so either. (Laughter.)

Now, I notice a lot of you are wearing shades. It won’t work, folks. I’ll still hear you snoring. (Laughter.)

I was on the campus of one of your rivals yesterday in New Haven. And while I let them know that they could be proud of their title in men’s hockey last year, I also had to put it in perspective: Yale is still four titles behind BC. (Cheers and applause.)

There are many things actually that Yale and Boston College have in common, but one is probably the most powerful: mutual dislike of Harvard. (Laughter.) Although to be fair, hundreds of schools don’t like Harvard very much.

As Secretary of State, I track many factions and rivalries around the world. BC versus Notre Dame is at the top of my list. Of course, there’s also Alec Baldwin versus the NYPD. (Laughter.) Beyonce’s sister versus Jay Z. (Laughter and cheers.) And then there’s the rivalry: Red Sox and Yankees. (Cheering and applause.) We absolutely loved the last ten years: Yankees – one World Series, and Red Sox – three. That’s my kind of rivalry, folks. (Cheers.)

Now BC reminds us today that though rivalries can be overcome, here today you have honored a Holy Cross alumnus, the great Bob Cousy, who, as you heard earlier in his degree presentation, won 117 games at Boston when he was coaching here. Eighty-five years old and the Celtics could have used him this year. (Laughter.)

So we have with us today a great legend, but most importantly an amazing person, an amazing player, and three other extraordinary builders of community, all of whom I am very honored to share degrees with today. Their lives and their selfless service are testimony to the fact that Boston College is an amazing place.

2014-05-19T163709Z_1_CBREA4I1A6600_RTROPTP_2_USA-KERRY-BOSTONOver the past years, you have all been blessed to experience a special quality that has always defined BC: the welcoming spirit of this community. That has been a distinguishing characteristic of Boston College since its first days, when it opened its doors to Irish immigrants and Catholics who were barred from other schools.

When I came here more than 40 years ago, I want you to know that I felt that welcome firsthand. I had, as you heard, served in war, and when I came home, I worked to end it. It was a turbulent time – for our country, for me personally. It was a time of division and disillusionment.

But because of one thoughtful man of conscience, one member of the Boston College community, I found a home right here.

Many of you today might not even recognize the name of Father Robert Drinan. He was the dean of the Law School and he was running for Congress when I first visited him on the campus.

And what impressed me most about Father Drinan – whether on Chestnut Hill or Capitol Hill – was that he made no apologies for his deep and abiding Catholic commitment to the weak, the helpless, the downtrodden.

“If a person is really a Christian,” Father Drinan would say, “they will be in anguish over global hunger, injustice, over the denial of educational opportunity.”

In fact, it was Father Drinan who encouraged me to study law at BC, even when it wasn’t the obvious path. I had come to law school from a different background than my classmates. I’d served in the Navy, just turned 30, and had a young family.

And because of where I’d been and what I’d seen, I came to Boston College with a set of nagging questions. I had confronted my own mortality head-on during the war, where faith was as much a part of my daily life as the battle itself. In fact, I wore my rosary around my neck hoping for protection.

But on closer examination, I realized my wartime relationship with God was really a dependent one – a “God, get me through this and I’ll be good” kind of relationship. And as I became disillusioned with the war, my faith also was put to test.

There’s something theologians call “the problem of evil.” It’s the difficulty of explaining how terrible and senseless events are, in fact, part of God’s plan. That was a very real test for me. Some of my closest friends were killed. You see things in war that haunt you for the rest of your life.

So coming here to BC Law, reading St. Augustine on the problem of evil, or St. Thomas Aquinas on just war, the letters of St. Paul and thoughts about suffering – this was not an abstract or academic exercise. It was a chance to dig in and really try to understand where and how everything fit, including trying to understand where I fit in. I’m sure a lot of you ask those questions.

It was the compassion, listening, and understanding that I experienced at BC that made me feel welcome, taught me literally how to think critically, how to ask the right questions, and reinforced in me a personal sense of direction.

It would be years before Pope Francis would talk about the responsibility we all have to reach out to those who “stand at the crossroads.” I might not have connected the dots at the time, but that is exactly what BC was doing for me and I hope has done for you.

The people I met here were putting into action the words of the Jesuit motto that you’ve heard already today: “Men and women for others.”

Every institution has a mission or a motto – that’s the easy part. The hard part is ensuring that they’re not just words. We have to make sure that even as our world changes rapidly and in so many ways, we can still, each of us, give new meaning to our values.

Today, I promise you that is one of the greatest challenges of America’s foreign policy: ensuring that even when it’s not popular, even when it’s not easy, America still lives up to our ideals and our responsibilities to lead.

Never forget that what makes America different from other nations is not a common religion or a common bloodline or a common ideology or a common heritage. What makes us different is that we are united by an uncommon idea: that we’re all created equal and all endowed with unalienable rights. America is – and I say this without chauvinism or any arrogance whatsoever, but America is not just a country like other countries. America is an idea, and we – all of us, you – get to fill it out over time. (Applause.) So our citizenship is not just a privilege – it is a profound responsibility.

And in a shrinking world, we can’t measure our success just by what we achieve as Americans for Americans, but also by the security and shared prosperity that we build with our partners all over world.

In times of crisis, violence, strife, epidemic, and instability – believe me – the world still looks to the United States of America as a partner of first resort. People aren’t worried about our presence; they’re worried about our leaving. One of the great privileges of being Secretary of State is getting to see that firsthand.

In December, I walked through the devastation left behind by the typhoon in the Philippines. The U.S. military and USAID had arrived on the scene before countries that are much closer than we are.

This month in the Democratic Republic of Congo, I saw how the United States is supporting surgeons and Catholic nuns helping victims of violence and abuse.

And just a few weeks ago in Ethiopia, I saw what our sustained commitment to combatting AIDS is achieving. Local doctors and nurses are making possible the dream of an AIDS-free generation. We’re on the cusp of achieving that.

And what we have done to turn back the armies of defeatism and indifference in the fight against AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, and even polio – this work should give every one of you confidence to confront another cross-border, cross-generational challenge, the challenge of a changing climate. If we’re going to live up to our values, this is a test that we have to meet.

Now look, I know this is hard, because I spent almost 30 years in the United States Senate pushing this issue, trying to get colleagues to move. We got up to maybe 55 votes, couldn’t quite get to 60. And I know it’s hard to feel the urgency. As we sit here on an absolutely beautiful morning in Boston, you might not see climate change as an immediate threat to your job, your community, or your families. But let me tell you, it is.

Two major recent reports, one from the UN and one from retired U.S. military leaders, warn us not just of the crippling consequences to come, but that some of them are already here. Ninety-seven percent of the world’s scientists tell us this is urgent. Why? Because if crops can’t grow, there’ll be food insecurity. If there’s less water because of longer droughts, if there are stronger and more powerful storms, things will change in a hurry and they will change for the worse.

Climate change is directly related to the potential of greater conflict and greater stability – instability. I’m telling you that there are people in parts of the world – in Africa today, they fight each other over water. They kill each over it. And if glaciers are melting and there’s less water available and more people, that is a challenge we have to face. And guess what? It is the poorest and the weakest who face the greatest risk. As Father Drinan would say, we should be in anguish over this. (Applause.)

What’s frustrating is that this challenge is not without a solution. In fact, not one problem I can think of today that we face in this country is without a solution. It’s a question of capacity, willpower. The solution is actually staring us in the face. It is energy policy. Make the right energy policy choices and America can lead a $6 trillion market with 4 billion users today and growing to 9 billion users in the next 50 years.

If we make the necessary efforts to address this challenge – and supposing I’m wrong or scientists are wrong, 97 percent of them all wrong – supposing they are, what’s the worst that can happen? We put millions of people to work transitioning our energy, creating new and renewable and alternative; we make life healthier because we have less particulates in the air and cleaner air and more health; we give ourselves greater security through greater energy independence – that’s the downside. This is not a matter of politics or partisanship; it’s a matter of science and stewardship. And it’s not a matter of capacity; it’s a matter of willpower. (Applause.)

But if we do nothing, and it turns out that the critics and the naysayers and the members of the Flat Earth Society, if it turns out that they’re wrong, then we are risking nothing less than the future of the entire planet. This is not a hard choice, frankly. But still, let me tell you we need the help of every single one of you to make it.

In the end, all of these global challenges – how to defend against extremism, how to eradicate disease, how to provide young people with opportunity, how to protect our planet – all of these questions of whether men and women can live in dignity. What do I mean by dignity? I mean exactly the same thing that Father David Hollenbach taught on this campus and brought to the forefront of Catholic social teaching: That when families have access to clean water and clean power, they can live in dignity. When people have the freedom to choose their government on election day and to engage their fellow citizens every day, they can live in dignity. When all citizens can make their full contribution no matter their ethnicity; no matter who they love or what name they give to God, they can live in dignity.

And this is where you come in: the struggle for dignity. Whether across town or across the world, it makes demands on your own lives. The diploma that you will receive today isn’t just a certificate of accomplishment. It’s a charge to keep. It’s a powerful challenge to every single one of you, because you have already been blessed with a world-class education, and with it comes responsibility. Part of that responsibility is taking to heart the values that you’ve learned here and sharing them with the world beyond BC. That spirit of service is part of the fabric of this school, just as it is part of the fabric of our nation.

I often think of the words of our first Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson, someone who also founded a prestigious university like yours. Jefferson spoke about the beauty of a simple image: using one candle to light another. And he said that when that happens, both candles gain light and neither candle loses any. He was talking about the contagious quality of shared knowledge. As heirs to the Jesuit tradition, this is an idea that you know well. Two centuries before Jefferson, St. Ignatius Loyola always closed his letters with a simple charge, and it’s one I pass on to you today. St. Ignatius wrote simply, “Set the world aflame.”

So graduates of 2014, pass on your light to others. Set the world aflame with your service. Welcome those who are lost; seek out those at the crossroads. That is how you can fulfill your responsibility as a graduate of this great institution. That is how you can answer the call to be a servant, leader, and that is how you can keep faith with and renew the idea of America, and that is how we all live up to our duty as citizens.

Congratulations to all of you. Good luck and God bless.

 

Photos: Reuters, AP

Ordination: Reflections Two Years Later

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on May 19, 2014 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

_DSC1563Two years ago today I was ordained to the presbyterate by Cardinal McCarrick in Washington, DC. It is hard to believe that it has been two years. On the one hand, time has flown and it seems like yesterday that my classmate Steve and I were processing into St. Camillus Church at the beginning of the ordination liturgy. On the other hand, it seems like my experience over the two years feels longer than the actual time, making me wonder whether it has really only been two years now.

These last two years have been marked by a number of grace-filled moments, experiences of both gift and challenge, encounters of joy and sorrow. During the first year of ordained ministry everything was new. First weddings, first masses, first funerals, first anointings, first confessions, first baptisms, and the like. During the second year of ordained ministry, the newness fades, but the diversity of experiences and the surprising moments of the Spirit continue.

As I have settled into this aspect of my life, I feel that the line from the Second Eucharistic prayer, which concludes, “…giving thanks that you have held us worthy to be in your presence and minister to you,” summarizes the experience of the ministerial priesthood.

Contrary to those who believe, either about themselves or others, that the ministerial priesthood is really about some sort of “magical change” that transforms someone into something else, this prayer of the church at the Eucharistic celebration reminds us that the work of the college of presbyters is one for which none of us is inherently worthy, but nevertheless remains a call from God to service within the whole community of the baptized. Some people get uncomfortable when I point out that being a priest is not “special.” It is important, it is a real vocation, it is a necessary office in the church, but any sense of exulted specialness or uniqueness distracts a minister and the rest of the People of God from the foundational truth that the ministerial priesthood is founded on the priesthood of all the baptized as Lumen Gentium no. 10 so pointedly states.

I have become more comfortable over these years with my role as presider, as one who calls the community to prayer, as one who serves and comforts, who preaches and teaches, as one who has been ordained for that purpose. But, nevertheless, I continue to be uncomfortable with a number of my brother priests and with lay women and men who want to make more of ministerial priesthood than our orthodox theology would affirm. I still encounter seminarians and young priests who hide behind habits, collars, and titles, who understand themselves to be above and apart, who view themselves more in a cultic sacerdotal sense than as servants in the community, as those called by the Spirit and affirmed by their sisters and brothers for an important and difficult, yet still human ministry. I remain even more allergic to the various cultures of clericalism that continue to infect the Body of Christ, which is the Church, even in the age of Pope Francis. And this is very saddening.

Yet, I remain hopeful that this might become a discomfort alleviated with time and deeper theological reflection on the part of the whole community and facilitated by the reflections, model, and challenge of Pope Francis.

I look forward to continuing to grow in this ministry, grateful that I have, although I don’t deserve it, “been found worthy to be in God’s presence and minister.” Whether presiding at the Eucharist at Babson College on the weekends or at various places around the country, whether teaching in the classroom or in a public space, whether trying to get out of God’s way so that the Spirit may comfort the afflicted in the sacraments of healing — I’m grateful for this particular call to ministry. Having done so for two years already, may God continue to guide me in the years to come and may I always be open in responding to that direction.

Photo:  The Catholic Sun

 

 

 

Time, Hospitality, and Eucharist: The Road to Emmaus

Posted in Easter, Homilies, Scripture, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on May 4, 2014 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

GEDSC DIGITAL CAMERALast week’s Gospel featuring the so-called “doubting” Thomas, one of the Twelve also called Didymus, tends to draw most attention to the individual struggle of belief experienced by one disciple. Many, with good reason, take the opportunity to reflect on how they struggle with their own belief in the Risen Christ, in the Scripture, in the witness of the other disciples. Yet, one of the things that is often overlooked is the dynamic at play when Thomas does believe. The good news, the Gospel, here is that Jesus meets Thomas in his unbelief, always already present after the Resurrection. But how and where is he present? Have you ever noticed?

Jesus doesn’t just appear to Thomas for Thomas’s sake, alone as if to offer the individual special treatment. Rather, Jesus appears to Thomas one week later again in the midst of assembled community. A community traumatized by the execution of Jesus Christ, a community also confused and uncertain of what’s to come. Thomas comes to believe when joined to the rest of the community of faith, in communion with those who, in spite of their doubts and fears and struggles and weaknesses (let’s not forget “Denying Peter” is there as much as “Doubting Thomas”) they come to call to mind who Jesus is and what God has revealed to them.

The location of belief, the where Christ is made present after the Resurrection is seen in last week’s Gospel, and this week’s Gospel begins to reveal more to us about what it means to encounter the Risen Lord after his life, death, and resurrection. Here I want to reflect on only three of the many themes that come out of this incredibly powerful Gospel pericope: Time, Hospitality, and Eucharist.

Time

One of the most interesting things about the Gospel passage this week from Luke’s Gospel is the time in which the narrative is set. This is the day of the Resurrection, it has just been reported that morning and the two disciples traveling out of town are still pondering the meaning and the credibility of the accounts reported to them, first by the women — the earliest witnesses of the Resurrection — and then some of the Twelve.

This is a time of confusion, uncertainty, unexpectedness, doubt. It is a liminal time, placed between the experience of knowing Jesus as one knows another person in this life, and something else, a new way of coming to know Jesus — but how?

The time is our time as much as it is the disciples’ time early in those first days. One of the things that is revealed in the other dimensions of this narrative of encounter is that knowing the Risen Lord is for the disciples on the afternoon of the Resurrection the same as it is for us today.

We share this time with earliest believers. It is a new time, but it is not yet the end time.

Hospitality

The disciples only come to recognize the Risen Lord among them in the hospitality of welcoming a stranger into their midst. Today, perhaps more than ever, welcoming the stranger, welcoming the other, welcoming the unknown, welcoming what we don’t understand, welcoming the one of who we are afraid — this is not easy. So many barriers are easily placed between us and others: technology, money, status, social location, and the like. We tell ourselves comforting stories about why we should or shouldn’t welcome this or that person, pay attention or be concerned with another, be justified or entitled to fear or despise another, but the journey on the Road to Emmaus tells us something very different.

It is in welcoming the stranger that what could not be understood among those of like-mindedness becomes clarified in the encounter with another. The stranger, not yet recognized as Christ, is the one who is able to help make sense of these disciples’ lives and provide meaning to their faith. It is in meeting the stranger, in listening, and in sharing a meal in hospitality that the Risen Lord is encountered after the Resurrection.

Like St. Francis who encountered Christ in embracing the leper on a road outside Assisi, the disciples encounter Christ in the welcoming of a stranger and, likewise, we encounter Christ in the other when we, like these two believers, open our hearts to the experience of relationship with those we encounter on our own journeys — especially those we may not wish to encounter.

Eucharist

Like Thomas last week, these disciples do not encounter the Risen Lord alone. The setting is very clear, it is a setting that we celebrate each week when we gather as a community of believers, bringing out weaknesses and our doubts and our uncertainties, along with our hopes and needs and thanksgiving, to the celebration of the Eucharist.

The two disciples on the road journey together and welcome another, that small community then of “two or three” share the Word of God in the Scriptures, which enlivens their hearts like a fire within, and finally move to enter into communion with each other in the presentation, blessing, breaking, and sharing of the bread. Here is where the disciples realize what it all means. It might even have been the only time that week they understood.

What happens at the end is telling, and I don’t just mean the beautiful line about what is reported to the other disciples about “recognizing him in the breaking of the bread.” I mean the fact that they ran to report what they had experiencedThe celebration of the Eucharist is not an isolated event or a one-off experience. Instead, it is something that calls us together at a given time and with a concrete spirit of hospitality, and then drives us out into the world by the Spirit to proclaim what we’ve experienced in the community, in the Word, and in the breaking of the bread: the Risen Lord.

Eucharist, that liturgy of thanksgiving and grace, is where we encounter the Risen Lord most completely, which has been the case from the afternoon of the Resurrection to today and through the end time. It is not about “me” or “you” or “doubting Thomas.” But it is about the gathering together of those who have been touched by the encounter with Christ and seek to continue to make sense of what has happened and what is happening. We come to make sense of all of this in the breaking of the bread, but not in that alone, in the breaking open of the Word, and in the hospitality of the gathered community in this time.

Image: James B. Janknegt

Science, the ‘Economist,’ and the Medieval Theologian

Posted in America Magazine, Franciscan Spirituality with tags , , , , , on May 1, 2014 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

robert-grosseteste-1-sizedThe first academic article I ever published was in 2007 about two medieval British theologians, Robert Grosseteste and John Duns Scotus, titled: “Light and Love: Robert Grosseteste and John Duns Scotus on the How and Why of Creation” (although the first popular article I ever published happened to be in America a few months earlier!). Scotus is certainly the better known of the two, but Grosseteste was an “intellectual giant,” to borrow the accolade used in a recent Economist blog post.

Grosseteste (d. 1253) was indeed a unique figure: a “scientist” (if we can anachronistically use that term), a theologian, a philosopher, a pastoral minister, a former chancellor of the nascent Oxford University, the first instructor of the Franciscan friars in England, and eventually the Bishop of Lincoln. In old age, he taught himself Greek (something few of his peers could do) so that he could read, and write a commentary, on Aristotle’s work. He was a polymath and a capacious thinker and one whose work is hard to pin-down or easily categorize.

Among the most interesting topics Grosseteste worked on was the question of the reason for the Incarnation. Unlike the majority perspective most associated with the work of someone like Anselm of Canterbury, which posited that “Adam’s Fall” or human sinfulness was the reason for the Incarnation, Grosseteste – like a handful of others before him – insightfully argued that the Incarnation would have been fitting and therefore would have happened even if there was no Fall.

However, the work that caught the attention of the Economist this week was not Christological. Rather, it was Grosseteste’s treatise De Luce (“On Light”) written around 1225, which is a cosmological text positing the development of creation from a singular point of light, the same treatise that first drew me to this thirteenth-century scholar. It appears that the “Ordered Universe Project” team in the UK believes that Grosseteste was “the first to try to develop unified physical laws to explain the origin and form of the geocentric medieval universe of heavens and Earth.”

The Economist explains:

* In the 13th century, atoms were thought to be infinitesimal points, so for matter to have volume, something else was needed. For Grosseteste, that something was light. His geocentric cosmos began with an explosion of a type of light he called lux, which expanded into a vast, ever-thinning sphere of matter and light. But matter could only thin so far, thought Grosseteste, after which it crystallised into a “perfected” layer—the spherical boundary of his medieval universe. Another type of light, lumen, then radiated back, sweeping up, compressing and purifying any “imperfect” matter in its wake. This created the second heavenly sphere (the “fixed” stars), then each of five planets, the sun and moon. By now the lumen was so weak it could no longer purify matter, which left the imperfect Earth, its four elements and atmosphere. For all of this, Grosseteste defined universal physical laws.*

This contemporary engagement with Grosseteste’s work is exciting for a theologian who, for the better part of a decade, has been fascinated with the medieval British thinker’s prescience and perennial relevance (despite his relative anonymity today). What’s more, the Economist highlights how this engagement with Grosseteste illustrates how the increasing popularity of STEM programs and curricula in the United States and elsewhere is highly problematic. Modern scientists would not know anything about Grosseteste, nor be able to understand his thought, without the collaboration of philosophers, theologians, linguistic experts, others from the humanities.

Theology had and still has a lot to say today and perhaps, as this Economist piece notes, something to teach science.

[To read the whole Economist piece, go to: “Unearthing a 13th-Century Metaverse.”]

This was originally published on the America magazine’s “In All things” blog.

Friends of Merton

Posted in America Magazine, Thomas Merton with tags , , , , , , on April 21, 2014 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

Merton_Berrigan-Daniel-001This column originally appeared in the April 28 issue of America magazine.

On Nov. 10, 1958, Thomas Merton wrote a letter to Pope John XXIII in which the famous American monk shared with the new pope some reflections about the world and the church. In one passage Merton describes how he had begun to understand that being a cloistered monk did not necessarily mean withdrawing from the world in some absolute way. Instead, he discerned the Spirit calling him to another form of ministry from within the walls of the monastery by writing letters, connecting with women and men he might never have had the opportunity to meet otherwise.

It is not enough for me to think of the apostolic value of prayer and penance; I also have to think in terms of a contemplative grasp of the political, intellectual, artistic and social movements of this world—by which I mean a sympathy for the honest aspirations of so many intellectuals everywhere in the world and the terrible problems they have to face. I have had the experience of seeing that this kind of understanding and friendly sympathy, on the part of a monk who really understands them, has produced striking effects among artists, writers, publishers, poets, etc., who have become my friends without my having to leave the cloister…. In short, with the approval of my superiors, I have exercised an apostolate—small and limited though it be—within a circle of intellectuals from other parts of the world; and it has been quite simply an apostolate of friendship.

Merton came to realize that part of his religious vocation involved connecting with people of different backgrounds, experiences and worldviews.

He corresponded with the writers Boris Pasternak, Czesław Miłosz, Ernesto Cardenal and Evelyn Waugh; with the activists Joan Baez, Daniel and Philip Berrigan; with the theologians Paul Tillich, Karl Rahner, Abraham Heschel and Rosemary Radford Reuther; with bishops, nuns and religious leaders of other traditions, like Thich Nhat Hanh; and with so many others, including ordinary, unknown people.

I thought of Merton and his “apostolate of friendship” earlier this month while sitting at a pub one evening in England. I was in the company of a diverse collection of people: a middle-age father from Ireland, an Episcopal priest from Scotland and a woman and man from England, both teachers. We were there enjoying some beer after a long but inspiring day of academic paper presentations and workshops on the life, thought and legacy of this American monk. We were in Oakham, in central Britain, for a conference of the Thomas Merton Society of Great Britain and Ireland, an event held every other year. (In the alternating years, the International Thomas Merton Society holds a large conference somewhere in North America; the next will be in Louisville in June 2015.) I was there to deliver a keynote address, but the conference draws a diverse group composed of top Merton scholars, as well as people with a more casual interest in Merton and all sorts of others in between.

Strangers before this evening, those with whom I found myself at the pub all began to exchange stories about how each had come to discover the writings of Merton and what had led them to attend this three-day event. Most shared a version of “the typical Merton story,” which begins with reading The Seven Storey Mountain.

The Irishman, however, recalled a dramatic event that took place in a hospital room. Visiting his father, who was recovering from surgery, he was told that the man in the next bed was dying. The dying man happened to be reading a book, which led my new Irish friend to reflect: “If he’s dying and is reading, it must be an amazing book! I need to know what it is.” The book was Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain.

This man told us, decades later, that Merton remained a major influence in his life, ever since he read the book after that hospital encounter.

Few writers and thinkers can bring people together this way. Even fewer can do it long after their death. Thomas Merton continues to exercise an “apostolate of friendship,” bringing people together across many divides. If you haven’t met Merton and his friends yet, I encourage you to do so.

Daniel P. Horan, O.F.M., is the author of several books, including The Last Words of Jesus: A Meditation on Love and Suffering (2013). Follow him @DanHoranOFM.

Photo: Merton Legacy Trust
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