Thursday, December 31, 2009

"Gianna: The Catholic Healthcare Center for Women"

New women's health center offers reproductive care, gynecology



Women facing infertility and other reproductive difficulties have a new place to turn to for help. It's in Manhattan, and it offers something that has not previously been available in the region: a specially developed infertility treatment that is both effective and pro-life.

The new facility is "Gianna: The Catholic Healthcare Center for Women." In addition to treating infertility, it offers general women's health care including obstetrics, prenatal care and routine gynecology. Everything it does is in accord with Church teaching on marriage, sexuality, procreation and the dignity of human life.

Its method of treating infertility is based on a complete understanding of the way a woman's body works, and also can be used to avoid pregnancy.

All patients are welcome regardless of their beliefs, but the center's pro-life ethic and its founders' faith touch every aspect of its work.

"We are Catholic, so that shapes the way we treat each person," said co-founder Dr. Anne Mielnik.

The Gianna Center is sponsored by St. Vincent's Hospital in Manhattan and is part of the hospital's health care system. It is located at 15 E. 40th Street.

Dr. Mielnik is a family physician specializing in women's health and infertility. Her co-founder is Joan Nolan of Syracuse, a specialist in natural family planning. Last year they established the John Paul II Center for Women, a nonprofit organization, with the goal of creating centers throughout the United States to offer pro-life medical care to women and to give them an alternative to treatments that are not pro-life, such as in vitro fertilization (IVF).

The Gianna Center, which opened officially on Dec. 8, is the first of the centers they envision.

The center uses NaPro Technology to treat infertility and to assist couples to avoid pregnancy. NaPro—the trademarked name stands for "natural procreative technology" was developed by Dr. Thomas W. Hilgers, founder of the Pope Paul VI Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction in Omaha, Neb.

Working with Dr. Mielnik is Dr. Kyle Beiter, an obstetrician and gynecologist who completed a yearlong fellowship in NaPro Technology and studied under Dr. Hilgers.

In a recent interview, Dr. Mielnik talked about some of the differences between IVF and NaPro Technology. IVF involves the creation of embryos in a laboratory which are then implanted into the uterus. If the embryos begin to grow, one or more are almost always aborted. Unused embryos are frozen and stored.

NaPro does not involve the creation, abortion or storing of embryos. With NaPro, women use a specially designed method to track their cycles and find the underlying causes of their infertility. The doctor then prescribes either medical treatment or surgery aimed at making conception possible.

Dr. George Mussalli, chairman of the department of obstetrics and gynecology, at St. Vincent's Hospital, said in an interview that "New York City is very fortunate to have this center opening.

"It adds more choices for women beyond what is offered," he said. "It opens new opportunities for the community we serve."

He added that the NaPro method "utilizes natural procreative technology, so its appeal is not going to be only to women of Catholic faith who are trying to have reproductive care aligned with their beliefs."

"It is also going to appeal to many women who are looking for a natural or holistic approach to their reproductive health care."

Both Dr. Mielnik and Dr. Beiter do NaPro consultation; Dr. Beiter also does surgery.

Dr. Beiter told CNY, "We feel we're offering patients an ethically sound program of women's health care that rivals or excels conventional obstetric-gynecological treatments."

Dr. Mielnik said that NaPro looks "very promising" in resolving infertility. Up to 70 percent of couples have been helped to achieve a successful pregnancy, while the success rate for IVF is 45 percent after three cycles of treatment and 51 percent after six cycles, she said.

Dr. Mielnik noted that other approaches to reproductive issues either "suppress the fertility cycle," as with chemical contraception, or "bypass the system" as with IVF. NaPro cooperates with a woman's system and, where needed, restores normal function.

"Our approach is restorative; it respects the natural ecology of a woman's body," Dr. Mielnik said.

The Gianna Center also has an educational component, and that's a "critical" part of its mission, Dr. Mielnik said. She wants every woman to understand "her own dignity as a child of God" and the "gift of fertility" that is part of womanhood.

When a woman understands both herself and the "profoundly beautiful cycle that brings new life into the world," then Church teaching about marriage, sexuality and reproduction makes sense, Dr. Mielnik said.

She stressed, however, that the center welcomes all patients, and that no one will be "pressured or judged."

Dr. Mielnik, 32, originally from Pennsylvania, said her commitment to human dignity and pro-life values began early. As a teen, she was "tormented" by human rights abuses described on television. As a pre-med student at Villanova University, she worked at a crisis pregnancy center. While studying at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, she founded a student pro-life group and brought in pro-life speakers, postabortive women, trainers in pro-life counseling and others. She also founded a citywide pro-life group for medical students.

She expressed her views freely in classes, she said. And although she encountered plenty of opposition in public, "in private, countless students would come up to me and say, ÔI share your values,' " she said.

The Gianna Center is named for St. Gianna Beretta Molla, an Italian physician, wife and mother of four who died in 1962. Ill during her fourth pregnancy, she refused a potentially lifesaving hysterectomy—which Church teaching would have allowed—in order to save her baby. She was canonized in 2004.

"She's a personal favorite of mine," Dr. Mielnik said.

Her hope for the Gianna Center is that it will serve "the Catholic population of women in this city that has been crying out for health care consistent with their values."

She hopes that couples struggling with infertility who might be thinking of IVF will discover that "there is an alternative that is effective, less expensive and morally acceptable that will allow them to conceive through a natural act of intercourse."

The Gianna Center accepts most major medical insurance plans including Medicaid.

Information: 212-481-1219

Monday, December 28, 2009

Interview with Walker Percy

Courtesy of Fr. Martin J. Miller

Interview - Walker Percy

A physician turned philosopher turned novelist, Walker Percy (1916-1990) was a towering figure in the world of arts and letters. His body of work includes six novels, three works of nonfiction, and numerous scholarly articles. Percy received critical acclaim throughout his writing career: his first work of fiction, The Moviegoer, earned the National Book Award in 1962, and in 1989, shortly before his death, he was awarded the National Endowment for the Humanities' highest honor, the post of Jefferson Lecturer.

I first encountered Percy in Philosophy 101 at the University of Utah, in 1969, when my professor assigned an essay of Percy's on theistic existentialism - quite a stretch for a former Mormon like me. Ten years later I encountered him again, this time not on paper but in the flesh. I had moved to New Orleans in 1979 and was working as a writer and producer for the CBS affiliate there. By then I had immersed myself in Percy's novels and philosophical work, and was fascinated by the complexity of the man, by his originality and humor.

After a while, I learned he was living only twenty-eight miles from the French Quarter, where I lived. He was just on the other side of Lake Pontchartrain. As a field producer scavenging for stories, I dug up his phone number (don't ask me how) and decided to give it a shot. I dialed his number:


I cleared my throat. "Dr. Percy?"


"How are you?"

"Who's this?"

"Robyn Leary. You don't know me, but I write and produce for WWL Television in New Orleans. I'd like to schlep a camera crew over and spend a few hours with you at your home or studio in Covington. How about it?"

Unhesitatingly, he refused, adding, "If you knew anything about my work, you'd know I hate the twentieth century, the whole culture, and that I've had enough of interviews."


We repeated this ritual once a month for at least nine months. No dice. Then, one splendid afternoon in the spring of 1982, I was on my way to the New Orleans Museum of Art for the glitzy premier of the Search for Alexander exhibition. The museum had arranged for a shuttle to bring guests in from wherever they'd had to park. My beau and I were on the shuttle, en route to the museum, when I spotted Walker Percy walking arm-in-arm with his wife, Bunt, beneath a giant oak.

"Don't you think you should stop for that older couple?" I blurted out to the driver, my finger pointing at the Percys.

Walker and Bunt took the two seats in front of us.
With less than a few yards to ride, I screwed up my courage and tapped him on the shoulder. He turned to me with a dazzling smile.


"Dr. Percy, you don't know me, but I'm Robyn Leary. I write and produce for WWL in New Orleans. I'd like to schlep a camera crew over and spend a few hours with you at your home or studio in Covington."

"Yes"‹still smiling‹"I remember." As we stepped out of the shuttle, he looked straight at me and said, "Call me."

In phone conversations we established our friendship. Percy was just finishing Lost in the Cosmos (1983), and he filled me in on all that was required to get his book in final shape. Over the course of several months we spoke on the phone and corresponded frequently by mail. Eventually he invited me to a writers' roundtable at an old Louisiana seafood house called Bechac's, on the Covington side of the lake, where he held court every Thursday with six or eight writers. I arrived early and watched Percy pull up in an old battered pickup. Wearing a pair of rumpled chinos and a yellow button-down shirt, he led a casual discussion about the latest novels and mysterious things like current events, and we sat around eating crawfish and drinking Dixie beer. He also invited me to his studio.

ee some interview questions, to which he would respond in writing. Why had he changed his mind? He said I was easy to talk to.

Robyn Leary: Why are you so critical of the sciences of man‹of psychology, for example?

Walker Percy: I am not critical of social scientists when they are dealing with man as man, a fellow human. Psychotherapists who do this have the most difficult job in the world, and I admire them for it. What I object to is, for example, a Skinnerian professing to understand other men as bundles of conditioned reflexes. Or Margaret Mead professing to understand Samoans by making them conform to her theory of culture, which she had in her head before she got to Samoa. Therefore, it is more interesting to me to study people like Margaret Mead and B. F. Skinner‹scientists with a certain set of mind‹than it is to study rats in mazes or Samoans.

RL: You write a lot about the upside-downness of life. Is there, do you suppose, any remedy for the human condition?

WP: As the saying goes, we're probably not going to get out of this alive. The problem then becomes: What do you do about a "human condition" which is essentially a terminal illness?

RL: Freud defines anxiety as the product of intrapsychical conflict. Skinner defines it as a learned behavior. In Zen philosophy, anxiety is an evil to be removed. Heidegger, on the other hand, defines anxiety as ontological, in that it tells us about our humanness. It is for him not a by-product or a learned behavior‹or something to be avoided. To which of these definitions do you most closely subscribe?

WP: Check Heidegger. I would agree with him that we do a lot better treating anxiety (some forms, at least) as a kind of beckoning of the self to a self rather than as a symptom of illness. This is why in writing novels I often find that it works to turn things upside-down and to set forth a character‹say, a woman with severe free-floating anxiety‹as more interesting, more hopeful, possessing greater possibilities than, say, another perfectly adjusted symptom-free woman. To say this is to say a good deal more than that illness is more interesting than health.

RL: The work of Gabriel Marcel has had a tremendous impact on your philosophy. For Marcel, hope‹real hope‹lives only in the face of near impossibility or real despair. Is your hope of this variety? For what do you hope? And how does hope differ from faith?

WP: I would agree with Marcel that even in the worst of times‹for example, in the twentieth century, when man is behaving at his most perverse, apparently intent on self-destructing‹there is always an extraordinary trait in man of paradox. Man strives for beauty and grace and knowledge of God and the cosmos at the very moment he is murdering his fellow man in the filth of trenches, in the Holocaust of World War II.
For what do I hope? Short-term goal: that man can survive himself long enough to explore the infinite potential of himself and the world around him. If he can last another fifty years, he might make it.

Personal goal: to survive my own bad habits.

Faith, I would think, is the actual belief that what one hopes for is attainable. A man dying of thirst in the desert may hope for water and have no faith that he will get it. But suppose there is a second man, who stands atop the next dune and makes a signal to him, perhaps with semaphores, signifying two H's and an O. Now the first man is entitled to faith.

RL: I believe that there are two kinds of adjustments a human being can make to reality: a comedic one and a tragic one. What kind of an adjustment, at base, is yours?

WP: Check both. In writing novels, for example, I find that the comic‹perhaps it is my own peculiar sense of the comic‹occurs at the very heart of the human tragedy. In The Second Coming, for example, Will Barrett's threatening God with suicide in a cave is comic. And yet we have no doubt that he is wholly serious and does intend his suicide‹and is therefore tragic. The comic dimension is apparent when he develops a toothache and has to give up his nutty plan.

RL: Science, as you so often point out, has failed man. But so, too, has God. How is art the solution for man as he aimlessly roams the cosmos?

WP: Explain how God has failed. Does this mean that God exists but that he might have done a better job? Or that man has screwed up and supposed, therefore, that God has failed? I didn't say art was the solution. I would agree that with a failure of religion for many people, art is often promoted as a quasi-religious vocation. I'm not sure how successfully this works, even for the most talented and committed artists and art lovers. I dealt with this interesting art-as-religion phenomenon in Lost in the Cosmos: for example, comparing the transcending God-likeness of Faulkner while writing The Sound and the Fury with the crash afterward‹drunk for a week. Or think of the exaltation of the moviegoer after seeing a fine movie‹say, Wild Strawberries‹and then what? One hour, two hours later, what? I called this the "reentry" problem.

RL: You give writers a lot of bad press in Lost in the Cosmos. Why do you suppose writers are different from others? Does their temperament differ significantly from other artists?

WP: Also in Lost in the Cosmos: writers are in the front line of sensibility, like the canaries miners take down in the shafts to test the air. Also: writers are the "Protestants" of art, with nothing but their Scripto pencils and Blue-Horse tablets; painters are the "Catholics," with concrete intermediaries, clay, paint, models, fruit, landscape, etc. This is why writers drink more and painters live longer.

RL: You have chosen a life of seclusion. Why?

WP: Because writing is murder-both joy and murder. I would agree with Flannery O'Connor that if she spends three hours in the morning writing, she has to spend the rest of the day getting over it. This doesn't leave much time for square dancing. Bourbon is better anyhow. But I am not totally secluded. I know you, don't I?

RL: You often reject the label "existentialist." Given the importance of naming in your philosophical system, what are you?

WP: God knows.

RL: It's been said that your plots all seem to have certain elements in common: A disturbed, alienated man meets a younger woman, who is worse off than he. He solves all her problems and in so doing solves his own. They live happily ever after. Is this accurate?

WP: A lovely concise summary. I feel you have taken care of me for all time in all textbooks of American Lit. No, really, it's true, with a couple of qualifications: 1) there's something else going on besides the love story; 2) it doesn't always end happily. In fact, the only unambiguous happy ending was in The Second Coming.

RL: You are openly critical of joining groups. Why, then, did you join the Catholic Church?

WP: The question opens such vast areas‹or should I say abysses‹of misunderstanding that I am somewhat boggled and could not begin to answer it seriously without writing a three-hundred-page Apologia pro Vita Sua. Indeed, I had supposed that all of my writings might be considered as a sort of covert answer to this question. Therefore, I will answer your question unseriously: Would you like it better if I were a Methodist?

RL: Freud defined "mental health" as having the ability to work and the ability to love. Are you, according to Freud, mentally healthy?

WP: No. I am lazy and selfish‹like most writers, I am quite neurotic, more so than most people. Fortunately, I live in the right time.

RL: Is The Incredible Hulk really your favorite TV show?
WP: Until it went off the air. It united two great literary traditions: rotation (hitting the road, dropping out, adventures) and the good monster (Beauty's beast), who is also Lancelot.

RL: Kierkegaard's remedy for the alienation of "everydayness" is the "rotation" you've just mentioned. Do you agree? To what extent do you pursue rotation?

WP: I am not sure that he didn't say, rather, that "rotation" is a symptom of "everydayness," or, at least, a poor attempt to escape it. I rotate less and less these days. That is, I see fewer movies, do less travel. On the other hand, what few rotations I do are probably worse: I enjoy watching The Love Boat and reading The National Enquirer. They are so bad they are good. That is, they are pretty good indicators of what people really want.

RL: What were your most significant transitions philosophically?

WP: From Tolstoy to Dostoevsky. From Sartre to Marcel. From Plato to Aristotle. From Wolfe to Faulkner. Though in no case did I lose admiration for the former performance. It was a matter of further discovery.

RL: In your novel Love in the Ruins, Dr. T. More is the inventor of an instrument that can miraculously measure the health of the human spirit. Without such a device, how might we measure our spiritual health? Why might this be important?

WP: Dr. More's lapsometer was a not-quite-serious sci-fi device for measuring a serious condition given a not-quite-serious name: "Angelism-Bestialism." It signifies the condition of mind-body separation which has been endemic in Western civilization since the time of Descartes. It would be important to have such a condition diagnosed, because then one might elect to do something about it. One psychotherapist I know recommends to some of his neurotic patients that they volunteer as aides in a cancer ward.

RL: How much do children owe their parents, and vice versa?

WP: Don't know, beyond a certain decent respect. Love's fine, but so is toleration. Thus, parents should recognize that most children, especially the most talented, have to rebel to become themselves. Young people should recognize that their parents are not necessarily the cretins they appear to be. Each should try to put up with the other, difficult as that may be.

RL: Do you think the philosophical distinction between idealist and materialist is a meaningful one?

WP: Not as meaningful as the issue of realism vs. nominalism. That is, the belief that there is a real world out there which we can, to a degree, know (including God), vs. the belief that there is nothing really knowable or scientifically lawful or meaningful but a bunch of sensory impressions which we give names to.

RL: To someone contemplating suicide, what would you advise?

WP: Go ahead and contemplate it. Then enjoy the consequences of not doing it.

RL: You've lived a fairly privileged life. Why such despair?

WP: Who says I despair? That is to say, I would reverse Kierkegaard's aphorism that the worst despair is that despair which is unconscious of itself as despair, and instead say that the best despair and the beginning of hope is to be conscious of despair in the very air we breathe, and to look around for something better. I like to eat crawfish and drink beer. That's despair?

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas: New Creation, New Start

“If any one is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Cor 5, 17)

Everything was always leading up to this Omega point which is the new beginning of all creation. Benedict XVI writes: “To become a Christian means to be brought in to share in a new beginning. Becoming a Christian is more than turning to new ideas, to a new morality, to a new community. The transformation that happens here has all the drastic quality of a real birth, of a new creation.”[1] The ontological ground for such an affirmation is the fact that we are dealing with a divine Person, the Creator of all things, and hence of a totally distinct dimension of reality. The Creator ontologically transcends His creation such that having created all, He is not more Being; and everything else ceasing to exist, He is not less. In philosophical jargon, the word deployed to deal with this is “incommensurable.” He cannot fit into any category since He is the creator of all categories, and the very meaning of “category.”

Romano Guardini states this reality of the Incarnation in the following terms: “The person of Jesus is unprecedented and therefore measurable by no already existing norm. Christian recognition consists of realizing that all things really began with Jesus Christ; that he is his own norm – and therefore ours – for he is Truth.

“Christ’s effect upon the world can be compared with nothing in its history save its own creation: ‘In the beginning God created heaven and earth.’ What takes place in Christ is of the same order as the original act of creation, though on a still higher level. For the beginning of the new creation is as far superior to the love which created the stars, plants, animals and men. That is what the words mean: ‘I have come to cast fire upon the earth, and what will I but that it be kindled?’ (Lk. 12, 49). It is the fire of new becoming; not ‘truth’ or ‘love,’ but the incandescence of new creation.”[2]

Guardini grounds this ontological radicality in Christ’s revelation: “But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how distressed I am until it is accomplished!’ ‘Baptism’ is the mystery of creative depths: grave and womb in one. Christ must pass through them because human hardness of heart does not allow him to take the other road. Sown, down through terrible destruction he descends, to the nadir of divine creation whence saved existence can climb back into being.

“Now we understand what St. Paul mean t with his ‘excelling knowledge of Jesus Christ:’ the realization that this is who Christ is, the Descender. To make this realization our own is the alpha and omega of our lives, for it is not enough to know Jesus only as the Savior. With this supreme knowledge serious religious life can begin, and we should strive for it with our whole strength and earnestness, as a man strives to reach his place in his profession; as a scientist wrestles with the answer to his problem; as one labors at his life work or for the hand of someone loved above all else.

“Are these directives for saints [as strange elites]? No, for Christians. For you….”[3]

Ratzinger continues: “Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation (2 Cor. 5, 17). God is not tied down to stones, but he does tie himself down to living people. The Yes of Mary opens for him the place where he can pitch his tent. She herself becomes a tent for him, and thus she is the beginning of the Holy Church, which in her turn points forward to the New Jerusalem, in which there is no temple any more, because God himself dwells in her midst. The faith in Christ that we confess in the Creed of the baptized people thus becomes a spiritualization and a purification of everything that was ever said or hoped in the history of religions, about God's dwelling in the world. Yet it is at the same time an embodiment of God's being with men, which renders this concrete and particular, going far beyond anything that might have been hoped for. 'God is in the flesh' - this indissoluble association of God with his creature, in particular, is what constitutes the heart of the Christian faith."

Now observe this! "To know Christ entails accepting his will as norm. We can participate in the beginning which is he, only by becoming one with his will. When we feel this we draw back, startled, for it means the Cross. Then it is better to say honestly: 'I can't, yet' than to mouth pious phrases. Slow there, with the large words, 'self-surrender' and 'sacrifice'! It is better to admit our weakness and ask him to teach us strength. One day we shall really be able to place ourselves fully at his disposal, and our wills will really be one with his. Then we shall stand at the threshold of the new beginning. What that will mean we do not know. Perhaps pain or a great task, or the yoke of everyday existence. It can also be its own pure end; it is for God to decide" (Guardini, 307).

[1] J. Ratzinger, “God Is Near Us” Ignatius 23-24.

[2] R. Guardini, “The Lord,” Gateway (1954) 306.

[3] Ibid 307

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas - BXVI - 2009; Jesus Christ Is Not Distant. "He Is Close To Us." Christ Is Present-Emmanuel

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 24, 2009 ( The shepherds of the Gospel, to whom the angel appeared to announce the birth of Christ, responded correctly when they heard the news that God had entered the world, says Benedict XVI.

The Pope reflected on the shepherds tonight in his homily for the Christmas vigil Mass in St. Peter's Basilica, and offered them as role models for how to respond to the news of Christ's birth.

"What Isaiah prophesied as he gazed into the future from afar, consoling Israel amid its trials and its darkness, is now proclaimed to the shepherds as a present reality by the Angel," the Pontiff said.

"The Lord is here," said the Holy Father. "From this moment, God is truly 'God with us.' No longer is he the distant God who can in some way be perceived from afar, in creation and in our own consciousness. He has entered the world. He is close to us."

Benedict XVI said that the news of Christ's birth "cannot leave us indifferent": "If it is true, it changes everything. If it is true, it also affects me."

But not everyone who hears the message, responds correctly, the Pontiff noted.

"The story of the shepherds is included in the Gospel for a reason," he reflected. "They show us the right way to respond to the message that we too have received."

The Pope explained that the "first thing we are told about the shepherds is that they were on the watch -- they could hear the message precisely because they were awake."

"We must be awake," the Holy Father urged, "so that we can hear the message. We must become truly vigilant people."


"The principal difference between someone dreaming and someone awake is that the dreamer is in a world of his own," said Benedict XVI. "His 'self' is locked into this dream world that is his alone and does not connect him with others.

"To wake up means to leave that private world of one's own and to enter the common reality, the truth that alone can unite all people."

The Pontiff attributed the conflict and division in the world to "the fact that we are locked into our own interests and opinions, into our own little private world."

"Selfishness, both individual and collective, makes us prisoners of our interests and our desires that stand against the truth and separate us from one another," he added.

"Awake, the Gospel tells us. Step outside, so as to enter the great communal truth, the communion of the one God," the Pope continued.

Benedict XVI said that to wake up one must "develop a receptivity for God."

"There are people who describe themselves as 'religiously tone deaf,'" he explained. "The gift of a capacity to perceive God seems as if it is withheld from some.

"And indeed -- our way of thinking and acting, the mentality of today's world, the whole range of our experience is inclined to deaden our receptivity for God, to make us 'tone deaf' toward him.

"And yet in every soul, the desire for God, the capacity to encounter him, is present, whether in a hidden way or overtly."

"In order to arrive at this vigilance," the Pope added, "this awakening to what is essential, we should pray for ourselves and for others, for those who appear 'tone deaf' and yet in whom there is a keen desire for God to manifest himself."

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

December 23 - Christmas As Eschatology II

The Word of God became flesh from and in our Lady two thousand years ago. It was an action both of God and her that consisted in her free consent to Christ’s life and death for us. She “heard” the Word in its most radical form which is to take it into herself and live it. The Word took flesh in her and from her. By taking it in in such a way, she became the Word.

To “know” the Word then is not to know an idea or come to a conclusion. When Joseph Ratzinger describes this he takes on the topic of the existence itself of God and the meaning of God as “living:”

“What does it mean when we call this God a living God? It means that this God is not a conclusion we have reached by thinking, which we now offer to others in the certainty of our own perception and understanding… When we talk of the living God, it means: This God shows himself to us; he looks out from eternity into time and puts himself into relationship with us. We cannot define him in whatever way we like. He has ‘defined’ himself and stands now before us as our Lord, over us and in our midst. This self-revelation of God, by virtue of which he is not our conception but our Lord, rightly stands, therefore, in the center of our Creed.”[1]

And the “center” of the creed is not an idea or concept we profess, but the personal “Yes” that actually incarnates the Word again in us at this particular moment in time and space. That is to say, Christmas actually takes place again as truly as it did two thousand years ago. Ratzinger remarked: “the heart of all our creeds is our Yes to Jesus Christ: ‘By the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary.’ We genuflect at this clause, because at this point the heavens, the veil behind which God is secluded, are swept aside, and the mystery touches us directly. The distant God becomes our God, becomes ‘Emmanuel – God with us’ (Mt. 1, 23)”

But this calls for an explanation. It is a command performance to revamp our understanding of the metaphysical anthropology of the human person. It is the call to put the reality of the Word of God as keystone to epistemological realism. It is the call to pay serious attention to the indication of Cardinal Marc Ouellet at the last Synod on the Word of God held in October 2008: “the dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum marked a real turning point in the manner of dealing with Divine Revelation. Instead of privileging, as before, the noetic dimension of truths to be believed in, the Council Fathers emphasized the dynamic and dialogic accent [2] of Revelation as personal self-communication of God. Thus they put down the bases for a more vivid encounter and dialogue between God who calls and His people who respond.”

By “noetic dimension of truths to be believed in” Ouellet is saying that the human person does not “know” primarily by concepts and ideas, but by a consciousness that is the fruit of a total personal experience, like faith. The conceptual way of knowing is a reflection on a direct experience and consciousness of the self that takes place in the response “Yes” that is the sign of the act of self-transcendence. This is what Ratzinger means by saying that “heart of all our creeds is our Yes to Jesus Christ.” The human person is constitutively a relation, not a thing-in-itself, which Aristotle called “substance.” “Substance” is a category fabricated by the abstractive power of the mind to immaterialize what is perceived in the senses. It is not false, but it is already a distortion of the way reality is. Ultimately, it is not real. The only reality is the Word of God Himself and our conformity to this Word by our becoming it. When we say “Yes” to it, we make the gift of receiving it obediently into us and forming a covenant with it (Him).

Even more astoundingly, we find here what Ratzinger had written about the meaning of Revelation and Faith as removing the “veil” of the “vel” in “Revelation.” Notice that he says: “We genuflect at this clause, because at this point the heavens, the veil behind which God is secluded, are swept aside, the mystery touches us directly.” It touches us directly because we become the flesh of the Word (total self-gift to the Father and to us) and experience ourselves as “other Christs.” This can happen only when we make the act of faith – the “Yes” – as our Lady did. And this is what is meant by “Blessed is she who believed.” She became divinized as “blessed” because of her act of self-gift. And each of us must become the mother who engendered Him by hearing the word of God and doing it: “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it” (Lk. 8, 20-21).

The “veil” of the vel in “Revelation” is removed by saying “Yes.” The invisibility of God is removed. God is known as “Living” because He lives in me in that I am He. This is the principal problem of our time. We know about God, but we do not know God. He is the result of a conclusion, but not a direct experience that can only take place within myself and of myself. At best, we have reduced God to a “hobby.” We are self-sufficient and independent. God is not needed “having absolutely nothing to do.”[2]

The supreme implication of the above is considerable. It says that Revelation takes place only when there is an act of faith. Ratzinger wrote: “The receiving subject is always also a part of the concept of ‘revelation.’ Where there is no one to perceive ‘revelation,’ no re-vel-ation has occurred, because no veil has been removed. By definition, revelation requires a someone who apprehends it.”[3] This can sound terribly subjectivistic unless one remembers that we are not dealing with “noetic” knowing but as Ouellet said it above: “the dynamic and dialogic accent [2] of Revelation as personal self-communication of God.” It is an understanding of the human person in terms of revelation and faith, not as the result of sensible perception and abstraction as in “rational animal” or “individual substance of a rational nature.”

Pastorally and scientifically, this means that without prayer, one cannot rightly do theology because one does not know God. Without personal prayer that is experience of Jesus Christ, one cannot “know” the God that no one has ever seen.

This is the meaning of Christmas as Eschatology.

[1] “Benedictus, Day by Day with Pope Benedict XVI,” Ignatius (2006) December 24, p. 387 (from God is Near Us pp. 11-12).

[2] J. Ratzinger, “Introduction to Christianity,” Ignatius (2004) 17.

[3] J. Ratzinger, “Milestones…” (1997) 108-109;

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

December 22 - Christmas and Eschatology

“The Incarnation of the Word means that God does not merely want to come to the spirit of man, through the Spirit, but that he is seeking him through and in the material world, that he also in fact wants to encounter him as a social and historical being. God wants to come to men through men. God has approached men in such a way that through him, and on account of him, they can find their way to one another. Thus the Incarnation includes the communal and historical aspects of faith. Taking the way of the body means that time, as a reality, and the social nature of man become features of man’s relationship with God, features that are in turn based upon God’s existing relationship with man. God’s action brings into being ‘the People of God,’ and ‘the People of God,’ on the basis of Christ, become ‘the body of Christ’ … The ultimate goal for us all is that of becoming happy. Yet happiness exists only in company with each other, and we can keep company only in the infinity of love. There is happiness only in the removal of the barriers of the self in moving into divinity, in becoming divine.”[1]

Note that the opening line refers to the third age of salvation history proclaimed by Joachim of Fiore [d. 1202] where Christ had been the turning point into the third age of the Spirit. Jesus Christ would not then be considered the End of man, but a pivotal figure in world history. Man would continue on now in pursuit of sanctity which would be achieved at the end of time which would be identified with the Parousia as Second Coming of Christ and the end of history.

About this, Joseph Ratzinger commented: “For the first thousand years of Christian theology, Christ is not the turning-point of history at which a transformed and redeemed world begins, nor is He the point at which the unredeemed history prior to His appearance is terminated. Rather, Christ is the beginning of the end. He is ‘salvation’ in as far as in Him the ‘end’ has already broken into history. Viewed from an historical perspective salvation consists in this end which He inaugurates, while history will run on for a time, so to say per nefas and will bring the old aeon of this world to an end.

Ratzinger point is that the “End” has already been given and is present now. He then went on disapprovingly: “The idea of seeing Christ as the axis of world history was prepared for by Rupert, Honorius and Anselm. But it appears clearly for the first time in Joachim; and even here it is somewhat hidden at first by the fact that the history of the world has not one but two axes and that it is made up not of two but of three great periods. The rejection of this latter notion was effected forcibly by the triumph of orthodox dogma; but the other idea remained. Consequently Joachim became the path-finder within the church for a new understanding of history which to us today appears to be so self-evident that it seems to be the Christian understanding. It may be difficult for us to believe that there was a time [the first millennium] when this was not the case. It is here that the true significance of Joachim is to be found…. It should be clear that the church and redemption are rendered historical in an entirely new way which cannot be a matter of indifference for the history of dogma nor for systematic theology… A new eschatological consciousness develops here, and it is demanded precisely by the new manner in which the church as it has existed up to the present is interpreted historically… (A) truly good and redeemed history is yet to come since an unredeemed and defective history continues after Christ.”[2]

This is a most important point in the mind of the pope. It would explain the ennui and boredom in which we are mired. There is no fire in the faith for which God became man, and is at the root of the non-experience of Christ. God is not known, and if He is known, it is not an adventurous experience. Even if God exists, He is not needed. We need only ourselves and our science and technology. We are bored. Everything continues the same in its misery. His exegesis of John the Baptist is apposite to this: "Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?" (Lk. 7, 20) Christ responds: Look at the miracles that are taking place right under your nose: "The blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead rise, the poor have the gospel preached to them" (Lk. 7, 22). What is needed is life of faith in the presence of Jesus Christ now Who is with us until the consummation of the world (Mt. 28, 19-20).

[1] “Benedictus - Day by Day with Pope Benedict XVI,” December 22 p. 385, taken from Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith… pp. 165-166.

[2] J. Ratzinger, “The Theology of History….” 106-108.

The Trivialization of Reality: "Now... Hear This!"

“One can hardly overestimate the damage that such juxtapositions do to our sense of the world as a serious place. The damage is especially massive to youthful viewers who depend so much on television for their clues as to how to respond to the world.”

Neil Postman: “No matter how grave any fragment of news may appear (for example, on the day I write a Marine Corps general has declared that nuclear was between the United States and Russia is inevitable), it will shortly be followed by a series of commercials that will, in an instant, defuse the import of the news, in fact render it largely banal. This is a key element in the structure of a news program and all by itself refutes any claim that television vews is designed as a serious form of public discourse. Imagine what you would think of me, and this book (blog posting), if I were to pause here, tell you that I will return to my discussion in a moment, and then proceed to write a few words in behalf of United Airlines or the Chase Manhattan Bank. You would rightly think that I had no respect for you and, certainly, no respect for the subject. And if I did this not once but several times in each chapter, you would think the whole enterprise unworthy of your attention…. We have become so accustomed to its discontinuities that we are no longer struck dumb, as any sane person would be, by a newscaster who having just reported that a nuclear was is inevitable goes on to say that he will be right back after this word from Burger King… One can hardly overestimate the damage that such juxtapositions do to our sense of the world as a serious place. The damage is especially massive to youthful viewers who depend so much on television for their clues as to how to respond to the world. In watching television news, they, more than any other segment of the audience, are drawn into an epistemology based on the assumption that all reports of cruelty and death are greatly exaggerated and, in any case, not to be taken seriously or responded to sanely.”[1]

In writing this, I cannot help thinking how obsolescence has been built into most American products for the purpose of economic turnover. By contrast, my mind immediately goes to the Japanese and German cars whose odometers have for years have been created to register in the six figure range. If you take care of them (a little oil change), they last. If not, the result is a trivialization of the consumer product. Americans know this, and have largely stopped buying American cars. And since the object of human labor carries as intrinsic to it the value of the person making it, to trivialize the object is to trivialize and disrespect the subject. In the praxis, once an object is broken, there is no attempt to fix it. You get a new one. This leads inexorably to a general attitude of disrespect for things, people and God together with the exaltation of the unencumbered self as sufficient. Concomitant with this is a disrespect for all authority. As John Senior ("The Restoration of Catholic Culture") remarked with a bit of a sneer: "God knows, even a fish will swim a thousand miles and die of love, but an American will live in shame for the price of a television, stereo and an air-conditioned car. In the midst of a world on fire, with the smoke and stench of the slave-camps in our nostrils, we yearn for the cool relief of an indifferent ice, the slowly lengthening glaciers of the Coca Cola Archipelago, advancing in our freezing, loveless hearts."

[1] Neil Postman, “Amusing Ourselves to Death,” Vintage (1985) 104-105.

Monday, December 21, 2009

TheTransition from the Conceptual Mind to TV to Mysticism

From Concepts to Pictures to TV to Mysticism


The only true realism is mysticism. Remember that only the Word of God – that is the Person of Christ - is ultimately real. Recall the keynote address of Benedict XVI at the Synod of 2008:

“(T)he Word of God is the foundation of everything, it is the true reality. And to be realistic, we must rely upon this reality. We must change our idea that matter, solid things, things we can touch, are the more solid, the more certain reality. At the end of the Sermon on the Mount the Lord speaks to us about the two possible foundations for building the house of one's life: sand and rock. The one who builds on sand builds only on visible and tangible things, on success, on career, on money. Apparently these are the true realities. But all this one day will pass away. We can see this now with the fall of large banks: this money disappears, it is nothing. And thus all things, which seem to be the true realities we can count on, are only realities of a secondary order. The one who builds his life on these realities, on matter, on success, on appearances, builds upon sand. Only the Word of God is the foundation of all reality, it is as stable as the heavens and more than the heavens, it is reality. Therefore, we must change our concept of realism (underline mine). The realist is the one who recognizes the Word of God, in this apparently weak reality, as the foundation of all things. Realist is the one who builds his life on this foundation, which is permanent. Thus the first verses of the Psalm invite us to discover what reality is and how to find the foundation of our life, how to build life.”

Therefore, any medium interposed between the Word of God and the knower is a distortion of reality and ultimately becomes a “pseudo context” or illusion. The drama of this epistemology is set forth in C.S. Lewis’s “The Silver Chair.”

The Silver Chair C.S. Lewis

Prince Rilian, enchanted for years by the Witch, the Lady of the Green Kirtle, the Queen of Underland, and freed by Aslan’s troop of Scrubb, Jill and the Marshwiggle Puddleglum, finds himself face to face with the Witch who is about to re-enchant him together with the others.

“Now the Witch said nothing at all, but moved gently across the room, always keeping her face and eyes very steadily towards the Prince. When she had come to a little ark set in the wall not far from the fireplace, she opened it, and took out first a handful of green powder. This she threw on the fire. It did not blaze much, but a very sweet and drowsy smell came from it. And all through the conversation which followed, that smell grew stronger, and filled the room, and made it harder to think. Secondly, she took out a musical instrument rather like a mandolin. She began to play it with her finders – a steady, monotonous thrumming that you didn’t notice after a few minutes. But the less yo noticed it, the more it got into your brain and your blood. This also made it hard to think. After she had thrummed for a time (and the sweet smell was not strong) she began speaking in a sweet, quiet voice.

“‘Narnia?’ she said. ‘Narnia? I have often heard your Lordship utter that name in your ravings. Dear Prince, you are very sick. There is no land called Narnia.’

‘Yes there is though, Ma’am,’ said Puddleglum. ‘You see, I happen to have lived there all my life.’

‘Indeed,’ said the Witch. ‘Tell me, I pray you, where that country is?’

‘Up there,’ said Puddleglum, stoutly, pointing overhead. ‘I – I don’t know exactly where.’

‘How?’ said the Queen, with a kind, soft, musical laugh, ‘Is there a country up among the stones and mortar of the roof?’

‘No,’ said Puddleglum, struggling a little to get his breath. ‘It’s in Overworld.’

‘And what, or where, pray is this … how do you call it Overworld?’

‘Oh don’t be so silly,’ said Scrub, who was fighting hard against the enchantment of the sweet smell and the thrumming. ‘As if you didn’t know! It’s up above, up where you can see the sky and the sun and the stars. Why, you’ve been there yourself. We met you there.’

‘I cry you mercy, little brother,’ laughed the Witch (you couldn’t have heard a lovelier laugh). ‘I have no memory of that meeting. But we often meet our friends in strange places when we dream. And unless all dreamed alike, you must not ask them to remember it.’

‘Madam,’ said the Prince sternly, ‘I have already told your Grace that I am the King’s son of Narnia.’

‘And shalt be, dear friend,’ said the Witch a soothing voice, as if she was humouring a child, ‘shalt be king of many imagined lands in thy fancies.’

‘We’ve been there, too,’ snapped Jill. She was very angry because she cold feel enchantment getting hold of her every moment. But of course the very fact the she could still feel it, showed that it had not yet fully worked….

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“Puddleglum was still fighting hard. `I don’t know rightly what you all mean by a world,’ he said, talking like a man who hasn’t enough air. ‘But you can ply that fiddle till your fingers drop off, and still you won’t make me forget Narnia; and the whole Overworld too. We’ll never se it again, I shouldn’t wonder. You may have blotted it out and turned ti dark like this, for all I know. Nothing more likely. But I know I was there once. I’ve seen the sky full of stars. I’ve seen the sun coming up out of the sea of a morning and sinking behind the mountains at night. And I’ve seen him up in the midday sky when I couldn’t look at him for brightness’…

* * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“Slowly and gravely the Witch repeated, ‘There is no sun.’ And they all said nothing. She repeated, in a softer and deeper voice. ‘There is no sun.’ After a pause, and after a struggle in their minds, all four of them said together. ‘You are right. There is no sun.’ It was such a relief to give in and say it.

‘There never was a sun,’ said the Witch.

‘No. There never was a sun,’ said the Prince, and the March-wiggle, and the children….

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“The Prince and the two children were standing with their heads hung down, their cheeks flushed, their eyes half closed; the strength all gone from them; the enchantment almost complete. But Puddleglum, desperately gathering all his strength, walked over to the fire. Then he did a very brave thing. He knew it wouldn’t hurt him quite as much as it would hurt a human; for his feet (which were bare) were webbed and hard and cold-blooded like a duck’s. But he knew ti would hurt him badly enough; and so it did. With his bare foot he stamped on the fire, grinding a large part of it into ashes on the flat hearth. And three things happened at once.

“First, the sweet heavy smell grew very much less. For though the whole fire had not been put out, a good it of it had, and what remained smelled very largely of burnt Marsh-wiggle, which is not at all an enchanting smell. This instantly made everyone’s brain far clearer. The Prince and the children held up their heads again and opened their eyes.

“Secondly, the Witch, in a loud, terrible voice, utterly different from all th4e sweet tones she had been using up till now, called out, ‘What are you doing? Dare to touch my fire again, mud-filth, and I’ll turn the blood to fire inside your veins.’

“Thirdly, the pain itself made Puddleglum’s head for a moment perfectly clear and he knew exactly what he really thought. There is nothing like a good shock of pain for dissolving certain kinds of magic.

“‘One word, Ma’am,’ he said, coming back from the fire; limping, because of the pain. ‘One word. All you’ve been saying is quite right, I shouldn’t wonder. I’m a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it. So I don’t deny any of what you said. But there’s one thing more to be said, even so. Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things – trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made –up things seem a good deal more important than t he real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are really, we’re leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that’s small loss if the world’s as dull a place as you say.’

“…(T)he Prince shouted suddenly, ‘Ware! Look to the Witch.

“When they did look their hair nearly stood on end.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

“Long before there was time to do anything, the change was complete, and the great serpent which the Witch had become, green as poison, thick as Jill’s waist, had flung two or three coils of its loathsome body round the Prince’s legs…. With repeated blows they hacked off its head. The horrible thing went on coiling and moving like a bit of wire long after it had died; and the floor, as you may imagine, was a nasty mess.”[1]

That said, consider this email from a most perceptive and responsible mother:

“I love Neil Postman. What a surprise to find you reading something I own and have actually read. I own it because of my insatiable appetite to support my never ending battle to protect my children from the one eyed monster and to justify my draconian approach of keeping the monster under lock and key. If it is locked up, boys look to books for "entertainment". I first read Postman 15 years ago – “The Disappearance of Childhood.” My copy is completely highlighted and of course the 2 books go hand in hand. "Children are immersed in a world of secrets, surrounded by mystery and awe; a world that will be made intelligible to them by adults....but because of television, nothing is awesome, nothing is held back from public view....having access to the previously hidden fruit of adult information (think Viagra commercials!!!)...they are expelled from the garden of childhood." The book is phenomenal and I adore his humor.”

Neil Postman: "Amusing Ourselves to Death"

There seem to be three epistemological phases: 1) the printed word as read in hard copy; 2) the visual image as observed; 3) the word (Word) as heard, obeyed and experienced.

Neil Postman offers that “the medium is the metaphor,” which goes beyond Marshall McLuhan’s “the medium is the message.”

By his account, “a metaphor suggests what a thing is like by comparing it to something else. And by the power of its suggestion, it so fixes a conception in our minds that we cannot imagine the one thing without the other: Light is a wave; language, a tree; God, a wise and venerable man’ the mind, a dark cavern illuminated by knowledge. And if these metaphors no longer serve us, we must, in the nature of the matter, find others that will: Light is a particle; language, a river; God (as Bertrand Russell proclaimed), a differential equation; the mind a garden that yearns to be cultivated.”[2]

He means that there is always something interspersed between the knowing self and what we understand to be “the real.” We have the medium of perception between self and sensible reality such that we say that the sky is blue, the dress is red, and the pain is in the tooth. But the raw realism is such that light waves/particles refract from the atmosphere in such a way that our reception records such arrivals as “blue,” etc. So also, we have multiplied our powers of sensibility and unwittingly attribute reality to them, although they are not really there. Postman offers the example of Lewis Mumford’s reflection on the clock as the creator of the metaphor of minutes and seconds that don’t really exist, but are our intrusion on the real. They are the way we think of time as “moment to moment.”[3] The clock is the interspersed medium that “creates the idea of ‘moment to moment.’”[4]

Typography as Metaphor

The alphabet is another mechanism of metaphor. It created the passage from the phonetic word to the written word. And the “written word… is not merely an echo of a speaking voice. It is another kind of voice altogether…”[5] “(A)nthropologists know how strange and magical it appears to a purely oral people – a conversation with no one and yet with everyone. What could be stranger than the silence one encounters when addressing a question to a text? What could be more metaphysically puzzling than addressing an unseen audience, as every writer of books must do? And correcting oneself because one knows that an unknown reader will disapprove or misunderstand?”[6] Postman goes on to suggest that “the setting down of views in written characters would be the beginning of philosophy, not its end. Philosophy cannot exist without criticism, and writing makes it possible and convenient to subject thought to a continuous and concentrated scrutiny. Writing freezes speech and in so doing gives birth to the grammarian, the logician, the rhetorician, the historian, the scientist – all those who must hold language before them so that they can see what it means, where it errs, and where it is leading”[7]

In a word, the alphabet and the written word obliges a way of using intelligence which can be called “objectification.” Postman is not just talking about “content” but about the way the mind works. He cites the case of a person making defense of a doctoral thesis in which he has a footnote referring to a conversation in a hotel. He is reprimanded by the examiners for the lack of scholarship: “You are not a journalist…You are supposed to be a scholar.” [8]The examinee retorted: “Why do you assume the accuracy of a print-referenced citation but not a speech-referenced one?”[9] The answer: “You are mistaken in believing that the form in which an idea is conveyed is irrelevant to its truth. In the academic world, the published word is invested with greater prestige and authenticity than the spoken word. What people say is assumed to be more casually uttered than what they write. The written word is assumed to have been reflected upon and revised by its author, reviewed by authorities and editors. It is easier to verify or refute, and it is invested with an impersonal and objective character, which is why, no doubt, you have referred to yourself in odours thesis as ‘the investigator’ and not by your name; that is to say, the written word is, by its nature, addressed to the world, not an individual. The written word endures, the spoken word disappears; and that is why writing is close to the truth than speaking. Moreover, we are sure you would prefer that this commission produce a written statement that you have passed your examination (should you do so) than for us merely to tell you that you have, and leave it at that. Our written statement would represent the ‘truth.’ Our oral agreement would be only a rumor.”[10]

He ends his exposition on typography as the dynamic of the culture, and particularly American culture, with this finely turned conclusion: “The name I give to that period of time during which the American mind submitted itself to the sovereignty of the printing press is the Age of Exposition. Exposition is a mode of thought, a method of learning, and a means of expression. Almost all of the characteristics we associate with mature discourse were amplified by typography, which has the strongest possible bias toward exposition: a sophisticated ability to think conceptually, deductively and sequentially; a high valuation of reason and order; an abhorrence of contradiction; a large capacity for detachment and objectivity; and a tolerance for delayed response. Toward the end of the nineteenth century, for reasons I am most anxious to explain, the Age of Exposition began to pass, and the early signs of its replacement could be discerned. Its replacement was to be the Age of Show Business.”[11]

Telegraphy as Metaphor

Postman’s next gambit is telegraphy. His basic assessment of the effect of the telegraph on the printed word as metaphor of the spoken word is the transition from personal subject to inanimate object. He writes: “The telegraph made a three-pronged attack on typography’s definition of discourse, introducing on a large scale irrelevance, impotence, and incoherence. These demons of discourse were aroused by the fact that telegraphy gave a form of legitimacy to the idea of context-free information; that is, to the idea that the value of information need not be tied to any function it might serve in social and political decision-making and action, but may attach merely to its novelty, interest, and curiosity. The telegraph made information into a commodity, a ‘thing’ that could be bought and sold irrespective of its uses or meaning.[12] The thought of a person as expressed in words was now reduced to the status of “thing-object” bereft of “context” and therefore “meaning” as the intentionality of a person. This is now a serious change in the written word as metaphor for knowledge and its communication. It also exacts a profound change on social organization since it obliterates relation. Thought is reduced to word-as-information, basically a data base of facts that is non-relational, and what was originally a family or society of persons to a lonely crowd of individuals. “The line-by-line sequential, continuous form of the printed page slowly began to lose its resonance as a metaphor of how knowledge was to be acquired and how the world was to be understood. ‘Knowing’ the facts took on a new meaning, for it did not imply that one understood implications, background, or connections. Telegraphic discourse permitted not time for historical perspectives and gave no priority to the qualitative. To the telegraph, intelligence meant knowing of lots of things, not knowing about them.” [I would hasten to add – and this will be my thesis – that we now must move into an explicit epistemology where we not only know “about” reality, but we understand that reality ultimately is the person, divine and human, and that we must most literally “know Him/him” from within ourselves. I take Joseph Ratzinger’s exegesis of the Latin word “intellegere” as legere ab intus: to read from within].

Photography as Metaphor

Photography was given its name by Sir John F.W. Herschel. Etymologically it means “writing with light.” However, as telegraphy is the reduction of personalized and contextualized discourse to objectified “things,” photography – although- called “language” is not real knowledge and belong to a different horizon of comprehension. It cannot deal with the immaterial.

Postman writes: “By itself, a photograph cannot deal with the unseen, the remote, the internal, the abstract. It does not speak of ‘man,’ only of a man; not of ‘tree,’ only of a tree. You cannot produce a photograph of ‘nature,’ any more than a photograph of ‘the sea.’ You can only photograph a particular fragment of the here-and-now – a cliff of a certain terrain, in a certain condition of light; a wave at a moment in time, from a particular point of view. And just as ‘nature’ and ‘the sea’ cannot be photographed, such larger abstractions as truth, honor, love, falsehood cannot be talked about in the lexicon of picture es. For ‘showing of’ and ‘talking about’ are two very different kinds of processes. ‘Pictures,’ Gaveil Salomon has written, ‘need to be recognized, words need to be understood.’ By this he means that the photograph presents the world as object; language, the world as idea. For even the simplest act of naming a thing is an act of thinking- of comparing one thing with others, selecting certain features in common, ignoring what is different, and making an imaginary category. There is not such thing in nature as ‘man’ or ‘tree.’ The universe offers no such categories of simplifications; only flux and infinite variety. The photograph documents and celebrates the particularities of this infinite variety. Language makes them comprehensible.”[13]

However, modern communication imposes itself and Postman explains how the photograph and telegraphy conspire to form a pseudo-context in which an illusion of meaning-without-meaning is created and we become mesmerized into iconographic worship. As Postman explains, the photo, screen offers what seems to be hard sensible singularity which is not intelligible as such to our way of knowing. To know, we must immaterialize the icon, render it an abstract idea, form propositions of such ideas and return judgmentally to see whether our concatenations, in fact, correspond to reality. That internal process is created “off-stage” by others who offer the sensible, cyber image that is given a “context” by telegraphic sound bytes, and a pseudo-contextual reality is offered up for our consumption. Postman explains.

Photo as Pseudo-Context of Telegraphy, and Vice Versa: Television

Since the sound-byte as fact in a data base is a reduction of person (subject)-word to “thing” (object) and lacks relation and therefore meaning by itself, we have connected it to the photograph – which is another.

TV as image and telegraphic word create a pseudo-reality that becomes a culture in itself. Neil Postman’s presentation in “Amusing Ourselves to Death” explains that as confluence of the two: image and word, TV replaces “meaning” by reciprocal reinforcement of the two metaphors of contextual-less, and therefore meaningless “facts.” Postman gives an example:

“Imagine a stranger’s informing you that the illyx is a subspecies of vermiform plant with articulated leaves that flowers biannually on the island of Aldononjes. And if you wonder aloud, ‘Yes, but what has that to do with anything?’ imaging that your informant replies, ‘But here is a photograph I want you to see,’ and hands you a picture labeled Illyx on Aldononjes. ‘Ah, yes,’ you might murmur, ‘now I see.’ It is true enough that the photograph provides a context for the sentence you have been given, and that the sentence provides a context of sorts for the photograph, and you may even believe for a day or so that you have learned something. But if the even is entirely self-contained, devoid of any relationship to your past knowledge or future plans, if that is the beginning and end of your encounter with the stranger, then the appearance of context provided by the conjunction of sentence and image is illusory, and so is the impression of meaning attached to it. You will, in fact, have ‘learned’ nothing (except perhaps to avoid strangers with photographs) and the illyx will fade from you mental landscape as though it had never been. At best you are left with an amusing bit of trivia, good for trading in cocktail party chatter or solving a crossword puzzle, but nothing more.”[2]

Postman’s point is that not only some experience, but all experience is reduced to this state of irrelevance that is the culture spawned by TV. How well he says it: “Television has become, so to speak, the background radiation of the social and intellectual universe, the all-but-imperceptible residue of the electronic big bang of a century past, so familiar and so thoroughly integrated with American culture that we no longer hear its faint hissing in the background or see the flickering gray light. This, in turn, means that it epistemology goes largely unnoticed. And the peek-a-boo world it has constructed around us no longer seems even strange.”[3] Quite the opposite. The world that TV has given us now is perceived as the normal. “Our culture’s adjustment to the epistemology of television is by now all but complete; we have so thoroughly accepted its definitions of truth, knowledge, and reality that irrelevance seems to us to be filled with import, and incoherence seems eminently sane.”[4]

If we achieve a direct experience of the real in the encounter with ourselves in the act of going out of ourselves, then the total absorption of the knowing process with a visual idolatry keeps us captive within ourselves, and we are never in contact with the real. And, being amused in the deception, we will never escape.

Mysticism as Access to Reality

Hence, we come down to the only ultimate realist epistemology which is the pre-conceptual experience of ourselves transcending ourselves in faith, love, service, forgiveness, etc. And this knowledge of self is consciousness. It is axiological in that it gives us a sense of ourselves as good or bad. If it is bad, we have no real sense of identity and self-confidence. If it is good, we know who we are and self-confidently so. As Conrad Baars remarks: “They [affirmed persons] know who they are. They are certain of their identity. They love themselves unselfishly. They are open to all that is good and find joy in the same. They are able to affirm all of creation and as affirmers of all beings are capable of making others happy and joyful, too. They are largely other-directed. They find joy in being and doing for others. They find joy in their loving relationship with their Creator. They can share and give of themselves, be a true friend to others, and feel at ease with persons of both sexes. They are capable of finding happiness in marriage or the freely chosen celibate state of life. They are free from psycho-pathological factors which hamper one’s free will and are therefore fully responsible – morally and legally – for their actions.”[14]

Note that the consciousness of “good” and “evil” is the experience of the self in the act of imaging the divine Persons Who alone are good (Mk. 10, 18: “No one is good but only God”). It is this experience of the ontological tendency of the human person actualized in the free intentional act that is the grounding of conscience and the natural law. In passing, it might be useful to indicate that the “natural law” is not the law of nature, even human nature, but the law of the person as tending to relation as self gift as trinitarian image. They are two different epistemological horizons with two very different dynamics. Nature is observed to act necessarily and producing the same effect. The person folds over self determining self before producing an objective effect. The latter is a phenomenon of freedom in self-mastery and self-giftedness (or not) in the objectified effect.

The epistemology of this mysticism is the act of faith. It is not a facultative act engaging the intellect and will of a substantial being. It is the action of the entire being of the “I” making the gift of self to the Revealer.

This point is the privileged intellectual high-ground of Benedict XVI. It was his habilitation thesis that almost cost him his license to teach theology in Germany – yet became the groundwork for the rector document, Dei Verbum. He makes his exposition (as yet untranslated in full from the German) by affirming boldly that Scripture is not revelation but the locus of revelation. Revelation, properly understood in itself, is the very Person of Christ. Revelation is not a series of concepts but a living Person Who must be experienced in the here and now by the above mentioned self-transcendence. It is the interior act of reception of a Person by a mimicking of the paradigmatic “hearing” of the Word achieved by our Lady. As Benedict describes it, only the subjective act of self-transcendence – prayer, as in, say, Luke 9, 18 - removes the “veil” that is the stolid in-itself self-sufficiency that impedes this true knowledge that alone gives us the “realism” that is the knowledge of God, and therefore everything else.

I say “everything else” because without this experiential, mystical knowledge of self as imaging God, we are not really in contact with the real. We are trapped not only in the all-encompassing metaphor of show business that insulates us from the real, but even if brought back to the word, we would still be trapped in objectified reason. One thing is to come up short of being rational animals, but another is not to achieve the self-transcendence and freedom of relational persons. Man does not know God or himself simply because he knows about God and himself. Biblical reference to “know” is to be one being with. Adam “knew” his wife by becoming one flesh with her. We must “know” God by becoming God.

It is precisely here that we reach radical roots of St. Josemaria Escriva and the raison d’etre of Opus Dei. On August 7, 1931 after four years of servicing the sick and dying of Madrid, Escriva heard during the Consecration of the Mass: August 7, 1931: Locution: “Et si exaltatus fuero a terra, omnia traham ad meipsum” (Ioann. 12, 32). “A voice, as always, perfect, clear… And the precise concept: it is not in the sense in which Scripture says it; I say it to you in the sense that you put me at the summit of all human activities, so that in all the places of the world, there may be Christians with a personal and most free dedication, that they be other Christs.” Later (October 16, 1931), on the street, in a trolley and not in a Church, he hears “'You are my son, you are Christ.'” And I only knew how to repeat: Abba, Pater!, Abba, Pater! Abba!, Abba!, Abba!"

“Abba” is the unique reference to God as Father in the mouth of Jesus Christ. This is “to know” God.


We will not be able to be truly in contact with the real unless we are able to recognize the entrapments of the metaphors insulating us from it. Not to recognize them is already to not be real and vulnerable to not be. And if it is true that mysticism is the only human attitude open to the real – which ultimately is the Word of God - then there must be the violence of conversion. We must rise up within ourselves to master ourselves, take possession of ourselves to be able to experience the self-transcendence that grounds realism.

Three concretions occur to me: 1) to visit the sick and the dying – wherever: home, nursing homes, hospitals; 2) to school oneself in the care of small things in ordinary work and family life. Both areas demand heroism and suffering; 3) Lock up the TV.

Postscript: “Most people believe that technology is a staunch friend. There are two reasons for this. First, technology is a friend. It makes life easier, cleaner, and longer. Can anyone ask more of a friend? Second, because of its lengthy, intimate, and inevitable relationship with culture, technology does not invite a close examination of its own consequences. It is the kind of friend that asks for trust and obedience, which most people are inclined to give because its gifts are truly bountiful. But, of course, there is a dark side to this friend. Its gifts are not without a heavy cost. Stated in the most dramatic terms, the accusation can be made that the uncontrolled growth of technology destroys the vital sources of our humanity. It creates a culture without a moral foundation. It undermines certain mental processes and social relations that make human life worth living. Technology, in sum, is both friend and enemy.”[15]

[1] C.S. Lewis, “The Silver Chair,” Collier Books (1970) Chapter XII, “The Queen of Underland” 148-162.

[2] Neil Postman, “Amusing Ourselves to Death,” Penguin Books (1985) 13-14/

[3] Ibid 11.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid 13.

[6] Ibid

[7] Ibid 12.

[8] Ibid 20.

[9] Ibid 21.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid 63.

[12] Ibid. 65.

[13] Ibid. 72.

[14] Conrad W. Baars, M.D. “I Will Give Them a New Heart” St. Pauls (2008) 190.

[15] Neil Postman, “Technopoly,” Vintage (1993) xii.