Saturday, November 27, 2010

Anniversary of Opus Dei as Prelature

Question in a Family Gathering to St. Josemaria Escriva Concerning the Birth of Opus Dei

Father, how was the Work born?

“The Work was born with the same naturalness with which a spring flows with water; because the water is there, it has to come forth. It is a supernatural phenomenon which we can’t explain humanly. The Lord chose me, a disproportionate instrument so that from the beginning it was clear that the Work is His.

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

October 2, 1928:

“Recibí la iluminación sobre toda la Obra, mientras leía aquellos papeles. Conmovido me arrodille – estaba solo en mi cuarto, entre platica y platica – di gracias al Señor, y recuerdo con emoción el tocar de las compañas de la parroquia de N. Sra. De los Ángeles (…). Recopile con alguna unidad las notas sueltas, que hasta entonces venia tomando.”

“Contemplo ya, a lo largo de los tiempos, hasta el ultimo de mis hijos – porque somos hijos de Dios, repito – actuar profesionalmente, con sabiduría de artista, con felicidad de poeta, con seguridad de maestro y con un pudor mas persuasivo que la elocuencia, buscando – al buscar la perfección cristiana en su profesión y en su estado en el mundo – el bien de toda la humanidad.”.

“el que no se sabe hijo de Dios, desconoce su verdad mas intima, y carece en su actuación del dominio y del señorío propios de los que aman al Señor por encima de todas las cosas.” .

N.B. “No podemos mirar solo a la Obra: miramos primero y siempre a la Iglesia santa. Demos gracias al Señor, que ha hecho que nunca tuviéramos ni la mirada turbia ni el corazón pequeño” (p. 10).]

* * * * * * * *

“Some people ask about the theology which explains the birth and development of Opus Dei. They don’t realize that, when the Life-giving Spirit wants to raise up in the Church something new which breaks with the traditionalnever totally because there is a chain from the apostolic period -, the first thing He does is establish the pastoral phenomenon, which can be full of a theology. In the case of the Work, it is a most delicate theology, an asceticism that is mystical because we unite action with contemplation in such a way that it’s possible to say that we are totally active and totally contemplative.

“Before provoking one of these pastoral phenomena, the Hierarchy of the Church and the person whom God has wanted to use to raise it up, must examine to see if the life and norm of this new phenomenon are in agreement with the Ecclesiastical Magisterium.

“Besides, it’s necessary to keep in mind that the repetition of acts produces the custom, and from there the juridical norm is born: the law has to proceed from the custom, from the lived pastoral phenomenon.

“The theory comes afterwards. You will write it after the years go by. You will be able to write magnificent treatises on the theology of Opus Dei, the asceticism of Opus Dei, the Mysticism of Opus Dei, the pastoral phenomenon of Opus Dei… You yourselves will write all of this. However, it is up to me to do it.

“To think differently is to be mistaken, to not understand how the works of God are born. To found any human society, cultural, sporting…a number of persons must come together, define the ends, look for plans… God acts in another way: first, He raises up the pastoral phenomenon, which leads one to live in a particular way. And when this life has the proper characteristics – because at times it does not have them because they are general – from there comes forth the theory, the theological reflection.”[1]

What is new that breaks with the traditional?

After Life Comes Law


Motu Proprio Implementing Four Council Decrees

POPE PAUL VI August 6, 1966

“4. Moreover, to carry on special pastoral or missionary work for various regions or social groups which are in need of special assistance, prelatures composed of priests from the secular clergy equipped with special training can be usefully established by the Apostolic See. These prelatures are under the government of their own prelate and possess their own statutes.

It will be in the competence of this prelate to establish and direct a national or international seminary in which students are suitably instructed. The same prelate has the right to incardinate the same students and to promote them to sacred orders under the title of service for the prelature.

The prelate must make provision for the spiritual life of those whom he has ordained according to the above title, and for the continual perfecting of their special training and their special ministry making agreements with the local Ordinaries to whom the priests are sent. He must likewise provide for their proper support, a matter which must be provided for through the same agreements, either from the resources which belong to the prelature itself or from other suitable resources. In like manner he must provide for those who on account of poor health or for other causes must leave the task assigned to them.

Laymen, whether single or married, may also dedicate themselves with their professional skill to the service of these works and projects after making an agreement with the prelature.

Such prelatures are not erected unless the episcopal conferences of the territory in which they will render their services have been consulted. In rendering this service, diligent care is to be taken to safeguard the rights of local Ordinaries and close contacts with the same episcopal conferences are always to be maintained.”

Preface of the book “Opus Dei in the Church,” Scepter (1993):

“… (O)n November 1982, Pope John Paul II signed the Apostolic Constitution Ut sit, establishing Opus Dei as a personal prelature. This was a decisive event in the process whereby Opus Dei assumed the canonical structure suited to its theological and spiritual reality. A few months later, on 19 March 1983, the oral promulgation of the Constitution took place in a ceremony during which Archbishop Romolo Carboni papal nuncio to Italy, solemnly presented the papal bull to the prelate of Opus Dei.”

D. Pedro Rodriguez explains the “something new which breaks with the traditional – [but] never totally because there is a chain from the apostolic period.” He explains: “Opus Dei’s social arrangement as a ‘Christian community’ stems from what we have called the ‘internal dimension of the Church’s structure.’ That is, it is born of mutual relations of christifideles and ‘sacred minister,’ or, if you prefer, it derives from the two forms of participating in Christ’s priesthood. That is also why Opus Dei as a social reality in the Church is organic and undivided. Its lay faithful (men and women) and the priests who act as its clergy complement each other in exemplary adherence to the basic aboriginal relationship obtaining in the Church between christifideles – called to live out the requirements and implications of their baptism – and sacred ministers, who bring in, besides, the ‘ministerial’ consequences of the sacrament of Order. As the Work’s Statues (no. 1) put it: ‘Opus Dei is a prelature embracing in its bosom… clerics and lay people.’ Three numbers later this statement is developed: ‘The ministerial priesthood of the clergy and the common priesthood of the lay people are so intimately linked[2] that both, in unity of vocation and government, require and complement each other… in striving for the end proper to the prelature’…

“So, what we find in Opus Dei, different yet complementing one another are the two ecclesial forms of participating in Christ’s priesthood. We find both the ‘substantial’ priority of Opus Dei’s lay faithful, at whose service is the priestly ministry, and the ‘functional’ priority of the sacred ministry, in whose head (the prelate) resides the sacra potestas that governs the prelature. The clergy’s ‘functional’ priority was described by the founder when he said that the ministerial priesthood ‘impregnates with its spirit our personal life and all our apostolic work’… Graphically, the founder told the Work’s priests that their task is to be a ‘carpet’ for others. He wrote: ‘In Opus Dei we’re all equal. There’s only a practical difference: priests are more bound to place their hearts on the floor like a carpet, so that their brothers and sisters may tread softly.’”[3] (p. 38).

Hence, Opus Dei is not another structure in the Church, but “a little bit of the Church” herself, as remarked by the founder (Rodriguez, p. 1). The novelty of Opus Dei is that it is the Church itself writ small. It is not another structure of the Church, although it is a hierarchical communio in the Church. It can only be understood by analogy to a particular Church or diocese of the Church, but without geographical presence. Its specific characteristic[4] is “secularity” in that each faithful of the prelature, be he ministerial priest or lay faithful, achieves identity with Christ in the exercise of professional, secular work. Its mission is the diffusion of this spirit of becoming “another Christ,” and therefore Church, by the mastery of self and gift of self in the execution of work.

As “a little bit of the Church,” Opus Dei is not an added structural institution in the Church. It is like David who offered himself to do battle with Goliath. Saul, fearful himself, dressed David in his armor: helmet, shield, breast-plate, etc. David, however, having never used such an impediment was not able to walk and removed it all save the loin cloth and the sling shot. Ratzinger commented: "There are some very real grounds to fear that the Church may assume too many institutions of human law, which then become the armor of Saul making it difficult for the young David to walk. We must always ascertain if institutions which were once useful still serve a purpose. The only institutional element the Church needs is the one given to it by the Lord: the sacramental structure of the people of God, centered on the Eucharist" ("30 Days" No. 5 - 1998 p. 22).

To be more explicit, the only powers the Church of Christ needs to conquer hearts are those of the Person of Christ: the sacrament of Baptism, the sacrament of Orders and the action of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. That is the reality of the prelature. Its mission is the diffusion of the flame of self-giftedness of the person whereby one becomes "another Christ."

[1] From St. Josemaria Escriva, Get-together with his sons on October 24, 1964.

[2] Opus Dei is essentially the "organic convergence" of these two irreducibly different ways of living the one priesthood of Christ dynamized by the act of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass on the occasion of work in the secular world.

[3] Rodriguez, op cit. 38.

[4] See “Christifideles Laici” #15.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Condom as Gesture Toward Humanization of the Already Immoral and Diseased

I just realized the point last night: the condom suggestion presupposes Christian anthropology as moral criterion. Benedict XVI is silently referring back to the beginning of his 1990 Address to the bishop's workshop in Texas (reprinted in the 2007 Ignatius book "Conscience"). In brief, the conscience of right and wrong is driven by the life style of giving self or not giving self. This life style is the experience which determines the consciousness of the moral agent. Reread the first part of the paper: "Conscience and Truth." Everybody I've read on the condom issue is assuming (of course) that the moral criterion is the Greek/Stoic notion of "nature." Therefore, to mention condom is to mention contraception, and from there on it is knee-jerk reaction to the condom. Even if it is a gay prostitute, the use of a condom can only be against nature, and therefore it is immoral. Period. The Pope made a mistake and was imprudent!

However, if the ontological moral criterion is the person as relational being, then the damage done to that relationality can be healed by acts of self-donation even concomitant with an intrinsically immoral act of homosexuality. The question is not whether gay sex is right or wrong. It is wrong. It violates the ontological structure of the human person as image and likeness of the divine Persons. The question is whether a gay prostitute can turn from seeking self and absorption with self to a beginning of concern for another by the use of a condom to prevent spreading AIDS to another. Such a turn would not make a homosexual action good. But it could be the beginning of making a homosexual person better as person with the makings for a possible future conversion.

Consider the profound point Ratzinger-Benedict brings up in the beginning of the Address on "Conscience and Truth." He hears talk among theology students in Germany that Hitler and Stalin were probably invincibly ignorant due to the historical milieu in which they found themselves. He writes: "Since that conversation, I knew with complete certainty that something was wrong with the theory of the justifying power of the subjective conscience - that, in other words, a concept of conscience that leads to such results must be false. Firm, subjective conviction and the lack of doubts and scruples that follow from it do no justify man." Becoming acquainted with the work of the psychologist Albert Gorres, Ratzinger found there that "the feeling of guilt, the capacity to recognize guilt, belongs essentially to the spiritual make -up of man. This feeling of guilt disturbs the false calm of conscience and could be called conscience's complaint against my self-satisfied existence. It is as necessary for man as the physical pain that signifies disturbances of normal bodily functioning. Whoever is no longer capable of perceiving guilt is spiritually ill, 'a living corpse, a dramatic character's mask…”[1]

The profound point is this: consciousness and conscience follow on the experience of the self as being. “No one is good but only God” (Mk. 10, 18). We become conscious of the good only in the action and the experience of that action that is in accord with our ontological structure and orientation as relation or self-gift. We are free, and therefore, responsible for achieving that consciousness of the good. To be a gay prostitute speaks of a deadened conscience with regard to the truth of sexuality. Ratzinger quotes Gorres: “Monsters, among other brutes, are the ones without guilt feelings. Perhaps Hitler did no t have any, or Himmler, or Stalin. Maybe Mafia bosses do not have any guilt feelings either, or maybe their remains are just well hidden in the cellar. Even aborted guilt feelings… All men need guilt feelings.”[2] It is in this context that the pope observes that “There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants.” He is not suggesting the condom as morally acceptable for any form of contraception nor is it the real way “to deal with the evil of HIV infection.” He concludes: “That can really lie only in a humanization of sexuality” which consists in the mutual gift of self between a man and a woman. The use of the condom in an already immoral act, he remarks, is not “a real or moral solution, but, in this or that case, there can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality.”

[1] J. Ratzinger, “Conscience” Ignatius (2007) 18.

[2] Ibid 18.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

E-Mail Exchange On Benedict's and Rohnheimer's Remarks

Footnote on Fr. Rohnheimer's point:

"Condoms (things) are not immoral, but human acts are."

Comment: But condoms are not things that God created in the natural world. The human acts involved in their existence and availability -- manufacturing condoms, or making them available, also has to be strongly evaluated as a moral/immoral human act. If a plastic company has capacity to create X useful, lifesaving products to send to the less developed world, should they choose to manufacture condoms or band-aids or other lifesaving, petroleum-derived products?

This has indeed opened a huge moral discussion about human acts. Not only the limited, dim act of the confused sex worker, but the prior human acts involved in commerce, the medical profession, all the people who are contributing to or influenced by what the Holy Father calls "the banality of sexuality." There are human acts involved in every level of commercial, medical, humanitarian activity through which condoms may reach from the R&D department of a plastics company to the end user. He may have opened an enormous discussion on business ethics. Given factory capacity, given the needs of people in the world, is this the best use of our goods and creative abilities? I can think of better things to do with plastic, the cardboard or foil used in the wrappers, and the human labor involved in the manufacturing of contraceptives. Maybe such intensive effort, energy (human and factory power), and capital could actually be brought to bear to find a cure for HIV/AIDS. Just a thought.

My Response:

Not a bad thought. And worth considering, for sure. However, it seems that the point at issue was the Pope's point as to whether the use of the condom in a person already engaged in a morally depraved act could be a step in the direction of restoring the person to a beginning of relationality and giftedness. That is, I think he was talking about eliciting a glimmer of concern for the good of the other which could be a beginning to the restoration of the ontological orientation of the person.

It occurs to me in writing this that the ontological ground of morality in the mind of the Pope is the Christian anthropology of GS#24. He is not talking Greek ethics or Greek metaphysics of nature. He is talking the metaphysical anthropology of finding self by the sincere gift of self. It would be worth while to review Ratzinger's "Conscience and Truth" that he presented in the bishop's workshop in Texas 1989 or 1990. It has recently been republished in the small hard cover by Ignatius called "Conscience." His initial pique is with the so-called invincible ignorance. He asks deeper than St. Thomas: why the ignorance that we call invincible? His response is telling. The problem is the dwarfed state of the person such that he is not conscious that he is doing evil because he has neglected the development of the ontological self as gift. His examples are the Hitlers and Stalins. Their consciences may have been depraved and silent, but Ratzinger, going back to St. Basil, etc., does not stop there. There is a moral culpability for the diminished state of the person in his ontological giftedness or rather non-giftedness, and therefore in the consciousness that "this" and "that" is wrong. One is morally responsible for knowing or not knowing that so and so is right or wrong.

So also here with the condom. Let's say that the person is a gay prostitute. He is culpable not only for the homosexual activity, but also for the state of his conscience vis a vis the moral turpitude of what he is doing.

Benedict's mind - within his understanding of the meaning of the person as relational in so far as imaging the Trinitarian Person Who are pure relation - would be searching for the ontological rehabilitation of the relationality of that person, and therefore the rehabilitation of his conscience. Hence, the condom - which has nothing to do with the gay act as moral or immoral (which is not even a sexual act, and therefore in its execution as act is gravely immoral) - is not immoral. In this context, it has nothing to do with sexuality. But the use of the condom as an attempt to protect another from contracting AIDS may be a first glimmer in concern for another beyond the self. [In reality, it is a moot question since the condom really does not stop AIDS as far as I understand.]

"Pure Objectivity Is an Absurd Abstraction"

“Pure Objectivity Is an Absurd Abstraction”[1]

Epistemology: the key: knowing the subject = knowing the real. The ultimate reality is the "Word of God" Who is the "I" of Jesus Christ, Son of the living God.

Joseph Ratzinger uttered the following in New York City in 1988:

"Now, if the natural science model is to be followed without hesitation, then the importance of the Heisenberg principle should be applied to the historical-critical method as well. Heisenberg has shown that the outcome of a given experiment is heavily influenced by the point of view of the observer. So much is this the case that both observer's questions and observations continue to change themselves in the natural course of events. When applied to the witness of history, this means that interpretation can never be just a simple reproduction of history's being, "as it was." The word "interpretation" gives us a clue to the question itself: every exegesis requires an "inter" an entering in and a being "inter" or between things; this is the involvement of the interpreter himself. Pure objectivity is an absurd abstraction. It is not the uninvolved who comes to knowledge; rather, interest itself is a requirement for the possibility of coming to know."

My Comment:

Consider why: in our way of knowing, the sensible perception and well as the abstract concept conceal and distort in the very act of revealing. Is the blue in the sky or in the way we receive the radiation reflected off the atmosphere? Is the intelligibility of the reality understood really the way we understand it as a category? As Karol Wojtyla offered in the Introduction to "The Acting Person:" "Man's experience of anything outside of himself is always associated with the experience of himself, and he never experiences anything external without having at the same time the experience of himself." That experience of the acting self is the unmediated and undistorted experience of being. And so, John Paul II (Wojtyla), in his "Fides et Ratio" (#83) affirms: "In a special way, the person constitutes a privileged locus for the encounter with being, and hence with metaphysical inquiry." And this, in its turn, offers the most profound interpretation of the relation of faith and reason because the act of faith is precisely "the acting person" since faith is the act of the whole self. By going out of self to receive the Revelation of the Person of Christ, and by so doing, becoming another Christ, one "knows" Christ by experiencing the self as "another Christ." Christ, then, is directly experienced and understood (intellegere = legere ab intus) without mediation of sensible perception or reductive (objectified) categories of conceptualization. Of course, this contemplative and mystical kind of knowing is open to reflection and conceptualization otherwise it could not be known according to our proper way of knowing that is abstractive and discursive and communicable. But that is a secondary kind of knowing.

This is also the philosophic underpinning for Benedict's presentation on the interpretation of Sacred Scripture. In the most recent document of November 11, 2010: "Domini Verbum," he engages the topic of "The Interpretation of Sacred Scripture: In the Church." His first insight is "Mary's fiat:" "Authentic biblical hermeneutics can only be had within the faith of the Church, which has it paradigm in Mary's fiat." Saint Bonaventure states that without faith there is no key to throw open the sacred text: 'This is the knowledge of Jesus Christ, from whom, as from a fountain, flow forth the certainty and the understanding of all sacred Scripture. Therefore it is impossible for anyone to attain to knowledge of that truth unless he first have infused faith in Christ, which is the lamp, the gate and the foundation of all Scripture." Therefore, he goes on: "Here we can point to a fundamental criterion of biblical hermeneutics: The primary setting for scriptural interpretation is the life of the Church. This is...something demanded by the very nature of the Scriptures and the way they gradually came into being. 'Faith traditions formed the living [read subjective] context for the literary activity of the authors of sacred Scripture. Their insertion into this context also involved a sharing in both the liturgical and external life of the communities, in their intellectual world, in their culture and in the ups and downs of their shared history. In like manner, the interpretation of sacred Scripture requires full participation on the part of exegetes in the life and faith of the believing community of their own time. Consequently, 'since sacred Scripture must be read and interpreted in the light of the same Spirit through whom it was written," exegetes, theologians and the whole people of God must approach it as what it really is, the word of God conveyed to us through human words."

[1] J. Ratzinger, “Biblical Interpretation in Crisis” – St. Peter’s Church, New York City, Jan. 27, 1988.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Hermeneutic of "Growing Up Digital, Wired For Distraction:" NYT Magazine

Excellent article with an inadequate hermeneutic. The hermeneutic suffers from the same etiology as the disease: dumbed-down positivism. What is needed is a true-to-reality hermeneutic; i.e., theology with its epistemology and anthropology to explain what is happening to a being that is far greater than the sum of its parts. Neil Postman in his "Amusing Ourselves to Death," and "Technopoly" would be a start.

But there is something much deeper: the loss of reason itself: “8+ hours of shooting, 8+ hours of editing. All for just a three-minute scene. Mind = Dead.”

That is: when reason is presented only with the bit of reality presented by sensible experience, and from which we abstract ideas and we declare that "the real," something happens. What? Reason withers. It withers because 1) it's made for the whole of Being as Absolute, and it is constrained by the straightjacket of the scientific method to consider only the empirically measurable to be real. And worse, 2) besides having reality reduced to an infinitely small slice, we are at a remove from it by only one limited kind of experience: the senses.

With regard to 1) JPII wrote: "reason, rather than voicing the human orientation toward truth, has wilted under the weight of so much knowledge and little by little has lost the capacity to life its gaze to the heights, not daring to rise to the truth of being" ["Fides et Ratio" #5.]. With regard to 2), JPII and B XVI have called for the "broadening of reason" and "a new trajectory of reason." By that they mean that the person of the believer, when he is in act as believer, i.e. the metaphysical anthropology of the act of faith is the action of self-gift, which is the act of hearing and doing the Word (receptivity), the being of his “I” is what reason perceives.

Consider this enormous point of JPII: reason finds its connatural object of being in the Being of the "I" of the believer: "In a special way, the person constitutes a privileged locus for the encounter with being, and hence with metaphysical enquiry" (Fides et Ratio #83). Since the “I” becomes Christ in the act of faith, reason experiences itself transcending itself and therefore becomes conscious of perceiving being in another order (the order of the subject that has not been made into an object by abstraction) as absolute. Reason becomes fulfilled – not by religious “ideas” - but by an experience of the believing self which is the only being one “experiences” as being. And that is because, my subjective self, my “I” that is who I am, is determined by myself, and therefore I am the only being who can know me ab intra, and therefore know me for who I am uniquely. And so if I determine myself to act as Christ acted, I form myself to be “another Christ,” and now I am in possession of myself as the Absolute Reality that the Word of God [Christ] is..

Consider the meaning of reality as formally presented by B XVI on October 6, 2008 as the Keynote Address at the beginning of the recently completed Synod on The Word of God, the conclusion for which is the magisterial document: “Domini Verbum” that is a must read: the 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. 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.......

In 1993, Benedict answered the question of why nihilism is replacing Marxism: “It is explained by the encroachment of relativism and subjectivism, an inevitable consequence of a world overwhelmed by the alleged certainties of natural or applied science. Only what can be tested and proved appears as rational. [Sensible] Experience has become the only criterion guaranteeing truth. Anything that cannot be subjected to mathematical or experimental verification is regarded as irrational

“This restriction of reason has the result that we are left in almost total darkness regarding some essential dimensions of life. The meaning of man, the bases of ethics, the question of God cannot be subjected to rational experience, verified by mathematical formulae. And so they are left to subjective sensibility alone. This is serious because if, in a society, the bases of ethical behavior are abandoned to subjectivity alone, released from common motives for being and living, handed over to pragmatism, then it is man himself who is threatened.”


November 21, 2010

Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction


REDWOOD CITY, Calif. — On the eve of a pivotal academic year in Vishal Singh’s life, he faces a stark choice on his bedroom desk: book or computer?

By all rights, Vishal, a bright 17-year-old, should already have finished the book, Kurt Vonnegut’s “Cat’s Cradle,” his summer reading assignment. But he has managed 43 pages in two months.

He typically favors Facebook, YouTube and making digital videos. That is the case this August afternoon. Bypassing Vonnegut, he clicks over to YouTube, meaning that tomorrow he will enter his senior year of high school hoping to see an improvement in his grades, but without having completed his only summer homework.

On YouTube, “you can get a whole story in six minutes,” he explains. “A book takes so long. I prefer the immediate gratification.”

Students have always faced distractions and time-wasters. But computers and cellphones, and the constant stream of stimuli they offer, pose a profound new challenge to focusing and learning.

Researchers say the lure of these technologies, while it affects adults too, is particularly powerful for young people. The risk, they say, is that developing brains can become more easily habituated than adult brains to constantly switching tasks — and less able to sustain attention.

“Their brains are rewarded not for staying on task but for jumping to the next thing,” said Michael Rich, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and executive director of the Center on Media and Child Health in Boston. And the effects could linger: “The worry is we’re raising a generation of kids in front of screens whose brains are going to be wired differently.”

But even as some parents and educators express unease about students’ digital diets, they are intensifying efforts to use technology in the classroom, seeing it as a way to connect with students and give them essential skills. Across the country, schools are equipping themselves with computers, Internet access and mobile devices so they can teach on the students’ technological territory.

It is a tension on vivid display at Vishal’s school, Woodside High School, on a sprawling campus set against the forested hills of Silicon Valley. Here, as elsewhere, it is not uncommon for students to send hundreds of text messages a day or spend hours playing video games, and virtually everyone is on Facebook.

The principal, David Reilly, 37, a former musician who says he sympathizes when young people feel disenfranchised, is determined to engage these 21st-century students. He has asked teachers to build Web sites to communicate with students, introduced popular classes on using digital tools to record music, secured funding for iPads to teach Mandarin and obtained $3 million in grants for a multimedia center.

He pushed first period back an hour, to 9 a.m., because students were showing up bleary-eyed, at least in part because they were up late on their computers. Unchecked use of digital devices, he says, can create a culture in which students are addicted to the virtual world and lost in it.

“I am trying to take back their attention from their BlackBerrys and video games,” he says. “To a degree, I’m using technology to do it.”

The same tension surfaces in Vishal, whose ability to be distracted by computers is rivaled by his proficiency with them. At the beginning of his junior year, he discovered a passion for filmmaking and made a name for himself among friends and teachers with his storytelling in videos made with digital cameras and editing software.

He acts as his family’s tech-support expert, helping his father, Satendra, a lab manager, retrieve lost documents on the computer, and his mother, Indra, a security manager at the San Francisco airport, build her own Web site.

But he also plays video games 10 hours a week. He regularly sends Facebook status updates at 2 a.m., even on school nights, and has such a reputation for distributing links to videos that his best friend calls him a “YouTube bully.”

Several teachers call Vishal one of their brightest students, and they wonder why things are not adding up. Last semester, his grade point average was 2.3 after a D-plus in English and an F in Algebra II. He got an A in film critique.

“He’s a kid caught between two worlds,” said Mr. Reilly — one that is virtual and one with real-life demands.

Vishal, like his mother, says he lacks the self-control to favor schoolwork over the computer. She sat him down a few weeks before school started and told him that, while she respected his passion for film and his technical skills, he had to use them productively.

“This is the year,” she says she told him. “This is your senior year and you can’t afford not to focus.”

It was not always this way. As a child, Vishal had a tendency to procrastinate, but nothing like this. Something changed him.

Growing Up With Gadgets

When he was 3, Vishal moved with his parents and older brother to their current home, a three-bedroom house in the working-class section of Redwood City, a suburb in Silicon Valley that is more diverse than some of its elite neighbors.

Thin and quiet with a shy smile, Vishal passed the admissions test for a prestigious public elementary and middle school. Until sixth grade, he focused on homework, regularly going to the house of a good friend to study with him.

But Vishal and his family say two things changed around the seventh grade: his mother went back to work, and he got a computer. He became increasingly engrossed in games and surfing the Internet, finding an easy outlet for what he describes as an inclination to procrastinate.

“I realized there were choices,” Vishal recalls. “Homework wasn’t the only option.”

Several recent studies show that young people tend to use home computers for entertainment, not learning, and that this can hurt school performance, particularly in low-income families. Jacob L. Vigdor, an economics professor at Duke University who led some of the research, said that when adults were not supervising computer use, children “are left to their own devices, and the impetus isn’t to do homework but play around.”

Research also shows that students often juggle homework and entertainment. The Kaiser Family Foundation found earlier this year that half of students from 8 to 18 are using the Internet, watching TV or using some other form of media either “most” (31 percent) or “some” (25 percent) of the time that they are doing homework.

At Woodside, as elsewhere, students’ use of technology is not uniform. Mr. Reilly, the principal, says their choices tend to reflect their personalities. Social butterflies tend to be heavy texters and Facebook users. Students who are less social might escape into games, while drifters or those prone to procrastination, like Vishal, might surf the Web or watch videos.

The technology has created on campuses a new set of social types — not the thespian and the jock but the texter and gamer, Facebook addict and YouTube potato.

“The technology amplifies whoever you are,” Mr. Reilly says.

For some, the amplification is intense. Allison Miller, 14, sends and receives 27,000 texts in a month, her fingers clicking at a blistering pace as she carries on as many as seven text conversations at a time. She texts between classes, at the moment soccer practice ends, while being driven to and from school and, often, while studying.

Most of the exchanges are little more than quick greetings, but they can get more in-depth, like “if someone tells you about a drama going on with someone,” Allison said. “I can text one person while talking on the phone to someone else.”

But this proficiency comes at a cost: she blames multitasking for the three B’s on her recent progress report.

“I’ll be reading a book for homework and I’ll get a text message and pause my reading and put down the book, pick up the phone to reply to the text message, and then 20 minutes later realize, ‘Oh, I forgot to do my homework.’ ”

Some shyer students do not socialize through technology — they recede into it. Ramon Ochoa-Lopez, 14, an introvert, plays six hours of video games on weekdays and more on weekends, leaving homework to be done in the bathroom before school.

Escaping into games can also salve teenagers’ age-old desire for some control in their chaotic lives. “It’s a way for me to separate myself,” Ramon says. “If there’s an argument between my mom and one of my brothers, I’ll just go to my room and start playing video games and escape.”

With powerful new cellphones, the interactive experience can go everywhere. Between classes at Woodside or at lunch, when use of personal devices is permitted, students gather in clusters, sometimes chatting face to face, sometimes half-involved in a conversation while texting someone across the teeming quad. Others sit alone, watching a video, listening to music or updating Facebook.

Students say that their parents, worried about the distractions, try to police computer time, but that monitoring the use of cellphones is difficult. Parents may also want to be able to call their children at any time, so taking the phone away is not always an option.

Other parents wholly embrace computer use, even when it has no obvious educational benefit.

“If you’re not on top of technology, you’re not going to be on top of the world,” said John McMullen, 56, a retired criminal investigator whose son, Sean, is one of five friends in the group Vishal joins for lunch each day.

Sean’s favorite medium is video games; he plays for four hours after school and twice that on weekends. He was playing more but found his habit pulling his grade point average below 3.2, the point at which he felt comfortable. He says he sometimes wishes that his parents would force him to quit playing and study, because he finds it hard to quit when given the choice. Still, he says, video games are not responsible for his lack of focus, asserting that in another era he would have been distracted by TV or something else.

“Video games don’t make the hole; they fill it,” says Sean, sitting at a picnic table in the quad, where he is surrounded by a multimillion-dollar view: on the nearby hills are the evergreens that tower above the affluent neighborhoods populated by Internet tycoons. Sean, a senior, concedes that video games take a physical toll: “I haven’t done exercise since my sophomore year. But that doesn’t seem like a big deal. I still look the same.”

Sam Crocker, Vishal’s closest friend, who has straight A’s but lower SAT scores than he would like, blames the Internet’s distractions for his inability to finish either of his two summer reading books.

“I know I can read a book, but then I’m up and checking Facebook,” he says, adding: “Facebook is amazing because it feels like you’re doing something and you’re not doing anything. It’s the absence of doing something, but you feel gratified anyway.”

He concludes: “My attention span is getting worse.”

The Lure of Distraction

Some neuroscientists have been studying people like Sam and Vishal. They have begun to understand what happens to the brains of young people who are constantly online and in touch.

In an experiment at the German Sport University in Cologne in 2007, boys from 12 to 14 spent an hour each night playing video games after they finished homework.

On alternate nights, the boys spent an hour watching an exciting movie, like “Harry Potter” or “Star Trek,” rather than playing video games. That allowed the researchers to compare the effect of video games and TV.

The researchers looked at how the use of these media affected the boys’ brainwave patterns while sleeping and their ability to remember their homework in the subsequent days. They found that playing video games led to markedly lower sleep quality than watching TV, and also led to a “significant decline” in the boys’ ability to remember vocabulary words. The findings were published in the journal Pediatrics.

Markus Dworak, a researcher who led the study and is now a neuroscientist at Harvard, said it was not clear whether the boys’ learning suffered because sleep was disrupted or, as he speculates, also because the intensity of the game experience overrode the brain’s recording of the vocabulary.

“When you look at vocabulary and look at huge stimulus after that, your brain has to decide which information to store,” he said. “Your brain might favor the emotionally stimulating information over the vocabulary.”

At the University of California, San Francisco, scientists have found that when rats have a new experience, like exploring an unfamiliar area, their brains show new patterns of activity. But only when the rats take a break from their exploration do they process those patterns in a way that seems to create a persistent memory.

In that vein, recent imaging studies of people have found that major cross sections of the brain become surprisingly active during downtime. These brain studies suggest to researchers that periods of rest are critical in allowing the brain to synthesize information, make connections between ideas and even develop the sense of self.

Researchers say these studies have particular implications for young people, whose brains have more trouble focusing and setting priorities.

“Downtime is to the brain what sleep is to the body,” said Dr. Rich of Harvard Medical School. “But kids are in a constant mode of stimulation.”

“The headline is: bring back boredom,” added Dr. Rich, who last month gave a speech to the American Academy of Pediatrics entitled, “Finding Huck Finn: Reclaiming Childhood from the River of Electronic Screens.”

Dr. Rich said in an interview that he was not suggesting young people should toss out their devices, but rather that they embrace a more balanced approach to what he said were powerful tools necessary to compete and succeed in modern life.

The heavy use of devices also worries Daniel Anderson, a professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, who is known for research showing that children are not as harmed by TV viewing as some researchers have suggested.

Multitasking using ubiquitous, interactive and highly stimulating computers and phones, Professor Anderson says, appears to have a more powerful effect than TV.

Like Dr. Rich, he says he believes that young, developing brains are becoming habituated to distraction and to switching tasks, not to focus.

“If you’ve grown up processing multiple media, that’s exactly the mode you’re going to fall into when put in that environment — you develop a need for that stimulation,” he said.

Vishal can attest to that.

“I’m doing Facebook, YouTube, having a conversation or two with a friend, listening to music at the same time. I’m doing a million things at once, like a lot of people my age,” he says. “Sometimes I’ll say: I need to stop this and do my schoolwork, but I can’t.”

“If it weren’t for the Internet, I’d focus more on school and be doing better academically,” he says. But thanks to the Internet, he says, he has discovered and pursued his passion: filmmaking. Without the Internet, “I also wouldn’t know what I want to do with my life.”

Clicking Toward a Future

The woman sits in a cemetery at dusk, sobbing. Behind her, silhouetted and translucent, a man kneels, then fades away, a ghost.

This captivating image appears on Vishal’s computer screen. On this Thursday afternoon in late September, he is engrossed in scenes he shot the previous weekend for a music video he is making with his cousin.

The video is based on a song performed by the band Guns N’ Roses about a woman whose boyfriend dies. He wants it to be part of the package of work he submits to colleges that emphasize film study, along with a documentary he is making about home-schooled students.

Now comes the editing. Vishal taught himself to use sophisticated editing software in part by watching tutorials on YouTube. He does not leave his chair for more than two hours, sipping Pepsi, his face often inches from the screen, as he perfects the clip from the cemetery. The image of the crying woman was shot separately from the image of the kneeling man, and he is trying to fuse them.

“I’m spending two hours to get a few seconds just right,” he says.

He occasionally sends a text message or checks Facebook, but he is focused in a way he rarely is when doing homework. He says the chief difference is that filmmaking feels applicable to his chosen future, and he hopes colleges, like the University of Southern California or the California Institute of the Arts in Los Angeles, will be so impressed by his portfolio that they will overlook his school performance.

“This is going to compensate for the grades,” he says. On this day, his homework includes a worksheet for Latin, some reading for English class and an economics essay, but they can wait.

For Vishal, there’s another clear difference between filmmaking and homework: interactivity. As he edits, the windows on the screen come alive; every few seconds, he clicks the mouse to make tiny changes to the lighting and flow of the images, and the software gives him constant feedback.

“I click and something happens,” he says, explaining that, by comparison, reading a book or doing homework is less exciting. “I guess it goes back to the immediate gratification thing.”

The $2,000 computer Vishal is using is state of the art and only a week old. It represents a concession by his parents. They allowed him to buy it, despite their continuing concerns about his technology habits, because they wanted to support his filmmaking dream. “If we put roadblocks in his way, he’s just going to get depressed,” his mother says. Besides, she adds, “he’s been making an effort to do his homework.”

At this point in the semester, it seems she is right. The first schoolwide progress reports come out in late September, and Vishal has mostly A’s and B’s. He says he has been able to make headway by applying himself, but also by cutting back his workload. Unlike last year, he is not taking advanced placement classes, and he has chosen to retake Algebra II not in the classroom but in an online class that lets him work at his own pace.

His shift to easier classes might not please college admissions officers, according to Woodside’s college adviser, Zorina Matavulj. She says they want seniors to intensify their efforts. As it is, she says, even if Vishal improves his performance significantly, someone with his grades faces long odds in applying to the kinds of colleges he aspires to.

Still, Vishal’s passion for film reinforces for Mr. Reilly, the principal, that the way to reach these students is on their own terms.

Hands-On Technology

Big Macintosh monitors sit on every desk, and a man with hip glasses and an easygoing style stands at the front of the class. He is Geoff Diesel, 40, a favorite teacher here at Woodside who has taught English and film. Now he teaches one of Mr. Reilly’s new classes, audio production. He has a rapt audience of more than 20 students as he shows a video of the band Nirvana mixing their music, then holds up a music keyboard.

“Who knows how to use Pro Tools? We’ve got it. It’s the program used by the best music studios in the world,” he says.

In the back of the room, Mr. Reilly watches, thrilled. He introduced the audio course last year and enough students signed up to fill four classes. (He could barely pull together one class when he introduced Mandarin, even though he had secured iPads to help teach the language.)

“Some of these students are our most at-risk kids,” he says. He means that they are more likely to tune out school, skip class or not do their homework, and that they may not get healthful meals at home. They may also do their most enthusiastic writing not for class but in text messages and on Facebook. “They’re here, they’re in class, they’re listening.”

Despite Woodside High’s affluent setting, about 40 percent of its 1,800 students come from low-income families and receive a reduced-cost or free lunch. The school is 56 percent Latino, 38 percent white and 5 percent African-American, and it sends 93 percent of its students to four-year or community colleges.

Mr. Reilly says that the audio class provides solid vocational training and can get students interested in other subjects.

“Today mixing music, tomorrow sound waves and physics,” he says. And he thinks the key is that they love not just the music but getting their hands on the technology. “We’re meeting them on their turf.”

It does not mean he sees technology as a panacea. “I’ll always take one great teacher in a cave over a dozen Smart Boards,” he says, referring to the high-tech teaching displays used in many schools.

Teachers at Woodside commonly blame technology for students’ struggles to concentrate, but they are divided over whether embracing computers is the right solution.

“It’s a catastrophe,” said Alan Eaton, a charismatic Latin teacher. He says that technology has led to a “balkanization of their focus and duration of stamina,” and that schools make the problem worse when they adopt the technology.

“When rock ’n’ roll came about, we didn’t start using it in classrooms like we’re doing with technology,” he says. He personally feels the sting, since his advanced classes have one-third as many students as they had a decade ago.

Vishal remains a Latin student, one whom Mr. Eaton describes as particularly bright. But the teacher wonders if technology might be the reason Vishal seems to lose interest in academics the minute he leaves class.

Mr. Diesel, by contrast, does not think technology is behind the problems of Vishal and his schoolmates — in fact, he thinks it is the key to connecting with them, and an essential tool. “It’s in their DNA to look at screens,” he asserts. And he offers another analogy to explain his approach: “Frankenstein is in the room and I don’t want him to tear me apart. If I’m not using technology, I lose them completely.”

Mr. Diesel had Vishal as a student in cinema class and describes him as a “breath of fresh air” with a gift for filmmaking. Mr. Diesel says he wonders if Vishal is a bit like Woody Allen, talented but not interested in being part of the system.

But Mr. Diesel adds: “If Vishal’s going to be an independent filmmaker, he’s got to read Vonnegut. If you’re going to write scripts, you’ve got to read.”

Back to Reading Aloud

Vishal sits near the back of English IV. Marcia Blondel, a veteran teacher, asks the students to open the book they are studying, “The Things They Carried,” which is about the Vietnam War.

“Who wants to read starting in the middle of Page 137?” she asks. One student begins to read aloud, and the rest follow along.

To Ms. Blondel, the exercise in group reading represents a regression in American education and an indictment of technology. The reason she has to do it, she says, is that students now lack the attention span to read the assignments on their own.

“How can you have a discussion in class?” she complains, arguing that she has seen a considerable change in recent years. In some classes she can count on little more than one-third of the students to read a 30-page homework assignment.

She adds: “You can’t become a good writer by watching YouTube, texting and e-mailing a bunch of abbreviations.”

As the group-reading effort winds down, she says gently: “I hope this will motivate you to read on your own.”

It is a reminder of the choices that have followed the students through the semester: computer or homework? Immediate gratification or investing in the future?

Mr. Reilly hopes that the two can meet — that computers can be combined with education to better engage students and can give them technical skills without compromising deep analytical thought.

But in Vishal’s case, computers and schoolwork seem more and more to be mutually exclusive. Ms. Blondel says that Vishal, after a decent start to the school year, has fallen into bad habits. In October, he turned in weeks late, for example, a short essay based on the first few chapters of “The Things They Carried.” His grade at that point, she says, tracks around a D.

For his part, Vishal says he is investing himself more in his filmmaking, accelerating work with his cousin on their music video project. But he is also using Facebook late at night and surfing for videos on YouTube. The evidence of the shift comes in a string of Facebook updates.

Saturday, 11:55 p.m.: “Editing, editing, editing”

Sunday, 3:55 p.m.: “8+ hours of shooting, 8+ hours of editing. All for just a three-minute scene. Mind = Dead.”

Sunday, 11:00 p.m.: “Fun day, finally got to spend a day relaxing... now about that homework...”

Malia Wollan contributed reporting.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Again, Condoms, the Absolute [Not Relativism] and the Beginnings of Relationality

1) The Word that the Catholic Church hears and speaks is the Person of Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God. That Word is reality. It is the revelation of who God is and who man is.

2) Since God is a Trinity, and the human person has been created in the image of a divine Person (the Son), as the Son is pure relation and self-gift to the Father, so also man becomes who he is by becoming relational and self-gift

3) This relationality has been formulated by the Magisterium of the Church in Gaudium et Spes #24: “Indeed, the Lord Jesus, when He prayed to the Father, "that all may be one. . . as we are one" (John 17:21-22) opened up vistas closed to human reason, for He implied a certain likeness between the union of the divine Persons, and the unity of God's sons in truth and charity. This likeness reveals that man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.”

The supreme and absolute grounding of morality is conformity with this teaching: “man… the only creature on earth which God willed for itself [and therefore self-determining freedom], cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.” Since the meaning of man is Christ, this Christian anthropology is absolute.

4) This self-giftedness is grounded on the ontological tendency to be self-gift that is built-into the human person. As then Joseph Ratzinger wrote: “there is an inner ontological tendency within man, who is created in the likeness of God, toward the divine. From its origin, man’s being resonates with some tings and clashes with others. This anamnesis of the origin, which results from the god-like constitution of our being, is not a conceptually articulated knowing, a store of retrievable contents. It is, so to speak, an inner sense, a capacity to recall, so that the one whom it addresses, if he is not turned in on himself, hears it echo from within. He sees: That’s it! That is what my nature points to and seeks.”[1]

4) Everything that is said in Catholic moral theology is built on and reverts to this divine-human reality of relationality. Divinity and humanity are parsed out in terms of relation or non-relation.

5) The condom issue must be resolved in the same terms. As Martin Rohnheimer wrote: the Church does not speak about the morality of objects like condoms: “There is no official magisterial teaching either about condoms, or about anti-ovulatory pills or diaphragms. Condoms cannot be intrinsically evil, only human acts; condoms are not human acts, but things. What the Catholic Church has clearly taught to be "intrinsically evil" is a specific kind of human act, defined by Paul VI in his encyclical Humanae Vitae, and later included in No. 2370 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, as an "action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible.”

Hence, the pope’s reference to condom use had nothing to do with the human action of contraception and the morality of its use as a contraceptive. That is a negative absolute. Nor is he speaking about the moral legitimacy or illegitimacy of homosexual actions. They are constitutively and absolutely immoral acts since they cannot be actions of bodily self-gift and receptivity since the body is intrinsically personal and therefore relational as reception and donation which we understand to be male and female.

His reference to the use of condoms is rather a first step within an intrinsically immoral act toward “humanization” or relationality as concern for the health of another: “a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants. But it is not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection. That can really lie only in a humanization of sexuality.

Of course, even to speak in this way is to risk having the media pounce on the mere juxtaposition of the words “condom” and sex, and do with it what they will. But one must not be afraid to speak truth – absolutely and pastorally - in the public square.

[1] J. Ratzinger, “On Conscience,” Ignatius (2007) 32.