Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Mothers Matter, But Who Cares?

Bill Gates Challenged in Nairobi

Prof Robert Walley, Founder and Director of Mater care International, challenged the recent reproductive health initiatives of the founder of Microsoft, as irrelevant to the causes of maternal mortality in the world, as expressed by the statistics of the World Health Organisation itself.

The Emeritus Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University of St Johns in Newfoundland, Canada was speaking at the 9th Ethics Conference at Strathmore University, Nairobi, which this year is focusing on Bioethics.

Speaking to the topic of “Mothers Matter, but Who Cares?”, he spoke of how 330,000 mothers die in pregnancy every year, the vast majority of the causes are easily preventable and 91% occur in the last three months of pregnancy (Lancet 2009).

He described how often mothers die alone, in agony, and exhausted. The maternal mortality rate , which is the number of mother dying in pregnancy each year in the developed world is 1:15,000, whereas in the developing world it is 1:15. This is one of the scandals of modern medicine. Nobody is asking : what happens to mothers? He noted in particular the lack of maternal care in refugee camps. In his own personal professional experience he has never experienced a maternal death.

Mothers are politically unimportant, they have no voice. There is a lot of violence done against women and children, often through a lack of communication of truth in relation to the side effects of contraceptives and abortion. One of the first rights of women is the right to know the truth. Mothers are being ground to the dust.

He presented The Charter of Maternal Rights, based on the Social Doctrine of the Church and the dignity of women. We need a Marshall plan to help mothers and so do something about the most neglected of the millennium goals.

It will take 275 years to reach the millennium goal of a reduction in maternal mortality if we keep going at the present rate, because mothers don’t matter to governments and international aid organisations.

He accused womens groups of doing nothing for these problems. They talk of women, women, women, but say nothing of mothers, mothers, mothers. We need to restore the dignity of mothers.

He spoke of the barbarism of partial birth abortion promoted by the Clinton administration.

The Year of Faith has to be a year to evangelise doctors and midwives. It is also the 25thanniversary of Mulieris Dignitatem of John Paul II.

He described the Isiolo project, the 91% solution, a maternal health facility, that has been built to help rural women in that area of Kenya.

Prof Anne Muigai spoke of how 30% of cases of IVF have birth defects. Prof Seamus Grimes of National University of Ireland, Galway delivered  a presentation  on “Understanding Sub Saharan African Fertility Transition”.

Oct 30 (1 day ago)

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Year of Faith or Purgatory

The Need for the Year of Faith:
Without it, Purgatory

Remember: The “Last Things” are Christological. They are relations, not states or places.

Hans Urs von Balthasar: “God is the ‘last thing’ of the creature. Gained, he is heaven, lost, he is hell; examining, he is judgment; purifying, he is purgatory. He it is to whom finite being dies, and through whom it rises to him, in him. This he is, however, as he presents himself to the world, that is, in his Son, Jesus Christ, who is the revelation of God and, therefore, the whole essence of the last things. In this way, eschatology is, almost more even than any other locus theologicus, entirely a doctrine of salvation. This is, as we shall see, absolutely central.” [1]

Joseph Ratzinger: “What actually saves us is the full assent of faith.”[2] “But in most of us that basic option is buried under a great deal of wood, hay and straw. Only with difficulty can it peer out from behind the latticework of an egoism we are powerless to pull down with our own hands. Man is the recipient of the divine mercy, yet this does not exonerated him from the need to be transformed. Encounter with the Lord is this transformation. It is the fire that burns away our dross and re-forms us to be vessels of eternal joy.”

                 Thus, “The essential Christian understanding of Purgatory has now become clear. Purgatory is not, as Tertullian thought, some kind of supra-worldly concentration camp where man is forced to undergo punishment in a more or less arbitrary fashion. Rather is it the inwardly necessary process of transformation in which a person becomes capable of Christ, capable of God and thus capable of unity with the whole communion of saints. Simply to look at people with any degree of realism at all is to grasp the necessity of such a process. It does not replace grace by works, but allows the former to achieve its full victory precisely as grace.” That is to say again: “What actually saves us is the full assent of faith” [Ibid.]

[1] H. U. Von Balthasar, “Explorations in Theology” 1. The Word Made Flesh, 260.
[2] J. Ratzinger, “Eschatology,” CUA (1988) 231.

Monday, October 29, 2012

An Email From Bill Orchard

Last night around 9pm I drove someone home and it was like a ghost town out there.  Plenty of empty taxi's on the prowl with no passengers.  Actually it was quite beautiful.  Reminded me of Walker Percy.....see this for instance, about his book...

The Last Gentleman .....At one point, Will recalls a date with a girl named Midge Auchincloss. The date is a disaster until the two are caught in a hurricane. "Though science taught that good environments were better than bad environments, it appeared to him that the opposite was the case. Take hurricanes, for example, certainly a bad environment if ever there was one. It was his impression that not just he but other people felt better in hurricanes," Percy writes. The hurricane, it turns out, saved the day:

The hurricane blew away the sad, noxious particles which befoul the sorrowful old Eastern sky and Midge no longer felt obliged to keep her face stiff. They were able to talk. It was best of all when the hurricane's eye came with its so-called ominous stillness. It was not ominous. Everything was yellow and still and charged up with value.

Percy has pointed out this strange phenomenon many times. In the first chapter of The Message in the Bottle, he asks,

Why do people often feel so bad in good environments that they prefer bad environments?
Why does a man often feel better in a bad environment?
Why is a man apt to feel bad in a good environment, say suburban Short Hills, New Jersey, on an ordinary Wednesday afternoon? Why is the same man apt to feel good in a very bad environment, say an old hotel on Key Largo during a hurricane?

What's behind this experience? 

Hurricane "Sandy" and the Year of Faith

What does a hurricane have to do with the Year of Faith? Everything! And this because the event of the hurricane awakens us from the boredom and monotony of quotidian boilerplate work- performance punctuated by the trivial titillation of interconnected pseudo interpersonalism via hand-held gagetry -  to a sudden discovery of the persons around you with whom you find that you really have something in common: a hurricane.

The Year of Faith has been called to shake us out of the acedia that has numbed us into being accustomed to the absence of Jesus Christ in this parched eschatological desert that stretches from the Ascension to the Parousia without a blip of intimacy with Him. Cardinal Ratzinger once asked: “However did we arrive at that tedious and tedium-laden Christianity which we moderns observe and, indeed, know from our own experience?[1] Ultimately we have lost the experience of Christ, the personal intimacy with Him, the internal reception of Him as Our Lady at the Annunciation. This must be regained.

                In both cases, the “I” is unengaged. There is work, there are performances, there is liturgy, there are prayers, there are plans of life, but the “I” is unengaged. And when unengaged, joyless.  There are pleasures, there is happiness, but there is no joy. As Ratzinger commented in the context of the nature of joy: “The root of man’s joy is the harmony he enjoys with himself. He lives in this affirmation. And only one who can accept himself can also accept the thou, can accept the world. The reason why an individual cannot accept the thou, cannot come to terms with him, is that he does not like his own I and, for that reason, cannot accept a thou.

                “Something strange happens here. We have seen that the inability to accept one’s I leads to the inability to accept a thou. But how does one go about affirming, assenting to, one’s I? The answer may perhaps be unexpected: WE cannot do so by our own efforts alone. Of ourselves, we cannot come to terms with ourselves. Our I becomes acceptable to us only if it has first become acceptable to another I. We can love ourselves only if we have first been loved by someone else. The life a mother gives to her child is not just physical life; she gives total life when she takes the child’s tears and turns them into smiles. It is only when life has been accepted and is perceived as accepted that it becomes also acceptable. Man is that strange creature that needs not just physical birth but also appreciation if he is to subsist. This is the root of the phenomenon known as hospitalism. When the initial harmony of our existence has been rejected, when that psycho-physical oneness has been ruptured by which the ‘Yes, it is good that you alive’ sinks, with life itself, deep into the core of the unconscious – then birth itself is interrupted; existence itself is not completely established… If an individual is to accept himself, someone must say to him: ‘It is good that you exist’ - must say it, not with words, but with that act of the entire being that we call love. For it is the way of love to will the other’s existence and, at the same time, to bring that existence forth again. The key to the I lies with the thou; the way to the thou leads through the I.”[2]


[1] J. Ratzinger, “Eschatology,” CUA (1988) 8.
[2] J. Ratzinger, “Principles of Catholic Theology,” Ignatius (1987) 79-80.

A Robust Overview of Walker Percy Without Quite Hitting the Nail

Blogger: What's The Nail? The Experience of the Self as Being and Naming It Outside Abstract Categories, i.e. the Novels As Existential Narrative that Name (particularly “Love in the Ruins” July 1st, #5; July 3d, #6).

Traveling with Walker Percy |

Carl E. Olson |

Ignatius Insight

Editor's note (May 10, 2010): Walker Percy died of cancer twenty years ago today, just eighteen days shy of his 74th birthday. This article, originally written in 2004, is an introduction to life and thought of one the finest Catholic writers of the past fifty years.

In the summer of 1995, my wife and I––both Evangelical Protestants at the time–-took a trip with the Catholic novelist Walker Percy. He had died in 1990, but his presence was very much evident in Signposts In A Strange Land(Noonday Press, 1991, 1992), a posthumous collection of essays and interviews we took along with us and read to one another as we drove from the Pacific Northwest up into Canada on a weeklong vacation.

The title was fitting––not because of the scenery along the highways, but because at the time we found ourselves in a strange land between the familiar, but frustrating, homeland of Evangelical Protestantism and the largely unknown vistas of Catholicism. While others, including Pope John Paul II, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Theresa of Avila, and G. K. Chesterton, would escort us into the Catholic Church a couple years later, the melancholy and brilliant novelist from the Deep South journeyed with us for an important stretch of that pilgrim’s road.

More than a novelist, Walker Percy was a fellow wayfarer and seeker, as well as a self-described "diagnostician" of the "modern malaise" and a builder of signposts in a strange land.

Out of the Shadows of Southern Tragedy

Born in Georgia in 1916, Walker Percy was shadowed by tragedy from the beginning of his life. His paternal grandfather committed suicide with a shotgun in 1917. Percy’s father, a highly intelligent and successful lawyer who was prone to deep depression, killed himself in the same manner in 1929, just as Percy was entering his teens. Percy later addressed his father’s suicide, at least indirectly, in his second novel, The Last Gentleman(1966). Unbelievably, two years after his father’s suicide, Percy’s mother drowned when her car ran off a bridge not far from their home.

Walker and his brothers were taken in and adopted by their enigmatic and well-educated "Uncle Will," their father’s cousin, and a lawyer and author. Walker loved Uncle Will dearly and gave him credit for changing his life. InPilgrim in the Ruins, his biography of Percy, biographer Jay Tolson notes, "If it hadn’t been for Uncle Will, Walker Percy once said, he probably would have ended up a car dealer in Athens, Georgia." Uncle Will was a Southern gentleman who held to a Stoic idealism and a Romantic view of the Old South. Though deeply affected by Will’s beliefs, the shy and studious Walker soon embraced a cynical agnosticism and the conviction that modern science held the answers to man’s origins and future. Spurning the life of the lawyer –– a profession highly esteemed in the Percy clan –– Walker chose to pursue a career in medicine. After completing undergraduate work at the University of North Carolina, he went on to Columbia to pursue studies in pathology.

From Doubt to Faith to the "Diagnostic Novel"

An anonymous corpse carrying tuberculosis changed Percy’s life forever. Attending medical school at Columbia, Percy contracted the disease while performing autopsies. Bedridden for three years, he was exhausted and often depressed. Yet later in life he admitted that despite the difficult ordeal he was secretly relieved at being able to leave medicine behind. During his lengthy rehabilitation Percy spent much time reading works of the existentialists Camus, Sartre, and Kierkegaard, as well as the writings of Catholic thinkers Blaise Pascal, Romano Guardini, and St. Thomas Aquinas. An insightful observer of human nature and relationships, Percy had growing doubts about his scientific, materialist view of reality. Years later he wrote,

"What did at last dawn on me as a medical student and intern, a practitioner, I thought, of the scientific method, was that there was a huge gap in the scientific view of the world. This sector of the world about which science could not utter a single word was nothing less than this: what it is like to be an individual living in the United States in the twentieth century." ("Diagnosing The Modern Malaise," p. 213)

This realization led Percy to make three major decisions in short order in his mid-thirties: to become a full-time writer, marry, and become Catholic. Percy and Mary Bernice Townsend, (affectionately called "Bunt"), were married in 1946, and entered the Catholic Church the following year. Not long afterwards, they moved to the small town of Covington, Louisiana, where Percy wrote and lived until his death in 1990.

Initially, during the 1950s, Percy wrote technical articles on semiotics – the study of language – for various scientific and theological journals, as well as pieces about psychiatry, culture, and the South for Commonweal, America, and other magazines. Many of these articles were later collected in The Message in the Bottle (Farrar, Straus and Giroux: New York, 1975, 1986), subtitled "How Queer Man Is, How Queer Language Is, and What One Has to Do with the Other." In the author’s note, Percy wrote that his "recurring interest over the years has been the nature of human communication and, in particular, the consequences of man’s unique discovery of the symbol . . ."

Convinced that he needed a different literary vehicle for taking his observations to a larger audience, Percy wrote two novels during the 1950s. Neither were published (Percy apparently burned one of the manuscripts), but his third novel, The Moviegoer, was published in 1961.

Initially ignored and selling poorly, the novel was the surprise winner of the National Book Award in 1962. Over the course of the next three decades Percy wrote five more novels, published The Message in the Bottle, wrote occasional articles, and produced the most unique and insightful "self-help" book ever written, Lost In The Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book (1983). Each of these works, in their own way, grappled with entwining anthropological concerns: the pervasive influence of scientism on modern man, the resulting "modern malaise," man’s need and quest for life-giving symbols and signs, and man as wayfarer and homo viator. Percy pursued these issues with the belief that the modern novelist is meant to be a sort of "diagnostician," probing and testing the human condition through his literary craft.

The Cartesian Split and the Failure of Scientism

Percy rightly dismissed the notion that people can live without an anthropological vision, that is, a specific understanding of who man is and what he meant for. "Everyone has an anthropology," he wrote in the essay, "Rediscovering A Canticle For Leibowitz." "There is no not having one. If a man says he does not, all he is saying is that his anthropology is implicit, a set of assumptions which he has not thought to call into question." His own conversion was due, in large part, to the realization that scientism –– the belief that the scientific method and the technology it produces can provide answers to man’s deepest questions and longings –– was untenable and, in fact, was a lie. As a trained physician, Percy had respect for science when properly practiced and understood. But he saw many theories making claims to being "scientific," but in reality were ideological positions based on a subjective and self-serving view of reality. In the essay "Culture, The Church, And Evangelization," Percy wrote,

"The distinction which must be kept in mind is that between science and what can only be called ‘scientism.’ . . . [Scientism] can be considered only as an ideology, a kind of quasi-religion––not as a valid method of investigating and theorizing which comprises science proper––a cast of mind all the more pervasive for not being recognized as such and, accordingly, one of the most potent forces which inform, almost automatically and unconsciously, the minds of most denizens of modern industrial societies like the United States." ("Culture, The Church, And Evangelization," p. 297).

Percy traced scientism back to Continental philosopher René Descartes, believing the Cartesian distinction between the thinking mind and the rest of the physical world had finally produced its evil fruit in the twentieth century. This radical dualism shaped the ideologies of Communism and Nazism, the sexual revolution of the 1960s, and secular humanism. Each of these belief systems, however well or poorly articulated, rejected God and set up man as the ultimate reference point for all of human activity, whether that activity was political, social, or sexual. Now freed from the confines of the supernatural order and objective truth, man could create and customize his own reality: totalitarian, egalitarian, hedonistic, or consumer-oriented.

Percy often noted the paradoxical fact that man can form a perfect scientific theory explaining the material world –- but cannot adequately account for himself in that theory. Man is the round peg never quite fitting into the square hole of scientism. "Our view of the world, which we get consciously or unconsciously from modern science, is radically incoherent," Percy wrote in his essay "The Fateful Rift: The San Andreas Fault in the Modern Mind." Again, science must either recognize its own limits or create confusion: "A corollary of this proposition is that modern science is itself radically incoherent, not when it seeks to understand things and subhuman organisms and the cosmos itself, but when it seeks to understand man, not man’s physiology or neurology or his bloodstream, but man qua man, man when he is peculiarly human. In short, the sciences of man are incoherent." ("The Fateful Rift: The San Andreas Fault In The Modern Mind," p. 271). In a self-interview, "Questions They Never Asked Me," he put the matter more bluntly:

"This life is much too much trouble, far too strange, to arrive at the end of it and then be asked what you make of it and have to answer, ‘Scientific humanism.’ That won’t do. A poor show. Life is a mystery, love is a delight. Therefore, I take it as axiomatic that one should settle for nothing less than the infinite mystery and infinite delight; i.e., God." ("Questions They Never Asked Me," p. 417)

The Modern Malaise

In each of Percy’s novels the main character realizes that something is seriously wrong, but cannot identify the source of the anxiety. These characters suffer from the "modern malaise," an unknown but palpable dis-ease –– a sense of despair not easily brought into focus and identified. The epigraph at the start of The Moviegoer quotes from Kierkegaard’s The Sickness Unto Death: "…the specific character of despair is specifically this: it is unaware of being despair." In The Moviegoer, the young movie-going Binx Bolling states that "the malaise is the pain of loss. The world is lost to you, the world and the people in it, and there remains only you and the world and you no more able to be in the world than Banquo’s ghost." A successful stockbroker, Binx is unsettled by his own gnawing emptiness and is finally compelled to seek out the solution. When considering whether or not God exists, Binx reflects that, "as everyone knows, the polls report that 98% of Americans believe in God and the remaining 2% are atheists and agnostics — which leaves not a single percentage point for a seeker. . . . Have 98% of Americans already found what I seek or are they so sunk in everydayness that not even the possibility of a search has occurred to them?"

This malaise, Percy makes clear, is not simply the corruption and abandonment of Judeo-Christian morality. Immorality is a symptom, "not a primary phenomenon, but rather an ontological impoverishment" ("Diagnosing The Modern Malaise," p. 214). The real issue is more basic: What is man and who am I as a specific man? The average person is led by the dominant culture to believe that everything is fine and life is set –– a comfortable existence is for the taking. "But something is wrong," Percy notes. "He has settled everything except what it is to live as an individual. He still has to get through an ordinary Wednesday afternoon. . . . What does this man do with the rest of the day? the rest of his life?" ("Diagnosing The Modern Malaise," p. 213).

This is the predicament of Dr. Tom More, first introduced in Love in the Ruins(1971), and reappearing in The Thanatos Syndrome (1987). A self-described "bad Catholic" and a psychiatrist, More is a widower falling apart at the seams, filled with terror, anxiety, and lust. He confesses that he is "possessed by terror and desire and live a solitary life. My life is a longing, longing for women, for the Nobel prize, for the hot bosky bite of bourbon whisky and other great heart-wrenching longings that have no name." As potential catastrophe threatens to overwhelm him, More must come to grips with the "malaise" infecting "the Christ-forgetting Christ-haunted death-dealing Western world." Similar challenges confront the characters in Percy’s other novels. While the "malaise" which Percy describes is distinctly modern, it is inherently ancient in nature; it is the longing of man for meaning in a world that has abandoned any real notion of transcendent truth.

Man as Wayfarer and Homo viator

Although influenced by the work of Sartre and Camus, Percy’s "existentialism" is not a despairing, atheistic sort, but a hopeful, theistic sort. This can easily be missed due to the darkness that often fills the pages of his novels. An example of this is Lancelot (1977), Percy’s most raw portrayal of man’s decadence and loss of self. A read could easily misunderstand the book, for it turns on one single word, uttered at the very end. That word is the difference between Lancelot being nihilisitic and being theistic. Man’s existential crisis –– his confusion and despair over his own existence –– can only be satisfactorily addressed by Catholicism and its incarnational, sacramental vision. In "The Holiness of the Ordinary," Percy writes,

"What distinguishes Judeo-Christianity in general from other world religions is its emphasis on the value of the individual person, its view of man as a creature in trouble, seeking to get out of it, and accordingly on the move. Add to this anthropology the special marks of the Catholic Church: the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, which, whatever they do, confer the highest significance upon the ordinary things of this world, bread, wine, water, touch, breath, words, talking, listening––and what do you have? You have a man in a predicament and on the move in a real world of real things, a world which is a sacrament and a mystery; a pilgrim whose life is a searching and a finding. Such a view of man as wayfarer is, I submit, nothing else than a recipe for the best novel-writing from Dante to Dostoevsky." ("The Holiness of the Ordinary," p. 369)

Percy explained that his anthropology is "scriptural" and embraces "Gabriel Marcel’s Homo viator." ("An Interview with Zolta´n Aba´di-nagy," p. 375). Man’s search is for himself and for the Other. In the end, finding one means finding the other, for we cannot see our humanity rightly unless we see ourselves in relation to the Creator. In several of Percy’s novels, the main character begins to see himself more clearly at he embraces unexpected love. This human love eventually points him beyond himself to the ultimate source of sacrificial love. Percy’s depictions of these moments of recognition and transition are masterful, always understated, quietly observing the ordinary nature and commonness surrounding such significant (and sign-filled) events.

The Diagnostic Novel

While many novelists are content to be literary dermatologists, Percy was a literary surgeon – or, better yet, a literary coroner –– cutting beneath the skin and examining the very blood and guts of the modern man:

"To the degree that a society has been overtaken by a sense of malaise rather than exuberance, by fragmentation rather than wholeness, the vocation of the artist, whether novelist, poet, playwright, filmmaker, can perhaps be said to come that much closer to that of the diagnostician rather than the artist’s celebration of life in a triumphant age. Something is indeed wrong, and one of the tasks of the serious novelist is, if not to isolate the bacullus under the microscope, at least to give the sickness a name, to render the unspeakable speakable. Not to overwork the comparison, the artist’s work in such times is assuredly not that of the pathologist whose subject matter is a corpse and whose question is not ‘What is wrong?’ but ‘What did the patient die of?" For I take it as going without saying that the entire enterprise of literature is like that of a physician undertaken in hope. Otherwise, why would be here? Why bother to read, write, teach, study, if the patient is already dead?––for, in this case, the patient is the culture itself." ("Diagnosing The Modern Malaise," p. 206).

In describing his novels as "diagnostic," Percy turned to Aquinas and drew a careful distinction between art and morality. He once explained that "art is making; morality is doing…. This is not to say that art, fiction, is not moral in the most radical sense — if it is made right. But if you write a novel with the goal of trying to make somebody do right, you’re writing a tract — which may be an admirable enterprise, but it is not literature." He goes on to say that what interests him as a novelist is the "looniness" of modern man, "the normal denizen of the Western world who, I think it is fair to say, doesn’t know who he is, what he believes, or what he is doing. This unprecedented state of affairs is, I suggest, the domain of the ‘diagnostic’ novelist."

Here lies, I think, the greatness of Percy’s writing. Although a brilliant stylist, he provides far more than a mere description of the epidermis, but cuts into the sinew and fiber of the human soul. Once there, he honestly names the disease and confusion he sees, and also indicates that a cure does exist. He works in a world of curious messages, sorting through ciphers and codes, plunging the depths of human language in search of further clues. "The contemporary novelist, in other words, must be an epistemologist of sorts," Percy explains, "He must know how to send messages and decipher them. The messages may come not in bottles but rather in the halting and muted dialogue between strangers, between lovers and friends." ("Diagnosing The Modern Malaise," p. 217).

Walker Percy Himself on Hurricanes

Blogger Prologue: Great stuff! Why? Because the unencumbered Self is bored stiff by being taken up with self and can’t stand it in the ordinariness of every day – say Wednesday afternoon.

P.s. on "Boredom:" "The word boredom did not enter the language until the eighteenth century. NO one knows its etymnology. One guess is that bore may derive from the French verb bourrer, to stuff... i.e. to be stuffed with the self ("Lost in the Cosmos" The Noonday Press 1983 p. 70),

* * * * * * * * 

Interview with Percy:

How does one go about writing about Christian faith in a culture where the language of faith has been discredited and devalued?

That's the problem. That is THE PROBLEM. And it's getting worse because the language of Christianity that you're speaking of is increasingly discredited, mainly by the media and the TV preachers. They've given us all a bad name. You do the best you can with it, usually by avoiding the words or using other words.

In your background there was a bout with tuberculosis. Was that in medical school?

Yes, I was interning at Bellevue, a big charity hospital in New York. I was working on the TB side doing all the autopsies in pathology. I just picked it up that way. It was picked up on a routine x-ray. I never had any symptoms. I had to take the classic rest cure. That was before drugs. Right now no one takes it very seriously. You can cure it with chemotherapy. I had the classical experience of Hans Castorp in The Magic Mountain which was a turnaround in his life too. It was certainly a revolution in mine. If it hadn't been for that I'd probably be a second-class phychiatrist in Birmingham.

How did that time effect the "cure" you suggest in your novels?

How do you mean?

As gestation for reflecting, listening and watching your own life--how does that work into the "cure" you allude to?

It was valuable to me and I used it later in various ways. As the Existentialists say, as Marcel says, speaking of himself as a modern man, "It may be of my essence to be able to be not what I am." Most of the time we are not what we really are. We are some distance away, not really ourselves. I find it useful, both what happened to me and other people I know about. There is a paradox. One is most one's self usually, not when one's needs are satisfied, but under conditions of catastrophe.
My character in The Moviegoer, Binx Bolling said the time he was most himself was when he had been shot at in the Korean War, and he was close to death, all of a sudden he was most alive. Actually, I think I swiped that from Tolstoy when his character Prince Andrei at a Napoleonic battle about to get killed, maybe he is badly wounded. All of a sudden he realizes for the first time what it was to be human, what is is to be alive, what it is to be himself.

I've noticed in Louisiana in hurricanes--my theory is that people enjoy hurricanes whether they say so or not. Because in hurricanes, terrible things are happening, people are getting killed, you're liable to get killed, there is a certain exhilaration  It comes from a peculiar sense of self, the vividness. As Einstein said, "Life is dreary as hell. Ordinary life is dreary." Somebody asked him why he went into quantum mechanics. "Well, to get away from the dreariness of ordinary life." Louisianans enjoy hurricanes if they're not too bad.

Now consider this: St. Josemaria Escriva said: "Understand this well: there is something holy, something divine hidden in the most ordinary situations, and it is up to each one of you to discover it" ("Passionately Loving the World" - Scepter Publishers). The mastery of self to do what one should and be in what you do for the love of God in the service of others is an exhilarating olympics. What's up is the experience of the "I" that languishes when not called forth from itself. When called forth, it rejoices

The Discovery of the Self in Hurricanes and Blizzards


Walker Percy wrote novels and essays about the disconnectedness of modern life.  One
cure for all this angst was a good old-fashioned natural disaster – like a hurricane.  He
contended that people actually cheer up in a hurricane, that we become more alive.
We live in a house on the water, at the end of the road.  The main room is perhaps 30 feet
long and 20 feet high, with the wall facing the water comprised of 12 huge windows. 
When one lives in a glass house, eschewing stones is not enough; one should also avoid
hurricanes.  But today there is a storm in the Gulf.
I have spent the day alone in my glass house moving everything movable to higher
ground.  My wife and our one child still at home are safely ensconced on the mainland.  I
am enjoying my solitude.  Today I am a chain-consumer of ice cream sandwiches, my
main source of nutrition.  I figure that they won’t survive when the electricity goes.  On
the radio a country band plays, “May the Wind Take Your Troubles Away”.  My wife’s
high school boyfriend, the one constant through our thirty years of marriage, calls to ask
how we are faring.  He is cheered by the news that she is safe, and that I am not.
The wetlands that abut our house are usually filled with large exotic birds –herons, ibises,egrets, spoonbills and skimmers – but today it is the pelicans that hold my attention.
Pelicans appear neither intelligent nor happy.  At best they are earnest.  My house
produces an updraft that the birds frequently use.  Up close, they seem very well fed
indeed, justifying every inch of their eight-foot wingspans.
But pelicans are so beautiful in the air.  They fly intelligently and cooperatively,
continually altering their styles to fit the wind conditions.  Every morning they fly west
past our house to their fishing grounds, returning each evening to their nests on deserted
islands east of here.  But today they are not happy flyers.  They began their journey home
much earlier, around noon – fighting 40 to 60 miles-per hour headwinds.  One slipup and
they get swept backward hundreds of feet.  I watch one huge, solitary, bedraggled
creature for 20 minutes – flying a few feet, landing in the water to rest, then taking off
again for another 10 feet.  He makes no progress, because the water current flows west.  I
hope the eye of the storm arrives soon, followed by west winds that will give him a free
ride home. But the west winds will bring further troubles for us humans, driving the gulf waters onto
the only evacuation highway.  The water is already well over the bulkheads, and lapping
up the lawn.  Another foot of tide and the ground floor will flood, and I will be forced to invite two large, wet, smelly, and not particularly bright dogs to share my living space.
But what a magnificent storm.  I drive the two miles to the main road, to leave my car on
high ground.  Walking back, a sudden gust blows me off the road.  I could hear the
pelicans snickering.
The next day my optimism is rewarded.  Flock after flock of pelicans return from the
west, after overnighting who knows where.  They are riding a stiff breeze, soaring for
long periods with nary a wing flap.There is enough lumber and driftwood in our yard to build another room.  The neighborsare remarkably cheerful midst the mess.  Me too.  That was the thing that really fascinated Walker Percy.  It takes something like a hurricane to cheer us up.
Me too (Blogger).

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Election of 2012

(If the below is not clear, don't waste time with it. I am writing from a glimpse and a feeling without notes save for Murray, and I cannot find the reference I am thinking of. However, I am disturbed with what is becoming a one-party Christian position. Granted, the opposing position is untenable.)

The coming election seems to be offering us a Church-State tension that has a 1700 year precedent. Without trying to dig out the notes and memories of the Church-State development from Gelasius to Leo XIII to the present, what looms large in my mind is the rather clear distinction of John Courtney Murray S.J. concerning epistemological classicism and historical consciousness.
   This is important because it deals with the development that John Paul II and Benedict XVI attest to concerning Vatican II. John Paul II as Cardinal Wojtyla presents it as “enrichment of faith” in his catechism for Krakow. It represents a process that began with his dramatic experiences (and I believe with his devotion to Our Lady), developed in his thesis on the meaning of faith in St. John of the Cross, became philosophical method as phenomenology taken from Husserl via Scheler and hardened into spousal love as gift of self (the “I”) in “Love and Responsibility. From there it moved the entire Vatican Council from epistemological object to subject[1] and was concretized as the 16 documents of the Vatican II.
            I believe that the real conflict before us is not a conceptual conflict between two alternatives to a secular society, one that is friendly to natural and Christian morality, and one that is not. If we conceptualize it in those terms, then there is no alternative but to vote for the party that embraces Christian and human truths. What I fear in that is that absorption of the truly human and divine into the political and reduction of same into mere ideology. If that becomes the case, it can be manipulated by the political for political reasons.
            I think that it is critical to understand that the connection and separation of Church and State in the United States is not established in terms of two objective orders of Church and State as societies. Rather, as John Courtney Murray points out, the relation of Church and State in this country is the result of the human person as the epistemological “I” in both objective orders.[2] That “I” is both believer and citizen, and the former affects and grounds the latter. The initial freedom of that “I” comes from its exercise of self-determination to make the gift of self to the Revealing Christ. This is the ground of all political freedom and responsibility in the body politic because it is the grounding and development of the person as person. He becomes more and more person in the measure that he transcends himself as gift and reception of the revealing Christ. That is why the Christian is ground and best of citizens for a truly secular body politic. The goal is not an objectified Christendom but a secular political order based on a free self-determining faithful-become-citizen.
            That is to say, that the problem is not a moral problem or a problem of conceptual  morality. It is a problem of anthropology and personal sanctity. It is a problem of experiencing the Person of Christ and the interior dynamic and consciousness that corresponds to that experience. It is a problem of the year of faith. I fear that the majority of Christians will vote Republican because it’s an easy vote and it is strangely being handed to them on a platter. Such a platter is vulnerable and fungible in a society that is lukewarm and passively Christian.

[1] Jaroslaw Kupczak “John Paul “s Interpretation of the Second Vatican Council,” Communio (Spring-Summer 2012) 152-168.
[2] John Courtney Murray, S.J. “The Problem of Religious Freedom,” The Newman Press, Westminster, Maryland (1965), “The Two Views”… The problematic of religious freedom is abstract and simple. It is constructed by two related questions - the moral question of the rights of conscience, and the constitutional question… The Second View… The problematic of religious freedom is concrete and historical. Its construction begins with a scrutiny of the ‘signs of the times.’ Two are decisive… the growth of man’s personal consciousness; the second is the growth of man’s political consciousness” pp. 7, and 17.

Monday, October 22, 2012

(Vatican Radio) – A year of catechesis dedicated to healing the rupture between what we profess and how we live our daily lives as believers in Christ and avoid "do it yourself religions". This was the announced by Pope Benedict XVI himself Wednesday to the thousands of pilgrims and visitors to St Peter’s Square for the general audience. Emer McCarthy reports: 

To accompany Christians’ worldwide on the journey of the Year of Faith – which he opened last week – the Pope announced that he would be interrupting his series on the Christian School of Prayer for now to concentrate on helping people deepen their understanding of why we believe what we believe, starting with the “the essential formula of faith”, the Creed.

The Holy Father arrived at this decision following the results of the questionnaire bishops around the world were asked to answer ahead of the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelisation which is currently underway in the Vatican. The Pope highlighted some issues this revealed: a faith that is passive and private, rejection of faith formation, the rupture between faith and everyday life. 
He said “Christians often do not even know the core of their Catholic faith, the Creed, so as to leave room for a certain syncretism and religious relativism, without clarity on the truths to be believed and the salvific uniqueness of Christianity. The risk is not far off today of people building a so-called "do-it-yourself" religion. Instead, we should return to God, the God of Jesus Christ, we must rediscover the message of the Gospel, to bring it into more deeply into our minds and our daily lives”. 

Below a Vatican Radio translation of the Holy Father’s catechesis:

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today I will introduce the new cycle of catechesis, which will be developed throughout the Year of Faith that has just started and interrupt - for this period - the cycle dedicated to the school of prayer. With the Apostolic Letter Porta Fidei I chose this special year, so that the Church would renew its enthusiasm to believe in Jesus Christ, the only Saviour of the world, revive the joy of walking on the path that He has shown us, and witnesses in a concrete way the transforming power of the faith.

The fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council is an important occasion to return to God, to deepen and live with greater courage one’s own faith, to strengthen membership of the Church, "the teacher of humanity," which, through the proclamation of the Word, the celebration of the Sacraments and the work of charity leads us to encounter and know Christ, true God and true man. This is not an encounter with an idea or a life plan, but a living Person who deeply transforms us, revealing to us our true identity as children of God. Our encounter with Christ renews our human relationships, guiding them, day by day, to greater solidarity and fraternity, in the logic of love. Having faith in the Lord is not something that affects only our intelligence, the area of intellectual knowledge, but it is a change that involves life, all of our being: feelings, heart, intellect, will, body, emotions, human relationships. With faith everything really changes everything in us and for us, and our future destiny is clearly revealed, the truth of our vocation in history, the meaning of life, the joy of being a pilgrim towards the heavenly Kingdom.

But - we ask- is faith truly the transforming power in our lives? Or is it just one of the elements that that is part of our life, without being the determining one that completely involves it? With the catechesis of this Year of Faith we would like to go on a journey to strengthen the joy of faith, understanding that it is not something alien, disconnected from real life, but it is its very soul. Faith in a God who is love, and who came close to man, taking on his flesh and giving Himself on the cross to save us and open the gates of heaven to us once more, brightly indicates that the fullness of man is found only in love. Today we need to clearly repeat this, while the cultural transformations taking place often show many forms of barbarism, which pass under the sign of "conquests of civilization”: faith affirms that there is no true humanity except in places, gestures, in the times and manner in which man is motivated by the love that comes from God, it is expressed as a gift, it is manifest in relationships full of love, compassion, care and selfless service to the other. Where there is domination, possession, exploitation, commodification of the other for pure selfishness, where there is the arrogance of the ego closed in on itself, man is depleted, degraded, disfigured. The Christian faith, active in charity and strong in hope, does not limit, but humanizes life, indeed it makes it fully human.

Faith is welcoming this transforming message in our lives, it is accepting the revelation of God, which helps us know who He is, how He acts, what His plans are for us. Of course, the mystery of God is always beyond our concepts and our reason, our rituals and prayers. However, with the revelation it is God who communicates to Himself to us, who speaks to us of Himself, who makes Himself accessible. And we are enabled to listen to His Word and receive His truth. Here is the wonder of faith: God, in his love, creates in us - through the work of the Holy Spirit - the right conditions so that we can recognize His Word. God himself, in his will to manifest Himself to us, to enter into contact with us, to be present in human history, enables us to listen to and welcome Him. St. Paul expresses this with joy and gratitude: "And for this reason we too give thanks to God unceasingly, that, in receiving the word of God from hearing us, you received not a human word but, as it truly is, the word of God, which is now at work in 
you who believe "(1 Thessalonians 2:13).

God has revealed Himself in words and deeds throughout a long history of friendship with man, which culminates in the Incarnation of the Son of God and His mystery of death and resurrection. God has not only revealed Himself in the history of a people, not only has He spoken through the Prophets, but He has crossed heaven to enter the land of men as a man, so that we could meet Him and listen to Him. And from Jerusalem the proclamation of the Gospel of Salvation has spread to the ends of the earth. The Church was born from the side of Christ, she has become the bearer of a new solid hope: Jesus of Nazareth, the Crucified and Risen Savior of the world, who sits at the right hand of God and is the judge of the living and the dead. This is the kerygma, the central and unsettling proclamation of faith. But from the beginning there arose the problem of the "rule of faith", in short, the faithfulness of believers to the truth of the Gospel, to which we must remain firm, to the saving truth about God and man to be preserved and passed on. St. Paul writes: "Through it [the Gospel] you are also being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you, unless you believed in vain"(1 Cor 15:2).
But where do we find the essential formula of faith? Where do we find the truths that we have been faithfully transmitted and which are the light for our daily life? The answer is simple: in the Creed, in the Profession of Faith or Symbol of the Faith, we reconnect to the original event of the person and history of Jesus of Nazareth, it makes concrete what the Apostle of the Gentiles said to the Christians of Corinth: " For I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures; that he was buried; that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures" (1 Cor 15:3).
Even today the Creed needs to be better known, understood and prayed. Above all it is important that the Creed is, so to speak, 'recognized'. In fact, knowing it, could only be an intellectual operation, while "recognizing" it means the need to discover the deep connection between the truths we profess in the Creed and our daily lives, so that these truths may truly and effectively be - as they always were - light for the steps to our living, water that irrigates the scorching heat of our journey, life that conquers certain deserts of contemporary life. The moral life of the Christian is interwoven in the Creed, in which it finds its foundation and justification.It is no accident that the Blessed John Paul II wished that the Catechism of the Catholic Church, a sure norm for teaching the faith and reliable source for a catechesis renewed at the sources of faith, be set on the Creed. This was to confirm and protect this core of the truths of faith, rendering it in a language that is more intelligible to the people of our time. It is the Churches’ duty to transmit the faith, communicate the Gospel, so that the truths of Christianity illuminate new cultural transformations, and Christians be able to account for the hope that carry (cf. 1 Pt 3:14). Today we live in a profoundly changed society even compared to the recent past and one that is in constant motion. The processes of secularization and a widespread nihilistic mentality, where everything is relative, have a crucial impact on the general mentality. So, life is often lived lightly, without clear ideals or sound hopes, in transient and provisional social and family ties. Above all the younger generations are not educated in the search for truth or the deeper meaning of existence that goes beyond the contingent, to a stability of affection, trust. On the contrary, relativism leads to not having any fixed points, suspicion and inconstancy cause ruptures in human relationships, and life is lived in experiments that do not last long, or shoulder any responsibilities. If individualism and relativism seem to dominate the mind of many of contemporaries, we can not say that believers remain totally immune from these dangers, with which we are confronted in the transmission of the faith. The survey promoted in all continents for the celebration of the Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization, has highlighted some: a living faith that is passive and private, rejection of faith formation, the rupture between faith and life.

Christians often do not even know the core of their Catholic faith, the Creed, so as to leave room for a certain syncretism and religious relativism, without clarity on the truths to be believed and the salvific uniqueness of Christianity. The risk is not far off today of people building a so-called "do-it-yourself" religion. Instead, we should return to God, the God of Jesus Christ, we must rediscover the message of the Gospel, to bring it into more deeply into our minds and our daily lives.

In the catechesis of this Year of the faith I would like to offer some help to making this journey, to take up once again and deepen the central truths of the faith of God, man, the Church, of all the social and cosmic realities, meditating and reflecting on the statements of the Creed. And I would like to clarify that such content or truth of faith are directly connected to our lives; they require conversion of existence, which gives life to a new way of believing in God (fides qua). Knowing God, encountering Him, explore the features of His face brings our lives into play, because He enters the deep dynamics of the human being.

May the journey that we are about to set out on in the year help us grow in faith and love to Christ, that we might learn to live, in our choices and daily actions, the good and beautiful life of the Gospel.

Note: the Pope use the word "enthusiasm" frequently in referring to living the faith as the encounter with an event, a living Person.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Year of Faith 2012-2013

The year of faith must be understood as a year of intimacy with God. As Moses said to the Lord: “You, indeed, are telling me to lead this people on: but you have not let me know whom you will send with me” (Gen. 33, 12). The Lord said, “I myself… will go along.(Gen. 33, 14). This is the first glimpse of an incarnate God among his people. St. Paul speaks of a pre-existent Christ in Ephesians 1, 4 to whom we are pre-destined: “Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world… He predestined us to be adopted through Jesus Christ as his sons.”

            And so the presence of God in Jesus Christ in the world is not an extraordinary occurrence but ordinary and normal. Precisely, normal. In fact, John Paul II alludes to this when, pace Augustine’s “felix culpa,” he suggests that God would have become man even if man had not sinned.[1] The vocation to intimacy with God in the flesh preceded the collapse into sin and therefore is the “ordinary” denouement of the human person.[2] We are called to supernatural life in the flesh as the ordinary way.

            This is the burden of Vatican II’s recasting the understanding of faith as the gift of self for the total man and  not merely the operations of intellect and will together with the universal call to holiness of all the baptized.[3] The accent is on Baptism and Ordination into Christ rather than the exceptional way of the “consecrated life” and the evangelical counsels. The overwhelming majority of all Christians is called along this ordinary way of heroic sanctity in secular life and secular work.

            Our Lady is the protagonist of faith in ordinary life even with pre-eminence over Abraham[4] since she was called to an even greater humility in the actual execution of her Son. Her vocation to be the mother of God in a most unexceptional way. Caryll Houselander wrote: “She was not asked to lead a special kind of life, to retire to the temple and live as a nun, to cultivate suitable virtues or claim special privileges. She was simply to remain in the world, to go forward with her marriage to Joseph, to live the life of an artisan’s wife, just what she had planned to do when she had no idea that anything out of the ordinary would ever happen to her. It almost seemed as if God’s becoming man and being born of a woman were ordinary.” [5]

            She then moves to the positive: “The one thing that He did ask of her was the gift of her humanity. She was to give Him her body and soul unconditionally, and… she was to give Him her daily life… She was not to neglect her simple human tenderness, her love for an earthly man, because God was her unborn child On the contrary, the hands and feet, the heart, the waking, sleeping, and eating that were forming Christ were to form Him in service to Joseph… Our Lady said yes. She said yes for us all.”[6]

            To understand faith in these experiential and practical terms resonates with Genesis 1 and 2 where the human person is revealed as image and likeness of God – as is pre-eminently Christ Himself in Col. 1, 15[7] – and comes to experience what John Paul II called the “Original Solitude.”[8] Man experiences himself to be alone after the obedient work of tilling the garden and naming the animals. This aloneness is the achievement of subjectivity as image of God, i.e. of achieved personhood in the original covenant with the Creator. In a word, other Christness. He had freely transcended being a created object albeit rational into becoming a subject – person as Christ.

            This directs us to understand the “already – not yet” Eschatology of Benedict XVI[9] – and therefore the consciousness of the first Christians and the Fathers of the Church concerning Christ’s presence in the world -- but not yet fully. By faith, Jesus Christ wills to be present in the world now by the normal ordinariness of daily work as rendered obedient to the Will of God, and hence to be at all human levels of secular society, particularly on the cutting edge of every new human development. The supernatural destiny of the immense majority of Christians is to exercise the Christological anthropology in work, and in so doing, put Christ “at the summit of all human activities” as St. Josemaria Escriva heard at the elevation of the Host during Holy Mass on August 7, 1931.[10]

[3] “Dei Verbum” #5: “‘The obedience of faith’ (Rom. 16, 26; cf. Rom. 1, 5; 2 Cor 10, 5-6) must be given to God as he reveals himself. By faith man freely commits his entire self to God, making ‘the full submission of his intellect and will to God who reveals.’” The deep reason for the understanding of the act of faith as a commitment of the whole self is the nature of revelation as the reception of the divine Person within the believing person. Like is known by like.
[4] ” John Paul II, Redemptoris Mater #18: “At the foot of the Cross Mary shares through faith in the shocking mystery of this self-emptying. This is perhaps the deepest ‘kenosis’ of faith’ in human history:” John Paul II, Redemptoris Mater #18.
[5] Caryll Houselander “The Reed of God,” Christian Classics, Notre Dame, IN (2006) 33-35.
[6] Ibid.
[7] “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creat ure.”
[8] John Paul II op. cit. “He is not only essentially and subjectively alone. In fact, solitude also signifies man’s subjectivity (my emphasis), which constitutes itself through self-knowledge. Man is alone because he is ‘different’ from the visible world, from the world of living beings…
[9] J. Ratzinger, “Dogma and Preaching,” Ignatius (2011) 321. “‘Advent’ does not… mean ‘expectation’… It is a translation of the Greek word parousia, which means ‘presence’ or, more, accurately, ‘arrival,’ i.e., the beginning of a presence…. God’s presence in the world has already begun, that he is present, albeit in a hidden manner; second, that his presence has only begun and is not yet full and complete, that it is in a state of development, becoming, and maturing toward its full form. His presence has already begun, and we, the faithful, are the ones through whom he wishes to be present in the world.”
[10] John F. Coverdale, “Uncommon Faith” Scepter (2002) 89: “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all things to myself” (Jn. 12, 32).