Monday, November 30, 2015

Addicted to Distraction

By TONY SCHWARTZ - NYT -  NOV. 28, 2015 

ONE evening early this summer, I opened a book and found myself reading the same paragraph over and over, a half dozen times before concluding that it was hopeless to continue. I simply couldn’t marshal the necessary focus.

I was horrified. All my life, reading books has been a deep and consistent source of pleasure, learning and solace. Now the books I regularly purchased were piling up ever higher on my bedside table, staring at me in silent rebuke.

Instead of reading them, I was spending too many hours online, checking the traffic numbers for my company’s website, shopping for more colorful socks on Gilt and Rue La La, even though I had more than I needed, and even guiltily clicking through pictures with irresistible headlines such as “Awkward Child Stars Who Grew Up to Be Attractive.”

During the workday, I checked my email more times than I cared to acknowledge, and spent far too much time hungrily searching for tidbits of new information about the presidential campaign, with the election then still more than a year away.

“The net is designed to be an interruption system, a machine geared to dividing attention,” Nicholas Carr explains in his book “The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains.” “We willingly accept the loss of concentration and focus, the division of our attention and the fragmentation of our thoughts, in return for the wealth of compelling or at least diverting information we receive.”

Addiction is the relentless pull to a substance or an activity that becomes so compulsive it ultimately interferes with everyday life. By that definition, nearly everyone I know is addicted in some measure to the Internet. It has arguably replaced work itself as our most socially sanctioned addiction.

According to one recent survey, the average white-collar worker spends about six hours a day on email. That doesn’t count time online spent shopping, searching or keeping up with social media.

The brain’s craving for novelty, constant stimulation and immediate gratification creates something called a “compulsion loop.” Like lab rats and drug addicts, we need more and more to get the same effect.

Endless access to new information also easily overloads our working memory. When we reach cognitive overload, our ability to transfer learning to long-term memory significantly deteriorates. It’s as if our brain has become a full cup of water and anything more poured into it starts to spill out.

I’ve known all of this for a long time. I started writing about it 20 years ago. I teach it to clients every day. I just never really believed it could become so true of me.

Denial is any addict’s first defense. No obstacle to recovery is greater than the infinite capacity to rationalize our compulsive behaviors. After years of feeling I was managing myself reasonably well, I fell last winter into an intense period of travel while also trying to manage a growing consulting business. In early summer, it suddenly dawned on me that I wasn’t managing myself well at all, and I didn’t feel good about it.

Beyond spending too much time on the Internet and a diminishing attention span, I wasn’t eating the right foods. I drank way too much diet soda. I was having a second cocktail at night too frequently. I was no longer exercising every day, as I had nearly all my life.

In response, I created an irrationally ambitious plan. For the next 30 days, I would attempt to right these behaviors, and several others, all at once. It was a fit of grandiosity. I recommend precisely the opposite approach every day to clients. But I rationalized that no one is more committed to self-improvement than I am. These behaviors are all related. I can do it.

The problem is that we humans have a very limited reservoir of will and discipline. We’re far more likely to succeed by trying to change one behavior at a time, ideally at the same time each day, so that it becomes a habit, requiring less and less energy to sustain.

I did have some success over those 30 days. Despite great temptation, I stopped drinking diet soda and alcohol altogether. (Three months later I’m still off diet soda.) I also gave up sugar and carbohydrates like chips and pasta. I went back to exercising regularly.

I failed completely in just one behavior: cutting back my time on the Internet.

My initial commitment was to limit my online life to checking email just three times a day: When I woke up, at lunchtime and before I went home at the end of the day. On the first day, I succeeded until midmorning, and then completely broke down. I was like a sugar addict trying to resist a cupcake while working in a bakery.

What broke my resolve that first morning was the feeling that I absolutely had to send someone an email about an urgent issue. If I just wrote it and pushed “Send,” I told myself, then I wasn’t really going online.

What I failed to take into account was that new emails would download into my inbox while I wrote my own. None of them required an immediate reply, and yet I found it impossible to resist peeking at the first new message that carried an enticing subject line. And the second. And the third.

In a matter of moments, I was back in a self-reinforcing cycle. By the next day, I had given up trying to cut back my digital life. I turned instead to the simpler task of resisting diet soda, alcohol and sugar.

Even so, I was determined to revisit my Internet challenge. Several weeks after my 30-day experiment ended, I left town for a monthlong vacation. Here was an opportunity to focus my limited willpower on a single goal: liberating myself from the Internet in an attempt to regain control of my attention.

I had already taken the first step in my recovery: admitting my powerlessness to disconnect. Now it was time to detox. I interpreted the traditional second step — belief that a higher power could help restore my sanity — in a more secular way. The higher power became my 30-year-old daughter, who disconnected my phone and laptop from both my email and the Web. Unburdened by much technological knowledge, I had no idea how to reconnect either one.

I did leave myself reachable by text. In retrospect, I was holding on to a digital life raft. Only a handful of people in my life communicate with me by text. Because I was on vacation, they were largely members of my family, and the texts were mostly about where to meet up at various points during the day.

During those first few days, I did suffer withdrawal pangs, most of all the hunger to call up Google and search for an answer to some question that arose. But with each passing day offline, I felt more relaxed, less anxious, more able to focus and less hungry for the next shot of instant but short-lived stimulation. What happened to my brain is exactly what I hoped would happen: It began to quiet down.

AS the weeks passed, I was able to let go of my need for more facts as a source of gratification. I shifted instead to novels, ending my vacation by binge-reading Jonathan Franzen’s 500-some-page novel, “Purity,” sometimes for hours at a time.

I am back at work now, and of course I am back online. The Internet isn’t going away, and it will continue to consume a lot of my attention. My aim now is to find the best possible balance between time online and time off.

I do feel more in control. I’m less reactive and more intentional about where I put my attention. When I’m online, I try to resist surfing myself into a stupor. As often as possible, I try to ask myself, “Is this really what I want to be doing?” If the answer is no, the next question is, “What could I be doing that would feel more productive, or satisfying, or relaxing?”

I also make it my business now to take on more fully absorbing activities as part of my days. Above all, I’ve kept up reading books, not just because I love them, but also as a continuing attention-building practice.

I’ve retained my longtime ritual of deciding the night before on the most important thing I can accomplish the next morning. That’s my first work activity most days, for 60 to 90 minutes without interruption. Afterward, I take a 10- to 15-minute break to quiet my mind and renew my energy.

If I have other work during the day that requires sustained focus, I go completely offline for designated periods, repeating my morning ritual. In the evening, when I go up to my bedroom, I nearly always leave my digital devices downstairs.

Finally, I feel committed now to taking at least one digital-free vacation a year. I have the rare freedom to take several weeks off at a time, but I have learned that even one week offline can be deeply restorative.

Occasionally, I find myself returning to a haunting image from the last day of my vacation. I was sitting in a restaurant with my family when a man in his early 40s came in and sat down with his daughter, perhaps 4 or 5 years old and adorable.

Almost immediately, the man turned his attention to his phone. Meanwhile, his daughter was a whirlwind of energy and restlessness, standing up on her seat, walking around the table, waving and making faces to get her father’s attention.

Except for brief moments, she didn’t succeed and after a while, she glumly gave up. The silence felt deafening.

Tony Schwartz is the chief executive of The Energy Project, a consulting firm, and the author, most recently, of “The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working.”

REFLECTIONS ON THE RIGHT USE OF SCHOOL STUDIES WITH A VIEW TO THE LOVE OF GOD - Simone Weil (imperfect download but worth the effort)

 This was probably written by Simone Weil in April, 1942, and sent to Father Perrin, when he was Superior of the Dominicans of Montpellier, in order to help the Catholic students with whom he was in contact.
             The Key to a Christian conception of studies is the realization that prayer consists of attention. It is the orientation of all the attention of which the soul is capable towards God.  
             The quality of attention counts for much in the quality of the prayer. Warmth of heart cannot make up for it.

 It is the highest part of the attention only which makes contact with God, when prayer is intense and pure enough for such a contact to be established; but the whole attention is turned
towards God.

 Of course school exercises only develop a lower kind of attention. Nevertheless they are extremely effective in increasing the power of attention which will be available at the time of
prayer, on condition that they are carried out with a view to this purpose and this purpose alone.

 Although people seem to be unaware of it to-day, the development of the faculty of attention forms the real object and almost the sole interest of studies. Most school tasks have a certain intrinsic interest as well, but such an interest is secondary. All tasks which really call upon the power of attention are interesting for the same reason and to an almost equal degree.
 School children and students who love God should never say: “For my part I like mathematics”; “I like French”; “I like Greek.” They should learn to like all these subjects, because all of them develop that faculty of attention which, directed towards God, is the very
substance of prayer.

 If we have no aptitude or natural taste for geometry this does not mean that our faculty for attention will not be developed by wrestling with a problem or studying a theorem. On the contrary it is almost an advantage.

 It does not even matter much whether we succeed in finding the solution or understanding the proof, although it is important to try really hard to do so. Never in any case whatever is a genuine effort of the attention wasted. It always has its effect on the spiritual plane and in consequence on the lower one of the intelligence, for all spiritual light lightens the mind.
 If we concentrate our attention on trying to solve a problem of geometry, and if at the end of an hour we are no nearer to doing so than at the beginning, we have nevertheless been making progress each minute of that hour in another more mysterious dimension. Without our knowing or feeling it, this apparently barren effort has brought more light into the soul. The result will one day be discovered in prayer. Moreover it may very likely be felt besides in some department of the intelligence in no way connected with mathematics. Perhaps he who made the unsuccessful effort will one day be able to grasp the beauty of a line of Racine  more vividly
on account of it. But it is certain that this effort will bear its fruit in prayer. There is no doubt whatever about that.

 Certainties of this kind are experimental. But if we do not believe in them before experiencing them, if at least we do not behave as though we believed in them, we shall never have the experience which leads to such certainties. There is a kind of contradiction here.
Above a given level this is the case with all useful knowledge concerning spiritual progress. If we do not regulate our conduct by it before having proved it, if we do not hold on to it for a long
time only by faith, a faith at first stormy and without light, we shall never transform it into certainty. Faith is the indispensable condition.

 The best support for faith is the guarantee that if we ask our Father for bread, he does not give us a stone. Quite apart from explicit religious belief, every time that a human being succeeds in making an effort of attention with the sole idea of increasing his grasp of truth, he acquires a greater aptitude for grasping it, even if his effort produces no visible fruit. An Eskimo story explains the origin of light as follows: “In the eternal darkness, the crow, unable to
find any food, longed for light, and the earth was illumined.” If there is a real desire, if the thing desired is really light, the desire for light produces it. There is a real desire when there is an
effort of attention. It is really light that is desired if all other incentives are absent. Even if our efforts of attention seem for years to be producing no result, one day a light which is in exact
proportion to them will flood the soul. Every effort adds a little gold to a treasure which no power on earth can take away. The useless efforts made by the Curé d’Ars, for long and painful years, in his attempt to learn Latin bore fruit in the marvelous discernment which enabled him to see the very soul of his penitents behind their words and even their silences.
 Students must therefore work without any wish to gain good marks, to pass examinations, to win school successes; without any reference to their natural abilities and tastes; applying themselves equally to all their tasks, with the idea that each one will help to form in them the habit of that attention which is the substance of prayer. When we set out to do a piece of work, it is necessary to wish to do it correctly, because such a wish is indispensable if there is to be true effort. Underlying this immediate objective, however, our deep purpose should aim solely at increasing the power of attention with a view to prayer; as, when we write, we draw the shape of the letter on paper, not with a view to the shape, but with a view to the idea we want to express.
To make this the sole and exclusive purpose of our studies is the first condition to be observed if  we are to put them to the right use.
 The second condition is to take great pains to examine squarely and to contemplate attentively and slowly each school task in which we have failed, seeing how unpleasing and
second-rate it is, without seeking any excuse or overlooking any mistake or any of our tutor’s corrections, trying to get down to the origin of each fault. There is a great temptation to do the opposite, to give a sideways glance at the corrected exercise if it is bad, and to hide it forthwith.
Most of us do this nearly always. We have to withstand this temptation. Incidentally, moreover, nothing is more necessary for academic success, because, despite all our efforts, we work without making much progress when we refuse to give our attention to the faults we have made and our tutor’s corrections.

 Above all it is thus that we can acquire the virtue of humility, and that is a far more precious treasure than all academic progress. From this point of view it is perhaps even more useful to contemplate our stupidity than our sin. Consciousness of sin gives us the feeling that we are evil, and a kind of pride sometimes finds a place in it. When we force ourselves to fix the gaze, not only of our eyes but of our souls, upon a school exercise that we have failed through sheer stupidity, a sense of our mediocrity is borne in upon us with irresistible evidence.
No knowledge is more to be desired. If we can arrive at knowing this truth with all our souls we shall be well established on the right foundation.

 If these two conditions are perfectly carried out there is no doubt that school studies are quite as good a road to sanctity as any other.
 To carry out the second, it is enough to wish to do so. This is not the case with the first. In order really to pay attention, it is necessary to know how to set about it.
 Most often attention is confused with a kind of muscular effort. If one says to one’s pupils: “Now you must pay attention,” one sees them contracting their brows, holding their breath, stiffening their muscles. If after two minutes they are asked what they have been paying attention to, they cannot reply. They have not been paying attention. They have been ontracting their muscles.  
 We often expend this kind of muscular effort on our studies. As it ends by making us tired, we have the impression that we have been working. That is an illusion. Tiredness has nothing to do with work. Work itself is the useful effort, whether it is tiring or not. This kind
of muscular effort in work is entirely barren, even if it is made with the best of intentions. Good intentions in such cases are among those that pave the way to hell. Studies conducted in such a
way can sometimes succeed academically from the point of view of gaining good marks and passing examinations, but that is in spite of the effort and thanks to natural gifts; moreover such studies are never of any use.

 Will power, the kind that, if need be, makes us set our teeth and endure suffering, is the principal weapon of the apprentice engaged in manual work. But contrary to the usual belief, it has practically no place in study. The intelligence can only be led by desire. For there to be desire, there must be pleasure and joy in the work. The intelligence only grows and bears fruit in joy. The joy of learning is as indispensable in study as breathing is in running. Where it is
lacking there are no real students, but only poor caricatures of apprentices who, at the end of their apprenticeship, will not even have a trade.

 It is the part played by joy in our studies that makes of them a preparation for spiritual life, for desire directed towards God is the only power capable of raising the soul. Or rather, it is God alone who comes down and possesses the soul, but desire alone draws God down. He only comes to those who ask him to come; and he cannot refuse to come to those who implore him long, often and ardently.

 Attention is an effort, the greatest of all efforts perhaps, but it is a negative effort. Of itself, it does not involve tiredness. When we become tired, attention is scarcely possible any more, unless we have already had a good deal of practice. It is better to stop working altogether, to seek some relaxation, and then a little later to return to the task; we have to press on and loosen up alternately, just as we breathe in and out.

 Twenty minutes of concentrated, untired attention is infinitely better than three hours of the kind of frowning application which leads us to say with a sense of duty done: “I have worked well!”

 But, in spite of all appearances, it is also far more difficult. There is something in our soul which has a far more violent repugnance for true attention than the flesh has for bodily fatigue. This is something is much more closely connected with evil than is the flesh. That is why every time that we really concentrate our attention, we destroy the evil in ourselves. If we concentrate with this intention, a quarter of an hour of attention is better than a great many good works.

 Attention consists of suspending our thought, leaving it detached, empty and ready to be penetrated by the object. It means holding in our minds, within reach of this thought, but on a lower level and not in contact with it, the diverse knowledge we have acquired which we are forced to make use of. Our thought should be in relation to all particular and already formulated thoughts as a man on a mountain who, as he looks forward, sees also below him, without actually looking at them, a great many forests and plains. Above all our thought should be empty, waiting, not seeking anything, but ready to receive in its naked truth the object which is to penetrate it.

 All wrong translations, all absurdities in geometry problems, all clumsiness of style and all faulty connection of ideas in compositions and essays, all such things are due to the fact that
thought has seized upon some idea too hastily and being thus prematurely blocked, is not open to the truth. The cause is always that we have wanted to be too active; we have wanted to carry
out a search. This can be proved every time, for every fault, if we trace it to its root. There is no better exercise than such a tracing down of our faults, for this truth is one those which we can
only believe when we have experienced it hundreds and thousands of times. This is the way with all essential truths.

 We do not obtain the most precious gifts by going in search of them but by waiting for them. Man cannot discover them by his own powers and if he sets out to seek for them he will
find in their place counterfeits of which he will be unable to discern the falsity.  
 The solution of a geometry problem does not in itself constitute a precious gift, but the same law applies to it because it is the image of something precious. Being a little fragment of particular truth, it is a pure image of the unique, eternal and living Truth, the very Truth which once in a human voice declared “I am the Truth.”

 Every school exercise, thought of in this way, is like a sacrament.
 In every school exercise there is a special way of waiting upon truth, setting our hearts upon it, yet not allowing ourselves to go out in search of it. There is a way of giving our attention to the data of a problem in geometry without trying to find the solution, or to the words of a Latin or Greek text without trying to arrive at the meaning, a way of waiting, when we are writing, for the right word to come of itself at the end of our pen, while we merely reject all
inadequate words.

 Our first duty towards school-children and students is to make known this method to them, not only in a general way but in the particular form which bears in each exercise. It is not only the duty of those who teach them, but also of their spiritual guides. Moreover the latter should bring out in a brilliantly clear light the correspondence between the attitude of the intelligence in each one of these exercises and the position of the soul, which, with its lamp well filled with oil, awaits the Bridegrooms’s coming with confidence and desire. May each loving adolescent, as he works at his Latin prose, hope through this prose to come a little nearer to the instant when he will really be the slave – faithfully waiting while the master is absent, watching and listening – ready to open the door to him as soon as he knocks. The master will then make
his slave sit down and himself serve him with meat.

 Only this waiting, this attention, can move the master to treat his slave with such amazing tenderness. When the slave has worn himself out in the fields, his master says on his return: “Prepare my meal, and wait upon me.” And he considers the servant who only does what he is told to do to be unprofitable. To be sure in the realm of action we have to do all that is demanded of us, no matter what effort, weariness and suffering it may cost, for he who disobeys does not love; but after that we are only unprofitable servants. Such service is a condition of love, but it is not enough. The thing which forces the master to make himself the slave of his
slave, and to love him, has nothing to do with all that. Still less is it the result of a search which the servant might have been bold enough to undertake on his own initiative. It is only watching,
waiting, attention.

 Happy then are those who pass their adolescence and youth in developing this power of attention. No doubt they are no nearer to goodness than their brothers working in fields and factories. They are near in a different way. Peasants and workmen possess a nearness to God of incomparable savour which is found in the depths of poverty, in the absence of social consideration and in the endurance of long drawn-out sufferings. If however we consider the occupation in themselves, studies are nearer to God because of the attention which is their soul. Whoever goes through years of study without developing this attention within himself has lost a
great treasure.

 Not only does the love of God have attention for its substance; the love of our neighbour, which we know to be the same love, is made of this same substance. Those who are unhappy have no need for anything in this world but people capable of giving them their attention. The capacity to give one’s attention to a sufferer is a very rare and difficult thing; it is almost a miracle; it is a miracle. Nearly all those who think they have this capacity do not possess it. Warmth of heart, impulsiveness, pity are not enough.

 In the first legend of the Grail, it is said that the Grail (the miraculous stone vessel which satisfies all hunger by virtue of the consecrated host) belongs to the first comer who asks the
guardian of the vessel, a king three-quarters paralysed by the most painful wound: “What are you going through?”

 The love of our neighbour in all its fullness simply means being able to say to him: “What are you going through?” It is a recognition that the sufferer exists, not only as a unit in a
collection, or a specimen from the social category labelled “unfortunate,” but as a man, exactly like us, who was one day stamped with a special mark by affliction. For this reason it is
enough, but it is indispensable, to know how to look at him in a certain way.  This way of looking is first of all attentive. The soul empties itself of all its own contents in order to receive into itself the being it is looking at, just as he is, in all his truth.

According to some legends the Grail was made of a single stone, in colour like an emerald.  Only he who is capable of attention can do this.

 So it comes about that, paradoxical as it may seem, a Latin prose or a geometry problem, even though they are done wrong, may be of great service one day, provided we devote the right kind of effort to them. Should the occasion arise, they can one day make us better able to give someone in affliction exactly the help required to save him, at the supreme moment of his need.

 For an adolescent, capable of grasping this truth and generous enough to desire this fruit above all others, studies could have their fullest spiritual effect, quite apart from any particular religious belief.

 Academic work is one of those fields which contain a pearl so precious that it is worth while to sell all our possessions, keeping nothing for ourselves, in order to be able to acquire it.

* * * * * * * * * * *

 This essay is reprinted from Waiting on God by Simone Weil published by Fontana Books,
1959, pp. 66-76. It is translated by Emma Crauford from the original French (L’ Attente de Dieu) which was first published in 1950. The first three footnotes have been added by Windhorst.  
Jean Baptiste Racine (1639 - 1699) was a French playwright.
The Curé of Ars, Jean-Baptiste-Marie Vianney (1786 - 1859), found academic study extremely
difficult and failed in his first attempt to pass the examinations necessary for entering seminary.
Nevertheless, his ability to teach catechism and to counsel individuals became so well known
that up to twenty thousand people a year came to see this parish priest in the final decade of his

Simone Weil's Enchanting "Reflections on the Right Use of School Studies"

     Imagine a modern educational tract, or possibly a speech on the ends of education, beginning with the assertion that the goal of all learning is to love God.  Most of us cannot imagine such an assertion.  Within the deeply secularized institution of modern American learning, there is really less hostility toward God and more of common place apathy. 
     For those of us that cannot imagine a view of education with God at the beginning, middle, and end, we have to look to a different time.  Simone Weil (1909-1943) offers such a view of education.

     Among the many redeeming qualities of this brief piece is the main theme that is present throughout the entire essay--Weil's contention that we must develop the "faculty of attention."  She wonderfully asserts that if we love God, we should learn to like all subjects.  In other words, our love for God will prompt our love for all of reality and all learning of reality.

     For Simone Weil, prayer and studies are  intertwined as they relate to the theme of attention. Weil believes there is great value in exercising attention. It appears to me that by the term attention, Weil means consideration or deep awareness.  She says, "Never in any case whatever is a genuine effort of the attention wasted."

     One great point in this piece by Weil is,
 "quite apart from explicit religious belief, every time that a human being succeeds in making an effort of attention with the sole idea of increasing his grasp of truth, he acquires a greater aptitude for grasping it, even if his effort produces no visible fruit."

     As with other writers in the Great Tradition that address the sense of authentic learning, a matter of virtue is of the utmost importance. For Weil,
 "a far more precious treasure than all academic progress" is the virtue of humility.

     There are a number of insights within this brief work that are simply striking. One thing Weil says that is rare among thinkers, even within the field of Classical Christian education, is the notion of joy as it relates to learning.  "The intelligence only grows and bears fruit in joy. The joy of learning is as indispensable in study as breathing is in running.

 Where it is lacking is that there are no real students, but only poor caricatures of apprentices who, at the end of their apprenticeship, will not even have a trade." One could easily add that the atmosphere of joy would certainly be more conducive to not only the learning of intellectual matters, but the learning of spiritual matters.

     In addition to defining attention within the essay, Weil actually gives advice for what one should do as an instructor when attention is waning.  She also encourages schools to provide unique exercises of a thought nature that can be, and should be, seen within a sacramental sense. Weil says, we have a duty toward children to make this method of devotion to attention a top priority. Related to this is the thought,
 "Happy then are those who pass their adolescence and youth in developing this power of attention…Whoever goes through years of study without developing this attention within himself has lost a great treasure."

     I will conclude this summary of Weil's essay with what is an appropriate summary of this entire writing,
 "Academic work is one of those fields containing a pearl so precious that it is worthwhile to sell all our possessions, keeping nothing for ourselves, in order to be able to acquire it."  When was the last time you heard anyone, including academic leaders, speak of learning in such lofty terms?

Posted by Robert Woods at 6:31 AM 

Monday, November 23, 2015

Reflecting on the Masterpiece of the Previous Post about Nov. 10th

In the Nov. 10th address to the Fifth National [Italian] Ecclesial Congress, dedicated this year to the theme “In Jesus Christ, the new humanism," Pope Francis made two points explaining how we fail to live the following statement:

 “Faced with the ills or the problems of the Church, it is useless to seek solutions in conservatism or fundamentalism, in the restoration of outdated forms and conduct that have no capacity for meaning, even culturally. Christian doctrine is not a closed system incapable of generating questions, doubts and uncertainties, but it is living, it knows how to disturb and to encourage. Its face is not rigid, it has a body that moves and develops, it has tender flesh; Christian doctrine is called Jesus Christ.”
  Francis speaks of two temptations:

1) seeking security for the self. We do not want to risk not being in control. Reducing knowledge to conceptual rationalism appears as rational orthodoxy as be all and end all. The liberal-conservative split exists because we have reduced reality (Christ) to a conceptual horizon where we are secure. I am orthodox; you are not.

The pope says it this way: “The first is that of Pelagianism, which leads the Church not to be humble, selfless and blessed. … Often it leads us even to assuming a style of control, of hardness, normativity. Rules give to the Pelagian the security of feeling superior, of having a precise orientation. In this it finds its strength, not in the soft breath of the Spirit.”

2) The test of the concepts is logic, not experiential “seeing.” The way we know reality (Christ) is always and ultimately by doing what He does. Only becoming gift for others gives us an experiential knowledge of the Person of Christ such that we can say: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt. 16, 16).

            Benedict XVI tried to get this across using the wrong horizon: theological concepts and was overwhelmed as a result of building on sand pace his knowing it. Deeper holiness was needed. Francis said:

            “A second temptation is the gnosticism that leads us to place our trust in logical and clear reasoning that, however, loses the tenderness of our brother's flesh. … The difference between Christian transcendence and any other form of gnostic spiritualism resides in the mystery of the Incarnation. Not putting into practice, not leading the Word to reality, means building on sand, remaining in the pure idea and degenerating into intimisms that do not bear fruit, that render its dynamism sterile”.

All of the above was clear to Benedict XVI. The problem was how to get it across by living it. Francis is doing this now - and suffering incomprehension from both sides.

Ross Douthat's Erasmas lecture on October 26th is a perfect example of not understanding the correct epistemological horizon
Francis to the National Ecclesial Congress: the traits of Christian humanism

 Florence, Italy 10 November 2015 (VIS) –Fifth National Ecclesial Congress, dedicated this year to the theme “In Jesus Christ, the new humanism." In the cathedral, where the 2,500 participants were gathered, the Pope gave an address focusing on the theme of the Congress.
* * * * * * * *
I give pride of place to what I consider the supreme statement of the Pope concerning the evangelizing mission of the Church:
        “Faced with the ills or the problems of the Church, it is useless to seek solutions in conservatism or fundamentalism, in the restoration of outdated forms and conduct that have no capacity for meaning, even culturally. Christian doctrine is not a closed system incapable of generating questions, doubts and uncertainties, but it is living, it knows how to disturb and to encourage. Its face is not rigid, it has a body that moves and develops, it has tender flesh; Christian doctrine is called Jesus Christ.”
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 “We can speak about humanism only by starting from the centrality of Jesus, discovering in Him the features of the authentic face of man. And the contemplation of the face of the dead and risen Jesus that recomposes our humanity, fragmented as it may be by the hardships of life, or marked by sin. We must not domesticate the power of the face of Christ. The face is the image of His transcendence. … I do not wish here to draw an abstract image of the 'new humanism', a certain idea of man, but to present with simplicity some features of Christian humanism, which is that of the sentiments, the mind of Jesus Christ. These are not abstract temporary sensations but rather represent the warm interior force that makes us able to live and to make decisions”:
“The first sentiment is humility. … The obsession with preserving one's own glory and 'dignity', one's own influence, must not form part of our sentiments. We must seek God's glory, that does not coincide with ours. God's glory that shines in the humility of the stable in Bethlehem or in the dishonour of Christ's cross always surprises us”.
“Another sentiment is selflessness. '… The humanity of the Christian is always outward-looking. … Please, let us avoid 'remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits that make us feel safe'. Our duty is to make this world a better place, and to fight. Our faith is revolutionary because of the inspiration that comes from the Holy Spirit”.
“Another of Jesus Christ's sentiments is beatitude. The Christian is blessed. … In the Beatitudes, the Lord shows us the path. By taking it, we human beings can arrive at the most authentically human and divine happiness. … For the great saints, beatitude is about humiliation and poverty. But also in the most humble of our people there is much of this beatitude: it is that of he who knows the richness of solidarity, of sharing also the little he possesses. … The beatitudes we read in the Gospel begin with a blessing and end with a promise of consolation. They introduce us to a path of possible greatness, that of the spirit, and when the spirit is ready all the rest comes by itself”.
“Humility, selflessness, beatitude … they also say something to the Italian Church that today meets to walk together, setting an example of synodality. These features tell us that we must not be obsessed with power, even when this assumes the appearance of a useful or functional power in the social image of the Church. If the Church does not assume Jesus' mind, she is disorientated and loses her way. A Church with these three features – humility, selflessness and beatitude – is a Church that recognises the action of the Lord in the world, in culture, in the daily life of the people. I have said this more than once, and I will repeat it again today to you: 'I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security'”.
“However, we know that there are many temptations we must resist. I will present you at least two of them. The first is that of Pelagianism, which leads the Church not to be humble, selfless and blessed. … Often it leads us even to assuming a style of control, of hardness, normativity. Rules give to the Pelagian the security of feeling superior, of having a precise orientation. In this it finds its strength, not in the soft breath of the Spirit. Faced with the ills or the problems of the Church, it is useless to seek solutions in conservatism or fundamentalism, in the restoration of outdated forms and conduct that have no capacity for meaning, even culturally. Christian doctrine is not a closed system incapable of generating questions, doubts and uncertainties, but it is living, it knows how to disturb and to encourage. Its face is not rigid, it has a body that moves and develops, it has tender flesh; Christian doctrine is called Jesus Christ”.
“A second temptation is the gnosticism that leads us to place our trust in logical and clear reasoning that, however, loses the tenderness of our brother's flesh. … The difference between Christian transcendence and any other form of gnostic spiritualism resides in the mystery of the Incarnation. Not putting into practice, not leading the Word to reality, means building on sand, remaining in the pure idea and degenerating into intimisms that do not bear fruit, that render its dynamism sterile”.
“The Italian Church has great saints whose examples help live faith with humility, generosity and joy, from St. Francis of Assisi to St. Philip Neri. But let us also think of invented characters such as Don Camillo and Peppone. I am struck by how, in the stories of Guareschi, the prayer of a good pastor unites with evident closeness to the people”.
“But then, you will ask, what must we do? What is the Pope asking of us? It is up to you to decide: people and pastor together (emphasis blogger’s) And I invite you, again, simply to contemplate the Ecce Homo above us”.
“I ask the bishops to be pastors. Nothing more: pastors [Notice his rejection of clericalism. They are to serve, not control]. May this be your joy: 'I am a pastor'. It will be the people, your flock, who support you. … May nothing and no-one remove from you the joy of being supported by your people. As pastors, do not be preachers of complex doctrines, but rather announcers of Christ, Who died and rose again for us. Focus on the essential, the kerygma. There is nothing more solid, profound and sure than this announcement [i.e. the goal is not to give doctrine as abstract thought]. But may it be all the people of God who announce the Gospel, people and pastors” Blogger:  Go to #160 – 168 of  “The Joy of Evangelizing”]
“I recommend to the whole Italian Church what I indicated in the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium: the social inclusion of the poor, who occupy a special place in the People of God, and the capacity for encounter and dialogue to promote friendship and in your country, in search of the common good”.
“May God protect the Church in Italy from any kind of surrogate of power, image and money. Evangelical poverty is creative, it welcomes, supports and is rich in hope. The mother Church … recognises all her abandoned, oppressed and weary children. And this has always been one of your virtues, as you are well aware that the Lord shed his blood not for some, for few or for many, but for all”.
“I also recommend, in a special way, the capacity for dialogue and encounter. Dialogue is not negotiation. Negotiating is bargaining to obtain your own piece of the common 'pie'. That is not what I mean. Instead it is seeking the common good for all”.
“May the Church be a leaven for dialogue, encounter, unity. Indeed, our very formulations of faith are the fruit of dialogue and encounter between different cultures, communities and claims. We must not be afraid of dialogue; on the contrary, it is precisely comparison and criticism that helps us to preserve theology from being transformed into ideology. Also remember that the best way to engage in dialogue is not that of speaking and discussing, but rather of doing something together, of constructing something, of making projects: not alone, among Catholics, but along with all people of goodwill”.
“But the Church also knows how to give a clear answer to the threats that emerge within public debate: this is one of the forms of specific contributions that the faithful offer to the construction of common society. Believers are citizens. … I appeal above all to the young: overcome apathy. … Do not look down on life from the balcony, but rather get involved, immerse yourselves in broad social and political dialogue. … Our times require us to live problems as challenges and not as obstacles: the Lord is active and at work in the world. … Wherever you are, never construct walls or frontiers, but instead open squares and field hospitals”.
“I would like a restless Italian Church, ever closer to the abandoned, the forgotten, the imperfect. I wish for a joyful Church with the face of a mother, who understands, accompanies and caresses. May you too dream of this Church, believe in her, innovate freely. The Christian humanism that you are called upon to live radically affirms that dignity of every person as Son of God, establishes between all human beings a fundamental fraternity, teaches to understand work, to inhabit creation as our common home, and provides reasons for joy and humour, even in a life that is often very hard”.

Dear Mr. Douthat,

   I just listened to your First Things Erasmus Lecture: "The Crisis of Conservative Catholicism" of Oct. 26, 2015 -  - and wondered if the context of liberal-conservative discourse could not be mistaken in itself. That is, perhaps we are not talking about doctrine, liberal or conservative at all. Rather, as the pope said in Florence on this November 10:  “Faced with the ills or the problems of the Church, it is useless to seek solutions in conservatism or fundamentalism, in the restoration of outdated forms and conduct that have no capacity for meaning, even culturally. Christian doctrine is not a closed system incapable of generating questions, doubts and uncertainties, but it is living, it knows how to disturb and to encourage. Its face is not rigid, it has a body that moves and develops, it has tender flesh; Christian doctrine is called Jesus Christ.” 

       That is, doctrine is not the point. Thought and truth are not reducible to conceptual "doctrine." The Person of Jesus Christ is the point, and we do not "know" the Person by concepts be they conservative or liberal. We are really in another horizon of knowing which is a consciousness of a Person Who can be known only experientially. You made t wo references to Hegel that were throwaways, but significant, and made me think that perhaps you might be open to what the pope is suggesting. Not that the pope is an Hegelian. I believe him to be Peter who knew Christ and was able to say: 'You are the Christ, the Son...." That kind of knowledge is experiential and comes from self-transcendence - living outside of oneself.

      To be truly significant in this kairos will demand someone courageously moving the prism of perception from conceptual debate to a level of consciousness prior to the conceptual. I once read someone suggesting that the way to understand what went on in Vatican II was to understand that the music of always that was played in the key of F, was now being played in the key of C. Same music, different key. Perhaps we could profit from that analogy.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Presence of God

Presence of God and contemplative life are one and the same thing. Both are the result of the act and the experience of going out of oneself. They do not consist in conceptual knowing as snapshots of reality, but the self experiencing itself as transcending itself.
            I think we falsify what is really going on here particularly because we presume that we know through mental images that we fabricate of real things “outside” of us. Then, the problem arises as to how we can reach the reality of things outside of us if we have populated our minds or brains with “respresentations” “inside” of us in order “to know” what is “outside.”
            Walker Percy tried to under stand knowing in terms of a reductive biologism – a kind of biological engineering -  whereby there is a stimulus outside, and a reaction inside. The attempt was to explain language, and therefore thought in terms of this binomial of physical stimulus and response. 
Following the philosopher Charles Peirce, Walker Percy was attempting to understand the nature of language, and he found it to be beyond physical stimulus and response. He wrote: “the point is that the picture the psychologist draws, showing stimuli and responses, big S’s and R’s outside the brain, little s’s and r’s inside the brain, with arrows showing the course of nerve impulses along nerves and across synapses, no matter how complicated it is, will not show what happens when a child understands that the sound ball is the name of a class of round objects, or when I say The center is not holding and you understand me.”
            Peirce offered “thirdness” beyond the dualism of stimulus and response. Percy finds and offers the example of Helen Keller (who is deaf, dumb and blind) coming to knowledge and liberation from the dungeon of the deaf, dumb and blind self to a self open to the totality of reality. She did this in a kind of lucky moment when her nurse, Anne Sullivan, was trying to teach her the meaning of “mean.” She had already known by association that the Braille symbol for water meant that cool liquid  something that could slake her thirst. But there was some thing missing: the “I” who knew what the Braille symbol “meant.” She could associate as an animal associates, but she did not know what “mean” meant – until Anne was pouring the water from the pump in Tuscumbia, Alabama in 1888, and some thing amazing took place. She “symbolized” the Braille and “threw” it at the water. This was done by a free, fortuitous act of the third reality, her “I.”
            Helen Keller: “We walked down the path to the well-house, attracted by the fragrance of the honeysuckle with which it was covered. Someone was drawing water and my teacher placed my hand under the spout. As the cool stream gushed over one hand, she spelled into the other the word water, first slowly then rapidly. I stood still, my whole attention fixed upon the motion of her fingers. Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness as of something forgotten – a thrill of returning thought; and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me. I knew then that `w-a-t-e-r’ meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand. That living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free! There were barriers still, it is true, but barriers that could in time be swept away.
                I left the well-house eager to learn. Everything had a name, and each name gave birth to a new thought. As we returned to the house every object which I touched seemed to quiver with life. That was because I saw everything with the strange, new sight that had come to me. On entering the door I remembered the doll I had broken. [She had earlier destroyed the doll in a fit of temper.] I felt my way to the dearth and picked up the pieces. I tried vainly to put them together. Then my eyes filled with tears; for I realized what I had done, and for the first time I felt repentance and sorrow.”[1]

                What had happened? Helen had exercised her subjectivity as cause by “throwing” (βαλέιν) the “likeness” (sym): w-a-t-e-r at the wet flowing object. She had experienced herself as cause, and therefore came to a consciousness of herself as “self.” Percy comments: “before, Helen had behaved like a good responding organism. Afterward, she acted like a rejoicing symbol-mongering human. Before, she was little more than an animal. Afterward, she became wholly human. Within the few minutes of the breakthrough and the several hours of exploiting it Helen had concentrated the months of the naming phase that most children go through somewhere around their second birthday.”[2]
What does this mean?  I haven’t thought or read enough to unpack all the implications. It clearly removes the rationalism from the Enlightenment from Descartes onward, while recovering the "I" of the Enlightenment as real being. That is, it seems that we understand (legere ab intus) reality by the experience of ourselves as being on the move out of ourselves. Ratzinger developed his “theological epistemology” of “knowing” the Person of Christ as divine Person, by the profundity of becoming Christ, or as it was said in Francis’ Aparecida in 2007, “Only God knows God.” Ratzinger showed that the Apostles had been with Christ in prayer to the Father, and it was in this context that Christ asked: “Who do men say that I am”? Simon answer: Some say John the Baptist, Jeremiah or one of the prophets. And then: “Who do you say that I am?” Simon answered from the experience of transcending himself in prayer: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Christ now changes his name from Simon to Peter and reveals the Cross to him. Christ gave Simon His own name (Cornerstone): Petros/Peter.
   The point is that we can have a continuous presence of God, by having a continuous experience of transcending ourselves in ordinary  life, by mastering ourselves and “turning all the circumstances and events of my life into occasions of loving you…” Ordinary secular life is the proper context for the experience of going out of myself and becoming conscious of being Christ Himself. One has presence of God by becoming God. We can experientially turn all of ordinary life into prayer. This is not pantheism but the experience of holiness and divinization.

[1] Ibid 34-35.
[2] Ibid 38.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Francis: The “New Evangelization” – Not Doctrine but Sanctity For All, By Missionary Apostolate

To go to the roots of the confusion in the north over what Pope Francis is saying, it may be helpful to consider the two ways the north and south consider Humanae Vitae. In the north we see it as an issue of personal morality. In the Latin south, they see it as the Church coming to the defense of the culture of the people.

                I repeat Austen Ivereigh’s remarks from yesterday’s post:

Just as the church in Spain and Italy was the source for the Counter-Reformation, and the church of France and Germany the source for the Second Vatican Council, Latin America is now the wellspring of a new era of church reform. If Francis perplexes Europeans and North Americans long accustomed to thinking in liberal-conservative terms, it is because he uses a lens and a language that come from outside those categories.

[What are those categories? The North has reduced its intellectual scope to “the object” and a conceptualization of that object. Its name is rationalism]. The South continues to work within the experience of persons and subjects].

“For a recent example, consider his remarks in January on birth control that ended being drowned, in the reporting of the interview aboard the papal plane back from Manila, Philippines, by his "rabbits" remark. The remarkable thing was Francis' articulation of Pope Paul VI's opposition to artificial contraception in terms of a bravely prophetic stance on behalf of the poor of the world against the powers of the age, driven by neo-Malthusian and eugenic assumptions that poverty is a consequence of population.

“Liberals in the North, who both inside and outside the church have seen this as an issue of personal autonomy rather than an anticolonial defense of the rights of the poor, were taken aback. But so too were conservatives, accustomed to defending Humanae Vitae in doctrinal terms.

[It is important to understand that there are two levels of discourse that correspond to two levels of experience: the experience of the sensible world that we render conceptually by abstraction; and the experience of the subjective self – the “I” that is ontologically real – that experiences itself experiencing the sensible reality.  Where the experience of the sensible that issues in concepts (that are not “real” as abstract universals), the experience of the “I” as subject doing the experiencing is consciousness that is ground of “meaning” of what is sensed and conceptualized.[1] I would say that there is nothing more important in understanding what is at play in the discourse today than this distinction between the experience of sensing something, and the experience of myself acting. These are two distinct but totally complementary types of experience. The one yields a knowledge through concepts. The other yields the knowledge which is consciousness. This consciousness is the context of "meaning" of all that is sensed and conceptualized. It is the arena of "conscience." It is also the arena of the consciousness of the Creator and Redeemer that accompanies us at all times. Notice that it is not known directly ["intentionally"], but is the background music of all "knowing." It is "pre-conceptual" without which what we conceptualize is "meaningless."]

Ivereigh continues: “Francis' words were wholly of a piece with the 1968 meeting of CELAM, the Latin American bishops' council, in Medellín, Colombia. The meeting had a profound impact on Jorge Mario Bergoglio, then finishing his Jesuit theology studies.

Medellín -- which famously articulated the "option for the poor" -- sawHumanae Vitae in terms of Rome coming to the aid of poor countries besieged by rich-world-funded development strategies and the imposition of an "eroticism of bourgeois civilization." This was the church speaking on behalf of the evangelized poor, defending their culture.

Similarly, more than 40 years later on the papal plane, Francis spoke of "ideological colonization," just as he had earlier told parents in Manila, "Peoples must not lose their freedom. A people has its culture, its history."
What is at stake here is that we know reality truly only when we know the source of reality: The Creator, the Source of all existence: Existence Itself. And we know the Creator only when we know Jesus Christ Who is uniquely God-man. “No one can come to the Father except through Me” (Jn. 14, 6). And the profound reason for this is that God is not “part” of the world, not even the supreme part. He is not Supreme Being, First Cause, Necessary Being, Perfect Being nor Ultimate End.  He is “To Be” Itself (St. Thomas’s Ipsum Esse Subsistent) and therefore not discernible through any experience of the sensible created order. This is the God of Jesus Christ, One and Three where the Persons are One because Father, Son and Spirit are pure Actions as Relations of an uncreated order. Therefore, the God of Jesus Christ cannot be known unless “He” reveals Himself. – which has been through Jesus Christ. There is a natural knowledge of God, but it is not the God of Jesus Christ.
        So, how does this “knowledge” of Jesus Christ – Who is a divine Person – take place? Ratzinger’s simple and profound response that appeared as Dei Verbum 5, is “obedience” to the Word. One knows the God of Jesus Christ by becoming Jesus Christ. Like is known by like. Christ does not teach dogma but says: “Follow Me.” And He spends the night in prayer. The Person of Jesus Christ reveals Himself in His divinity as prayer, service, love and mercy. In a word, “Gift.” Therefore one learns to “know” God by the giving of the self.
        This is the “new evangelization.” This is the Aparecida document. This is Benedict’s evaluation of the document, which is the following:

te: 2007-05-13
Pope's Opening Address for Aparecida Conference: CELAM
"Not Only the Continent of Hope, but Also the Continent of Love!"
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Dear Brother Bishops, beloved priests, religious men and women and laypeople,

Dear observers from other religious confessions:

It gives me great joy to be here today with you to inaugurate the Fifth General Conference of the Bishops of Latin America and the Caribbean, which is being held close to the Shrine of Our Lady of Aparecida, Patroness of Brazil. I would like to begin with words of thanksgiving and praise to God for the great gift of the Christian faith to the peoples of this Continent.

1. The Christian faith in Latin America

Faith in God has animated the life and culture of these nations for more than five centuries. From the encounter between that faith and the indigenous peoples, there has emerged the rich Christian culture of this Continent, expressed in art, music, literature, and above all, in the religious traditions and in the peoples’ whole way of being, united as they are by a shared history and a shared creed that give rise to a great underlying harmony, despite the diversity of cultures and languages. At present, this same faith has some serious challenges to address, because the harmonious development of society and the Catholic identity of these peoples are in jeopardy. In this regard, the Fifth General Conference is preparing to reflect upon this situation, in order to help the Christian faithful to live their faith with joy and coherence, to deepen their awareness of being disciples and missionaries of Christ, sent by him into the world to proclaim and to bear witness to our faith and love.


Yet what did the acceptance of the Christian faith mean for the nations of Latin America and the Caribbean? For them, it meant knowing and welcoming Christ, the unknown God whom their ancestors were seeking, without realizing it, in their rich religious traditions. Christ is the Saviour for whom they were silently longing. It also meant that they received, in the waters of Baptism, the divine life that made them children of God by adoption; moreover, they received the Holy Spirit who came to make their cultures fruitful, purifying them and developing the numerous seeds that the incarnate Word had planted in them, thereby guiding them along the paths of the Gospel. In effect, the proclamation of Jesus and of his Gospel did not at any point involve an alienation of the pre-Columbus cultures, nor was it the imposition of a foreign culture. Authentic cultures are not closed in upon themselves, nor are they set in stone at a particular point in history, but they are open, or better still, they are seeking an encounter with other cultures, hoping to reach universality through encounter and dialogue with other ways of life and with elements that can lead to a new synthesis, in which the diversity of expressions is always respected as well as the diversity of their particular cultural embodiment.

Ultimately, it is only the truth that can bring unity, and the proof of this is love. That is why Christ, being in truth the incarnate Logos, "love to the end", is not alien to any culture, nor to any person; on the contrary, the response that he seeks in the heart of cultures is what gives them their ultimate identity, uniting humanity and at the same time respecting the wealth of diversity, opening people everywhere to growth in genuine humanity, in authentic progress. The Word of God, in becoming flesh in Jesus Christ, also became history and culture.

The Utopia of going back to breathe life into the pre-Columbus religions, separating them from Christ and from the universal Church, would not be a step forward: indeed, it would be a step back. In reality, it would be a retreat towards a stage in history anchored in the past.

The wisdom of the indigenous peoples fortunately led them to form a synthesis between their cultures and the Christian faith which the missionaries were offering them. Hence the rich and profound popular religiosity, in which we see the soul of the Latin American peoples:

-- love for the suffering Christ, the God of compassion, pardon and reconciliation; the God who loved us to the point of handing himself over for us;

-- love for the Lord present in the Eucharist, the incarnate God, dead and risen in order to be the bread of life;

-- the God who is close to the poor and to those who suffer;

-- the profound devotion to the most holy Virgin of Guadalupe, the Aparecida, the Virgin invoked under various national and local titles. When the Virgin of Guadalupe appeared to the native Indian Saint Juan Diego, she spoke these important words to him: "Am I not your mother? Are you not under my shadow and my gaze? Am I not the source of your joy? Are you not sheltered underneath my mantle, under the embrace of my arms?" (Nican Mopohua, Nos. 118-119).

This religiosity is also expressed in devotion to the saints with their patronal feasts, in love for the Pope and the other Pastors, and in love for the universal Church as the great family of God, that neither can nor ever should leave her children alone or destitute. All this forms the great mosaic of popular piety which is the precious treasure of the Catholic Church in Latin America, and must be protected, promoted and, when necessary, purified.

2. Continuity with the other Conferences

This Fifth General Conference is being celebrated in continuity with the other four that preceded it: in Rio de Janeiro, Medellín, Puebla and Santo Domingo. With the same spirit that was at work there, the Bishops now wish to give a new impetus to evangelization, so that these peoples may continue to grow and mature in their faith in order to be the light of the world and witnesses to Jesus Christ with their own lives.

After the Fourth General Conference, in Santo Domingo, many changes took place in society. The Church which shares in the achievements and the hopes, the sufferings and the joys of her children, wishes to walk alongside them at this challenging time, so as to inspire them always with hope and comfort (cf. "Gaudium et Spes," 1).


Today’s world experiences the phenomenon of globalization as a network of relationships extending over the whole planet. Although from certain points of view this benefits the great family of humanity, and a sign of its profound aspiration towards unity, nevertheless it also undoubtedly brings with it the risk of vast monopolies and of treating profit as the supreme value. As in all areas of human activity, globalization too must be led by ethics, placing everything at the service of the human person, created in the image and likeness of God.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as in other regions, there has been notable progress towards democracy, although there are grounds for concern in the face of authoritarian forms of government and regimes wedded to certain ideologies that we thought had been superseded, and which do not correspond to the Christian vision of man and society as taught by the Social Doctrine of the Church. On the other side of the coin, the liberal economy of some Latin American countries must take account of equity, because of the ever increasing sectors of society that find themselves oppressed by immense poverty or even despoiled of their own natural resources.

In the ecclesial communities of Latin America there is a notable degree of maturity in faith among the many active lay men and women devoted to the Lord, and there are also many generous catechists, many young people, new ecclesial movements and recently established Institutes of consecrated life. Many Catholic educational, charitable or housing initiatives have proved essential. Yet it is true that one can detect a certain weakening of Christian life in society overall and of participation in the life of the Catholic Church, due to secularism, hedonism, indifferentism and proselytism by numerous sects, animist religions and new pseudo-religious phenomena.

All of this constitutes a new situation which will be analyzed here at Aparecida. Faced with new and difficult choices, the faithful are looking to this Fifth Conference for renewal and revitalization of their faith in Christ, our one Teacher and Saviour, who has revealed to us the unique experience of the infinite love of God the Father for mankind. From this source, new paths and creative pastoral plans will be able to emerge, capable of instilling a firm hope for living out the faith joyfully and responsibly, and thus spreading it in one’s own surroundings.

3. Disciples and Missionaries

This General Conference has as its theme: "Disciples and Missionaries of Jesus Christ, so that our peoples may have life in him -- I am the Way, the Truth and the Life" (John 14:6).

The Church has the great task of guarding and nourishing the faith of the People of God, and reminding the faithful of this Continent that, by virtue of their Baptism, they are called to be disciples and missionaries of Jesus Christ. This implies following him, living in intimacy with him, imitating his example and bearing witness. Every baptized person receives from Christ, like the Apostles, the missionary mandate: "Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized, will be saved" (Mark 16:15). To be disciples and missionaries of Jesus Christ and to seek life "in him" presupposes being deeply rooted in him.

THE VALUE OF CHRIST: LIFE [Blogger: my title]

What does Christ actually give us? Why do we want to be disciples of Christ? The answer is: because, in communion with him, we hope to find life, the true life that is worthy of the name, and thus we want to make him known to others, to communicate to them the gift that we have found in him. But is it really so? Are we really convinced that Christ is the way, the truth and the life?

In the face of the priority of faith in Christ and of life "in him", formulated in the title of this Fifth Conference, a further question could arise: could this priority not perhaps be a flight towards emotionalism, towards religious individualism, an abandonment of the urgent reality of the great economic, social and political problems of Latin America and the world, and a flight from reality towards a spiritual world?

WHAT IS THE “REAL”? [My title]

As a first step, we can respond to this question with another: what is this "reality"? What is real? Are only material goods, social, economic and political problems "reality"? This was precisely the great error of the dominant tendencies of the last century, a most destructive error, as we can see from the results of both Marxist and capitalist systems. They falsify the notion of reality by detaching it from the foundational and decisive reality which is God. Anyone who excludes God from his horizons falsifies the notion of "reality" and, in consequence, can only end up in blind alleys or with recipes for destruction.

ANSWER: [My title]
The first basic point to affirm, then, is the following: only those who recognize God know reality and are able to respond to it adequately and in a truly human manner. The truth of this thesis becomes evident in the face of the collapse of all the systems that marginalize God.

WHO KNOWS GOD? [My titles]

Yet here a further question immediately arises: who knows God? How can we know him? We cannot enter here into a complex discussion of this fundamental issue. For a Christian, the nucleus of the reply is simple: only God knows God, only his Son who is God from God, true God, knows him. And he "who is nearest to the Father’s heart has made him known" (John 1:18). Hence the unique and irreplaceable importance of Christ for us, for humanity. If we do not know God in and with Christ, all of reality is transformed into an indecipherable enigma; there is no way, and without a way, there is neither life nor truth.

God is the foundational reality, not a God who is merely imagined or hypothetical, but God with a human face; he is God-with-us, the God who loves even to the Cross. When the disciple arrives at an understanding of this love of Christ "to the end", he cannot fail to respond to this love with a similar love: "I will follow you wherever you go" (Luke 9:57).


We can ask ourselves a further question: what does faith in this God give us? The first response is: it gives us a family, the universal family of God in the Catholic Church. Faith releases us from the isolation of the "I", because it leads us to communion: the encounter with God is, in itself and as such, an encounter with our brothers and sisters, an act of convocation, of unification, of responsibility towards the other and towards others. In this sense, the preferential option for the poor is implicit in the Christological faith in the God who became poor for us, so as to enrich us with his poverty (cf. 2 Corinthians 8:9).

Yet before we consider what is entailed by the realism of our faith in the God who became man, we must explore the question more deeply: how can we truly know Christ so as to be able to follow him and live with him, so as to find life in him and to communicate that life to others, to society and to the world? First and foremost, Christ makes his person, his life and his teaching known to us through the word of God. At the beginning of this new phase that the missionary Church of Latin America and the Caribbean is preparing to enter, starting with this Fifth General Conference in Aparecida, an indispensable pre-condition is profound knowledge of the word of God.


To achieve this, we must train people to read and meditate on the word of God: this must become their staple diet, so that, through their own experience [my underline], the faithful will see that the words of Jesus are spirit and life (cf. John 6:63). Otherwise, how could they proclaim a message whose content and spirit they do not know thoroughly? We must build our missionary commitment and the whole of our lives on the rock of the word of God. For this reason, I encourage the Bishops to strive to make it known.

An important way of introducing the People of God to the mystery of Christ is through catechesis. Here, the message of Christ is transmitted in a simple and substantial form. It is therefore necessary to intensify the catechesis and the faith formation not only of children but also of young people and adults. Mature reflection on faith is a light for the path of life and a source of strength for witnessing to Christ. Most valuable tools with which to achieve this are the Catechism of the Catholic Church and its abridged version, the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

In this area, we must not limit ourselves solely to homilies, lectures, Bible courses or theology courses, but we must have recourse also to the communications media: press, radio and television, websites, forums and many other methods for effectively communicating the message of Christ to a large number of people.

In this effort to come to know the message of Christ and to make it a guide for our own lives, we must remember that evangelization has always developed alongside the promotion of the human person and authentic Christian liberation. "Love of God and love of neighbour have become one; in the least of the brethren we find Jesus himself, and in Jesus we find God" (Encyclical Letter "Deus Caritas Est," 15). For the same reason, there will also need to be social catechesis and a sufficient formation in the social teaching of the Church, for which a very useful tool is the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. The Christian life is not expressed solely in personal virtues, but also in social and political virtues.

The disciple, founded in this way upon the rock of God’s word, feels driven to bring the Good News of salvation to his brothers and sisters. Discipleship and mission are like the two sides of a single coin: when the disciple is in love with Christ, he cannot stop proclaiming to the world that only in him do we find salvation (cf. Acts 4:12). In effect, the disciple knows that without Christ there is no light, no hope, no love, no future.

4. "So that in him they may have life"

The peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean have the right to a full life, proper to the children of God, under conditions that are more human: free from the threat of hunger and from every form of violence. For these peoples, their Bishops must promote a culture of life which can permit, in the words of my predecessor Paul VI, "the passage from misery towards the possession of necessities … the acquisition of culture … cooperation for the common good … the acknowledgement by man of supreme values, and of God, their source and their finality" ("Populorum Progressio," 21).

In this context I am pleased to recall the Encyclical "Populorum Progressio," the fortieth anniversary of which we celebrate this year. This Papal document emphasizes that authentic development must be integral, that is, directed to the promotion of the whole person and of all people (cf. No. 14), and it invites all to overcome grave social inequalities and the enormous differences in access to goods. These peoples are yearning, above all, for the fullness of life that Christ brought us: "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly" (John 10:10). With this divine life, human existence is likewise developed to the full, in its personal, family, social and cultural dimensions.

In order to form the disciple and sustain the missionary in his great task, the Church offers him, in addition to the bread of the word, the bread of the Eucharist. In this regard, we find inspiration and illumination in the passage from the Gospel about the disciples on the road to Emmaus. When they sit at table and receive from Jesus Christ the bread that has been blessed and broken, their eyes are opened and they discover the face of the Risen Lord, they feel in their hearts that everything he said and did was the truth, and that the redemption of the world has already begun to unfold. Every Sunday and every Eucharist is a personal encounter with Christ. Listening to God’s word, our hearts burn because it is he who is explaining and proclaiming it. When we break the bread at the Eucharist, it is he whom we receive personally. The Eucharist is indispensable nourishment for the life of the disciple and missionary of Christ.

Sunday Mass, Centre of Christian life

Hence the need to give priority in pastoral programmes to appreciation of the importance of Sunday Mass. We must motivate Christians to take an active part in it, and if possible, to bring their families, which is even better. The participation of parents with their children at Sunday Mass is an effective way of teaching the faith and it is a close bond that maintains their unity with one another. Sunday, throughout the Church’s life, has been the privileged moment of the community’s encounter with the risen Lord.

Christians should be aware that they are not following a character from past history, but the living Christ, present in the today and the now of their lives. He is the living one who walks alongside us, revealing to us the meaning of events, of suffering and death, of rejoicing and feasting, entering our homes and remaining there, feeding us with the bread that gives life. For this reason Sunday Mass must be the centre of Christian life.

The encounter with Christ in the Eucharist calls forth a commitment to evangelization and an impulse towards solidarity; it awakens in the Christian a strong desire to proclaim the Gospel and to bear witness to it in the world so as to build a more just and humane society. From the Eucharist, in the course of the centuries, an immense wealth of charity has sprung forth, of sharing in the difficulties of others, of love and of justice. Only from the Eucharist will the civilization of love spring forth which will transform Latin America and the Caribbean, making them not only the Continent of Hope, but also the Continent of Love!

Social and Political problems

Having arrived at this point, we can ask ourselves a question: how can the Church contribute to the solution of urgent social and political problems, and respond to the great challenge of poverty and destitution? The problems of Latin America and the Caribbean, like those of today’s world, are multifaceted and complex, and they cannot be dealt with through generic programmes. Undoubtedly, the fundamental question about the way that the Church, illuminated by faith in Christ, should react to these challenges, is one that concerns us all.

In this context, we inevitably speak of the problem of structures, especially those which create injustice. In truth, just structures are a condition without which a just order in society is not possible. But how do they arise? How do they function? Both capitalism[RAC1]  and Marxism promised to point out the path for the creation of just structures, and they declared that these, once established, would function by themselves; they declared that not only would they have no need of any prior individual morality, but that they would promote a communal morality. And this ideological promise has been proved false. The facts have clearly demonstrated it. The Marxist system, where it found its way into government, not only left a sad heritage of economic and ecological destruction, but also a painful destruction of the human spirit. And we can also see the same thing happening in the West, where the distance between rich and poor is growing constantly, and giving rise to a worrying degradation of personal dignity through drugs, alcohol and deceptive illusions of happiness [My underline and bold].

Just structures are, as I have said, an indispensable condition for a just society, but they neither arise nor function without a moral consensus in society on fundamental values, and on the need to live these values with the necessary sacrifices, even if this goes against personal interest.

Where God is absent -- God with the human face of Jesus Christ -- these values fail to show themselves with their full force, nor does a consensus arise concerning them. I do not mean that non-believers cannot live a lofty and exemplary morality; I am only saying that a society in which God is absent will not find the necessary consensus on moral values or the strength to live according to the model of these values, even when they are in conflict with private interests.

On the other hand, just structures must be sought and elaborated in the light of fundamental values, with the full engagement of political, economic and social reasoning. They are a question of recta ratio and they do not arise from ideologies nor from their premises. Certainly there exists a great wealth of political experience and expertise on social and economic problems that can highlight the fundamental elements of a just state and the paths that must be avoided. But in different cultural and political situations, amid constant developments in technology and changes in the historical reality of the world, adequate answers must be sought in a rational manner, and a consensus must be created -- with the necessary commitments -- on the structures that must be established.

This political task is not the immediate competence of the Church. Respect for a healthy secularity -- including the pluralism of political opinions -- is essential in the authentic Christian tradition. If the Church were to start transforming herself into a directly political subject, she would do less, not more, for the poor and for justice, because she would lose her independence and her moral authority, identifying herself with a single political path and with debatable partisan positions. The Church is the advocate of justice and of the poor, precisely because she does not identify with politicians nor with partisan interests. Only by remaining independent can she teach the great criteria and inalienable values, guide consciences and offer a life choice that goes beyond the political sphere. To form consciences, to be the advocate of justice and truth, to educate in individual and political virtues: that is the fundamental vocation of the Church in this area. And lay Catholics must be aware of their responsibilities in public life; they must be present in the formation of the necessary consensus and in opposition to injustice.

Just structures will never be complete in a definitive way. As history continues to evolve, they must be constantly renewed and updated; they must always be imbued with a political and humane ethos -- and we have to work hard to ensure its presence and effectiveness. In other words, the presence of God, friendship with the incarnate Son of God, the light of his word: these are always fundamental conditions for the presence and efficacy of justice and love in our societies.

This being a Continent of baptized Christians, it is time to overcome the notable absence -- in the political sphere, in the world of the media and in the universities -- of the voices and initiatives of Catholic leaders with strong personalities and generous dedication, who are coherent in their ethical and religious convictions. The ecclesial movements have plenty of room here to remind the laity of their responsibility and their mission to bring the light of the Gospel into public life, into culture, economics and politics.

5. Other priority areas

In order to bring about this renewal of the Church that has been entrusted to your care in these lands, let me draw your attention to some areas that I consider priorities for this new phase.

The family

The family, the "patrimony of humanity", constitutes one of the most important treasures of Latin American countries. The family was and is the school of faith, the training-ground for human and civil values, the hearth in which human life is born and is generously and responsibly welcomed. Undoubtedly, it is currently suffering a degree of adversity caused by secularism and by ethical relativism, by movements of population internally and externally, by poverty, by social instability and by civil legislation opposed to marriage which, by supporting contraception and abortion, is threatening the future of peoples.

In some families in Latin America there still unfortunately persists a chauvinist mentality that ignores the "newness" of Christianity, in which the equal dignity and responsibility of women relative to men is acknowledged and affirmed.

The family is irreplaceable for the personal serenity it provides and for the upbringing of children. Mothers who wish to dedicate themselves fully to bringing up their children and to the service of their family must enjoy conditions that make this possible, and for this they have the right to count on the support of the State. In effect, the role of the mother is fundamental for the future of society.

The father, for his part, has the duty to be a true father, fulfilling his indispensable responsibility and cooperating in bringing up the children. The children, for their integral growth, have a right to be able to count on their father and mother, who take care of them and accompany them on their way towards the fullness of life. Consequently there has to be intense and vigorous pastoral care of families. Moreover, it is indispensable to promote authentic family policies corresponding to the rights of the family as an essential subject in society. The family constitutes part of the good of peoples and of the whole of humanity.


The first promoters of discipleship and mission are those who have been called "to be with Jesus and to be sent out to preach" (cf. Mark 3:14), that is, the priests. They must receive preferential attention and paternal care from their Bishops, because they are the primary instigators of authentic renewal of Christian life among the People of God. I should like to offer them a word of paternal affection, hoping that "the Lord will be their portion and cup" (cf. Psalm 16:5). If the priest has God as the foundation and centre of his life, he will experience the joy and the fruitfulness of his vocation. The priest must be above all a "man of God" (1 Timothy 6:11) who knows God directly, who has a profound personal friendship with Jesus, who shares with others the same sentiments that Christ has (cf. Philippians 2:5). Only in this way will the priest be capable of leading men to God, incarnate in Jesus Christ, and of being the representative of his love. In order to accomplish his lofty task, the priest must have a solid spiritual formation, and the whole of his life must be imbued with faith, hope and charity. Like Jesus, he must be one who seeks, through prayer, the face and the will of God, and he must be attentive to his cultural and intellectual preparation.

Dear priests of this Continent, and those of you who have come here to work as missionaries, the Pope accompanies you in your pastoral work and wants you to be full of joy and hope; above all he prays for you.

Religious men and women and consecrated persons

I now want to address the religious men and women and consecrated members of the lay faithful. Latin American and Caribbean society needs your witness: in a world that so often gives priority to seeking well-being, wealth and pleasure as the goal of life, exalting freedom to the point where it takes the place of the truth of man created by God, you are witnesses that there is another meaningful way to live; remind your brothers and sisters that the Kingdom of God has already arrived; that justice and truth are possible if we open ourselves to the loving presence of God our Father, of Christ our brother and Lord, and of the Holy Spirit, our Comforter. With generosity and with heroism, you must continue working to ensure that society is ruled by love, justice, goodness, service and solidarity in conformity with the charism of your founders. With profound joy, embrace your consecration, which is an instrument of sanctification for you and of redemption for your brothers and sisters.

The Church in Latin America thanks you for the great work that you have accomplished over the centuries for the Gospel of Christ in favour of your brothers and sisters, especially the poorest and most deprived. I invite you always to work together with the Bishops and to work in unity with them, since they are the ones responsible for pastoral action. I exhort you also to sincere obedience towards the authority of the Church. Set yourselves no other goal than holiness, as you have learned from your founders.

The lay faithful

At this time when the Church of this Continent is committing herself whole-heartedly to her missionary vocation, I remind the lay faithful that they too are the Church, the assembly called together by Christ so as to bring his witness to the whole world. All baptized men and women must become aware that they have been configured to Christ, the Priest, Prophet and Shepherd, by means of the common priesthood of the People of God. They must consider themselves jointly responsible for building society according to the criteria of the Gospel, with enthusiasm and boldness, in communion with their Pastors.

There are many of you here who belong to ecclesial movements, in which we can see signs of the varied presence and sanctifying action of the Holy Spirit in the Church and in today’s society. You are called to bring to the world the testimony of Jesus Christ, and to be a leaven of God’s love among others.

Young people and pastoral care of vocations

In Latin America the majority of the population is made up of young people. In this regard, we must remind them that their vocation is to be Christ’s friends, his disciples. Young people are not afraid of sacrifice, but of a meaningless life. They are sensitive to Christ’s call inviting them to follow him. They can respond to that call as priests, as consecrated men and women, or as fathers and mothers of families, totally dedicated to serving their brothers and sisters with all their time and capacity for dedication: with their whole lives. Young people must treat life as a continual discovery, never allowing themselves to be ensnared by current fashions or mentalities, but proceeding with a profound curiosity over the meaning of life and the mystery of God, the Creator and Father, and his Son, our Redeemer, within the human family. They must also commit themselves to a constant renewal of the world in the light of the Gospel. More still, they must oppose the facile illusions of instant happiness and the deceptive paradise offered by drugs, pleasure, and alcohol, and they must oppose every form of violence.

6. "Stay with us"

The deliberations of this Fifth General Conference lead us to make the plea of the disciples on the road to Emmaus our own: "Stay with us, for it is towards evening, and the day is now far spent" (Luke 24:29).

Stay with us, Lord, keep us company, even though we have not always recognized you. Stay with us, because all around us the shadows are deepening, and you are the Light; discouragement is eating its way into our hearts: make them burn with the certainty of Easter. We are tired of the journey, but you comfort us in the breaking of bread, so that we are able to proclaim to our brothers and sisters that you have truly risen and have entrusted us with the mission of being witnesses of your resurrection.

Stay with us, Lord, when mists of doubt, weariness or difficulty rise up around our Catholic faith; you are Truth itself, you are the one who reveals the Father to us: enlighten our minds with your word, and help us to experience the beauty of believing in you.

Remain in our families, enlighten them in their doubts, sustain them in their difficulties, console them in their sufferings and in their daily labours, when around them shadows build up which threaten their unity and their natural identity. You are Life itself: remain in our homes, so that they may continue to be nests where human life is generously born, where life is welcomed, loved and respected from conception to natural death.

Remain, Lord, with those in our societies who are most vulnerable; remain with the poor and the lowly, with indigenous peoples and Afro-Americans, who have not always found space and support to express the richness of their culture and the wisdom of their identity. Remain, Lord, with our children and with our young people, who are the hope and the treasure of our Continent, protect them from so many snares that attack their innocence and their legitimate hopes. O Good Shepherd, remain with our elderly and with our sick. Strengthen them all in faith, so that they may be your disciples and missionaries!


As I conclude my stay among you, I wish to invoke the protection of the Mother of God and Mother of the Church on you and on the whole of Latin America and the Caribbean. I beseech Our Lady in particular, under the title of Guadalupe, Patroness of America, and under the title of Aparecida, Patroness of Brazil, to accompany you in your exciting and demanding pastoral task. To her I entrust the People of God at this stage of the third Christian millennium. I also ask her to guide the deliberations and reflections of this General Conference and I ask her to bless with copious gifts the beloved peoples of this Continent.

[1] I am employing a scholastic epistemology of concepts as mediating “ things-in-the-intellect” whereby we “know.” This is a reification that is unreal that I will attempt to correct elsewhere with the help of  Sokolowski’s phenomenology.

 [RAC1]Most interesting! Marxism and capitalism are reaffirmed as inadequate as ideologies.