Posts Tagged ‘Catholic Worker’

79 Years Later, Big Media Discovers, Dr. Donohue Hammers, the Catholic Worker

Monday, May 28th, 2012

For the better part of fourscore years, major media did not generally refer to the Catholic Worker movement (1933- ) by its proper name when it caused a ruckus, but as the generic “radical group.” This changed on 5/14/12, when Catholic Worker activists staged a nonviolent protest at Barack Obama’s campaign headquarters in Chicago just prior to the 5/20 – 5/21/12 NATO Summit, and thereby garnered some of the first international media attention prior to the Summit.

Man in Catholic Worker T-Shirt with Chicago Police, Source: www.theblaze.com

This action also drew the interest of media commentator Glenn Beck, who like many others over the past eighty years (and many Catholic Workers themselves) wondered what the heck the Catholic Worker movement was. He therefore turned to Dr. Bill Donohue, the president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, for background on the Catholic Worker movement.

As one who supports both the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights and also contributes to the Catholic Worker, I was disappointed in Dr. Donahue’s rant on the 5/15/12 Glenn Beck show against some Catholic Worker activists (see about halfway down the linked page) for their demonstration against war at Barack Obama’s campaign headquarters in Chicago on 5/14/12. Here are some excerpts from the exchange between Mr. Beck and Dr. Donohue:

G. Beck: Tell me about this group.

B. Donohue: Yes, the Catholic Worker Movement began in 1933. A woman by the name of Dorothy Day–she was fairly radical at the time, and she traveled in some kind of left-wing circles. However, in fairness to her, she made some mistakes, I mean, at one point she had an abortion which she later regretted very deeply. She did reach out to the poor and she did include drug addicts and prostitutes and others, she took in people others would not.

GB: [uncertain reading] And so did Jesus. . .

BD: She was a strong opponent of the New Deal. She believed that Catholics had to go out and help each person personally, and not depend on the government, which would in fact would create a state of dependency. So to that extent by today’s markings she would be regarded as being somewhat conservative, quite unlike the ragtag band today that has slapped the name Catholic on their anarchism.

GB: OK, Dorothy Day is kind of a tough one because, I mean, I read the book [holds up Dr. Donohue’s book], and you know, you find out that she is against New Deal and you find out that she has a problem with it because it is government dependency, but she also married an anarchist and she is–I believe–I didn’t have a chance to check today–but I think that Obama and everybody else has done a big deal on Dorothy Day, and she’s a hero of the Uber Left. Is she just a, has she just been co-opted? — kind of like Dietrich Bonhoeffer has been co-opted by the Left–and he’s not a Lefty.

BD: No, she’s definitely been co-opted. Listen, the late John Cardinal O’Connor was a great man–and he was hardly some kind of screaming socialist–and he put her on the cause to sainthood. She was a good woman. She admitted she had made mistakes in the past. She wouldn’t be too happy, in fact, she’s got to be turning over in her grave to see that these people who are out there with the Occupy Wall Street people: they have no organization; they stand for nothing.

As a matter of fact–Glenn, just pick it up from here–They want a week without capitalism. The old Marxists would have said we want an eternity with socialism. They can’t sell socialism because it’s failed all over the globe. So all they want to do now is, like nihilists, they want to annihilate. They want to rip down capitalism. They don’t have a single blueprint to put in its place.

She actually did pay her dues. She went out there one-on-one to help the poor. These people all they do is they throw up their tents, they sing, they dance, they take over buildings and the like. They have nothing in common with Dorothy Day. They are a disgrace. And on top of that they’re in the wrong religion. We are not a pacifistic religion. They’re against NATO. I’m a veteran and the president of the Catholic League. I’m glad we have NATO, and I want a stronger NATO.

GB: OK, so, here’s the problem, Bill, and I’m so glad to have you on because you’ve got to go to the source, instead of, you know, you don’t, you don’t talk to the Chevy dealer about a Ford. Let’s talk to the Catholics about the Catholics. I see this, and I think the average non-Catholic sees this and says, What are the Catholics doing?

It’s just like, you know, you have the nun, I don’t remember her name, but she came out–was it Sr. Jean, or something–and she came out and she said, Hey, Obamacare is great, and you’re like: What are the Catholics doing now? But there is a real split in the Church. Do you know anything specifically about this group because, these guys, they’re communists.

BD: Yeah, they’re, I would call them more like anarchists, communists, whatever. A communist at least had a blueprint–they were totally flawed–but at least they had some idea where they thought [we] could take it. These people just want to tear down. They’re more like brats who see the Erector Set and they just want to destroy it, they don’t want to put up anything in its place. There’s nothing Catholic about them. They’re a ragtag group. They don’t have any board of directors. They have no headquarters. They could just slap the name Catholic on there and the media will give them that attention.

And you know what? They have a bipolar age distribution. In other words, there’s the very young, the ones in their twenties, who are very angry, they don’t want to get a job, and then the others who are about maybe six to twelve months away from assisted living.

GB: OK, so (laughter) you don’t mince any words. What you’re saying is that they’re the 60s hippies. . .

BD: That’s right.

GB: The radicals, and the twenty-somethings that they have co-opted. . .

BD: That’s right.

GB: Which is what, which is exactly what what we’re seeing in the universities.

BD: That’s exactly right. Everyone else has a job, they’re normal, they go to work. You have a generation of young people obviously in their twenties who don’t seem to want to, you know, get in step with the rest of us and get a job, or maybe they can’t get a job. And then you’ve got the old hippies who are out there, some of them are Catholic, some of them are Protestant, or Jewish, whatever they might be. They have more in common with each other certainly than the rank and file Catholics who go to church on Sunday and pay the bills for the Catholic Church. I guarantee its been a long time since these people ever went to church–and gave any money.

Which, take a look at the work of Arthur Brooks and others, the people on the Left are the ones who give the least amount of money to the poor. And there’s a reason for that. They think they have a right to pick the pocket of the rich and that’s the way to help the poor.

Dorothy Day knew better. You have the help them out one-on-one, and not just rip off the poor and say, My job is done. These people are a disgrace.

Source: Glenn Beck Program, 5/15/12, posted at www.theblaze.com, viewed 5/16/12

Now Dr. Donohue has a tough job fending off misleading SNAP attacks on the Catholic Church, defending good popes past and present against vicious slander, standing up for religious freedom especially on the HHS Mandate, and responding to a general cultural war against Catholic teaching and values–all this from the epicenter of New York, New York–and I support him and the Catholic League in his defense of the faith–but this time on the Catholic Worker he got it wrong.

Almost everything that Dr. Donahue said of the present-day Catholic Workers could also be–and was–said of Dorothy Day in her own time. She embraced both a form of Acts 2: 42-47 communism, an anarchism inspired by Peter Kropotkin, and a form of personalist pacifism. Each May for the past several decades, the Catholic Worker newspaper has republished its “aims and means” describing these positions.

As for whether Catholicism is a pacifistic religion, consider the famous words spoken by Servant of God Pope Paul VI on the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, October 4, 1965 at the United Nations. The original French conveys some of the emotional power of Paul VI’s statement:

Il suffit de rappeler que le sang de millions d’hommes, que des souffrances inouïes et innombrables, que d’inutiles massacres et d’épouvantables ruines sanctionnent le pacte qui vous unit, en un serment qui doit changer l’histoire future du monde: jamais plus la guerre, jamais plus la guerre! C’est la paix, la paix, qui doit guider le destin des peuples et de toute l’humanité!

http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/paul_vi/speeches/1965/documents/hf_p-vi_spe_19651004_united-nations_fr.html

It is enough to recall that the blood of millions, countless unheard-of sufferings, useless massacres and frightening ruins have sanctioned the agreement that unites you with an oath that ought to change the future history of the world: never again war, never again war! It is peace, peace, that has to guide the destiny of the nations of all mankind!

http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/paul_vi/speeches/1965/documents/hf_p-vi_spe_19651004_united-nations_en.html

Paul VI’s very historic speech, one of the first by a pope outside the Vatican in the modern era, is especially notable for the pro-life language in the final paragraphs. Some day Paul VI will be recognized as the visionary he was. Although the Catholic Church teaches a just war theory in the Catechism of the Catholic Church 2307-2317, the Church on a daily basis preaches, like Paul VI, to end almost every war.

It is therefore not surprising that some Catholics, especially young adults, take this message of peace literally.

Although doing so for often different reasons from those of the socialists or communists, Dorothy Day as a Catholic Worker attended many demonstrations that outraged the Catholics of her day as much as Dr. Donahue is outraged by the Catholic Workers joining with the Occupy movement in demonstrating in Chicago during the May 20-21, 2012 NATO Summit.

And as for being ragtag, believe me, the 5/14/12 demonstration Catholic Workers were no more nor less ragtag than Stanley Vishnewski, Dorothy Day’s first fabled ragtag disciple of thousands to follow.

For more background on the particular Catholic Worker group involved in the 5/14/12 demonstration, here’s an earlier article from Loyola Magazine on the White Rose Catholic Worker community in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago. Here’s also information from the Nuclear Resister pacifist blog on the 5/14/12 demonstration.

I have my own criticism of the Catholic Worker philosophy, and it is one shared with the late Msgr. Paul Hanly Furfey (1896-1992) of Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, the pioneering dean of Catholic priest sociologists (Full disclosure: Fr. Furfey and I corresponded for many years beginning in the late 1970s). While he is often considered a “Catholic Worker theologian,” in his Love and the Urban Ghetto, Fr. Furfey offered a sympathetic, balanced, but also unstinting critique of the Catholic Worker movement based upon his then 44 years of interactions with and support for the people in the movement. His critique is so important, with his book out of print, that I offer the bulk of it here:

Limits of the Catholic Worker Movement

by Fr. Paul Hanly Furfey, from Love and the Urban Ghetto, 1978, Maryknoll, NY, Orbis Books, pp. 119-130.

In 1934 and subsequently, many of us in the Department of Sociology at the Catholic University, both faculty and students, came to know the Catholic Worker rather well. We were all deeply impressed. The movement seemed to represent a giant step beyond Catholic liberalism. However, as time went on, we began to evaluate it as social scientists.

In one important respect the Catholic Worker went far beyond the liberals, who were swept off their feet by the government’s officially generated enthusiasm during World War II. Even though the Selective Service Act provided for conscientious objectors, the Catholic hierarchy made no move to cooperate. It was the Catholic Worker group that took the initiative and provided Catholic COs with opportunities for alternative service in forestry camps and elsewhere. All during the war the paper provided a forum for anti-war criticism. The entire present Catholic pacifist movement has its roots in the Catholic Worker. This has probably been the group’s proudest achievement. However, this is beyond the scope of the present book, which focuses on a different problem: the misery of the urban ghetto.

In some ways, however, the Catholic Worker group merely reinforced the work of the liberals. Thus their paper spoke strongly and to a wide audience in favor of racial desegregation and the rights of labor, often by means of excellent, on-the-spot reporting.

The chief day-by-day activity at Catholic Worker houses has always been feeding the derelicts, the outcasts, the homeless men and women who wander about the city streets without hope, often without any regular income or at best with a very inadequate income. That the free meals thus provided constitute a great act of Christian charity is beyond argument. It is a very necessary good work and one that tends to be neglected by the standard social agencies. However, by concentrating on a tiny fraction of the poor, one may distract attention from the vastly greater number of the other poor.

The social outcasts who are fed in bread lines or in other similar ways do indeed constitute only a tiny fraction of the poor. It is difficult to estimate, for any large city, the actual number of those to be classified as social outcasts. It is hard to define this category precisely and still harder to count the actual number who should be thus classified. For Washington, perhaps Maurine Beasley’s guess is as good as any. She gave an estimate of one thousand. This is well under 1 percent of the city’s poor as reported by the census. [Recent scientific surveys have increased estimates of the size of the homeless population in major cities, but they still represent a relatively small percentage of the poor in general–A. Schorsch, III]

By concentrating on a minuscule fraction of the poor, Catholic Worker groups tend to overlook the major problems of the slums as described in earlier chapters. Of course the aged poor, the sick poor, are also problems. Yet the chief problem of these areas is the problem of average residents, the normal boys and girls who find that local schools do not meet their needs, who drop out at the minimum legal age, functionally illiterate and untrained for any job. They may marry, but they usually find that normal family life is beyond their means. They are usually undernourished. They fall an easy prey to sickness. A few do, indeed, become the sort of outcasts that attract the love of Catholic Worker groups, but by that time their lives are wrecked. The great majority continue to suffer until they meet an early death, having been aided perhaps by our tragically inadequate welfare system, but probably not otherwise. By focusing on a tiny fraction of the poor, the Catholic Worker may even be doing the average slum dweller a disservice, as they distract attention from the less dramatic, but very tragic plight of the latter.

The social philosophy of the Catholic Worker looks toward an ideal society. As stated in the May 1977 issue of their paper, this will involve “a complete rejection of the present social order and a nonviolent revolution to establish an order more in accord with Christian values.” It is disappointing to find that the ideal proposed is Distributism: “We favor the establishment of a Distributist economy wherein those who have a vocation to the land will work on the farms surrounding the village and those who have other vocations will work in the village itself. In this way we will have a decentralized economy which will dispense with the State was we know it and will be federationist in character as was society during certain periods that preceded the rise of national states.”

A clear and quite obvious objection against this proposal is that it has been tried out rather often and has never worked. As stated in the preceding chapter, there was a wave of enthusiasm early in the last century for experiments of this sort, both in France and here in the United States. The Brook Farm experiment is perhaps the best known example. In spite of the commitment and enthusiasm of the participants, such ventures never succeeded.

It is surprising that Catholic Worker followers should still advocate Distributist communities after their own experience. Various groups among them have bought land in rural areas with these ideals in mind. Houses located on these farms have been pleasant places for rest, quiet work, and spiritual exercises. Yet they never developed in the direction indicated in the position paper quoted above.

One might even ask whether a society of the type described would be desirable, even it if were feasible. Is it really a good idea to turn back the clock? Do we really want to discard modern technology and restore life as it was before the machine age? Granted that many of the fruits of so-called “progress” are illusory, yet some of these fruits are good. Consider modern medicine, for example. It depends on an enormously intricate technology, the manufacture of drugs, the use of complicated equipment. It depends further on medical schools, on continuing research, on large medical libraries. Do we want to give up this complex technology for the sake of the simple life? In the United States the expectation of life at birth rose from 47.3 years in 1910 to 72.5 in 1975. Is Distributism worth the sacrifice of a quarter of a century of life?

[ASIII: In the next section, Fr. Furfey described the “Washington Experiment” in which ultimately two houses were set up in Washington DC–Martin de Porres House “to serve the derelicts,” and Fides House, “a large and formal settlement house. . . . to concentrate on the remaining 99 percent.” Fr. Furfey recounted many “individual successes”:]

All such successes were heart-warming. Yet gradually the staff began to realize that they were doing nothing, and could do nothing, to solve the essential problem of the ghetto. That problem was inherent in the very organization of the U.S. socio-economic system. Ghetto dwellers were excluded from any real participation in that system. Their voices were not heard. Few jobs were open to them, and those few jobs were menial, poorly paid, uninteresting, dead-end jobs. And without stable employment, stable family life is not possible. Ghetto people simply do not belong. Their needs are not taken seriously.

In the Fides House neighborhood a family usually undertook to support a child to the age of sixteen. It was difficult to do that much, and it was usually impossible to do more. At sixteen a boy or girl would drop out of school, this being the minimum age for doing so legally. At that time the child would probably be functionally illiterate and untrained for any job. It is extremely difficult for a poorly prepared boy or girl of this age to get any job in Washington. If one is lucky enough to get some sort of a job, it will surely be poorly paid.

There were many heart-rending cases. the bright, playful youngsters had made Fides House a joyful place. Then, after a few short years, they had become hopeless cases. One boy turned to robbery and spent ten years in prison. Another was murdered in a gambling dispute. Still another, after prison and a marriage break-up, killed his wife, her uncle, and himself on the street. Such cases dramatized for the staff the bitterness of ghetto life. And there was little Fides House could do. One might indeed, hope to get a decent job for this or that boy or girl. This would be an individual triumph, But it would not alter the economic system with its built-in sector of unemployment. The ghetto would remain as it was.

Conclusion

Only one conclusion seems possible. Radicalism on the Catholic Worker model could indeed ease the pain of an individual needy neighbor. Personalism provided a most beautiful Christian lifestyle. But this, unfortunately, was not enough. It is not genuine Christan love if one helps some individual and suffers an unjust social system to exist. For it is the system itself that make our neighbors suffer. To tolerate the system is to tolerate their agony. Christian love is inconsistent with such toleration. To help one’s neighbor in need requires a frontal attack on the evil system itself. There is no alternative.

Paul Hanly Furfey, Love and the Urban Ghetto, 1978, Maryknoll, NY, Orbis Books, pp. 119-130.

Fr. Furfey, the sociologist, did not see the Catholic Worker program of societal change through agrarian distributism likely ever to succeed. But Fr. Furfey, the peacemaker, with John C. Ford, SJ (1902-1989) one of the very few priests in America to contemporaneously decry the mass bombing of cities during WWII–finally condemned two decades later as “a crime against God and man himself” by the Second Vatican Council’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes–continued to support the Catholic Worker movement because of his objection to war and his belief in the “Worker’s” individual efforts at charity following Matthew 25:31-46.

With these critiques I agree, but with a further concern about the Catholic Worker: I learned in hundreds of different ways through twenty years working with the homeless at Friendship House in Chicago that alcoholism is a disease, and those who work with alcoholics must study this disease and work with medical facilities and professionals in order to get the best possible care for the homeless alcoholic and addicted, who will surely die without adequate treatment. If one is not assiduously working to get treatment for the ill, there is always a danger of keeping ill homeless people as “pets” in some strange moral fantasy-land.

Like the monastic movements, the Catholic Worker is an attempt at Christian perfectionism. Since the world continues to remain imperfect, such lifestyles pose particular challenges, yet continue to attract the young and the old. And since the Catholic Worker is a movement, it has indeed evolved since the Fr. Furfey’s 1978 critique (which echoed his similar 1930’s critique of the agrarian utopianism of the Catholic Worker within its own newspaper).

“The Worker” has also evolved by not only multiplying greatly in many cities and rural areas, but it has schooled itself in the techniques of nonviolent action, influenced by more senior activists like Kathy Kelly (full disclosure, my teaching colleague friend at St. Ignatius College Prep in Chicago, 1980-82), who appear now and again within Catholic Worker ranks and publications despite their own personal wrestling with the beliefs of Catholicism.

As a movement with a strong anarchist influence, the Catholic Worker varies from place to place in its Catholic orthodoxy and religious practice. Dr. Donohue is right: The “Worker” has no board of directors, no headquarters, but this allows for dozens of different initiatives to spring up in Kropotkin-style “organic” fashion based upon Catholic Worker tradition built over the past 79 years. Some Catholic Worker houses continue Dorothy Day’s own Eucharistic piety, and attend daily Mass, pray the Liturgy of the Hours, pay great attention to Catholic teaching, philosophy, and literature, and hold to Catholic consistent ethic of life principles. Others are in danger of pursuing their own perfectionist cult of personality, and, as Paul said to the Corinthians (1 Cor 13), they might hand their bodies over to be burnt (with zeal), but they do not have love, the love of God.

In addition, the Catholic Worker has also taken up the challenge posed by Fr. Furfey, who saw “no alternative” but to “help one’s neighbor in need” by “a frontal attack on the evil system itself” by nonviolent direct action in addition to personal acts of charity.

And in an odd sort of way, outside of some sci-fi post-apocalyptic scenario, it is ironically a technological advance–in wind turbine energy production that one sees spreading throughout the American farmland–that actually makes a distributist agrarian solution seem more feasible.

American Catholic intellectuals take the Catholic Worker _very_ seriously, because the “The Worker” is much more radically countercultural than mainstream American Catholicism, and from time to time threatens to tip American Catholic culture away from the strategy of being both loyally American and loyally Catholic that has been the “Americanist” heart of established (read, academically tenured) American Catholic thought, and one of the principal cultural stances of the U.S. Catholic Bishops. Witness the 1997 tenure denial at Notre Dame University of then Congregation of the Holy Cross priest and peace activist Michael J. Baxter, often also called a “Catholic Worker theologian.”

(History does have its ironies, in this case a double or perhaps even triple irony. Quoted in the 1997 National Catholic Reporter article just cited on the Baxter tenure controversy taking the establishment “Americanist” view was the theologian earlier barred from Catholic University of America teaching, Charles Curran, who said “The Catholic church in the United States has the biggest hospital system, social service system and educational system under private auspices, which serve not only Catholic but all kinds of folk. How can you be countercultural and still do that?” Who would have guessed, other than the likes of Fr. Furfey and Prof. Baxter (and Francis Cardinal George) perhaps, that fifteen years later Catholic institutions are being forced, because of the HHS Mandate on abortifacients, artificial constraception, and sterilization, to act in the very opposite direction of Prof. Curran’s supposition, and _take_ a countercultural stance?)

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I’m sure that Dr. Donohue knows much more about the Catholic Worker than the hyped-up cultural cartoon balloon format of the Glenn Beck show allowed him to say.

But I also have my own opinions on Dr. Donahue and the Catholic League. When the situation–as it often does–calls for loud, in-your-face confrontation filled with spike and vinegar, he gets the job done, e.g., Dr. Donohue’s response to Jon Stewart’s 4/16/12 “vagina manger” outrage. But the Kaplan-Maslow Law of the Instrument applies here: when all you have is a hammer, you treat everything else like a nail. The Catholic League needs other media voices, and a much more comprehensive, interactive web page that captures hundreds of anti-Catholic statements and leads readers to some kind of responses to them on a dynamic basis.

And with so much apparently riding on Dr. Donohue’s heroic, individual efforts, what will remain of the Catholic League when he retires? Will there be chapters in other cities to carry on, as Catholic League founder Fr. Virgil Blum, SJ once envisioned? Or will it continue as a mostly one-person show? There is also danger of mission-creep in such a position, wherein the spokesperson begins commenting on all manner of things Catholic, in self-appointed Catholic hall-monitor fashion–to borrow and credit my seminary friend Ken Trainor’s memorable phrase–similar to the Nobel scientist in physics who begins commenting on politics, diet, and art no sooner than the award is in hand and the awardee is securely in media space.

Also–and I’m glad it appeared to be a one-time thing–but the apparent display announcement of Patrick J. Buchanan’s book Suicide of a Superpower probably didn’t belong on page 2 of the December, 2011 issue of Catalyst, the Journal of the Catholic League, unless it were to be cited as a paid advertisement. One does not have to subscribe to Mr. Buchanan’s views in order to support the Catholic League, or at least I hope not.

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As for Glenn Beck, DJ turned historian and social philosopher: he has taken Friedrich A. Hayek’s useful and insightful critique of social justice as an economically undefinable phrase in The Mirage of Social Justice to the limit of making the words “social justice” absolutely suspect in some circles.

Never mind that if we, say, follow the Fifth Commandment not to kill and the Seventh Commandment not to steal, and thereby act in a personally just manner, that we might be able to measure in a rudimentary way the “social justice” of a society based upon the degree to which there is neither murder nor theft.

In this way it is possible to operationalize somewhat the social justice question, and to a degree answer Hayek’s critique. But this is no easy matter once economic measures are considered, and Hayek’s insights and criticisms must not be dismissed out of hand, because Hayek stands with those who realize, contra absolutist thinkers like Plato and his heirs, that human freedom should not be sacrificed for anyone’s utopia. Therefore, anyone who cares about the social justice question should read Hayek–especially Catholic Workers!

But I don’t agree that the words “social justice” should be banned or mark those who use the words as suspect. Is not a society without murder and theft desirable? If so, we should have a phrase to describe it. “Social justice” is one such phrase.

Now if Glenn Beck and his audience would just read the entire text of St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica!

Peter Kreeft’s A Summa of the Summa, or as I like to call it, Some of the Summa, is a good place to start. . .

© Copyright 2012, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved

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Kathy Kelly on “No One Can Work Alone” or “Much to Forgive: The Story of Bibi Sadia”

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

Peace activist Kathy Kelly wrote a very stark and moving personalist account of the sufferings of an Afghan family, and the meaning of forgiveness, entitled “No One Can Work Alone,” in the March-April, 2012 Catholic Worker and on the website of Voices of Creative Nonviolence as titled “Much to Forgive: The Story of Bibi Sadia.” I agree with my dear teaching colleague (1980-82 at St. Ignatius College Prep in Chicago) and friend that we must listen to each individual suffering person, and stop the wars for their sakes.

Here’s more on the Catholic Worker, and more (no longer current), and more, the Catholic Worker archives here, and the Houston Catholic Worker.

When I think of the Catholic Worker archives at Marquette University, I also fondly recall Nina Polcyn Moore. Here is my earlier reflection on Nina and her generation of “Uncommon” Catholic women.

© Copyright 2012, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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Commonweal and Pius XII

Thursday, February 16th, 2012

Commonweal, which one day may be known as the Sr. Carol Keehan of Catholic magazines, is at it again in their own subtle and sophisticated way in keeping the slanders against Pius XII alive with an online scholarly article by John Connelly weakened by just a few too many unsubstantiated anti-Pius XII asides in an otherwise very interesting and informative narrative about the role of convert Catholics against Hitler.

[Please see the Comment to this post attributed to Fr. John J. Hughes for specific criticisms of the Connelly excerpt.]

The narrative of Catholic resistance to Hitler rarely includes three sets of facts:

1. The assassination by Hitler’s henchmen of Erich Klausener, the head of German Catholic Action during the Night of the Long Knives in 1934, thus decapitating Catholic Action as a movement in German civil society;

2. The closing of hundreds of German Catholic newspapers, the seizure of German Catholic schools, and deportation of Catholic clergy immediately after Chicago Cardinal George Mundelein’s famous “paperhanger” speech against Hitler in 1937. Please see the references for these at the Archbishop Quigley Seminary Wikipedia page;

3. The German Catholics involved in the various anti-Hitler assassination plots. The hundreds of plotters executed after failed attempts were not exclusively Protestant.

Hitler and Goebbels intentionally set out to destroy Catholic mediating institutions and to decapitate Catholic leadership in German civil society. While this doesn’t account for all of the silence among German Catholics against Hitler, the systematic decapitation of Catholic Action leadership and Catholic mediating institutions is lopped out of the story with regularity.

Moral superiority to Pius XII is part of the bedrock of Catholic progressivism. I wish they would, but I don’t expect the editors of Commonweal to depart from this unfortunate theme any time in the near future. They just can’t seem to let it go, no matter how much evidence piles up to the contrary.

Please see the book, The Pius War, for another view.

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For what it’s worth, I have three long-term “beefs” with Commonweal which led me to drop my subscription many years ago, and dispose of an extensive collection of back issues:

1. Commonweal’s dissent on Humanae Vitae. (Which brought me to give Commonweal the sobriquet, Cogleyweal, after its late editor and Humanae Vitae dissenter John Cogley.)

2. Commonweal’s prolonging of the slanders against Pius XII, above mentioned.

3. (And this one may be obscure, Catholic “inside baseball,” but it’s a dispute about a Catholic essential) Commonweal’s support for the anti-Fr. Hugo camp in the Catholic Worker. Fr. John Hugo was a pious retreat master who led the “cool” sophisticated Dorothy Day of the New York intellectual night life to embrace a life of Eucharistic prayer and devotion along with her activism for social justice. For some reason, a few in the Catholic Church, and perhaps still at Commonweal, have yet to forgive Fr. Hugo for this. While this theme rarely manifests itself in Commonweal any more, it still irks me to no end when it does.

Dorothy Day’s daily Eucharistic devotion was an integral part of her mission and message. The integration of devotion to the Eucharist with Catholic social action is absolutely essential. Witness the contribution of Msgr. Reynold Hillenbrand to this same essential Catholic theology and practice. Please see my scholarly article on Msgr. Hillenbrand for more.

© Copyright 2012, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved

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How to Disagree with an Icon: On Rejoicing in Being Persecuted While Defending the Innocent

Sunday, February 5th, 2012

How does a pro-life believer best publicly disagree with President Obama, who possesses iconic cultural and political status?

And how best does a believing and active Catholic Christian respond to anti-Catholic persecution and anti-Catholic injustice in public life?

As Bill Clinton used to say, I’ll first consider the second question, then respond to the first one.

Defending Life while Rejoicing at Being Persecuted

On the one hand, our Blessed Lord taught us to turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39) and to rejoice when we are persecuted (Matthew 5:10-12). On the other hand, Scripture calls upon us to respect and defend the rights of the widow, the orphan, and the alien (Exodus 22:21-23; Leviticus 19:33-34; Deuteronomy 24:17-18), and the Catechism of the Catholic Church urges us to disarm the aggressor (CCC 2265).

Herein I propose that the best way to strike a balance on this question is to accept persecution of one’s own person in Christian joy, but to continue to defend in the public square the truth and the rights of others–especially of the innocent, particularly the unborn–as citizens claiming the rights of any citizen and of any human.

About forty years ago, when I was still in college, my late father asked me to consider a similar set of questions. He had received a letter from his old high school teacher, Fr. Virgil Blum, SJ, who was in the process of establishing the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. My father was thinking about the turn-the-other-cheek / defend-the-innocent-and-the-truth question. I recall at the time coming down myself on the turn-the-other-cheek side, but acknowledging that distortions of truth and unjust attacks against individuals needed to be publicly refuted. We agreed then that the Catholic League was worth supporting, and my Dad became one of Fr. Blum’s early backers in this effort.

Christians and Catholics are today openly persecuted in a “red” or bloody manner in many Asian, Middle Eastern, and African countries, and in a mostly “white” or un-bloody manner at this time in Europe, the Americas, and Australia. In the United States, which brought with it the legacy of British anti-Catholicism, Catholics had a long climb up to open public acceptance until John F. Kennedy was elected President in 1960. U.S. Catholics bore a special burden in proving that they could be both truly Catholic and truly American. This struggle is reflected in many ways in American Catholic church and school architecture of the early part of the 20th Century, which blend both American and Catholic themes.

St. Bartholomew Catholic Church, Chicago, 1917; Source: non-copyrighted parish website; fair use invoked

Films such as The Fighting 69th (1940), starring James Cagney and Pat O’Brien, showed how Catholics were willing to fight for America.

from Wikipedia, fair use invoked

The HHS Rule Controversy

But in the past few weeks, Catholics in the U.S. have begun to face perhaps the most significant church-state conflict in over a century.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) confirmed a rule on 1/20/12 that almost all private health care plans must cover sterilization, abortifacients, and contraception effective August 1, 2012. According to the NCHLA website, “Non-profit religious employers that do not now provide such coverage, and are not exempt under the rule’s extremely narrow definition of religious employer, will be given one year—until August 1, 2013—to comply.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, with Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan of New York acting as spokesman, has published a number of responses on their website, calling for Catholics and people of good will to urge Congress and the President to take specific actions to respect religious freedom, such as supporting the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act (H.R. 1179, S. 1467).

Besides writing Congress, other politicians, and the President, and voting one’s conscience, what other actions are appropriate for believers?

Certainly, violent actions are forbidden and are dreadfully self-defeating. Such extreme action is not only immoral in itself, but would discredit religious believers and the pro-life cause. Only the deranged or an agent provocateur would suggest violence in this case. History has shown, especially in the case of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, that contemplating extreme or violent action can activate an even more direct persecution, and marginalize religious believers for centuries. Catholics were only able, by the Catholic Relief Act of 1829, to regain their right to religious freedom in England more than two hundred years after the Gunpowder Plot. The British monarch is still forbidden to join the Catholic Church.

Extreme rhetoric in response to the HHS rules is also not appropriate, and will in the long run prove ineffective. Appeals to constitutional, Biblical, and universal human rights on behalf of others, these others being the unborn and those believing taxpayers morally objecting to pay for sterilization and abortifacients, promise to be the most effective.

But mere words are not enough. Politicians can and in some cases must be voted out of office over this issue peacefully through the constitutionally-established electoral process.

There is also the question whether the honors and courtesies usually granted to certain politicians, such as appearances speaking to students and faculties, should be given. This is not yet the time for any across the board end to these practices, but each case should be carefully reconsidered. But this is also not the time for Catholic institutions to shower politicians, labor, and business leaders who support abortion rights with awards and knighthoods.

A Failure as Men

This HHS challenge faces the Catholic Church in America at a time when, weakened by the priest abuse scandals, it lacks unobstructed access to the public square without every message from the Church being confounded and scrambled by the scandal.

A few comments on the clergy scandal are therefore apt, because present communication from the Catholic Church is heard in light of it, and little effective communication is possible without addressing it. In a powerful sense, a Catholic bishop’s public words have the priest abuse scandal static humming behind them.

Recently, I have begun to think of the failure of certain bishops and clergy as responders to the priest abuse scandal in a different way: The failure of these bishops and priests was not only a failure of church “headship,” but a “natural law” failure in the traditional male role as the defender of children. Certain bishops and clergy have failed in the priest abuse crisis in a manly sense, as men, in their paternal role. This failure brought into question not only the integrity of ineffective bishops and clergy, but their very manhood.

Because certain bishops and clergy appeared to fail as men in this natural law sense, they have in a very visceral way especially lost the confidence of many women who still value the male as defender. Four decades of political correctness have not wiped out this traditional expectation for the male. Many Catholic men who value this expectation are likewise sickened by this failure.

This loss of confidence in certain bishops and leading clergy is of Biblical proportions. I recall Professor Scott Hahn’s theory of Adam as the failed husband for his silence in not defending his family when Satan came to tempt in Genesis 3. Prof. Hahn assigned great significance to the silence of Adam in this passage.

Weakened by the clergy scandals, our Catholic Church “headship” is therefore in need of redemption in a theological sense, which we believe is a grace given by Christ. The redemption in the social sense will take many years, and depends on the repenting actions of the clergy and of all believers. The episcopacy must understand the depth of their failure in not just the hearts but in the guts of the faithful. I cannot stress more emphatically that this redemptive action includes bishops and clergy reaffirming and in a sense reestablishing their own Christian manhood.

In the mean time, Catholics must effectively communicate as citizens against violations of human and religious freedom, and in particular against the HHS rule in question. This effectiveness of communication depends on the individual acts of millions of believers in contact with their own government officials despite the constant static of the clergy scandals. We should not be deterred by scandal into allowing serious violations of human rights and religious freedom.

It is fortunate that Cardinal (effective mid-February, 2012) Timothy Dolan serves as the spokesman for the U.S. Catholic Bishops in this instance. Despite continual attempts to smear him, his integrity and forthrightness continue to shine through. I do not doubt that there will be aggressive efforts to discredit him going forward. Cardinal Dolan is the right man to stand before the faithful both on the question of episcopal redemption and on defending the unborn and the consciences of those who recognize the rights of these holy innocents. Please see his 1/25/12 Wall Street Journal article.

The bishops’ strong stance on the defense of innocent life is not only redemptive in a theological sense, but in a natural law, manly sense. They are restoring their manhood by acting as the defenders of the innocent, and provide a stunning contrast with the unmanly compromises of business, labor, and government leaders who somewhere along the line decided that they would betray themselves on the defense of innocent life, perhaps, as the old saying goes, to be “happy” in this world rather than “right.” The bishops are seen by many critics in their strong pro-life stand as being on the wrong side of history, when they in fact are on the right side of eternity.

Since potentially millions of pro-life citizens may in one way or another speak to the HHS rule controversy, below I offer some background information on some of the social and political forces at work, which I hope will be helpful for these pro-life citizens as they communicate with their government representatives.

Toward Disagreement with an Icon

Barack Obama is not only the President of the U.S., but commands additional power as a cultural icon.

Many, not only social progressives but also the young, see President Obama as the standard-bearer for movements for human and civil rights, whose election vindicated their lifelong efforts. The Grant Park, Chicago celebration of the President’s election on November 4, 2008 was for many the high point of their lives.

Pro-life believers see this same President as the most radical pro-choice politician ever to hold high office, who would not support a proposed Illinois law providing medical care for infants who survived abortion.

The U.S. Catholic population reflects this divergence of views, and the success of President Obama’s agenda has depended on his ability to in a real sense divide and conquer the U.S. Catholic population on the question of life. He has taken great pains, most recently in his speech at the 2/2/12 National Prayer Breakfast, to establish how a believing Christian can support his own pro-choice policies, with some skirting of the direct question on whether a believer can support abortion rights.

Many socially progressive Catholics agree with the President, but their position has become much more difficult to reconcile with Catholic teachings. Whether by accident or by design, the President’s actions have begun to tear apart the recurrent claim that one can be both a social progressive–if that includes abortion rights–and a faithful Catholic.

While Benedict XVI forcefully linked life ethics and social ethics in his encyclical Caritas in Veritate, many progressive Catholics have operated since the 1960s as if this link was not necessary. The President has now brought through the HHS Rule a firm decision on this matter to the doorstep of Christians in general, but to socially progressive Catholics in particular.

But First a Bit of History

Since President Obama arose politically from Chicago, I offer some history on what led to this turning point:

Chicago, the historic home of the Haymarket Affair and thereby the partial inspiration for May Day as an International Workers Day, has a long and varied tradition of progressive and radical political activism.

From the Haymarket martyrs, to Chicago and Illinois labor pioneers, to the intellectual progressives and philosophical pragmatists such as John Dewey and Jane Addams, to the Lakefront Liberals and community activists of today in the tradition of Chicago’s Saul Alinsky, to the violent anti-war protests and later education reforms of Bill Ayers, an amalgam of progressive ideas and traditions has firmly established itself within specific layers of Chicago culture. Over the 20th Century the progressive Chicago panacea of choice shifted from eugenics to abortion.

But despite the “brief, shining” progressive moment of the Harold Washington mayoral administration, 1983-1987, almost every institution established by the Chicago progressive reformers, from the pioneering Juvenile Court system and Chicago Park District to the Cook County Hospital to even the Chicago Public Schools, became a fiefdom within Chicago machine politics. The Chicago progressives, despite periodic vociferous protestations sometimes descending into sullen resignation, and despite the earnest shadow-government machinations of Chicago foundations and civic organizations, have likewise ultimately enabled the “Chicago Way” of one-party machine politics to rule Chicago for decades. Barack Obama himself prior to his presidency endorsed an inept Cook County Board president who had to be forced from office for incompetence. Chicago progressive history is thus comprised of recurrent vainglorious visions that continually evaporate into politics as usual.

Chicago also evidences a distinct tradition of activist Catholicism with likewise early roots prior to Leo XIII‘s encyclical Rerum Novarum. Chicago Catholic Action, with mentors like Msgr. Reynold Hillenbrand, erupted during its heyday of the 1930s, 40s, and 50s into either “Specialized Catholic Action Movements” in the European Jocist tradition such as the Young Christian Workers, the Christian Family Movement, and the Young Christian Students, or into the separately-founded and imported Catholic Worker, Friendship House, or into the parallel and more institutional youth and labor-oriented efforts of Chicago Auxiliary Bishop Bernard Sheil, including the Sheil School of Social Studies (1943-1954), and the Chicago Labor Alliance, the latter led by former Catholic Worker and Loyola University educator Ed Marciniak. Later Chicago Catholic activist organizations, such as the Association of Chicago Priests, the Eighth Day Center for Justice, and allied activist non-sectarian organizations (but heavily supported with Catholic dollars) the Industrial Areas Foundation, United Power for Action and Justice, and several others, drew upon these Chicago Catholic activist traditions.

These two Chicago activist traditions, the progressive and the activist Catholic, have complexly intersected both in terms of social networks and in terms of ideas since the late 1800s, especially in labor, politics, philanthropy, neighborhood life, higher education, civic leadership, and clergy politics. Catholic organizations have generously funded community organizing in Chicago since the 1930s, including the work of a young community organizer named Barack Obama in the 1980s, whose move to the U.S. presidency echoed Chicago’s potent blend of strong-arm, one party rule with a progressive patina. By this Catholic-funded work, Mr. Obama earned his status as an “honorary Catholic” among religious Chicago progressives.

The traditions of Chicago progressivism and Catholic activism meet, if not merge, in another significant way, in their descent into pragmatism, not of the philosophical variety, but of the political and economic. The style of leadership among some of the elites of political Chicago and religious Chicago is therefore sometimes indistinguishable, and appears established along the categories of political power and money power alone. From time to time, one might find within Chicago church circles a brash, confrontational approach to action, including not-so-subtle forms of blackmail and intimidation, similar to what one might encounter in Chicago politics. As we say, “It’s a tough town.”

Since the time of the 1960s Kennedy-era “New Breed” Chicago Catholics, activity between Catholic and progressive activists represented itself in a number of free-flowing and permeable relationships. Catholic activists, and especially inner-city Catholic pastors and religious, have had strong standing in neighborhood and civic affairs.

Numerous neighborhood, community and economic development, professional, and civic organizations have been founded in the Chicago area in recent decades with the backing of Catholic talent and resources. In tandem with the growth of these organizations, a number of leading Chicago Catholic clergy, following the lead of Hillenbrand protege Msgr. John J. Egan, have strategically oriented their civic efforts into an interfaith and intentionally secular dimension, in order to broaden the base of support, participation, and power. This strategy, which heavily relied on coalition-building across a wide spectrum of organizations, coincided with the end of the influence of Catholic Action organizations as such, while still paradoxically relying on money donated from Catholic parishes and the Archdiocese of Chicago as a whole to sustain the bulk of these efforts.

The Catholic Campaign for Human Development, originally founded as the Campaign for Human Development in 1970 by the U.S. Catholic Bishops, but with significant impetus from Chicago Catholic clergy and in particular Chicago Auxiliary Bishop Michael R. P. Dempsey (1918–1974), who served as co-founder and first national director of what later came to be called CCHD, has served, among other things, to extend the Chicago style of Catholic community and development activism nationally. In an important way, the CCHD has institutionalized the pattern laid down by the original requests by Chicago Auxiliary Bishop Bernard Sheil and later Msgr. John J. Egan to Cardinal Samuel Stritch to fund Saul Alinsky’s community organizing with Archdiocesan funds.

These traditions of secular and Catholic progressivism overlapped most dramatically when a Chicago diocesan priest, Rev. Carl Lezak (1937-2009), served as head of the Illinois ACLU from July, 1971, until he resigned September, 1972.

The late Fr. Lezak’s clericalization of civic action was only one of several such incidents in Chicago history, a usurpation of the lay role against which Msgr. Reynold Hillenbrand, unheeded, warned his protegees in the clergy. A number of these clerical interventions prevented the development of a lay reform tradition independent of one-party rule. Progressive Catholics therefore could not envision themselves voting against the dominant party, but would coalesce with almost liturgical devotion around this or that reform candidate for relatively minor office, thus shoring up of one-party, corrupt government in Chicago and Illinois.

The desire to participate in a glorious public jubilee like Chicago’s November 4, 2008 Grant Park celebration is a powerful one, as is the desire to belong to a larger group. Perhaps a desire to belong, an attachment confusing self-image with public interest, has long prevented socially progressive and labor activist Catholics from deserting one-party rule and throwing the rascals out. This attachment has shaped Chicago and Illinois toward one-party, pro-abortion oligopolies.

But there may be another reason for the staying power of one-party rule in Chicago and Illinois, and that may be abortion itself. Minus the abortion rights controversy, many voters would have switched parties long ago over financial mismanagement and public scandals. But the abortion issue has kept the otherwise reform-minded progressives inside the dominant party, thus perpetuating corruption. Abortion is in many ways the glue that holds the Democratic party together in Illinois and beyond.

Progressive Chicago Catholicism has long misunderstood power as originating solely in money and in politics, but has missed, as Blessed John Paul II well and better understood, the power of culture.

Progressive, pro-choice Catholicism has fed off the illusion that life issues can be set aside for the sake of a wider social justice agenda. Progressive Chicago Catholicism has accepted a permeable, non-Aristotelean definition of justice not inclusive of the rights of the vulnerable unborn, but tied to their own self-image as compassionate and just.

It appears that some of these contradictory progressive dreams and politics–and illusions–have been exported by Barack Obama from Chicago to the nation.

The End of the Church as Mediating Institution?

But now Catholics may face a choice between following their President’s health care policies and following their Church. The President promised a “Sensible Conscience Clause” at Notre Dame in 2009 but did not deliver on it. There is therefore no tangible bridge between the pro-life Catholic and Barack Obama’s “fundamental change.”

And equally critically, the important role of the Church as a mediating institution in society, an institution standing between the power and abuses of government and the defenseless, the very institutional foundation of progressive Catholicism, is being shaken away.

It is at this point an open question whether we will see the state slowly seize all health care away from pro-life charitable institutions, like the Tudor monarchs seized the monasteries, ending their charitable services to thousands who thereby had nowhere to go. If some day the government does seize the health care industry, we can expect that it will manage to combine therein the worst inefficiencies seen in Cook County government.

A strong clue to the intent of the Obama Administration in this HHS case can be found in the final chapter of economist Paul R. Krugman’s The Conscience of a Liberal, in which he urges a coming administration to in very determined fashion continue to lock in progressive reforms so that they can never be undone.


So, How Does One Disagree with an Icon?

First, more traditional Catholics should refrain from shouting “I told you so” to their progressive friends. This is a time for Church unity, not one-upmanship.

Second, the Herod analogy (as slaughterer of the innocents) should not yet be used by Catholics in President Obama’s case. St. John Fisher famously used this analogy regarding marriage with Henry VIII when all else failed, and an enraged Henry VIII lived up to the tagline by treating St. John Fisher as Herod treated Fisher’s namesake St. John the Baptist. All else has not yet failed with President Obama. (Strictly speaking, St. John Fisher had not even used the literal word “Herod” in reference to Henry VIII. Fisher had written in a book defending the marriage of Catherine of Aragon and Henry VIII that he, Fisher, was willing to die like St. John the Baptist defending the authenticity of their marriage. Henry drew the Herod reference himself. Fisher evidently thought and prayed for quite some time about invoking St. John the Baptist. The book he wrote on the royal marriage took him two years, and when the King’s men inventoried St. John Fisher’s possessions after his imprisonment in 1534, they found a replica head of St. John the Baptist on a platter in Fisher’s chapel.)

Third, Catholics should not bemoan any persecution they personally endure for their pro-life beliefs, but bear such persecution, invoking St. Thomas More, merrily.

Fourth, besides writing their legislators and voting their consciences, the very most effective thing pro-life Catholic grown-ups can do to oppose the HHS mandate and the pro-choice agenda is to speak first with their own teen and young adult children. These young adults are the most heavily propagandized generation in human history, regularly hearing from MoveOn.org, Change.org, Rock the Vote, MTV, etc., having hardly ever seen an intact family displayed on television for any length of time, having been carefully led through college’s second and hidden dorm curriculum, and having their own humor and thus thought processes constantly shaped by politicized late-night comedians. The most effective way therefore for pro-life Catholic parents to oppose the pro-choice position is for Catholic parents to personally explain the reasoning behind Catholic pro-life positions first to their own voting children, and then to dialogue with their children about their reaction. Pro-choice politicians absolutely count on the young adult vote, and expect young adults to sit out the HHS controversy. Happily, these young adults are growing more pro-life. Nothing would put pro-choice politicians into a panic more than receiving thousands of e-mails against the HHS mandate from high school and college students and young professionals. Another such panic would ensue if bishops and pastors systematically began to speak personally with high school and college young adult groups against the HHS mandate and enlist such letters on a regular basis.

Fifth, the way to oppose an icon is not to directly attack the icon, but to change the world around the icon so the icon loses its cultural power. This is how the power of culture trumps the power of money and politics. The way to change this world around the icon is to let loose the reasoning behind the pro-life position: the defense of innocent human life. There is no more powerful idea than the defense of the innocent. By unleashing the HHS mandate, the President and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius may have inadvertently set this very time for the powerful idea of the defense of innocent human life to come.

Six, by focusing on the reason for religious freedom in this HHS case–the defense of innocent human life–as opposed to simply religious freedom and freedom of conscience in and of themselves, defenses of religious freedom and conscience are then grounded on a doubly strong moral basis: they are not just about the person claiming religious freedom and freedom of conscience, but about the purpose and reason freedom is being exercised: the defense of the innocent unborn. This recalls Benedict XVI’s April 17, 2008 Catholic University of America Address statement to Catholic Educators that “Freedom is not an opting out. It is an opting in–a participation in Being itself.” The religious freedom we seek is not freedom from, but freedom for–freedom for the good of another, in this case, for the innocent unborn.

Seventh, I wish Jimmy Cagney were around to drive home the point about the objections pro-life Catholics (whose numbers are growing) are making to President Obama: We are both loyal Catholics and loyal Americans, and are exercising our own rights in legitimate defense of others. But Jimmy Cagney has joined, I pray, the Communion of Saints (he did die on screen at least once to save the Dead End Kids in Angels with Dirty Faces), so we’ll have to make this point ourselves.

This is indeed a moment of moral choice for Catholics and for people of good will. I pray that this moment remains a peaceful one, and is resolved through reason and good will.

—-

Further Reading:

Cardinal Francis George’s 2/5/12 letter for parish bulletins on the HHS ruling.

The 2/6/12 Wall Street Journal article by Robert P. George and O. Carter Snead, Planned Parenthood’s Hostages.

© Copyright 2012, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved

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Dorothy Day’s Therese

Monday, October 17th, 2011

In recent years many faiths have educated their clergy and religious to be brilliant, well-educated, entertaining speakers and socially committed individuals. But these qualities do not in and of themselves earn trust.

Nothing inspires, and is so quickly recognized by believers, as is authentic holiness or godliness. Few have won as much trust in the years since her death as has the holy saint, the Little Flower, discussed in the following lines.

During the height of her active maturity in the Catholic Worker movement, Dorothy Day made time over several years to research and to write a biography of the “Little Flower,” St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus of the Holy Face, or St. Thérèse of Lisieux. Happily, this book, originally published in 1960, reissued 1979, reprinted 1985, is still in print through Templegate Publishers. This book represents Dorothy Day’s decades-long education in the school of the Little Flower.

Therese is a book about a saint by a likely saint. Despite Dorothy Day’s occasional repetition of phrases due to Day’s busy life, Therese is one of the most thoughtful and inspiring books generated within American Catholic literature. Because its subject is the Little Flower, who has been declared one of the soon-to-be thirty-four Doctors of the Church, it is likely to remain known centuries longer than some of Day’s currently more popular books.

Almost half of Day’s Therese is about family love, whether that of the author, or that of the subject, christened Marie-Françoise-Thérèse Martin in 1873. But the whole book is about love, divine and human, for love was the means, the end, and the transcendent purpose of Thérèse’s life. Thérèse discovered in her final years that her vocation was to be love.

The arresting first two paragraphs of Therese display Dorothy Day at her spiritual journalist best:

“The first time I heard the name of St. Therese of the Child Jesus of the Holy Face (to give her whole title), also known as Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower, was when I lay in the maternity ward of Bellevue Hospital in New York. Bellevue is the largest hospital in the world, and doctors from all over the world come there. If you are poor you can have free hospital care. At that time, if you could pay anything, there was a flat rate for having a baby–thirty dollars for a ten day’s stay, in a long ward with about sixty beds. I was so fortunate as to have a bed next to the window looking out over the East River so that I could see the sun rise in the morning and light up the turgid water and make gay the little tugs and the long tankers that went by the window. When there was fog it seemed as though the world ended outside my window, and the sound of fog horns haunted the day and the night.

As a matter of fact, my world did end at the window those ten days that I was in the hospital, because I was supremely happy. If I had written the greatest book, composed the greatest symphony, painted the most beautiful painting or carved the most exquisite figure, I could not have felt more the exalted creator than I did when they placed my child in my arms. To think that this thing of beauty, sighing gently in my arms, reaching her little mouth for my breast, clutching at me with her tiny beautiful hands, had come from my flesh, was my own child! Such a great feeling of happiness and joy filled me that I was hungry for Someone to thank, to love, even to worship, for so great a good that had been bestowed upon me. That tiny child was not enough to contain my love, nor could the father, though my heart was warm with love for both.”

(Day, Dorothy. 1985. Therese. Springfield, Ill: Templegate, p. v.)

Thanks to the World Wide Web and the University of Toronto it is now possible to read the same English translation of Thérèse’s autobiographic A Little White Flower that Dorothy Day read in 1928, to retrace Dorothy Day’s steps in her discovery of Thérèse, and also to find the book that eluded Day’s grasp at the time of her writing Therese, The End of the Present World and the Mysteries of the Future Life, by Fr. Charles Arminjon, which was an influence on the young Thérèse prior to entering the Carmel at Lisieux.

Dorothy Day’s initial rebuff and later embrace of Thérèse’s spirituality is a familiar story among Catholic intellectuals and men and women “of the world.” Thérèse inspired several twentieth-century generations to enter religious life, and whether in religious life or not, to adopt her “Little Way.” But as Day matured in her day-in day-out tasks of Christian love and charity seeking justice, she returned to Thérèse definitively. Day concluded:

“It was the ‘worker,’ the common man, who first spread her fame by word of mouth. It was the masses who proclaimed her a saint. It was the ‘people.'”

(Day, Dorothy. 1985. Therese. Springfield, Ill: Templegate, p. 173.)

On first glance, Thérèse appears too pious, too simple. To this I respond, “Simple, all right. Simple like Mozart is simple.” A genius of the first rank makes the difficult appear straightforward and sublimely clear. Thérèse’s spiritual genius was recognized almost immediately after her death in 1897 with an intensity that spread as quickly as did the translations of her autobiography across dozens of languages and countries.

On the last page of her book, Day quotes Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, later Pope Pius XII, speaking on the occasion of the blessing of the Basilica of Lisieux in 1937:

“The dazzling genius of Augustine, the luminous wisdom of Thomas Aquinas, have shed forth upon souls the rays of an imperishable splendour: through them, Christ and His doctrine have become better known. The divine poem lived out by Francis of Assisi has given the world an imitation, as yet unequaled, of the life of God made man. Through him legions of men and women learned to love God more perfectly. But a little Carmelite who had hardly reached adult age has conquered in less than half a century innumerable hosts of disciples. Doctors of the law have become children at her school; the Supreme Shepherd has exalted her and prays to her with humble and assiduous supplications; and even at this moment from one end of the earth to the other, there are millions of souls whose interior life has received the beneficent influence of the little book, The Autobiography.”

(Ibid., p. 176.)

Thérèse promised “I will spend my heaven doing good on earth. I will let fall a shower of roses.”

Day lists but a bit of the shower of love from Thérèse:

“So shortly after her death the rain of roses began: cures of cancer, tuberculosis, nephritis, and all manner of painful and mortal diseases. Nuns in need of money to pay off the mortgages on their schools, hospitals and orphanages found it appearing, sometimes in the form of gifts, sometimes carefully placed in a desk drawer. When Therese healed a little Irish child, she appeared to her as a little child in her First Communion frock, and shook hands with her as she left, and radiant little patient who had been unconscious and at the brink of death, sat up and told her mother to bring her her clothes, and food because she was starving. Soldiers saw Therese at the battlefield; she walked in Paris; she appeared to the sick. ‘After my death I will let fall a shower of roses,’ she had said, and sometimes the roses appeared literally, and sometimes just the fragrance of them.”

(Ibid., pp. 172-3)

The persistence of Thérèse’s appeal is surprising. In 2009, Thérèse’s relics were brought on a tour throughout Wales and England in the UK. To the surprise of a highly secularized society (and some of the secularized clergy), hundreds of thousands of people visited the relics, with many confessing their sins and returning to faith after decades.

Here are some of the pilgrims’ stories:

Over 100,000 faithful visited Thérèse’s relics in Westminster Cathedral, with ceremonies ending 10/15/09:

The Carmelite Sr. Patricia Mary of Jesus speaks about St. Thérèse of Lisieux:

Finally, a thoughtful homily by Westminster Archbishop Vincent Nichols:

In 1997, in a document called Divini Amoris Scientia, the Science of Divine Love, John Paul II proclaimed Thérèse a Doctor of the Church. I highly recommend close reading of this important document for those seeking for truth in the Spirit.

Although Thérèse, like John Paul II, had read and mastered the foundational Carmelite literature, the complete works of St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, Thérèse read primarily the Gospels during her final illness, to listen directly the Word of the Lord Jesus whom she loved so dearly in a very direct, straightforward, and completely committed way. As a Carmelite, Thérèse wore a wedding gown at her “clothing” as a nun, focusing all her possible love on Jesus.

To the post-Christian imagination, this kind of spiritual commitment has a scary, terrifying aspect. But for Thérèse and her Carmelite sisters (among whom were three of her own sisters, and a cousin), nothing could have been more joyful.

Dorothy Day may be best known for her phrase, a “harsh and dreadful love,” but no one searches the life of Thérèse without searching for the source of joy, our Blessed Lord, to whom Thérèse is one of the supreme guides.

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As a boy, I was taught at St. Priscilla School in Chicago by several Franciscan Sisters (from Rochester, MN) who were inspired by Thérèse among others to enter religious life. Years later, I visited my music teacher, Sr. Catherine Cecile Dwerlkotte, OSF, who past the age of 100 told me of the joy that was shared among contemporaries as they agreed together in college to enter the Franciscans as a group. Many of these Franciscan Sisters shared with us the tales of the Little Flower, and Sr. Catherine, to the end of her days, cultivated roses in Thérèse’s memory. She was a woman of high intelligence and wit, but joy and simplicity, and I might add, holiness. May she rest in peace!

Here is a 2010 post by blogger Kathy Riordan in thanks of the still-remembered witness of Sr. Catherine Cecile and her Franciscan sisters.

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A few very useful resources on St. Thérèse:

As usual, the Houston Catholic Worker can be relied upon for a thoughtful review, this one by James Allaire.

Here’s some information on the National Shrine of St. Therese, in Darien, Illinois.

EWTN put together a number of web pages during St. Thérèse centenary, here, and here.

Also, please see Saint Therese of Lisieux: A Gateway, which mentions the recent visit of the relics of Thérèse to Peru.

Presently, I’m reading St. Thérèse of Lisieux: Her Last Conversations. More on this when time permits!

© Copyright 2011, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved

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Simone Weil’s Incandescent Life

Thursday, July 28th, 2011

Some saints or heroes are known to us like family, with everyday foibles and failed humanity. St. Peter, the cowardly lion of the Twelve, so blustering yet in the end so true as Cephas, the Rock, is one of these.

Other saints or heroes are indeed the Other, the perpetual unknown, calling to us from a mysterious, holy, and separate place. Simone Weil, 1909-1943, for decades and until recently appeared to many of her readers as one of these Others. Weil continues to inspire, to enrage, and to challenge.

A thinker of amazing clarity, an activist of rare integrity, and among the purest of hearts who nevertheless infuriates to this day, the twentieth-century philosopher, activist, and mystic Simone Weil grows in reputation as hundreds of books and articles multiply considering her legacy.

Now independent film artist Julia Haslett has written, produced, and directed one of the first English-language films on Weil, the documentary An Encounter with Simone Weil, premiered in 2010 and released in 2011 by Line Street Productions.

An Encounter with Simone Weil poster, with permission

Julia Haslett has just introduced Simone Weil to a new generation, a generation, like Haslett, who want “not to be an accomplice, not to lie, not to remain blind.”

Haslett’s passionate pursuit of Simone Weil parallels that of many other single-minded searchers for truth, authenticity, and justice to whom Simone Weil speaks so directly.

Weil, a brilliant, first-time teacher in a French town in 1931, found herself drawn to be the champion of the homeless and unemployed who labored at a public works project breaking stones close to her school. Weil anticipated, and in a way invented decades early, the lifestyle of the committed young activist-thinker of recent years, who might work as an educator for a time, or as an organizer, or as a writer. Weil attempted all of these simultaneously.

But Weil was more than this. She is now recognized, after the work of Peter Winch and others, as one of the most significant philosophers of the Twentieth Century, called by Albert Camus “the only great spirit of our time.”

While many on the Left are catalyzed by Weil, so are many on the Right as well. Raymond Aron, whose wife attended school with Weil, said of her–

“The message of Simone Weil is not a left-wing message, it is a non-conformist message, reminding us of truths which we were no longer accustomed to hear.”

Aron, Raymond. 2001. The opium of the intellectuals. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction, pg. 50.

Simone Weil wrote with power. Her words can cast her audience into autobiographic reverie, and transform mere readers into, a least for a while, her devotees. These can recount, like the narratives of “What I was doing when Kennedy was shot,” or “Where I was when the 9-11 attacks took place,” their own circumstances when they first read Simone Weil and began to search libraries and archives for more and more obscure portions of her legacy and life.

Few match Simone Weil’s writing for brilliance, for clarity, and for pearl after pearl of insight. Even when she is terribly wrong–and she could be impetuously and stubbornly so–Simone Weil still somehow inspires. Scholars have, decades after her death, assembled multiplying volumes of Weil’s finely spun gold laced with wool that will animate and perplex poets, philosophers, and searchers for centuries. Academics already speak and write about “Weil Studies,” while bards, playwrights, and composers have generated art in her name.

Julia Haslett’s cinematic quest for Simone Weil is among the more visually compact treatments of Weil in any medium. Haslett, following Weil’s inspiration, does not separate ideas from people and situations, but directs her attention–a commitment so important to Weil–to the personal and concrete living predicament.

Haslett’s “Encounter” begins by introducing herself and her mission of universal attention to human suffering, by proposing as the first spoken words of her film, “What response does seeing human suffering demand of us?”

In order to answer that question, Haslett sought out Simone Weil, first by seeking memories of her, starting with the New York City apartment building in which Weil and her parents stayed in 1942. Haslett tracked down photos of Weil and of her life, film footage of contemporary events, and visited many locations associated with Weil.

Haslett also located those who had some kind of contact with Weil. She interviewed Jeanne Duchamp, a surviving student of the young teacher Weil from the early 1930s; Florence de Lussy, an editor of Weil’s complete works; Weil’s niece Sylvie Weil; Weil’s cousin Raymonde Weil (Nathan); Madame Thibaud, a witness of the small group of friends who hosted Weil in southern France in the early 1940s; and Fr. Jobert of Solesmes Abbey, where Weil had one of her mystical episodes. Along with de Lussy, peace activist and educator Anna Brown of the Social Justice program at Saint Peter’s College in Jersey City, and also noted literary-cultural theorist-critic Sylvere Lotringer provide their comments and reflections.

Sylvie Weil and Her Photo Album, posted with permission

Haslett’s Weil is Weil as the inviolate lonely truth-seeker activist, whose integrity separated her, in the end, both from established politics and conventional religion. While Haslett stated that Weil distrusted organizations of any kind, it is also true that Weil joined a teacher’s union and was very active in union matters during her first teaching assignment at Le Puy-en-Velay.

Haslett follows the accepted phases of Weil’s development (childhood through university education, 1909-1931, teaching and labor-political activism, 1931-1937, and religious exploration, migraines, and final writing frenzy, 1935-1943).

Haslett directs us to Weil’s student Jeanne Duchamp, who as a high-school student learned from Weil, when faced with a choice among several options, “Always do what will cost you the most.”

Haslett tells us that at six years old Weil gave up sugar in solidarity with French soldiers at the WWI front, at ten sneaked away from home to attend a labor union demonstration, and at twenty-five quit her teaching job to work at a factory.

Weil, as she has done with many others, also appears to have cast Haslett into her own self-examining narration. Haslett began her quest when after her own father’s death, and her subsequent call to witness to human suffering, she read Weil’s words, “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.”

Throughout Julia Haslett’s film we learn not only of Weil but of Haslett’s commitment to attending to human suffering, and of Haslett’s own attention for her brother Timothy and his tragic struggle with depression. Haslett takes upon herself a particular burden of attentiveness: “If I don’t pay attention, someone might die.”

Unlike many biographies of Weil, Haslett’s film does not dwell on Weil’s relationship with her own older brother Andre, one of the Twentieth Century’s greatest mathematicians, nor significantly with Weil’s strenuous rejection of much of her own Jewish heritage.

Weil had a tendency, as de Lussy noted, to “rush to the goal she had set for herself,” to perpetually forge ahead. I call it, “diving in.” Weil once convinced Leon Trotsky, his wife, and his bodyguards to stay as guests in the Weil’s Paris apartment, and then proceeded to argue with Trotsky. (Haslett does not mention that Madame Sedov (Mrs. Trotsky) reportedly heard the ruckus from another room and said of Weil, “This child is holding her own with Trotsky!”)

Florence de Lussy spoke of Weil’s “union between the most demanding intellect and the heart.” According to de Lussy, readers of Weil “do not come away unscathed.”

Haslett prominently displays Weil’s dictum, “Truth is too dangerous to touch, it is an explosive.” (Catholic Workers will recall here Peter Maurin’s “Easy Essay” about the dynamite of the Church.)

Haslett imaged Weil’s pilgrimage from child and student (1909-1931); to teacher (1931); to visitor to Germany during Hitler’s rise (1932); to factory worker and labor activist (1934); to mystical experiences (1935-8); to Republican soldier in Spain (1936) and visitor to Assisi (1937); to renunciation of pacifism after Hitler’s invasion of Czechoslovakia (1939); to flight from conquered Paris to southern France (1940); to work on the grape harvest and daily recitation of the Greek Lord’s Prayer with absolute attention (1941); to retreat to New York City with parents (1942); to passage to England to work on behalf of Free French government in exile (1942); and to death in Kent, UK (1943).

At several of these milestones, Haslett featured a Weil aphorism, such as, “It is not religion, but revolution, that is the opium of the people.”

While the heretofore pacifist Weil volunteered and briefly carried a rifle with the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War, she balked at the near execution of a priest and the summary execution of others by the anarchists. Shortly thereafter, the ever-clumsy, near-sighted Weil stepped into a scalding pot, and had to be removed from the front. The badly injured Weil then found her way to Assisi, where she experienced a transcendent, Godly presence.

Haslett highlights Weil’s reflection on how factory work makes things of workers, and bridges to Weil’s quote, “Christianity is preeminently the religion of slaves. Slaves cannot help belonging to it. And I, among others.”

Julia Haslett and Soraya Broukhim, posted with permission

Frustrated at a point in her search for Weil, Haslett hired bilingual actress Soraya Broukhim to live and research the part of Simone Weil, and to speak as Weil to Haslett.

(Warning: film spoilers. Stop reading here if you prefer to see the film first.)

One scene toward the end of the film depicts Haslett and Broukhim as the Weil avatar sitting on the floor and moving the Weil pictures in an alternating montage, in a way evocative of Weil’s own characteristic kneeling in concentration over a book or set of notes.

Among other important themes of Weil are suffering and affliction. Weil’s search for knowledge was participatory, through action. She therefore sought out experiences of suffering and affliction.

Lotringer noted that Weil “Never wanted to talk about, but to be part of what she was talking about. And she could only do it if she participated in it.”

Weil wanted to join the first wave in Czechoslovakia to fight the Nazis, and later, in the early 1940s concocted a scheme in which an elite group of battlefield nurses would also parachute into France to assist the resistance, a scheme she would share with anyone who would listen until her death in 1943. Similarly, she wanted to serve in the first wave of these combat nurses. Again, Lotringer: “She didn’t want to survive. She wanted to understand.”

Haslett’s film tries to balance the narrative between Weil the philosopher-activist and Weil the religious mystic. “Not a religious person” herself, Haslett, while feeling “betrayed by Weil’s turn toward God,” tries to understand how Weil could turn away from “political struggle” to a religious search.

Haslett brings us to the very spot behind the pillar at Solesmes Abbey where Weil perched contemplating Christian mysteries. Some clergy have this same nickname for “behind-the-pillar Catholics,” those whose worship is private and contemplative, and who, like Weil, literally seek out the spots behind the pillars.

Haslett’s narrative returned to Le Puy-en-Velay, where the young Weil first taught in 1931. This town has its own statue of a Red Virgin. (Was this posting of Weil in Le Puy, a town towered over by a reddish statue of the Virgin and Child, a joke on the part of Weil’s critics in the education establishment, or of God himself, since Weil was herself nicknamed the “Red Virgin” since her student days?)

Anna Brown and Haslett appear to agree that Weil had no where else to go but religion. Brown stated Weil turned to religion when “reason had been exhausted.”

In tears, Haslett saw at this later point in Weil’s life a philosophical dead end, and here Camus’ paradigmatic choice, after Hamlet, between life and suicide.

But something else beyond this choice appears to lead Haslett’s final narrative forward. Haslett notes that in one of her final writings, Weil stated:

“You think I have something to give. I too have a growing certainty that there is within me a deposit of pure gold that must be handed on. Only I become more and more convinced that there is no one to receive it.”

(The above passage forms the fundamental theme of Prof. E. Jane Doering’s very important recent book: Doering, E. Jane. 2010. Simone Weil and the specter of self-perpetuating force. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press. Doering contends that in her final writings Weil had accomplished a paradigmatic integration of her thinking about the source of force, and thus provided a clue to the reduction of human conflict. It is interesting also to note that Weil, marginalized among the Free French government in exile, did her most significant work while working alone toward her death in seeming near despair, in parallel fashion to her brother Andre (1906-1998), who made some of his most important mathematical discoveries while imprisoned in 1940 by the French government for choosing not to serve in the military.)

In these final segments, Haslett brings forward yet more Weil quotes on attention:

“The love of our neighbor in all its fullness simply means being able to ask him, ‘What are you going through?'”

“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.”

Haslett then recalls Weil’s Platonic notion that every separation or wall is also a potential link.

Simone Weil, posted with permission

Haslett has successfully, if not rather bravely, blended two narratives, Weil’s message and life with significant events in Haslett’s own life. While not every critic so far likes this approach, I think it is one worthy of Weil herself.

Haslett has therefore crafted a moving epiphany of Simone Weil for a new generation.

Composer Daniel Thomas Davis deserves specific mention for some of his fine compositions that grace this documentary, as well as some well-chosen compositions by others, including Oliver Messiaen and Hildegarde of Bingen.

Since research is still evolving on Weil controversies such as her probable baptism and her strident views on Judaism, the Weil encountered in Haslett’s film is the heretofore accepted Weil as the perpetual outsider, who yet individually transcended human division. There is much more to Weil than this, but several films could not adequately address her complexity and gifts to humanity.

Is there very much more to Simone Weil than time permitted Haslett to reveal?

The answer to this question is emphatically yes, because the world is still catching up with Simone Weil. Witness how, even in her style of dress, minus the hat and with more modest shoes, Weil presaged the Annie Hall style by decades.

Sylvie Weil’s Contribution

The year 2010 saw not only the premier of “An Encounter with Simone Weil,” but the publication of several books which cast further light on her. I’ve already mentioned Prof. Doering’s above.

Perhaps the most significant of these books was the English-language release of Sylvie Weil’s At Home with Andre and Simone Weil by Nortwestern University Press (Weil, Sylvie, and Benjamin Ivry. 2010. At home with André and Simone Weil. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, ISBN 9780810127043 cloth, 0810127040 paper).

Sylvie Weil’s book goes a long way to revise our view of Simone Weil away from the Other I referred to at the beginning of my essay above, toward that of a very loved, gifted, and eccentric family member.

Sylvie Weil, whose graceful, self-effacing intelligence and beauty shone forth during Haslett’s interview with her, writes with irony, wit, thoughtfulness, and regret:

My insufferable aunt, my saintly aunt, that amazing one-woman outfit perpetually grinding out publicity about poverty, misery, and misfortune!

Silvie Weil, At Home with Andre and Simone Weil, 2010, Northwestern University Press, p. 154.

Sylvie, who is as we Americans put it a “dead ringer” for Simone, spent moments of her youth freezing Simone’s devotees in their tracks as if they had seen a ghost. But the young Sylvie Weil, torn between the moral paradigm of Aunt Simone, and, well, the other paradigm of Brigitte Bardot, took a very different path from that of her aunt, had her own bout with pneumonia and at a similar age to her aunt nearly died, but instead found not only love, but in the end the Jewish faith.

Sylvie Weil merited her own national recognition in France both as a student and as a writer-playwright. Sylvie provides an essential account of Simone, a lament of sorts, but also, most importantly, the healing of a memory.

Like cousin Raymonde in Haslett’s film, Sylvie repeats the family tradition that Simone’s mother went to heroic levels of deception to convince Simone that filet mignon was dog food, and that Madame “Selma” Weil had waited in line for hours with working women to get Simone the food which only they ate.

In many ways, Simone needed her parents–the effervescent Selma and her quiet physician father Bernard–to survive, just as she apparently somehow yearned to separate from them in order to die. From Sylvie we learn that Simone’s cult was established by Simone’s parents, who spent the rest of their days transcribing her notebooks, conveying them to the Bibliotheque Nationale de France, and making her, and their own Paris home a public shrine, consecrated by Camus’ visit prior to his Nobel acceptance speech. This cult split the family apart, with Sylvie’s father Andre substantially separating from his parents amid disputes and lawsuits over Simone’s literary legacy. Sylvie, who grew during these sad times of family separation, comes to terms directly with these difficulties, and in the end transcends them.

Sylvie Weil also confronts head-on the “Jewish question” as it pertains to Simone Weil, and reveals, like other critics, Simone as the disconnected heir of the Jewish tradition of charity, righteousness, and justice, tzedakah. Sylvie was livid with Simone for not writing directly of the Shoah when she was almost certainly in the know about it. It is Sylvie Weil, separated by two generations from the family rift with Simone Weil’s observant Jewish paternal grandmother, who reconnects herself, and thus in a way Simone and her admirers, with the gifts of Judaism.

With Sylvie Weil’s account, and with the credible story of Simone Weil’s baptism securely on video-tape (see my future post), Simone Weil as the perpetual Other has thankfully been brought back to earth.

Yet ironically, placing Simone Weil back onto the earth brings about the possibility that, with several more turns of the world, the world and even the Church may indeed formally recognize her, but much more soberly and realistically, for her heroic virtue.

Sylvie Weil is living proof of family love’s ability to heal memories over generations. As she aged past the death-age of Simone and joins the age of her own parents and grandparents, and as she researched the generations of her own heritage, Sylvie has, through the process of psychological re-parenting–the process of reviewing one’s own development as one plays out the role of parent–made a major contribution to the human family with her book.

Simone Weil studies will never be the same thanks to Sylvie, and that is a very good thing. After Sylvie’s contribution, it may not be necessary for so many young gifted geniuses like Simone to immolate themselves to seek the truth and to witness to it. The world makes martyrs of enough of these young gifted ones beyond their own doing.

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Other Sanity and Social Justice blog posts in preparation on Simone Weil:

Simone Weil and Judaism

Simone Weil’s Probable Baptism

Simone Weil and Lanza del Vasto

Simone Weil and the Question of Asperger’s Syndrome

Reflections on Simone Weil’s Eating Disorder

Trending Simone Weil and Simone de Beauvoir

Simone Weil, Attention, and the Ethics of the Nursing Profession

Simone Weil, Secrecy, and her Rejection of Sexuality

Answers to Some of Simone Weil’s Questions in “Letter to a Priest”

Links to reading with and about Simone Weil

And perhaps more. . . when I can get to them!

Please see my earlier post on Simone Weil.

For more about Simone Weil, see the website of the American Weil Society, and the online Simone Weil Bibliography in progress.

© Copyright 2011, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved

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On a just God, justification, and social justice

Saturday, August 21st, 2010

The teachings of Jesus are attractive in and of themselves, because they manifest a radiant kindness and love, and urge us to treat each other with an unselfish, humble, or just regard that calls upon us to love others as we would love ourselves.

The Beatitudes, the Sermon on the Mount, the Parables such as the Good Samaritan or the Prodigal Son, the incidents such as the Woman Caught in Adultery, the Priestly Prayer of Jesus at the Last Supper, and especially Christ’s Passion profoundly touch both believers and unbelievers, and have inspired many visions of a just society based upon basic human kindness and love, and upon an attempt to see God’s Kingdom come “on earth as in heaven.”

It is therefore relatively easy to love and admire Jesus the man, as millions from all backgrounds of belief and unbelief have done for centuries, and will continue to do.

This love and admiration for Jesus the man, for his teachings and example, has had an unfathomable power in shaping civilization and human history. When one considers the cruelty of law and daily life in ancient empires and cultures, one has to admit that Christian ideals, once introduced into cruel society, have literally reshaped these cruel civilizations and have thus to an important degree changed the world. There is therefore a link between the permeation of Christian ideas of kindness, love, and justice throughout cultures in history, and the slow growth of social justice, or of a just society.

That the world is not a peaceful or just place by any means of course indicates that the Christian mission is incomplete. There are many reasons for this, not the least of which include Christians themselves. In our attempts to love and to shape a just society, we Christians continue to miss the mark, or literally, to sin.

A modern Christian can accept and love Jesus the man, and form his or her life within a Christian ideal of love, kindness, and justice toward others, without ever believing in Jesus the God. In their ethic, those who follow only the human side of Jesus in a quest for social justice, appear for all the world to be Christians. But in a very deep and meaningful way, because they have not trusted, or believed, in Jesus both God and man, they do not live as Christians as Christ called them to so do.

It is therefore possible to “live a Christian life,” but at the same time not to “believe in Christ.” It is possible to strive to be “the perfect Christian” socially, but to deeply doubt or reject the salvation narrative, that for some important reason Jesus had to be both divine and human, to die, and rise, so that a new and eternal life would be available to us.

Many of us modern Christians thus stop short at the Cross, and at the Christian Mystery, the transcendent act of Christ in showing us, by his Incarnation, Life, Teachings, Sufferings, Death, and Resurrection, what perfect and eternal love is.

It is for this reason that “social justice” Christians who are not believing Christians continue to “miss the mark” by not witnessing to Christ’s love in all its perfection. The very purpose of Christ’s birth and subsequent witness, and His mission in establishing a Church, can thereby be lost. It is only by accepting the Cross, and all that led up to it and followed it, that the fuller meaning of the “Greater Love” as lived by Christ, of laying down his life for his friends, can be received. It does less good to accept only the social justice implied by Christ’s mission, than it does to accept the very stated purpose of His mission, which includes all true manifestations of justice.

Social justice attempted without “loving one another as I have loved you” risks building a society without leaving room for the transcendent calling of the human person in Christ to live not just for today, but for forever. This transcendent, eternal dimension accepts Christ as a friend, because only if we accept eternity can we know Christ as he eternally is now, as our friend. Friendship with Christ teaches us in ever more deepening ways to become friends to each other, since we share in adoption by the Father. Human friendship, the basis of any just society, is diminished when Christian friendship is incomplete.

When the human person is seen in an eternal dimension, a life ethic is not only possible, but necessary. When human life is seen as potentially eternal, then the entire span of human life requires our sacrificial respect and friendship, our love. Without belief in the Christian Mystery in addition to acceptance of the Christian ethic, there is no firm connection between life ethics and social ethics. Modern “social justice” Christians often reject the connection between life ethics and social justice ethics. But by rejecting this connection, they reject the very message and mission of Jesus Incarnate, Jesus in his true dimension of both God and man. They reject, often without knowing it, the very reason Jesus is Who He Is. They risk rejecting Salvation, life complete and abundant.

For anyone who has struggled with the questions—

“Why was it necessary for God to become man and die?” or

“What was accomplished by Christ’s death on the cross?” or

“Why was it necessary for Christ to found a Church?” and

“From what do we have to be ‘saved’?”

–the notion of a just God, of justification, and of social justice seem to clash. Modern Christians often accept a quest for social justice, but are perplexed by a just God, or why justification is even necessary.

Yet in searching and listening for a connection among these three concepts of just-ness, we can ever more discover their very meaning, learn more deeply what Christ teaches us, receive healing and therefore integration of our very selves, and gain deeper insight into the steps necessary to improve human life in general.

Outside the Scriptures, there are perhaps no more profound, beautiful, and compact summaries of the salvation narrative than are to be found in the Confessions of St. Augustine of Hippo.

St. Augustine ended the famous Tenth Book of his Confessions, a meditation on memory, with an eloquent summary of the role of Christ as Mediator between a just God and imperfect and mortal human beings.

For the past several days I have been carefully reading, re-reading, and meditating on this passage, which also appears in the Office of Readings for Friday of the Sixteenth Week.

I first list the Latin original, then two different English translations:

Verax autem mediator, quem secreta tua misericordia demonstrasti hominibus, et misisti, et eius exemplo etiam ipsam discerent humilitatem, mediator ille dei et hominum, homo Christus Iesus, inter mortales peccatores et inmortalem iustum apparuit, mortalis cum hominibus, iustus cum deo, ut, quoniam stipendium iustitiae vita et pax est, per iustitiam coniunctam deo evacuaret mortem iustificatorum inpiorum, quam cum illis voluit habere conmunem. hic demonstratus est antiquis sanctis, ut ita ipsi per fidem futurae passionis eius, sicut nos per fidem praeteritae, salvi fierent in quantum enim homo, in tantum mediator, in quantum autem verbum, non medius, quia aequalis deo et deus apud deum et simul unus deus. In quantum nos amasti, pater bone, qui filio tuo unico non pepercisti, sed pro nobis inpiis tradidisti eum! quomodo nos amasti, pro quibus illi non rapinam arbitratus esse aequalis tibi factus est subditus usque ad mortem crucis: unus ille in mortuis liber, potestatem habens ponendi animam suam et potestatem habens iterum sumendi eam, pro nobis tibi victor et victima, et ideo victor, quia victima, pro nobis tibi sacerdos et sacrificium, et ideo sacerdos, quia sacrificium, faciens tibi nos de servis filios de te nascendo, tibi serviendo. merito mihi spes valida in illo est, quod sanabis omnes languores meos per eum, qui sedet ad dexteram tuam et te interpellat pro nobis: alioquin desperarem. multi enim et magni sunt idem languores, multi sunt et magni; sed amplior est medicina tua. potuimus putare verbum tuum remotum esse a coniunctione hominis et desperare de nobis, nisi caro fieret et habitaret in nobis. Conterritus peccatis meis et mole miseriae meae, agitaveram corde meditatusque fueram fugam in solitudinem, sed prohibuisti me et confortasti me dicens: Ideo Christus pro omnibus mortuus est, ut et qui vivunt iam non sibi vivant, sed ei qui pro omnibus mortuus est. ecce, domine, iacto in te curam meam, ut vivam, et considerabo mirabilia de lege tua. tu scis inperitiam meam et infirmitatem meam: doce me et sana me. ille tuus unicus, in quo sunt omnes thesauri sapientiae et scientiae absconditi, redemit me sanguine suo. non calumnientur mihi superbi, quoniam cogito pretium meum, et manduco et bibo, et erogo et pauper cupio saturari ex eo inter illos, qui edunt et saturantur: et laudabunt dominum qui requirunt eum.

The above passage is taken from Book 10, 43 68 of Augustine’s Confessions at:
http://hiphi.ubbcluj.ro/fam/texte/augustin/augustin-conf10.htm

An alternative text is at:
http://www.stoa.org/hippo/text10.html

The Maria Boulding, OSB translation:

In your unfathomable mercy you first gave the humble certain pointers to the true Mediator, and then sent him, so that by his example they might learn even a humility like his. This Mediator between God and humankind, the man Christ Jesus, appeared to stand between mortal sinners and the God who is immortal and just: like us he was mortal, but like God he was just. Now the wage due to justice is life and peace; and so, through the justice whereby he was one with God he broke the power of death on behalf of malefactors rendered just, using that very death to which he had willed to liable along with them.

He was pointed out to holy people under the old dispensation that they may be saved by faith in his future passion, as we are through faith in that passion now accomplished.

Only in virtue of humanity is he the Mediator; in his nature as the Word he does not stand between us and God, for he is God’s equal, God with God, and with him only one God.

How you loved us, O good Father, who spared not even your only Son, but gave him up for us evildoers! How you loved us, for whose sake he who deemed it no robbery to be your equal was made subservient even to the point of dying on the cross! Alone of all, he was free among the dead, for he had power to lay down his life and power to retrieve it. For our sake he stood to you as both victor and victim, and victor because victim; for us he stood to you as priest and sacrifice, and priest because sacrifice, making us sons and daughters to you instead of servants by being born of you to serve us.

With good reason there is solid hope for me in him, because you will heal all my infirmities through him who sits at your right hand and intercedes for us. Were it not so, I should despair. Many and grave are those infirmities, many and grave; but wider-reaching is your healing power. We might have despaired, thinking your Word remote from any conjunction with humankind, had he not become flesh and made his dwelling among us.

Filled with terror by my sins and my load of misery, I had been turning over in my mind a plan to flee into solitude; but you forbade me, and strengthened me by your words: To this end Christ died for all, you reminded me, that they who are alive might live not for themselves but for him who died for them.

See, then, Lord: I cast my care upon you so that I may live, and I will contemplate the wonders you have revealed. You know how stupid and weak I am: teach me and heal me. Your only Son, in whom are hidden all treasures of wisdom and knowledge, has redeemed me with his blood. Let not the proud disparage me, for I am mindful of my ransom. I eat it, I drink it, I dispense it to others, and as a poor man I long to be filled with it among those who are fed and feasted. And then, let those who seek him praise the Lord.

From: the Confessions of St. Augustine, Maria Boulding, OSB, translator, New City Press, 1999, pp. 220-222.

Office of Readings translation:

The true Mediator was he whom you revealed to humble men in your secret mercy, and whom you sent so they might learn that same humility by following his example. This was the Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus, who intervened between sinful mortals and the immortal Just One, himself mortal like men, and like God, just. Thus, since life and peace are the compensation for righteousness, he could, by a justice united with God, annul the death of sinners now justified, since he willed to share death with them.

Good Father, how you loved us, sparing not your only Son but delivering him up for us sinners! How you loved us, for whose sake he, thinking it no robbery to be equal with you, was made subject to death on the cross. He alone, free among the dead, had the power to lay down his life and the power to take it up again. For our sake he became in your sight both victor and victim – victor, indeed, because he was victim. For our sake, too, he became before you both priest and sacrifice – priest, indeed, because he was a sacrifice, changing us from slaves to sons by being your Son and serving us.

Rightly then have I firm hope that you will heal all my infirmities through him who sits at your right hand and intercedes for us. Otherwise I should despair. For great and numerous are these infirmities of mine, great indeed and numerous, but your medicine is mightier. We might have thought your Word remote from any union with man, and so have despaired of ourselves, if he had not become flesh and dwelt among us.

Crushed by my sins and the weight of my misery, I had taken thought in my heart and contemplated flight into the desert. But you stopped me and gave me comfort with the words: Christ died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them.

Behold, Lord, I cast upon you my concern that I may live and I shall meditate on the wonders of your law. You know my ignorance and my weakness; teach me and heal me. Your only Son, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, redeemed me with his blood. Let not arrogant men speak evil of me. For I meditate on my ransom, and I eat it and drink it and try to share it with others; though poor I want to be filled with it in the company of those who eat and are filled and they shall praise the Lord who seek him.

Catholic Church. 1983. The office of readings: according to the Roman rite. The divine office, revised by decree of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council and published by authority of Pope Paul VI. Boston, MA: St. Paul Editions, pp. 912-913.

(I suggest that you read the above several times until you begin praying or contemplating, then slowly consider the great mysteries Augustine attempts to communicate. Then repeat!)

The words of Augustine above, as always, are completely permeated with Scriptural phrases and concepts. Maria Boulding cross-referenced twenty-six of these, especially from the letters of Paul (1 Tm 2:5; 2 Tm 1:10; Rom 4:5; 1 Tm 2:4; Phil 2:6; Phil 2:6,8; Gal 4:7; Rom 8:34; 2 Cor 5:15; Col 2:3; 1 Cor 10:31, 11:29), Letter to the Hebrews (Heb 9:28; Heb 7:27), the Gospels (Jn 1:1; Jn 10:18; Jn 1:14; Jn 6:55,57; Lk 16:21), and the Psalms (Ps 87:6 {88:5}; Ps 102 {103}:3; Ps 54:23 {55:22}; Ps 118 {119} 17-18; Ps 68:6 {69:5}; Ps 24 {25}:5, 6:3 {2}; Ps 118 {119}:22; Ps 21:27 {22:26}). The 1927 Cambridge edition of the Confessions also lists a number of other passages echoed in this text (Rom 6:23; 1 Cor 15:55, and more). One could spend weeks reading these Scripture references and meditating on their meaning, and on the interplay between these passages and Augustine’s text.

What I have drawn from meditating on these readings so far, both from Augustine and Scripture, is that we call God just because of God’s perfection, God’s holiness. We humans are not perfect as God is, but we are called to be as God is. Jesus, as Mediator, makes it possible for us to grow closer to God in perfection, to be made perfect and just like God is, in other words, to become justified, so that in seeing us, God would see the intended perfection of creation.

The path to justification is humility, the conformance of our persons to Christ the Mediator and thus to God, just as Christ was humble in following His Father’s will.

In order to make us just, Christ had to break death itself, otherwise, we humans would continue to miss the mark—to sin—in our quest to become just. Sin and death stand between us taking on the justness for which God calls us, and indeed, created us. Christ, the Mediator, both Victim and Victor, both Priest and Sacrifice, calls us to become the free children of God, and to no longer be slaves, or victims, and no longer miss the mark—by sin—and by death. Christ is the Mediator of our adoption by the Father, a gift of loving grace. By partaking in the Eucharist, the sacrament (an oath to the death), both meal and sacrifice, we associate ourselves most intimately with the Mediator, the Christ, and hope, or trust in, a life both just and eternal, by celebrating the Eucharist in a real time and a real place to join us with the living and eternal sacrifice of Christ, in eternal communion with the saints. This trust and hope take place in a real time and in a real place, and in eternity, and empower us to act. Since “the wage due to God’s justice is life and peace,” we follow Christ in respecting life and peace.

This sacramental aspect has powerful implications. Just as Christ physically was born, lived, died, and rose in order to teach His message of the Greater Love, so also we do as He asked in memory of Him by partaking in the Eucharist, which inextricably links Christ’s act of salvation and our own. We accept, affirm, partake, and participate in this eternal act of justification by celebrating this Eucharist.

Christ linked us to his life of sacrifice by the Sacrament of the Eucharist. By partaking in the Eucharist, we accept the same friendship that he offered to the Twelve at the Last Supper. Without this Eucharist, there can be no full friendship with Christ in this world, because only in the Eucharist, do we enter the same place and time—the no-time of eternity— with Christ.

Without the Eucharist, a just God is hidden, justification is impeded, and social justice is denied an eternal ethic of life, thus reducing our vision of human justice to utilitarian or worldly calculations alone. By accepting an eternal dimension to human life, we grow to respect human life’s most subtle, most invisible, most vulnerable, and most dependent manifestations, and we thus can approach social justice in a total, wholistic way, not rejecting any dimension of humanity from our considerations, and therefore, from our love.

Great progress has been made since the Second Vatican Council in achieving a shared Christian understanding on justification. The historic Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification by the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church of 1999 affirmed that good works follow justification.

Now that so many historic theological difficulties have been resolved in such a spiritual and fruitful Declaration, and the Christian basis for good works has been reaffirmed, why not enter the door to Christ in the Eucharist? When such a gift of grace as the Eucharist has been given to us by Christ Himself, why refrain?

I therefore urge my readers who wish to know the just God, to be justified themselves, and to work for social justice, to meet Christ in the Eucharist, and to acknowledge his real and eternal presence. Who knows where He will lead you next.

It is not an accident that Catholic Worker co-founder Dorothy Day attended the Eucharist frequently, and spent many hours praying before the Divine Presence.

© Copyright 2010, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved

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