Friday 28 June 2013

Silicon Valley


The names San Jose, Santa Clara, Palo Alto and Menlo Park are lodged somewhere in the mists of my memory, and in the last few days have been dredged up by 'direct personal experience.' I am in the middle of Silicon Valley. The Thai restaurant seemed quiet and deserted on a hot summer day, but all of a sudden, at around 1215, it filled up, with young and not-so-young people of all kinds, Chinese, Indians, Causasians, Hispanics, African-American, probably professionals from the various industries around. The Caltrain connecting downtown San Francisco (4th and Kings) with the valley is a wonderful service. But this is the America of cars and distances, and most of my friends here have rarely or never used it. The space: perhaps that is what is remarkable about the West country: enormous distances, huge roads, low-lying houses, all conspiring to make it almost impossible to walk around from one place to another. 

Sunday 23 June 2013

Your brains are wired differently

Your brains are wired differently. Scans show that memory has become redundant. Education is meant for my brain. You are the first generation of internet babies. You have two degrees - the one you were born into, and the one you have just acquired. You were born into the internet. In my lifetime, when you got your first job, you expected that it would last you a lifetime. You will probably have at least a dozen different jobs in your lifetime.


No job is too small

No job is too small. When I was in university, my people did not have too much money, so I had to work in an auctioning place. I watched people's behaviour, and what I learned there was very precious for the future. I learnt that some people bid out of ego, some for fun. People were ready to pay more for a used chair than what it would cost for a new one. There is a psychology in buying. It's enough to walk into a supermarket to experience that for yourself. You end up buying things that you never thought of buying when you entered, and probably don't really need. Buying is about seeing, desiring, feeling attracted, calculating that something is a bargain that is too difficult to pass by... Buying is not need; it is psychology. So is the art of selling.

When I was in class, I was the only boy in my class, and in order to make friends with the girls, I joined typing class like most of them. That skill came in very handy especially when computers came in: when my companions were one-finger typists, I was able to use all ten fingers. But life has a way of equalling up: now we have i-phones, and there are people who can use their thumbs much faster than I can ever hope to learn. 

Happiness

Chinese Proverb quoted by Prem Watsa at a convocation ceremony at the University of Waterloo:
If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap. If you want happiness for a day, go fishing. If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody.

Chuyen's ordination

Chuyen and his father

The blessings

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Tim Ploch drove me up from Provincial House, San Francisco, to St Luke's Parish, Stockton, for Chuyen's ordination which began punctually at 1000 hrs. A very large number of people - relatives, friends, and Salesians, Family and youth from all over the province - in a church that looks small from the outside, but is really quite capacious. Bishop Stephen Blaire ordained Chuyen, giving a very beautiful homily. Chuyen prostrating on the bare floor, and stumbling over the First Eucharistic prayer (he prayed twice for the pope and for the ordaining bishop, thinking that the N.N. meant the prayer for the dead) much to my liturgical and formative embarrassment. But still, a very beautiful liturgy, extraordinary singing in English and in Vietnamese, and a very recollected and edifying ordination candidate. A few thanksgiving speeches after the final prayer, and then lunch for all in the adjacent gym, once again so apparently small and yet so capacious within. No further ado, really - neither speeches nor songs nor even an attempt to entertain. The newly ordained had a huge line in the gym queuing up for his blessing, and he took his time doing that. He was the last to eat, and was probably so hungry that he ate in his priestly vestments, with his father sitting by.

A staunchly pious Catholic family that has given not one but two sons to the Salesians. Both the bishop and the provincial were warm in their appreciation for the contributions of the Vietnamese community to the Catholic church in the country.


Conversation, listening, and interreligious dialogue

McGuinn Hall
 And again (from Fred Lawrence): conversation is really allowing somebody to tell you something that is not so easy to accept. Better, of course, if they do it with love.

A true friend is someone who can tell you what is not so easy to tell and not so easy to accept.

Now a key gift of the Holy Spirit is the ability to listen. And so interreligious dialogue is not just telling. It is listening. 

Baruch haShem, Hamdulillah

McGuinn Hall, venue of the main LW sessions
Fred Lawrence again, this time on a phrase from the Our Father: Thy will be done.

God’s will was to allow evil. And when we pray 'Thy will be done,' we are accepting God’s will. So like the Jews, and with the Jews, we have to learn to say Baruch haShem in every circumstance.

Also Hamdulillah, I would say. 

The intuition of deprival

Dynamic statue of Ignatius of Loyola, with Fulton Hall in the background
One of Fred Lawrence’s pregnant asides, after the talk of Jeremy Wilkins: we all have an intuition of deprival. We all desire conversation, and very much. The intuition of deprival is the feeling that we are missing something.... Great phrase, pregnant with meaning, as I said. I wonder what made Fred say that.

Interestingly, Jeremy linked conversation with conversion. I had no idea that the two were linked. Conversatio, he pointed out, was polyvalent term in christian literature. In the Benedictine Rule it simply means living together. Commonly, today, it means an exchange of ideas. But in Fred Lawrence's work it has taken a rich meaning that needs to be attended to, appropriated, unravelled. Perhaps something will be done in the forthcoming Festschrift for Fred that Jeremy and Shawn Copeland are editing. 

Friday 21 June 2013

Picking from the Workshop

Fulton Hall, venue of the evening sessions
So: what do I pick up from this workshop?
The Trinity in the implementation of the Council, in the world, in our lives, in my life.
A great focus on the redemption. The role of wisdom in redemption, and the way redemption will be / is reflected in everything, and so the need to be attentive to the way it is present there.
Two great topics coming to light: discernment and wisdom.
The role of provincial councils, especially in the choice of bishops.
Also the liturgical emphasis on the eschaton, which is communion, the gathering into one of the scattered children of God.

Richard Liddy on Newman and the university

St Ignatius of Loyola Church on the Lower Campus
Last day of the Lonergan Workshop 40 (2013)

Richard Liddy spoke about Newman and the University. Newman’s book, The Idea of a University, he said, is considered even by secular scholars as one of the most important books to have been ever written on higher education. Newman’s idea of a university was still a storehouse of knowledge, a teaching place rather than a research place, and Lonergan points out that the modern university is a place where knowledge is disseminated in order to bring about social and cultural change. But always the issue is: how to bring wisdom into the university. Newman was insistent on the idea of the whole: if an important piece like theology is pulled out or left out, it affects the whole, it distorts the whole, and some other discipline steps in and tends to take over the role that theology used to play. The idea of the whole, of course, has to do with wisdom. 

Volk and Miller on redemption

Last day of Lonergan Workshop 40 (2013).

John Volk highlighted the role of wisdom in understanding redemption, something I would never have imagined. He spoke a lot about Lonergan’s attempt to integrate wisdom and prudence, and put the whole into relationship with the issue of renewal and reform in the church. The issue is not between a hermeneutics of continuity or discontinuity, but a hermeneutics of authenticity: knowing how to discern good and bad in both past and present, in order to forge a future under God.

Mark Miller compared Lonergan and Anselm, pointing out that Anselm is not as bad as he is made out to be, and that he anticipates several of the factors that Lonergan brings into his understanding of redemption: interiority, interpersonal relations, love, and so on.  Fred Lawrence pointed out how wisdom comes into all this: in his wisdom, God permitted evil. Evil is a surd, but he permits it because he sees a way of bringing out good. It has to do with Anselm’s satisfaction and Aquinas’ mercy. Mercy involves taking care of both justice and love. So the question is, and Anselm’s question is, how to satisfy justice in the context of evil, and with love. You can argue about his answer, but his question has to be met. 

Patrick H. Byrne, "Discernment and Self-Appropriation"

Another significant paper at the Workshop this morning was that of Patrick Byrne on Discernment, which was the first chapter of a forthcoming book on The Ethics of Discernment.

Pat structures his book around Lonergan's three questions, but in an ethical key: What are we doing when we are being ethical? Why is doing that being ethical? and What is brought about by doing that? A final part deals with Method in Ethics.

He draws much from Lonergan's Jesuit background: discernment in the Spiritual Exercises, it is now established, did provide one of the matrices from which Lonergan worked out his phenomenology of judgments of fact and of value. The more remote backgrounds are his appropriation of Newman, Aquinas, and Aristotle.

I liked something Pat quoted from Aristotle scholar David Reeve. Many think that for Aristotle, dialectic is a foolproof way of identifying first principles. According to Reeve, Aristotle says that in the end, dialectic is not enough. What is needed is euphuia. Reeve translates this as 'capacity for discernment.' Literally, it means 'good disposition, disposition towards the good and the truth' It is a kind of virtue, and is the capacity of picking out from the options presented.

So again and again dialectic goes back to discernment. Like: how does Aristotle make his option for the theorem of knowing as identity over the Platonic theorem of knowing as confrontation? And how does Aquinas know he has to follow Aristotle? The ultimate answer is: discernment. A familiarity, Lonergan says, with a number of options and their consequences, and a wise choice. How do we know that choice is correct? Well, as we go along, the consequences and implications unfold. A sort of self-correcting process here, and ultimately, the judgment of history.

William Murnion, "Many Thomases - One Thomas"

4th day of the 40th Lonergan Workshop. This morning one of the papers was William Murnion's "Many Thomases - One Thomas." Bill was unable to make it to the conference - he is one of the several Lonergan people who are unwell at the moment - so Dick Liddy read out a summary of his paper and then we had a conference with Bill on Skye. At several moments you could see Bill turning emotional. There is a sort of end of the era feeling about this Workshop. Fred himself is pushing 74, and no one is getting younger. Though I must say there is a solid crop of young scholars who are extremely intelligent and very promising.

The upshot of Bill's paper: despite the many kinds of Thomism - Historical Thomism, Neo-Thomism, Transcendental Thomism, Analytical Thomism, and now Postmodern Thomism - there is only one Thomas, and he has a coherent philosophy radiating out of his philosophy of mind. It would appear that, where Lonergan found that Thomas knew about consciousness and self-consciousness, and practised the method of psychological introspection or self-appropriation, but did not thematize it, Bill maintains that Thomas not only knew about and practised self-appropriation, but also spoke about it.

When Fred Lawrence asked Bill about his differing from Lonergan on the matter, Bill said that he had spent more time on Thomas than Lonergan. Lonergan tended to concentrate on Prima Pars, whereas Bill had spent a lot of time also on the Secunda Secundae and other parts. 

Wednesday 19 June 2013

The heavenly Father's reward

Mass again at Gasson Hall, presided by William Russell, SJ - philosophy man - who gave a lovely homily on prayer, almsgiving, fasting. During the reading of the gospel I was struck by the phrase "you already have your reward", and was wondering what might be the reward promised by the heavenly Father. Bill Russell cast light on that: the joy of giving. Or, perhaps, as Jesus says in the gospel of John: My Father and I will come and dwell with you." And the theme of joy that echoes also in the letters of John.

40th Lonergan Workshop

Stayer Hall on the Lower Campus

This is Stayer Hall where we are staying, most of us, during the 40th Lonergan Workshop currently in session at Boston College. The last few times I've been put up at the Jesuit residence at St Mary's Hall, but St Mary's is undergoing extensive renovation, and will be unavailable for at least another year. There's a lot of building and reconstruction activity going on on the BC campus this time - so it's far from being the extraordinarily beautiful place it normally is. And the heavy showers don't help! And still the Workshop goes on. We begin at 0900, go on up to 1230 or 1300 as happened today. Small groups (workshops) meet again at 1400. The common sessions resume at 1600 and go up to 1730. Then there is the 'evening' session at 1930 in Fulton Hall, usually. I was on this evening, with a paper entitled "Experience: 'A Most Enigmatic Concept'," and, surprisingly a goodly number turned up, despite the rain and the cold. In between, in the all too brief lunch break, you have to manage visiting the Lonergan Emporium run by Kerry Cronin and Susan in Bapst Hall, catch a bite (there are two cafeterias on campus - McElroy Commons and another smaller one on Campanella Way which I discovered only today; there are other small shops off campus, near the Green Line Terminal), and a nap if possible. Busy life. 

Saturday 8 June 2013

Young man, I say to you, arise!

The gospel of the coming Sunday is Lk 7:11-17, Jesus raising the son of the widow of Nain. Rossi de Gasperis calls this a jewel of Lucan composition. I was struck, for the first time, by the phrase, "the only son of his mother, and she was a widow." (Lk 7:12) Jesus is also the only son of his mother, and she was a widow by the time he began his public life, I suppose. So this episode makes almost direct allusion to Jesus, and the raising of the son to the Rising of Jesus.

Nain: not far from Shunem, modern Sulam. The village not only of Abishag, the beautiful Shunemite who was called to keep David warm in his old age, but also scene of the raising of a widow's son by the prophet Elisha, which itself recalls the raising of the son of the widow of Zarepta by the prophet Elijah. "Fear seized them all; and they glorified God, saying, 'A great prophet has arisen among us!'" (Lk 7:16) Jesus is the Prophet who is to Come.

And also "'God has visited his people!'" (Lk 7:16) An almost deliberate allusion to the Canticle of Zechariah at the beginning of the gospel of Luke, which speaks about God visiting his people like the dawn from on high, come il sole che sorge. Jesus, the visit of God. Rossi de Gasperis says the Greek word used is related to episkopos, bishop. The bishop is the one who visits the church, in the name of the the Lord, a visit of love and of compassion to his people. Beautiful.

And the visit is a visit of compassion: Jesus touches the bier (Lk 7:14), overcoming all barriers of legal impurity. And he is moved with compassion: "And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, 'Do not weep.'" (Lk 7:13) You are moved with compassion for us, O Lord, and we are moved by your compassion. And you say to us, mired as we often are in bogs of our own making: "Do not weep! I am here. All will be well." All will be well: the words of a mother to her child who has awoken in the night, and is fearful. Sign of transcendence (Peter Berger): if there is no God, if in the end the world is a useless breath without meaning (Nietzsche), this is ultimately false, the mother is telling a Great Lie.

And to the young man: "Young man, I say to you, arise." What better words for a Salesian? Young man, I say to you, arise. Words that could very well be our new motto, as we approach the Bicentenary of the birth of that extraordinary young man, Johnny Bosco. Da mihi animas, cetera tolle, translated into Young man, I say to you, arise! Let us be going! It is enough! We have things to do! Do not tarry along the byways of the world. The episode of the raising of a young woman follows soon after in the gospel of Luke: in chapter 8, we have the raising of the daughter of Jairus (Lk 8:40-56). And then, soon, the episode of the Transfiguration, that brilliant anticipation of the Resurrection, the Resurrection that reaches backward and transfigures the humanity of Jesus (Lk 9:28-36). 

Friday 7 June 2013

Kazantzakis and the Sacred Heart

Wonderful story from Nikos Kazantzakis' The Last Temptation of Christ:
Sunrise found Jesus and John the Baptist sitting above the Jordan in the hollow of a precipitous rock. [Did Kazantzakis know of the Mount of Temptation, I ask myself.] All night long the two of them had held the world in their hands, deliberating what to do with it. Sometimes one took it, sometimes the other. The one's face was severe and decisive: his arms went up and down as though hewere actually holding an ax and striking. The other's face was tame and irresolute, his eyes full of compassion.
"Isn't love enough?" he asked.
"No," answered the Baptist angrily. "The tree is rotten. God called to me and gave me the ax, which I then placed at the roots of the tree. I did my duty. Now you do yours: take the ax and strike!"
"If I were fire, I would burn; if I were a woodcutter, I would strike. But I am a heart, and I love." (2013 Bible Diary. Bangalore: Claretian Publications, 2012, Friday. 7 June 2013: Feast of the Sacred Heart)
Pushing Francis de Sales further: to say, not to God, but to a human being, "Even if you don't love me, I will love you, I will never stop loving you."

The Beloved Disciple leaning on the heart of Jesus; Jesus leaning on the heart of the Father. As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Abide in my love. And love one another.

The heart of Jesus, the heart formed and moulded also by his mother. A young man from Nazareth who  was the striking image of his mother. 

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