Category Archives: Education

John 11: 50

 

Here is a letter I have written to Fr. Robert Shanley, President of Providence College, and who is currently presidentially presiding over the very dignified and collegial lynching of a great scholar, a devout Catholic defender of the Truth, and a good and decent man.  I imagine him in his robes of office: aloof, yes, compassionate, of course, aware of all the necessary facts, without question, and deeply concerned for the lives, and souls and the, well, the reputations about to be supported or sacrificed for the greater good of the school and benefit of all mankind.  It is what presidents do…when not playing golf or hosting benefactors, delivering speeches and looking magisterial and compassionate, wise and consoling, boundlessly merciful and intuitively practical; when being, in a word, godly:

 

Rev Robert Shanley, O.P.

President

Providence College

1 Cunningham Square

Providence, RI 02918 USA

 

Dear Father Shanley,

You have been described to me by people better informed than I am as a philosopher, an art of which I have only a passing knowledge.  And as a priest, and a Dominican at that, I am reasonably sure that you are more than well versed in Catholic theology. Indulge me in a little bit of my own background, stories from my youth about philosophy and theology.

Father Anthony Rubsys, who went to Heaven, I am sure, in August, 2002, was a refugee from Communism who came to America during the Hungarian uprising.  He was a biblical scholar fluent in seven languages, a good and gentle, a loving, man.  He taught me in class and counseled me out of it.  He was extremely intelligent, extremely gentle and deeply concerned for The Good.  Why else not, I have often wondered while thinking about and praying for him; a man who saw and suffered much, all of it the result of when and where he lived before coming to this country, through the horrors of Nazism and the Second World War and the soul sickening weight of post-war Communist rule.

As an assignment in one of his classes, I wrote a paper on Thus Spake Zarathustra.  I was taken then with the Strauss tone poem, and stupid student stuff.  So I wrote the paper and handed it in.  Several days later Father Rubsys returned it with this note in his handwriting above my title, which was something like Superman, “Why do you waste your time on this when the faith has so much more to offer, to study?”  I cannot remember much beyond the title of the thing I wrote about. Nor can I remember much about the music, except what bit of it opens that film by Stanley Kubrick.  Few, I suspect, will remember much about it, if anything at all in another hundred or so years.  Almost no one knows the film’s music’s title.

Harry Blair was a much decorated World War II veteran, a tank commander in Gen. Patton’s Third Army, a tragic man, and a Shakespeare and Renaissance scholar.  I took every class of his that I could and got to know him very well.  He drank too much; but, I suppose, he had every reason to do that.  When he taught King Lear his classroom was filled beyond capacity. His rendering of the King’s speech in the storm on the moor brought more than one student to tears, myself included, as we listened to an old man pour out his grief at having given his life to his children and been misunderstood, spurned, betrayed, cast away.

I once had a letter published in the school’s newspaper…the editor was a friend of mine…and Harry read it, of course.  The letter called for the “aggiornamento” underway in Rome to be extended and applied at the school, for there to be a radical change in, well, just about everything.  I remember I called not only for windows to be opened but walls to be demolished and ended with “I would have no church at all!”  Brave words, I have thought more than once since.  Brave words for the inferno we face, now.  We sat together, Harry and I at the bar in the Pinewood drinking an afternoon beer and he showed me the issue of the paper with my letter, quietly asking me what had possessed me to write it.  Seriously I answered at length about all of the things I saw that were wrong and needed changing.  “You are very young,” he answered, and then we went on to talk of other things, though I do recall him wondering aloud about the lady I was soon to marry and asking how she felt, how I might feel when I was a father.  But, there he left it.

Bear with me, please, Father.  I do have a point.

There is no doubt that Alexander Solzhenitsyn was a philosopher like yourself, and a great and good man.  Were he a Catholic, I suppose his cause would already have been introduced.  In many ways he was a martyr for the truth, and a lover of the beautiful in people, in society and in all of creation; even when found in the Gulag, anterooms to hell built and maintained by hell’s servants here on earth.  Maybe that’s overly dramatic, but, nevertheless…  Joseph Pearce, who wrote an excellent biography of Solzhenitsyn, has written his own story, and a fascinating one it is.  He calls it Race With the Devil, and discusses his descent into violent racism and hate, and ascent from it through the grace of God.  Indulge me in a quote from Pearce’s book:

“My descent into delinquency was aided and abetted by the progressive philosophy adopted by the school. No effort was made to impose discipline, which resulted in the triumph of anarchy in the classroom… (The) disruptive elements made it difficult, if not impossible, for teachers to teach and for students to learn.”

I apologize for the size of the quote.  I cannot figure out how to change the font. Nevertheless, it’s the sad truth and the tragic cause of the matter at hand, and the inevitable result of the choice in this matter (and in how many others?) you and the faculty quislings who brought this complaint against Professor Esolen to you seem, for all of your wisdom, training, education and Catholicity, to have made.  That the “death” of one man is necessary.

And, I cannot understand why you did what you did; a great disservice to the students , confirming them in their stupid and uncharitable,  selfish and infantile behavior…at the same time causing pain, anxiety and worry to not only this good man and his family, but thousands of other people who have never yet met the man face to face but know and treasure him through his prolific good works, his brilliantly clear and consistently charitable mind, and his reliably masterful scholarship.

You are a priest and pastor, too, finally much more important callings than mere president.  Have you acted in this instance as either one?

I expect that  Caiaphas was thought a wise and good man, a president, so to speak, who gave no help when help was needed.  And, of course, we all know what to think of Pontius Pilate, who simply gave up before the angry mob.

Which of the two should one say best describes you in this matter?

Yours truly,

Peter Gallaher

PS:  I only know of one other person named Shanley, a fellow I came across many years ago when I was working.  He was a Wormtongue, covert slave to Saruman.  In other words a coward and a traitor.

 

 

Get Ready, ‘Cause Here I Come!

Down at the mall where my love and I work about once a week I walked through the doors to the food court on the day after Halloween a week and a little while ago.  Passing into the food court I heard playing in the background something from the 60’s.  It was a kind of Mo-Town recording of Frosty the Snowman; something like that, up-beat, smiley, guaranteed to put you in the mood…the mood to spend money.  That is after all the only reason to go to the mall.

It was the first day of November and Christmas was already here.  Or should I, out of respect, call it XMAS, and let it signify something entirely different than the old feast.  It is the last place, I suppose, outside of a few churches, where one will be able to remember the fact, and observe it after a fashion, that Christmas has once again rolled around.  The columns around the food court were decorated with colorfully lit wreaths.  Santa’s little perch in the middle of the mall where he will sit in state and dandle little kids on his knee for $25.00 a pop was already in business.  The Christmas Shop, in the space only a day before occupied by the Halloween Shop had garlands of phony pine needles, sparkling ornaments and yards of lights hanging where a scant 12 hours before hung goblins and mummies.  Walls now dripping with gay decoration only a day ago dripped with bloody horror for sale; another modern marketing sacrilege against an ancient and respectable remembrance, a time set aside to pray for our beloved dead.

The pace will accelerate, the fever will grow, the music will continue to batter the mind and ease the will into the right disposition, a mixture of frenzy and fear, frenzy to get and fear that it may not after all be able to be gotten, to satisfy the equal hunger in the heart of the recipient to receive; a hunger for the bright, the new, the perfectly engineered obsolescent machine, the momentarily stylish garment, the magically soon to be un-popular  film, game, cd; the breakable toy, the perfect gift; the one that cannot last.

Be not afraid.  Though it last what may seem an eternity of anxiety, frantic hurrying, grasping crowds, angry waiting, immense traffic jams, this season of worry and false cheer, the season of Xmas, it will end soon enough, sometime in the early afternoon of December 25th.  That is the time when the Community of Man, having feasted as few may have feasted in the million or so years of our presence here (except for the community meat frenzy around the occasional ten ton wooly mammoth, or the Neronic wallow in hummingbird tongues and other gustatory delights), gathered as one people before the Eye will enjoy The Games.  That is the climax of what used to be the celebration of the Birth of Jesus Christ, God and Man, in Bethlehem, in a manger, warmed by animals, sung by angels, adored by rough shepherds, held by His Virgin Mother Mary, watched over by His foster father Saint Joseph the peasant carpenter.

You will not have heard the name Jesus mentioned, or all the wonderful story of His birth retold in any mall, or sung in any song played there, in all the year; and especially not during this long season of the New Observation of the feast.  The primary desire is to keep one from thinking about all of that, about sacrifice, about Love, about salvation, about worship, about Beauty, Truth and Good.  You are meant to think about haste, about frenzy, about exhaustion, about anger, about excess of every kind.  That is the spirit of Xmas.

The first toy will break by 11:00am on Xmas morning.  When, the next day, you visit the Mall to bring back all that could not fit, was not wanted or was broken on opening the music will be a pleasant blend of “recent hits”, the Santa set will have been struck, the decorations gone, the wall bare, the Christmas store closed, its windows papered over.  Only business will be conducted as it should be, conducted with surgical efficiency and speed.

_______________________________________________________________________________________________

Perhaps I should let that be what it is and stop.  But then..

Yesterday was the Feast of St. Albert the Great the Dominican philosopher, scientist, teacher of St. Thomas Aquinas.  He believed among other things that the world around us shone with the glory of God and part of the work of his life, his scientific explorations and discoveries, was in the service of demonstrating that belief, making it plain as day; the world is Good, and True, and Beautiful.  His mortal remains lie today in a humble crypt beneath St. Andrew’s Church in Cologne, Germany.  Not long ago my wife, Mariellen, and I were there.

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St. Andrew’s Church, Cologne, from the tower of Cologne Cathedral

It’s a lovely church just down the street from a magnificent structure, the Cathedral, built be people whose beliefs, if not as sophisticated or scientific as St. Albert’s, matched them.  You should make the pilgrimage, perhaps at Christmas time.  It will be unlike any Christmas you may have spent since you were a child yourself.

The Gospel yesterday told of Jesus’ conversation with the folks who want to know from Him when the world will end.  That short passage was one of the things that got me thinking about all the preparations now underway for Xmas across this wide land in malls and stores and in many homes and many minds; certainly on every TV channel, newspaper and radio station.  “How many of them are thinking when the world will end?” ran across my consciousness like a ticker tape.

He answered them this way: ““The coming of the Kingdom of God cannot be observed, and no one will announce, ‘Look, here it is,’ or, ‘There it is.’  For behold, the Kingdom of God is among you.”  Even at the mall.

But, He also said: “The days will come when you will long to see
one of the days of the Son of Man, but you will not see it.  There will be those who will say to you, ‘Look, there he is,’ or ‘Look, here he is.’
Do not go off, do not run in pursuit.  For just as lightning flashes
and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day.  But first he must suffer greatly and be rejected by this generation.”

I thought of the last sentence above while thinking of the Xmas celebrations now taking place across the country.

Yesterday I thumbed through the latest issue of that Journal of Mere Christianity, Touchstone which arrives regularly in my mail.  Prof. Anthony Esolen of Providence College in Rhode Island is a Senior Editor, there.  In a lead editorial he throws a bomb over the transom into the kind of place the world is becoming.  But, he’s got another article at the back of the book, something about a lovely hymn written by Charles Wesley, “Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending.”  Professor Esolen’s short article on that hymn served me perfectly as commentary on the yesterday’s Gospel.  He wrote, about the “light” descending, the Light of Christ: ” So in the dark night of Advent we await the coming of the true light that enlightens every man; yet we should remember that light is cool, refreshing waters for those who love the light, and like the glare of an enemy to those who hate it. (Emphasis added.)

He points out through the rest of the article, with quotations from the hymn “this stark ambivalence” in us so masterfully expressed in what he calls the “most majestic of our Advent hymns.”  Just a short excerpt should suffice as an example of what he means about the glare.

Every eye shall now behold Him
Robed in dreadful majesty;
Those who set at naught and sold Him,
Pierced and nailed Him to the tree,
Deeply wailing, deeply wailing, deeply wailing,
Shall the true Messiah see.

Every island, sea, and mountain,
Heav’n and earth, shall flee away;
All who hate Him must, confounded,
Hear the trump proclaim the day:
Come to judgment! Come to judgment! Come to judgment!
Come to judgment! Come away!

The Advent of the Malls, the long Xmas orgy, is designed precisely to prevent such things from entering the mind of people who really don’t want to think, and who believe the Little Tale of Bethlehem is sentimental foolishness.  Yet, they will sit on several days in the next few weeks and watch wrapped in sentimental foolishness, for the thirtieth time perhaps, The Grinch, Frosty the Snowman, and how many others; ignoring once more heaven’s smallest and heaven’s greatest gift.

Who designs such things as that?

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Perhaps you may wish to think about that time, you don’t know when…maybe in the middle of a song while at the mall?, when He will come with clouds descending:

Another version, sung more clearly:

PS: It strikes me a little in my funny bone to know that Providence College, of such a happy name, where Anthony Esolen, whom I think such a happy fellow, is a professor in a Dominican school which without fellows like St. Albert the Great, who was probably great company, would probably not exist.

The Lucky Generation

By any of the standards used to measure children and predict their performance in the future I was a disadvantaged child living in a dysfunctional family destined for a bad end.  All around me were children from the same  kind of homes on their way to bad ends; either to low paying jobs, dead end positions, domestic chaos or prison.

Yet that did not happen.

Most of my friends went to high school and then to college.  From there they entered the “wide world of work” and did remarkably well.

Few, if any, of them graduated from either public grade schools or public high schools.  None of them endured days of ease while teachers and administrators went out on strike for better wages, smaller class sizes and no standardized tests.

No, we attended what were called parochial schools; hundreds of thousands of us in the town that I called home.  In grade school we sat together in classes whose average size was fifty, endured hours of silence in and out of class during the day and slogged through hours of homework each night and on weekends.  Books, books, books and learning, learning, learning were our communal lot for twelve to sixteen years of plodding drudgery.

Dickens at his most dystopic could not have written about a more bleak house than mine or hundreds of young people like me.  Hundreds?  Thousands, millions over the years is more the correct number.

My parents both worked.  Over the years my father, increasingly frustrated by life and his problems with it, descended, like some character in a bad play, into alcoholism dragging my mother along with him.  I have the death certificate to prove my father’s diagnosis.  My mother, may she rest in peace (may they both) ended her days in dementia.  We children watched and slogged along to school and back.  What was so different, we thought and saw, from so many others around us?  Nothing but the degree of intimacy with the problems.

In high school we took part time jobs and still we studied, and our money was used to pay the rent, the grocery bills, the utilities.

Funnily enough 98 to 100 percent of the children I endured school with graduated.  They could write their names, by God, in legible script, with good penmanship.  Moreover, they could write a letter, an essay, a research paper using correct grammar and spelling correctly.  They could add, subtract, multiply and divide without the aid of machines and computers.  They enjoyed reading good books.  They liked to work. While they liked popular music and popular culture, they knew of and appreciated the classics.  They knew about the world around them, where they were in it, what had come before them and had realistic notions about and plans for their own place in the world to come.

They were citizens and knew what that meant.

They had never spent a day in a school room before a unionized teacher.  They had never spent a day in a school room remotely connected to a “school system”.  They, we, knew nothing about, and had never been in a school influenced by a Department of Education.

I mention this, now, simply because I have been reading about the latest teacher’s strike in one of our largest cities, Chicago.  It has the third largest Public School system in the country.  One of the main reasons that the teachers are striking is that they object to being assessed according to, to having their jobs depend on, the way their students perform on standardized tests.  That’s not fair, they say.  There’s a lot more to it than that, they say.  Primarily, they say, lots of these kids have tough home lives.  And, that makes things tough for them in school.

Here’s a quote from a story in the Chicago Tribune.  The quote supports the position of the striking teachers and their union that basing teacher effectiveness on student performance in standardized tests is unfair:  “FairTest policy analyst Lisa Guisbond called Chicago’s strike “the tip of the iceberg of teacher frustration with so-called ‘reform’ policies, which place the blame on educators for problems largely caused by the impoverished settings in which their students must live.””

I know a fellow who lived in such a small place that he had to study in the bathtub.  He’s a university professor, now.  The Malvey’s were a family of nine children in three rooms in my apartment house.  Nurses and cops and businessmen came out of that little apartment over the years when kids went to school and didn’t have to stand around shifting from one foot to the other waiting for the strike to end.  They were certainly not unusual.  I knew only three children growing up whose parents were divorced.  Only two other children I knew came from a home where the parents were not married to each other.

I knew a woman who as a child studied in a home periodically emptied of everything by her father to pay for his weeks long benders before he finally abandoned them.  She passed all of her “standardized” tests with flying colors, including her trigonometry New York State regent’s exam.  She never even thought about college, and went to work right out of high school.  On her way to a darn good career in a large insurance company in New York, she gave it up in a heartbeat to become that most horrible of things, a stay at home Mom.  She returned to the work force after her children were out of grade school in the school department of a mid-sized city.  Exposed to the bureaucracy there, she often said that students and their welfare were the least thing that concerned teachers, union officials and administrators.  She was convinced that anyone who ran for membership on or served on a Board of Education was certifiably insane.

I suppose we were the Lucky Generation.

We thought school was a place for work.  And, so did the people who taught us.