One of the books I am reading is written by a fellow I would love to meet, but probably never will. This is the third of his books which I have read, and I am almost finished with this one. Each of them have been both educational and enjoyable. I both learn and am entertained at the same time. Reading the books is the best thing next to sitting with him in a quiet room with a glass or two of wine, or beer or some other adult beverage, and simply asking questions and listening to his answers.
He is an old man now, the author, and might not give me the time or attention I would like. But a fellow can dream, can he not?
My author is Fr.John V. Schall, S.J. I heard he has retired, and now he lives somewhere west of here, as far west as one can go and not get wet; somewhere in California. From his writing, I get the feeling he is the kind of man St. Ignatius had in mind when he founded the Society of Jesus, the kind of fellow whom Jesus himself might consider good company. He’s smart, and has a sense of humor; both things go together nicely. And, both of his feet are firmly on the ground; nor is his head in the clouds. I was told a long time ago that Fr. Schall taught at Fordham University for a number of years. I was accepted to Fordham, but hadn’t the money for it. Else I would have gone; and probably have had more than one chance at the conversation I want to have. Alas, I’ll have to settle for the books.
That’s not bad. Books teach a fellow how to listen, and not to keep asking questions. That might distract the guy up in front. They also leave plenty of room to stop and think. Of course, asking questions is a pretty good thing to do if one is only interested in distracting the guy up in front; a trick I learned, and probably everyone else, somewhere in the first semester of Freshman year.
In this one, “Another Sort of Learning“, he mentions what might be called the second best thing. One of his chapters, entitled “What Is A Lecture?” deals in a way, with a kind of missing the train, and reading about the trip later on. Sort of what I am doing now reading the book, consisting of essays and articles he’s written during his long career.
I have rounded the clubhouse turn and am near the end with only one or two chapters left. Presently, I am reading my way through a very interesting little thing called “On Devotion”. I started it wondering if it was the title of something written by one of the Big Three. You know Aristotle, Plato and Aquinas; or Augustine, or any number of them. Maybe, maybe not. I am not far enough into the chapter, which isn’t very long at all. But, I had to stop and pause, and think a little bit; a thing I do not do well.
You see, Father is talking about devotion, on one page, as being centered on the higher, the Highest?, things, where our “being is directed out of ourselves”. He even mentions God somewhere along the line, the Highest thing. I get that about devotion and being other directed. Even if it’s only “Puppy Love”. But that’s not what he’s talking about, you know. And it certainly isn’t what those fellows in the paragraph above mean. I figure it is devotion in the sense of being devoted to finding and knowing the truth; not sort of like being devoted to climbing Everest. Or, like being devoted to having the biggest biceps.
Here is the sentence: “The nature of devotion, then, implied not merely our awareness of our powers and capacities, but also the fact that our own very being is directed out of ourselves, that our own being is insufficient for the sort of reality that we are constituted for and directed to by what we are.”
Well, what’s wrong with that..if you’re a Catholic, and about my age. Sit back and figure out whether it will be steak or something else tonight. BUT DON’T TURN THE PAGE!
I did. And this is what I read:
“The modern notion of pluralism has come to mean not nearly the fact that there is a wide variety of ways to embody the real virtues we can incorporate within ourselves, but that there are no “ends” no “happinesses”, other than the ones we choose on the basis of, ultimately, the love of ourselves.”
I stop there and can’t help thinking of that Greek guy staring into the water in the pond. And, all of the ponds I can remember and think of are shallow, slimy, bug covered things. Shaking my head to get rid of that horrible truth, I continue…
“Modern society is an arrangement, an order, whose very purpose is to declare the impossibility of arriving at any morally or metaphysically binding truth.”
As I read this I am thinking of a guy I know who tells me one day he has left the third wife. “Are you looking for another one now?” “No,” he says, ” I feel like being a bee; me and all of those flowers out there.” We have parted company. Anyway… back to the nice Jesuit:
“This means that society becomes an area of ultimate indifferences, where each “life-style”, each sort of “choice” plays, plays itself out with right and dignity just because it is chosen. The modern idea is that “You have your end and I have mine and, in the end isn’t all that variety nice?”
Me again.. Pardon the interruption. I am about finished. But here I couldn’t help thinking of the first time I heard the phrase, “Whatever makes your boat float.” We were just finishing a case involving a bunch of fools who were spending most of their waking moments selling drugs of one sort or another to bunches of other fools who spent most of their time using them, or taking money from other folks to buy the drugs they used. I made the mistake of asking one of them, “Why???” and received that as an answer. As an “apologia por vita mea” it falls far short of the mark I thought. But, I suppose it beats spending years in school, trying to find out “Why?”
Anyway, “Back to the text!” as the saying goes:
“Truth, in fact, has come to be looked upon as an enemy of modern society because it hints that there is something wrong in our world if truth does in fact exist, something that we can define and act for or against.”
The rest of the bit I am currently chewing on in Fr. Schall’s book talks about Aristotle, a Greek who probably never looked into a filthy pond and thought he had found truth, beauty and a life led in searching for them. Nope! He also mentions Thomas Aquinas:
“Thomas Aquinas often spoke of activities such as holiness, meditation, religion, and devotion. (Gasp!!!) Clearly these in some sense were intended to imply some relation between ourselves and the highest things.”
And then comes the most comforting two sentences, and perhaps the kindest and most reassuring ones I have read in no little while; so gentle and smiling does the good priest make them:
“Aquinas held that there was much in Aristotle that could be legitimately accepted by a believer once he recognized that this “truth” is somehow active in regard to each of us.”
You may, if you wish, imagine bold letters and capitals between the parentheses surrounding that word.
“Indeed, our own highest activities, which we should learn are within us by self-reflection, ought to be related to this truth or reality revealing itself to us through the world to which we are somehow open in our very being and knowledge.”
So sweet, isn’t it?
I remember some sentences from the Catechism I was given in the First Grade at St. John’s School in the Bronx…not far from Fordham where Fr. Schall taught. They were the first two questions and answers in the book:
Who made me? God made me.
Why did God make me? God made me to know Him, love Him and serve Him here on earth and to be happy with Him forever in heaven.
There is a Harbor Master.
He will see you home. Safely.