Tuesday, June 08, 2021

But what about Galileo?

The Vatican Observatory foundation has a newly redesigned website. There is an ever growing set of resources on the intersection of science and faith (including a ton on the whole Galileo affair), and NPR did an interview did an interview with Guy Consolmagno SJ about it, which included a description of a drive through the gardens at Castelgandolfo and a shout out to the papal cows. I have enjoyed yogurt from those cows’ milk! I caught the last lines of the interview in the car, fun to unexpectedly hear a friend’s voice coming out of the speakers.

Predictably, NPR’s tweet about the piece attracted a number of people saying, “But what about Galileo?”  Which led me to have an exchange of the following sort:

Troll: Galileo. Therefore the Church has always ignored and denigrated scientists.

Me: Aquinas. No.

Troll: One counterexample is not enough.

Me: (List of five Catholic scientists and mathematicians, mostly women.)

Troll: That’s not enough either.

Me: I recorded a 12 part audio series covering a 1000 years of Catholic science. Mostly the Church is an enthusiastic supporter of science and scientists, Galileo notwithstanding.  

Troll: “A completely unverifiable claim based on conjecture and blind faith in the righteousness of your own position…’


I did wonder what claim he thought was unverifiable. That I’d recorded the series? That you can’t take an inventory of Catholic scientists and see how many have had their science suppressed by the Catholic Church? I don’t merely have a conjecture, I have a spreadsheet of data. Also, an audio series

Want to know more about the Galileo affair? The Observatory has a two part series here.

The Thomas Aquinas quote: “The truth of our faith becomes a matter of ridicule…if any Catholic, not gifted with the necessary scientific learning, presents as dogma what scientific scrutiny shows to be false.” 

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Overcome with Paschal Joy

It’s in the Easter season prefaces to the Eucharistic prayer, “Therefore, overcome with paschal joy, every land, every people exults in your praise and even the heavenly Powers…sing together…”

Every time I hear that line I wonder, am I overcome with paschal joy? Are we, here in this church, gathered around this altar overcome with paschal job? What does overcome with paschal joy look like anyway?

Joy is perhaps not the word I would have chosen to characterize this particular spring, shadowed as it was by the pandemic and by familial tragedy. Yet. Still. There it is, a stark declaration, not as a hope, not as something promised to some at some time to come. Here and now, the preface promises, every place and every person, are overcome with paschal joy. So sing.

Novelist Léon Bloy wrote in a letter to his fiancée that joy was the surest sign of the presence of God. (No, that was not Teilhard de Chardin.) Be on the look out for joy, there you are likely to find God. I wonder if it is the opposite that I need at this moment, to first seek out God and perhaps then joy will erupt. Perhaps to be overcome with Paschal joy is to be overcome by God.

There are a profusion of buds on the rose bushes under my back windows. But on this Pentecost day, just a single red bloom. I came out here to pray, to submerge myself in God, and there it is. A single blossom of hope. I’m overcome.


Photo is of my mother's roses.

Wednesday, May 05, 2021

Feminine or masculine genius

Necessary emphasis should be placed on the "genius of women," not only by considering great and famous women of the past or present, but also those ordinary women who reveal the gift of their womanhood by placing themselves at the service of others in their everyday lives. For in giving themselves to others each day women fulfil their deepest vocation. Perhaps more than men, women acknowledge the person, because they see persons with their hearts. They see them independently of various ideological or political systems. They see others in their greatness and limitations; they try to go out to them and help them. In this way the basic plan of the Creator takes flesh in the history of humanity and there is constantly revealed, in the variety of vocations, that beauty not merely physical, but above all spiritual — which God bestowed from the very beginning on all, and in a particular way on women. —John Paul II Letter to Women 29 June 1995

There was a recent editorial in Our Sunday Visitor wondering about whether "masculine genius" was a thing. I read it and wondered briefly if the real masculine genius is convincing (at least some) women that they are fundamentally created by God to be servants, to do the work of seeing and accommodating the emotional and material needs of others before anything else. That the default assignment of emotional labor to women is not cultural, but ontological, and therefore unavoidable. Men might be able to do these things, but it is women's "deepest vocation." Women are thus created to enable men to do...what precisely? What are men's deepest vocations, if not service?

I remain convinced that service is fundamentally what we are called to do as Christians, not by virtue of gender, but by common vocation. We are called to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, accompany the sick and those in prison. We are called to kneel at each other's feet and wash away the dust of the day.  Should men not see each person as they are, acknowledge the human dignity of each person they encounter? Should men not be able to perceive the strengths and limitations of others? Ought they not be oriented toward service? To serve is not a particular genius, but a universal call realized in particular ways by particular people.

My particular genius is quantum mechanics, work which has aided in the development of drugs for cancer, hypertension and AIDS. It is not to keep the family calendar, or arrange flowers for the altar. The first is a skill that can be mastered by any competent adult, the second perhaps requires a sense of color and proportion and of the sacred, which a quick gander through the works of "the great masters" suggests is not limited to women. 

Tuesday, May 04, 2021

Eat Sleep Sit


It arrived in the mail last week, an envelope with a single used book, carefully wrapped in brown paper, inside. Eat Sleep Sit, Kaoru Nonomura's account of a year of training at the Zen monastery Eiheiji. I had ordered a used copy weeks ago, though I could have gotten the electronic version in an instant.

I'm glad I waited, the physical book is beautifully bound, it lies open in my lap without the need to hold it. Printed in Japan in 2009, the typesetting is plain and spacious. It is a joy to read. Why are hardbacks so often glued rather than sewn? I know, money. But this is such a small and delightful luxury.

The book itself is reminding me of Nancy Maguire’s Infinity of Little Hours, which follows Carthusian novices through their first years and early training. 

Photo is of monk Thomas Yūhō Kirchner, in the old training hall at Tenryu-ji, in Kyoto. I visited with a class in 2016.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Faithfully footnoted


Summer is closing in once again. Paradoxically, summer for me is the time that feels more closed-in than the bitter cold winter months. As the trees around my house in the neighborhood grow flush with leaves, I can no  longer see more than the house next door peeping past the young oak and magnolia. The setting sun that blinded me in February barely limns the leaves come the end of the day. The bustle of students and colleagues who fill my days at the college is traded for time in my study at home or to sit on the back patio and read and write and think and rest, enfolded within the green canopy that encloses the house and the neighborhood. 

Last summer I was writing a book about prayer, struggling with the notion that I might have anything of value to say about prayer. I'm neither Teresa of Avila nor Abba Joseph of the desert — all flame. But I took heart from a wise friend who suggested that it wasn't so much my competence that mattered here (for who can be competent in God), there could be someone more competent (who is this generation's Teresa?) but my willingness to show up and do the work did matter. 

I showed up and did the work and yesterday got the final proofs. It's a short book, some 10,000 words or so, framed as a meditation on three scriptural passages: Psalm 63, Paul's exhortation to the Thessalonians to pray always and Luke's account of the Our Father.  I tried to pull in a rich set of voices, to make up all I lack in expertise and authority, including Amma Syncletica's tart advice as well as the reflections of modern scholars such as André Chouraqui. The Spiritual Exercises get some space, as does the Catechism of the Catholic Church (which has some beautiful things to say about prayer even if you aren't Catholic.) And I do not fail to quote both St. Augustine as well as St. Ignatius of Loyola. There are pictures —of sere deserts and the incredible Sagrada Familia.

And it's all faithfully footnoted, a map of sorts to a pilgrimage through the practice of Christian prayer. I even provide the correct reference to the quote oft (and incorrectly) attributed to Teilhard de Chardin SJ: "Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God." You can find it in Léon Bloy's letters to his fiancée  (Léon Bloy and Barbara Wald, trans. Letters to His Fiancée, Sheed & Ward, 1937, p 57.)