Urgent Still: On this 4th Anniversary of Laudato si’

Four years ago today, Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato si’ was published. Its message is as urgent as ever. In it Pope Francis wrote of the “urgent challenge to protect our common home” (#13), and he added, “I urgently appeal, then, for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet” (#14). Sadly, last week, the pope needed to reiterate this challenge and appeal. In a meeting at the Vatican with oil executives His Holiness urged that, “faced with a climate emergency, we must take action accordingly, in order to avoid perpetrating a brutal act of...

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Identity, Life, Love: Reflecting on Foundations of the Moral Life in Light of Rocketman & Educated

SPOILER ALERT. I will refer to plot points within the book and film in this post, so if you want to read/watch without spoilers first, be warned. Also, I do not intend in this post to claim that my interlocutors are Catholic Christians but rather to invite readers of this blog to engage from and learn from the experiences of Tara Westover and Elton John. What really matters in life? If you boil down your ethical commitments to key foundations, what words describe them? Tara Westover and Elton John have helped me think about these questions lately. Lessons from their life stories may prove helpful for us as well. Tara Westover is the author of Educated: A Memoir. Westover grew up in Idaho and writes about her family and their worldview, and how she slowly came to see the dangers of that worldview and to try to disconnect from it. In her home, physical violence and suspicion of the government/public education were normalized. She did not attend school until college. She writes about her relationships with her parents and siblings, the pattern of their lives on the land, and about how she eventually left Idaho and began to unlearn her past and find herself. It wasn’t easy. Elton John’s life and career is the focus of the feature film Rocketman, directed by Dexter Fletcher and starring Taron Egerton. This...

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Praise for my teacher

Last night, James F. Keenan, SJ, was awarded the John Courtney Murray Award by the Catholic Theological Society of America. Named for one of its early Board members who was a major theologian in the American Catholic Church, the award honors a CTSA member for a lifetime of distinguished theological achievement. Jim is very deserving of this award. Through his writing, teaching, speaking engagements, organizing of conferences and networks of scholars, mentoring, and editing work, he has shaped the field of Catholic moral theology in huge and significant ways. His academic CV is 54 pages long, and would be impossible to summarize quickly given that it demonstrates the breadth of his work in shaping scholarship in virtue ethics, natural law, casuistry, the history of moral theology, biblical hermeneutics and ethical method, and ethics in the university context. I’m exhausted just looking at his CV. I have no idea how he did as much as he did. And he’s not done. In his acceptance speech, Jim talked about how his brother helped him to find his own voice at the age of four years old, and how he has tried to help others find their voices through his work as a teacher and a mentor. I’m one of Jim’s students and want to express my gratitude. “Call me Jim.” I was twenty-two years old. In my application to Weston Jesuit...

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Participation=Prayer

This image appears in the 1941 “My Sunday Missal Explained,” Confraternity of the Precious Blood (Brooklyn), original copyright 1938. (This was my grandmother’s missal.) As a cradle Catholic raised in the post-Vatican II era, I began lectoring alongside my dad at my local parish at the young age of 12. The diocese of Des Moines must have been behind the rest of the U.S. because girls were not yet allowed to be altar servers in the 1980s. I never minded that; I preferred to lector. And when I attended the University of Notre Dame, I became the liturgical commissioner for my dorm, in charge of scheduling presiders and training lectors, and yes, I was now responsible for serving at Mass. I also was privileged to lector at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, and I credit the rector Fr. Peter Rocca for improving my skill at the ambo – “louder, slower, louder, slower,” were the constant reminders that stuck with me for years to come. After college, as a young singleton living in southern California, I continued to lector and to be a Eucharistic minister. And when I moved to Ohio to begin graduate school, I made sure to get on the Sunday lector and Eucharistic minister rotations at my new parish, as well as at the University of Dayton chapel for the daily 12:10 Mass. Then I got...

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Facebook as Moral Conundrum

Chris Hughes’ bombshell editorial has placed the question of Facebook front and center. Unfortunately, the discussion also shows how much in disarray our language is for naming and confronting specifically moral problems. It is clear that Hughes understands his case to break up Facebook as resting on moral grounds. This is also why he exonerates his friend Mark Zuckerberg as a “good guy,” performing some subjective culpabaility analysis. Mark is not evil, apparently, nor perhaps even willfully malicious. He’s certainly not greedy. Thus, that leaves ignorance. And that is where Hughes lands on Zuckerberg. But what about the acts themselves? What exactly is wrong with Facebook? Hughes struggles to name it. In fact, he is all over the place. The sheer length of the piece indicates the difficulty in naming Facebook’s sins. While themes of privacy and of excessive power do surface, they are woven in with many other charges – deception, even the employment of low-wage contract labor. Like our political discourse, the case is made by piling on pell-mell, hoping the sheer weight of the problems will “convince” people. I am no expert in technology ethics – I’m just a concerned user. I hope my colleague Luis Vera, who knows much more, will weigh in. But I wanted to point out that the issue here is that we can no longer clearly name purposes – what is...

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(Negative) Experience as a Theological and Pastoral Category

In recent years, there has been a trend toward what is called “positive psychology.” In brief, the point of positive psychology is to examine what makes people happy or fulfilled, rather than focusing upon the negative circumstances that have led to problems or serious pathologies. Positive psychologists ask what leads to a life of flourishing. Interestingly, one common idea is that difficult, challenging, and even painful experiences can eventually lead to greater overall happiness or fulfillment. This argument can be found in the works of psychologist Martin Seligman or captured in the movie Happy. In his book Flourish: A Visionary Understanding of Happiness and Well-being, Seligman suggests that people can grow psychologically in response to trauma or adversity. He identifies three skills that can help people respond well to adversity: 1) building mental toughness, 2) building strengths, and 3) building strong relationships. Seligman argues that these traits can also be developed in a person….again, by effort. Optimism, including “learned optimism” even has positive biological effects. A person’s conviction that his actions and responses to situations can affect her future make a difference. A person’s social support system – having friends and family that he can count on – make a difference in responding well to adversity. When it comes to Catholic moral theology, the role of experience is often debated. Understanding someone’s experiences by listening carefully and accompanying them...

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Third Sunday of Easter: Jesus Prepares us for the Road Ahead

Acts 5:27-32, 40b-41 Ps 30:2, 4, 5-6, 11-12, 13 Rev 5:11-14 Jn 21:1-14//Jn 21:1-19 The weeks immediately following Easter take us on quite the liturgical journey, especially in Year C, where we continue forward with the Johannine accounts of the Risen Christ. The first of the readings for this week push us forward in time: from the early resistance to the Church in Acts of the Apostles, to Revelation’s discussion of last things in human history. In the Gospel, the very final chapter of John reveals to us a Jesus who prepares the world, prepares the Church, for life...

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Contingency in Catholic Colleges and Universities (The April 2019 Special Issue of the Journal of Moral Theology)

This is a guest post by Matthew J. Gaudet, one of the editors of the special issue of the Journal of Moral Theology on Contingent Faculty.   Today over 70% of college faculty in America work off of the tenure-track on some kind of fixed contract: for a term, a year, or rarely, multiple years. Even the longest of these is typically revocable at the discretion of the university and wholly dependent of the needs of the university. At some schools it is even common practice for contracts to be revoked after the term has begun, as course enrollments are ironed out,...

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Second Sunday of Easter: The Art of Being With Others

ACTS 5:12-16 PS 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-2 REV 1:9-11A, 12-13, 17-19 JN 20:19-31 I also wrote a lectionary post this week for my friends at Ekklesia Project. The Revised Common Lectionary readings are slightly different than the Catholic readings this week, but some of the points I make here are illustrated further there . See here for more. This week, our reading from Acts focuses on “signs and wonders” done by apostles, and shows people living in hope that even Peter’s shadow might bring about healing. This week, my gaze is drawn toward Thomas and his lack of trust of...

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What We Do When We Are Told to Do Things We Do Not Want to Do

He told us to love one another. But we would not. He told us to forgive as we want to be forgiven. But we would not. He told us to look with compassion when we see suffering. But we would not. He told us to store our treasure in heaven, and give generously of what we have here on earth. But we would not. He told us to stop looking at other human beings with lust, as objects for our own satisfaction. But we would not. He told us to follow the weightier matters of God’s law rather than...

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