By Oswald Sobrino, J.D.; M.A. (Econ.); M.A. (Theo.); M.L. (Master of Latin), doctoral student, University of Florida.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Gospel at Today's NY Times

Go read the column today by David Brooks at the N.Y. Times at this link, and you will know what I mean by the title of this post.

Woodstock 1969
Brooks comments on the Baby Boomer drivel being repeated ad nauseam to new graduates this spring: find yourself and follow your star. Brooks rightly retorts that, in contrast, the way to fulfillment is by losing yourself in a task that seeks to attack a problem.

Yes, to be fulfilled and hence to be truly happy, you must lose yourself.

For most of you, your great-grandparents, at least, knew that. They read it in their Bible, or they just imbibed it from the more rational, sensible American cultural consensus of another era.

If some tell us that the World War II generation was the greatest generation (of course, such accolades certainly do not apply to every member of a generation), then what can we honestly say of the Baby Boomer generation? The worst generation (of course, such criticism certainly does not apply to every member of that generation). Thank God that nature ensures the departure of every generation to make way for a potentially more hopeful future.

To see the collective, cultural roots of the current and long-standing character malaise, just take a look at the N.Y. Times non-fiction (is that a relative term!) best seller list from the summer of 1973:

The New York Times Best Seller List
August 5, 1973


1 THE JOY OF SEX, by Alex Comfort.

[Blogger note: Here is part of the cultural, collective brainwashing that sex was a sort of neutral, amoral form of pleasurable aerobics that could be reduced to a "how-to" manual, rather than a signal of life-long commitment to starting a new family.

Notice how the aerobics approach is consummately egotistical, while the commitment approach calls you to go beyond self and even against selfish convenience.]

2 DR. ATKINS' DIET REVOLUTION, by Dr. Robert Atkins.

3 SYBIL, by Flora Rheta Schreiber.

4 LAUGHING ALL THE WAY, by Barbara Howar.

5 HOW TO BE YOUR OWN BEST FRIEND, by Mildred Newman and Bernard

Berkowitz with Jean Owen.

6 I'M O.K.- YOU'RE O.K., by Thomas Harris.


8 MY YOUNG YEARS, by Arthur Rubenstein.

9 MARILYN, by Norman Mailer.

10 THE BEST AND THE BRIGHTEST, by David Halberstam.

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Monday, May 30, 2011

A Philosophical Pilgrimage

Library of the Ortega Foundation in Madrid
Source link:
Since the Jesuits introduced me to philosophy in college, I have been in love with philosophy as the pursuit of wisdom (this phrase "in love" is not casual; since Plato, philosophy has been described as a passionate loving). In my recent trip to Madrid, I made a religious pilgrimage on the feast of the city's patron saint, the farmer St. Isidore, which I have already mentioned in my prior trip reports; but I also made a philosophical pilgrimage to the Ortega y Gasset Foundation, a think tank and research institute in Madrid, named after the man who revived philosophy in Spain, Jose Ortega y Gasset (1883-1955).  (The name of this blog is Logos--that is not by accident, the name encompasses both a theological and philosophical dimension.)

Heidegger (left) and Ortega (right)
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Ortega could be classified as an existentialist. His insights will remind students of philosophy of Heidegger--with whom Ortega was friends. Apparently, Ortega independently anticipated some of Heidegger's insights. Yet, I take to Ortega in a way that I do not take to Heidegger. First of all, Ortega did not engage in the absurd, turgid jargon-mongering of Heidegger. Ortega wrote with great clarity; he was also a journalist from a family that owned a newspaper in Madrid. But most important of all, unlike Heidegger, Ortega was never a Nazi or a fascist of any kind. Ortega, to his great credit, had too much character and insight to fall for that horrible charade.

A philosopher honored in Madrid with his own street.
 In the future, I will write more about Ortega's insights into the life we are all forced to live on the stage of the world into which we have been born (think of Shakespeare's famous description of life as a play in which we must play our part). Yet, I can entice you with a kernel from Ortega which captures how his philosophy takes a radically different focus from the philosophies that stemmed from Descartes and Kant (many call the philosophical approach stemming from Descartes and Kant "modern" philosophy as opposed to ancient or contemporary philosophy; these labels are terms of art in philosophical discussions and do not match our ordinary or conventional notions of historical chronology).

While Descartes (also Jesuit-educated like Ortega himself) announced the famous "I think therefore I am" (Cogito ergo sum) which imposed on future philosophies an obsession with the subject, the thinker, and how he or she relates to the outer world that is observed as a spectator, Ortega, as many other contemporary philosophers, changed the focus. In contrast to Descartes, Ortega would say "I think because I live" (Cogito quia vivo). Ortega elaborated:

1. " Man is not a res cogitans [a thinking thing], but rather a res dramatica [a dramatic thing]. He does not exist because he thinks, but rather, on the contrary, he thinks because he exists."

2. "Life is the radical reality; this [life] is the fundamental ["pure"] occurrence which is the struggle between a human being and his circumstances."

This dramatic perspective reminds me of the rhetoric of John Paul II, who viewed life as a dramatic reality full of momentous, defining decisions and who was strongly influenced by the contemporary philosophy of phenomenology.

Note: The above quotations are my own translations from the original Spanish. They are taken from a publication of the Ortega Foundation entitled Ortegay y su tiempo (Ortega and his era), which was a kind gift to me from the staff of the foundation in Madrid. By the way, I received a very kind and cordial reception for which I am duly grateful.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Final Spain Round Up

Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, Spain.Image via Wikipedia
My final report from Madrid, Spain, follows:

1. I passed today the continuous, very peaceful public demonstration for political reform that has now been occupying the central point of Madrid (called the Puerta del Sol). I observed and experienced no problems whatsoever. Many, especially the young, are seeking a better future and are angry at the established political class--which reminds me how virtually all politicians in all countries are objectively worthy of the reasonable contempt and disdain of citizens. The best public servant is the one who lacks the megalomania and narcissism of the typical politician, whether that typical politician is a low-ranking local judge or the top executive head of a nation´s government or is located somewhere in between. Thank God for democracy which keeps them cyclically worried and anxious about reelection.

2. I highly recommend Madrid and environs to my readers, from the massive splendor of the Habsburg monastery-palace of El Escorial which was the center of Catholic Spain as the first modern world power in the West, to the serene gardens at the royal palace in Aranjuez immortalized in the music of the composer Rodrigo, to the wonderful town of Segovia where St. John of the Cross, truly a world historical figure, is buried, to the ancient university buildings of Alcalá de Henares, the purported birthplace of Cervantes who authored the first modern novel in the West; to the wonderfully complex city of Toledo immortalized by El Greco, another world historical figure. And, finally, Madrid herself, a city of dignified and elegant parks, gardens, numerous museums, wonderful cafes, and a multitude of handsome churches-- and also the home of the 20th century existentialist philosopher José Ortega y Gasset, who is, in my opinion, a world historical figure in human thought. He was as pioneering in the 20th century as Cervantes was in the 17th century.

For those planning to attend World Youth Day in August in Madrid, you are in for a treat on many levels. But I have a final piece of advice: dress for very warm weather in August because the warmth has already begun in late May.

Finally, to the Lord our God, many thanks for giving me the opportunity to delight in and share the beauty of your works and to escape the bonds of the narrow perspectives of my native country. We all need to recognize and escape those narrow perspectives regardless of our national or ethnic origins, even if we are sincere patriots.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Voting Yesterday in Spain

Yes, Spain has had deep cultural divisons for decades. Yet, to have division, you must have the Other. Here is a photo of one of the Others. Thankfully, today, change occurs through peaceful, orderly, democratic elections, as shown here, as it should always have been. This vision of democratic change is sorely needed in other places, especially today in the volatile Middle East. Visit the source link, which makes this commentary possible, for more interesting election photos, even if you do not read Spanish.

Voting in Spain yesterday.
Source link:

Sunday, May 22, 2011

When Have You Really Lived?

Segovia Plaza MayorImage by ferlomu via Flickr
In the old town square of Segovia, Spain, I sat watching four children in a square formation kicking a soccer ball to each other. It was superbly pleasant spring weather. The sun was shining. The typical European rhythm of families, youth, and tourists passing time in the main square, called in Spain the "plaza mayor," was unfolding as it was in many other squares on the continent.

From the children´s expressions, smiles, and laughter, it was self-evident that they were living fully in the present. They were delighting in life while they were living it.

The Gospel tells us to become like those children: not fearful, not possessive, not anxious, not imprisoned by the past or by the future. Yes, we are called to maturity; but true maturity--if we take maturity to mean full human flourishing--includes these particular wonderful components of childhood.

In this sense, the mature man or mature woman must retain the basic enjoy-the-present vigor of childhood, a vigor delightfully liberated from burdensome attachments. It may be that the solution to many of our problems and frustrations in life may lie in daring to take the child's approach to life. As I recall, not a few saints seem to have perceived the same truth.

P.S. Segovia is about 50 miles northwest of Madrid and about 40 miles northeast of Ávila.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

What Does It Mean To You?

The following painting by a Flemish artist of the 17th century caught my eye in an historic Madrid church--specifically, in the church´s eucharistic chapel. (By the way, you get the feeling sometimes that there is a Catholic church on every block in Madrid--all of the ones, both humble and grand, that I have stepped into have had stunning altar pieces. I have yet to come across a non-Catholic church or a non-Christian house of worship.)

To me, the children helping Jesus the shepherd mean that if any of us, whether clergy or lay people, are to assist in the mission of Jesus, then we are to be those children, to be like children as the Gospel directs. The earnest innocence and unpretentiousness of those child-shepherds is worth savoring. And notice that even the lowly dog plays a role. Finally, the earnest expession of Jesus in the painting strikes me as true to the heart of the Savior who had so many run-ins with the know-it-alls of his time.

If you plan to attend World Youth Day in Madrid in August, put San Ginés Church (see above link) on your list of places to visit.

Monday, May 16, 2011

A Quote to Consider

A dispute with the pharisees. Passeri. In the ...Image via Wikipedia
A friend shared this quote:

"I dislike religion in an extreme amount...but I LOVE JESUS."

Of course, she is using "religion" in a special sense as referring to those who put external practices and external, public image above the motives and passions of the heart.  After recently teaching a semester on the Synoptic Gospels, it is abundantly clear to me that the Master also disliked that type of religion.

One Madrid Church

San Manuel and San Benito parish church run by the Augustinian Fathers at the entrance of the Retiro park (for photos of the magnificent interior, see this parish link):

Here is the nearby park lagoon:

Pond of the Parque del Buen Retiro, MadridImage via Wikipedia

Reporting from a Very Vibrant Madrid

Paseo de la Argentina (a walk), in the Retiro ...Image via Wikipedia
As best I can, I will be periodically reporting from Madrid over the next few days. Twenty-three years after my last visit, I find the city vibrant, beautiful, and sophisticated. The dynamism of the people is electric, especially yesterday as the city celebrated the feast day of its patron, St. Isidore the Farmer, canonized in 1622. We got in a long but efficient line to venerate his uncorrupt relics at the old city cathedral dedicated to him and to his wife, who was also canonized. Preparations for the Pope´s August World Youth Day are in full swing with palpable enthusiasm. (The country is also in the midst of a national election campaign that culminates on May 22nd; polls indicate a victory by the conservative opposition party.)

Here are some impressions:

1. We followed a group of Spanish regional bagpipers through the city center. Since Madrid as the capital draws Spaniards from all the nation´s regions, various regional groups display their customs and culture during the patronal feast day. We also saw groups of dancers, many older, exuberantly handling their castanets.

2. The churches, especially the interiors, are of  baroque magnificence. The Spaniards do not just have statues of saints and of Jesus and Mary--they actually put robes on the statues!

3. The "lung" of the city is the Retiro park, formerly a royal garden, which was packed with families and individuals of all ages, many with family dogs along for the outing. Scores rowed on a panoramic lagoon and listened to a fine orchestra playing in an elevated, ornate old-fashioned bandstand. The city has a very dignified 19th century feel to it.

4. The Metro is clean and efficient. It is very easy to get around by using it and by walking.

5. The overall impression I get is of a very proud, dynamic nation whose people know how to enjoy every day by eating, drinking, walking, and strolling in parks, along broad avenues, and among stunning churches and other important buildings and monuments. 

Friday, May 13, 2011

Old Cicero Makes Sense

The Young Cicero Reading, 1464 fresco, now at ...Image via Wikipedia
The young Cicero reading.
Mention Cicero, and I bet many roll their eyes as a way of asking what could that windbag in a toga say that is relevant to my life. Well, I recently read his two dialogues on friendship and old age. Here are a few relevant things:

On Friendship:

"[F]riendship adds a brighter radiance to prosperity and lessens the burden of adversity by dividing and sharing it" (p. 133)

Friendship "projects the bright ray of hope into the future, and does not suffer the spirit to grow faint or fall" (133).

"[A]ll that I can do is to urge you to put friendship before all things human; for nothing is so conformable to nature and nothing so adaptable to our fortunes whether they be favourable or adverse. This, however, I do feel first of all--that friendship cannot exist except among good men" (127).

The last point--that friendship can exist only among the good--makes sense if you consider that friendship is by its nature disinterested and seeks only the good of the other. In friendship, there can be no element of exploitation. That basic truth is why many relationships, including romantic ones, are not really at all about the love of friendship and hence are so disappointing. The true friend does not calculate what he or she can gain. In the subset of romantic relationships, the lover (the romantic friend) is ready to commit all now and does not pursue the transient, exploitive, and ambiguous route so common today.

On Old Age:

"[T]he most suitable defences of old age are the principles and practice of the virtues, which, if cultivated in every period of life, bring wonderful fruits at the close of a long and busy career, not only because they never fail you even at the very end of life--although that is a matter of highest moment--but also because it is most delightful to have the consciousness of a life well spent and the memory of many deeds worthily performed" (19).

"I am profoundly grateful to old age, which has increased my eagerness for conversation, and taken away that for food and drink" (57).

"But theirs [that is, belonging to those who flourished in old age] was a zeal for learning, and this zeal, at least in the case of wise and well-trained men, advances in even pace with age" (61).

I would submit that the foundation for a delightful old age is friendship with its conversations and with its common and mutual pursuit of knowledge and understanding.

So we come full circle: pursue the good of authentic friendship--which can only exist among the good--and you take care of the rest, even old age. Youthful virtue, as pictured above, is the foundation of a flourishing old age. So get virtue and understanding as soon as possible. It is never too late.

(All page references are to the Loeb Classical Library edition, Cicero vol. XX, no. 154).

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Social Justice

Revisiting "Prayer"

This image was first published in the 1 st (18...Image via Wikipedia
The term is so commonly used that it has become trite for many--"I will pray about it" or "I will pray for you." Often, when I hear that phrase, I wonder if it is just another way of saying "best wishes" or "good luck." (Don't get me wrong--wishing someone the best is also a good thing.)

Are we really saying or doing more than wishing someone good luck when we say that we will pray for them or keep them in our prayers? It is a question I ask myself and that, maybe, you also have asked yourself.

Here is Benedict XVI on prayer:

"In prayer, ... human beings experience themselves as creatures in need of help, incapable of attaining the fulfillment of their existence or their hopes alone. ... In the experience of prayer we orient our very souls to that Mystery from which we look for the fulfillment of our deepest desires and help to overcome the poverty of our lives. In looking to the Other, in directing ourselves 'beyond', is found the essence of prayer, the experience of a reality that goes beyond the apparent and the contingent".

From Vatican Information Service, May 11, 2011.

To pray for myself, I must recognize myself as helpless. That is a big step for many in our modern American culture. Once that very big step is taken, we can pray for our own needs, whether they are ordinary or more urgent in character. 

What then does it mean to pray for someone else's situation? The first step would seem to be to identify oneself first with that person, to become empathetic, and then from that posture pray for them as if you were that very person in that other person's helpless situation. 

Thus, praying for another requires as a first step an act of love and solidarity with the other. Then our prayer becomes as sincere as if we were praying for our own ordinary or urgent situations (and, by the way, becomes a means of loving one's neighbor). We recognize the other as helpless and step in after identifying with that helplessness of the other, a helplessness that has been brought to our attention.

Sometimes, I think it would be better to try to substitute once in a while another word for "prayer" in our conversations as a way of escaping the trap of overfamiliarity with a term, an overfamiliarity that can rob a term of any acute, felt meaning, so that a promise to "pray" can become more than a mere wish for good luck.

In Latin, the word for praying is "orare," which also carries these English meanings according to the popular Whitaker's Words online dictionary:

oro, orare, oravi, oratus 
beg, ask for, pray; beseech, plead, entreat, worship, adore.

Would it make a difference to ourselves and others to say "I am pleading for you" or "I will plead for you" or "I will keep you in my pleadings to God"?

Think of an attorney or advocate pleading for a client. After all, such pleading is exactly what intercession is; but "pleading" has a more powerful ring, at least to my ears, than saying "I will intercede for you."

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Spanish Civil War Film Released

The film also portrays Opus Dei founder Josemaría Escrivá. Here is the informative Wikipedia link.

Interesting resources at this link.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

May 1st: Beatification of Pope John Paul II

Pope John Paul II at a Papal Audience on 17 Ju...Image via Wikipedia

O Blessed Trinity, we thank You for having graced the Church with Blessed John Paul II and for allowing the tenderness of Your Fatherly care, the glory of the Cross of Christ, and the splender of the Spirit of love, to shine through him. Trusting fully in Your infinite mercy and in the maternal in- tercession of Mary, he has given us a living image of Jesus the Good Shepherd, and has shown us that holiness is the necessary measure of ordinary Christian life and is the way of achieving eternal communion with You. Grant us, by his intercession, and according to Your will, the graces we implo- re, hoping that he will soon be numbered among Your saints. Amen.

With ecclesiastical approval AGOSTINO CARD. VALLINI
Vicar General of His Holiness for the Diocese of Rome

Video of Beatification of JPII

Here is the CNN link.

A Youtube version follows: