Friday, January 15, 2016

WYD Krakow '16

 Come August 2016, there will have been 2 World Youth Days in Poland: Czestochowa and Krakow. 

I am particularly glad for my brother and his family who will be attending the upcoming WYD!  The previous WYD occurred in 1991 (when I was 6 and my brother was 4) and was themed, “’You have received a spirit of sonship’ (Rom 8:15)[1].” 

In preparation for that event, Pope John Paul II said in his message in 1990:

Holiness is the essential heritage of the children of God. Christ says: ‘Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect’ (Mt 5:48). This means doing the will of the Father in every circumstance of life.  

I recognize in the quotation of St. Matthew’s Gospel by JPII a chief aspect of the person of the Father that will be reflected differently at the WYD in Krakow: “Be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful” (Lk. 6:36).  The reason for this reflection is that the theme of the 2016 WYD in Krakow is “Blessed are the Merciful” and “Have mercy on us and on the whole world” (Kowalska)[2].  That is to say, that we who seek the perfection of the Father are capable of seeking Him on account of his Mercy.
 So we go from a theme of sonship in the 1991 WYD to the goal of such sonship, the Father!  Already, with more than 6 months to go, I can notice on the horizon a reminder of JPII’s legacy in Krakow but superseded by the greatness of the Heavenly Father as revealed to us by the merciful Christ Jesus.  Though I won’t be there in person, I am aware of a kind of “Philadelphia”—or a brotherly love for the city of Krakow where my blood brother will be and where Jesus our Brother is, was, and is to come.   Our original family name “Wroeblewski” is common in much of Poland, and is in fact taken from a common Polish sparrow (Wróbel) that can easily be found throughout the country.  With this in mind, I really enjoy the aerial views represented in the official hymn “Błogosławieni miłosierni” video for the event—as though a sparrow were soaring throughout the country and surveying what the Father is about to do there.  My prayer is that St. John Paul II’s legacy and especially written works will not be forgotten but more and more incorporated into the life of families, priests and religious for the greater glory of God!



Friday, January 8, 2016

Max Scheler, Aristotle and JPII

In 1954 Wojtyla became professor of ethics at the University of Lublin in Poland.  His courses centered around St. Thomas Aquinas and Max Scheler, with much attention also given to Kant (in particular his personalistic norm).  Seeing as how Scheler was such an influence on JPII, here then is my assessment of Scheler in relation to Aristotle:

The fundamental concepts[1] of Max Scheler’s noölogical method are: “World of work” (Arbeitswelt) and “form of spiritual life” (Geistige Lebensform).

 If I were to re-state the above summary about Scheler’s work Die transcendbntale und die psychologische Methode, I would use the Benedictine “Ora et Labora” which may serve as a more familiar definition (λόγος)[2] of Scheler’s German verbiage.  Max Scheler’s use of “Lebensform”—literally “form of life”, closely equates to Aristotle’s εἶδος (or character formation) and St. Benedict’s Regula (or rule of life).  That is to say, Max Scheler observed two major influences on the human person: “work” and “form of life”.  Of these, I am most interested in the latter as it concerns the character (εἶδος) of unique persons.  However, interestingly enough, his identification of “work” closely aligns with Aristotle’s ἔργον and St. Benedict’s “labora”.

The reason why I refer to Regula Sancti Benedicti and Aristotle, is to provide a historical framework for Scheler’s modern attempt to synthesize philosophy and psychology in Die transcendbntale und die psychologische Methode.  After all, Scheler divides his work into three parts[3]: the first being the historical survey of philosophic method, the second devoted to Arbeitswelt, and the third to Geistige Lebensform (as opposed to mere psychological method).  As I have said, of these three, I want to focus most on the third in order to provide a reason/definition for why formation is necessary and indeed unavoidable for all human persons.  In other words, Scheler’s “form of life” occurs especially in the mind of every human person[4], whether he or she consciously participates in it or not (i.e. a conscious effort to grow in virtue {ἀρετή}).  I am not going to go into the extensive subjective questions Scheler raises with psychology or the interiority of the human person per se.  Instead, I simply intend to argue for a noölogical defense of the formation of the human person.

To simplify, it is often said of a unique and impressive person, “He or she is quite a character!”.  Such a reference is not to be confused with “caricature”, as in a larger-than-life or play-acting personality.  Rather, the use of the word character, or “building character” is in reference to the “form of life” that a person has undergone.  Aristotle understands this to be the result of the practice/function (ἔργον) of virtue (ἀρετή) or the lack thereof, i.e. virtue is either understood in human beings to be potential or actual and the fully formed human being has virtue actually[5].  Therefore, I am arguing that we recognize either a potentiality or an actuality of virtue in persons as “character building or formation”.  St. Benedict’s “Ora et Labora” adds a theological component somewhat lacking in Aristotle, and Scheler’s critique of the contemporary psychological method would agree with St. Benedict based on the following:

Scheler condemns the psychological method of starting from definite and original data such as ‘here and now given feelings’ as a pure fiction, and charges the method with confusing mere psychic existence with living Spirit as expressed in the concrete relations of society, in law, religion, etc., at any stage of culture[6].

In other words, Max Scheler converted to Catholicism in large part because he recognized the Geistige Lebensform he desired in the religion.  That is, his own decision making was based on his noölogical method as divided into his understanding and assessment of the historical, Arbeitswelt, and Geistige Lebensform.

John Paul II found in Scheler a suitable complement to Aquinas for developing much of his own philosophical thought.  Aquinas, of course, drew largely from Aristotle--which explains why I referred to him most often in the above.  When adding the virtues of faith, hope, and love to Aristotle’s more natural assessment, it is easy to begin to see the potential in the study of individuals’ own virtues inter-subjectively.  In other words, each person can gain a degree of understanding of the level of virtue that he or she has attained with self-knowledge.  Likewise, a person can determine how deficient a virtue is in his or her life, even in relation to God.  I have JPII and his predecessors to thank for such understanding.   

[1] Die transcendbntale und die psychologische Methode: Eine grundsützliche Erürterung zur philosophischen Methodik. Von Dr. Max F. Scheler. Leip zig : Verlag der Dürr'schen Buchhandlung. 1900. Pages, 178.The Monist, Vol. 12, No. 4 (July, 1902), pp. 633-634 Published by: Oxford University Press
[2] "In Aristotle’s view the thing defined by a definition of x is the FORM of x. Hence ‘the logos of x’ is often equivalent to ‘the form of x’."  All references to Aristotle taken from Terence Irwin and Gail Fine.  Nicomachean Ethics and Glossary.  Hackett Publishing: Cambridge 1995.
[3] W. B. Lane: The Philosophical Review, Vol. 10, No. 5 (Sep., 1901), pp. 568-570. Published by: Duke University Press on behalf of Philosophical Review
[4]Verlag der Dürr'schen Buchhandlung.  “Mind, and therefore also its constituent ‘intellect,’ is at the beginning of the quest for its contents a perfectly problematic conception.”
[5] Terence Irwin and Gail Fine.  Nicomachean Ethics and Glossary.  Hackett Publishing: Cambridge 1995 "Form is the actuality that realizes the potentiality of the matter."
[6] W. B. Lane: The Philosophical Review, Vol. 10, No. 5 (Sep., 1901), pp. 568-570. Published by: Duke University Press on behalf of Philosophical Review

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Newman on the Incarnation

John Henry Cardinal Newman was a profoundly comprehensive thinker.  Some have attributed to him a degree of inspiration behind Vatican II, and certainly, he has been credited with most University parishes throughout the United States--in name if not in teaching.  JPII declared that John Henry Newman had lived all of the Christian virtues in a heroic degree and was thus henceforth to be called by the title “Venerable” on 1/22/91. 

I just want to cite a simple statement he makes about Christianity, not so as to limit his teaching on it, but to show his prioritization of truth:

For the convenience of arrangement, I will consider the Incarnation the central truth of the gospel, and the source whence we are to draw out its principles.
1. The principle of dogma, that is, supernatural truths irrevocably committed to human language, imperfect because it is human, but definitive and necessary because given from above.
2. The principal of faith, which is the correlative of dogma, being the absolute acceptance of the divine Word with an internal assent, in opposition to the informations, if such, of sight and reason.
3. Faith, being an act of the intellect, opens a way for inquiry, comparison and inference, that is, for science in religion, in subservience to itself; this is the principle of theology.
4. The doctrine of the Incarnation is the announcement of a divine gift conveyed in a material and visible medium, it being thus that heaven and earth are in the Incarnation united. That is, it establishes in the very idea of Christianity the sacramental principle as its characteristic.
5. Another principle involved in the doctrine of the Incarnation, viewed as taught or as dogmatic, is the necessary use of language, e.g. of the text of Scripture, in a second or mystical sense. Words must be made to express new ideas, and are invested with a sacramental office.
6. It is our Lord's intention in His Incarnation to make us what He is Himself; this is the principle of grace, which is not only holy but sanctifying.
7. It cannot elevate and change us without mortifying our lower nature:—here is the principle of asceticism. {326}
8. And, involved in this death of the natural man, is necessarily a revelation of the malignity of sin, in corroboration of the forebodings of conscience.
9. Also by the fact of an Incarnation we are taught that matter is an essential part of us, and, as well as mind, is capable of sanctification.

In connection with a quote I selected from Gaudium et Spes, "By his Incarnation, he, the Son of God, has in a certain way united himself with each man" (22:2).

Together, these truths communicate to me that both March 25th and December 25th of each year are awesome feasts to celebrate our Lord, because they focus our attention on him, "pitching his tent/tabernacle among us"!  That is to say that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (the Angelus), and Newman does well to choose this as central to Christianity.  He goes even further by nearly locating the Incarnation today in large part with the Magisterium's Infallibility (in matters of faith and morals):

The doctrine of the Incarnation is a fact, and cannot be paralleled by anything in nature...We have no reason to suppose that there is so great a distinction of dispensation between ourselves and the first generation of Christians, as that they had a living infallible guidance, and we have not...As creation argues continual governance, so are Apostles harbingers of Popes.

In other words, the first Apostles had an Infallible teacher in Christ--and we too, have an Infallible teacher in Christ via his Church. 

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

JPII and Billy Graham

Billy Graham identified himself as a good friend of Karol Wojtyla.  They corresponded regularly, and met in Rome several times.  Graham had a special respect for the Pope's emphasis on the suffering of the cross.  In an interview with Larry King, Graham the following of Wojtyla:

GRAHAM: I think it was his background in Poland. And I had finished preaching all over Poland, gotten to know many people, and I knew a little bit about where he came from.
"And he was a suffering pope, too. He suffered as much as anybody you could ever imagine. His mother died when he was young. And he had that terrible assassination attack. And through it all, he taught us how to suffer. And I think in recent days he's taught us how to die.
KING: There is no question in your mind that he is with God now?
GRAHAM: Oh, no. There may be a question about my own, but I don't think Cardinal Wojtyla, or the Pope -- I think he's with the Lord, because he believed. He believed in the Cross. That was his focus throughout his ministry, the Cross, no matter if you were talking to him from personal issue or an ethical problem, he felt that there was the answer to all of our problems, the cross and the resurrection. And he was a strong believer.

They also held in common a goal to wipe out Communism, and were both successful in their own lifetimes.  Here is a clip of Graham preaching against Marxism (min 7:40-8:15)):


Tuesday, December 8, 2015

St. Maximilian, JPII and 12/8

During the month of All Saints/souls, my second son was born: Maximilian Kolbe-Joseph Roeble (No Pressure).  My wife and I agreed on that name soon after we finished the Saint’s specific Marian Consecration, and I am so profoundly impressed with the Saint’s understanding of the Immaculate Conception that I use it in my daily rosary.  That is, St. Maximilian Kolbe understood there to be essentially two personally distinct Immaculate Conceptions: Mary and the Holy Spirit.  One human and one Divine, one created and one Uncreated. 

While awaiting execution at Auschwitz, St. Maximilian received the answer to a question he had long wondered, “Who are you, O Immaculate Conception?”.[1]  Here is the answer he received just before his martyrdom:

This eternal ‘Immaculate Conception’ (which is the Holy Spirit) produces in an immaculate manner divine life itself in the womb (or depths) of Mary’s soul, making her the Immaculate Conception, the human Immaculate Conception.[2]

After all, Mary did tell St. Bernadette at Lourdes, I am the Immaculate Conception.  That is, the identity of her person just as the Tetragrammaton was revealed to Moses on Sinai.  So too, St. Maximilian Kolbe understood the identity of the person of Holy Spirit to be the uncreated “Immaculate Conception”.

St. John Paul II references this same understanding, along with a story of the Saint’s acceptance of two “crowns” from the Blessed Virgin Mary:

Maximilian prepared for this definitive sacrifice by following Christ from the first years of his life in Poland. From these years comes the mysterious vision of two crowns-one white and one red. From these our saint does not choose. He accepts them both. From the years of his youth, in fact, Maximilian was filled with the great love of Christ and the desire for martyrdom.

This love and this desire accompanied him along the path of his Franciscan and priestly vocation, for which he prepared himself both in Poland and in Rome. This love and this desire followed him through all the places of his priestly and Franciscan service in Poland and in his missionary service in Japan.

The inspiration of his whole life was the Immaculata. To her he entrusted his love for Christ and his desire for martyrdom. In the mystery of the Immaculate Conception there revealed itself before the eyes of his soul that marvelous and supernatural world of God's grace offered to man.[3]

I find it particularly fitting on this Feast of the Immaculate Conception today 12/8/15, that I can celebrate with my family, the very community for which St. Maximilian offered his life.  That is, when he saw that Jewish father and husband had been selected by the Nazis for execution, Father Kolbe offered his life instead.  That is how highly he esteemed marriage and family.  And, the man he “saved” (Francis) went on to tell his story to everyone he met.  Not only that, but he and his family personally attended the Beatification of St. Maximilian in Rome.


[1] Rev. Michael Gaitley's 33 Days to Morning Glory, esp. section on St. Maximilian Kolbe pp.49-64.  Stockbridge, MA: Marian Press, 2013.
[2] H.M. Manteau-Bonamy, OP, Immaculate Conception and the Holy Spirit. Libertyville, IL: Franciscan Marytown Press, 1977.
[3] John Paul II, HOMILY For THE CANONIZATION OF St. Maximilian Maria Kolbe, October 10, 1982