Sunday, February 19, 2012

Dickens, McLuhan and the B.V.M.


There is a story in Britain's The Catholic Herald about the night Charles Dickens may have had a vision of the Virgin Mary. The English novelist was certainly no Catholic, and at times revealed his own prejudices about "popery", typical of his time. Yet this unusual account reveals how quickly Catholicism leapt to Dickens' mind, in a moment of rather dramatic religious experience. 

It's worth reading in its entirety, but here is the kernel of the account, from a letter Dickens wrote to his biographer John Forster:


Monday, February 13, 2012

George Grant Revisited


In the course of my research on the question of human relationship to emerging digital technologies and their environments, I've read from two books by the Canadian nationalist and philosopher George Grant. Grant was once a fixture on the Canadian intellectual landscape, roaming alongside other giants like Marshall McLuhan and Northrop Frye in the 1970s heyday that put the University of Toronto on the radar screen of the world. It was an era, it seems, that produced a set of remarkably penetrating and prophetic thinkers.

In his 1969 book Technology and Empire, Grant (incidentally, the uncle of erstwhile politician Michael Ignatieff), lamented that the idea of progress had lost its connection to moral development and had been co-opted into a utilitarian mastery of nature to satisfy human appetites. He was not blind to the multitude of benefits wrought by science and technology, and struggled to hold them in tension with his growing criticism of the emerging technologized man, but he did so confident that it was because we had internalized technology as a way of thinking, and could not step outside ourselves "to see the forest for the trees."

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Ignatian Spirituality - Roving Bands and the Digitally-Delivered


People often say to me that they would love to take an Ignatian retreat, but live too far away from a retreat centre, can't take the time off from daily life, or can't afford it (long retreats are sometimes costly). St. Ignatius foresaw this, and in Annotations 18-20 in his Spiritual Exercises, he describes some alternate retreat scenarios, among which is the option to remain in one's daily rhythm of life, but devote an hour or so to meditative prayer each day. In Jesuit parlance this form of retreat is called "Annotation 19". Without delving too much into this kind of retreat, it does raise the question of daily spiritual practices of a specifically Ignatian character. What might these be?

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Violent God of the Old Testament

The reading from Mass yesterday is among the most difficult to comprehend in the whole of scripture, ranking up with the episode in which God punishes Saul for not killing all the Amalekites and their animals (the priest Samuel had to slay the captured Amalekite king, you may recall). In our reading, King David makes the mistake of ordering a census, revealing his desire to know how many fighting men he has, and hence a lack of faith. David repents of this sin, and God offers him a choice between three penances. David chooses three days of pestilence, which causes 70,000 Israelites to perish. David laments this (it was his sin after all), and God recalls his angel of death. 

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Summer Discernment in Italy


There's a rather unique opportunity this summer for young men who would like to discern more about the possibility of a vocation -- outside the programs of any particular group or order. It begins in Rome, followed by a study session on the island of Sardinia. A U.S. Jesuit, Fr. Anthony Wieck, will direct this course along with Fr. Jacques Servais, director of Rome's Casa Balthasar. Here's the details -- if anyone knows young men who might profit from this, spread the word.