We have defined ourselves as a community of scholars and I am delighted that you have chosen to enter into our common work, which is the interface of the studies of philosophy and theology. By way of introduction to the year before us I would like to offer, briefly, a reflection on why this common work of ours is so very important, along with some suggestions concerning how we can truly undertake this work together.
We have declared that an essential element of the mission of DSPT is to engage contemporary culture and scholarship through the Dominican tradition of education, particularly as exemplified by St. Thomas Aquinas. We therefore confidently expect that engagement on the part of our graduates, and therein lay their responsibilities.
Both saints together taught us that we will not evangelize our modern world by condemning it or disparaging it or by engaging it politically. Instead, we will touch the hearts and minds of our contemporaries by revealing to them their identity and profound dignity as persons in the “unique and unrepeatable human reality” that each of them manifests in all of the concreteness of his or her life as “friend of God and heir to eternal glory.”
Our first task, if we are to live the tradition of St. Thomas, is to be instructed by his method: to presume good will in such a way that we take the positions of others seriously and, in cases that they are not seriously proposed, then to receive them more seriously than they were intended. We must absolutely refuse the temptation to politicize disagreements.
The concern of a scholar who is Catholic must be one with the concern of Christ for humanity: what organizes the work of the Christian scholar must be more than the quest for the truth of things; it is to be found, rather, in the Redemptive Mission of Christ whereby he heals humanity and calls it to be one in him.
We here gathered have proposed to consider together a number of issues --individual rights, subsidiarity in governance, immigration, the relation of Church and state, the market economy, the impact of social media and so on; the reason for choosing these topics and not others is that there are urgent and practical problems associated with each, problems that impact both U.S. and Mexican societies. It is my hope that we will not merely attempt new solutions to these problems - that is, by addressing the means - but that we can offer new perspectives because we pose real questions to which we do not, at first, have an answer; questions that have a bearing upon the ends, not merely the means.
If there is one overarching theme that has emerged throughout our conversations or, perhaps better, one prism through which we can view all of the issues that we have addressed, it is that of justice. How are we to do justice to individuals and families, to immigrants, to citizens, to the generations that will come after us?
You are to evangelize persons. How are you to accomplish this? Our Lord has told you to make disciples. The disciple is one who learns. Therefore, you are to teach. But what are you to teach? You are to teach what you yourself have learned from the one who is our Teacher: how you have learned to understand yourself through him; the dignity that is yours in him; how to recognize his voice; the adventure that is ours in following him; how we discern, in him, our own vocation. We are to be prepared to give an account of the hope that we have in him.
Fr. Michael Sweeney, OP, was a guest on Catholic Answers Live on April 30, 2012 where he spoke on "The Perennial Impact of St. Thomas Aquinas". See the full text of the article to listen to the recording of the show and for links to various Thomistic resources.
The season of Lent is a penitential season. But what is “penitence”? The etymology of the word is instructive: it derives from the Latin paenitentia, or "repentance", which in turn derives from the word paenitere, "to cause or feel regret" which likely derives from the word, paene, "almost." In this light, paenitentia, our repentance, stems from our acknowledgment of the fact that life is "almost" right, "almost" enough, that we regret the fact that "almost" is not enough and that we know ourselves to be complicit in the fact. The purpose of our repentance is to be restored to a fullness whereby we are able to face life without regret; we are to eliminate the "almost."
On December 30, 1988 Blessed John Paul II issued his Apostolic Exhortation, Christifideles Laici. In it the Holy Father spoke of a "secular character" that is proper to the lay faithful that specifies the uniqueness of the lay vocation. I would like briefly to explore what is meant by the "secular character" of the laity and then to situate the College of Fellows of the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology in the light of the mission of the School to foster the lay vocation.
St. Thomas, I would argue, is able to avoid both the excessive rationality of the Enlightenment, the tendency to reduce reality to encompass only what reason is able to perceive, and the unwarranted skepticism of some "postmodern" philosophers as to the possibility of any claim to the truth. What, then, do we see when we look with St. Thomas at the ideas and assumptions that preoccupy our modern or “post-modern” world?
What St. Thomas holds regarding the law is not absurd, but we can also well see how it is that his insights are at odds with the understanding of law that is held by the vast majority of our contemporaries. By what means is it possible to translate St. Thomas’ insights into contemporary categories? This was, I contend, what John Paul II attempted in rehabilitating and placing before us the notion of “person.”
One who loves the world in the manner of Christ is one who is wedded to the truth –not merely the truth of propositions, but the truth about the human person. As Yves Congar, the great Dominican theologian of the laity, once remarked: “there are persons in whose presence it is not possible to lie.” To the degree that we commit ourselves to life in the world; to the degree that we look upon the world with Christ, and begin to see with him; to the degree that the laity develop a competence, or even more an excellence, in secular affairs; to the degree that we see the dignity of secular pursuits and how they are ordered to the human person; to the degree that we are faithful to men and to women –that we remain with them, that we look and do not look away; exactly to that degree we become those in whose presence the truth about the person is made known, those in whose presence it is not possible to lie. This is the task that has been committed to the laity of the Church, not for the sake of the Church, but for the sake of the mission of Christ, for the sake of the world he loves.
A very great gulf separates those of us who hold to the social teaching of the Church and most of our contemporaries. The premise of the social teaching is faith. By “faith” I do not mean supernatural faith, the theological virtue; I mean, rather a natural faith, a disposition that insists upon staying with phenomena as they present themselves to us. In its simplest expression to be faithful simply means to remain, to stay, to look and not look away. Such a faithfulness clearly implies relationship: one stays with someone or something apart from oneself. It also implies a seeing: one who remains with another, who attends watchfully, will come eventually to see the other - might we say have knowledge of the other – in a manner that would otherwise be impossible.
I do not think that it is in any way an exaggeration to say that Western civilization is at a crossroads. Having forgotten, if not repudiated, the Christian and (let us insist, however politically incorrect) Catholic foundations of their history, Western states have emphasized more and more individual freedom, but at the expense of the institutions that have nurtured and supported it throughout history. Even marriage and the family –the institutions that have been foundational to every human society– are under attack.