Summer Theology Program in Italy, 2012 – UPDATED

A slight change has been made to the dates of the second summer program run by the Saint Albert the Great Center for Scholastic Studies. The program will take place again in Norcia, Italy,  from June 18 to June 30, 2012.

The theme this Summer is biblical theology, focusing on the Gospels. Selections from commentaries by St. Augustine, St. John Chrysostom, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Bonaventure, and Joseph Ratzinger aim to lead to a deeper understanding of the Word of God and provide a starting point for discussion. Some lectures will be given on topics such as biblical inspiration, the use of the bible in the liturgy, and lectio divina. Again, a disputation in the scholastic style will be held during the program.

Holy Mass, the sung Latin Benedictine office with the monks, spiritual guidance and confessions are all readily available, and a number of optional excursions are offered.

Those who have or can make the time, and can afford the €675 (at the moment under $900 USD — covers tuition, room, and half-board, i.e., a light breakfast and a multi-course Italian dinner each day) plus the transportation to and from Norcia, are highly encouraged to consider this academic and spiritual program.

For much more detailed information, see the description of the program on the Center's own website.

Homily for Sts. Cyril and Methodius

St. Cyrill and St. Methodius are the patron saints of the parish Church where I am live and am assigned as a deacon. We celebrated their feast as a solemnity last Sunday. The readings were Acts 13:46-49 (Paul and Barnabas saying that after rejection by the Jews, they turn to the Gentiles, since Christ has charged them to spread the Gospel to all peoples) and Luke 10:1-9 (the sending of the 72 disciples).

Today Jesus speaks in the Gospel about a harvest. Who of you (children) has harvested fruit or vegetables from the tree or vine? (Children name various fruits they've harvested.) There are many good fruits and vegetables one can harvest and enjoy. Do you know what happens to the fruit if no one harvests it? (It spoils.) Yes, first it gets a bit overripe and doesn't taste as good, then it rots and you can't eat it any more, it's no good, at least not for us, maybe bugs and worms still enjoy it.

Something like that can happen with persons, too. It's sad, but sometimes good things in people spoil and are lost, because no one recognized them, helped these persons to harvest and preserve them. There is a lot hidden within everyone. But it is to be brought out, and one needs help for that. Not everyone can already read when they are three years old. They need someone to help them learn to read. We need people, too, to help us learn to love, to have faith, to trust.

Jesus knows this situation. He says, „The harvest is great, but the workers are few.“ He doesn't mean the harvest of fruits and vegetables, but the harvest of love, trust, faith, hope. Seeds of these beautiful, wonderful things are present among men. But they have to unfold, to grow, and one has to make them one's own. Otherwise they are dry up and perhaps vanish. Jesus wants everyone to be a loving person, a believing person, one who can hope and trust even when bad things happen. But Jesus sees a problem. There are few people to help make this happen, few workers. He gives us two answers to this problem. He says „Pray that the Father send workers for the harvest.“ Our Father knows what we need, and he can see to it that the people we and others need are there for us. And he says to his disciples, “You go! Go tell the people what I told you, God is with them. He is very close to them.” He sends them out. The disciples were happy with Jesus, happy to listen to him and to his message. But they should share this happiness with others, too. Jesus gives them some advice on how they can do this more effectively. They shouldn't carry too much around with them, so that they can travel more freely from one place to another to carry the message, so that they don't have to worry constantly about their money and other possessions. They shouldn't constantly move about trying to find the best place. When someone invites them into their home, they should stay there for some time and preach the good news.

But it wasn't only those persons, who saw Jesus and spoke with him, who went out and told about him. Again and again there have been such men. Our church gets its name from two such men: Cyrill and Methodius. They were brothers, who after public life and work entered a monastery to devote themselves to prayer and contemplation, to spend time with Jesus, like the disciples did. And this was a beautiful and lovely thing to do with their lives. But a request came from the Slavic people: “Many have come to us and told us of Jesus andhis teaching. But we couldn't understand them very well. We need people who will talk to us in a way they we can understand, people who are familiar with our language, our customs and ways of doing things.” The two brothers were asked to go there and to instruct the Slavs in the Christian faith, and they accepted this mission. They considered it important that Christian faith, the bible, and the liturgy not come across as something altogether foreign forced on the people, did not want to say to them, in effect “There's our faith. If you can make anything of it, well and good. If not, we can't do anything more for you.” They put much effort into translating expressions of faith and the liturgy so that it was understandable for the people. To that end they invented an alphabet for the language. Our alphabet, the Roman alphabet, was less suited, since the sounds are so different. In this way they made Christ's message, always one and the same, the message of faith, love, and responsibility, understandable for the people there.

When we look at the Cross, we see to its right and left many cards that all say the same thing, peace, but in many different languages. In the upper-left corner, the third from the top, it is written in the Cyrillic alphabet that Cyril and Methodius invented. Christ's Gospel has to be translated into the languages of the people. But for Cyrill and Methodius, as for us, it wasn't and isn't only a matter of speaking the right language such as Italian, German, English, Slavic. It is also a matter of so speaking about the faith, so celebrating it, and so living it, as to better help people to be drawn to it and to understand it. Let us pray that, through the intercession of these two patron saints, God grant us, as a parish and as individuals, the grace to witness to, to speak about, and to live our Christian faith, which we have ourselves heard and received, so as to bring others to Christ. Amen.

Sophie's Choice

Sophie's choice, described in William Styron's novel by that name, has become a textbook example of a (moral) dilemma.

Sophie, a polish Catholic, is arrested by the Nazis and sent to the Auschwitz death camp. She is there given a choice: one of her children will be spared the gas chamber if she chooses which one; otherwise both will be gassed to death. She screams in torment that she cannot make such a choice, pleading that she cannot do so. As the order is given for both children to be taken to the gas chamber, she suddenly does choose. Thinking that her older and stronger son has a better chance of surviving the camp, she in agonizing pain says that they can take her younger daughter. Two years later, haunted by the guilt of this choice, Sophie commits suicide. (Narrative summarized and slightly adapted from the novel)

The following accounts seem to me to sum up the evaluations I have encountered.

1. Sophie did wrong because she chose between the lives of her children.

According to the Talmud, if an enemy comes and demands that you choose someone to hand over to him to be put to death, with the threat that you will otherwise all be killed, you may not do so, but must all be willing to die instead of choosing someone to die. But if the enemy demands a particular person, then according to Rabbi Yohanan you may deliver up that person, even if that person is not guilty of a crime deserving death. Here the understanding seems to be that by making a choice whereby one person dies and other lives, one is making oneself master of life and death, an authority that belongs to God alone.

According to this principle, Sophie acted wrongly in choosing which one of her children would live.

2. Sophie did wrong because she consented to the unjust death of one of her children
Sophie did wrong because she consented to the death of one of her children as a means to saving the other one. According to this view, what Sophie did would have been wrong even if there was no choice between children, even if, for example, she was told, "if you tell me, 'take the girl', I'll just take her to the gas chamber, otherwise I'll take both."

In regard to this argument, we should note that while Sophie was told to choose which one of her children she wanted to be allowed to live, she expressed her choice by telling them which one of her children they could take to the gas chamber. This seems to indicate that she wasn't perceiving a significant difference between these two ways of choosing, either because she didn't consider there to be a significant difference between the two, or just because in her anguish she wasn't thinking clearly about it. Nonetheless, one might argue that in principle it would actually be okay to choose which child to live, but not which child to die.

3. Sophie did wrong because she was dispositive or instrumental in the death of one her children.

Sophie did wrong because by her choice and words she was instrumental in determining which of her children was killed. This claim differs from claim 2 in that it regards not so much the interior act of the will, consent to unjust death, as the external act chosen (telling the Nazis to take the girl), and the outcome to which it leads.

4. Sophie did wrong because she consented to her captor's will to murder one of her children.

5. Sophie did wrong because she materially cooperated with her captor's evil will, making use of that evil will to achieve good.

6. Sophie acted rightly, making a reasonable choice and taking a reasonable means to save the life of one of her children.

7. Sophie may have done wrong or may have done right, depending on what she was thinking and willing in regard to the situation.

8. Sophie did not do right or wrong. The choice was outside the bounds of morality.

These accounts arguably represent all basic possible moral evaluations of the choice: if the choice is wrong, it is so either because the choice between her two children as such is wrong, or because there is formal consent or material contribution to a grave evil, where that evil is understood either as the death of her child, or as the Nazi's moral evil in willing the murder of a child. If it was not wrong, than it was either right, was potentially right or wrong, or the distinction between right and wrong was inapplicable.

So, which of these accounts is correct? Was Sophie right to feel guilty? Did she do wrong? Did she do right?