Discussion

Well, would you?

imageEvents (moving-related events, and infinitely frustrating they are, too) have conspired to foul up my reading and writing schedule for Project SJ. So today’s post is half-placeholder, half-reflection on the book I’m currently reading with an eye to review: Would you Baptize an Extraterrestrial? by Guy Consolmagno SJ and Paul Mueller SJ of the Vatican Observatory. (That’s Guy at the bottom right of the homepage, showing a meteorite to the Pope. You can read his interview for Project SJ here.)

Since becoming Christian, I’ve ended up reading a great deal more about science. I’m not a scientist by inclination (although I did marry one). But one of the unanticipated side-effects of being not just a Christian, but someone who writes about religion, is that I encounter people who want me to explain my relationship to science. Do I still believe in it? How do I reconcile science and faith? The immediate answer is that I have no need to reconcile two things that, for me, have never clashed. My relationship to science, like my politics and my feminism, is something I began to discern long before I really thought about my theology. Discovering my faith was like switching on a light in a furnished room. It illuminated everything. It clarified many things, and it showed me what was lacking and what needed work. But, in material terms, it didn’t change what was there.*

The problem (and it’s quite a nice problem, in that it drives me to read more) is that this sort of answer doesn’t always satisfy those who persist in asking the question. For those who see Biblical literalism as the defining characteristic of Christianity, the gulf between religion and the physical sciences is vast, and it is concrete. From this sort of starting point, the existence of someone like Guy Consolmagno (a Jesuit astronomer) or Paul Mueller (a Jesuit philosopher with a focus on religion and science) represents a puzzle, a contradiction, sometimes even an affront. It’s not surprising they get so many emails.

Would you Baptize an Extraterrestrial? treats half a dozen of the most common questions the authors receive from members of the public. Each chapter takes the form of a dialogue set in a different space, real or imagined. The idea is evidently to bring the reader into the conversation; to anticipate and answer his or her particular concerns. It’s about discussion, not didacticism. But does it work?

I’ll tell you what I think next week, once I’ve finished it. But the signs are good.

If you have something to say about WYBAE, or the topic in hand, please leave a comment below.

*If I’ve unconsciously nicked this image from somewhere, I apologise.

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Peter McVerry on vocation

I’ve just completed an email interview with Peter McVerry SJ, which will be posted in full next week. Fr McVerry is a social activist, campaigner and founder of homelessness charity The Peter McVerry Trust.

One of the things that fascinates me in talking with Jesuits is their sense of vocation, and how they describe what to those on the outside can seem a strange and mystical sense of calling to a particular ministry. It’s something I want to get in about as much as possible. Accordingly I always ask interviewees: How did you experience the feeling of being called? Here’s what Fr McVerry has to say:

I didn’t experience “being called.” I think going into the priesthood is much like any other vocation. You decide how you would like your life to be lived, and you make a judgement that in the priesthood you can achieve what you would like to do with your life. I don’t think it is much different to deciding to be a doctor, or a lawyer or whatever, except that God is explicit in the decision. The decision is a belief that this is what God wants me to do with my life, which for many others might be implicit or non-existent, but in the case of priesthood, the belief that this is what God wants is at the forefront. But there is no big feeling of being “called”.

What do you think? How does this tally with your experience of vocation: to religious life, to a particular career or ministry or service, to a way of life or a relationship? Leave a comment and let me know.

On unfinished thinking

I am currently reading My Door is Always Open, Antonio Spadaro SJ’s interview with Pope Francis. One Jesuit interviewing another (especially this one) is of obvious interest to Project SJ, and I’ll be writing a proper review in due course.

In the meantime, I am deeply struck by this phrase of Francis’ regarding discernment:

The style of the Society is not shaped by discussion, but by discernment, which of course presupposes discussion as part of the process. The mystical dimension of discernment never defines its edges and does not complete the thought. The Jesuit must be a person whose thought is incomplete, in the sense of open-ended thinking. (p. 24)

I’ve been carrying this concept about with me—the incomplete thought, the open-ended process—and I think it’s key. Not just to the interest of Jesuit perspectives and Jesuit culture “from without,” but to the very real usefulness of the Spiritual Exercises in combating scrupulosity, absolutism and the allure of the too-hasty decision.

What do you think? (“I don’t know yet” is a more than acceptable answer.) Is there a particular phrase, idea or image that says “Jesuit” to you? Leave a comment and let me know.