I saw a nicely-scoped article on the novel Freedom yesterday: "Jonathan Franzen's Jewish Riddle." With all of the topics raised and wrestled with in Freedom, Joshua Furst examines the novel's significant interest in the varieties of contemporary Judaism. This examination brings him to the conclusion that "As each of Freedom’s heroes eventually discovers, the only socially responsible stance one can take, if one is to find a way out of our current quagmire, is Secular Humanism, which of course has its roots tangled deep in the history of Jewish thought." Yes, but Franzen is too good of a writer for things to be this simple. Instead, this theme forms a kind of hypothesis, which butts up against the relentless cries of human needs and desires. Walter, the environmentalist and zero population growth advocate, wants children again with his young admirer. While Patty Burgland reconciles her family, not everything else is so neatly accounted for. And on a macro level, the many obsessively detailed statistics which Walter surveys (e.g. the impact of housecats on migratory songbirds) describe a real problem that with no clear solution in sight: increased global consumption on a planet with finite resources.
Confronting this problem, Walter sees no greater enemy than the pope. I wonder what he would make of Pope Benedict XVI's interview, Light of the World . . .
In Generating Traces in the History of the World, Msgr. Giussani quotes Charles Péguy's judgment:
"For the first time, for the first time after Jesus, we have seen, before our eyes, we are about to see before our eyes a new world arising, if not a city; a new society forming, if not a city – modern society, the modern world. A world, a society in formation, or at least assembling, growing, after Jesus, without Jesus. And the most terrible thing, my friends, we mustn't deny it, is that they have managed. What gives a capital importance to our generation and to the time we live in, my friends, is what puts you at a unique watershed in the history of the world, is what puts you in a tragic, unique situation. You are the first. You are the first of the modern men, your are the first before whom, before whose eyes this has happened, and you have caused to happen, this singular work, this foundation of the modern world, this establishment of the intellectual party of the modern world" (qtd 100-101).
This past Sunday we celebrated the feast of Christ the King, the culmination of the Church’s entire liturgical year, and on Nov. 23 we remember the martyrdom of Blessed Miguel Pro, S.J. whose death came only two short years after the very first Feast of Christ the King.
Blessed Miguel Pro was a Mexican priest in a time of great revolt and religious persecution. Consequently, it was also a time of anti-clerical hounding based on a militant enforced atheism. This turmoil left many religious and priests with no option but to flee Mexico’s borders or take the Church underground. Fr. Miguel Pro S.J., only 36 years-old, fearlessly continued serving the poor, the destitute and the oppressed. As he biked from town to town, it was only a matter of time before he was eventually identified as a Roman Catholic priest and a warrant was issued for his arrest.
Fr. Pro was able to evade authorities for nearly a year as he continued his ministry, but on Nov. 23, 1927 he was caught and immediately sentenced to death without trial.
Mexican dictator, Plutarco Calles, sought to use the priest’s death as a public example of the fate of any Christian and ordered that a professional photographer document the event. He wanted every countryman to see the gruesome death he too could face for proclaiming faith in God.
A firing squad and crowds were efficiently assembled and as his last request, Fr. Pro was brought before the people to pray in silence for two minutes. Upon rising, he said to the firing squad, “May God have mercy on you. May God bless you. Lord, You know that I am innocent. With all my heart I forgive my enemies.”
He was offered a blindfold, but declined. Instead, with a rosary in one hand and a crucifix in the other, he outstretched his arms as Jesus on the cross and said in a firm, unshaken voice, “Viva Christo Rey!” “Long live, Christ the King!”
The next day, as the priest’s lifeless body was carried to the cemetery, nearly 10 thousand Mexicans risked their own lives to accompany it, courageously passing in front of the dictator's house. They chanted Fr. Pro’s words throughout the somber walk. “Viva Christo Rey! Viva Christo Rey!”
Copies of the execution photo with Fr. Pro’s arms outstretched spread madly across the country and were immediately banned. People everywhere knew the power of his words and the power of his witness.
A current New York art exhibition of works by Mexican painter and printer, Nicolás De Jesús, depicts grinning, active skeletons partaking in daily life. The exhibit, which coincides with Dia de los Muertos, not only portrays the Mexican holiday, but in an indirect way, our life as Catholics.
How easily we forget that to encounter one another we must also encounter generations, cultures, life and eventually death.
The beauty of Catholicism is that it knows no boundaries — it is not defined by centuries, continents or current events.
Possibly even more beautiful? Our faith allows us to formulate a worldview that seeks to find the humanism, see the whole and in turn, search for Christ in everything.
Read the article, "Smiling Skeletons, With Lives to Lead and Issues to Raise," HERE