Fr. John's Memoir - Chapter 5
1972-1982: Life in the Monastery and Enlarging Service Outside
by M. John Farrelly, O.S.B.
In the following decade , while the country faced the trauma of the Vietnam war, the resignation of President Nixon under a cloud, and so much more, our monastic life, like that of most monasteries in the country, gradually stabilized after the post-Vatican II changes and experienced a change in leadership but a decline in numbers. For myself, it saw my teaching position gradually become more stable and my writing bring out some results from such long research. In the Spring of 1972 I was invited to teach a two semester course in Foundational Theology the following academic year at De Sales School of Theology, now, along with the Dominicans and the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, a member of the Cluster of Independent Theological Schools. A professor who had taught this course was taking a sabbatical. Later this led to a permanent part time teaching position. I will divide my memoirs of this period into two sections of five years each.
In the fall I began teaching a course on “The Revealing Word, I” to students of De Sales School of Theology. And I gave a talk to the professors and some students of the Cluster on “Theological Reflection: A Model,” based on how I had taught the course on the Trinity. In November I was asked to return to St. Mary’s in the following summer and team-teach a course on eschatology, an invitation I accepted…
Fr. Abbot had asked a number of us in the community to give a short talk on our work to the assembled brethren. I spoke of the issues I worked on during the previous decade and how the results of that were beginning to see publication, an indication that others think it is a contribution to the Church’s need in our time. I acknowledged that the community was subsidizing my work, and thanked them for this; I also pointed out that it is subsidizing the work of the high school. And I expressed my view that my work was in continuity with the vision of Fr. Thomas Verner Moore, our main founder. It seemed to me that on the whole the community accepted what I had to say, though perhaps the silence of a few of them indicated a lack of understanding or acceptance. What I had done to this point could never have been accomplished without Fr. Abbot risking trust in me and my work and accepting more pluralism in the community’s ministry than some monks teaching in the high school thought proper. During this semester too I became more aware, once more, that I should take myself less seriously, even though the work itself was a serious need of the Church. I wrote in my journal:
I strongly suspect that our Lord is telling me that what he above all asks of me is unpretentiousness in doing this work – i.e., do it as an introduction to the problem, as a hypothesis, as an invitation to others to explore it, in recognition that to really plumb its worth and validity and possibilities much more work must be done – in recognition that a joint project on this may be worthwhile, and that I have not a great background in the physical sciences, in psychology, mathematics or biology.
My continuing periods of pushing myself – and at times students – in intellectual work showed that this was an enduring problem.
In the second semester I had to do a lot of preparation for my course “The Revealing Word, II” because I had not taught on the themes of revelation, Scripture, tradition, and the development of doctrine for several years. Also my revision of the article on “Man’s Transcendence and Thomistic Resources” called for a great deal of work to make it suitable for publication in The Thomist in 1994. And preparation for the summer school teaching on “Eschatology” similarly called for a great deal of reading, particularly on Scripture, because of the very differing theologies relating the Kingdom of God and man’s present history. – De Sales School of Theology asked me to return to teach a course to their first year theology students each semester the following year – one on Foundational Theology and one on the One and Triune God, indicating that this would be an ongoing part-time teaching position. I happily accepted the offer, thinking that the combination of a part-time teaching position and writing allowed me to make my best contribution.
During the summer, I team taught the course on eschatology at St. Mary’s. The course went well, and both my preparation for it and the style of lecture and seminar in offering it helped me greatly in the teaching this material in later years. The campus was more subdued, but renewing as it had been in earlier years. I was invited to return in the summer of 1974 to team teach a course on “Contemporary Experience and the Meaning of God,” an invitation I accepted in the fall. After summer school, I went down to Los Angeles and met some “Birchers,” political reactionaries strong in Orange County. And I took a car trip from there to Denver with two daughters of Washington friend of mine, Jack Pender. We saw some magnificent sights along the way – the Hoover Dam, the Zion National Park in southern Utah, the north rim of the Grand Canyon, the painted desert with Navajo excavations, the Blue Mesa with pueblos built in the 13th century, the continental divide, etc. It was a delightful and relaxing trip, with the renewal of spirit that wonders of creation offer us. From Denver I flew to St. Louis for a week or so of vacation with my family. And back in Washington, I completed revision of my article, “Man’s Transcendence and Thomistic Resources.” In this article I asked how varied strands of contemporary Thomism, or philosophers and theologians who initially and largely accepted Thomas Aquinas’ philosophy and theology, dialogued with the world of our time. I treated four strands, one in continuity with philosophers like Étienne Gilson, then Karl Rahner, Bernard Lonergan, and Leslie Dewart. This last basically rejected Thomas as a resource useful for our time. In my reflections on these varied approaches I began to spell out how, largely with their help, I proposed to dialogue with the philosophical issues I had singled out in my article that had appeared earlier in 1973. I sent this article on to the editor of The Thomist, and it was published in 1974 along with many other articles commemorating the 700th anniversary of the death of Thomas Aquinas.
In the fall, I returned to teaching at De Sales. But since I now was teaching Foundational Theology in a one semester course, and the One and Triune God in a one semester course, I decided to put the question of the “One God” in the first quarter, and then belief in God through Jesus Christ (e.g., the question of Christian revelation and faith) in the second quarter, the Christian norms of faith and life and the nature of theology in the third quarter, and the Trinity in the fourth quarter. I thought that the study of belief in God belonged before study of specifically Christian faith and should properly be a part of Foundational Theology. This reorganization influenced the rest of my teaching and writing life.
In October our community had one of its best retreats, given by Fr. Demetrius Dumm, O.S.B. of St. Vincent’s Archabbey of Latrobe, Pennsylvania. He was a Scripture scholar, and the richness of his background had obviously been integrated into a spirituality. Among insights he gave me, the following stand out. The commission Moses received from God to go to Pharaoh was to tell him to allow his people to go into the desert to celebrate a feast for him there. The desert was not a large expanse of sand, but an unmapped and undomesticated wilderness – a very appropriate symbol of the future. This is where we are to meet God. We go out there to celebrate a feast with him. And this is on the way to the promised land. He related this to current theology, such as Moltmann’s theology of hope and the writings of Ernst Bloch. And he contrasted this view of transcendence to a Neo-Platonic view that stressed a vertical transcendence through levels of being rather than through history. I had already been aware of these different views of transcendence, e.g., through reading and reviewing Balthasar’s A Theological Anthropology; and Dumm’s integrating it into a spirituality was helpful. We are pioneers, a spearhead of a new culture that will come into being with us or without us. Dumm also had some very good things to say about our experience of loneliness and how Jesus himself experienced it, as shown by Mark’s gospel. We are called through loneliness to put all our support in God.
During this semester I began, while feeling totally at sea, writing an article for publication on man’s transcendence in knowledge that would be a partial answer to the problem modern philosophy posed to a classical assertion that human beings are capable of metaphysical knowledge and, through the created world, some knowledge of God’s existence. I used cognitive developmental psychology, particularly those contrasting interpretations articulated by Jean Piaget and James and Eleanor Gibson, as a kind of phenomenology that, I held, supported Thomas Aquinas’ teaching but also enlarged it through integrating modes of knowledge dependent on action and basic to contemporary physics. I showed my writing to an expert on Piaget, Professor James Youniss in the Department of Psychology at the Catholic University; he suggested changes I incorporated and was encouraging. I finally reduced what I had written to an article and submitted it to The Thomist in the Spring of 1974. In May the editor called to say that they had accepted it for publication in 1975. I was very grateful indeed, and wrote in my journal:
Deo Gratias! I started working on Piaget in December 1964. Was it worth it? – Lord, you know the cost of this! – the anxiety, the time, the sacrifice of pleasure, the uncertainty, the constantly renewed hope and facing the problems it involved again and again! If it is of value, you know how it was your guidance, your opportunity, your strength, your insights and leads, your Spirit that are the source of its value.
I thank you Lord – though I hope I would have thanked you even if it had been rejected. I thank you for what good it may do. But I thank you also – and as much – because you enabled me to persevere, to bring the test of its value to this point, even when it appeared finally to be so finite a work! I thank you for any love, faith, trust, service, self-forgetfulness that I have shown in the process of this work. And I ask your forgiveness for the lack of trust and generosity, shown in my so frequent anxiety, in my forcing, in my withdrawal – and for my forgetfulness of others at times during this work.
In the second semester, I applied to De Sales to teach one additional elective course each year; and they accepted this, opting for me to teach a course on eschatology during the second semester. — During this period also I was asked by a TV film critic running a series of short talks on Satan and exorcisms in connection with the release of the very popular film, The Exorcist, whether I could be interviewed for this series. I accepted, and the team came to St. Anselm’s and asked me questions while video-taping the interview, later run on television to the surprise of some of my friends who saw it.
Since 1974 was the fiftieth anniversary of the foundation of St. Anselm’s Abbey, we noted it in varied ways. We gave a series of lectures during Lent of that year, and mine was on “The Prayers of St. Anselm,” a collection of moving and personal prayers he composed that had an influence on later medieval piety. This talk was later published in an Australian Benedictine review of spirituality, Tjurunga. And on April 21st, the feast day of St. Anselm, we had a mass to celebrate our jubilee in our gymnasium with the Apostolic Delegate as the main celebrant, Archbishop Baum in attendance, an excellent homily offered by Fr. Colman Barry OSB and some 650 attendees. — We had another celebration in the fall, marking the anniversary of the beginning of the daily celebration of the liturgy of the hours at St. Anselm’s, by sponsoring a lecture at the Catholic University of America in honor of our main founder, Fr. Thomas Verner Moore, by Bishop Christopher Butler, O.S.B., on “Authority and Christian Conscience.” This was the first in an annual series of lectures in honor of Thomas Verner Moore that we have held since 1974, with many prominent and excellent lecturers. And we had a concelebrated mass at Trinity College chapel, with a reception following.
During the summer I again taught at St. Mary’s College, now a course on “Contemporary Experience and the Meaning of God.” The theologian with whom I team taught the course was largely a disciple of Paul Tillich, and did not like my questioning the adequacy of Tillich’s philosophy and theology. When the faculty had our usual weekend away for rest, relaxation and reflection on the following year’s program, the faculty decided not to offer the course on the Trinity that was due in the cycle but rather to offer courses on death and dying and some other topics that were considered more relevant. Therefore I would not be invited to return. This was my last year teaching summers at St. Mary’s. No doubt, it was time to call a conclusion to this service that I hope was profitable for my many students and I know was a very instructive and enjoyable experience for me. – After summer school, I flew to Santa Fe where my mother’s father had made his fortune and where some of my relatives still lived. Besides my enjoyable exploration of the city and visits with my relatives, I recall attending a charismatic prayer meeting with poor Hispanics and hearing their soulful singing about the cross of Jesus that really conveyed their own lives as deeply marked by the cross.
In the fall our Prior left, asking for laicization after 22 years in the monastery, a real loss to the Abbey and to me. And I had an additional job or so in the monastery – now sacristan, in charge of stipends, and preparing readings for Vespers, as well as continuing to be monastic librarian. After much preparation, because I had not taught that area of theology, I gave a talk on “The Difference Jesus Makes” in an adult education course at a Washington parish, and it was well received.
Aside from my teaching, I began preparing for writing an article on our human transcendence in search for values that was parallel to the one I had written on man’s transcendence in knowledge. To help with this I took a graduate course in the Department of Psychology from Professor Lorr on “Personality and Ego Development” and gave a presentation on how I proposed to use Erik Erikson’s work as a kind of phenomenology to evaluate and enlarge Thomas Aquinas’ philosophy of our human orientation to a specifically human good and, indeed, infinite good. The professor and students were able to understand my project and seemed to support its legitimacy and value. What I was writing on this issue gradually expanded into something much larger than an article. I also attended the American Academy of Religion Convention and participated in a symposium on transcendence and freedom in Karl Rahner, meeting there Fr. John Haughey, S.J. who was working at the time at the Woodstock Theology Center at Georgetown University in Washington D.C.. I invited him to St. Anselm’s for Vespers and dinner late in the year. I was also reviewing books for theological journals, and in 1976 had my first of many reviews published in Theological Studies.
In the second semester I taught a course on “eschatology” which I named “The Kingdom of God.” Interestingly, long after they had graduated, a few students told me that this was their favorite among the courses I had taught them. – During this period, South Vietnam fell, leading to a massive number of emigrants from there and to the United States, frequently at great danger to those who wished to escape South Vietnam. – I had some contacts with members of my family who visited me, such as my brother David at Christmas time, a nephew and niece Sarah and John Gross, and my nephew George Farrelly who graduated from Harvard in 1975. A niece, Virginia Farrelly, had started as a student at Georgetown University and I enjoyed the times she and I got together during the year. And in early June my sister-in-law who lived in Rome, Dede, with her three sons visited me for several very enjoyable days.
During a private retreat I had toward the end of May I was reflecting on whether a book on what I taught in the first quarter of the academic year would be beneficial to the Church. I concluded it would be and wrote:
There has been an ‘inflation’ in dependence upon something other than ‘reason’ as understood by the Enlightenment during the last 10 years – out of a great swelling of awareness of how limited such reason it.
But much of this reaction has gone to the other extreme – a dependence on ‘gut feeling,’ on ‘movement of the Spirit’ that was not properly tested, . . . on ‘religious experience’ or the awareness that comes from drugs, on what the ‘good’ and ‘sensitive’ and ‘compassionate’ and ‘humane’ people have thought.
Some of the consequences of this have been good, and some disastrous for individual and social life in state and Church – on people who gave up commitment . . . , in the young, ‘hippies’ and dropouts, and those who turned uncritically to Eastern religions and drugs. This has been followed by a ‘depression’ for many at least who see this to be a dead end.
What we need is both reason and ‘spirit’, not a veering from one to the other. And that is what my theology and philosophical writing and life experience has called for. So I continue to think that there is an importance for a theology that differs both from ‘Scholasticism’ and from ‘biblicism’ or ‘historical theology’ for the next generation.
Toward the end of May our community had a canonical visitation from the Abbot President of the English Benedictine Congregation, Abbot Victor Farwell, and his assistant visitator, Fr. Luke Rigby of St. Louis Priory. We had prepared for it by a survey on issues of our life that Fr. Abbot had distributed and members of the community had filled out. Through the tabulation of the results it seemed that there was a substantial middle section that was basically in accord with the present running of the Abbey. But there were smaller sections to the left and right of this. Those to the right thought that there was too much pluralism in works we undertook, that the liturgy was for the monks, not the laity who attended, that relationships within the community were sufficient for the monks. Those to the left were not troubled by people in the community doing their own thing, stressed the central importance of personal relationships and personal fulfillment, accepted that community recreation could not satisfy the needs of all, and valued hospitality more.
It was a great surprise to us that after the visitation, Abbot Alban handed in his resignation after being superior here for 28 years, prior from 1946-1961, and then Abbot from 1961-1975. He was exhausted, and I think that he had been battered, as other Benedictine Abbots of the time were, by the divisions communities had to deal with after Vatican II. In my view and that of most others in the community, he had offered the community outstanding service at much expense to himself. And I certainly owed him a great deal personally. – Abbot Victor accepted this resignation, but it would not be effective until September when we would have an Abbatial election. Meanwhile we were to communicate with one another and seek to promote consensus. The visitators suggested that four of us, myself included, seemed to have a balanced interpretation of the situation of the community, so they encouraged us to promote such discussions.
During the summer I gave a weekend retreat to my “Team of our Lady” at a Camp Maria on the Chesapeake; I had given earlier weekend retreats to laity. I visited my family, celebrating the wedding of my brother Peter and Jeannie. My sister Cordelia visited me in July. I decided to retire from my position as chaplain of my “Team of our Lady.” I had been with them more than four years, and had gained much from both their affection and sharing with me the joys and problems of their family lives, and the call to give them a word of encouragement and guidance; but this and other commitments took me out too often in the evenings. I was also from time to time giving talks on spirituality to varied groups and was doing some spiritual counseling. – In the fall, my brother William was discovered to have lymphoma and given two to three years to live if he took the aggressive therapy that was available from Barnes Hospital in St. Louis. I visited him after attending a convention of the American Academy of Religion in early November. As a matter of fact, he lived for 15 years, most of these in quite good health.
During the summer I feared at times that there was a remote possibility that I might be elected Abbot by default, because members of my community were opposed to others who were available. I prayed about this and consulted a spiritual director, expressing my view that others could do a better job than I and that there were indications that I could serve God and the Church better as a teacher and writer. He agreed with me and said there was no need for me to leave my name in the running. At the election, Fr. James Wiseman was elected the second Abbot of St. Anselm’s for an eight year term. He asked me to be on the council and to be guest master, both of which I accepted.
In the fall, aside from my teaching at the Cluster through De Sales School of Theology, I continued writing on man’s transcendence in value orientation, but this was expanding beyond what I had initially projected, whether out of necessity or lack of focus I do not know. At times I wondered whether it was worthwhile. But in my journal for December, as I was reflecting on this question, I wrote:
I find I’m listening on the radio to a “Capriccio for the Left Hand” commissioned, I suspect, for Wittgenstein’s brother, a concert pianist, who had a hand amputated! Then he did what he could with his left hand! –I too am quite limited in what I can do. Why do I not start with this premise, not with the premise that I could do dozens of things! And then thank God for anything I can do. . . .
God has many servants at many stations in the world – but if I stay at my station and try to prepare a people for the Lord through showing man he is indeed orientated to God – a religious relation to him – and then proclaim foundations and meaning of relating to God through Jesus Christ . . . would this not be the likely service God is asking of me? . . . Because I feel that my problems in this area are largely answered, should I now relax and have little inclination to publish?
One question I have with this is whether I have an interior enough desire to serve to do this work – and am willing enough to depend on the Lord for it. . . . The responsiveness of my countrymen to the problems that face them depends primarily on their seeking first the Kingdom of God – their conversion and understanding its implications today – that is what I am trying to work for – in my students, in the ones they teach or preach to, and through writing and the teachers and students this will influence.
Early in 1976 I was invited to teach a course on “God: One and Triune” in summer school at Providence College. And I accepted. I quote the following from my journal at Easter:
On Good Friday it was ten years ago that my health problems ‘began’ in earnest. At that time I walked in the back of the school and picked a thorn from a thorn tree and etched on it ‘66 – thinking that I had found my cross! The book I was working on at that time came to a grinding halt. . . . I was a basket case – I had the sense of being in the midst of a project that was endless and like quicksand. I was uncertain whether it was grace or presumption that got me in the middle of it. Undoubtedly both. And like the experience of the U.S. in the Vietnam morass.
Now ten years later things look differently to me. Somehow and mysteriously God has brought new life out of that lowest period of my life, and not only mine but also in the Church. I don’t understand this at all! Thank you!
In the summer, I went to the convention of the Catholic Theological Society of America, where for the first time I had been invited to make a presentation on a panel on anthropology, “Grace as Divinizing and/or Humanizing.” Then, after trying to get ahead on my project of human transcendence in values, I went to Providence College and taught my course. It was an enjoyable group of religious faculty and students there. During the summer session Raymond Brown came and gave a series of talks on the history of the Johannine community that was behind and reflected in his Gospel and letters, which I found very helpful. It was a more conservative group than at St. Mary’s. My stay there also allowed me to do reading that helped me in my current writing project, e.g. Clifford Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures, D. Yankelovich and W. Barrett, Ego and Instinct. The Psychoanalytic View of Human Nature, Victor Ferkiss, Technological Man: The Myth and the Reality, and Ernest Becker, The Denial of Death.
My friends Jack and Jeanne Pender had invited me to visit them in Vienna where Jack had a consulting job at the Institute for the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy. With permission from Abbot James, I accepted their invitation. After summer school I flew to Vienna and was with them for a while there, exploring the city on my own in large part; and we took some trips, e.g. to Melk Abbey and along the Danube and also to Mariazell. And then all of us, they and their children who had joined them, went to Salzburg, a remarkable and beautiful city, and later to Munich. From there, I took a train to Berne and then to Gstaad where my sister in law, Dede, was vacationing with her family. After several days with them in that most beautiful area, I took a train to Paris where my brother Scottie was working, staying with him and his family a week or so. From there to London and a visit to Fr. John Main at Ealing Abbey, where he had started a prayer group for laity and others that was to lead to his further ministry in this area of spirituality in Montreal. From there back to St. Anselm’s. My 1972 trip had concentrated on religious sites; this one was in part a romp through parts of modern European history – Vienna and the Austro-Hungarian Empire; Salzburg and prince bishops; Munich and Hitler; Berne and Calvin; Paris, Louis IX and Napoleon; London and Henry VIII.
In the fall I handed on my ministry as director of St. Anselm’s Philadelphia Oblates to Fr. Daniel after 20 years there. I had certainly gained much from this dedicated group of Catholics, both from their spirit and from my attempts to share with them what a gift the Christian journey is and some means helping us to enter it more deeply. I returned to teaching and working on my manuscript on man’s transcendence in values, which I was having a hard time bringing to a satisfactory conclusion. William May kindly read the first chapter of this and said that it well worth the effort, though he added that I was trying to do too much.
In the new year I redrafted parts of my manuscript on “Man’s Transcendence in Values,” which I renamed “Meaning and the Human Process,” preparing it for submission to a publisher. This year saw a couple of new ventures. In April my sister, Cordelia, who was getting a degree in Library Science in New York City, invited me to join her for a weekend at an Ira Progroff “Intensive Journal Workshop.” Ira Progoff, a psychoanalyst of the Carl Jung tradition, himself led our weekend workshop. He had devised techniques of drawing from participants imaginative ways of reflecting on the course of their lives that showed them more clearly the direction and meaning of their lives as a whole. He would present one of these techniques, ask the group to write on this theme individually for about 20 minutes and then invite whoever wished to share his or her reflections. Some techniques were “dialogue with an important person in my life,” “the stepping stones of my life,” “ my dreams and their meaning,” and “a dialogue with my body.” Though there was much more regular reflection in my monastic life than in most of the other 25 or so participants, I still found the exercises helpful for me and for my spiritual counseling. One thing I took from this program, and that was a reenforcement of what I had heard a number of times previously, was the help of a ‘mantra’ in meditation, e.g. a seven syllable phrase which one interiorly repeated to support a faith relation to God like a backbone and a defense against a wandering mind. Counter to some who promoted this support, I did not think the mantra should be the same always, but should be the same during a particular meditation. This practice was in continuity with the early Christian “Jesus Prayer,” and was also suggested by John Cassian.
Two weeks before the annual Convention of the Catholic Theological society of America I came across the just published book, Human Sexuality. New Directions in American Catholic Thought. On reading it, I found that it proposed an interpretation of human sexuality that supported many instances of direct genital expression of love outside of marriage as morally acceptable. Quite unexpectedly in the middle of the night a week before the convention, the thought came to me that I should offer to give a critique of the book at a pre-convention seminar the evening the convention began. I called Fr. Avery Dulles and Fr. David Tracy, the President of the CTSA that year, and got their permission to do so, provided I let the authors of the book know that that was being done, which I did. In just a few days I prepared a critique from my previous writing on the issue and the work I had been doing on the human person and moral values, and gave a lecture on the topic in a very crowded room at the convention in Toronto. The response to my critique was quite weak, in my mind and that of many others. And Br. Luke Salm, F.S.C., the editor of the Proceedings asked me to write it up as an article and submit it for inclusion in the Proceedings. I did this. A number of the members of the CTSA thanked me for this, since the book did not represent their views at all. I heard later that the main author of the book was censured and the CTSA that “commissioned” the book would have been, save for my article. Also, while at the convention, I made an initial request to the incoming president, Sister Agnes Cunningham, S.S.C.M., whether I could give a lecture at the 1978 convention on Langdon Gilkey’s Reaping The Whirlwind. A Christian Interpretation of History, a proposal I followed up later in the summer and that she accepted. I made this request because I had seen in a Catholic theological journal the viewpoint that Catholic theology should move in the direction of proportionalism in moral theology (the methodology used in the book I had just critiqued) and Gilkey’s theological approach in systematic theology. I disagreed with these proposals for the direction of Catholic theology, and wished to critique both.
In early June Fr. John Haughey, S. J., kindly invited me to participate with some other theologians at the Woodstock Theological Center on a project for a book of essays on the theme of the Lordship of Christ and social systems. I was honored by the invitation; it seemed an intriguing invitation and so I accepted. The editor of the project was Fr. Thomas Clarke, S.J., and there were eleven participants. To start the project we had a two day meeting toward the end of July, at which each participant indicated the theme he or she wished to write on. It was a very interesting and productive cooperative project. I committed myself to have a draft of a paper on whether God has an interest in the intermediate future of a country like the United States within the design of Christ’s Kingdom.
Also, that summer with the support of Abbot James, I helped to develop and send a survey among people who were Oblates, friends and acquaintances of St. Anselm’s to see whether they would like further opportunities for retreats, days of recollection, lectures on topics of spirituality or theology, that we could offer. This was an effort to see whether St. Anselm’s could be more a center for spirituality than it presently was. There was a very positive response to this questionnaire, but not much follow up by the community. We were all involved in many things already, and our community seemed to be fracturing somewhat. But for myself, it led in the fall of 1979 to my offering adult education courses one or twice most years in a succession of six evenings on successive weeks, a practice that I continued for thirty year, primarily at St. Anselm’s but also elsewhere in the Washington area.
On October 20, I celebrated my fiftieth birthday by completing the final draft of my six chapter manuscript on “Meaning and the Human Process.” Fr. Paul Philibert, O.P. kindly agreed to evaluate it for me; he did so and was positive though he thought it should be reduced in size, an endeavor I began. In a meeting of the Woodstock group my draft of “Religious Man and Social Change” was seriously and justly criticized, so I had to go back to the drawing board. The year ended for us at St. Anselm’s with a good retreat given by Fr. Adrian Parcher from St. Martin’s Abbey, Olympia, Washington, with concentration of our call to openness to God and to one another in community, and on St. Benedict’s teaching on “good zeal” that monks should have (RB, ch. 72).
In the new year, 1978, my brother David visited for a few days and opined that our community was emotionally numb and that I was too concerned for appearances. Whether true or not, and I should note that David was called by some the last of the Beats or the first of the hippies, it is good to have an outsider’s viewpoint. Though I do not often mention deaths in our community, it is important for me to mention the death of Fr. Anselm Strittmatter on March 21. He had been a very significant person in the community, as Prior, as novice master, and as a continuation of the early spirit of St. Anselm’s. He was an expert in the history of the liturgy, and was a long time editor of Traditio, an annual journal on medieval studies. – At this time three of our younger monks were considering starting a monastic community in Baltimore. This did not happen, but two of them later left with permission ( one to transfer to another Benedictine Abbey and the other to the diocesan priesthood) and another took a multiple years leave of absence with a religious-lay community in Virginia and then as a chaplain for Benedictine Sisters in Bristow, Virginia. The departure of one of these monks was the occasion for me becoming monastic librarian once more, a position I held till I took a sabbatical in 1995. – This was a sign of our continuing difficulty in reaching consensus on monastic life at St. Anselm’s and perhaps a sign of the individualism seriously affecting middle class men in the post-Vatican II Church in the United States. The English Benedictine Congregation had sponsored a book relevant to this issue, Consider Your Call: A Theology of Monastic Life Today, by Daniel Rees and others on which I wrote an article that year for the 1979 issue of St. Anselm’s Abbey Newsletter, and a review for Theological Studies.
I finally had my complete manuscript, now named “Human Transcendence in the Modern World,” typed and ready to send to a publisher. In a way it was the partial result of fifteen years of work – an effort to interrelate Thomas Aquinas’ classical anthropology that accepted human transcendence in human knowledge and values with contemporary experience of our search for meaning, with particular attention to developmental psychology. It was a six chapter book. I wrote to Paulist Press about the book in late May; and as they expressed interest in seeing it, I sent a copy to them. – Toward the end of May, my brother Scottie and his wife Joy and their children were in town to celebrate their daughter Virginia’s graduation from Georgetown University. It was enjoyable to share in their celebrations of this event. Their son Mark and another niece of mine, Julia McCarthy, continued to be undergraduates at Georgetown and Catholic University respectively until 1980; and their presence occasioned us getting together for a meal, etc. from time to time.
During this semester I had been, beside teaching, preparing a draft outline for my new proposed contribution to the Woodstock project, which dealt with “Peace and the Lordship of Jesus.” Before presenting it to the group in early June I asked John Haughey to vet it; and the group, happily, were positive in response to it. It was a study of Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom, showing it to include a refashioning of the people of Israel toward a more equitable society that was the condition of peace, and then a use of the Church’s social teaching to show implications of this symbol for our search for peace in the political order in our own time and place.
Also I had been preparing my paper on Langdon Gilkey’s Reaping the Whirlwind to lead a discussion group on that topic at the CTSA annual convention in Milwaukee. Though I had learned much from Gilkey, I thought that his view that Scripture offered us symbols not dependent on facts by which we could interpret common human experience, including that of ultimacy and of evil, and his view that modern science and medicine did not allow us to accept the miraculous were distortions of Christianity. I did deliver the paper and there was an interesting discussion on the issue, with some differing from my evaluation of Gilkey’s theology. My paper was included in the Proceedings of the Convention.
After the convention I went to St. Louis for a little vacation. I visited my Aunt Pat Gross who had been a second mother to a number of us in our family and who was in the hospital dying of cancer. She had positively affected many lives by her concern and generosity, and had suffered a good deal from disappointments. When I saw her, she was very alert and courageous – an inspiration to me. She died in late June and I returned to St. Louis to conduct the funeral, as she had requested. While in St. Louis I also took a short retreat at a Benedictine monastery on the shores of the Mississippi river near Peveley, Missouri, St. Pius X Monastery, later closed. My reflections were on wonder at and thanksgiving to God for his great goodness in bringing me through so much in the last 15 years since I had initially embarked, in the spirit of Vatican II, on an effort to explore the contemporary problems with the faith and help develop a theology appropriate to these conditions. And, feeling that a chapter of my journey had been completed, I began reflecting on the direction of my writing ministry in the years ahead. In my notes taken at that retreat, I do see that the large project that I considered most appropriate for me was writing a book for first year theologians on what I taught in my first quarter in Foundational Theology, namely an evaluation of the meaning and bases for our belief in God, making use of my writings on human transcendence in knowledge and values. In fact, this would be the major effort of my next decade. And I began thinking about the possibility of offering an adult education course on spirituality. This was a result of the survey we had sent out, but on which we had, as a somewhat fractured community, not carried through. Also, during this summer at the request of our Abbot and in preparation for our community discussions on our monastic life and apostolates, I wrote a Draft Document on the “Basic Assumptions about the Relation of the Catholic Church to the World in the next Five to Ten Years,” using such resources as Karl Rahner, Walter Bühlmann, surveys by George Gallup, and documents by the American Catholic Bishops. I presented this to the community in December for a discussion, but it did not go anywhere for us as a community.
During the summer, Pope Paul VI died and Pope John Paul I was elected, though he died after about a month, and then Pope John Paul II was elected, beginning a new period in the Church.
In the fall I received my manuscript back from Paulist Press with the note that it was too specialized for them. This was discouraging and made me wonder at the time I had put into this work. In fact in the following year or two I sent a precis of the book or the manuscript itself to a dozen publishers who turned it down. The benefit that came from this work was to come in particular uses of the material in teaching, articles and future books and not in this book itself that, perhaps appropriately, remains unpublished. I used it in my 1977 talk at the CTSA Convention and indirectly in the article I was preparing for the Woodstock group. At the meeting of the Woodstock group in November, there was also a positive response to my article which I later wrote up in a final draft that appeared as “The Peace of Christ in the Earthly City” in the collection Above Every Name. The Lordship of Christ and Social Systems.
Our community had been having regular meetings with a Mr. Tinker on the issue of the development of a master plan for St. Anselm’s Abbey and School. It did bring us together, but in my mind it did not address the more sensitive issues of the clash of certain personalities and viewpoints that stood in the way of our development toward being more a center for spirituality in the Washington area. The meetings led to a further addition to the school and to a more stable financial basis for the Abbey. We had a canonical visitation in March of 1979, but it did not stop the drift of several people, as mentioned above, from leaving the community.
In this semester I was becoming more interested in exploring making a contribution to the feminist issue, partly because of a woman who had come to me for spiritual direction and who was frequently reduced to tears when attending Mass by what she thought was an exclusion of women. At the beginning of May I asked the 1979 President of the CTSA, Fr. Kenan Osborne, O.F.M., whether I could give a pre-convention lecture on “Feminine Symbols of the Holy Spirit,” at the Atlanta convention that year, and he gave his permission – but virtually no publicity to this offering. I did offer this lecture as an introduction to a discussion, presenting my opinion that the major symbols of the Holy Spirit in Scripture seemed to be more feminine than masculine. The small group attending this presentation was very encouraging, and as a result I later developed the theme more thoroughly and proposed it for publication to a number of journals. It was turned down a number of times, but finally found publication in a collection of my articles published in 1985 and in later articles. This insight too I owed largely to my work in developmental psychology.
In the summer of 1979 my sister Cordelia was staying nearby at one of the residences of the Religious of the Sacred Heart. It was a blessing to be able to spend time with her, and to have her attend some of our liturgies and our buffet dinner on the feast of St. Benedict (July 11). In July, a cousin and very close friend of ours, Jack Stevens, died suddenly in St. Louis, and I went there for the funeral. This was a great loss for many of my family – a very sensitive and gifted man who was also a close friend of my priest brother Tom and my sister Elizabeth. In the summer also, I accompanied our junior monks, that is, those in simple vows, on a little vacation to Williamsburg, Virginia and a few locations near there. And I also had a vacation with my brother Scottie and family, now located in Montreal where he was the head of the Canada branch of Ralston Purina Feeds Co. While there I stayed a few days with Fr. John Main who at the invitation of the archbishop had established a small Benedictine community dedicated to fostering a mantra type of Christian prayer in continuity with an early monastic tradition. This unique Benedictine community that included female as well as male monastics was not to survive John Main’s early death in 1983, but the ministry was to grow to be a world wide phenomenon under the leadership of his disciple, Fr. Laurence Freeman.
In the fall after returning to my regular teaching, I offered my first adult education course at St. Anselm’s Abbey, entitled “A Workshop on Christian Living,” an introduction to Christian spirituality primarily for young single Catholics. Over the next 30 years I offered many such programs, usually one or two a year, on spirituality, Scripture and theology. Some of these were helps in my own preparation for writing on a theme; some of the later ones were based on books I had published. The ones that drew most attendees were those on Thomas Merton and Benedictine spirituality. Initially I was uncomfortable, but with time I enjoyed such teaching. Those who signed up for the programs really wanted to learn and grow. – Also that fall, Pope John Paul II visited Washington D.C. October 5-7, offering a mass on the mall, where I and hundreds of other priests concelebrated and distributed communion. It was a very moving experience.
On November 9th, my sister Cordelia, while on a retreat at the Cistercian Abbey in Ava, Missouri, was killed in an auto accident early on a foggy morning on her way from the farm house where she and a friend were staying overnight to the Abbey. I could not take it in initially; she had called me a few days earlier to say she was about to take this retreat. She had recently been working at a parish on the outskirts of St. Louis in adult education; and she had met a number of ex-parishoners who told her stories of how the pastor, who had an alcohol problem, had alienated them. She let the archdiocesan chancery know of this, a factor that did not increase her popularity with the parish staff, but that did soon lead to help for the pastor. I flew to St. Louis that day and in the evening we had a mass at the home of my sister Julia with much of the family assembled. It was very hard for me to get through that mass, but with interspersed periods of silence I managed. A couple of days later we celebrated her funeral mass at a chapel of the Religious of the Sacred Heart. – It was not easy to be at peace with her death at the age of 49, but I noted in March 1980 in my journal:
Four months ago Dee died! I’m sure God wants me to be at peace about this; I saw a dove the first day I offered Conventual Mass here for her last November – and the second time! – Reminds me of Benedict and Scholastica.
In the new year on February 5 I celebrated the twenty-fifth anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood with a mass and a buffet supper for some thirty invited guests, including my nephew Mark Farrelly and niece Julia McCarthy, both fourth year college students at universities in Washington. To quote a bit of the homily I gave on that occasion:
For years [after my ordination] there was always some new experience or responsibility facing me in my priestly ministry or in my teaching. I frequently accepted these responsibilities rather blithely; but when I was in the middle of a new situation, I also frequently felt like the man in the Jules Feiffer cartoon that perhaps you have seen. There are successive pictures of the baby just born, of the child going to school for the first time, the young man being drafted into the army, beginning his first job, getting married, and then being a father for the first time. In each of these, the baby, the boy, and the young man cry out: “But I’m not ready!” Perhaps I was one of the few people to experience future shock even in the 1950′s!
After more rejections of my manuscript on “Human Transcendence in the Modern World” and of an article on feminine symbols and the Holy Spirit and after much thrashing around for what I should spend the major part of my free time, I finally decided on April the 21st, the feast of St. Anselm, to write up in book form, possibly to be sent out initially as articles, what I offered first year theology students in our first quarter on the question of bases for belief in God. I thought of this as a textbook for theology students. I started down this path, while continuing to look at other avenues of writing articles.
1980 was the 1500 anniversary of the birth of St. Benedict. To celebrate this anniversary St. Anselm’s Abbey and Yale University co-sponsored a symposium on “Monasticism and the Arts.” Part of this was held at Yale and made possible by a grant from the Henry Luce Foundation; and part took place in Washington, made possible by The National Endowment for the Humanities. Prominent scholars gave fine papers at these events. One that was outstanding was a presentation by Walter Horn of the University of California, Berkeley, on “The Plan of St. Gall,” a monastery that was initially Irish and then Benedictine in the 8th century, whose architectural plans had survived and Professor Horn was publishing in a multiple volume work. The plan showed much of the life style of an early medieval monastery. This anniversary also occasioned a visit to St. Anselm’s Abbey in mid June of Cardinal Basil Hume O.S.B. who gave a lecture at the Catholic University and was present when we hosted a celebration for the Benedictines of the larger Washington, Virginia and Maryland area.
In the summer I was invited by Fr. George McLean, a philosophy professor at the Catholic University of America to a first meeting of a group project on “Human Values and Development.” At this two day meeting of some eleven philosophers from different Catholic universities, we were all asked to make contributions of articles on the theme of “Philosophical Foundations of Morality.” I expressed interest in the theme of “Form and Content in Morality,”and this was accepted. This project was at the request of American bishops who were concerned with the direction some moral theologians in the United States were taking, and requested a philosophical study of fundamental moral theory. It led to a number of meetings with this group over a period of two years and eventual publication. As I will show later, this joint project also led to further invitations from Fr. McLean and work with him here and abroad.
Also, during the summer I accompanied my sister Elizabeth on a trip to Ireland and London. We met in Dublin where we stayed with a Father McCarthy, a friend of my younger sister, Julia, and took a trip south from there. While I took a trip north to see a grave mound from some 1,000 years before Christ, my sister visited a woman who had some years earlier gone to the United States to give birth to a child conceived out of wedlock, and whom my sister had adopted, Sean. This woman had never told her family at the time nor her later husband. But my sister had got in touch with her and now met her to speak to her about her son. We then rented a car which I drove west through Cavan, where the Farrelly’s are from, and to the Sligo area. We explored that area and then went south stopping a few places along the way, and staying at B&Bs. We went through rugged Connamara, and visited the beautiful and beautifully situated Kylemore Abbey in Galway, having tea with Lady Abbess. We drove further south to a picturesque village, Adare, and returned to Dublin via Cashel. From there we went to London where we stayed for a few days in a small house my sister in law Dede had bought for her son George while he was studying medicine at St. Bartholomew in London. It was a glorious trip, particularly in Ireland, and doubly so because I shared it with my sister Elizabeth.
In the fall, on September 8, the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary I began to type up my notes for a book on belief in God in our time, the first part of Foundational Theology. I wrote in my journal: “Please God I will keep this project modest and accept the insecurity and the modesty of it. I put it under the patronage of Mary.” I tried to spend most of my weekday mornings on this. Also, at the invitation of the assistant director of religious education in the Arlington diocese, I offered a five session evening program on the mystery of the One God and the doctrine of creation. And, I was writing book reviews.
In late December we had one of the best retreats we had had at St. Anselm’s, this one from Father Herwig Arts, S.J. from Belgium who was a professor of courses in spirituality for that year in the Catholic University of America’s School of Theology. He was very aware of the situation of religious life in this period after Vatican II, and very acute in his perception of what religious life was all about, an invitation to intimacy with God and an expression of our love through some service totally secondary to that intimacy, and the ways and motives for which many religious evade this and put the center of their lives in work. I took copious notes and at the end of the retreat wrote in my journal:
Lord, let my insecurity divert me neither from your friendship nor from your way. Rather enable me by your Spirit to thank you for my insecurities because through these your mystery and my need for you are revealed and I can become more understanding and compassionate with others.
At the beginning of the new year, 1981, the Provincial of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales, their provincial council and the faculty at De Sales had an all day meeting on the future of their School of Theology, given their declining numbers and the expenses of running such a school. A few days later they decided to keep the school open for another ten years, getting a commitment from Fr. William Ruhl, O.S.F.S., the new President of the School, to continue to work there for that length of time. – So this gave me a degree of security for a teaching position for the next decade. – Also, Fr. Augustine Di Noia, O.P. came and spoke with me. He wanted to teach a course on Foundational Theology to the Dominican students of the Cluster that was parallel to mine –one that would follow Thomas Aquinas more thoroughly than I did. This was their school’s decision; it was agreeable to me. I would continue to teach the seminarians who were Oblates of St. Francis de Sales and Oblates of Mary Immaculate and some other religious and lay students who registered through these two segments of the Cluster. – In the new semester I was offering a new elective on the Holy Spirit to a few students and I attended an adult education course at the Catholic University on “Eastern Philosophies,” really eastern religions.
In March McLean’s group met in Columbia S. C. in tandem with the Metaphysical Society of America, and five of us presented our proposed chapters for the book on the philosophical foundations of moral education. I had been working on my article, feeling initially totally at sea and uncertain of its outcome. I made extensive use in this article of my work on Erik Erikson and developmental psychology more generally, using it to positively evaluate Thomas Aquinas’s moral philosophy that was based on an acceptance of what I called a constitutive human good, but integrating Thomas with contemporary experience, showing it to offer a way between a teleological (Dewey) and a deontological (Kohlberg) interpretation of the moral life but integrating the values of these theories. The group reacted positively to my paper; and after further meetings in the following year and much more work on it, it was eventually published as “The Human Good and Moral Choice,” in George McLean, Frederick Ellrod, David Schindler and Jesse Mann (eds.), Act and Agent: Philosophical Foundations for Moral Education and Character Development. Dialoguing with these philosophers, some of whom, e.g. David Schindler and John Caputo, developed in strikingly different directions in later years, was a very interesting and enlightening experience.
On March 30 there was an assassination attempt on President Reagan. –
I continued my work on my book on belief in God in our time, expressing its rationale in my journal:
In our society this [theme] may be more foundational than a direct treatment of what is distinctive of Christianity. Christianity is the way to relate to God that God offers us. – Surveys show that vast numbers of people in our society do not think religion is very important in life, and/or that vast numbers do not consciously think of God when they make decisions about right and wrong. Also a basic issue among theologians is emphasis on “universal” revelation or access to God – and evangelical or Scriptural emphasis. This part of theology is the first place to interrelate them.
I recognized that a major problem for me was to write this in a way that was clear about what the problem was and what a resolution appropriate for such a book was, using what I had so far written on developmental psychology to show human transcendence in knowledge and value orientation. I was in the process of writing up drafts of a number of chapters of the book.
Problems common to many religious communities in these years continued in our own, and they affected me. I wrote in my journal: “I do feel at times an anger within me against some prominent members of this community for taking what I consider attitudes and decisions harmful to the community.” I spoke with a spiritual director about this, and he said that it is not the issues but the personal relations and feelings that are central. I also spoke with Fr. Abbot about some problems . He had a lot to cope with. The monk who was Prior, formation director and infirmarian resigned; several brothers in the novitiate and simple vows left, and a priest left for a sabbatical. I accepted the position of junior master.
During the summer I spent vacation time in St. Louis and went with my sister Elizabeth and her foster daughter Ellie to the Cistercian Abbey, Our Lady of the Assumption, in southwest Missouri where my sister Cordelia had been at the time of her death.
In the fall semester I taught an extra course on eschatology to the seminarians. I also gave a talk on “Jesus and the Christian Way” at a “Religious Founders’ Day” sponsored by the Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam and the International Student Council of the University of Maryland. An evangelical participant reacted negatively to my statement that Mohammad in part mediated God’s revelation. And I spent an enjoyable evening with a reading group that called themselves “Friends of the University of Chicago,” answering their questions on the Rule of St. Benedict that they had just read, particularly questions about Benedict’s view of humility which they found negative. There was another meeting of our group on the foundations of moral theory. And I was now a member of our monastic council. At Thanksgiving I wrote the following prayer for me to say daily:
Lord Jesus, anxiety will stalk at my heart when I read, write, make decisions, speak in community, accept diversion, have a relationship . . . because I think I may be wrong or will be held responsible for failure. Help me by your Spirit to have compassion for, yet firmness with, this weak person I am, seeking neither to escape this cross nor accepting it under a kind of compulsion, with a divided heart and lack of generosity. . . .
You love a cheerful giver, Lord. Help me be a man of prayer and to seek my refreshment in you. – I acknowledge that I want right now to be perfect, to have perfect work and a perfect community. I want to be absolutely sure in what I do, say, write and decide. I want a risk-free world. I hate the tension of incompleteness . . . Today I join to your sacrifice my acceptance of self, community, work and relationships that are very imperfect, and I want to express my love, trust and faith above all in compassion and service in these conditions.
In December our community had a very good retreat given by Fr. Thomas Clarke, S.J. who had directed the working group I had been a part of at the Woodstock Center. It was centered on functions in Karl Jung’s personality types – sensing, intuitive, thinking and feeling – as partial images of God, giving analyses of their part in the spiritual growth of individual persons and the tensions and possibilities they offer in communities. It was very insightful and helpful. At the end he applied them to Benedictine life here:
Intuition – Does the climate of Benedictine life support hopeful dreaming; are there ways in which the monks’ hopes are communicated to one another and affect the structure , are shared and construct a renewed life? – Sensing – Does religious life and its structures help us to be alert – attentive? Or is there something that blunts us? – what would this be? – Feeling – Monasticism recalls the richness of the Christian heritage, and that is a reason people associate themselves with it. It keeps in touch with its roots; does it do this in a way that is not nostalgic but in a way that nourishes the energies of the present? – Thinking – Structures are an expression of man and have a feedback effect on him. The structures have been being adapted for 1500 years. – Monasticism can offer much to the world today.
In Lent of 1982, I gave another workshop on Merton. The large interest in Merton and the success of my workshops surprised me. Recalling my doubts when I had begun such workshops, I wrote, “I see that there is something fatalistic in me. . . . I have had not infrequently to act against a fatalism in myself – to act when I ‘knew’ it would lead to nothing! – in trust, a trust that God did not disappoint.” Also this semester I wrote an article on Merton’s book, Contemplation in a World of Action for our St. Anselm’s Abbey Newsletter that I entitled, “Thomas Merton on Monastic Renewal.” And I gave a retreat to the Benedictine Sisters at Ridgely, Maryland, St. Gertrude Priory, during Holy Week.