Fr. John's Memoir - Chapter 6
1982-1992: The Unexpected in the Monastery and Ministry
by M. John Farrelly, O.S.B.
The next decade was once more full of surprises for me, some of them quite fascinating, though initially daunting. The major surprises were travels to Eastern Asia with philosophers at the invitation of Fr. George McLean, O.M.I. . Other surprises shared with many other Benedictine communities in the United States were changes within our community. And throughout I was teaching and writing – writing that came to a degree of fruit in publications of a couple of books. I will once more divide this chapter into two segments of five years each.
In early June, as usual, I attended the annual convention of the Catholic Theological Society of America, this year in New York. Strangely, on the train to New York I had a presentiment that I should be prepared to make my own views public in a discussion. At the end of the business meeting there was introduced a resolution, borrowed almost word for word from a similar resolution passed at Harvard Divinity School. It stated that any use of nuclear weapons in war was immoral, that there should be an immediate worldwide freeze on their production and a staged reduction and eventual abolition of all nuclear arms. I was one of few persons who stood up and expressed reservations with this proposal. I pointed out that at this point in time the Soviet Union had many nuclear weapons targeted on Western Europe and that Christian leaders there who genuinely wanted significant arms reduction thought that an unconditional freeze at the current imbalance was not the most effective way to motivate the Soviet Union to agree to this reduction. I also pointed out that moral theologians want politicians to invite moral input before making important decisions; similarly, moral theologians should invite input from statesmen before issuing broad resolutions that touch on their areas of concern. However, the motion was passed with little discussion.
I was staying with my cousin Nona Aguilar and recounted this to her. She had invited the editor of the National Catholic Register to dinner my last evening with her, and at her request I also recounted it to him. He asked me to write an article on the event for their newspaper, and — when I demurred — said that he would attach a pseudonym to the article. I did so and it appeared in their July 4th issue. Some of my CTSA colleagues showed at a later meeting that they resented this and were suspicious that I had written the article. It took many years before leadership in the Society agreed that it was inappropriate for our theological society to be a pressure group.
In early 1982 at Abbot James’ Wiseman’s initiative, we had started a series of reflections as a community under the leadership of Fr. Conleth Overmann, C.P. from the Passionist Leadership Institute in Cincinnati. These took place on weekends, the first in February of 1982. At the beginning of that weekend reflections, the community, broken into small groups expressed what they would like to come from this series of weekends:
That we express our experience of our life here to one another. And our views about what realistically we would like to do to make it a better community. Greater community, individual self-understanding, including agreement on goals and how to attain them. A sense of community and personal growth, leading to an increase of peace and joy within the community. Recognition of the family qualities in the life of the community. Understanding. Beginnings of a joyful climate in which we can be comfortable with one another, respectful with one another and express our hopes and concerns for self, monastery. Better communication leading to greater understanding of one another.
Fr. Overmann guided us in four weekends in 1982 and three weekends in 1983 through very good reflections on themes of community, dialogue, leadership, clarification of the community’s values, social change, the corporate planning process and other themes, evoking from the community a sharing of our concerns with our expression of our hopes and frustrations.
This led, among other things, to a reflection on our community recreation and to a number of us sharing publicly with the community the work we were doing. Some of us, myself included, thought we needed this very much. I think that it did help us for at least a while in mutual communication and understanding, but for some reason its influence did not seem to extend very far after the series was completed. Perhaps that was in part due to some members’ withdrawal from participation and the community’s transferring its attention to a Capital Fund Drive for expansion of the school.
In the fall I once more taught my courses at De Sales School of Theology; and I tried to get ahead in writing a manuscript on belief in God in our time in a way that was appropriate for first year theology students, once more having unreal expectations that I could finish this in a year!
In early 1983 I wrote out for myself a prayer to begin my workday, a prayer I offered for the next 25 years and more. It follows:
Dear Father, by your Spirit deepen my faith and make it more alive and less dependent upon appearances and reassurances, and more dependent on your Word and Presence.
Help me to grow stronger rather than weaker in faith, in trust and in love through the experience of your gifts and of limits in my life.
In my work, rather than rethinking it again and again or taking myself too seriously, help me to do work with clear parameters. May I do this honestly, with concentration, and rejoicing that I do not have clearer guidance from you that this is your will. May it be an expression of love and service.
Lord, I also accept the mystery that is your presence in my life and in the Church and in history – and in others. May I not over define this through projecting self-doubts, through taking appearances for reality, through judging. May I be a man of mercy, responding to people more generously.
May I accept the self-denial and the cross necessary for fidelity to you in a life of prayer, of love of others and service. May I honestly acknowledge the difficulties ministry and life pose to me, and in your Spirit with compassion on myself and others may I bear your burden with love. Specifically, help me initially to read lightly what my work calls me to read. Theology can be fun if I don’t take myself too seriously!
This is what I felt I needed help in for each day, and by this daily prayer I called for God’s help and was reminded daily of my need.
In the Spring semester of 1983 I put together nine articles in theology and philosophy that I had written and, in all cases but one (“Feminine Symbols and the Holy Spirit”), published since 1970. They were all written after I had tried to understand major modern philosophical objections to belief in God and studied developmental psychology in the areas of cognitive development, development in moral judgments and personality development to find common ground with such difficulties. So they represented my initial attempts to dialogue with the contemporary world on key issues relevant to belief in God in our time, primarily issues of philosophical anthropology. I sent the manuscript to a number of publishers who turned it down, one of them saying that the articles were excellent but there was not a unity among them. I tried to address this problem in the introduction to the collection in which I wrote in part:
The essays of this volume . . . explore some fundamental issues of a larger theme, namely, the interaction and tension between God’s work in a changing world and our human search for meaning. This interaction depends upon the mystery of God’s salvation offered us and the mystery of our humanity. Part I addresses the theme by analyzing some pertinent scriptural elements. Part II deals with moral aspects of the human search for meaning, and Part III with the question of human transcendence, with special emphasis on the question of knowledge.
After several rejections, the book was accepted in June 1984 by the University Press of America in Lanham, Maryland and, after much editing on my part, published as God’s Work in a Changing World in 1985. That made these essays more widely available; and their publication as a book collection was a great relief to me, for which I fervently thanked God.
The year 1983 marked the conclusion of Abbot James’ eight year term as Abbot, and he let it be known that he would not stand for re-election. There was a canonical visitation of the community by the Abbot President and an assistant, Fr. Leonard Vickers from Douai Abbey, in June. The decision after this visitation was that we were not ready for an abbatial election, and consequently there would be a Prior Administrator appointed for two years. With the approval of the community, Father Leonard Vickers became our Prior Administrator at the beginning of October. He was a good community man and a man filled with hope – something that our community needed.
I attended the Convention of the Catholic Theological Society of America, this year in Minneapolis, and participated in a seminar on theological anthropology, presenting a summary of my previously published article, “The Peace of Christ in the Earthly City,” in which I emphasized that the peace Jesus came to bring included a social order of justice and compassion, and that his mediating the kingdom through the Church included that dimension, expressed in our time in part through the social teaching of the Church. Partially as a result of the seminar in 1983, from 1984 to 1988 I was a moderator of the annual “Seminar on Theological Anthropology” at the conventions of the CTSA and at times a presenter, dealing with themes such as the Lutheran Catholic dialogue on justification (with Professors Carl Peter and Robert Jenson as participants), differing current Catholic theological perspectives on anthropology, Wolfhart Pannenberg’s anthropology, Paul Ricoeur’s interpretation of God-talk in Scripture, and conflicts among Catholic theologians on sexual morality.
In the fall, I once more taught theology and gave a conference each week to our second year novices. I was later appointed junior master. Also, partially because I had been invited to teach the Catholic University course for seminarians on “Theology of God” in the Spring 1984 semester, I audited a graduate course at the Catholic University on the question of God that was being team taught by Francis Schüssler Fiorenza and Walter Kasper, a visiting professor during that year. — Also, my electric Olympia typewriter, a gift I had received from my Aunt Pat and Uncle Pip some fifteen years earlier, collapsed for the last time, and later I , with the help of my brother Scottie and his wife and some friends, graduated to a computer – an elementary Radio Shack #12 and a Daisy Wheel II printer. This involved some learning of the soft-ware program.
In the Spring semester of 1984 I team taught a course at the Cluster with Professor Daniel Martensen from Gettysburg Lutheran Seminary on the Lutheran-Catholic Dialogues. That was very enlightening for me. It included thirteen Lutheran seminarians (men and women), five Catholic and one Methodist seminarian. We studied the various dialogues, and each student made a class presentation; all of this evoked a good deal of discussion and contributed to mutual understanding.
During this semester too, I wrote an article on “Abbot John Chapman’s Teaching on Prayer” for both our St. Anselm’s Abbey Newsletter and for Monastic Studies, the latter somewhat longer and in honor of Fr. John Main who had died in December 1983. The Spiritual Letters of Dom John Chapman, O.S.B. had been a great help to me some decades earlier. He had been the spiritual director of Evelyn Underhill, a prominent early twentieth century Anglican writer on mysticism; and she had said of him that he knew more about prayer than anyone she had ever met. Merton considered him the greatest master of the spiritual life in the English Benedictine Congregation since the early seventeenth century writer Augustine Baker. His spiritual letters were written to people who shared with him their trials in prayer, and whom he directed in accord with the tradition that owed a great deal to John of the Cross. He had a pithy and memorable way of expressing himself. I also wrote a half dozen book reviews this year.
In the fall of 1984 I returned to teaching and also gave a few days of recollection at two parishes. On October 20, 1984, my 57th birthday, we at St. Anselm’s Abbey celebrated the 60th anniversary of our founding as a monastery by a mass at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and a reception. Coincidentally it was on this day that I received the final copy of my manuscript God’s Work in a Changing World from my typist, Marianne Hanton, and took it to the publishers on the 23rd, my father’s birthday. This day was a milestone in the pilgrimage of our community as well as one in my pilgrimage. I saw God’s generous and caring hand in this coincidence.
By this time I had written first drafts for most of the chapters of my projected book on belief in God in our time, a first volume on Foundational Theology; I continued to work on this book as time allowed during this academic year. In December during our annual retreat I wrote in my journal:
I would like to help people to believe in God in a way that integrates a valid modern understanding of being a person, of engagement with God personally through the Spirit . . ., of engagement with one’s social context as in it and seeking to transform it, in response to God’s call and saving and revealing presence through Jesus and the Spirit, and to acknowledge this is the fulfillment and liberation of their being — thus integrating history.
God is calling me to accept faith in him and trust and love in the dark at times. The Holy Spirit has enabled me to transcend my feelings of emptiness or anxiety to trust and gain peace, and She will help me again.
In early January of 1985 I received copies of my collection of essays from The University Press of America, and on January the 18th I wrote in my journal:
Several days ago [January 15], having some awareness that I project on other people at times negative feelings toward me, I asked the Lord whether he loved me less now than at the beginning of my religious life! And I believed this not to be the case – that he loves me as much as ever – in spite of my failings! “He has loved us with an everlasting love!”
That afternoon George McLean gave me a definite invitation to accompany him in conducting “colloquia” with professors of philosophy at the University of Fu Jen in Taipei, Taiwan, in Seoul, Korea and Sophia University , Tokyo! This is to be March 8-21. And I received permission from Fr. Leonard and for the absence from classes from Bill Ruhl! The reason for this invitation was work I had done with Father McLean and professors of philosophy at some ten Catholic universities in 1980-1982, developing a series of essays on the theme of philosophical foundations of moral education. I was very honored by this invitation. My part was to give lectures at the larger conference at Fu Jen and smaller colloquia at Seoul and Tokyo based on my article “The Human Good and Moral Choice” in that collection and later published in my collection of articles. In preparation for it, I made up theology classes I would miss. I add an account of that, to me, remarkable experience in an appendix (#2) to these memoirs that was published in our St. Anselm’s Abbey Newsletter later in 1985.
A week after I returned to Washington, the provincial committee of the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales that had been assigned to give a recommendation as to the future of De Sales School of Theology recommended that it be closed. Surprisingly and happily, toward the end of June the provincial and provincial council of the Oblates reversed that decision and voted to keep the School of Theology open for another three years to allow Fr. John Crossin, O.S.F.S., an opportunity to try a proposal he had made in reference to the school.
By that time I had completed the semester, attended the convention of the Catholic Theological Society of America and visited St. Louis where my older sister, Elizabeth, was suffering from ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) or Lou Gehrig’s disease. In May while I was speaking with her on the phone she mentioned her expectation of “an imminent passport to heaven.” She showed amazing faith and courage in the midst of this, meanwhile typing out, as a work of love, the many letters my oldest brother John had written to my mother and others during the Second World War while he was a purser on a Liberty cargo ship between 1942-1945. Elizabeth privately published this collection of over 300 pages of letters in May of 1986, a treasure for our family and a work made use of by Professor Melba Cuddy-Keane, a professor of English literature at the University of Toronto in an article on John. By the time I visited with Elizabeth she needed to communicate with her two adolescent children (one adopted, one a foster child) at times by typing out messages for them since they had difficulty understanding her spoken voice. She was also trying to sell Pinook, the little farm on which we had largely grown up, and which she had bought and lived on for some years. She did manage to do this, selling it to a friend of the family who allowed us to visit the farm when we wished.
During the summer, I read a number of books and articles relevant to my writing on belief in God in our time and saw the need to revise sections of my manuscript. And in the fall, I returned to teaching. Also, I was asked by Fr. Leonard to accept appointment to the monastic council for a year. I actually did not want to because I had been a lone voice on a number of issues facing the community, particularly some touching the balance between the monastery and the school, during the preceding year. But, considering how much I owed the community, I did accept his invitation.
Also this fall, I organized an adult education program on “Twenty Years after Vatican II,” inviting theologians, primarily from the Catholic University of America, to deal with different topics, e.g. on the Church, on sexual morality, on concerns of women, and ecumenism. I also heard a lecture by Cardinal Bernardine on this theme. I heard from different sources that the crisis in the United States Church was primarily on moral theology, and the idea came to me to write an article and send to America on the theme of “An Impasse in the Church,” dealing with the split between between the magisterium and the theologians as well as among the theologians. I did more reading on this topic I had written on before, wrote up an article, asked a moral theologian to review it for me, and sent it off. The editors at America accepted my article and published it in their May 24, 1986 issue.
Because my sister Elizabeth was getting worse, I went to St. Louis for Christmas through the first week of January. It was so sad to see how much worse Elizabeth’s ALS was since June and how she had added distress due to concerns for Sean, her adopted son, and Ellie, her foster daughter and some misunderstandings in the family, and to see her silent weeping. By this time, she had had a tracheotomy and was eating through a tube inserted in her stomach. Among other things she wrote me, “now my neck muscles are going!”And in the midst of all this she had typed hundreds of pages of John’s letters! This occupation no doubt helped to keep her somewhat distracted part of the time from her increasing disability. My problems paled into insignificance compared with hers; she was a great inspiration to me and others in the way she dealt with this creeping and relentless disease.
I had a sabbatical during the Spring semester of 1986, using it primarily to read and redraft some chapters and write others in my manuscript on belief in God in our time and making good headway on the project. I also gave a retreat to the Benedictine Sisters at St. Gertrude Monastery in Ridgely, Maryland from Passion Sunday through Easter morning. And I was designated by the Gross clan to represent them at the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon in April. Our great uncle, Archbishop William Gross, had been archbishop of Oregon territory and had found there a small group of German speaking Catholics who had followed a schismatic priest of the mid-west out to Oregon. The priest had died; and the archbishop, who spoke German, took the initiative to speak to this group. There was among them a small group of women living a quasi-religious life. He told them that they were not really religious sisters, but he would establish those who would like to be a religious congregation. Ten of them stood up, and he arranged for them initially to live with some Benedictine Sisters and then helped them to establish their rule and set themselves up as the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon in 1886. So, it was a privilege for me to attend their celebration of mass with the Archbishop of Oregon as the main celebrant and to meet a number of their Sisters who continue to live and serve in Oregon.
During the summer I attended, as usual, the CTSA convention and then went to St. Louis where I spent time with my sister Elizabeth who was still worse. I also baptized fraternal twins, children of my niece Patricia Farrelly and her husband Michael Murphy. I continued working on my manuscript and note in my journal that I had one of my recurring dreams that reflected my feelings of of being somewhat lost. The background for this was probably my insecurity in choosing and clearing a path through the themes of the successive chapters of this manuscript, and continuing problems in my community. In reference to my community, I wrote in my journal:
The future of St. Anselm’s . . . demands that the great majority of the monks still have a vital enough Benedictine vocation to accept shared responsibility of the future of St. Anselm’s – and not only for that small part of its life or work that they feel particularly at home in. And it calls for the same great majority to trust even when there is some limitation of their particular interest or perceived needs when the good of the whole community calls for it – and for them to be genuinely able to listen. We have had a number of people ‘drop out’ of the community, whether they have left or stayed here.. . . So the problem is not formal – it is a question of Spirit.
Also I had been asked by Fr. Lawrence Freeman to write an article for an issue of Monastic Studies on the theme of the Trinity and the spiritual life, an invitation I accepted for which I wrote, with my usual initial confusion, “Trinity as Salvific Mystery” which appeared in the 1986 issue of the annual, and which was a help in my later writing, because I addressed in it the distinction between Jesus becoming Lord through his death and resurrection and his ontologically being pre-existent and divine, and showed how these were both true and not contradictory to one another.
In September we had a pre-visitation community discussion in preparation for a visitation that would face the question of whether St. Anselm’s is ready for an abbatial election. We discussed the strengths and weaknesses of the community, and showed in the process that we had come a long way in willingness to express ourselves publicly in the community; but still many members noted problems of communication as among our most serious. I quote from my journal my own sense of the value of the life at St. Anselm’s:
The greatest thing this life has done for me is to be a call to live for God and die to self — through the surrender the vows are, through daily prayer and ministry,. Specifically, the call it constitutes for a combination of prayer and ministry and community, and the variety of possibilities of ministry it has had. More individually, it has allowed me the ministry of teaching theology and doing some writing in it as a service of the larger Church. It has allowed me a ministry of helping people grow Christianly and spiritually- e.g.. by giving conferences to Oblates, workshops, chaplaincies, retreats, etc. So the community can be and has been a contribution to the development of Christian life for those within and many without the community – and glory for God and the Kingdom. It has helped us and others on many levels. A community can have an influence no individual as such can have.
The official visitators gave a basically positive evaluation of the community. I was very happy to hear later in September that Fr. Leonard’s community, Douai Abbey, had allowed him to stand for election as Abbot here.
On October 5th, my sister Elizabeth died – a loss for us but a great relief for her. Her daughter, Ellie, had found her turning blue and had called her doctor. When he came he told Elizabeth, “From now on you will live on a ventilator. Do you want this?” Elizabeth gestured by a thumbs down motion that she did not. And so she was allowed to die. Elizabeth was the one in the family I felt closest to. She lived just long enough for her foster daughter, Ellie, to reach an age when she could request being adopted by her, and have her wish legally ratified. The two adolescents were to be taken care of by our larger family, staying in the same house as they had been. I went to St. Louis for the funeral.
In December we had a fine community retreat from Father Peter Eberle O.S.B., Prior and novice master of Mt. Angel Abbey in Oregon. Among other themes, he spoke of monks as Advent people – with hope that extends beyond despair, but always in the context of some degree of hopelessness. As he looked back on the first 100 years of Mt. Angel, he saw how frequently it looked hopeless, but by God’s help they had been pulled through those periods.
In 1987, our community was told that we would have an election of an Abbot at the beginning of March. I reflected much on whether I should leave my name in for a possible election as Abbot – not that there was much probability of my being elected. My strong inclination was not to do so, and I concluded that I did not have a responsibility to do so. Happily Fr. Leonard Vickers was elected Abbot on the first ballot. On the 21st of April, the feast of St. Anselm, he was blessed as Abbot by Archbishop James Hickey in the crypt church of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in a beautiful mass, followed by a reception.
In early April, Fr. John Crossin was appointed to be the new president of De Sales School of Theology, beginning in June. And he asked me to accept the position of Academic Dean. After reflecting on this, I expressed my gratitude for his trust but asked to be allowed to decline the offer since I thought my primary gifts were elsewhere.
Similarly in early April Fr. George McLean brought up for the second time his projected trip to East Asia during the summer and asked whether I would be interested in going along with him. I expressed my interest without at this point having the permission, etc. to accompany him. He asked me to find the funding for my flights there and back and also from Hong Kong to and from Beijing, and he would take care of expenses there. With the help of St. Anselm’s long term friend, Margaret McDonough, and Abbot Alban’s and my friend, John O’Neill, I was able to get assurance of this help. And Abbot Leonard gave his permission.
The following months were busy with completing the semester, dealing with serious computer problems, continuing work on my manuscript, preparing for the CTSA convention and for a course on God I was asked to offer at the Catholic University in the fall, and preparing for the trip which was to begin June 22 and last till August 17. I include an account of this trip in appendix #3.
In the fall I recommitted myself to trying to revise my manuscript on Belief in God in our Time, and worked on it intensely from early September till late October, completing the revision of six chapters. From the experience of Asian religions on my two trips to that region, I concluded that I should have a section or two in my book comparing the dominant Western image of God with a Buddhist and also a Hindu image of the Ultimate. I had done a good deal of reading on this previously, and with more reading I did make such insertions in the later chapters of the book.
I was offering a few people spiritual direction; I had been offering masses and giving talks on spirituality for different groups this year; and in the fall I accepted an invitation to be chaplain of a “Team of our Lady,” a group of six couples who accepted certain responsibilities to foster their spiritual life in a way appropriate for married people. For example, they accepted daily prayer and reading of Scripture, a monthly serious discussion about their relationship, and a meeting once a month with a home mass, a meditation and a discussion of a prearranged topic on spirituality. I had been a chaplain for such a group in the early 70′s, and now took up the ministry once again, with great benefit to me and, I hope, some benefit to them. I continued in this ministry until the present (2009).
In early 1988 I went to Mount Saviour Priory in Elmira, New York at the invitation of their Prior, Father Martin Boler and gave four talks on current theological issues followed by discussions. And in early March I went to Our Lady of the Angels Parish in Opelousas, Louisiana at the invitation of their pastor, Father Millard Boyer, and gave a parish workshop on meditation. I also gave a talk at a parish on my trip to Asia, which the parishoners who attended found it fascinating. And I wrote an article, “Erosion of Faith and a Theological Response,” for Monastic Studies in its issue, “Modern Monasticism and the Crisis of Faith.”
On Good Friday I once more picked a thorn from a thorn bush on our property, and reflected on God’s current gifts and my concerns and problems, writing, among other things:
Glazier [Michael Glazier, the publisher] is interested in my book (though I do not know whether they will be after they see its length) and I am nearing its end. . . . I have just prayed the Stations of the Cross and meditated on how Jesus was “shunted aside;” people tried to get rid of him because they did not like the thrust of his ministry. Maybe that is the cost of a ministry in theology that is very needed today. If I were to the right or left of where I am, I feel I would have more of a cheering crowd! . . .
I have felt a good deal of emptiness recently. Can I, please God, recall that this is my child objecting to God’s mystery of the cross, and compassionately reassure it while going ahead , but also learn when to take a need seriously.
By early May I had revised all of my book, Belief in God in our Time. Foundational Theology I, for which I praised the Lord for doing the impossible for me. And I was asked whether I would be able to be a spiritual director for a group of pilgrims going to Fatima, May 11-18; the expected spiritual director had to withdraw at the last minute. I wrote in my journal:
I cannot help but interpret this as a gift from God – out of his infinite mercy – to show me that this work has been his work and that he is pleased with my efforts and that it will serve the Kingdom. – It is a fruit of 25 years of work! – though the fruit also includes God’s Work in a Changing World, articles, etc. But this book is what I started writing one-quarter of a century ago, in 1963, Spring!
How much darkness there has been on the way! – Father thank you! – All praise to you. My prayer this morning was “Father, thanks from blind, cold me!”
One reason why I accepted this invitation was that I had again and again put this writing project under the patronage of our Lady, and this trip gave me an opportunity to thank the Lord through her as our Lady of Fatima. The pilgrimage was very interesting. I was most moved by the hundreds of thousands who attended a vigil mass on the immense plaza in front of the altar both on the night of May 12 and on the day of May 13, the 70th anniversary of the first appearance of our Lady to the three children, Lucia, Francisco and Jacinta. I was one of well over 130 concelebrating priests, apart from the many bishops. I was led down into a section of that crowd to distribute communion, a section filled with people who seemed to be poor peasants, the women in long black dresses, with deeply lined faces and obvious devotion. I wrote an article on this experience in the 1988 issue of St. Anselm’s Abbey Newsletter.
When I returned I revised the introduction to my manuscript and sent it to Michael Glazier, Inc. with a letter that read in part:
Here, finally, is my manuscript.. This is an area of theology that is quite important today. Walter Kasper writes that “The crisis in the presuppositions for understanding talk about God is the real crisis of present-day theology” ( The God of Jesus Christ, 47), and that “Natural theology has become as it were the neuralgic point in contemporary theology (E. Jüngel)” (65).
Therefore, it has seemed to me for a long time that there should be an in depth treatment of this area of theology. And I have expended a great deal of time and energy in attempting this. While the approach I develop depends on and seeks to integrate other approaches, the way it puts things together is distinctive among contemporary theologies – though I think that this is the way that Vatican II puts the elements of the problem together. My prayer is that it can make some contribution to contemporary theology.
Michael sent the manuscript to a reader familiar with this area of theology, who took the better part of a year to get to it and review it. I also asked two of my theological colleagues to read the book and evaluate it for me; they kindly did so in a way that showed their own theological differences from mine and called for clarifications, but did not seem to me to undermine the thrust of the book. Glazier’s reviewer also expressed problems with the book along with commendations, so Michael asked me to address the reviewer’s problems. I answered the reviewer’s comments, and since the letter in which I do so presents succinctly what the book seeks to do, I present that letter as appendix #4. In November, Michael accepted the book for publication, while asking me to try to reduce its size.
In the spring of 1988 I had been invited by Professor Tran van Doan to give a paper at an international philosophical conference to be held in Taipei at National Chengchi University December 28-30 on “Metaphysics, Culture and Nature.” Initially I did not expect to go because of the expense of travel to and from Taipei; but by the fall Tran van Doan had arranged for me to give another lecture at Normal University, and, without my asking, a friend had offered me help, so I was allowed to make the trip. Meanwhile I was teaching a course on Thomas Merton once a week for a group that met at Wesley Seminary and a course on spirituality for those preparing for the Washington Archdiocese permanent diaconate.
On December 17th I flew to Taipei via Narita airport, Tokyo, and was met by Maris Fravel, the husband of my distant cousin, Judy Butler Fravel. He worked for the large international engineering firm, Bechtel, and was on a job in Taiwan. He drove me to their rented house on the outskirts of Taiwan, and the next morning (Dec. 20) I met my cousin Judy and their children. Later that morning Judy took me to the Grand Hotel, indeed a grand hotel with an enormous lobby styled almost like a Chinese lacquered box, to meet Professor Tan van Doan who discussed with me the coming conference, the additional lecture I would give and his hopes for support for the 20 volume encyclopedia he and others were projecting for comparative Asian and Western philosophy. On the 21st I went to Wimmer Priory, a Benedictine Priory near Fu Jen University which housed a couple of monks from St. Vincent’s Archabbey in Pennsylvania who were teaching at the university. Br. Nicholas Koss welcomed me warmly and that evening showed me some of the sights of the city. On the 24th I went to the Fravels; with them I attended midnight mass for the small English speaking expatriate Catholics and celebrated part of Christmas, returning late on Christmas to Wimmer Priory. The next day Benedictine monks from another Benedictine monastery in Taiwan and Benedictine Sisters gathered at Wimmer Priory for their annual party, with Mass, a very good meal and a sing-along. Later I went with the Sisters to see their community near the straits on Taiwan facing the mainland, and then returned to Taipei, to the China Hotel, where Fr. George McLean and others were staying. On the 27th we went to the Ricci Institute where Professor Tran van Doan and others had gathered the foreign philosophers to discuss their hopes for the encyclopedia.
That evening the Conference began with a banquet ( 16 courses – it devastated my stomach), the first of four, where I met once again some philosophers I had met on previous trips to East Asia. On the morning of the 28th the conference began in earnest. There were 138 attending, forty of them from abroad. Some invited philosophers were not able to come because of ill health (e.g. Paul Ricoeur and H. G. Gadamer) or visa problems. After introductory greetings and a delightful young quartet playing Bach and Gunot’s Ave Maria, Fr. Emerich Coreth of Innsbruck University gave the first lecture, on “Metaphysics at the End of Modern Times.” In the afternoon there were shorter papers on aspects of Chinese philosophy. In the evening I went with Professor Runggaldier, a Jesuit analytic philosopher from Innsbruck, to give lectures to a small group of professors and graduate students at Normal University. Mine was on “Social Change and Traditional Culture: A Problem in Christian Sexual Education.” After both of our papers, there was a discussion in which many very personal questions were addressed to me. For example: If love has ceased why does the Church not allow divorce? – Confucius says: eating and sex are natural. How then can Fathers do without sex? Etc. Runggaldier later asked me whether I was a Jesuit, adding, “You argue like a Jesuit.”
On the 29th we had a full day of papers. In the afternoon, following Professors George McLean and Thomas Fay, I gave my lecture on “Person, Community and Religious Tradition.” I based this on Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Laborem Exercens on labor, showing how his interpretation of the meaning and ethic of work depended on both a religious tradition and a philosophy of the human person and how work should be understood in this context. I had wanted to study this issue both for the importance of the problem of labor in our world and because the theme offered an example of how a hermeneutical interpretation of a specific religious tradition and a more universal interpretation of the human person mutually affirm one another. Some people commended me for the lecture, saying that it was the first on this theme at meetings of the International Society of Metaphysics.
On the next morning I gave a response to a paper by Professor André Mercier of Bern University in Switzerland, “Freedom. A Metaphysical Approach.” On the evening of December 30 there was another banquet, giving me another opportunity to speak with a number of philosophers about issues of common interest. I enjoyed and profited from these opportunities. Some participants said that the main differences at the conference were on the question of person and on whether there was religious transcendence in classical Chinese religion and philosophy. On the morning of the 31st there were concluding papers. In the afternoon we explored the National Palace Museum, and in the evening there was a concluding banquet.
On this day also, Br. Nicholas Koss very kindly invited me to write an article, a popular introduction to mysticism, for the most prestigious intellectual journal in Taiwan (Dangdai, Contemporary), for which a friend of his was editor. They were to have an issue on this topic. I later accepted this invitation.
On January 1, 1989 several of us western priests at the conference went to the parish of Monsignor Andrew Tsien, professor of philosophy and Dean of the College of Arts at Fu Jen Catholic University, and concelebrated mass in Chinese with him, the Eucharistic prayer being in Latin. On the 2nd I flew to Narita, took a bus into Tokyo and a taxi to the Benedictine Priory, where I had stayed for a night in 1985 and knew Fr. Kieran Nolan, the Prior. The community of 8 or 9 monks received me most graciously.
I had written earlier asking whether I could stay with them and whether there would be an interest in a lecture on “Scripture’s Symbols of the Holy Sprit as Feminine and the Native Japanese Sense of the Divine.” The idea had come to me from my readings (e.g., Panikkar, Zaehner, Eliade), from things said during my 1985 and 1987 trips to East Asia and from my sense that the Holy Spirit represented a sense of the divine closer to that of Shinto and other East Asian religions based in part on animism than the usual way God is represented in the West.
Professor Imamichi, a Japanese philosopher I had met on my previous trips to East Asia, had said that a major reason for Christianity’s having so little impact in Japan was that it was not in touch with the native Japanese sense of the divine. Fr. Neal Lawrence, (the pastor of the English speaking parish at St. Anselm’s, a long time resident in Japan, and a member of a poetry reading group that included the crown princess) had expressed interest in my proposal and had arranged for me to speak on the theme to a group he had lead for 15 years, STAIFA, St. Anselm’s International Friendship Association, at one of their regular meetings.
Father Neal had arranged for Dr. Gyo Furuta to respond to my talk. Furuta had become a Benedictine at St. John’s Abbey in the States, had received a doctorate in theology for which he wrote a dissertation on St. Anselm, had joined the community in Tokyo, and translated all the works of St. Anselm into Japanese, but finally left the community to try to find his identity. He was married, and found in Shinto, not State Shinto but the Shinto associated with animism and expressed not as doctrine but in rituals and an ethical spirit, a religious sensibility with which he could identify. He was currently Dean of General Education at Kando University of International Studies, and Director of an Intercultural Communication Institute there. He agreed to respond to my talk and came to chat with me. I had sent ahead my article on “Feminine Symbols and the Holy Spirit,” which he had read. We had a long conversation which was quite congenial. He basically agreed with what I had written and the need for Christians to present this dimension more effectively in Japan, but wondered whether the symbols of animism should be thought of as feminine rather than masculine. He surprised me by his strong statement, “Christianity destroyed animism, and so it promoted atheism and nihilism.”At the lecture there was general agreement on the kinship between symbols of the Holy Spirit and the religious sensibilities shown in Shinto, but Furuta stressed that popular Shinto was so localized that it was difficult to make a bridge between it and the Holy Spirit. I found the exchanges very rewarding and enlightening.
While I was in Tokyo I also did some exploring of the city with Fr. Kieran and Sister Mary Blish, R.S.C.J., whom I had met in Washington, and who had known my sister Cordelia. We went to the Asaka Kannon Temple in a very old quarter of Tokyo, one of the most popular temples in Japan. There were masses of people there, since it was close to the beginning of the year. Some were wafting smoke from a fire in the temple toward themselves as a blessing or throwing coins into a large receptacle or clapping their hands to draw the attention of the gods. Kannon is a Pure Land Buddhist goddess of mercy who hears the people’s call for help in need. At the beginning of the new year it was estimated that over 75 million people had gone to shrines and temples in Japan.
On the 4th of January I went to Seishin Joshi Daigaku, the international women’s university that the Religious of the Sacred Heart run in Tokyo to offer mass for the Sisters and to give my talk on the Holy Spirit. This was the most prestigious women’s university in Japan; the wife of the Crown Prince (as well as my niece-in-law, Reiko Tsukakoshi) had gone to the University and kept contact with the Sisters there. The Western and Japanese Sisters were receptive to my talk, though once more the question was raised whether the symbols of animism should be considered feminine rather than masculine. It was a very enjoyable evening. – I stayed for another week in Tokyo, among other things going with Fr. Neal to offer our condolences on the death of the Emperor and signing the register, and having lunch with my former student, Father Scott Howell, S.J., at the Jesuit University where he worked. I returned to Washington on Thursday January 12.
I had a semester sabbatical the first part of the year. During this time I participated in a 10 week international philosophical seminar hosted by Fr. George McLean at the Catholic University under the auspices of The Council for Research in Values and Philosophy on “The Place of the Person in Social Life.” It was attended by philosophers and others from the Catholic University as well as by philosophers from abroad – from Tblisi in Georgia, Vilnius in Lithuania, Nigeria, Zaire, Kenya, China, Turkey, and Bulgaria. It was a very enlightening experience to read and discuss papers by philosophers and others from such varied backgrounds. I developed the lecture I had given in Taiwan and gave it as “Person, Work and Religious Tradition.” With this, Fr. McLean distributed copies of Pope John Paul II’s Laborem exercens to the participants. The Marxist from Tblisi remarked that they had been given snippets of papal documents to criticize, but never a whole document, which he found helpful. I also read for and wrote an article on “Notes on Mysticism in Today’s World” in response to Br. Nicholas Koss’s request. I was grateful for this request and the reading it called for me to do. It was later published in Chinese and English. And I worked on early chapters of the projected second volume of Foundational Theology, Faith in God through Jesus Christ so that I could assure Glazier I would have the second volume to them a year from the publication of the first volume. I also revised the first volume during this semester, the summer and the fall, finally signing the contract for its publication in January 1990, completing the revision on February 2nd and sending it to Glazier with the understanding that a second volume on faith in God through Jesus Christ would be in their hands within a year of the publication of the first volume. I considered this time line totally unrealistic, but I signed the contract. Some months later, due to the fa ct that Michael Glazier’s company had lost a great deal of money through fraud by one of their officials, they sold most of the company to Liturgical Press that accepted responsibility for Glazier’s contracts. They were not as concerned to have the second volume as soon as Michael wished it.
During the summer of 1989 I attended the convention of the Catholic Theological Society of America in St. Louis and stayed there for a visit. My brother William’s cancer had returned, and he was taking therapy for that. We had a home mass in honor of the 100th year of our father’s birth, the 10th year of Cordelia’s death, and the birthdays of our siblings that occur in June, a moving experience for all of us. And I had good visits with siblings and a number of nephews and nieces. When I returned to Washington, I spent a week as chaplain for the Benedictine Sisters in their community at Bristow, Virginia, and used the time to make a retreat, using tapes on “Adventures on the Spiritual Journey” by Fr. Benedict Groeschel, O.F.M. Cap. These tapes showed a deep reading in traditional spirituality and the clinical psychology background of Groeshel, and were very helpful. I also enjoyed Groeschel who loved to be outrageous, while I usually tried to be very exact. I reflected primarily on why I so often doubted the value of what I was doing in writing – perhaps largely because I got so little feedback. Once more I prayed for the grace to “accept in the spirit the uncertainty of the outcome of my work, just seeking to be of some service.”
In August, after being junior master for eight years, I resigned because the Abbot was giving permissions to juniors without consulting or informing me, listening and accepting at face value some negative remarks some of them made of me, and allowing them to come or not to evening recreation as they wished – generally, in my view, being excessively ad hoc in trying to accommodate them. I continued as monastic librarian and a member of the committee for studies for juniors.
In the fall I returned to teaching, and participated in another of George McLean’s international seminars, this one on “The Humanities, Moral Imagination and Human Development.” I offered a paper dependent on my work on the setting of the gospels in the period of cultural transition in the Jewish and Roman world of the first century, “Christian Symbols and Cultural Transformation.” I also offered a few directed retreats, gave a day program to Methodists at Wesley seminary on “Spiritual guidance for Everyday Living,” and again taught a course on spirituality for men preparing for the permanent diaconate. Michael Downey kindly asked me to write a major article on the Holy Spirit by the next May for The New Dictionary of Catholic Spirituality, an invitation I promptly accepted.
At this time the Abbot of Douai Abbey in England died of cancer, and in November that community elected as their next Abbot our own Abbot Leonard Vickers, whom that community had previously kindly allowed us to elect as Abbot for our community. Their own needs appropriately took precedence. That meant that we at St. Anselm’s would face the question of an election of an abbot. I was very disinclined to leave my name in the running, even though there was little possibility of my being elected; but finally I did, and happily Father Aidan Shea was elected Abbot on the first ballot on January 14, 1990, the feast of Sts. Maurus and Placid.
At the beginning of this new year, Mary Stanford, a mother of a couple of our alumni approached me on the possibility of establishing a local chapter of the International Thomas Merton Society and sponsoring lectures on him and his work from time to time. I concurred and received permission. We had our first lecture on January 31st that would have been Merton’s 75th birthday. Till the present (2009) we have sponsored one or two major lectures a year, many from those who knew Merton well, and for the last six years have had a monthly Merton discussion group meeting. I and others profited much from these lectures and discussions, and from time I gave one of the lectures.
My brother William (Bebe) had now been given just a month or so to live, and I was frequently speaking with him by phone. On one such phone call, as I recount in my journal:
I told him how moved I was by his acceptance of this dark passageway in faith, how so many people had traveled it before us and that encourages us and they are cheering us on. And that trust in these circumstances was something we could not give God even in Heaven. It is only for a brief time we have an opportunity to offer God this. He asked, “What choice do we have?” And I said that, well, God doesn’t give us much choice here. He said the choice we have is to relax and enjoy it! – I almost wept. Once more he said he loved me, and I said I loved him.
I flew to St. Louis and was able to speak with him briefly while he was still conscious. He died on February 5, the anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood, leaving his wife and four adult children. I offered his funeral mass on the 7th. This was fifteen years after his cancer was initially diagnosed, and during many of those years he had assisted those afflicted with cancer. No doubt his own experience of cancer and, perhaps, his experience as an ambulance driver in the II World War helped him to be sensitive and responsive to others. He had attended daily mass for many, many years.
Abbot Aidan enquired of the community about ways in which we could strengthen the community. And among other things, I was asked to be vocation director. I noted that we might have tension about criteria for acceptance of candidates, but if we could have a meeting of minds on this issue I would be happy to accept. I was not the only one who expressed concern about this. I worked on the article on the Holy Spirit, dwelling on themes such as the Holy Spirit as eschatological gift, the dynamism and indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and some current issues. My first draft was returned with some recommendations, and it was accepted for publication.
During the summer, among other things, I went to St. Procopius Abbey, near Lisle, Illinois, for a meeting of Benedictine vocations directors to pool our concerns and approaches. And I visited long term friends of mine, Bill and Helen Stanbro, in Los Alamos, New Mexico. Back in D.C., I returned to work on my second volume in Foundational Theology. But in my journal for August 16 I note:
This morning at meditation I was complaining to the Lord or questioning – asking whether the work on this book, Faith in God through Jesus Christ was his call – or worth it.
And the reading at morning office was II Kings 13:10-25. In it Elisha tells King Joash to strike arrows to the ground – and then was angry he did it just 3 times, saying he should have struck 5 or 6 times and he would have defeated Aram completely. As it was he would defeat him only 3 times! – An answer to my complaint!? I think so. The Lord is telling me: Girt up your loins and get to work and do one thing.
We had our annual community retreat, a helpful one given by Father Luke Dysinger, O.S.B. of Valyermo Abbey. I was reading St. Catherine of Siena’s The Dialogue, noting that “Catherine shows graphically that Jesus is profoundly disturbed by the corruption in the Church in her time and loving and commending those who are similarly appalled, concerned and active in doing something about it. . . . Catherine’s time was in part like our own, and her work cost her a great deal – her work for purification and unity of the Church.” I was encouraged by her example and writing.
In the fall I returned to teaching and I gave a lecture on “Trinity as Salvific Mystery and Historical Consciousness” at a Conference on “25 Years after Vatican II” at the Omni Shorham hotel. I continued my plodding work on my manuscript, resisting being undermined by doubts about its worth.
In January 1991, the first Gulf War broke out – and caused many of us great concern. I was deeply involved in work preparing for an upcoming accreditation visit to De Sales School of Theology. I was also making final revisions of my volume on belief in God, which I sent off to Liturgical Press on April 21, the feast of St. Anselm. And I gave a talk to people from D.C. shelters on their dignity as human beings, and a weekend retreat fora group of Catholic families at the Baptist Retreat Center 15 miles west of Frederick, Maryland.
In the summer I attended the CTSA convention in Atlanta and then took a bus up to Ashville, North Carolina where I spent a week vacation with Fr. Hilary of our community at “Our Lady of the Mountains” rectory in Highlands, where Fr. John Hoover was pastor. We saw some glorious scenery in the Great Smokies and took some hikes closer to Highlands. We also took a three day retreat.
In late July, Fr. George McLean invited me to attend conferences the following April at the Institute of Philosophy of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences and at Fudan University in Shanghai, adding that my paper on “Person, Work and Religious Tradition” would be appropriate. And just before these mainland meetings, Catholic philosophers in Taiwan were preparing to have the inaugural meeting of the Asian Association of Catholic philosophers on the theme of Christianity and Inculturation in Asia. Reflecting on his recent trip to China and conversation with philosophers there, after the 1989 tragedy of Tiannamen Square, he added:
What they are looking for now is a deeper foundation for human dignity – personal dignity and value. They think that their own tradition — into which all of them are looking more — does not have the resources sufficient for this. And they are looking to the West — not primarily philosophy but Christianity. . . . This is a theological problem. Confucianism is strong on human society and not strong on transcendence – strong on everything having to do with family and state. China’s perspective on Christianity comes largely from the Protestant impact. Thus they see Christianity as vs. human history, as downgrading their “paganism,” as individualistic. They therefore question whether Christianity would subvert their Confucianism . . . He says they need a theological dimension – and in effect asked whether I “could find some way to get over there.
We had a very fine retreat in late August, given by Father Clement Zeleznik, novice master at St. Andrew’s Abbey in Cleveland, who spoke convincingly a number of times of “loving the novices into life.” I spoke to Abbot Aidan about the request from George McLean, and he gave me permission to go, generously promising support even if I could not raise the money. It so happened that I was asked by the Theology School at the Catholic University to teach a course on eschatology during the second semester, and Abbot Aidan allowed me to use that money for this trip. Also friends of mine generously offered to support me on this trip which I and they thought had a missionary dimension.
In late December I received page proofs from Liturgical Press of my book, Belief in God in Our Time. Foundational Theology, I, and in early 1992 I corrected them and prepared indices for the book. I wrote in my journal on Epiphany, Sunday, January 5:
This a.m. in meditation I was struck strongly how everything good about this writing that has developed since 1955 has been God’s love – and a miracle of grace, far beyond my lights and power. What love for God to risk this earthen vessel, double-minded me, and persevere. I have frequently felt through the years that the next step was impossible. And yet, he opened iron gates, pierced brass walls!
I sent the whole off to Liturgical Press in early February.
With George McLean I flew to Taiwan on April 6. We stayed initially at the Jesuit scholasticate at Fujen University, where I renewed acquaintance with some professors I had met previously. We then moved to the Chen Tan Overseas Youth Activity Center, right near the Grand Hotel, where we were to have the conference. The “International Conference on Christianity and Asian Culture” began on April 9. There were about 44 philosophers attending from Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, the Philippines and Indonesia, and four of us from the West – Ghislaine Florival from Louvain, Fritz Wallner from Vienna, George and I. As usual, it began with a charming small quartet and introductory lecture. There were very interesting papers given. On the 10th I gave one on “Scripture’s Symbols of the Holy Spirit as Immanent/Feminine, and a Native Asian Sense of the Divine.” This provoked a lively discussion, some of it negative. But Tran van Doan, the chief organizer of the conference, thought it appropriate and helpful. On the 11th almost all of us took a train to the west of Taiwan to attend the consecration as Bishop Professor Andrew Tsien, a philosopher I had met on my previous visits to Taiwan. As he was giving his homily, Bishop Tsien broke down in tears twice, once when saying he did not want the position but had accepted it out of obedience, and once when speaking of Our Lady – as I was told later, because the homily was of course given in Chinese. – The following day we were taken to visit the spectacular Taroka Gorge Park.
George, Florival, Wallner and I flew to Shanghai where we were driven to a tourist resort, “Dong Ting Hotel,” for our conference with the Institute of Philosophy of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences on “Modernization and Values – Culture.” This was about 100 km from Shanghai, and somewhat close to Suzhou; the organizers chose it so that, distant from Shanghai, they would freer to speak their minds. There were about 17 philosophers in all involved. – Once more, the hospitality was exceptional; the food at that hotel was the best I had ever had. The conference was primarily concerned with how one could keep in touch with the roots of one’s culture and find ways to interpret it constructively to find answers to problems we face in our time. Thus it involved the whole areas of hermeneutics and the discrimination of what values really ‘draw us forward,’ as distinct from those that satisfy some individualistic or short term desire. We heard good papers on these themes from the Chinese perspective and a Western perspective. My paper analyzed how Pope John Paul II used a hermeneutics of Scripture and a philosophy of the human person to elucidate the meaning of work and some guidelines for it. John Paul was a philosopher and came from a country in which communism was politically dominant, so his reflections seemed to strike a note that the Chinese could appreciate. Though I was quite explicit about whose writings my paper analysed, one of the Chinese philosophers commented that, “There are three interpretations of work: Confucius, Marx, and Farrelly”! As a western philosopher living in Beijing and attending our conference, Arnold Sprenger, said to me:
These people on the mainland realize that they need some criterion outside themselves – implicitly God. They realize Neo-Confucianism is not enough. – They have experienced results in the last 100 years of trying other and simply human criteria and suffered greatly. – They fear the Christian God but are drawn to him too. – People on Taiwan think they have it made, and so are not open to Christianity or God.
On the morning of April 17, Good Friday, we were taken by shuttle bus to Taihu Lake and then by boat to the island, Western Hills – the location of the summer palace of the Wu Kingdom of over 2000 years ago and also of the later Sung Dynasty – a place of great natural beauty. It was an occasion for warm friendship and interesting conversation with the Chinese philosophers. In the early afternoon, George had arranged that we could have some quiet time for prayer. In the late afternoon we had our final papers, and in the evening our final session, with an opportunity for each of the participants to give their impression of the conference. On Saturday we were driven to a monastery of nuns built 1,000 years ago, the Zinjin Temple in the East Dang-Ting Mountains, rebuilt frequently. It is now a museum. And after lunch we went to the Lingyan Hill Buddhist Monastery, Wuxian County, originally built in the Tang dynasty, and now housing 130 monks and 45 students. We later went to Suzhou, where we stayed in a Suzhou University dorm, having that evening in George’s room a very simple Easter vigil service, with us westerners facing one another, seated on parallel beds.
On Easter Sunday we took a train to Shanghai and were taken to the “Long Term Foreign Scholars’ Residence” at Fudan University, very pleasant quarters. Our Colloquium with the Department of Philosophy of the University was on the theme “Ontology and Modernization.” There were, once more, very interesting papers, for example, Liu Fang Tong’s, “Western Philosophical Trends and China’s Modernization,” Huang Songjie’s, “The ‘Big Triangle’ of Chinese Philosophical academia and the Modernization of China – reflections on Chinese Philosophical Trends in the 20th Century,” and Fang Zhao-hui’s, “The Despiritualization of Chinese People Today and the Way of Modernization of China.” Each of the lectures was followed by a spirited discussion. The concern of a number of Chinese philosophers that the focus in China was too much on economic growth and not enough on the growth of persons was evident. My paper was, happily, well received. – At George’s suggestion I had brought along copies of Pope John Paul II’s encyclical, Laborem exercens. George consulted with the head of the department, who said it would be all right to distribute them when he, the head, was out of the room, which I did.
On the day following the colloquium, we were shown the Yu Yuan Gardens (Happiness Gardens) of the Ming Dynasty – a very attractive complex of buildings, pools, rocks, wisteria and walkways. Then we went to the Jade Buddha Temple of the Jan Buddhist sect, with a beautiful statue of Buddha made of one piece of jade. We had lunch there of different dishes that tasted like smoked ham, duck ,eel, etc. The Buddhists do not eat meat or fish so as not to kill, but they make dishes that taste like these.
I had arranged to take some time for sightseeing in Xi’an and Beijing after the conferences, and despite difficulties with the air travel, I did manage to spend a couple of days in Xi’an, with its amazing archeological sites, and Beijing. In Xi’an, I was looking unsuccessfully in a museum for a stele that had inscribed on it an account of the Nestorian Christian mission to China in the Tang dynasty (8th century) when I heard a young woman speaking English to a small group of people. I approached her and found that that stele was now in another museum, but she volunteered to be my unofficial guide the next day. Nancy or Feng-Xué showed me around so I had an introduction not only to old sites but to the coming generation. We went to see the 1,000′s of terra cotta soldiers buried at the burial site of China’s first emperor, Qin, around 221 b.c., and discovered in 1974. When I asked Nancy why the emperor had these statues buried with him, she said it was so he could have the same style of life after death as before. When I asked whether she believed in life after death, she said, “No, when you die you are dead!” She had read Gone with the Wind four times, once in English and three times in Chinese, and wanted to be like Scarlet O’Hara, who was ‘very brave.’ When she showed me the seven storey Big Wild Goose Pagoda in Xi’an, built initially in the Tang dynasty in honor of a man who had gone to India and brought back many Buddhist texts to be translated into Chinese, we saw a young monk in saffron robes and shorn hair. She exclaimed with some irritation, “Why on earth would a person waste his life by being a monk!”
In Beijing, I visited, among other places, the Summer Palace, some distance from the city, and then looked for a taxi to take me back into the city. Finally, seeing a person step out of a car, I asked the driver whether he could drive me back to the city. A passenger in the car nodded approval, and I had a ride not in a taxi but in a car owned or hired by this man (Jiáng Wèn) who had just come back from the USA where he was for a month with the United States Information Agency in at least 6 cities. He was disappointed in young Americans who did not know the larger world outside their country and in Chinese students in the USA who do not really know their own country. He was a movie actor and had played in the movie “Red Sorghum” that I had seen.
From Beijing I went to Tokyo where I stayed almost a week at the Benedictine Priory in Tokyo at which I had previously stayed. I once more gave a lecture on the theme of the Holy Spirit and the native Japanese sense of the divine, which was followed by an interesting discussion. And I did some sightseeing, especially taking a day to visit on my own the stunning Hakone National Park, about 50 miles southwest of Tokyo. On May 7 I flew back to Washington, and found waiting for me copies of my just published book, Belief in God in Our Time. Foundational Theology I , the fruit of so many years work, for which I thanked God.