The Way of Beauty

By Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, C.S.J.

Some the most breathtaking scenery in the United States is found throughout Upper New York and northward to the St. Lawrence Seaway.      Two famous pilgrimage shrines are located in this area and deserve special attention for their historic and religious significance.  In this country, October 19th is the feast of the North American Martyrs. First, some history.

New France

In the seventeenth century, French authorities sent a number of expeditions to conduct fur trading in this territory and named it New France.  Soon, French Jesuit missionaries followed to minister to their own and to convert the Native Americans to the Catholic faith. Today this direct form of proselytism toward a native people would be considered out of step with ecumenical norms.

The Jesuit missions began their work early in the 1630s. Our story picks up twelve years later with eight French Jesuits who were martyred while working among these Native Americans.  Here is their story.

The Huron Indians

By the seventeenth century, the Huron Indians, who belonged to the Iroquois Federation, had developed a fairly high way of life. They spoke in the Wendat language, and their religious beliefs had been fixed for years.  Perhaps the Jesuits did not fully appreciate this fact. The Hurons encountered both the Dutch and the French. The Dutch were primarily merchants who established trading posts at the confluence of the Mohawk and Hudson; the French came south from present-day Quebec to establish fur trading posts.

Jesuit Relations: Instructions to the French Jesuit Missionaries

Much of what we know about the Jesuits’ work among the Hurons was recorded in annual reports, “Jesuit Relations,” written by Fathers Paul LeJeune, S.J. and Paul Ragueneau, S.J.  The “Relations” gave the Jesuits a long list of practical instructions to be followed when ministering to the Hurons.  Three of the many are:

“You must have sincere affection for the Savages, looking upon them as ransomed by the blood of the Son of God, and as our brethren, with whom we are to pass the rest of our lives.”

“You must so conduct yourself as not to be at all troublesome to even one of these Barbarians.”

“You must bear with their imperfections without saying a word, yes, even without seeming to notice them.  Even if it be necessary to criticize anything, it must be done modestly, and with words and signs which evince love and not aversion.  In short, you must try to be, and to appear, always cheerful.”    

By 1642, Father Isaac Jogues, S.J., leader of the missionary group, planned to work among the Hurons along the south side of the Mohawk River from east to west. It was only natural for the Native Americans to resent the overtures of the missionaries despite the respect given to them. Why would “black-robed” foreigners want to change their way of life and their religious beliefs? Suspicious, they eventually blamed the Jesuits for the outbreak of small pox and other diseases.
 
At various times, between1642-1649, the Jesuits were brutally tortured – accused as witch doctors.  Most of them were bludgeoned to death under the tomahawk.  

First Group of Jesuit Missionaries

The first group of French Jesuits answered the call to minister in this region.  These included Father Isaac Jogues, and two donnés, René Goupil and John Lalande.  Due to deafness, Goupil could not be ordained a Jesuit but was trained as a doctor and surgeon.  After years of ministering to the Indians along the St. Lawrence River, Jogues and Goupil were captured.  Goupil was the first of the eight to be martyred – he was bludgeoned to death.  

For thirteen months, Jogues lingered from brutal torture. Knowing that his index fingers and thumbs were essential to the celebration of Mass, his captives mangled them.

Curiously enough, his escape to France prompted a desire to return to his mission.  Accompanied by John de Lalande, the nineteen-year old donné, Jogues returned to the Mohawk Mission in New York. With papal approval, he celebrated Mass even with stubs as fingers.  On his return to the region, he resumed his work but was soon tortured again.  This time he succumbed.  The date was October 18th, 1646.  Lalande himself was killed the next day.  

Second Group of Jesuit Missionaries

The second group of Jesuits was martyred within the confines of Midland at Martyrs’ Shrine, Sainte Marie. In 1635, Father Anthony Daniel founded the first Huron Boys’ College in Quebec and worked among the Hurons for twelve years until, on July 4th, 1648, still wearing Mass vestments, he was attacked as he ended the celebration of Mass.  His martyred body was thrown into the flames of the burning church.  

The thirty-three year old, Father Jean de Brébeuf was a gifted linguist and mastered the Huron language. Gentle in manner, massive in body, it is said he had the heart of a giant.  Like Brébeuf, Father Gabriel Lalemant was a gifted scholar, professor and college administrator, but unlike Brébeuf, his body was frail.  Eventually both were captured, tied to stakes and underwent one of the worst martyrdoms ever recorded in history. The Jesuit Relations describes in detail how grisly were their tortures: “The Indians dismembered their hearts and limbs while they were still alive, and feasted on their flesh and blood” (L. Poulot, “North American Martyrs,” New Catholic Encyclopedia, 507).

Brébeuf suffered for three hours before dying on March 16th, 1649. Lalemant died the next morning.   Father Charles Garnier was assigned to the Huron mission at Sainte Marie for thirteen years and then to the mission at Saint Jean.  He was beloved by his congregants, but in 1649, was tomahawked to death about thirty miles from Sainte Marie.

Father Noël Chabanel, S.J.

Perhaps the saddest and most poignant story of all is reserved for twenty-eight year old Father Noël Chabanel who was assigned to work with Father Charles Garnier.  Though he was a brilliant professor of rhetoric and humanism at home in southern France, he had no ear whatsoever for the Huron language. Plagued by a sense of uselessness, he was convinced that his ministry had failed. Feeling a strong repugnance to the life and habits of the Huron, and fearing it might result in his own withdrawal from the work, he bound himself by vow never to leave the mission. Today, in all likelihood, superiors would frown on this extreme position. Chabanel was martyred on December 8, 1649, by a “renegade” Huron.  Yet to the end, he persevered in his missionary activity.

In 1930, Pius XI canonized the North American Martyrs.  The Canadian Catholic Church celebrates their feast day on September 26th.    

The Shrines at Midland and Auriesville

Because the two shrines are not far from one another, they are popular places to visit at the same time during the summer months or during October when the fall foliage is at its peak period. Martyrs’ Shrine at Midland has a church and museum that feature seventeenth-century maps, songs written by Brébeuf, a history of the shrine, and the stories of the Canadian martyrs. It offers the pilgrim a walking tour to get a sense of how the Jesuits lived, worked, and prayed among the Huron Indians.  One can see the simulated rustic village that comprised a chapel, living quarters, and classroom where the Jesuits carried out their apostolates.

The shrine at Auriesville has a similar layout.  One of its most popular features is the expansive outdoor Stations of the Cross, a familiar feature of Jesuit retreat houses.  There is a large auditorium which seats 6,000 pilgrims.

“The Blood of the Martyrs … the Seed of the Church”

From the earliest days of Christianity, martyrdom for the faith has always been part of the Christian psyche. It was understood that those who openly professed their faith might have to suffer for this pearl of great price. But, it was better to stay alive.

When the missionaries were assigned to work in New France, martyrdom could not be ruled out, just as danger and death cannot be ruled out for policemen or firefighters.  Missionaries were expected to die for the sake of Christ, though they did not seek it out. It is a stark reality that remains a constant for missionaries today. But let us not forget that there are so many ways to be martyred, real and metaphorical.

The North American Martyrs were high-minded men, cultured, refined, and well educated.  For them, the savage, bloody road of martyrdom was transformed into a way of beauty, a road that remains sacred ground.  Our Lady of Martyrs Shrine at Auriesville and Martyrs’ Shrine at Midland are among the most frequently-visited pilgrimage sites in the world – both sacred ground.  Those who do visit them are disposed to receive special favors from the saints for whom the shrines are named.  It is said that during her lifetime, Dolores Hope, wife of comedian Bob Hope, made a pilgrimage to Auriesville almost every year.

Posted: October 19, 2016, 6:00 am
By Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, C.S.J.

He’s been dubbed: “The Poet-Philosopher of Baseball,” “A Voice for the Ages,” “The Velvet Voice.” He’s been compared to Walter Cronkite, Mark Twain, and Garrison Keilor.  

In 1982, the Hollywood Walk of Fame honored him with a star among the Greats of stardom in the same year the National Baseball Hall of Fame enshrined his name among the Greats of baseball.

Vin Scully may be the very model of sartorial perfection, but it’s not the wardrobe that has endeared him to baseball for sixty-seven years. It’s his deep baritone voice and the power of his words.

A Catholic Education

There’s much to be said for childhood dreams.  At eight, when he wrote an assignment about his future, Vin imagined himself as a sports commentator. That dream has come true.

Vin Scully was born in the Bronx, N.Y. and received his elementary school education from the Sisters of Charity.  At Fordham Prep and Fordham University, both conducted by the Jesuits, his eager mind opened itself wide to the liberal arts, to Latin and Greek, science, literary and refining arts. He acted in plays, engaged in debate, learned to read and write well, and above all, to speak well; this is eloquentia perfecta, the hallmark of Jesuit education. When his head was not in books, he took up menial jobs to make ends meet delivering beer, pushing garment racks, and cleaning silver in the basement of the Pennsylvania Hotel in New York City. Vin Scully, the Renaissance man graduated from Fordham in 1949 with a major in communications.

With the Brooklyn Dodgers

In 1947, baseball executive Branch Rickey signed Jackie Robinson to play infield on the Brooklyn Dodgers team.  Against a tide of opposition, Rickey was determined to integrate the ball club.  Against a tide of opposition, the all-round athlete broke the color barrier in major league baseball at a great personal cost to him and his wife Rachel.  If you wanted to see electricity personified, you went to Ebbets Field where you could fix your eyes on Jackie at home plate and on the base pads tantalizing the opposing team.  There was nothing like it.  Said Rickey, “There was never a man in the game who could put mind and muscle together quicker than Jackie Robinson.”

Three years later, a twenty-two year old Vin Scully joined veteran Dodgers announcers, Red Barber and Connie Desmond to complete the broadcasting team.  As the rookie, Scully was assigned to announce only two innings.  Before long, he was announcing World Series games. He was not yet thirty.

Scully called Jackie Robinson “perhaps the most exciting, most driven player I’ve ever seen.” He spoke fondly of two other players:  “Gil Hodges was probably my all-time favorite.  He was as straight an arrow as they come.”  Duke Snider was “a true star. Subject to teasing from teammates. Great talent.”

When, in 1955, the Brooklyn ‘Bums’ won their only World Series, Scully stood and proclaimed: “Ladies and Gentlemen, the Brooklyn Dodgers are the champions of the world.”

Heartbreak in Brooklyn

In 1957, the Dodgers relocated from Brooklyn to Los Angeles.  For years, Walter O’Malley, the team’s major co-owner, had been searching for a more suitable land on which to build a new ballpark. When he and Robert Moses, the controversial construction coordinator of New York City, could not agree on a real estate price for a new Brooklyn location, O’Malley lost no time in accepting the offer of Los Angeles officials to purchase land suitable for building the ballpark he had wanted to build in Brooklyn.  Their departure triggered a virtual depression in Brooklyn.  The fans lost not only their team but also their beloved announcer.  Scully had pledged his loyalty to the team and followed them to Los Angeles.  

When, in 1959, the Los Angeles Dodgers honored Roy Campanella, one of the stars on the Brooklyn team, he was wheeled onto the field for a ceremony of lighting candles in his honor.  (He had been injured in a car accident leaving him paralyzed.) Vin Scully stood, and in tribute, spoke these memorable words:

“The lights are now starting to come out, like thousands and thousands of fireflies, starting deep in center field, glittering to left, and slowly, the entire ballpark. A sea of lights at the Coliseum. Let there be a prayer for every light, and wherever you are, maybe you, in silent tribute to Roy Campanella, can also say a prayer for his well-being. Campanella, for thousands of times, made the trip to the mound to help somebody out: a tired pitcher, a disgusted youngster, a boy perhaps who had his heart broken in the game of baseball. And tonight, on his last trip to the mound, the city of Los Angeles says hello.”

Honorary Doctorate from Alma Mater

In May, 2000, Vin Scully received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Fordham University. In his address to the graduates, he shared some memories of his years at Fordham.  . . . “I was once you.  I walked the halls you walked.  I sat in the same classrooms.  I took the same notes and sweated out the final exams.  I played sports on your grassy fields. I hit a home run here—in Jack Coffey Field against CCNY—the only one I ever hit.”

Fordham, he said, evoked three words for him: home, love and hope. Home, because he spent eight years at Fordham both in the preparatory school and as an undergraduate. Love, because he made lifelong friends, and hope because Fordham is where his dreams thrived.

He urged all present “to take some time away from the craziness around you to foster the things that are important. Don’t let the winds blow away your dreams or your faith in God. And remember, sometimes your wildest dreams come true.”

In presenting the award, Michael T. Gillan, dean of Fordham College of Liberal Studies, noted that “when Jesuit schoolmasters developed their plan of studies in the 16th and 17th centuries, they defined “the goal of Jesuit education as eloquentia perfecta … which connotes a mastery of expression that is informed by good judgment and consistent principles. Those Jesuit schoolmasters of another age, if they had known anything about baseball, would certainly have approved the rhetorical gifts of the man who has been the voice of the Dodgers for the past fifty-one years, Vincent E. Scully.”

The Scully Anaphora

For years, every Scully broadcast has repeated the same avuncular opening:  “It’s time for Dodger baseball! Hi, everybody, and a very pleasant afternoon/evening to you, wherever you may be. Pull up a chair and relax;” The poet-philosopher announced the games painting vivid word pictures with his musical voice, tinged with Irish inflection.

Scully held himself to three rules:  Avoid criticizing managers and umpires; keep your personal opinions to yourself; avoid using clichés to describe a play. The Scully trademark, he insists, is silence—silence to allow the roar of the crowd to touch the listening audience.

Scully in His Own Words     

There are numerous quotes attributed to Mr. Scully. In describing Tom Glavine as a strike-out pitcher, he mused: “He’s like a tailor, a little off here, a little off there, and you’re done, take a seat.” The talent of Stan Musial of the St. Louis Cardinals amazed Scully:  “How good was Stan Musial? He was good enough to take your breath away.”

Vin was known to spin some philosophy out of the play at the moment.  In 1991, he remarked: “Andre Dawson has a bruised knee and is listed as day-to-day (Pause).  Aren’t we all?”  

Then there were his philosophical quips: “Good is not good enough when better is expected.” “Statistics are used much like a drunk who uses a lamp post—for support, not illumination.” “Losing feels worse than winning feels good.”     

One day, when Vin joked that Joe Torre might be apprehensive about returning from third base to catcher after getting hit by a foul tip.  “If he were apprehensive, Torre would forever be known as “Chicken Catcher Torre.”  At this, the crowd groaned.

Awards

Listed among Vin Scully’s many awards are:
1976 Most Memorable Personality in L.A. Dodger history by Dodger fans
1982 Induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame as the Ford C. Frick Award recipient.
Four times, voted as the country’s Outstanding Sportscaster.  
Twenty-two times voted, as California Sportscaster of the Year by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association.
2009  NAB Broadcasting Hall of Fame
2009  Ambassador Award of Excellence by the LA Sports & Entertainment Commission
2014 The Gabriel Personal Achievement Award from the Catholic Academy of Communication Professionals.

Personal Life

Vin Scully has not been one to wear his feelings in the open.  Yet, he has experienced two family tragedies.  In 1972, after fifteen years of married life, his wife died from an accidental medical overdose.  The next year, his thirty-three old son Michael was killed in a helicopter crash while working for the ARCO Transportation Company.  A chemist, he was inspecting oil pipelines for leaks near Fort Tejon.

Vin credits his strong Roman  Catholic  faith for helping him cope with family grief and then to resume his work as an announcer. “As long as you live,” he reflects, “keep smiling because it brightens everybody’s day.”

The Final Inning

The longevity of Vin Scully’s baseball life has drawn to a conclusion.  As part of a conference call before the Dodgers played the Giants on Sept 19th, Scully he spoke about all the attention he had received in the closing days of his long career: “First of all, I attribute it to one thing and one thing only,” Scully reflected, “God’s Grace to allow me to do what I’ve been doing for 67 years. To me, that’s really the story. Not really me, I’m just a vessel that was passed hand-to-hand, down through all those years. So I don’t take it to heart as some great compliment. I just realize that because I’ve been doing this for 67 years, that’s why everybody wants to talk about it. So I think I’ve kept it in proper perspective” (Courtesy of MLB Network).

Finally, a favorite Irish prayer and blessing from Mr. Scully:

May God give you for every storm, a rainbow,
For every tear, a smile,
For every care, a promise,
And a blessing in each trial.
For every problem life send,]
A faithful friend to share,
For every sigh, a sweet song
And an answer for each prayer.

Dear Mr. Scully, ad multos annos.

 

Posted: October 12, 2016, 6:00 am
By Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, C.S.J.

It’s a wonderful phenomenon—yeast.  It permeates lifeless flour and causes it to rise and expand.  The power of yeast effects the brewing of beer and the making of wine.   The yeast plant is a fungus that grows without limits to its borders.  Only if yeast is alive and active will it interact with the dough.

On her TV program, “Martha Bakes,” the talented Ms. Stewart cannot contain her delight when she makes yeast dough: “Look at the sheen—so soft and shiny! The aroma is “bee-you-tee-ful,” and the fragrance gratifies all the senses!” Follow these instructions: proof active yeast, blend it into the flour mixture, and let it rise to double the size.  From yeast dough come baked goods such as breads, sticky buns and sugar buns, and monkey bread.  “Soo pretty, soo delicious,” Ms. Stewart swoons over her culinary works of art.

Yeast as a Metaphor

In the Matthean parable (13:33), the reign of God is like yeast that a woman took and kneaded into three measures of flour.  Eventually the entire mass of dough began to rise.  The image of yeast was a favorite in the Early Church.  Everyone understood the inner power of yeast with its limitless ability to make things grow, even in small beginnings with “three measures of flour.”  They grasped the comparison.  The yeast referred to the Church as an unlimited and growing reality, “destined ultimately to be present everywhere and to affect everything, though by no means to convert everything into itself” (Walter J. Ong, “Yeast: A Parable for Catholic Higher Education,” America Magazine, April 7, 1990).  The Church is catholic because it has always been expanding into new and shiny ‘dough’ without limit. Katholicos, from kata or kath and holos, means “through-the-whole or “throughout-the-whole.”

The Laity: Worldly and Yet Unworldly    

The laity are catholic, yeast in business and finance, entertainment, nursing and medicine, arts and science, law and law enforcement, politics, and sports.  They are the inner power with its limitless ability to make things grow, even in small ways. The laity find their holiness in the world with its financial concerns and family responsibilities.  Those who marry and have children become not just a family but also the Domestic Church.

In 1987, the Catholic Church held a World Synod on the Laity, one of many, beginning with Vatican II in the 1960s.  According to the synod’s final document, the laity are equal with clergy and consecrated religious in the life and mission of the Church.  

The call to holiness of the laity differs from the vocation of consecrated religious.  The laity are to be in the world in an unworldly way.  They approach life with wisdom that teaches the limited and relative value of material things. This would seem to be a contradiction in terms.  How to be worldly and unworldly at the same time?   It cannot be easy, for at times, the challenges seem insurmountable.  Yet, it remains for the lay vocation to find a theology of being present in the world. It is a practical spirituality of the family and the workplace.  For the laity, this is where holiness resides.*  

Holiness of the Laity

The holiness of the laity began with Jesus himself.  He was a rabbi and teacher, as were his disciples. Peter was a married man, and for all we know, so were the other apostles, the exception being John, the Beloved Disciple.  

St. Paul addresses and refers to those he evangelized as ‘saints,’ meaning that they were on their way to becoming saints.  In the Early Church, there were no consecrated institutes of men and women.  All Christians grasped the importance of living as disciples and ambassadors of the Lord.

As increasing numbers of Christians came to view the world as wicked, they flocked to the desert to live alone. When the desert grew so overcrowded with these solitaries, they came together and formed religious communities.  Thus, the start of monastic orders of men and women.

Prayer

Consecrated men and women, and especially those who live in cloisters, spend several hours a day in prayer.

This is not the way of the laity. Their days focus almost entirely on family and the means of supporting it.  Their prayer is measured not in hours but in minutes—two here, five there, perhaps a Holy Hour or Retreat Day on rare occasions.

The conciliar document on the sacred liturgy encourages Catholic families to pray portions of the Liturgy of the Hours (#102-111).  The Hours are not private or devotional prayer but the prayer of the entire Church, the Church at prayer.  Praying the psalms nourishes Catholic family life whose welfare is daily beset with conflicting external forces. If prayer is the underlying power of strong family life, then parents can find ways to incorporate parts of the Hours into their daily schedule. In prayer, married couples derive the strength of God’s grace to live their married vocation.  

As children mature, they too must learn to travel the road to discipleship in the Lord.  Small children can be taught to pray a psalm or two at bed time. If this is not feasible during the week, then prayer on weekend is an alternate possibility.  

A minimal and external Christianity will not fortify today’s Domestic Church but only a vibrant Christianity in which Christ is a living reality.  It takes a few minutes to pray short sections of the Hours, even on public transit.  It is a consoling thought to recall that “in him, we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).  

At Pre-Cana instructions, couples can learn the practice of making the Hours an integral part of their married life.

Can Yeast Corrupt?

The image of yeast is not always positive.  In First Corinthians 5:6-8, St. Paul mentions what all Jews understood.  At the Paschal festival time, they were to destroy all yeasted products because leaven was a metaphor for the corruptive influence of evil, for puffing up the self, leaving no room for God.   

Proofing the yeast in warm water will yield bubbles around the surface, and the yeast will become puffed up if it does not interact with the flour dough.  The puffed up yeast will die.  In this sense, neither the laity, nor any minister in the Church, can afford to be puffed up with pride.

Élisabeth Leseur (1866-1914) and Félix Leseur (1861-1950)

The story of Élisabeth Arrighi Leseur exemplifies the limitless power of marital love.  Élisabeth was born into a wealthy French Catholic family of Corsican descent.  As a child, she had contracted hepatitis, a disease from which she suffered all her life.  At twenty-one, she met Félix Leseur, a medical doctor, who also came from an affluent Catholic family.  Shortly before they were to be married, Élisabeth discovered that Félix was no longer a practicing Catholic.  Soon he became well known as the editor of an anti-clerical, atheistic newspaper.  

Despite the circumstances, the couple married, for Élisabeth was deeply in love with Félix.  They were unable to have children, a fact that made their marriage all the more difficult.  His attack on her religious devotion prompted an even more serious fidelity to the faith. She bore the brunt of his hatred of the Church with patient love.  At thirty-two years of age, Élisabeth experienced the grace to a deeper form of prayer.  She was convinced that her task now was to love her husband and pray for his conversion while remaining steadfast during his taunts against religion, and the Church in particular.

Homebound and Bed-Ridden

Élisabeth’s deteriorating health forced her to lead a sedentary life.  She received visitors and was able to conduct a vibrant apostolate from the confines of her home.  She became a devotee of St. Francis de Sales who wrote for the layperson in the seventeenth century. His Introduction to the Devout Life, perhaps the most famous spiritual guide of all time, is an offshoot of the Ignatian Exercises. During this period, Élisabeth kept a secret spiritual diary.  

When, at the age of forty-five, Élisabeth underwent surgery and radiation for the removal of a malignant tumor, she recovered and continued to receive visitors to her home. Three years later, she succumbed to cancer.  Her life has been recommended for sainthood. Why?  We turn the page to continue the narrative of her husband.

Dr. Félix Leseur

After Élisabeth’s death, Félix found a note addressed to him.  Not only did it predict his conversion, but he would also become a Dominican priest.  His hatred of the Church prompted him to expose her note as a fake, and he decided to do so at Lourdes, the famous Marian shrine in France.  There, something prevented him from carrying out his intended project—call it God’s intervening grace. As Élisabeth had predicted, he experienced a conversion and published her spiritual journal.  In 1919, Félix entered the Dominican Order, was ordained a priest four years later, and spent his remaining years speaking about his wife’s difficult yet remarkable life with him.  

In 1924, the future Archibishop Fulton J. Sheen made a retreat under Fr. Leseur’s direction.  It was at this time that he learned of Élisabeth’s life and her husband’s conversion.  In 1934, Fr. Leseur, O.P. worked to begin the cause for her canonization, and the Archbishop shared the story of this remarkable married couple in many presentations.  Élisabeth is currently a Servant of God, the first step in the cause for sainthood.

Élisabeth Leseur’s suffering was not wasted. On the contrary, her lifelong devotion to Félix was central to his conversion.  She became the yeast that permeated the lifeless soul of her husband.  It forever transformed his life so that he could affect change in the lives of others. Love begets love.

*The Ignatian “Prayer for Finding God in All Things” by Joan L. Roccasalvo, C.S.J. can help the busy person find God throughout the day.  Copies are available from the Institute of Jesuit Sources, Boston, MA.

Posted: October 5, 2016, 6:00 am
By Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, C.S.J.

Everyone has a theory about leadership, but all of us want strong, effective, and moral leaders. They’re in great demand but hard to find. Families and schools, sports teams, businesses, and faith traditions rise or fall on leadership. Governments, armies, and nations rise or fall on leadership. According to James MacGregor Burns, historian and political scientist, leadership is “the process by which groups, organizations, and societies attempt to achieve common goals.”

Political leadership is a matter of personality, and it concerns the relation of authority and power with the people. Yet, within this definition lies a mysterious and mercurial quality known as temperament—the most difficult characteristic to gauge in a leader, the most challenging to pin down.  Different leadership styles and different temperaments produce varying degrees of success or failure, a topic requiring lengthy discussions.

In this essay, we will consider three aspects of leadership: personal and professional qualities of leaders, vision, and decision-making.

Personal and Professional Qualities of Leaders

To paraphrase the Hallmark motto: The nation should care enough to elect the very best men and women with proven effective leadership, strength of character, and moral probity.

Character

Leaders should reflect on a key question: Who must I be, and what must I do to bring about and advance the vision I have for the common good?  Having learned the art of self-discipline, strong leaders are master listeners, master communicators, and masters of their emotions.  Honesty lives at the core of their moral compass; it undergirds and supports the public trust. Strong, effective, and moral leaders speak the truth to themselves and to others without shaving it.  

On the eve of Britain’s entrance into World War II, Winston Churchill delivered the stark and sobering truth to a nation in distress:  “I have nothing to offer you but blood, toil, tears, and sweat.”  

George Washington was acclaimed for his integrity, wisdom, and astounding courage on the battlefield, and Nelson Mandela, as a “colossus of unimpeachable character.”

Rose Kennedy was not a public figure but the matriarch of a family of political leaders.  She inspired thousands of men and women through her courage in the face of so many family tragedies.

The Burmese-Myanmar politician, statesperson, and author Aung San Suu Kyi has inspired women throughout the world for her courage to withstand fifteen years of house arrest by the authorities who considered her an enemy of the state.  She writes in Freedom from Fear: “It is not power that corrupts but fear.  Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it, and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.”  

Communication Skills

Effective leaders have the ability to communicate clearly and persuasively. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was a charismatic patrician. With his clear sense of noblesse oblige, he led the country through the Great Depression.  From his struggle with polio, he learned to empathize with others.  Roosevelt’s fireside chats gave him a direct, personal, and immediate contact with the country.  He simplified his grand-scale programs capped by the motto, “The New Deal” which gave jobs to the millions of unemployed roaming the streets in despair.

As a sickly child and young adult, President John F. Kennedy spent many solitary hours with books.  The breadth of his reading history and politics, literature, science, travel, and biography served as one source of his eloquence, whether in prepared speeches or presented spontaneously.  His press conferences became the stuff of conversation pieces in Washington. The press corps was riveted as much on Kennedy’s oratory as on his responses to questions. Here was a master communicator thoroughly enjoying his own press conferences.

Winston Churchill’s strongest quality as a leader was his ability to inspire others, despite the ominous circumstances Britain was facing during his tenure as Prime Minister.  The source of this ability lay in his own character—and of course his ability to find the right words to fit the country’s mood.  On the eve of World War II in 1940, Churchill declared before the House of Commons: “We shall go on to the end.  We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be.  We shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”  Labor MP Josiah Wedgwood promptly responded:  “That was worth 1,000 guns, and the speeches of 1,000 years.”  

In April 1963, when President Kennedy made Churchill an Honorary Citizen of the United States—Churchill’s mother was an American—the President offered this word of praise: “He mobilized the English language and sent it into battle.”  

Sense of Humor

Strong leaders have a developed sense of humor that may enhance their Office.  “I am the man who accompanied Jacqueline Kennedy to Paris, and I have enjoyed it,” declared the President in the spring of 1961 on their visit to France.  

Acerbic wit was never far from President Lincoln’s lips or from Winston Churchill’s.  In a letter to his good friend, Joshua F. Speed, Lincoln wrote, “When the Know-Nothings get control, it [the Declaration of Independence] will read: 'All men are created equal except negroes, foreigners and Catholics.' When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty—to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy.”  Regarding his pro-slavery opponents Lincoln declared, “Whenever I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally.”

One evening as a tired and wobbly Churchill was leaving the House of Commons, the Labor MP Bessie Braddock accused him of being disgustingly drunk.” He replied: “Bessie, my dear, . . . you are disgustingly ugly.  But tomorrow I shall be sober, and you will still be disgustingly ugly.”

Vision

Leaders have vision, a quality that conceives of an idea or sees a picture into the future before others can visualize it.  St. Ignatius of Loyola chose and trained leaders who would be affable, attractive, and persuasive messengers of his vision and not those who were rich or powerful.  

In Back to Methuselah, George Bernard Shaw wrote: “You dream dreams and say “Why?”  But I dream dreams that never were and say “Why not?”  His words were paraphrased by Robert F. Kennedy in his 1968 campaign for the presidential nomination.    Transformative leaders can rouse a nation to action when their goals are persuasive. They articulate a shared raison d’être in words such as the Rev. Martin L. King, Jr. orated in his “I have a dream” speech.”  He asked men and women to dream today and tomorrow of a better America.

In his inaugural address, John F. Kennedy put his vision this way: “And so my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.” He simplified this vision in the motto: “The New Frontier.”  This phrase encompassed pursuits in science and the arts, foreign affairs, race and inequality.  He invited the country to become pioneers on this noble quest.  Soon the Peace Corps appealed to the generosity and self-sacrifice of American youth to serve all over the world.    

It is no small thing for leaders to touch our hearts and minds by appealing to “the better angels of our nature,” a phrase of Charles Dickens which Lincoln quoted in his First Inaugural Address.

Decision-Making

Leaders make decisions throughout the course of a day or over a longer period of time.  Some decisions are so consequential they can change the public image of an organization.  Such was the case with a decision taken at Vatican II regarding the fate of Gregorian chant.  At the close of the Council, it was hastily whisked away from parish Masses in North America, though it was kept alive in a few monasteries. Popular songs, accompanied by thumping guitars and percussive bongo drums, hastily replaced it.  Latin gave way to the vernacular.

The pros and cons cannot be debated here, but music scholars were shocked at the sudden change. Gustav Reese, a noted expert on Gregorian chant, could barely contain himself at the hierarchy’s decision.  In a passionate cry, he exclaimed:  ‘What have you done to the chant!’

To avoid open criticism of the Church, other scholars described the drastic changes in neutral and measured language as the most dramatic and consequential of all the changes made at Vatican II. Internal struggle was marked by “defiance versus intractability.”  This struggle “has sapped the church of its vitality not to mention the effect it continues to have on matters that are “aesthetic, political, sociological, or even purely technical.”    

In times of crisis how do leaders make decisions?  Some leaders make decisions without consultation, while others call for collegiality. Collegial leaders point the way forward to advance the purpose of the organization.  Still, the personality of the leader plays an important role in this model. Whereas strong leaders get the best and brightest to execute their vision by delegating responsibility, weak leaders fear initiative and creativity from their workers.  They lack trust in the abilities of others.

To sum up this complex topic, St. Paul exhorts leaders of the community “to lead their lives worthy their calling” (Eph. 4:1).

Posted: September 28, 2016, 6:00 am
By Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, C.S.J.

In this political season—some call it the theater of the absurd—discussions about women presidents evoke strong views.

In the1960s, there was one woman whose contributions to society were so far reaching that, if the times had been more propitious to women, she could have been elected President of the United States.  But it was not to be.

Eunice Kennedy (1921-2009)

Eunice was the fifth child and the third daughter born to Rose and Joseph P. Kennedy. As the granddaughter of John F., “Honey Fitz,” Fitzgerald, the famous mayor of Boston, she inherited her mother’s natural political instincts; from her father, the energy, initiative and drive of a human dynamo.    

Rosemary was the third child and first daughter born into the Kennedy family.  Unlike the bright brood of eight other brothers and sisters, she was found to be retarded. Eventually, this fact changed the lives of millions of retarded children and adults because Eunice looked after her older sister for the rest of her life.   

“I had enormous respect for Rosie,” Eunice said of her sister. “If I had never met Rosemary, never known anything about handicapped children, how would I have ever found out?  Nobody accepted them any place.” Through Rosemary’s limitations, Eunice discovered her ministry—really her genius—to spend herself and achieve marvelous things for retarded children throughout the world.  

Academic and Professional Preparation

Educated at the Convent of the Sacred Heart, Roehampton, London and at the Manhattanville College of the Sacred Heart, Eunice graduated from Stanford University in 1943 with a Bachelor’s degree in sociology.  She worked for the Special War Problems Division of the U.S. State Department and eventually moved to the U.S. Justice Department as executive secretary for a project dealing with juvenile delinquency.  

In 1951, she served as a social worker at the Federal Industrial Institution for Women before moving to Chicago to work with the House of the Good Shepherd women’s shelter and the Chicago Juvenile Court.  

In 1953, she married Sargent Shriver, an attorney who later worked in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations.  He was the driving force behind the creation of the Peace Corps; the founder of the Job Corps, and the architect of Johnson’s “war on poverty.”  During his service as the U.S. ambassador to France from 1968 to 1970, Eunice studied intellectual disabilities there.  
    
Advocate for the Mentally Retarded

Among advocates of every kind, Eunice excelled as this country’s advocate for the mentally retarded.   In 1962, an exhausted and distressed mother of a retarded child phoned Eunice at her home.  No summer camp would accept her child, she said. Eunice responded with largesse by opening her own home as a summer camp—free of charge—at Timberlawn, the family estate in Maryland,. She would get in the pool and teach the youngsters to swim, loving them as her own children.

Eunice and Her Brothers

Eunice’s advocacy for the mentally retarded was overshadowed by the political pursuits of her three brothers, but she far surpassed them as the natural politician.  More than once it has been said that Eunice would have made a fine President of the Unites States.

Eunice made it a habit of calling the offices of her more famous brothers urging them to another project for the retarded. Teasingly, they dubbed her repeated requests nagging. Yet, they dared not ignore them.

President Kennedy set up research centers on mental retardation.  Robert Kennedy inspected squalid state mental institutions, and Sen. Edward Kennedy helped write the Americans with Disabilities Act.  “It was extraordinary of her to conceive that she too, could play a role comparable to that of her brothers,” Edward Shorter says, author of The Kennedy Family and the Story of Mental Retardation.  “Her leadership role would be in the area of mental retardation rather than on the big political stage.”

In 1968, Eunice founded the Special Olympics.  Today, they include more than 2.25 million people in 160 countries. “She had the genius to see that she, in fact, was capable of major achievements helping these kids, and that is what she did.  She dedicated her life to it,” writes Shorter.  

Awards

Among the many awards Eunice Kennedy Shriver received, the most notable are:
1984  Presidential Medal of Honor by Ronald Reagan highest civilian award in U.S.
1990  Eagle award from the U.S. Sports Academy
1992  Award for Greatest Public Service Benefiting the Disadvantaged
1995  Second American to appear on a U.S. coin while still living
2006  Papal Knighthood and made Dame of the Order of St. Gregory
2009 Smithsonian Institute’s National Portrait Gallery unveiled an historic portrait of her, the first portrait of the NPG has ever commissioned of an individual who had not served as a US President or First Lady.
2010 The State University of New York at Brockport, home of the 1979 Special Olympics, renamed its football stadium after Eunice Shriver.  (Awarded posthumously)

Later Years    

At 85, Eunice was not about to retire or relax.  She continued her tireless work on the issues concerning those with special needs “because in so many countries, the retarded are not accepted in the schools, not accepted in play programs, just not accepted. We have so much to do.”     Eunice Kennedy Shriver and her husband were devout Roman Catholics and lifelong Democrats. Both staunchly pro-life, Eunice was a member of Feminists for Life. She died in 2009, her husband, in 2011.  

The epilogue of the Book of Proverbs is a fitting tribute to Eunice Kennedy Shriver, a woman of noble character.  She lived for others.

Proverbs 31:10-31 Epilogue: The Wife of Noble Character    
10 [a]A wife of noble character who can find?
    She is worth far more than rubies.
11 Her husband has full confidence in her
    and lacks nothing of value.
12 She brings him good, not harm,
    all the days of her life.
13 She selects wool and flax
    and works with eager hands.
14 She is like the merchant ships,
    bringing her food from afar.
15 She gets up while it is still night;
    she provides food for her family
    and portions for her female servants.
16 She considers a field and buys it;
    out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
17 She sets about her work vigorously;
    her arms are strong for her tasks.
18 She sees that her trading is profitable,
    and her lamp does not go out at night.
19 In her hand she holds the distaff
    and grasps the spindle with her fingers.
20 She opens her arms to the poor
    and extends her hands to the needy.
21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household;
    for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
22 She makes coverings for her bed;
    she is clothed in fine linen and purple.
23 Her husband is respected at the city gate,
    where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them,
    and supplies the merchants with sashes.
25 She is clothed with strength and dignity;
    she can laugh at the days to come.
26 She speaks with wisdom,
    and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
27 She watches over the affairs of her household
    and does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children arise and call her blessed;
    her husband also, and he praises her:
29 “Many women do noble things,
    but you surpass them all.”
30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
    but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
31 Honor her for all that her hands have done,
    and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.

 

Posted: September 21, 2016, 6:00 am
By Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, C.S.J.

Search the Internet, and you’ll find literature in abundance regarding the hackneyed phrase, dark night of the soul. Last week, the phrase surfaced again with the canonization of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, founder of the Missionaries of Charity.

The Dark Night of the Soul and The Dark Night: Some Distinctions

In the lexicon of popular phrases, the dark night of the soul should be distinguished from the dark night as developed by St. John of the Cross in his treatise, The Dark Night.  

Worries and annoyances that weigh us down each day are part of the human condition. No more, no less. Rarely are they considered the dark night of the soul. To accept and face hardship as part of the human condition is a sign of maturity.

It may surprise even spiritual directors to read that John does not use the phrase, the dark night of the soul, nor does it appear in his poem or treatise.

The Dark Night has a precise and rich context. Its focus lies on God’s innovating activity upon the soul destined for transformation.  The soul remains in spiritual darkness, passive yet docile and responsive to the divine touch.  

By contrast, the dark night of the soul focuses on the individual self and one’s particular trial—any trial—that causes sadness, agitation, turmoil, or distress in one’s life. It has a one-dimensional perspective—the self.

Moses and the Divine Darkness     

In the Book of Exodus 20, Moses approaches the dark cloud where God dwells. This is a metaphor for his journey into the dark of night where it is impossible to see. Darkness is a symbol for the encounter with God who is incomprehensible. Here Moses encounters God in the darkness only to be enlightened by that very same darkness.

Put another way: Moses’ eternal progress is the movement from human light to divine darkness.  The vision of Moses begins in the light.  But as he becomes more perfect, he is led by God into the darkness where he is enlightened.  

Thus the life of prayer and contemplation is represented paradoxically as a journey from light to darkness.  It is only through this maze of darkness that the soul can reach God who is beyond all intellectual comprehension.   To remain in one’s own light is to die.  To walk through the darkness where God dwells is to live in the light.

St. Gregory of Nyssa (d 394), one of the Eastern Church Fathers, used Moses to exemplify and develop a symbolism of darkness. His 1Life of Moses is considered the crowning work of his mysticism.  Gregory was followed by Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagate (d 5th-6th c) who became the major resource for the study of the divine darkness.
    
The Dark Night Proper
 
The Dark Night, the title of a poem and treatise on prayer, was written between 1578-85 by St. John of the Cross, the great Spanish Carmelite saint, mystic and poet (d 1591).  It complements his treatise, The Ascent of Mt. Carmel, in which the soul learns to love God by pulling up and rooting out his or her vices.  Whereas vices puff up the ego, the love of God scours the ego clean.

The Dark Night is a metaphor describing the mystical union between the soul and God in prayer.  In this dark night, the soul is detached from all that is not God, undergoes privation of light but remains on the road to darkness because it will lead to the light.  Thus John builds his systematic exposition of the spiritual life upon this metaphor.  

The dark night comes not at the beginning of one’s journey to God.  It usually happens when souls have entered the unitive way, that is, when their wills and hearts are united in perfect harmony with God’s.

History has proved that God consistently sends trial to the souls who seek perfection, but lay persons and consecrated men and women experience different dark nights suited to their different vocations. The biographies of saints as well as the masters of the spiritual life are in agreement.  

In The Graces of Interior Prayer, Fr. A. Poulain, S.J. tells us who he likely ones are to receive these trials.  “And as persons who are leading a purely contemplative life are not obliged to undergo the arduous labors the active life entails, God sends them interior crosses by way of compensation.  And then they feel these crosses more keenly, being more thrown back upon themselves” (400).  

It appears that Mother Teresa is an exception to this rule.  Her life serving the poorest of the poor was not just active.  It was arduous.  The work day of the sisters is usually between ten and twelve hours of manual labor.  Yet the Rule of the Missionaries of Charity requires them to spend at least two hours in prayer and contemplation every day in addition to other exercises—the Office, Examen, and spiritual reading.  Formed and guided by the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, these sisters are true active contemplatives.

The Dark Night and Passive Purification

The Dark Night is essentially an experience of infused contemplation.  One cannot ask for it; one ought not ask for it.  In The Dark Night, the purification is accomplished by God and not by the will of the individual who could never accomplish this task.  John describes this metaphor: A mother weans her child away from the sweetness and consolation of being nourished at the breast, and of having her child experience its own independence away from the mother.  This purification is accomplished by the mother and not by the child.  Passive purification.

The dark night first affects and purifies the individual’s spiritual senses.  These are:  spiritual pride and avarice, spiritual lust and anger, spiritual gluttony, envy, and sloth.  Persons succumb to spiritual gluttony, for example, when they seek sweetness, delight, and satisfaction in prayer, striving more to savor the sweet experiences rather than the desire to please God. Spiritual sloth delights in spiritual gratification, but when the soul is told to do something unpleasant, it remains lax.  

The first and chief benefit of this dark night of contemplation is the knowledge of self and of one’s misery and lowliness but also of God’s grandeur and majesty. The second is the purification of the spiritual faculties:  the intellect, the will, and the memory. John compares this experience to a fire consuming a log.  In both books, the soul does little more than dispose itself for the divine action.  

Here are the first two stanzas of the poem anticipating the explanation of Books One and Two:

One dark night,
Fired with love’s urgent longings
--ah, the sheer grace!—
I  went out unseen,
My house being now all stilled.

In darkness, and secure,
By the secret ladder, disguised,
--ah, the sheer grace!—
In darkness and concealment,
My house being now all stilled.

Mother Teresa’s Dark Night

We can never know what activity takes place inside another person.  Yet, we know that dryness, aridity, and restlessness in prayer afflicted Mother Teresa as well as doubt in the existence of God.  She remained a woman of joy, faithful to her religious vocation as a missionary. Read some of her reflections, marked by darkness:

“In my soul, I feel just that terrible pain of loss of God not wanting me—of God not being God—of God not existing.”  

“I find no words to express the depths of the darkness.  If you only knew what  darkness I am plunged into.”

 “In the darkness . . . . Lord, my God, who am I that you should forsake me?  The child of your love—and now become as the most hated one.  The one—you have thrown away as unwanted—unloved.  I call, I cling, I want, and there is no one to answer . . . Where I try to raise my thoughts to heaven, there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives and hurt my very soul.  Love—the word—it brings nothing.  I am told God lives in me, and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul.”  The self-offering of St. Ignatius sums up Book Two and the total offering of Mother Teresa, now St. Teresa of Calcutta:  

“Take, Lord,
into your possession
my complete freedom of action:
my memory, my understanding, my entire will;
all that I have, all that I own.  
It is your gift to me.  
I now return it to you to be used simply as you wish.  
Give me your love and your grace.  
It is all I need.” 

Posted: September 14, 2016, 6:00 am
By Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, C.S.J.

We have just celebrated the last civic holiday of the summer. On Labor Day, we reflect on our role as co-workers in God’s vineyard and, with our talents, continue the activity of God our Creator.   Work deepens the truth that we are all made in God’s image and likeness.  Mr. Shakespeare has a word to send us off:  “Proud of employment, willingly I go.”  

The Church’s special care and concern of the worker began in earnest with Leo XIII’s encyclical, Rerum Novarum (1891) when it treated the theme of work. Included in the encyclical was the defense of workers and, in particular, their exploitation.  Since then, every pontiff has integrated Catholic social thought concerning workers as part of the Church’s teaching.  Politicians of all religious stripes have quoted from their writings as part of their own social platforms. According to Ronald Reagan, “the best social program is a job.”

Bearing Fruit

Work is one way men and women discover their dignity because the building up of the culture is the fruit of labor.

The Psalmist uses the image of a garden to describe the just ones who labor in it.  They are fruitful in all they do because they remain rooted in the Lord.  These men and women “will flourish like a palm-tree and grow like a Lebanon cedar. Planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God, still bearing fruit when they are old, still full of sap, still green, to proclaim that the Lord is just (Ps 92:12-15). . . . The just are like trees planted near streams; they bear fruit in season and their leaves never wither.  All they do prospers” (Ps 1:3-4).
 
How many cultures have handed down to us the fruits of their labor and the fruits of their creativity!  The Jews through their worship, for example, have given us the weekend as well as the 150 psalms permeated with beauty. Among other benefits, the Greeks gave us Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle who laid the foundations for medieval and modern philosophy. The Romans were master builders, especially of roads, waterworks, and bridges. Had it not been for the medieval European monks, who would have preserved ancient and Christian culture for future generations?  

Unemployment

In virtually every instance, John Paul II considered unemployment an evil and a social calamity.  He placed this responsibility at the feet of the vast enterprise of employers.

For our current pontiff, Pope Francis, “work is not a gift kindly conceded to a recommended few.  It is a right of all . . . and in particular, the young must be able to cultivate the promise of their efforts and their enthusiasm, so that the investment of their energies and their resources will not be useless” (Dec. 2015).

Men and women are our primary natural resource, and the Church has grave concerns about the unemployed and those who are under employed, the working poor.  From these two groups can come other evils; the first among them is hunger.  Social unrest, like disease, crime, and violence are bound to follow.

Indignities of Unemployment

As an evil of the social fabric and against individuals, unemployment robs persons in good health, ready and willing to work, from supporting themselves and their families. What happens to the family when parents lose their jobs through no fault of their own?  The individual members in the family suffer in psychological as well as financial ways. Loss of the weekly paycheck weighs on the family unlike any other burden.

Losing One’s Job

Unemployment comes in different ugly shapes and sizes. It affects Blue Collar workers, Wall Street traders, educators, and other professionals. Even CEOs can be ousted from their high places.

How many are those who have gone from standing tall in satisfying and lucrative jobs to the humiliation of sleeping in nooks and crannies of store fronts, huddled up and penniless? How many men and women have experienced the indignity, the embarrassment, and the emotional heartburn of losing one’s job?  The worker is summoned to the supervisor’s office only to be told his or her services are no longer needed.  A cold speech is delivered in staccato fashion:  ‘I’m sorry, we have to let you go, but it has to be this way. Thank you for your service.’  Often, severance pay does not accompany the loss of employment.  How many have been dismissed without even being told?  The names of college adjunct teachers are routinely deleted from the roster without any explanation, personal or otherwise.      

And what of those new college graduates? John Paul II has written of the particularly painful problem “when the young, after preparing themselves with an appropriate cultural, technical, and professional formation, can’t find a job and see their sincere will to work frustrated, as well as their willingness to take up their responsibility for the economy and social development of the community” (Laborem Exercens:18). The indignities of unemployment!

Statistics on Employment     

The August unemployment figures have been estimated at a low 4.8%, though this impressive figure feels like a lie to so many” (Sarah Kendzior: Quartz, April 20, 2016).

62.6% is the figure given for those who are not participating in the work place. This means that approximately 37% is the unemployment rate.  According to the Wall Street Journal, 4.8% hides the devastating lie for millions of Americans. The jobless rate is low because more and more people are no longer participating in the work place.  This low percent fails to include discouraged workers and those in part-time jobs who seek full-time employment.
Another consideration has to do with sporadic work.  A person who works one hour a week earning $20.00 for that hour is considered employed.

How can breadwinners support a family on the minimum wage? They can’t, these working poor.

While Labor Day focuses on the value of work, loss of employment and financial crisis can provoke despair. Surely there is a limit to how many rejections unemployed persons can sustain before they throw up their hands and succumb to hopelessness, including temptations to end it all through suicide. During times of unemployment the individual can make matters worse by rubbing it in: ‘I’m a loser; I’m a failure.  Everyone knows it’  ‘Why has God permitted put me in this situation when I’ve done my best?  

The Open Wound

What can the unemployed do during the trial of unemployment?  To begin with, it is important to live in the present moment and structure one’s time. While coping with this extreme hardship, energies can be given over to constructive activities that otherwise might not have been possible.  Unemployed men and women have discovered their true vocation quite by accident during the so-called lost time of unemployment.

During this time, it is also important to sharpen one’s professional capabilities, for example, public speaking, retooling one’s writing skills, reading well and memorizing fine poetry.  Numerous agencies need volunteers, especially in tutoring school children.  Finally, there is no better advocate to plead one’s cause than St. Joseph the Worker.

Posted: September 7, 2016, 6:00 am
By Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, C.S.J.

Matteo Ricci College (MRC) is one of eight schools and colleges that form part of Seattle University, a Catholic institution conducted by the Society of Jesus. 

With the Humanities as its core, MRC offers three degrees: a Bachelor of Arts in Humanities (BAH), a Bachelor of Arts in Humanities for Leadership (BAHL), and a Bachelor of Arts in Humanities for Teaching (BAHT). 

Mission of MRC

MRC educates teachers and leaders for a just and humane world. The study of Western culture is the surest place to begin. Pseudo-educators claim it’s a waste of time.   Yet, the facts don’t lie.  We are the beneficiaries of Greco-Roman culture preserved, reinterpreted, and handed down through the Catholic Church’s medieval monastic tradition and continued through the Italian Renaissance. To be human is to be in a story, and to forget one's story leaves a person without a present identity, without a past and without a future.  At MRC, cultural history is taught so that students can draw moral lessons from it.  Those who don’t learn from these lessons are condemned to repeat and relive them.    

With the small class size at MRC, professors can take a personal interest in each student.  In this environment conducive to learning, a close collaboration between student and professor is pursued.   This encourages greater participation in class. Shouldn’t MRC be the envy of most serious students?  You would think so. 

What’s in a Name? 

MRC is named after the 16th - century Jesuit priest Matteo Ricci (1552-1610) who spent his adult life as an educator and missionary in China.  At that time, the doors of the Chinese empire were closed to foreigners from the West.   It was Ricci who brought Western civilization to China, and Chinese literati reciprocated by sharing with him their ancient and venerable culture.  For him, inculturation was a reality centuries before the term was invented. He founded the modern Chinese Catholic Church.  

Ricci astonished the Chinese because he loved them. An authority on so many subjects and disciplines—mathematics, astronomy, apologetics, literature, popular catechesis, poetry, art and music—he brought this treasury of gifts to his mission. His intellectual gifts were prodigious: a photographic memory, linguistic ability to speak flawless Chinese, ingenuity to write maps, assemble clocks, read the stars.  As if this weren’t enough, Ricci had a keen ear for music and reportedly sang with great sweetness.   This “wise man from the west” is recognized as “the most cultivated man of his time and one of the most remarkable and brilliant men of history.”  

Known throughout the realm as Li-Ma-T’ou, this missionary scholar remains the most respected and beloved foreign figure in Chinese culture. Some in the Chinese government view him as the “Second Founder of Modern China.”  

This is the man after whom MRC is named.  He is its model of a complete liberal arts education cast in the Jesuit mold.

Student Protest against the Curriculum of MRC

In May, some two hundred enrolled students at (MRC) staged a week-long sit-in objecting to the core curriculum: The focus on Western culture and values was declared irrelevant. Studies in Western Civilization had failed to serve the academic interests of these students. 

The students demanded of the administration that the classic core curriculum in the Humanities be discarded in favor of a new program of studies to reflect special interest groups of race, class, gender, and disability.  Additionally, they demanded that only qualified faculty be hired to teach courses that reflected their interest in identity group studies of race, class, gender, and disability. The Dean of the MRC was to be fired.

Student demands focused on “dissatisfaction, traumatization, and boredom,” that is, “the Humanities program as it exists today” which “ignores and erases the humanity of its students and of peoples around the globe.”  . . . “We are diverse, with many different life experiences, also shaped by colonization, U.S., and Western imperialist, neo-politics, and oppression under racist, sexist, classist, heteronormative and homophobic, transphobic, queerphobic, ableist, nationalistic, xenophobic systems which perpetuate conquest, genocide of indigenous peoples, and pervasive systemic inequities.”

Students spoke of oppression perpetrated by the Administration:  “The first manifest demand is a complete change in the curriculum from a Whiteness-dominated curriculum to a non-Eurocentric interdisciplinary curriculum.  If the (MRC) is unable to tackle these requirements, we demand that it be converted into a department so as to be accountable to another college.”   

What Students at MRC Seek

If MRC students are seeking social justice and equality for all, if they are to make sense of this complex world, they ought to study the Humanities. If they are curious about how other cultures have learned to develop feelings of compassion, tolerance, respect, empathy, they ought to study the Humanities. If they are curious about how creative other people can be, if students are determined to live in a democracy of free citizens, the Humanities should be studied. Without the Humanities, democracy would not exist.  

The Crisis of Higher Education

In this country, we are experiencing an intellectual crisis that has already affected our work force, our politics, and our culture.  Western civilization, the human culmination of centuries of learning is under attack by an identity-driven student population exemplified by the protesters at MRC.  Whereas many academic leaders fail to uphold the purpose of teaching Western civilization, the faculty at MRC values it.  Whereas academic leaders don’t believe that the Humanities have any fundamental influence on their students, the faculty at MRC is invested in it.  Shared values—this is what brings the world together.  

MRC is not alone in promoting a Humanities core curriculum. Many non-sectarian and private colleges proudly offer a core curriculum around which other subjects are framed. At least twenty-five colleges and universities in the United States offer the Great Books tradition to their undergraduates. These books are part of the great conversation about the universal ideas of cultures and civilizations, always related to ethical and religious values. 

Many educators believe that nearly half of college graduates show no measurable improvement in knowledge or critical thinking. They speak and write incorrectly; they do not read.  Their constant companions? Electronic devices with accompanying head sets. Weaker academic requirements, greater specialization in the departments, a rigid orthodoxy and doctrinaire views on liberalism are now part of the university’s politics and cultural life.  

Clash of Goals

If the demands of these special interest groups—race, class, gender, and disability, were met, MRC would cease to exist. A program of identity studies clashes with the raison d’être of a college named after Matteo Ricci, a name synonymous with the richest of classic studies.   

The student protesters are demanding to be extricated from the program that distinguishes itself in the pantheon of Catholic higher education.  

Who would be so foolish as to look down on, much less protest, such a rich curriculum that prompts the most influential employers to hire MRC’s crême de la crème

Let the disgruntled students go elsewhere with their partisan interests and narrow viewpoint.  They lose.

Ricci Speaks to College Students

Matteo Ricci has left us several proverbs that can inspire college students.  But not just college students:  

 “Man is a stranger in this world.”

 “The virtuous person speaks little.”

“Time past must be thought of as gone forever.  Don’t waste time.”

“True longevity is reckoned not by number of years but according to progress in virtue.  If the Lord of Heaven grants me one day more of life, He does so that I may correct yesterday’s faults; failures to do this would be a sign of great ingratitude.”

The canonization of Father Matteo Ricci, S.J. ranks high on the ‘to-do list’ of Pope Francis whose high regard and love for him are well known.  This is the Servant of God, Matteo Ricci, S.J.

Posted: August 24, 2016, 6:00 am
By Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, C.S.J.

In a week or two, freshmen from around the country will begin their college education. The first year, the most important of the four, is meant to build a strong academic foundation for the remaining three years and even beyond.  

Freshmen year often awakens in the student a love for learning. In college, self-identity is chiseled out, attitudes and values mature, friendships and new loves, discovered. The halls of university academe can be an exciting place to hope and dream about one’s future.

Attending college is both a privilege and responsibility.  Here the phrase, noblesse oblige applies (literally, nobility obliges): Those who have received much are expected to share their gifts with others to make society a better place in which to live. 

Seeking a Liberal Arts Education

Colleges typically organize their curriculum around their mission statement. An institution of higher learning worthy of its name offers a core curriculum, also known as the humanities or liberal arts.  Some have general requirements.

The humanities offer a splendid array of disciplines, and one of them will be chosen as the focus of students’ special attention in junior and senior year.  Courses include: foreign language(s), linguistics and literature, philosophy, theology/religious studies, social sciences, the refining arts—music and art. 

The liberal arts develop the student as an intellectually rounded person exposing students to disciplines that broaden their horizons and add meaning to life.  It has been said that a specialist without a liberal arts background is only half a person.

Importance of the Humanities

Did you know that two-thirds of humanities majors find satisfying positions in the private sector?  If the college one attends does not require the humanities, here are eight benefits for choosing them on one’s own:

They help us understand others through their languages, histories, and cultures. They foster social justice and equality. They reveal how people have tried to make moral, spiritual, and intellectual sense of the world. The humanities teach empathy. They teach us to deal critically and logically with subjective, complex, and imperfect information. They teach us to weigh evidence skeptically and consider more than one side of every question. Humanities students build skills in writing and critical reading. They encourage us to think creatively.   They develop informed and critical citizens.  Without the humanities, democracy could not flourish. (Curt Rice, “Here are 9 reasons why humanities matter. What’s your number 10?”) Listening to the Parents

 Before the 1990s, most parents were satisfied with the college education of their sons and daughters who had graduated with more than a passing knowledge about great ideas and universal questions. 

In recent years however, an increasing number of parents have expressed dissatisfaction: “I spent $100,000.00 for my daughter’s (my son’s) education at a four-year private college.  She graduated with a degree in Peace Studies.  She has no job.” 

Content of subject matter and intolerance of diverse opinions are two major concerns.

Content of Subject Matter

Too many colleges have abandoned required courses—no foreign language, no language arts. 

What great literature and poetry are students studying?  A prevailing attitude sees the Great Books Tradition as little more than the political opinions of dominant groups. 

What of philosophy and religious studies? Why aren’t students exposed to the ancient philosophers who wrestled with perennial questions:  Who am I? What am I doing, and why am I doing it? What is the purpose of my life? Few colleges offer a course in world religions.

As for history and American government, they’re bunk. War after war—it’s all an inventory of political grievances; our American government is composed of corrupt politicians. 

And what of art and music history?  Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Bernini?  Are they the preserve of dead white males, a phrase used by collegiates?  Is the answer offering the “gutter phenomenon” of Rock, Rap, or Hip-Hop which use orgiastic and foul language and offering shock art like the photograph, “Piss Christ,” by Andres Serrano?  A few years ago, why did Syracuse University offer a course called “Hip-Hop Eshu: Queen B*tch 101?” To exalt Lil’ Kim? 

Parents are willing to spend generously on education that expands the mind with a classic education but not for studies whose content is without purpose.  Why should they squander hard-earned dollars on a core curriculum that is a sham or on courses that entertain pubescent students with a degraded popular culture? Such institutions are caricatures of what used to be referred to as higher education.

Liberal Intolerance

Until the 1990s, the phrase: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it" was operative on college campuses.  Today, those who speak what is opposed to the majority must refrain from giving their opinions that are open to critical and healthy discussion.

In former days, institutions required students to challenge each other to think clearly and logically about a topic.  In class, the Socratic methodology was employed to insure that students’ views could be articulated without reprisal.  In Jesuit education for example, students are required to argue both sides of an issue, including those topics that are abhorrent to defend or condemn.  

To give one example, if a person holds to what he or she considers a good action, does intention alone make for a moral act?  As students work their pros and cons, eventually someone will cite Hitler whose good intention was to exalt the German people beyond all others.  However, he ostracized German Jews whom he derided as polluting the German race.  This view led to the barbaric means he took to achieve his end—their annihilation.  The conclusion to the discussion? The immoral end does not justify a moral means or intention. The intention and the end must together be moral acts.

Since the 1990s, intellectual diversity has gradually muffled honest debate.

A Confession of Liberal Intolerance

Recently, the liberal columnist, Nicholas Kristoff, published two essays in the New York Times on the present status of liberal thinking in this country: Nicholas Kristoff’s “Confession of Liberal Intolerance” and “The Liberal Blind Spot.” Some of his observations apply to what unsuspecting freshmen might find on certain campuses with varying degrees of intensity. Increasing numbers of liberal professors and students pride themselves on their diversity and their tolerance of diversity—diversity of various minority groups but not of conservatives—Evangelical Christians, and practicing Catholics.  Kristoff calls this “liberal arrogance”—“the implication that these groups don’t have anything significant to add to the discussion.”

The unwritten motto may be: “We welcome people who don’t look like us, as long as they think like us.” Or, “I disapprove of what you say, so shut up.” Or I close my mind to what you may want to say because it’s not worthwhile saying, in my view. Thus we hear: “We’re tolerant. You are entitled to your truth, but keep it to yourself.  And don’t force it on me.”

What Is Truth?  

Alan Bloom, the author of The Closing of the American Mind, made the argument in the 1980s that American youth are increasingly raised to believe that every belief is merely the expression of an opinion or preference.  They are raised to be “cultural relativists” with the default attitude of “non-judgmentalism” (Patrick Deneen, “Who Closed the American Mind?”).

Parents object: “My son, my daughter entered college with a moral compass with a belief that there is such a thing as objective truth.  But in my son’s college, only the relativity of truth and the absolutism of relativity are taught across the board.  Thus, there is no longer any possibility of objective truth.”

The Crisis of Higher Education

We are experiencing an intellectual crisis that has already affected our work force, our politics, and our culture.  College costs are escalating, while too many colleges and universities without a core curriculum or without any substantive requirements are failing this generation. Western civilization, the human culmination of centuries of learning is pummeled by a pop culture.  Too many academic leaders fail to uphold the purpose of teaching Western civilization.  Academic leaders don’t believe that the humanities have any fundamental influence on their students.  There are no shared values. The result?  The advent of identity courses: Feminist studies, African-American, Latino, LGBT studies.  As long as everyone is tolerant of everyone’s classes, no one can get hurt. 

Yet not all institutions of higher learning fit this description. Many non-sectarian and private colleges offer a structured curriculum or a core curriculum around which other subjects are framed. At least twenty-five colleges and universities in the United States offer the Great Books tradition to their undergraduates. These books are part of the great conversation about the universal ideas of cultures and civilizations.

The authors of Academically Adrift, the most devastating book on higher education since Alan Bloom’s book, The Closing of the American Mind, found that nearly half of undergraduates show no measurable improvement in knowledge or “critical thinking” after two years of college. Weaker academic requirements, greater specialization in the departments, a rigid orthodoxy and doctrinaire views on liberalism are now part of the university’s politics and cultural life.

Freshmen entering college today should be aware of the crisis of liberal education which is in conflict and incompatible with the traditional aspirations of the liberal arts.

Advice to Freshmen

Choose your friends wisely. Confide in a very few. Find a small group of friends who are serious about studies and who know how to balance work with play.  Form or join a reading group. Establish healthy eating and sleeping habits. Don’t pull all-nighters. Don’t go out on the week nights.  Study for about 50 minutes.  Take a ten-minute break.  Then return to study. Repeat.  Make a habit of this process—study, break, study. If you put your energies into academics, you will be handsomely rewarded later on. Don’t get behind in your assignments.  Make certain that you are up-to-date on all of them.  In the case of writing papers, get started on your research as soon as the assignment is given.  Work a little on the research every day. Keep a dictionary and thesaurus at hand at all times. Make it a habit of looking up the meaning of words.  Words are power and the right word is a sign of right thinking. Be your own leader.  Do not follow the crowd if you sense they engage in actions contrary to your beliefs.  For example:  doing drugs or binge drinking. Be reflective.  Reflection means going below the surface of an experience, an idea, a purpose, or a spontaneous reaction to discover its meaning to you.   Find an older mentor, not necessarily a professor, but someone whom you have observed has wisdom and common sense.  Place your confidence in this person as your unofficial adviser. Remember:  Your college life is an open book.  Whatever you do or avoid doing becomes common knowledge—quickly.     Every College Has its Own Soul

Every college builds its own identity, its own reputation. Some colleges are known for the seriousness with which they pursue academics.  Some are known as “party” schools.  Still others are best known for their sports prowess.

According to John Henry Newman, the ideal university is comprised of a community of scholars and thinkers, engaging in intellectual pursuits as an end in itself.  Only secondarily, does it have a practical purpose, for example, finding a job.  Today, most people would scoff at this assertion.  For them, today’s goal of education is to find a job.   The facts however don’t lie.  Those with intellectual pursuits as an end are the most likely to secure the best positions. 

A university is a place where one looks out toward everyone and everything … without boundaries.  A university is a place where one discovers and studies truth. A person of faith holds sacred this belief.

According to Newman, knowledge alone cannot improve the student; only God is the source of all truth; only God can impart truth. Today, this notion alienates students at secular colleges and universities.  

Posted: August 17, 2016, 6:00 am
By Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, C.S.J.

“It’s back to school,” the many ads remind us.  The noble work of education will soon begin anew.  

The word, educate, from the Latin educere, means to lead out of. Educators worthy of the name lead their students out of the darkness of ignorance to the light of truth, knowledge and wisdom. 

The Catholic Philosophy of Education

To realize its Divine mission, the Church has developed a view of education that claims the right over all other agencies to make final decisions about the education of its youth. 

There are several principles of the Catholic philosophy of education that mark it with distinction.  With the obvious age-appropriate adaptations, they affect all ages and academic levels. 

Belief in a Personal God

First, that belief in a personal God is essential to all Catholic thinking in any and every phase of human activity. This includes formal education which proclaims Jesus as its primary Exemplar.  It follows that the Church rejects any philosophy of education or position that sacrifices the eternal and supernatural to the temporal and natural (V.P. Lannie, “Catholic Education IV,” The New Encyclopedia 5: 168).

Academic Excellence

Second, Catholic education imparts far more than amassing facts and information.  Scholarship and faith belong together, the whole person, seeking ultimate Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.  Students should be taught to wonder at the goodness and truth surrounding them. Catholic education builds character. It develops in its students a Catholic moral compass and a Catholic sensibility to understand how society and democracies function. The curriculum’s first order of business is academic formation and excellence. Students must learn correct grammar and use language skillfully, even artfully. This means reading well, writing with imagination, precision and power, and speaking the country’s predominant language correctly. It is typically true that whoever uses the right word thinks precisely and persuasively as in the famous Hopkins’ poetic line, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.” 

English is a difficult language to master, but it must be said that immigrants to this country often learn to speak better English than those who are born here. In the musical, “My Fair Lady,” the character of Henry Higgins sings, “Why Can’t the English Teach Their Children How to Speak.”  He lampoons Americans’ mutiliation of English with the line, “Well, in America, they haven’t used it in years.” A playful jab, but jab it is.

Catholic and Christian Humanism

Third, in Catholic humanism, God is found not just in the sacred but also in the secular where Christian values and virtue can be uncovered.  The religious and the profane are mutually inclusive, “charged with the grandeur of God.” Whatever is human is inherently Christian.  No enterprise, no matter how secular, is merely secular for we live in a universe of grace and promise. 

The humanities are associated with depth, richness, feelings, character and moral development. This is why the literary and refining arts are so important.  Their purpose is to impart wonder and enjoyment, sensitize the feelings of students and eventually influence their behavior.  The humanities are intended for all students and not just for the elite.

The Student and the Educator

Fourth, St. Thomas Aquinas puts it concisely: Education is a lifelong process of self-activity, self-direction, and self-realization. The child is the center of attention, the “principal agent,” in the educational process. 

The instructor is the “essential mover” who teaches by the witness of his or her example and consistently brings to their lessons a high degree of preparedness. The teacher’s role is critical to Catholic education (Ibid).  The students’ real life situations initiate the process of learning.   Educators lead their students out beyond their life setting—their Sitz-im-Leben.  Experience teaches students to discover for themselves by engaging the five senses. This includes, for example, making or doing beautiful art forms or listening to beautiful music. Affectivity must be channeled in socially-accepted ways. For the most part, “Rap” culture exalts anti-social affectivity.

In his apostolic exhortation, “Evangelii nuntiandi,” Pope Paul VI reflected: “Today students do not listen seriously to teachers but to witnesses, and if they do listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses.”  

Catholic educators teaching in public schools can adapt Catholic principles to the public school curriculum especially when these are also embraced by other faith-traditions.    

The Benedict Effect

At his papal election in 2003, why did Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger take the papal name Benedict?  It was the Benedictine monks, who, systematically and comprehensively, rebuilt Europe after the barbaric invasions of Rome in the 5th century. Some European leaders refuse to acknowledge Europe’s Christian roots and, specifically, the Church’s role in building on Greco-Roman culture, Christianizing it, and handing it on to future generations. At a time when Europe was cast in darkness, the Church led it out of the darkness; the Church was Europe’s light. Not opinion, but fact.

St. Benedict, the Benedictine Order, and the Monastic Centuries

In the middle of the sixth century, a small movement changed the landscape of the European world.  Benedict of Nursia (480-547) introduced a new way of life and thinking that has brought vitality to contemporary men and women. He laid the foundation of Benedictine monastic life with his monks first at Subiaco and Rome, and then at Monte Cassino.  

Benedict composed his Rule of disciplined balance that fostered order and peace.  If “pray and work” (ora et labora) was the Benedictine motto, the way to live it was through beauty, piety, and learning.  Every monastery was built on an expansive tract of land, and  eventually, it became a miniature civic center for the townspeople.  One could say that the monks sacralized the landscape.  

Monastic Schools

Of the many contributions the Benedictine monks made to European culture, education remained a prominent value. In the Middle Ages, education was conducted within the confines of the monastery by monks, and later, by nuns.  They offered religious and general education to youth who intended to enter the monastic or clerical life and to youth who were preparing for public life.  They lived at home.  Young children of six or seven years of age were taught the basics. The majority, especially potential monks and nuns, were taught to read Latin, writing, chant, arithmetic, and learning how to read time on the sundial. The main text was the Psalter.  From the eighth century onward, students were taught the seven liberal arts, the trivium, grammar, logic, and rhetoric, and the quadrivium, arithmetic, astronomy, geometry, and music.  The ideal monastery of the Benedictine Order was that of Saint Gall in present-day Switzerland where the town flourished around the monastery.

In our century, Catholic education continues to flourish across the world in developed and in developing countries.

Conclusion: Catholic Education in the United States

The Encyclopedia of Catholicism asserts that “throughout history, there is likely no more compelling instance of Catholic commitment to education than the school system created by the U.S. Catholic community.  The story of American Catholicism goes back to the very first Catholic settlers in the New World.” 

Despite the various declarations of freedom in early American history, anti-Catholicism prevailed through groups such as the Know-Nothing Society of the 1850s.  They existed to eradicate Popery, Jesuitism, and Catholicism.  

Between 1840 and 1900, at least sixty European religious orders of women and men were teaching in this country’s parochial schools. 

Conclusion

Finally, the philosophy of Catholic education integrates several aspects of the faith into the curriculum but always in age-appropriate ways: Biblical tradition, Early Christian Church plus heresies and the results,  Spirituality and prayer, Liturgy,  Doctrine, Ecumenism:  a study of the world religions and the Third World.

Today, apologetics is needed more than ever to defend the Church against old and new approaches to anti-Catholicism.  Our students should be taught the art and skill of civil debate—to learn the principles, internalize them, anticipate opposing views, and then defend the principles. 

(This précis of the philosophy of Catholic education has been presented in its ideal conception and not necessarily as it exists with the integrity described.)

Posted: August 10, 2016, 6:00 am
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