Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Where in the world was I? #2


First the key to the last post:

  1. This is Piazza del Campo in Siena just after the Palio won by the Giraffa (Giraffe) contrada who is celebrating just behind me. I was fortunate enough to stand right where the grey horse carrying the white and red vested jockey joined the surging crowd in celebration. It was quite the festival. We then marched in chant and in song to the Cathedral to give praise to God and to the Blessed Virgin Mary Assumed (the patroness of the event).
  2. This is an ancient ruin of a Roman emperor’s palace located in the Papal Gardens in Castel Gandolfo. The interest here is that several hundred Italian Jews hid here for several years under the protection of Pope Pius XII during the Nazi occupation of Rome. The Popes apartment in the Vatican City in Rome also functioned as a small hospital, hosting some 40 births during this time. Wouldn’t you like to say that you had been born in the Papal apartment?
  3. This is me atop Monte Subasio near Assisi. You can actually see Assisi in the picture. It is the white cluster of buildings in the distance. I took the opportunity to hike up the mountain and pray for a while as Jesus did. It was absolutely wonderful to pray the psalms amidst God’s creation.
Here is the link to the last post if you want to check the answers.

This post will only have one picture to guess at and really it is not all that difficult. Really I just wanted a chance to post this great find. I took this photo yesterday evening coming back from dinner in the city. It was quite the site. Have fun.


Italian Studies, Retreat, and Diaconate Ordinations


Dear family, friends and readers,

It seems that my early ambitions to blog with some frequency were somewhat over zealous. I do intend to keep blogging, but I do not anticipate posting more than once every 3 or 4 weeks. Thanks for your patience. I have received many positive and encouraging remarks and I appreciate all of them. 

It has been quite sometime since the last post, so here is an update on my life during the past month or so. After my return from a wonderful month in Siena studying Italian, I moved back into the college here in Rome and began a new set of Italian studies through the college in preparation for an Italian proficiency exam required for entrance into the Gregorian University where I will study. The classes were four hours every morning with a small group of 8 students. In the afternoon, the faculty began introducing us to the life here at the college with conferences on different areas of formation. Although it was a busy time, I had enough time to join the choir, which had rehearsals in the evenings after dinner.

After three weeks of studying Italian, learning the ins and outs of the formation program, singing in the choir, playing various sports with the guys, praying, and trying to get out into the city, I finally took the Italian exam, packed up and headed out to Greccio for a week long silent retreat. I was exhausted as you can imagine and in great need of some time to process all that had happened amidst the craziness of my new life in Rome.

The retreat was a wonderful and grace-filled week. The Lord was very good to me. Greccio is a little town on the side of a mountain on the outskirts of the Lazio region of Italy—Rome is the capital of Lazio. This little town is a very important Franciscan cite, for it is where St. Francis hosted the first ever crèche or nativity. Towards the end of his life during his stay in Greccio over Christmas, St. Francis invited the locals to adore a small statue of Jesus, which he displayed in a manger-esk rock. He invited them to even bring their animals and livestock, hoping to recreate something of a living Bethlehem and thus the birth of the tradition of mangers in the Church. I know that in my own family, the nativity is one of the truly Catholic traditions we carry out during Christmas time. I can remember placing the three wise men far away on the other side of the room and waiting to place Jesus in the manger until that faith filled day. I also remember being terrified of setting up the nativity scene since it was so fragile and beautiful. Thus we usually had two sets: one to play with and one to look at.

It was truly a blessing to pray in this storied place, particularly in the context of this story. As I prayed with the Lord in my own heart, I was always reminded of His love for me through His Son our Lord Jesus Christ who came so humbly into this world to die for our sins. The Christmas mystery was a great way to enter into that silence in which I tried to listen to the voice of God incarnate in my own heart through the gift of the Holy Spirit. As He came into the world, so He now comes into our hearts to be with us.

If I had to sum up my retreat, I would have to say that God introduced me to the kingly identity of the priesthood—the three identities of the priest are priest, prophet and king. While I was praying psalm 45 in the liturgy of the hours—a love song from the king to his queen traditionally interpreted as an expression of God’s love for His Church—I realized that I was the king speaking in the psalm or at least a prince aspiring to be that king. In the past, I had always been a bit uncomfortable with this psalm since, well, I am not a woman and the imagery is very strong. Yet, with the inspiration of Msgr. Lyons, our retreat leader, who had spoken about the nobility and royalty of Christ, I read the psalm anew. I read the psalm as an invitation from the Lord to enter into this identity of Christ and begin loving the Church, even desiring the Church as He does. 

Msgr. Lyons talked about the priest’s love for the Church through a story of a seminarian who when asked why he was choosing celibacy, responded: “for the same reasons your mother and father chose to get married…I am in love with the Church.” Msgr. Lyons elaborated and even spoke about the exclusivity of the priests love for the Church, a love so great that he, the priest, is willing to lay down his life for her. With these thoughts in mind and my own desire and love for the Church brewing in my heart, the Lord gave me through this psalm an image to hold on to: that of a king who desires the beauty of his queen. The strength of this bond and the purity was and continues to be very attractive.

A most beautiful fruit of this gift is that back in Rome encountering the poor and hungry throughout the city, I now realize that in a very real way that they are part of that Church whom Christ loves and desires with His whole heart. Indeed, He desires it through my own heart, wishing to draw His people, His Church, through my heart into His own. In a miraculous way, this has given birth to a genuine desire to love and to serve the poor, hoping that by the love I share with them, Christ might be ever present to those whom He loves so dearly. "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. And rightly so, since they are part of that queen, the Church, whom Christ the King desire more than anything in the world. Furthermore, their mother Mary, Queen of Heaven, has wrapped them in her mantle of protection, for they are her children for whom she cares unceasingly.

Back from retreat, I have spent this week preparing for the Diaconate Ordination, which happens tomorrow (5th of October). As I mentioned, I started singing in the choir. Every afternoon we have been practicing vigorously for this grand event. The ordination is at the Altar of the Chair under the famous Holy Spirit window in St. Peter’s Basilica. The opportunity to sing in the church of all churches is at once a dream come true and an overwhelming honor. To make things even more exciting, I have been asked to sing in a sextuplet for one of the pieces: “Ave Maria” by Franz Biebl. It is a beautiful piece and I am humbled to sing this piece on such a wondrous occasion. Please pray for me that I may have the courage to sing out as David did to his Lord in the temple.

Lastly, I did in fact pass my Italian exam. Praise God for this. Now the real challenge begins on Monday when classes start. The thought of going to class in another language is daunting, but I have faith that it will be okay. Please continue to pray for me that I might listen and take notes well, not only for myself, but also for my brother seminarians. The Gregorian students here at the PNAC have a very complicated notes system in which we all work together to produce the best notes possible. I have been assigned to take notes in our New Testament class. Pray that I might do well for my brothers.

Please know that I am praying for all of you. Yours truly in Christ.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Where in the world was I?

Dear Family, Friends and Readers,

I was inspired to play a bit of a game with posting pictures. For all those who remember the very popular kid's game show "Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego?", here is "Where in the world is Sean DeWitt?" No, this is not some conceited game, but just a fun way of getting feedback from y'all and posting some pictures.

We will start easy. The first picture is a picture of me after the one of, if not the most famous horse races in the world in which 10 neighborhoods compete for a depiction of the Virgin Mary Assumed. Where was I?


The second is of a garden in Vatican territory where Pope Pius XII famously hid hundreds of Italian Jews during World War II knowing that the Nazi's would not break Vatican Sovereignty. Where was I?


The last picture is of me sitting on a top of a mountain near Assisi. In fact, the white cluster of buildings in the background is Assisi. Halfway up this mountain is St. Francis' famous hermitage to which he made many retreats from the hustle and bustle of Assisi. Where was I?


Please feel free to comment your guesses. Enjoy.



Long Time No Post; Due Santi


I want to apologize to everyone for not posting in some time. Things have been quite busy here in Rome and I honestly have not had the chance to write.

I want to share two experiences I have had thus far. And oddly enough they dovetail quite nicely, since they both have to do with saintly women.

The first experience happened while I was in Siena, the home of St. Catherine, who is famous for convincing the Pope to come back to Rome from Avignon, France. In the western part of the city very near the Basilica of St. Dominic where St. Catherine’s head lies is the house where St. Catherine grew up. In what used to be her room, there is a series of beautiful frescos depicting many of the miraculous events of her young life. One portrays her literally floating up the stars in prayer with her mom grazing in awe. Another depicts her cutting her beautiful blonde locks of hair so as to not tempt the young boy’s hearts. Progressing through her life onto the other side of the room is a depiction of her receiving mystically a ring in betrothal to Jesus, her spouse, with Mary looking on.

As I sat there meditating on these beautiful images from her life, I began to imagine her in the room praying, playing, learning to sow, etc…I was taken back by her beauty and innocence. That such beauty could be given completely to the Lord, I could hardly believe. I remembered at that moment how taken aback I was by these images just two years before, when I came to Siena on a whim in order to accompany two friends of mine. In fact as I remembered this, I could almost see myself sitting across the room looking at these same images. I thought to myself, “Who was that guy two years ago who, awestruck at the beauty that was the lives of the saints, heard a call to enter the seminary and follow after the heart of Jesus Christ?” How much I had changed. How much I had remained the same.

I was overwhelmed with the impossibility of coming back to this place to see those same images, which moved me before, and to experience the love of Jesus Christ again through the intercession and inspiration of the saints, in this case St. Catherine. It was then that I began to image that sitting across the room beside my younger self was St. Catherine and next to me now, Jesus Christ. The room burst with laughter and joy. How happy the Lord was to unite two of His friends.

Later that day when I reflected on what had happened, I realized that the joy that we experience when two of our friends meet, especially two really good friends of ours that have not met before, is the same joy (albeit infinitely greater) that our Lord Jesus Christ feels when we encounter one of the saints. In a very real way, the saints are the best friends of our Savior Jesus Christ. They knew Him so incredibly well. And when we get to know them, the saints, we get to know Christ. But imagine the grace and delight that the Father sheds down on His beloved Children (that’s us) when we meet for the first time one of these best friends. If we receive this love, the delight of the Father on such an occasion, how intimate might our relationship become with the heavenly host of angels and saints? Indeed, if we merely realized that such a love might occur through such avenues, then how great would our devotions to the saints be?

The second experience was just this past weekend in Assisi praying in front of the tomb of St. Clare. After having been drawn into such an intense relationship with St. Catherine, I was drawn to spend time with St. Clare. I guess I saw a parallel between St. Catherine and St. Clare as many have seen with St. Dominic and St. Francis. I knelt down to pray for those on my list and just as I concluded I began to pray what is called a colloquy with St. Clare. Now, a colloquy in prayer is an imagined conversation with someone like Jesus, God the Father, Mary, or a saint. In this prayer, one relates the fruits and happenings of the previous prayer or meditation asking and receiving through this conversation a greater understanding of the movements that have occurred in one’s heart.

As I began conversing with St. Clare, I realized just how joyful she was in receiving the prayers I had made for others and also for myself. In many ways, this was part of her purpose in heaven to intercede for those on earth. The Church has after all deemed her such. In addition, I began to realize just how much joy I had received, just how much fulfillment I had experienced when I prayed for my family and friends. Again, as with St. Catherine, I realize that the joy and fulfillment I feel here on earth when I pray for others is (in an imperfect way) the same joy and fulfillment that those in heaven experience interceding for us. How much joy St. Clare must experience with literally millions coming before her in prayer ever year!

It also came to me that while we often find ourselves seeking out the saints for help, it can in some cases be that the saints track us down, knowing perhaps from God that we need their prayers without our realizing it. I have found this to be the case with both of these great saints, for I had no intention visiting either of these two saints nor any real knowledge of their lives before coming to pray before them. It seems all to clear that the Lord moved both of these saints to pray for me in a particular way, drawing me to themselves so as to show me the joy of giving oneself to others in prayer. Yet again how great our fidelity to prayer might be if we knew of such a joy? If only we let ourselves experience the joy of praying for others, how we might enter into that company of saints in heaven with their prayers rising up like incense before the altar of the Lord. 

Friday, July 22, 2011

Io Ho Arrivato

Praised be the Lord Jesus Christ that I have arrived safe and sound in Rome. Thank you to everyone who might have prayed for my safe travel. Your prayers were felt since I slept in peace while on the plane—something that is usually impossible for me to do. Upon my arrival, I quickly got settled into my room, which is on the fourth of five floors, and suffered through some paper work, trying to battle jetlag. Here is the view from my room. The dome behind the tree is St. Peter’s.

The first week has been a bit crazy with daily excursions throughout the city. Some of these visits were new for me and others I had visited during my time here in Rome two years ago, but I assure you all of them were absolutely wonderful. Here are some of the highlights.

The first day we went to St. John Lateran, the first residence of the Pope before St. Peter’s. We had a wonderful English nun lead us on quite a tour. The highlight of the trip was a visit to the baptistery that adjoins the Basilica. This is the oldest public baptistery in Christianity. After the persecutions ended with the Edict of Milan (313 a.d.) in which the Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity, the Church and Baptistery were built as a place as the first place for public and legal worship. This means that some of the first public celebrations of the Eucharist would have been celebrated here as well as the first “R.C.I.A.” classes. Okay, so they might not have called their catechesis R.C.I.A, but you get the point.

We began mass in the actual fount, renewing our baptismal promises on this the beginning of a new life in Rome. We finished mass in the chapel where this picture of Our Lady hung over the altar. I was taken by this painting for some reason. It is just so human the way Christ is touching the Blessed Mother’s face.

The second highlight includes many pictures and that is our day trip to the lake in Bracciano. It was a beautiful day and the water was wonderful. The town itself is about an hour outside of Rome and quite small. It hosts a cool castle which we were unable to visit and several nice Churches. Since no motorboats are allowed on the lake, the water was very clear. In fact, I could see the bottom past were I could touch. The first picture is of the castle, the second an over look of the lake and the last is a picture of the death of St. Joseph from a nice “little” Church I happened upon.

I must say that we have done quite a bit since arriving less than a week ago, much more than I can speak about here. I will continue to do what I can to keep posting. I will not, however, post for the next month or so. Sunday, I am off to Siena to learn Italian. I will return the last week of August in which time I will hopefully have time to post more pictures and such. Thanks again for all the prayers. Please know that I am keeping most of you in my own prayers. I will leave you with a parting shot of sunset from the roof. Ah, the Eternal City.


Friday, July 15, 2011

A Reflection on the Sacred Heart of Jesus

This is a reflection I gave this morning at Mass. It is somewhat of a reflection on the Heart of Christ through my own experience while on retreat this past month in Omaha, NE, attending the Institute for Priestly Formation at Creighton University. I hope this testimony is helpful to any and all.

Although I had planned on giving a reflection this morning over today’s Gospel, I was moved in a particular way by the Spirit to speak from my heart. In fact, the Spirit moved me to speak about the place from which my heart now speaks, that is, within the Heart of Christ. And since Friday is often reserved as a day to remember the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the subject of this short reflection seemed all but decided for me.

The past month and a half—since the end of May—I have been attending classes on diocesan spirituality, sexuality, and prayer at the Institute for Priestly Formation (IPF). In the second week of the program after a crash course in the basics of Ignatian spirituality, all seminarians go on a Jesuit style eight-day silent retreat. That’s right—eight-days! Seen as little more than torture to most, each day of the retreat consists of a prescribed four hours of prayer, three square meals, lots of sleep, and a one-hour meeting with a spiritual director. Now, I had been on several silent retreats before, but this was certainly the longest and most daunting to say the least. What was I going to do for eight-days? Pray? What am I going to pray about for eight-days?

The first evening and into the next morning were quite nice really, somewhat of a surprise really. I had related my anxieties and concerns to the Lord during my holy hours and was overwhelmed with consolation. The Lord was taking care of me. Then, it came time for my first spiritual direction meeting. Oh, how I looked forward to speaking with someone. After some casual introductions, the priest asked me what I wanted from this retreat, what I desired from God.

I sat back and thought about it for a while. I thought of the pain I felt just two weeks ago leaving my five best friends after graduating from college. I thought of the pain of having only two weeks with my family before I would have to leave them for two years. Finally, I thought of the pain of leaving home—my parish, my hometown, my seminarian brothers, my home state, my home country, and all that was good and familiar to me. I looked at my spiritual director and simply said, “Home. I desire a new sense of home.”

The next two days of retreat was if you will an “extreme makeover: home edition” in my soul. God began building in me a new home, except this time instead of a physical place or an earthly place He built for me a home in Him, in His Son Jesus Christ. As I splashed around in the waters of the Jordan with Jesus hearing those words of the Father: “You are my Beloved Son with whom I am well pleased,” I learned how to bask in the gaze of the Father. As I fell into the embrace of the loving Father welcoming his lost son home from his sinful ways, I learned to receive the love of the Father into my own heart. And lastly, as I was dressed with the ring and rob the father gave his prodigal son, I was reborn into the Glory of God, taking off my garments of sorrow and affliction, and putting on the robe of righteousness from God (Baruch 5: 1-2).

My new home was in the Heart of Christ, receiving the love of the Father through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. This was a place I would carry with me and continue to renew and reenter with every celebration of the Eucharist, adoration, and quiet prayer. This was a place that transcended time where through Christ I could join in communion with my family, friends, and the company of angels and saints to praise God in all His marvelous works. Finally, it is in this place, the Heart of Christ, that I can truly pray and speak to God from the depths of my own heart, placing my trust in Him who holds all things together in their being.

Yet, a strange thing began to happen as I “moved in” to this new home in the Heart of Christ. Things began to hurt, even ache. In some ways, I felt more pain than before. Old memories and past afflictions began to surface and to torture me. I did not realize that as I moved into the Heart of Christ, into His light, many wounds began to surface and to fester. Indeed, I began to see how the very wounds within Christ’s own heart—His pierced side—were due to my own sins. Only under the guidance of my spiritual director was I able to begin placing my wounds—disobedience, lust, unchastely living, perfectionism, judgment, and resentment—within the wounds of Christ, to give myself over into His love in an even deeper way, allowing Him to heal and to fill these wounds with His love. This was very hard to do. I had to make myself vulnerable and available to Christ and His mercy. In a reversal of roles, I had to allow the Good Samaritan, Christ Himself, to heal me, battered and broken lying naked on the street. And how beautiful it was.

This, however, was not the end of the road for me. Jesus had even more in store. After building this new house and healing many of my wounds, a most terrifying reality struck me. My wounds would always be with me. That just as with Jesus’ wounds, my wounds would remain even past the resurrection. Yet even more horrifying was that through my wounds would flow the healing power of Christ. My wounds a font of Christ’s compassion for sinners and an invitation for others to the resurrection! How could this be? I remembered Thomas, placing his hands in the side of Christ. Would I now allow others to put their hands in my side?

It was here that I met at the foot of the Cross the pierced heart of Mary. Through the eyes of John the Beloved Disciple, I looked helplessly upon her, innocent and undefiled, as she suffered the death of her son, the salvation of man. I learned through meditating on this passage to take Mary into my home, my new home in the Heart of Christ and love her purely and chastely. I then learned how to take up the Cross, and die with Christ only to rise again to new life, revealing the life giving power of the Cross.

Nothing is more practical than finding God,

i.e., than falling in love in a

quite absolute, final way.

What you are in love with,

what seizes your imagination, will

affect everything.

It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning,

what you will do with your evenings,

how you spend your weekends,

what you read,

who you know,

what breaks your heart,

and what amazes you with joy

and gratitude.

Fall in love, stay in love, and it will

decide everything.

--Fr. Pedro Arrupe, S.J.

And if I may add to Fr. Arrupe’s beautiful prayer, speak to the Heart of Christ from the depths of your own heart in prayer and you never know where He might take you.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Life In Omaha




Dear Family, Friends, and Readers,

Sorry for not posting next week. Things have been quite busy here in Omaha, NE. I thought I would post a few picks from the past two weeks. Enjoy.

Saturday I went to the Zoo here in Omaha. In addition to an amazing Guerilla and Cat exhibit was this funny picture of a Giraffe.












Sunday I had the pleasure of attending the College World Series and watching my home team, Texas A&M, play against the South Carolina Game Cocks. It was quite an exiting game. The Aggies lost in the bottom of the ninth 5-4. Although we lost, I enjoyed the new stadium and the 80 degree weather.


After a busy week of classes, I made my way Friday to the flooding Missouri River, which is quite a site. I was particularly amazed at how fast the water was moving. I spent the evening reading and praying on the banks under a shade tree. Again, the weather is spectacular.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Creighton University

Here are some pictures from in and around St. John's Church at Creighton University where I am currently staying.

The first two are of the Church which is absolutely gorgeous. The third is my meditation spot in the garden behind the Church. I spend lots of hours here during the silent retreat. The third, also from the garden, is of the resident turkey and her 4 chicks. I don't think you can see the chicks, but there she is. The last is the view form my meditation spot in the garden. You can see the Missouri river, the new college world series ball park and some of the down town Omaha.


Coming Out of the Silence

Greetings and many thanks to all of those who prayed for me this past week while I was on retreat. It was a most blessed and grace filled eight days of silence, spending time with the Lord Jesus in prayer. Thank you.

I thought that in light of the retreat I would give some of my own thoughts on silence and its role in the spiritual life. Silence in its technical understanding is a disposition in faith whereby the believer allows himself to be quieted on all levels of his being so as to place himself in a state of active receptivity towards the abundant graces of Lord. This involves not only physical quiet, but also inner quiet. One can remove all outward sources of sound and distraction and cease to communicate with others, yet not achieve a state of silence. Likewise, one can be listening to an iPod, chanting the liturgy of the hours, or speaking out loud and still remain in a state of silence. What, then, is silence?

Breaking up the parts of the definition I provided, silence is first a “disposition in faith.” By a disposition of faith, I mean a posture that we take before the Lord with the faith that He will indeed speak to us. There is no reason, or motivation for placing oneself in such a disposition of silence if one does not believe that there is anything to receive or hear from the Lord. In this way, faith—a gift from the Lord—is a prerequisite to silence. Furthermore, our ability to enter into such a posture because of faith is itself a gift. Therefore, our entering into silence is in many ways an examination, an inquiry into this initial gift of faith given to us in baptism, sealed in confirmation, and renewed through confession and the Eucharist.

Silence requires one’s entire being to be quieted or at a state of rest. As presented to us here at IPF, there are three levels to our being. The first is a surface level made up of thoughts, feelings, and desires that are weak and fleeting. An example of such might be the initial happiness brought on by a familiar song playing in the elevator. We notice that the quiet droning piano music is actually a cover of one our favorite pop songs, and we smile. Yet, as soon as we leave the feeling passes and we hardly remember the event.

The second level is the level of our Psyche. This level includes thoughts, feelings, and desires centered around certain memories, family ties, cultures, and even ethnicities. My favorite example of this is that good old Irish melancholy that arises in the hearts of so many with the slightest whisperings of home and family. Another example is the enduring love for everything football that lives in the hearts of all true Texans. These thoughts, feelings, and desires endure and can remain with us, even without paying attention to them. Indeed, they can often change and color the entire complexion of a day. Think of the sorrow or joy that ensues a loss or win by a favorite sports team. It is important to note that this in no way endorses a pseudo-Freudian understanding of the sub-conscious. This level merely tries to take into account the material conditions that helped to form who we are.

The third level is the level of our spirit. These are our deepest thoughts, feelings, and desires such as our desire to do God’s will, the joy that may come from knowing God’s love for us, or the mystical thoughts of contemplating God’s attributes. In this level, God speaks to us in a very real way, revealing Himself through memory and imagination. But we must be careful, for God is not the only one who speaks at this level. Our own broken and fallen human spirit and the influence of the evil one can also be felt at this level. Just as our deepest desires for God reside here, so to our deepest inclinations towards sin also take root here.

It is also important to note that these three levels are intricately related. Although we can experience happiness (consolation) and sadness (desolation) at each level independently of the others, often times they do coincide. For example, the joys experienced in friendship can lead us to understand our own deeper desire for friendship with God and the gratitude for such a gift of fraternity. Also, the high gained at party might smooth over and leave us ignorant of a deeper sadness or confusion about who we are.

Underneath all of this, is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. It is the presence of the Holy Spirit, the divine life of the Trinity within our very hearts that makes it possible for us to hear God’s voice. This is the exploration of that original gift of faith I spoke of earlier.

In silence, we try to place ourselves in an environment where we will be quieted in each of these three levels. We remove surface level distractions such as music, TV, conversation, etc…in hopes that the second level of our being might be freed from outside influences. It is easy to see how the loss of a favorite sports team could create an enduring state of unrest that is not conducive to prayer. By disengaging many of the outside triggers for these first two levels, we allow ourselves to begin to listen and to engage that third level where God is constantly working in us through that indwelling of His Spirit. Through silence, we hope to allow God to use these three levels, indeed order each of them to the workings of His Spirit within us.

It is here that we reach the third part of my definition where we place ourselves in an “active state of receptivity for the reception of graces.” By quieting or allowing ourselves to be quieted in these three levels, we allow God to reveal Himself to us in the deepest parts of our being, speaking to us through our most fundamental thoughts, feelings, and desires. It is only here in the silence of our hearts that the Lord can teach us wisdom (Ps. 51).

I will speak in greater detail about what one is does during such a time of silence in another blog posting. Thus, to be continued…

Friday, June 3, 2011

Announcements and Updates

Dear Family, Friends and Readers,

It is with great joy and excitement that I announce my official acceptance into the Pontifical North American College (PNAC) in Rome. I found out while I was at lunch with my fellow Austin Seminarians here in Omaha, NE. Not a better way to find out than with my diocesan brothers.

I thought I would take the opportunity with this announcement to update everyone on my whereabouts and summer plans. Currently, I am in Omaha, Nebraska, attending classes in Spirituality at Creighton University. These classes—Christian Spirit and Sexuality, Spirit of Diocesan Priesthood, and Christian Prayer and Virtue—are part of a program set up by the Institute for Priestly Formation (IPF). IPF was started by several priests and consecrated laypersons 13 years ago in order to provide the spiritual training that was so lacking in many of the seminaries across the United States. This past week has been somewhat of a crash course in Christian Prayer and Virtue in order to prepare the 175 or so seminarians for the eight-day silent retreat. This retreat begins tonight. Your prayers and support are greatly appreciated.

After the retreat, I will continue to study here in Omaha until the 14th of July in which time I will fly back home to spend a few days with my family before flying out to Rome on the 17th. I will, then, spend a week becoming oriented to the city along with the other American Seminarians before dispersing out into our varied immersion programs across Italy. For a little over a month, I will be living with a family in Siena until late August, when I will return to Rome. Back in Rome, I will continue to learn Italian and prepare for my studies at the Gregorian University, a Jesuit University, which begins mid to late October. The European school systems are scheduled very differently. Beyond that I do not know my plans.

I will continue to update my blog, and communicate my thoughts and whereabouts, but I hope this initial sketch will do for now. If you would like to send me mail, my current address is as follows:

Sean DeWitt

Creighton University

Swanson Hall Box #37

2500 California Plaza

Omaha, NE 68178

I will be receiving mail at this address up until the 14th of July. So, if you are not sure it will get to me here in Omaha before that date, please do not send it. Instead, send it to the PNAC address, which is:

Sean DeWitt

Pontifical North American College


00120 Vatican City State


Europe

Once I am in Rome there will be a new email address you can reach me at as well, although I do not know what it is yet. Otherwise, continue to email me through my gmail account: justdewit07@gmail.com. As far as facebook goes, I will cease checking it after the silent retreat. I will not be shutting it down so that it will update my blog postings, but I myself will not be checking it. Thus, if you want to contact me personally please send me an email or letter. Lastly, I will cease to have a cell phone after I leave for Rome on the 17th. I will set up a skype account that I will most certainly share with everyone after I set it up, but if you want to call me, please do so before the 17th of July.

Thanks to everyone for your love and support. I always love to here from you guys whether through email or snail mail.

In Christ,

Sean R. DeWitt

Seminarian for the Diocese of Austin

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Gospel Reflection


Dear Readers,
This is a reflection I wrote on the Gospel to be given at my home parish during a communion service. It is my first attempt at a true reflection on scripture. I enjoyed this quite a bit and hope with much more training to develop something like this into a homily. Enjoy.

St. Martin de Porres Catholic Church
Friday, May 27, 2011
Fifth Week of Easter
Gospel Reading from John 15: 12-17

“I no longer call you slaves…I have called you friends”

In today’s Gospel, Jesus, speaking to His disciples, calls them friends. Not slaves, not servants, not students, but friends. Of course, the disciples are all of these things, since they call Jesus the corresponding positions of authority. As we heard on Easter, Mary Magdalene as soon as she recognizes Jesus calls out to him, “Rabboni” or teacher. In Matthews Gospel after Jesus asks the disciples, “who do you say that I am,” Peter responds “you are the Christ” to which we might add, and we are your servants. And in light of this revelation that Jesus is the Christ, Paul designates himself, “a slave of Christ Jesus” the Lord in the beginning of Romans. All of these things, Jesus could have called them, but he didn’t. Jesus calls them friends. What does this mean? What does it mean for the one who will come down to Judge the earth as the strong right arm of God to call His disciples His friends?
He tells the disciples in three succinct points. First, and most clearly, they must keep His commandments. “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” And “This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.” I need not dwell here, for it is clear enough that friendship with God includes a going forth, a being sent, a call to action, a call to love one’s neighbor. Second, He tells them, “I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.” Having been told everything, entails that the disciples have heard everything. Thus, I might add the corollary that they are friends of Christ because they have heard everything that Jesus heard from the Father. Third, “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you.” The disciples are friends of Christ because He called them to be so. It is not we who have loved God, but He who has loved us.
The trouble though with these points is noticing the order in which Christ presents them: (1) keep His commandments, (2) having been revealed everything about the Father, and (3) being chosen by Jesus. It is all too tempting to misunderstand this order as an order of importance. How often do we busy ourselves trying to do the work of the Lord, while neglecting our own personal relationship with God, our own personal friendship with Christ? How often do we come to serve the Lord in our many and varied ministries, yet fail to remember the original call that moved us to such an act of charity?
It is safe to say that in this particular case, Jesus has ordered according to that principle whereby one saves the best for last. It is important to keep His commandments, laying down our lives for our fellow man, so as to reveal to others the saving power of Christ Jesus in true and genuine Christian charity. This is reflected in the strong tradition of social justice within the Church. But such acts of charity, such good fruits in the Lords vineyard, are a result of a strong faith life lived out in quite and contemplative prayer over God’s Word, the Lord Jesus Christ. It is here that our friendship with Christ is fostered, grown and deepened. We are friends with Christ because He has revealed everything which the Father has revealed to Him. In fact, Jesus is the revelation of the Father, the Word of the Father, the Word who became flesh, a brother to us men. It is only when we listen to this Word in the silence of our hearts, that the Lord can teach us wisdom, from which come peace and every good work. If we think of these acts of charity, the following of God’s commandments, as gifts to the one who has called us His friend, then greater knowledge, greater intimacy with such a friend, would only make these gifts greater, more abundant, and ultimately more meaningful. It is only through spending time with the Word, with our friend Jesus Christ, that we will grow in intimacy.

But even this falls short of the greatest love, the greatest and most fundamental reason why Jesus can and does call us His friends: He has chosen us to be His friends. It is Jesus Christ who “appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whenever you ask the Father in my name He may give you.” The works that we perform in the cooperation with God’s grace discerned and revealed to us in the Word of God are only given because we have been chosen. “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you.” We do not seek God for aid and upon the reception of such aid go forth and do the good work. Rather we ask, but only after realizing that it was God who first moved us to ask for such a gift; every cooperation in God’s grace is only accomplished because the grace of God has first inclined the will to do so. In other words, God not only fills the tank with gas, but starts the car and revs the engine for us. It is here that we rejoice in God and give Him thanks for having made us worthy to share the lot of the saints in Christ. As Paul says in the beginning of His letter to the Ephesians: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, as he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him.”

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Why is the Universe Beautiful?

Why is the universe beautiful? We must be very careful with such a question, for it is easy to be distracted by the things in the universe that are beautiful. We may ask whether the beauty of the universe is due to the brilliant colors and complex designs of the planetary nebulae, or the majestic and grand gas clouds which give birth to the stars, or the simplicity of spherical bodies moving harmoniously in ellipsis around the sun, or the seemingly endless expanse of galaxies and the limitless possible worlds that could be out there. But any of the answers to these questions would fall quite short of answering the present question: why is the universe beautiful? We do not seek in our questioning an understanding of the beautiful things in the universe, but rather an answer to that which makes all things in the universe beautiful. What is it that makes the universe beautiful? This is our question, a way or path of thinking that will hopefully lead us to the essence of the beauty of the universe.

The beauty of the universe has many characteristics. We often speak of its beauty as simple, complex, grandiose, vast, deep, and full of wonder. When we look at the many pictures and images that the Hubble Telescope gives us, we experience nearly all of these things, calling them beautiful. But we must ask ourselves, are these images and the universe in which they exist beautiful because of these characteristics, or are these characteristics of beauty in the universe merely effects, pointing us to the true essence of their beauty? It is the latter that we seek, since although each of these characteristics is considered beautiful in their own varied ways, these beautiful things are particular modes or ways of being beautiful, not beauty or the essence of the beauty of the universe itself. We must keep thinking so as to find a cause, something responsible, for the varied and manifold beauty of the universe.

Let us, then, look in a different way. Let us make a detour so as not to be distracted by the many beautiful things of the universe. Let us seek the help of Plato and his understanding of beauty in hopes that after such an understanding has been set forth, we can come back and see truly the beauty of the universe. In the sixth book of the Republic, Plato tells us that all things that are beautiful are beautiful in so far as they are true. The truth of things is the light, making intelligible or perceptible to us the beauty that is. The source of this truth is the good itself. Plato puts this relationship between beauty, truth and the good in terms of the sun. The good, he says, is the sun, radiating the light of truth, which illuminates the beautiful things we perceive. The good just as with the sun is not something we can see, or look at. It is too great for our eyes to behold. But even if we could look at the good itself without mediation, we would never actually see it, for we would only see the truth and knowledge (light and radiation) produced by the good (the sun). Furthermore, truth and knowledge are beautiful things, and all things are beautiful in so far as they are true. Thus, truth and knowledge (the attainment of truth) always appear within beautiful things; we can only come to truth and knowledge by way of the beautiful. Moreover, we perceive something as beautiful because it has in its own way reflected or refracted the light of truth, a truth which has shown from the good itself. In this way, beauty is the reflection of the good, or the reflection of that which the good produces, i.e. truth. Likewise, the things we perceive are visible because of the light they refract, emit or reflect from the sun.

Turning back to our inquiry into the beauty of the universe, the essence of beauty is such because it reflects the truth (grasped by us as knowledge), which has flowed from the good. Thus, it remains for us to see in what way the universe and the beautiful things that make it so reflect truth. We might say by way of revision to the former question (what is it that makes the universe beautiful?), what truth does the beauty of the universe reflect? Let us begin our answer to this question by looking at the life cycles of stars in order to see what truth we may find in this most beautiful phenomenon.

Quite possibly the most eye-catching phenomenon in the universe, stars begin their brilliant lives as giant molecular gas clouds like the Fingers of Creation in the Orion Nebula. These majestic clouds are like a womb in which gravity begins to form small globules. Gravity continues to collapse these areas of gas into a proto-star, a spinning disk of matter that ejects material in two jets along its axis. From this stage, proto-stars begin sustaining thermo-nuclear fusion (the distinguishing feature of a star), and form one of two types of stars: either they form blue main-sequence stars due their high masses, or they form yellow main-sequence stars due to their lower masses. The amount of time that it takes for these two types of stars to form, as well as the amount of time they spend as main-sequence stars, depends on the mass of the individual stars, but in a general way, we can say that low-mass stars live much longer than high-mass stars. After living the majority of their lives as main-sequence stars, both types of stars begin a process of shell-burning in which the interplay of gravity and degeneracy pressure increase the temperature such that the byproducts of the nuclear fusion begin to burn as well. Although the number of these shells that each type of star creates is different, the general process is the same. At this point, both types of stars explode producing some of the most beautiful array of colors and shapes in the natural world. Low-mass stars give off the varied and vibrant planetary nebulae and leave the ever cooling white dwarf (the remains of the innate carbon core) behind, while high-mass stars, having “gone supernova,” give off a cloud consisting of every element heavier than iron and leave behind either a neutron star (the remains of the innate iron core) or a black hole.

These explosions affect many things in the universe. The massive amounts of gas, which are the newly created elements that make up the world in which we live, begin forming new stars and/or swirling around in the many spiral arms of the galaxies. The remaining innate cores (white dwarfs and neutron stars) begin to cool off until they dissipate into darkness. And the massive amounts of energy released by these explosions sweep large amounts of gas together, causing the life cycle to begin all over again. It is here that we might say that the truth of this beautiful phenomenon is its cyclical nature, seemingly ending where the process began. But this would be a shallow understanding of the beauty of such a process. Again, we might say that looking at the end product, the truth in the life of stars is a movement to more complexities (the creation of elements), complexities which produce brilliant and beautiful sights. But yet again, this would be to mistake the particular beauty for the true essence of beauty itself, for a movement towards greater complexities, although beautiful, is not the essence of the beauty of the universe, particularly when taken in the context of the over all movement of the universe.

We can certainly say that during the entire cycle, the star is trying to maintain a state of stability. From the earliest moments of formation in which those first molecules are drawn together by gravity, to the expanding and collapsing tensions between gravity and degeneracy pressure in the shell-burning process, all the matter that makes up a star continues to move towards a state of rest or stability. The numerous complexities that are created by this cycle (the elements, new stars, white dwarfs, black holes, neutron stars, gas clouds, and the spiraled arms of a galaxy) are not new levels of complexity to be resolved by some other process, but the manifold forms of beauty created by the reflection of this truth: that the life cycle of stars is a movement towards stability. The life cycle of a star, therefore, is beautiful because it moves to a state of stability. But there are other sources of beauty in the universe which reflect this same truth.

Each and every body or piece of matter in the universe seeks stability. The live terrestrial planets cool into dead terrestrial planets like Mars. The creation of our solar system involved accretion between the various bodies orbiting the sun, some colliding, other gathering material due to their massive size, but all moving to a stable orbit around the Sun. The rings of Saturn and the other Jovian planets continually grind themselves into the dust of which they consist, and due to the Roche limit, settle into an orbit around the planet that does not allow for further accretion. Stepping back further, if we look to the universe as a whole, we see that in light of the Big Bang theory the entire universe is moving to a state of rest. It is cooling. And continues to do so through its expansion.

It appears, therefore, that all of these things—the various beautiful things in the universe—are beautiful because, like we saw with the life cycles of stars, they move towards stability. In fact, the universe itself is beautiful because it partakes in this same process. Thus, we have reached an answer to our inquiry. Why is the universe beautiful? What is it that makes the universe so beautiful in its varied and manifold ways? The essence of the beauty of the universe is the reflection of that truth which is the movement towards rest or stability. And, looking back to Plato, we can immediately call this good, since all truth proceeds from the good as light, making the beautiful perceptible. Thus, we can give an additional answer, that the universe is not only beautiful because it moves to rest, but also good.

And would this not make sense within the guiding light of the Christian faith, which claims that we ourselves are moving (or should be moving) by the grace of God towards a state of rest, the beatific vision, our ultimate purpose and happiness? Yet even in a natural sense, we can admit that humans too are moving towards a state of rest, that is death. Although this death like the rest of the natural world is a falling back into nothing or non-being, natural death cannot be a true state of rest, for a state of true rest or stability would have to persist in being, not fall back into non-being. Thus, the Christian claim on truth, the truth of revelation, the Word, shines most beautifully in its supernatural truth, for it is the only thing in creation (the Word Incarnate) that reflects the fullness of the truth that only a true rest persists through death and the passing of this world, and into new life.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Christ the King

Apologies for not having posted for quite sometime now. I was organizing my the philosophical journal entries I posted and thought that I would post the paper I wrote for that ethics class, which in many ways is the culmination of those journal entries. It is a bit long, but I think it is still approachable. Enjoy.

Christ the King

Chapter 1: Kant’s great distinction

Several times in the history of philosophy, a thinker has come along and due both to his ability to organize and to synthesize thought, has provided the tradition with a new way of looking back upon itself. Aristotle did it with Plato and the pre-Socratics. St. Thomas Aquinas did it with Plato and Aristotle and the Christian Tradition. And Kant did it with Modernity and Enlightenment. These thinkers did this by means of a new distinction, which allowed them to categorize and define the prior tradition, placing themselves as the advent of a new tradition or as the further development of a smaller and more neglected aspect of the old tradition.

In this paper, I will take what I see as Kant’s addition to the ethical tradition—his distinction between heteronomy and autonomy which in some ways provides for the organization of all ethical thought prior to and in some cases coming after Kant—and ask three questions: (1) whether Kant’s distinction is merited; (2) whether Kant’s favor of autonomy is correct; and (3) whether these are the only options, i.e. is there some other category that can be given a voice in the ethical tradition? In asking these three questions, I hope to prove what I see are two reductions of the ethical life. The first—represented by John Stuart Mill—is the bodily reduction, that is, the reduction of ethics to the human psyche and the consequences produced for pleasure. And the Second—represented by Kant—is the “spiritual”[1] reduction, that is, a reduction of morality to a purely universal transcendent and rational concept, finding no aposteriori influences be they bodily or psychological. It is my intention in naming these two reductions as I have to note the dualistic tendencies of both sides of Kant’s distinction and in turn, the particularly Catholic character of the solution, participated theonomy, which playing out the analogy, would be a singular theory incorporating both body and soul (spirit), and their relation to God as creator and ruler. While keeping in the philosophical realm, I do hope to do some justice to this very Catholic understanding of moral autonomy in light of the solemnity of Christ the King, which marks the end of the liturgical year, by using the image of a kingdom as a metaphorical conceit to further the understanding of each of these theories and their consequences.

Chapter 2: The Bodily or Psychological Reduction—Heteronomy

Kant says that any person is heteronymous “insofar as he belongs to the world of sense subject to the laws of nature.”[2] That is to say, heteronomy consists in determining causes from outside of the person, as an “alien law” to which he is subject. Rhonheimer adds to this definition a threefold conception of heteronomy, reflecting the three spheres of autonomy that will be spelled out in the “spiritual” reduction. The first is contrary to “personal autonomy,” distorting the personal determination of an action through ignorance, compulsion, violence, or fear. In other words, there is no inner consent of the person, but rather a coercion of the person by such outward influences through compliance or subjection. The second is contrary to “functional autonomy,” placing certain dependencies or influences on the person in particular areas of self-government. The third is contrary to “constitutive autonomy,” making the person dependent through incursions in certain decisions due to the incompetence of the said person.[3]

If I may bring in the metaphorical conceit here, the first sense of heteronomy is marshal law, in which the subjects of the king are coerced through violence to do the will of the king. There is no true sense of consent in this way, for the subjects merely fear for their lives. The second sense is the feudal lord, who rules and has power only on account of his allegiance to the king, not due to his own position as lord over a particular area or manor. He cannot justify himself on his own authority, but only in relation to a higher authority. The third sense would be that same feudal lord, who receives edicts from the king due to the lord’s poor level of prudence in certain areas. He is in effect a “puppet ruler,” someone that merely does what they are told.

How, then, does John Stuart Mill fall into this category of heteronomy? As I alluded to in the opening, Mill in his Utilitarianism makes man determined by his psychological instincts towards pleasure. It is here that I will allow Mill to speak for himself, since he is not shy about admitting such convictions. He says:

“If the opinion which I have now stated is psychologically true—if human nature is so constituted as to desire nothing which is not either a part of happiness or a means of happiness—we can have no other proof…If so, happiness is the sole end of human action, and the promotion of it the test by which to judge of all human conduct; from whence it necessarily follows that it must be the criterion of morality.”[4]

Mill will go out of his way to hear and to refute such contrary conceptions as virtues by showing that such an analysis conflates the ends and the means to pleasure. Such conceptions make virtue (a means to pleasure) a stipulation of the pleasurable end. In other words, such individuals make it such that they cannot be happy without having done the action for its own sake, yet in this very articulation one can see (Mill would claim) how such individuals have not done the act for its own sake, but rather for pleasure.[5] In fact, Mill would go so far as to say that the idea of the object as desirable and the thought of that object as pleasurable are the very same thing, viz., “to desire anything except in proportion as the idea of it is pleasant is a physical and metaphysical impossibility.”[6] In other words, one desires the object because he thinks it will produce some amount of pleasure for him. Moreover, Mill believes that all social projects and resources should be devoted to the education and fostering of this happiness, particularly the happiness of the greatest amount of individuals, for if such a psychological claim is true what would be more charitable and illuminating than opening the mind to its own underlying convictions for pleasure and how it is to adequately cultivate them so as to maintain a level of qualitatively better and sustainable happiness.

Looking back to the particular definition of heteronomy by Kant, one can see how at first glance Mill might pass as truly autonomous, for he has based morality on that underlying aspect of man, his desire for pleasure. It comes from within and is established by his own desiring. Yet this is not what Kant means by autonomy and Mill’s own heteronomy becomes more clear when one looks at how one is to evaluate the act in this system of Utility. Necessarily, Mill is a consequentialist, that is, the moral content of the action is determined by the effects the act produces, in Mill’s case the pleasure produced either for the individual or the greatest amount of people. That is to say, Mill has subjected morality to the empirical realities that follow from human action. This makes morality by nature aposteriori, since it must look outside of the self at the material effects to determine the acts goodness or badness. In this assessment, Mill is diametrically opposed to Kant, who as was seen above wishes to void morality of the sensible world, here the empirical world. Morality must be determined for Kant apriori by the universalization of the will before the act is ever committed. Moreover, for Mill morality is determined by something outside of the individual. Although driven by the individual himself through his desires for pleasure, the particular acts of the individual are determined by that after-the-fact, i.e. what is produced. I might sum up Mill in this way that in the individual’s deliberation, he sorts through possible outcomes of his actions and realizes the most pleasurable, thereby binding himself to act in such and such a way. In this way, the individual is bound to those contingent consequences, which although induced by his action, are not determined by his act.

Although this is clear that Mill falls into this category of heteronomy, I see Mill’s subjection of morality to the empirical even more destructive than Kant originally thought in so far as he has subjected morality to the human psyche. This is the bodily or in this case psychological reduction referred to in the title of this chapter. In this way, morality has nothing to do with the spiritual or religious aspect of man past the unity of happiness achieved in the individual’s seeking for the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest amount of people. Yet this “feeling of unity to be taught as a religion”[7] does not transcend beyond the empirical reality of the consequences of human action. In this way, morality is reduced to a material or psychological reality.

I need not mention how this compares and reflects psychological assessments of the human person such as Sigmund Freud, which render the human person essentially unable to act freely outside of such innate convictions, but rendering the account in light of the threefold heteronomy mentioned above I will show this incapacity for true freedom. In the first sense (personal heteronomy), there is no inner consent for Mill, since the consent has already and will by our very nature always be made for man towards pleasure. I might go so far as to say that in this account one is coerced in his inner psyche to be subject to the possible material consequences of his action. This would be the marshal law of the human psyche over the human person. In the second sense (functional heteronomy), man has a particular dependency on the consequences of his actions for pleasure, which determines the very governance of his own decision-making. One cannot give an account or justify his own actions without referring to the material conditions that determined his actions. Why did he do it?—because the material conditions were such that the act would produce such and such a pleasure. Again, this would be the lord who rules merely on account of his relative authority to the king. He has no innate authority, but authority only in relation to the determining consequences of the king’s actions. Lastly, in that third sense (constitutive heteronomy), man is incompetent as it were to make his own particular decisions. He must appeal to what the psyche tells him, and how such and such an act will bring about the fulfillment of such a desire. Man as lord of himself is puppet to his own inner psyche and the determinate material conditions of his actions. Moreover, this reduction of man to his psychological or bodily tendencies towards pleasure reveals that dualistic tendencies of such thinkers as mentioned in the opening. In this way, Mill has in his morality practically left out any spiritual or immaterial aspects of man in determining the origin of that “ought,” which gives morality its content.

Although I will not be covering Hume in this paper, I might mention him here in so far as this bodily reduction becomes even more clear in light of his basing morality on those inclinations towards the “agreeable.” In his discussion of “cleanliness” he mentions that we would have no consideration of such small virtues and vices if not for those “uneasy sensations, which it [they] excites in others.”[8] Ultimately for Hume, “the laws of humanity” otherwise known as sympathy is to determine how we act towards others such as the weak, providing them sustenance not out of justice, but out of regard for their humanity.[9] Again, this is a merely passive glance at Hume in light of this reduction, since more could be said on how this conception falls into heteronomy by its seemingly consequential nature in its determination of human action on the social “agreeableness” which includes aposteriori convictions in the sensible world. Yet simply put, by placing the origin of that moralizing “ought” in the appetitive powers of man Hume has reduced morality to the bodily aspect of man. Certainly for Hume reason has some sort of role in this for how would one determine such a course of action to maintain such “laws of humanity,” yet the grounding or the origin of morality is primarily the appetitive or bodily part of man. Hence, Hume falls like Mill into this bodily reduction.

Chapter 3: The “Spiritual” or Rational Reduction—Autonomy

Although much has been said about Kant in a negative way, i.e. that his ethics are not based on aposteriori conditions, empirical claims, inclinations of the body or psyche, or the consequences of human action, there needs be a positive account of Kant’s understanding of moral autonomy. Kant defines autonomy as the very “ground of the dignity of human nature and of every rational nature.”[10] Later he adds that “all his [man’s] actions…insofar as he [man] belongs to the intelligible world subject to laws which, independent of nature, are not empirical but are founded only on reason.”[11] Thus, Kant founds morality on universal practical reason, that part of man, which likens him to God as part of the intelligible realm. This is man’s dignity: the ability to reason and to determines his actions autonomously from the sensible or material realm. Man is in this sense indeterminate outside of himself. Key to this concept is that of reason as self-determining law, which shows up in the fourth formulation of the categorical imperative: “the supreme condition of the will’s conformity with universal practical reason, viz., the idea of the will of every rational being as a will that legislates universal law.”[12] Having established the universal, the natural, and the formalistic aspects of the law—the moralizing “ought”—Kant formulates the categorical imperative in such a way that makes every rational creature a universal law maker, i.e. the grounds qua rational creature for that moralizing “ought.” Moreover, Kant’s autonomy consists of rational individuals, whose dignity is such that they have the capacity to legislate universal laws for themselves.

What does Kant find wrong with heteronomy? In what way is that “ought” not able to be founded on principles outside of the self? Kant treats two kinds of “ought” in the hypothetical and the categorical (formal). The former is of two types. The first is properly called the “hypothetical” and is formulated as an “if…then” statement: if you want ‘y’, then do ‘x’. The problem (as Kant sees it) with such statements is that they amount to nothing more than “rules of skill” or instructional statements on how to achieve a particular goal. The second is called the “assertoric” and is formulated as a causal clause: since you want ‘y,’ then do ‘x’. Again, Kant sees a problem with such statements because they give mere general councils of prudence or advice by which to attain a particular desire. In this way, both formulations, which are oriented to an object outside of the self (heteronomy), do not give rise to that moralizing “ought” because they are mere suggestions, not a moral imperative. One could simply drop the desire for the given object and the statement falls flat, or one could shrug the statement off as false and unfounded, thinking himself more knowledgeable. There is no binding “ought.” “The moral imperative,” Kant concludes, “must therefore abstract from every object to such an extent that no object has any influence at all on the will, so that practical reason (the will) may not merely minister to an interest…[but] show its own commanding authority as the supreme legislation.”[13] This “moral imperative” is that latter categorical (formal) kind of “ought” which is self-authoritative and thus, autonomous.

Kant in the next section goes through four types of heteronomy corresponding to two categories: the empirical and the rational. The first type of heteronomy under the empirical is “the principle of happiness,” which Kant objects to on account of what could be seen as a non-moral happiness. As he says making someone happy can be altogether different from making him moral or good. In such a way, someone can do such actions as mathematics, making him extremely happy, but in no way moral. Or, more concerning, someone could find a great amount of happiness in doing a very bad thing. Ultimately, Kant wants to say that basing morality on such a concept as happiness obliterates the distinction between virtues and vice, since the motives for either are put in the same class. The second type of heteronomy under the empirical is a morality based on those physical or moral feelings. While Kant admits that such a conception is closer to morality than is “the principle of happiness,” it still falls short because such feelings cannot establish a uniform understanding of good and evil, but merely a subjective following of passion, which could in some cases support vice over virtue. The third type of heteronomy under the rational is “the concept of perfection.” Kant claims that this conception is empty and indeterminate, continually presupposing the very morality that it hopes to found. The fourth type of heteronomy under the rational is “theological” or a morality based on God’s most perfect will. This conception, oddly enough, Kant shows as indeterminate because it draws its characteristics from such things as might and vengeance, which could be contrary to morality.[14] In the end for Kant, whether or not these conceptions of morality can be proved to be contrary to ordinary understandings of morality is not as important as their subjection to the “particular constitution of human nature [rational heteronomy] or from the accidental circumstances in which such nature is placed [empirical heteronomy].”[15] In either conception the human Will (practical reason) is determined by something outside of itself, making it by nature (as Kant sees it) heteronymous.

Having understood Kant on his own terms and how, as is now apparent, he establishes a morally autonomous system, a greater understanding of the nature of Kant’s autonomy might be seen if I put the account terms of Rhonheimer’s threefold autonomy.[16] I have already negatively defined these conceptions in the articulation of their reciprocal heteronomies, but a positive account is now needed. As mentioned before, the first is “personal autonomy,” which concerns self-determinate and conscious human action with a rational insight into the good. In this way, the individual has mastery over one’s deeds and the freedom to will as he pleases. Here, Kant is in agreement with Rhonheimer in so far as the “ought” arises out of that rational insight by which man acts for the sake of the said good, i.e. he is honest because it is the right thing to do. The second is “functional autonomy,” which in the case of man is the same as his “personal autonomy.” Yet in its essence, “functional autonomy” follows its own law or logic with its own inherent integrity or immanent ratio. The difference in the two kinds of autonomy is that the second articulates the privileged immanent ratio of the first. It is in light of this second autonomy that the distance between the two thinkers is opened up. For Rhonheimer, the fact that man’s “personal autonomy” is his “functional autonomy” makes his “personal autonomy” a “conditioned autonomy, and rests upon that structure of determining conditions we call ‘nature.’”[17] In other words, he sees man’s “functional autonomy” as human nature itself, which establishes through that immanent ratio that self-determining power in man as practical reason (the Will). This is radically different from Kant, who would contend that the two realms of autonomy are one and the same. Not wanting morality to be subject to the “particular constitution of human nature” as mentioned above, Kant would want to see this “functional autonomy” as merely the flip side of a coin. It seems possible to say that the jurisdiction (“functional autonomy”) given as “personal autonomy” is for Kant that very practical reason which determines its own finality through its universal formulation.

The third is “constitutive autonomy,” which describes a relative or absolute indetermination of human action that is preestablished or super-ordained. In this sense, “constitutive autonomy” is the establishment of that “determining condition” otherwise known as human nature by another, i.e. God through the creation of man. This conception can also be called “competence autonomy” in which there is “a conditioned and guaranteed special competence (not independence) for the lawful governance of a definite area.”[18] In other words, man has been gifted with specific powers or faculties by which he can determine his own actions towards an end; man is competent or fitted for his end. Kant finds fault here in the very nature of this third realm of autonomy, which is a relative and preestablished area of governance. This conception places in the same way as the second (“functional autonomy”) the grounds for self-governance on something other than practical reason, on something outside of the individual.

If I may, again, at this point bring in the metaphor used earlier, the difference between these two thinkers will reveal itself with greater clarity. If “personal heteronomy” was that marshal law of the king over his subjects, then “personal autonomy” would most certainly be those same subjects with the capacity to determine their own actions. Or even better yet would be the king, who rules and makes edicts for his subjects at will. He need not appeal to something outside of himself to determine his actions, for he is the king. While I think Kant would intrinsically have to balk at this example because of its implicit convictions, I think it is enough to say that Kant would agree that man as a rational creature and legislator of universal law is the autonomous king of his own moral actions. In the second example, “functional heteronomy” was that lord, who had no intrinsic power or ratio of his own but merely in relation to the king. “Functional autonomy” would, then, be that same lord with his own dignity and power as lord. Although he is dependent on the king for the gift of his manor as will be seen in the next realm of autonomy, the lord as such has an immanent ratio or dignity by which he has the right to rule the manor. As mentioned above, Kant would object that such a manor would have to be given to the lord, since the ground for this dignity or power to legislate universal law would stand as determinate on something outside of the lord himself. Although the lord has his own dignity as a ruler, Kant would prefer the king, who exercises his power absolutely without relation to others. The third “constitutive autonomy,” as opposed to that “puppet ruler” who represented “constitutive heteronomy,” is that same lord, who having been granted his manor from the king exercises a relative power to the king. He stands as the dignified ruler on the foundation of the king’s authority and carries out that ultimate vision or providence of the king as the lord sees fit for his particular manor. It is quite clear at this point how or why Kant would object to this claim. Such universal apriori self-determinations cannot have any relation in authority to something outside of the individual. This is contrary to the very essence of autonomy as Kant sees it.

Having established a positive account of Kant’s view of autonomy and distinguished that from Rhonheimer’s threefold account, I can now show how Kant has reduced man in his ethics to merely the “spiritual.” It is already clear that for Kant no aspect of the body or sensible world should enter into such determinations of the Will as a legislator of universal law, leaving only the immaterial aspect of man (practical reason) as the determining factor of human action. This is the reduction to the “spiritual” aspect of man, yet the reduction goes further. Rhonheimer calls Kant’s conception of autonomy a “theonomous autonomy” in so far as he makes man the constitution of moral norms. Practical reason in this sense has been created by God as a “creative reason,” which molds and shapes the morally good through its exercise.[19] I might add here that man has become his own moral God. God in this account is little more than creator of the universe, who now sits back and watches it play itself out. This is properly speaking deism, leaving man as the autonomous creative self-determinate of good and bad. Man is king, morally speaking, of his own moral universe. Moreover, in this anthropological reduction, Kant has not only reduced the origin of that moralizing “ought” to the “spiritual” but he has also reduced the universe and God’s providence to man’s determination.[20]

Chapter 4: The Alternative—participated theonomy

At this point in the paper, Kant’s distinction between heteronomy and autonomy and the intrinsic reductions (“bodily” and “spiritual”) to which they lead is clear. Further, it is easy to see how both reductions ultimately converge on a project of anthropomorphism be it to the psyche or practical reason of the individual. In either case, man is the measure of morality. It remains to be seen, then, if there is an alternative and what that alternative would look like. Certainly, in light of the reductions the alternative needs to encompass both bodily and spiritual aspects of man, yet without reducing the entirety of moral determinacy to man, avoiding any kind of anthropomorphism. In many ways, such a solution has already been given in the very metaphor or feudal lordship, but as with the last two chapters a more positive and articulate account is needed.

Following Rhonheimer, the solution that is posited as the alternative is participated theonomy, a participation of man in the eternal law. The eternal law, following St. Thomas Aquinas, “is a ‘directive’ plan (ration directiva). According to it, all things have been created and possess an order toward their goal.”[21] In other words, God’s law is the eternal exemplar or blue print for creation, which His creation participates in by forming themselves according to this exemplar. In this way, creation participates both through their being which has been constituted by God’s eternal law (existential participation), and through their operations by which the creature continues to conform itself to that law (operative participation).[22] This is not to say that this participation is some kind of platonic conception with this eternal law existing in ‘formal heaven’ as ultimately other and separate from creation. In fact, man’s very being has been “‘stamped’ (impressio) with the various natural inclinations that all tend toward their own actions and goals…[and] ‘stamped’ by the light of the natural reason…on the basis of which we can decide between what is god and what is evil.”[23] In this way, the eternal law has been written on the hearts (inclinations) and minds (reason) of men.

Looking back to the prior reductions, one can already see how this alternative conception has assumed into itself the bodily and spiritual aspects of man. Rhonheimer claims that the importance of such an all-encompassing account is due to man’s nature as a composite being. God is simple and, therefore, exists only in the mode of knowing. This Divine knowing is at the same time a principle of motion, since God is both knowledge and motion, e.g. His knowledge is His motion. God’s knowledge is, then, immediately productive and creative.[24] But man is composite and, thus, has a twofold participation in the eternal law. Since the human reason cannot move anything in and of itself as God does, it is not immediately productive. This is to say that human reason is only capable of moving something through a moving principle, i.e. the body. Now, one could restrict such moral content to that of the practical reason as Kant has done, but this would mean that the body does not participate in the eternal law. Yet, if the body has stamped upon it natural inclinations and is by the very nature of human reason necessary for moral action, then why would someone exclude this aspect of man from the formulation of moral law? This would be to reduce man to a dualistic view, which could only receive favor in the Platonic tradition.[25]

To further understand participated theonomy on its own terms, I think it is helpful to recapitulate the account in terms of those three categories of autonomy. First (“personal autonomy”), man as embodied spirit is able to rationally determine himself and act from his own freedom. The moral “ought” in this case comes about from man’s practical reason in accord with his inclinations towards what is morally right through the twofold participation in the eternal law. Second (“functional autonomy”), man through his own immanent ratio as an embodied rational creature is able to determine his own actions. Since man has been created in the image of God, he has been stamped with his natural inclinations and with his rational powers to be such an autonomous creature. Thus, man’s “personal autonomy” is his “functional autonomy.” Third (“constitutive autonomy”), man’s relative determinacy due to the gift of his “functional autonomy” is from God, his creator. In this way, God has preestablished his nature through its creation for such autonomous action for participation in the eternal law. One could even say that God fitted man to this participation through this “constitutive autonomy.” Moreover, after this illustration one can see the harmonious interaction between the different levels of autonomy by man’s participation as an active or practical agent in the eternal law. Man receives from God a particular jurisdiction or relative power in which he as a rational creature determines his own actions in accord with the eternal law. Man as the secondary cause is a self-determining co-creator or co-author of the working out of the divine plan that is the eternal law.[26] In this sense, animals do not share such autonomy, only man does.

Before concluding this chapter and moving on to the final chapter of this paper, I might say a bit more about the content of those bodily inclinations and their participation in the eternal law. The inclinations as the stamp of God’s creation upon our embodied are existence the expressions of the divine plan of providence (the eternal law). They are the directive powers of the eternal law in the very structures of our being. In this way, the inclinations are the seeds or possible conditions of virtue. If followed rationally, they become the steady dispositions of moral virtue.[27]

Chapter 5: Christ the King

Thus far it has been shown how such a complete anthropological reduction of morality is accomplished both in Mill through the psychological reduction and in Kant through the “spiritual” reduction. Participated theonomy, has also been shown as that all inclusive alternative to these reduction by taking into account man’s full existence as an embodied spirit. I wish then in this closing chapter to recapitulate this final alternative in light of the standing metaphor, feudal lordship, and reveal why it is such a Catholic alternative. The first sense of autonomy was seen as that king, who sitting upon the thrown can determine his own laws through his own authority as king. Although not entirely wrong, participated theonomy does not see the individual as his own king, as did Kant, but rather as the lord of his own manor.[28] Indeed, man can and does rule through his own immanent ratio as a rational creature, determining his own actions as a dignified and noble ruler. Yet this is only because man has been created or preestablished as such by God. This makes man’s “personal autonomy” his “functional autonomy,” for his self-mastery is accomplished through a dignity or integrity of his own. In other words, man can point to himself as authoritative. He is after all the co-creator of the moral law, as that secondary cause, carrying out the divine plan. But man in his autonomy is also constituted as that competent ruler. Given his existence as autonomous by God, he has a “constitutive autonomy.” This is particularly Catholic in the sense that it reflects the idea of the soul as the form of the body. Man is a composite (embodied soul) and will be brought into the Godhead as such through the resurrection of the body. Thus, any account of man, whether ethical, epistemological, philosophical, or etc…must incorporate all that man is. Kant through his “spiritual” reduction has shown his protestant roots. The obsession of voiding human decision of influences of the body or the world of sense is only understandable in the context of such teachings as total depravity and the like. Philosophically speaking, this is inherently dualistic or Platonic worldview as was said. Again, the Catholic, particularly with the influence of Aristotle through Aquinas, need not have such convictions.

So is Kant’s assessment correct? I think one would have to say that his distinction between autonomy and heteronomy is not only useful, but also true in so far as it shows two extremes of what the truth could and must be. I would even go so far as to say that Kant’s tendency towards autonomy is more true than the alternative heteronomy, which Mill proposes, for at least in Kant’s view man cannot subjectively construe morality to be what he wishes. Yes, he is king of his own moral universe, however, he can rule this universe in no other way than the formulations of the categorical imperative. His rule of morality is thus objective and quite strong. Yet, it voids man of half his existence. The alternative, participated theonomy, allows man to be as he is and to abide in the eternal law as a co-creator, as a lord of his own manor in the kingdom of God. Ultimately, Christ, through whom all things were created, is that King who ordains man as lord over his own manor. And so it is that man rules as a lord in the kingdom of God, autonomous and free as the co-worker in the Lord’s vineyard, carrying out the divine plan through his participation in divine wisdom.



[1] This term is taken from Martin Rhonheimer’s Natural Law and Practical Reason in which he describes Kant’s reduction of morality to that of transcendent rationality as a dualistic anthropological reduction or a “spiritualistic character” (trans. Gerald Malsbary. New York: Fordham University Press, 2000: 213). I will be following Rhonheimer very closely throughout this paper in his evaluation of Kant’s concept of moral autonomy.

[2] Kant, Immanuel. The Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals. trans. James W. Ellington. 2nd ed. of Ethical Philosophy. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 1994: 53 (452). Page numbers in parenthesis are page numbers from the original edition of the Grounding Kant published in German (1785).

[3] See Rhonheimer, Natural law, 204. Rhonheimer does not explain the second “functional heteronomy” very well merely likening it to the “law of sin” that “other law” that St. Paul mentions is opposed to the “law of the spirit.” Although I feel the example above is enlightening, further explanation is necessary. It seems to me that this heteronomy is caught up with a dependence on the positive aspect of its inverse autonomy. “Functional autonomy,” as will be shown later, contains its own immanent ratio, creating its own integrity (dignity). This reciprocal heteronomy merely exists as a negation of this positive autonomy, as the negation of that immanent ratio. Such is sin, which is the privation of the good or grace present before. In this way, the heteronomy cannot stand on its own, for it is merely the lack of that substantial character that is its immanent ratio. Looking back to the example given above, the lord has no power due to his own position as lord, no immanent power, but merely his relation and allegiance to the king. Keep in mind this is not how most feudal lords would have seen themselves. Certainly, the lord has power in relation to the king, but the lord also has power over his manor because it is his own, and he is its lord. In other words, the position truly has a substantial character to it, an immanent ratio or dignity to which the lord can point and on account of which he can demand respect and power.

[4] Mill, John Stuart. Utilitarianism. 2nd ed. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 2001: 39.

[5] See Mill, Utilitarianism, 37.

[6] Mill, Utilitarianism, 39.

[7] Mill, Utilitarianism, 33.

[8] Hume, David. An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1983: 71.

[9] See Hume, Enquiry, 25-6.

[10] Kant, The Grounding, 41 (436).

[11] Kant, The Grounding, 53 (452).

[12] Kant, The Grounding, 38 (431).

[13] Kant, The Grounding, 45 (441).

[14] See Kant, The Grounding, 46-7 (442-43).

[15] Kant, The Grounding, 46 (442).

[16] For the bulk of the discussion about to follow see Rhonheimer, Natural Law, 195-204.

[17] Rhonheimer, Natural Law, 198. This has to do with the fact that the terms as Rhonheimer uses them are not coterminous. Although in man the two are the same, they are different coinciding realms of autonomy, the second standing as the grounds for the first.

[18] Rhonheimer, Natural Law, 200.

[19] See Rhonheimer, Natural Law, 217.

[20] It would be interesting to ask here in what way one could expect any different from Kant, since in his underlying epistemology the world must be subject to and fit into the categories of understanding that man imposes on reality. In this way, it seems that Kant begins his anthropological and “spiritual” reduction in his epistemology.

[21] Rhonheimer, Natural Law, 245.

[22] See Rhonheimer, Natural Law, 245.

[23] Rhonheimer, Natural Law, 244.

[24] See Rhonheimer, Natural Law, 248.

[25] See Rhonheimer, Natural Law, 248.

[26] See Rhonheimer, Natural Law, 246.

[27] See Rhonheimer, Natural Law, 250-51.

[28] As mentioned earlier, I think Kant would balk at this example due to the form of government. Although I am not entirely sure what Kant’s example would look like, I think it is necessarily opposed to such a worldview as feudal lordship. Rather, such forms of government as democracy would be more sympathetic to Kant’s view of autonomy, and this makes sense due to the American founding father’s love of Kant.