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Professor Doug McManaman

10 commandments summary

A Concise Summary for High School Students

Doug McManaman
May 24, 2014
Copyright © 2014
Reproduced with Permission

The Ten Commandments in the Torah (Exodus 20) are a formulation of the basic precepts (moral principles) of morality. Jews and Christians believe they were revealed by God to Moses, but to understand the content of those precepts does not require the supernatural virtue of faith as such, but are understandable through the natural light of human reason. Let's go over each one:

1. You shall have no other gods besides the Lord your God : As you know by now, it is of the utmost importance to read Scripture in its historical context. Thus, let's keep in mind that the Jews spent years in Egypt, and when Moses came down from Mount Sinai, he found them engaged in revelry; they'd fallen into the worship of the Egyptian god, Apis, who is represented in the Egyptian pantheon as a bull (Ex 32, 1ff). Apis was the god of strength and fertility, that is, power and wealth.

To worship something is to make it the center around which your life revolves. There are many possible things around which a person might center his life. Although very few can be found who actually bow before idols of gold, few can be found who have not made the pursuit of power and wealth their chief purpose in life. No matter what form it may take, violating the first commandment, which is the sin of idolatry, is nothing other than the worship of the self; for the pursuit of power and money as one's principal end is, in the end, a pursuit of the self as center of one's life.

2. You shall not take the Lord's name in vain : This means using God's name frivolously, without reverence, that is, "dragging it through the mud". A person does that when he swears an oath, using God's name: "…so help me God" - thus calling on God as a witness that he is telling the truth -, and then lying. Moreover, swearing is not the same as foul language. Swearing involves using the name of God as a curse; foul language, on the other hand, is just foul language, certainly inconsiderate and a sign of a lack of self-control, but it is much less serious than swearing in the true sense of the word.

3. Keep holy the Sabbath day : For Jews, the Sabbath begins on Friday evening and continues throughout the following Saturday. For Christians, because Christ rose from the dead on Sunday, the Sabbath begins on Saturday evening and continues throughout the following Sunday. For the Jews, the word 'sacred' means 'set apart'. The Sabbath is set apart from all other days as a day of worship and contemplation. This life is about preparing for eternal life, and eternal life is a life of eternal worship and contemplation of God as He is in Himself. This is represented in the 7 day work week, which is an ever recurring microcosm of human life to remind us where we are going. Each day of the week is a work day, but our labour is ordered towards 'rest', which is the Sabbath ( saba is Hebrew for 'seven' and 'oath' by which we enter into covenant). Leisure is a holy activity, and the highest way to leisure is to contemplate, and the highest form of contemplation is to contemplate the highest being, which is God. The very word 'holiday' means holy day . Western culture has lost a sense of this notion of holiday as a holy day, which is why holidays are devoted less to worship than they are to 'shopping'. Consumerism has become the new religion, and the malls have become the new churches.

4. Honour your father and mother, so that you may live long in the land that the Lord is giving you : We have a debt to our parents, a debt that we cannot fully repay. But we are obligated in justice to repay that debt as much as we are able. We do that by honouring them. To honour, for the Jews, meant 'to glorify'. We are called to glorify our parents, who are glorified by our success, because our success reflects back on them. We need to be careful, however, of the way we define success; for it has come to mean a number of different things for different people. Good marks, a well-paying job, material prosperity are "success" relatively speaking, but one can achieve a great deal in this area and turn out to be a moral failure, and that dishonours our parents. Human success has more to do with human integrity, which is a moral achievement. A saint is an example of what it means to be a genuine success.

5. You shall not kill : The human person is created in the image and likeness of God, that is, in the image of "knowledge and love", or "mind and heart". In other words, a human being is like God insofar as he is a person who has the power to think and choose freely. Everything else in creation, i.e., plants, animals, minerals, exists to serve his needs. The human person, on the other hand, was willed into existence by God for his own sake, not as an instrument of the state or an instrument to be used by others (i.e., slavery in all its many forms). We destroy instruments when they are no longer useful (we throw out old computers, televisions, pens, clocks, etc.). But the value of a human being cannot be calculated on the basis of his/her usefulness; to do so is to reduce him or her to a mere instrument to be used. As this utilitarian mentality spreads throughout a culture, we see a corresponding increase in the direct and indirect killing of others (i.e., abortion, infanticide, euthanasia, fraud, the murder of reputations, indifference to the sick, the suffering, the poor, etc.).

6. You shall not commit adultery : The first and immediate community into which we are born is the family, which is the fundamental unit of society, often compared to the cell of the human body. The family begins in marriage, and marriage is holy. It is an institution, that is, an organization that exists for the public welfare. In other words, it is more than a private friendship. Moreover, it was established by God (see Gn 2, 24). Marriage is a complete and mutual self-giving of two, male and female; as such it is a joining of two into a one flesh, one body union. Because this self-giving is total, it is physical, until death, exclusive and undivided, and it is ordered to the generation of new life. The act of sexual union is an expression of this one flesh union; adultery is an act of infidelity to one's marital promises and reduces the sexual act to a lie (one is joining himself to someone who is not his spouse). The precept against adultery includes, within its scope, all sexual activity that is outside of marriage.

7. You shall not steal : A right always corresponds to a duty, and so if you have a duty to raise your children, to protect them, feed them, educate them, etc., then you have a right to the means needed to fulfil those duties. This means you have a right to the property you need to carry out the obligation to rear your children. You have the right to use your talents to create wealth (the goods and services that you produce) and to enter into mutually agreed upon transactions with others (i.e., I will produce this table for you, if you pay me the cost of the materials as well as the cost of the labour). To steal is to take what rightfully belongs to another. If I steal from you, I decide to change the terms of your mutual transactions. For example, you produce something that someone else wants and is willing to pay for; he freely agrees to pay you, let's say, $100 for the product or service. On the table, I see the $100 that you collected from him after the sale. I take it. So I've decided that you are going to produce that good or that service (whatever it was) without any remuneration for your labour. In other words, you are going to work for me, without payment and without your consent. This is a violation of justice.

8. You shall not bear false witness : A liar is a person who cannot be trusted. He is one who brings about a "split" within himself, that is, a division, a degree of disintegration. Lying is an immediate violation of "integrity"; for there is a separation between what is in the liar's word and what is in his mind. Although the truth is in his mind, it is not in his word.

But man has been created in the image and likeness of God, who is absolutely one with His Word, which is why everything comes into existence through the power of His Word: "God said: Let there be light, and there was light…" Hence, I ought to become increasingly one with my words, not divided from them; for the more our word becomes united and filled with the content of the truth that is in us, the more like God we become. The more our word is emptied of that content and is made to express not ourselves but some other falsehood (as happens when we lie), the more unlike God we become.

Lying involves a kind of meditation. Consider a poorly constructed lie: "I couldn't return your urgent call because I was out all weekend, hunting elephants." It is easy to see through such a lie - not much thought has gone into it. A more carefully crafted lie requires more thought and meditation.

Why meditation? The reason is that the mind thinks, but the spirit meditates, and when the liar thinks of the best way to craft his lie, his spirit is open to the best suggestions. But spirit opens upon spirit, not flesh. The spirit of the liar does not open upon God, who is Spirit and Truth, but upon the spirit whom Christ refers to as "the father of lies" (Jn 8, 44), whom Scripture refers to as the most crafty of all God's creatures (Gn 3, 1). The crafty liar engages in a kind of anti-prayer. And the "split" within the self that the liar brings about by lying is a fissure through which the influence of darkness seeps in even further.

As the liar continues to lie - for we are creatures of habit -, he gradually loses himself, and at some point his loss is virtually irretrievable. Soon he will begin to delight in his lies, because through his successes he demonstrates to himself his apparent intellectual superiority over all who have been hoodwinked, every one of whom has become a means to the liar's own ends, puppets within the environment he schemes to construct for himself.

Lying is the very antithesis of prayer, and its effects are equally opposed to those of genuine prayer, such as integration, light, community, and salvation. The only remedy against lying is a commitment that absolutely excludes it, always, everywhere, and in every circumstance.

9 & 10. You shall not covet your neighbor's wife; You shall not covet your neighbor's goods : To covet, as used here, is to have inordinate desire for something or someone. The one who covets is unsatisfied with what he has; or more to the point, with what he is . Everything is subject to the providence of God, and everything that happens is contained within the larger plan of divine providence. This is true even in light of the fact that human beings make free choices. Now all of us have a place within the plan of divine providence. We all have our place in this world, just as an artist assigns a specific place to a particular dab of paint of a particular color. Our place contributes to the splendor of the whole plan of providence fully realised. The problem is we love ourselves too much, and so we must spend the rest of our lives working to decrease that inordinate love of self in order to give greater increase to the love of God and the entire plan of providence. Coveting is a sign that have work to do; it is an indication that we still desire to exceed our natural limitations, to be more than what we are. And that's the root of the problems in this world; we love ourselves too much and others not enough. This commandment calls us to learn to love others as 'another self', to delight in their blessings as if they were our own. The more progress we make along these lines, the happier we become, because the happiness of others eventually becomes our own.

A final thought . There is a reason why the first three commandments have to do with our relationship with God, while the last seven govern our relationship to our neighbours. The reason is that we simply cannot love our neighbour unless we love God first. A right relationship with our neighbor is simply the result of a right relationship with God. If I do not see my neighbour in relation to God, that is, as belonging to Him, it is not long before I begin to love him primarily for the sake of what he does for me. It is only when I see him from God's point of view that I can love him for his own sake, and not for my sake, because God has loved each person into existence for his own sake . Our love of neighbour will merely be an extension or an expression of our love for God. If an atheist truly and genuinely loves his neighbor for his own sake - something I am simply unable to judge with any certainty, one way or another -, then I would have to say that such an "atheist" loves God without explicitly knowing it, just as whoever says, "I love God," but hates his brother, is a liar, "for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen" (1 Jn 4, 20).


Sensation, Intelligence and Brain Activity

Thoughts on Sensation, Intelligence, and Brain Activity
Can our knowledge be reduced to brain activity?
Dcn D. McManaman
First, let me emphasize the real distinction between sensation and intelligence. Since, however, sensation is more
evidently intertwined with matter, I would like explore this mode of knowing first; for if we can appreciate the
immateriality involved in sensation, appreciating the immateriality in intellectual knowledge will be much easier.
The first point is that sensation is an activity. This is such a significant point. The reason is that if sensation is an
activity, it involves an agent, a single substance or being. It is an agent who sees, who hears, who touches, who tastes,
who imagines and who remembers, etc. I, who am a single being, perceive. It is not my eyes that see, rather, I see by
means of the sense organ. So too, it is not my ears that hear, rather, I hear by means of the end organ of the ear drum.
But of course, it is not merely the end organ (i.e., the eye). “Organ” also refers to the cortical center of the brain, and also
to their connecting link (i.e., the optic nerve). Also, by extension, it is not my brain that perceives, nor is it my brain that
is aware. I am aware, and I sense by means of the organ of the brain. The brain is a part of me.
Now, the agent who is able to sense (which is an activity) is, logically, the kind of agent who has the potentiality to
sense, or the power to sense, i.e, to see. I have the power to see. So, sense organs are not enough. There is both power
and organ. The reason is that an activity is an “act” or actualization, and actualization means that a capacity or
potentiality is reduced to actuality (or act or activity). Activity is the realization of a potentiality. The agent is the first act
(for there is no seeing without a seer, just as there is no running without a runner). But “activity”, such as that of seeing,
is called “second act”. Between first and second act is the power or potentiality to activity (that is, the power to see, taste,
touch, imagine, etc).
A camera is a mechanism, but it is not a single agent that sees. A camera does not see, it does not perceive. There is no
activity, just passivity (something happens to it). In fact, when we use a camera, the camera is simply an extension of our
own activity, that is, it is an instrument of our own activity. But sensation is an activity of a single agent, a single being
that has the power to see. Thus, sensation is rooted in a psychosomatic composite (a substance that is a matter/form
unity). A sense cannot function without both a power and an organ, and so any damage to an organ will interfere or even
destroy the ability of the sense to operate. A plant does not see or touch (the Venus fly trap does not feel), it does not
have the power to see, or touch, or taste, or hear. Sensation is a vital act, an immanent act of a living thing, not an
inanimate act of an inanimate substance. For example, rusting is not a vital act, burning is not a vital act, causing
moisture is not a vital act; but sensation is a vital act (an immanent act), an act of a living thing or living being. Sensation
is an agent’s awareness of a singular material thing that is other than the agent, a material singular that is outside the
Now, there is a passive element to sensation; there has to be. Something has to move the power from potency to activity,
and the object of sensation is a material singular, so it is going to be a material thing that acts upon the senses. So in
sensation, what occurs is that the sense organ is acted upon (passivity), and the agent senses (acts) by means of the organ.
Because sensible things are actually sensible, they can be immediately sensed by a sense power. To be sensed, they need
only impinge upon a sense power, since a sensible thing is already (actually) sensible in itself, and so there is no need for
an active power to render or reduce it to the state of being actually sensible. So, although man requires an agent intellect
to reduce what is potentially intelligible to being actually intelligible, there is no “agent sense”.
The senses must be acted upon if they are to know, as color must act upon the eyes if I am to see, and as compression
waves must act upon the ears if I am to hear. So, the senses are passive powers, faculties or potencies—faculties or
potencies are known, they are not seen or perceived. Hence, the senses must be moved to activity. The eye, as well as
any other sense, when passive (before it senses), is not determined. The senses, then, when not actually sensing, are
indifferent as to what they are to report. The eye is indeterminate or indifferent as to what color it will see (of course, it is
not the eyes that see, but I see by means of the organ). To say that the organ is indifferent is to maintain that it is in itself
indeterminate or unspecified, and therefore, to know one definite object, the sense must be determined or specified.
That which specifies the sense is called a “sensible species”. Thus, the reason I see a tree and not a dog or a cat is because
the object known (the tree) specifies my act of knowing. This sensible species is produced by the extramental object
acting upon the sense organ. Moreover, since every effect somehow resembles its cause, the sensible species (the effect)
carries the nature of its producing cause (the physical object). This species carries the nature of the physical object
because the species is produced by that object: it is emitted by the object. A sensible species is a physical radiation
emanating from the sensible thing (without it, my senses would not be moved to act). This species is a precursor of
sensation; it is not a sensation floating through space searching for a cognitive agent. As a vital act, sensation is
immanent: it is in the knower. As a precursor to sense knowledge, the species itself is not known.
Inasmuch as knowing is an activity, what must be explained is the transition to this activity. Prior to the activity, the
senses are not active but passive. It remains passive until awakened by an external object, until it receives a species or a
determinant from that object. It is only upon reception of this determinant that the act of sensation takes place. After
having been activated by the species, the sense performs its act of sensation. This is knowledge.
Yet our knowledge is a knowledge of things, not the sensible species. If it were a knowledge of the species, or what is
happening within us, or what is happening to our sense organs, then to perceive is not to perceive things, but our own self,
or some aspect of our self. We would not know things, we would not know the sensible world, but only what is in us.
And if that were the case, we would not even know that we don’t know the sensible world but only ourselves, and we
wouldn’t even be able to distinguish between an optical illusion and a normal perception that is non illusory. Thus, when
a person argues that we can’t know whether or not there is an extramental world, or that optical illusions prove that our
senses are unreliable, they show the opposite, in fact.
Now, what requires further elaboration is how an external thing can, by arousing the senses, become an object of
A machine is not an agent who acts. A machine can be acted upon, but there is no transition from being acted upon to
acting. The machine is not perceiving, because the machine is not a single being, not a single agent with the power to see,
or touch, or imagine, or desire, etc.
To study the biochemistry of sense perception is to study this passive aspect of sensation. But the scientific study of
this passive aspect of sensation involves sensation on the part of the one doing the studying (the scientist)--the scientist
must be perceiving (acting, activity). He is studying one side of it, the side that he’s unaware of as an ordinary
sensing creature in the act of perceiving—we’re all unaware of that aspect. But to study the passive aspect of sensation
is not the same thing as studying sensation (which is a study involving reflection and reasoning), and much less is it
the same thing as the actual awareness involved in the act of sensation—we’re all aware of ourselves sensing (thanks
to the central sense, or synthetic sense), but few of us are familiar with the biochemistry of the eye and what occurs when
one sees. A strict study of the passive aspects, that is, the biochemical conditions of sense perception, without knowing
sensation from within, would not provide us with a knowledge of the activity of sensation—we wouldn’t know what it
means to sense. That can only be known from within. I know that I perceive, that I sense, that I see, that I taste, etc.
And so the one cannot be reduced to the other. The one is related to the other, the one is a necessary condition for the
other, but not a sufficient condition. In other words, sense perception cannot be reduced to neuro biochemistry. To
reduce it to that is to destroy it, to eliminate it.
That is why a mechanistic approach (reductionistic materialism) cannot account for sensation. Only a psychosomatic
anthropology can account for it. You are a psychosomatic unity (a matter/form unity), you are a multiplicity insofar as
you are a material and quantified thing (i.e., with many parts), but you are a unity insofar as you are a being, an acting
agent (one is a property of being, for whatever is, is one).
Now the word ‘object’ is derived from two words: ob: towards, and jacio: to throw. An object projects itself or emanates
a likeness of itself towards a subject, which emanation is the species or determinant that impinges upon the external
senses. This emitted determinant, by impressing itself upon the senses, activates the recipient power from its state of nonsensing
to sensing.
G. J. Gumerman writes: “All materials at temperatures above absolute zero in the natural environment produce
electromagnetic radiation in the form of waves. The electromagnetic spectrum is a continuum of natural and induced
radiation in wavelengths varying from fractions of a micrometer to kilometers”. (Gumerman and Lyons, Science, April 9,
1971. P. 126.). Every object produces its own specific radiation. Now, at this moment there are, in the room you are in,
sound and color waves of which you are unaware, because you are not properly attuned to receive them. You can verify
this by simply turning on a radio or television set. These devices (mechanisms) are able to catch and register the
impinging waves. Similarly, an object is radiating its likeness. Such emanations from the object hit all surrounding
things (desks, chairs, walls, people, etc.) Just as radio or TV waves can be picked up only by a proper receiver, so
likewise only cognitive beings can catch the emitted determinants*. How these determinants travel from the object to
the knower is as difficult to explain as the picture on the TV screen. The sensible species comes from the physical object,
thus it is a received species; and to say it is received is to state that it impresses itself upon the sense: it is an impressed
species. It is the function of the determinant to unite knower with known, to make the external object present to
the sense organ or power. What I perceive when I am in the act of perceiving something is not the species, but the
material thing outside me.
That is what is so mysterious about knowledge (sense knowledge and more so, intellectual or conceptual knowledge).
The determinant (sensible species) unites knower with the known. The sensible species is a formal sign whose sole
function is to signify. It is purely intentional. If it were not, our sense knowledge would be at best indirect knowledge. I
wouldn’t know things, but the sensible species, and then I’d have to somehow deduce that it was the result of some cause
that has a likeness to it. But then we are back to square one, and we now have to explain how I know the sensible species,
i.e., by means of another species?
An “object” (according to the etymology of the word) is that which is presented to a subject (thrown at). You are a single
subject, which is why we can speak of an object of sensation: subject and object are correlative terms. But a machine,
like a computer, is not a subject (it does not have a subjectivity). It is purely and completely an object. It can be the
subject of a change, for example, it can begin to rust. But it is not aware of an object, much less aware of its awareness.
At best, a machine becomes an instrument of a living perceiving subject, the one who is using it to take a picture. We
designed the machine, so there is a sense in which we project a kind of subjectivity into it (it is made after the likeness of
the producer, it is an instrument designed to memorialize a moment in time), but there is no subject if there is no single
being. Only a single, knowing, entity, a cognitive being, can be a subject of knowledge, because only a knower has an
object of knowledge. Moreover, each sense has a formal object: the formal object of the sense of sight is color, the formal
or immediate object of the sense of taste is flavor, the formal object of the tactile sense is the pressure or resistance of
external things, the formal object of the temperature sense is relative warmth or coldness of objects, the formal object of
the kinesthetic sense is pressure within the body, etc. An object can only exist for a subject. Without a subject, there is no
object of knowledge, no object as such, only existents (beings or things). They become objects (in the strict sense of objacio)
when a subject enters into the picture.
Now, in the act of sense perception, a knowing subject is modified in a way that can be studied by science. For example,
his sense organs are modified in some way, there is neurological changes in certain parts of his brain, his retina becomes
colored, etc. But when a scientist takes it upon himself to study the biochemistry involved in sense perception, there is an
ordinary, pre-scientific mode of knowing that includes self-knowledge—this is such an important point. Now this selfknowledge,
which involves an intellect capable of complete self-reflection, is a pre-scientific mode of knowing that is
perpetually self-conscious or entirely reflective (i.e., I know that I am knowing, I know that I am sensing, I know that I
am seeing, I know that I am touching, that I am moving, that I am breathing, I know that I am, that I am one, and that my
self-consciousness extends as far as my extremities, for I know that I am not the molecules and atoms in the immediate
atmosphere surrounding my hands, feet, face, body, etc). This pre-scientific knowledge governs the scientific process
from within, so that at each moment, I (the scientist) know what I am studying, for I know that I am coming to
understand the neurological conditions of sense perception and that sense perception is a cognitive act of a knowing
being or subject. If I didn’t have that pre-scientific knowledge, I wouldn’t know what I am doing in studying the
neurological conditions of sense perception. My study would lack a framework and a focus.
It is this that sheds light on the immaterial aspect of sense knowledge. Sense knowledge is not and cannot be entirely
material. Sensation in the human person always involves intellection, which includes complete self-reflection (I know
that I am seeing, I know that I am touching, etc). Now, a material organ is not capable of total self-reflection; for no
material thing is capable of total self-reflection. The reason is that a material thing has parts, and so reflection in a
material thing is only partial: one part can reflect upon another part (but the whole does not reflect upon the whole). Take
a piece of paper and fold it, for example. One part will be folded upon another, or reflected upon another. But a single
part cannot entirely reflect upon itself. The instant a part is made to reflect, it is lifted off and away from where it was
previously. So too, a mirror (which is a material thing) only reflects partially. Now the sense of sight cannot reflect upon
itself, because the sense of sight involves a material organ. The sense of sight does not see itself in the act of seeing, nor
can I touch my sense of touch touching. But I am capable of complete self-reflection, for I know that I am knowing.
Moreover, I know that I am sensing (I know that I am seeing, tasting, hearing, etc). I as a whole, a single being, am aware
of myself as a whole. I am aware of my thinking and sensing. That is the self-reflection of a single being that is
indivisible and conscious of that indivisibility (I know that I am one being). It follows that my mind is immaterial, it is
simple and has no parts.
The same cannot be said of the sense organ. The brain is not immaterial, nor is any organ of sensation, which is why the
sense organ does not reflect upon the whole of itself—no sense can sense itself sensing. Nor do I imagine my imagination
imagining. The brain is the organ of internal sensation, and as a material organ, it too cannot engage in complete or
“whole” self-reflection, only partial self-reflection.
Sensation in the brute animal which lacks intelligence and thus lacks the capacity of complete self-reflection, is still
partially immaterial. In other words, sensation in the brute animal is not an entirely material process. It is the activity of
an agent (a psychosomatic unity). It cannot be reduced to the objectivity of neural biochemistry—in sensation, there is a
transition from passivity to activity, and the animal knows something outside itself without changing what it knows (there
is no chemical reaction or chemical change, the organ is specified, but it is not changed or transformed into a different
thing). The animal is aware of something outside of him.
Knowledge per se is not a change. Indeed, physical changes accompany knowledge (sense and intellectual). All human
knowing implies a physical change, because it is linked to sense perception. But although all knowledge is accompanied
by a physical change (my finger immersed in warm water becomes physically warm), this change does not constitute
knowledge. A thermometer also becomes hot if immersed in hot water, yet there is no knowledge in the thermometer. So
too, the camera receives an impression of the object being photographed, yet there is no knowledge. Sensation involves
change, but change is not knowledge. To be physically heated is not to sense heat. In seeing, there is a physical
alteration in the organs: there is a contraction or dilation of the senses, and chemical processes occur in the rods and
cones. In plant life, in order to become something other than itself, a plant must cease being itself (i.e., a tree becomes a
wooden desk by first ceasing to be a living tree). In cognitive life, however, the knower becomes the known without
ceasing to be. Knowledge opens up the subject, enabling him to become “intentionally” what he cannot become
physically. Knowledge is not a physical becoming, but an intentional becoming. It is an immaterial becoming, even in
the brute animal. An immaterial power of a psychosomatic unity is actualized—even though this actualization is
inextricably linked to the changes in a sense organ. Without losing his physical identity, a cognitive being shares in the
perfections of other things. In sensation, the perfections it shares are not as profound as the perfections shared in
intellection—the animal only perceives the accidental modes of being of things (i.e., color, flavor, size, temperature,
pressure, etc). There is a much richer apprehension in intellectual knowledge.
The brute animal is aware that it is sensing through the central sense (or synthetic sense), which is an internal sense that
unifies the separate data received from each external sense, composing the data into a single percept (internal sensible
species), so that the animal knows (sense knowledge) that what it smells, touches, and tastes, and sees, all belong to the
same single object (i.e., the single apple or the meat, etc).
There is simply no way that the sense activity of a single agent can be understood reductionistically or mechanistically.
The reason is that to reduce a substance to a collection of substances, to a multiplicity, is to destroy the unity, or better yet,
it is to forget the unity, to overlook it, that is, to have one’s head so immersed in the multiplicity of the molecular or
subatomic realm that one loses awareness of the initial knowledge of the thing, the initial apprehension of what this thing
is, and the existential judgment “that it is” (and is one). When that is lost, one must account for sensation as an activity of
a single substance or entity, but one cannot do that unless one knows that single substance. Sensation is not a passivity of
some accidentally unified “thing” (as if “thing” or “substance” is merely some kind of illusion, as the reductionist
Now, the intelligible species is another thing altogether. The intelligible content of a thing, the idea, the concept
conceived within the mind, is of an entirely different nature. At least a percept can be remembered, and when it is
remembered, one is aware that it is an image, a sensible image, a particular, one that corresponds to the thing in reality.
When I imagine John Smith, that image is a remembered percept that corresponds vaguely to his appearance when he
came to see me a couple of weeks ago, and when he was in my class last year. But an intelligible species is altogether
different. It is not an image, but a meaning. Simple or complex ideas have no image, they are not sensible. Take the idea
“complex”—it is not a sensible; it does not look like anything at all. It is an intelligible idea. Consider the idea of
metaphor, or the concept “analogy”, or the complex idea “a metaphor is not an analogy”. The idea “analogy” does not
bear upon any particular analogous relationship, but covers them all. Most importantly, the apprehension of existence
(being)—, which is not to be confused with the general idea of being—is not an image, it is not sensible, but it is the most
intelligible aspect of things—before I sense a being’s color, and before I apprehend “what that thing is” (its essence), I
apprehend “that it is”. The act of existence (esse) cannot even be made into a concept. I can have a concept of John
Smith (i.e., he is human), but I apprehend his existence at the same time, and the apprehension of an act of existing is
neither a sense perception nor the apprehension of a thing’s essence—it is an apprehension “that you are”.
Being cannot be made into a concept, for to do so is to make it a genus. Recall that the specific difference is always
outside the genus (rational is outside the concept animal, otherwise all animals would be rational), but the only thing
outside of being is non-being, which is nothing. So being cannot be a genus, it is not a logical entity like an idea. Being
or existence (esse) is an act, and you and I have the ability to apprehend that act. But that is not an image, it is not a
sensible. I cannot hear existence, I cannot see existence. I hear sounds of existing things (birds), I see the colors of
existing things, and my mind gradually apprehends the nature of the things I perceive through intellectual abstraction, but
I judge (apprehend) the very existence of the thing that is colored, moving, smooth and cold, etc.
The brain is active while I am thinking, because my thinking is always accompanied by sense impressions, sense
memories, perceptions, internal images of words, etc. Although being is not an image, my imagination provides one
nonetheless, such as the very image of the word ‘being’. But concepts are not extended, they are not mutable, nor are they
divisible (they are indivisible), etc. But once again, it is a single agent that knows, that conceives ideas, who understands
the diverse natures of things (partially, imperfectly, to be sure), the interrelations between things, who perceives the
motions of things but also understands the meaning of those motions (I perceive a moving thing, but I also understand that
this motion is a person running for his life, or diving to win gold, or building to shelter his family, etc). And so even
motions are particular and universal; there is this motion here, and motion in general, like the motion of “chemical
The problem with reductionism is that it is a knowledge issue. It’s not about science, it is about knowledge
(epistemology). There is an epistemological error buried in reductionism. It is rooted in a lack of awareness of the role of
knowledge in the scientific process, in particular the role of pre-scientific knowledge.
A reductionistic method of producing knowledge of the constituent parts of a whole does not yield a knowledge of this
unity that you possess from within, ordinarily and pre-scientifically—you know yourself as one being. It only yields
knowledge of a plurality (a multiplicity of parts). And you understand the plant or your pet cat, etc., as a single whole
precisely because you know yourself as a single whole. You and I correctly interpret an animal’s writhing in pain because
we know pain’s reality from within, and we project this knowledge into the animal when we see it acting in a similar way
to our own experience. Without that interior knowledge, writhing in pain would appear to be a kind of geometric folding
and contorting. In the same way, you know yourself as an extended substance (through external and internal sense
perception), but you also know yourself as a single entity, that is, as one being—and you know this through selfconsciousness,
and you become conscious of yourself when you know something outside yourself. That is part of the
reason why you know things as unified things or beings. You know that apple as a single thing, that it is distinct and not
continuous with the atmosphere around it or the table below it. Although the animal might not be aware of its own
awareness (that requires an immaterial intellect that is capable of complete self-reflection, not just the central sense), and
thus might not be aware of its own awareness of its state of pain, (but only aware of its pain), you understand that this
animal is in a lot of pain. In the same way, it is this experience of your own interiority, this experience of yourself from
within as a single and indivisible whole that allows you to understand that the cells in this frog, or in this man, are parts of
the single being (whole) that is this frog or man.
So it is not reductionism that can account for self-consciousness, it is self-consciousness that renders the reductionistic
method of doing science possible. That’s what reductionism is, a method. It is not a metaphysics. It is not a philosophy
of reality. When Arthur Eddington, for example, said that solidity is an illusion, that it is not real, because this table is
made up of atoms that are mostly empty space, he was substituting ordinary pre-scientific knowledge with a knowledge
derived from a method. It was a knowledge issue at the root of that absurd claim. But test his hypothesis; throw a brick at
him and watch how quickly he gets out of the way. Why? He knows that brick is solid. Solidity is a property that
belongs to things, and we know things ordinarily, and that ordinary pre-scientific knowledge is not illusion. If it were, so
too is the knowledge derived from a scientific method; for there is only one faculty of knowing, and if it is defective and
unreliable on the initial level, it is unreliable on all subsequent levels.
Without the self-consciousness of your own radical unity, you could not know “parts” to be what they are, namely “parts
of a whole”, and thus you would never come to know a being (a thing). Again, although one cannot lose a sense of this
self-consciousness and continue doing science, one can indeed never come to an explicit awareness of the role this
self-consciousness plays in rendering an empiriometric and reductionistic method possible and fruitful.
* The word “determinant” is a perfect word to use here. Note the etymology of the word: de term or de limit. To
determine is to “terminate” or end. Something which has a term has an end; it is finite. A motion that terminates is a
motion that comes to an end. Now, when treating motion or change, we studied the four causes (agent, formal, material,
and final). The final cause is the end or term. A motion comes to its end when the form (formal cause) is achieve, that is,
when the motion is perfected (made through). A determinant determines, that is, specifies, or informs. What radiates
from the object determines or specifies the organ. It informs it. Knowledge, whether it is sense knowledge or intellectual
knowledge, is about being “informed”, that is, it is about the power (sense or intellect) becoming specified (sensible
species or intelligible species).
Copyright © 2012 by Douglas P. McManaman
All Rights Reserved

sexuality in Perspective

Sexual Activity in Perspective

Doug McManaman
Copyright © 2012 by Douglas P. McManaman
Reproduced with Permission

Many of us struggle to understand the nature of certain things because we have a tendency to focus on them in isolation from the whole of which, in the real world, they are a part. And because we tend not to re-integrate what we have come to understand within the context of the whole, the result is a body of disintegrated knowledge that allows us to maintain ideas that, when fully unpacked, lead to contradictions and absurdities. We remain unaware of these inconsistencies because we fail to do the unpacking. As an example, the typical biology student will maintain that he is alive because every cell in the body is alive (not vice versa). But for some reason, it never occurs to him to reflect upon his own experience of himself as a single, unified, living thing -- and not a multiplicity of billions of living things -- and ponder the incompatibility between that experience and his reductionistic biology.

This same tendency to consider "the part" in isolation from the whole without re-integrating that part within the whole -- to which it belongs in the realm of the real -- seems to show itself in all areas of knowledge, for instance, in the area of morality, particularly sexuality. But if we are to make any real sense of the morality of sexual acts, sexuality has to be understood within the context of the "whole" of which it is a part. So I'd like to begin by looking at the hierarchy of material substances within the physical universe as a whole.

We know naturally that there is a hierarchy of material being in the physical universe. This means that some substances are superior to others, that is, they have more power. The lowest level on the hierarchy is the mineral, the level of inert matter. On this level, a thing is moved by something outside itself, which in turn moves something outside of it; this kind of motion is transient. Up from the mineral level is the vegetative level, characterized by self-movement or immanent activity. Plants grow from within (incretion), they reproduce, and they engage in nutritive activity, taking inert matter from the soil, for example, and transforming it into living matter. Up from the vegetative level is the animal level, specifically characterized by a more immanent activity, namely sensation and sense appetite. Here, the animal knows material singulars, such as this tree, that piece of meat, the cat on the road, etc., without destroying it in the act of perceiving it. Up from the animal level is the human level, which is specifically characterized by intellectual knowledge, which is the knowledge of the natures of things. Human beings possess universal ideas (i.e., art, education, truth, love, person, etc.,), not merely particular images. As such, they come to know things as they are in themselves.

To understand this more fully, consider that an animal -- that has the power to sense material singulars -- really only pays attention to what has reference to itself and its own appetite for survival. I have to be very careful after having finished painting an Icon that I do not leave it where a cat could get at it, because the cat will smell the egg used in the paint and begin licking the icon, thus destroying it. My dog chewed the spine of a 1941 edition of The Basic Works of Aristotle that I purchased many years ago in an old used bookstore, because she perceived "meat" in the cover. The cat does not know the Icon as it is in itself, but only insofar as it has a reference to its appetite (self), so too my dog has no clue what a valuable book is, much less the works of Aristotle. If that cover was made of a material that does not arouse the appetite, she would have paid no attention to it.

But human intelligence is the ability to grasp what a thing is not insofar as it has reference to me and my own appetites, but as it is in itself. I know the other not insofar as he is of some benefit to me, but simply as he is in himself, namely, a human kind of being of the same nature as myself. And because I know him as he is in himself (his nature), without reference to me or my needs, I can will the best for him for his own sake, not for my sake -- whether I choose to do so is another matter altogether. So too, works of art, ancient historical texts, or aspects of the natural world are all things that I can know, appreciate and reverence for their own sake without them having any direct reference to me and my sense appetites.

But what is interesting about the hierarchy of material being is that there is a hierarchy within each level of the hierarchy. Some chemicals are more stable than others, and some plants are more stable, more beautiful, and more complex than others (most of us would much rather receive a rose than a bacteria). There is clearly a hierarchy within the animal kingdom; a horse, for example, is superior to a worm. Now, what we notice when we examine this more carefully is that the lower a being is within its own hierarchy, the more it approaches the highest being in the level below it. For example, students will often argue that the Venus Flytrap is a sentient creature (an animal) because it appears to sense the presence of a fly and traps it. It is indeed a plant, not an animal, but it is so high up on the hierarchy of vegetative life that it is easy to believe it is a sentient creature. Some animals are so low on the hierarchy of animal life that it is difficult to discern whether or not they are merely plants. Similarly, the higher primates have a remarkable resemblance to the human, making it very easy to mistake their behaviour for intelligent behaviour.

There is a kind of hierarchy on the human level as well, certainly not like what we find on the level below it -- there are no various species of man as there are species of animal. There is, however, a kind of moral or "character" hierarchy established by human persons themselves through their own free choices. And likewise, the lowest on this level will approach the highest on the level below it (the animal level). There are human beings who are intelligent, good looking, and very personable, but who are almost entirely bestial in character. Think of the sociopath who has absolutely no benevolence for others whatsoever, but pays attention to others only insofar as they are of some use to him. We call them predators, wolves in sheep's clothing, or sharks, etc., for they resemble the higher beasts who only pay attention to that which has a reference to themselves and their own appetite for pleasure and survival, and experience no remorse for destroying others for their own benefit. On the other end of the scale is the saint who is willing to give his own life that others may live.

What does this have to do with marriage? Animals do not marry. They do not and cannot love another for the other's own sake, but only with the kind of love that is a passion of the sensitive appetite, and that passion is a love of something for the sake of what it does for the animal (i.e., food, drink, warmth, etc.). The human person, on the other hand, is inclined to marry. Young people today, although they might not completely understand what marriage is, have a genuine desire to marry. But what is it precisely that they desire in their desire for marriage? They have a hard time articulating what it is, but when pushed, they eventually do so; she wants someone to give himself entirely and completely to her, and she wants to give herself entirely and completely to him. Marriage has something essentially to do with intelligent love, and so it is a giving of the self. All specifically human love is a giving of the self, whether it is a giving of one's time, one's attention, one's property, etc. But not all love is a total giving of oneself, nor must it be. But it is very possible for a person to want to give his entire self -- which includes his own body -- to another and to desire that the other receive that total self-giving, and to want that other to reciprocate so that he may freely choose to receive her complete and total self-giving. If this complete and mutual self-giving is to be a genuine giving of the self, and not a taking (a mere passion), then it means that this love is a loving of the other for the other's own sake, not for the sake of the self.

That is precisely what marriage is: a mutual and total giving of one's entire self (body) to one another. It is an irrevocable self-giving precisely because it is total; for if I hand an umbrella to another but hang on to a part of it, I can revoke that giving by pulling back, for I've only given a part while hanging on to another part. But if I give all of it without hanging on to even a part of it, I cannot retrieve it. If a couple genuinely give themselves entirely to one another, that self-giving is an irrevocable gift, for no part of me has been held back. That is why a genuine marriage is an indissoluble one body union that results from a mutual and total giving of the self. The two have given one another an irrevocable identity of "spouse", which cannot be undone any more than one can undo one's identity as a parent -- not even the killing of one's child erases the identity of parent. And because marriage is a mutual and total giving of one's bodily self to another, it is till death, for only death can take my body from another or the other's body from me. Thus, to intend a temporary union is not to intend a marriage. Moreover, because a couple that intends to marry intends a one flesh union, the intention not to have children renders the marriage invalid; for a child is the fruit of the one flesh union of husband and wife. To intend not to have a child is to intend not to be one flesh. Now this intention not to have a child is not the same as not intending to have a child; for a post menopausal woman who wishes to marry can indeed be married, but she will not intend to have children, for it is impossible. But that does not mean she intends not to; for she does not need to intend not to, because it is impossible for her to conceive new life.

Now because marriage is a one flesh union, the couple must be able to actually achieve a one flesh union. In other words, they must be able to receive one another's bodily self giving, and they do so in the act of sexual union. If the couple are not able to perform the sexual act, they are unable to be "one flesh".

The act of sexual union is a marital act, it is the physical expression of what the couple have brought about on the level of their wills, namely a complete and mutual self-giving, given for the sake of the other, not for the sake of the self. And so if the sexual act is to be a genuinely human act -- and thus a fulfilling act --, it must be the expression of that very unique and exclusive conjugal love, and at least open to the procreation of new life, that is, it must not be accompanied by the intention not to have children. In other words, although a couple may not necessarily intend a child in the act of sexual intercourse (if they engage in the act during an infertile stage of the her cycle), they ought not to intend not to conceive; thus a contracepted act of intercourse is not an act of marriage and is thus morally deficient.

The problem with the current cultural understanding of the sexual act is that it is the result of trying to understand it in isolation from the whole, that is, the entire human context. A part can only be understood in relation to the whole, and sexual activity is not a whole unto itself, but only a part of a larger meaning, namely marriage, which in turn is part of a larger meaning. The vehement pleasure associated with sex has diverted our gaze much like the misdirection of a good magician, diverting the audience's attention away from what is really taking place before them. The result is that the meaning of the sexual act is reduced from a genuinely human act of marriage that embodies the two intelligible human goods of "one flesh union" and procreation that constitute marriage, to a quasi animal act that is simply a response to a sense appetite (the pursuit of pleasure). And just as all brute animals only pay attention to that which has a reference to themselves in some way, the pursuit of pleasure as the principal end of the sexual act changes the meaning of the act to one that involves knowing and loving the other for what the other does for the self sensually. In other words, non-marital intercourse is an abuse of the sex act, for it is an abuse of a person, and because the sexual act is the act of marriage, non-marital intercourse is an abuse of marriage.

Marriage is not a private, but a public affair. The reason is that the family is the fundamental unit of society, just as the living cell is the basic unit of the organs of the living body. Friendships are private matters, and the state has no business concerning itself with the private friendships of its citizens. But marriage, by virtue of its life giving character, is an institution, an organization that exists for the public welfare, and so the state has the right and duty to make laws governing marriage. But to do so properly, that is, in a way that will not reduce marriage to a private friendship with insurance benefits, the state must understand the specific nature of marriage and hold it up as the normative ideal that young people naturally desire and aspire after. Not everyone can be married, because not everyone has the psychological maturity and moral capacity (i.e., the virtues) to actually give himself or herself completely and entirely to another. Some are just too low on the moral hierarchy of human existence and live in ways that closely resemble the beasts who do not and cannot marry -- although discerning that can be very difficult, because many are very cunning and hide their true character. But many can be married and want to be, and one of the most serious responsibilities of the civil community is to create the social and legal conditions that will nurture and help preserve that aspiration in the youth. The very survival of the civil community depends upon it.

The Sacraments: Signs and Channels of Grace

The Sacraments: Signs and Channels of Grace

Doug McManaman
Copyright © 2012 by Douglas P. McManaman
All Rights Reserved
Reproduced with Permission

Everyone seems to know from a kind of self-knowledge that it is easier to be cowardly, self-indulgent, impatient and unjust, etc., than it is to be brave, temperate, patient and just, etc. In short, vice is easier than virtue. Human persons have a propensity to sin and self-seeking. And yet man is a social animal; he has a radical need for community. Selfishness is thus utterly contrary to our nature. It is not "natural" that we have a proclivity to that which is unnatural or contrary to our nature. Human nature is thus flawed or wounded, and this is a wound that we have inherited - it would make no sense to suggest that we were created that way.

Our nature is so wounded, in fact, that it is simply not possible on our own strength to rise above its inclination to sin. We stand in need of a supernatural quality that will enable us to rise above that propensity to sin and self-seeking. Divine grace is that quality. Grace is a sharing in the divine life. Our natural life is "human" life, but grace is the divine life infused, by God, into the soul of the human person and is thus supernatural. No one is born in a state of grace, but everyone is born in need of it. There is nothing we can do to earn it, and thus it is gratuitously given.

God is within everything "naturally" as first and preservative cause of a thing's existence, but he is not present in everything supernaturally. Grace is God's supernatural self-communication, a self-communication that is over and above His natural presence. If this were not the case, it would be impossible to speak of the sacred; for the word "sacred" means "set apart". As an example, consider that if God is no more present in the tabernacle than He is in a garbage can, then a chapel is not a sacred place.

The human person is made holy through this supernatural presence, and it is this divine favor (grace) that Christ came to restore. This favor is ours in Him, to the degree that we share in his perfect act of religion (the sacrifice of the cross): "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me" (Mk 8, 34). The world now belongs to Christ; it has been reconciled to the Father through him.

It is in the Person of Christ that we have the forgiveness of sins. We will taste death, but if we die in Him, we will also live with Him: "If, then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him" (Rm 6, 8). We still suffer from a dulling of the intellect, which is one of the effects of Original Sin, but as divine grace increases in us, the more we share in the personal gifts of the Holy Spirit, especially wisdom, knowledge and understanding. And although we still suffer from an inclination to sin, through grace we have all that we need to rise above this tendency and live in holiness: "God is faithful and will not let you be tempted beyond your strength; but with the temptation he will also provide a way out, so that you may be able to bear it" (1 Cor 10, 13).

But man is a unity of spirit and matter. In other words, he is a psychosomatic unity. Matter plays a very important role in every aspect of our lives, and this includes the spiritual life. There is so much in us that is invisible, but we naturally make that visible and tangible for others. For example, the love we have for another is in itself not visible, but we are moved to make visible this love in some way through matter, for example, in a rose, or a poem, or a gift of some kind. Our ideas are in themselves invisible and immaterial, but we express those ideas in words that are audible, or visible when written. Our own moral character is invisible, but that character is shaped and expressed through the concrete choices we make, and eventually that character is stamped in the lines and contours of our own faces.

That is why the spiritual life, if it is a human spirituality congruent with man's bodily nature, is intimately bound up with matter. Supernatural grace, which is invisible in itself, is communicated to us through material signs, or sacramental signs. For the Catholic, grace is ordinarily (not exclusively) communicated sacramentally, through the instrumentality of matter, that is, through matter that is both visible and tangible, such as water, oil, or bread and wine.

Baptism and the Gifts of the Holy Spirit

The sacraments are the actions of Christ's Mystical Body, the Church. More specifically, they are channels of divine grace, as a wire is a channel of electricity, or pipes a channel of water. Each sacrament is a unity of a natural sign that is material, and a word, which is the form that makes it to be a real sacrament. For example, the matter of the sacrament of baptism is water. Moreover, water is a natural sign; it signifies purity, cleansing, life and death. And what makes baptism to be "what it is" is the form or words: "I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."

The sacrament effects what the matter signifies. For example, water is the most fitting sign for baptism precisely because water is a natural sign of purity and cleansing, for we purify vessels with water, and animals clean themselves with water. It is a natural sign of life, because living things depends upon water. It is also an apt sign of death insofar as water is the most powerful force in nature, and too much water destroys. The water of baptism signifies a dying as well as supernatural life, and it brings about precisely what it signifies; for in baptism, a person actually enters the tomb of Christ, that is, dies to the old Adam and becomes a new creation: "Or are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with Him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life" (Rm 6, 3-4).

This does not mean that God cannot impart grace outside of baptism - that's another issue altogether. But the graces of baptism effect a radical regeneration in the human person. One receives a spirit of adoption, and one thereby becomes a new creation: "So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old thing have passed away; behold, new things have come" (2 Cor 5, 17). The baptized is cleansed from the stain and guilt of Original Sin.

Baptism also infuses the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity. These are not natural virtues that one can cultivate on one's own efforts. Faith is pure gift, and there is nothing we can do to earn or acquire it. And a living faith is the greatest gift that a human person can receive; for there is nothing else by which a person may enter the fullness of heaven. And although a person cannot not give faith to himself, he alone is the cause of his own loss of faith. There is no tragedy greater than that of a person who was given the gift of faith as a sheer gift, but who lost it through his own neglect. That is why faith must be nourished through prayer, the sacramental life, and study.

Baptism also confers the seven personal gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, knowledge, understanding, counsel, piety, fortitude and fear of God. These too are not natural gifts--although they do have their natural counterparts. For example, Aristotle was profoundly wise, but he did not have the wisdom that is the gift of the Holy Spirit, which is profound insight into the things of God. Moreover, one need not have a university education to receive a sharing in this gift. St. Therese of Lisieux, who entered the convent of Lisieux at 15 and died when she was only 24 years of age, had a very profound sharing in the gift of wisdom. To read her letters that she wrote in her early 20s, one gets the impression that she'd spent a good sixty years on the road of the spiritual life.

The gift of knowledge enables a person to see the hand of God in every day occurrences. Whereas before, a person would regard an occurrence as a mere coincidence, faith opens up a whole new perspective on life. One readily sees that God is intimately involved in our every day lives, providentially ordering things for the best: "We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose" (Rm 8, 28).

Understanding is the gift by which we are given an understanding of the mysteries of our faith. This does not necessarily imply that the person will be able to explain the mysteries, but there exists a certain grasp and recognition of the truth of these mysteries, such as the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Eucharist, etc. For example, sometimes a person who has never taken a theology course in his/her life will sense that there is something wrong with the homily that is being delivered (when the homily is theologically unsound). They may not know what exactly, but they know that something is amiss. This is the gift of understanding at work.

Counsel is the gift whereby a person is given the ability to discern that course of action most in accordance with God's will. Of course, no one has a perfect sharing in this gift, but as one grows spiritually, one grows in the gifts, especially counsel. St. Catherine of Siena was said to have had extraordinary counsel and was often consulted by Popes in the fourteenth century. She too had an astounding gift of wisdom, for she only lived for thirty three years, but to read The Dialogue, which she wrote when she was 31, one inevitably has the impression that the author was well advanced in years.

Piety is the gift by which we are inclined to render due honor to the Church, Christ's Mystical Body, and to Mary, the Blessed Mother who is, by virtue of our incorporation into Christ's Mystical Body, our mother. Piety also includes devotion to the communion of saints, who are our older siblings that have gone before us, but who are still in communion with us. They can intercede for us and will do so if we ask them. We can come to know these saints while we are here through devotion to them, and by studying their lives.

Fortitude also has its natural counterpart. It is the virtue that moderates the emotions of fear and daring so that we may achieve the ends required by justice, ends that are often difficult to achieve and give rise to fear. But supernatural ends proposed by faith are even more difficult to achieve. In fact, they are simply impossible to achieve without the theological virtues. The martyrs of the Church all had the gift of fortitude.

Finally, the fear of God, which Scripture says is the beginning of wisdom. The gift of fear is divided into servile and filial. It is through servile fear that one chooses to avoid sin merely out of fear of punishment, in particular eternal punishment. Filial fear avoids sin not primarily out of fear of punishment, but out of a fear of offending God. Such a person has so genuine a love for God that the thought of offending the divine love is more painful than the pain that might be involved in avoiding a sinful action. The more one grows in supernatural charity, the more one's fear becomes reverence.


In the sacrament of Confirmation, a person is sealed with the Holy Spirit. The matter of this sacrament is oil; for in the Old Testament oil was a sign of blessing (wealth), strength (Christ exhorted us to rub oil on our face when fasting in order to appear strong, rather than weak through fasting), and a sign of joy. Kings would be anointed with oil, and the very word "Christos" (Messiah) means "anointed one". The oil of Confirmation is chrism oil, and it contains some aromatic substance that is blessed by the bishop on Holy Thursday. This aromatic substance quickly spreads its fragrance, symbolizing the way goodness and holiness "spreads" and influences others.

All the personal gifts of the Holy Spirit, as well as the virtues of faith, hope, and charity are strengthened in the Sacrament of Confirmation. We are given a more profound sharing in the threefold identity of Christ, for we are anointed priest, prophet, and king.

Confirmation imparts the grace to fulfill certain obligations that stem from this new state of life established by this sacrament. A confirmed teenager has a tremendous responsibility. He or she is anointed priest (not to be confused with the ministerial priesthood), and a priest is one who offers sacrifice. The confirmed teenager is called to offer his life in sacrifice, to live no longer for himself, but for Christ and his kingdom. He or she is anointed prophet, and so he is called to proclaim the good news of eternal life first and foremost through the witness of his/her life. By living for truth, he/she is witnessing to the truth. And finally, he/she is anointed king. A king is one who governs and one who serves. The grace of Confirmation enables us to more easily bring order to the kingdom of our own soul with its various passions that they may submit to the demands of reason so as to more readily serve God.


Love desires to give itself. We see this especially in the love between husband and wife who give themselves to one another bodily. That is why Christ offers us his entire self (body, blood, soul and divinity) in the Eucharist, which is real food. But a person who will not eat will soon die. The same law applies in the spiritual realm. A person who cuts himself off from the Eucharist is one who will eventually die spiritually, and one who feeds on the Eucharist only periodically will suffer from a kind of spiritual malnutrition.

The matter of this sacrament is bread and wine, because these are universal signs of nourishment - virtually every nation makes its own kind of bread and wine. The form of this sacrament is the words of consecration: "This is my body…this is my blood." When the priest pronounces these words, Catholics believe that the substance of bread is changed into the substance of Christ's body and blood, and the substance of wine is changed into the substance of his blood. Although it still looks like bread, feels like bread, and tastes like bread, it is in fact the substance of Christ's body. This is traditionally known as transubstantiation.

To explain how this is logically possible, consider that there is a real distinction between a substance and the attributes that inhere in it, such as its quantity, its abilities, its color, texture, taste, sound, and its shape, disposition, place, time, posture, its action and relation to other substances, etc. These attributes can change while the substance itself remains the same. For example, an apple can grow from small to large, change color from green to red, and change texture from relatively hard to soft, etc., while remaining the same apple. This shows that substance is really distinct from its attributes and properties.

But what happens during the consecration is the complete reverse: the substance changes, while the attributes remain the same. We cannot prove that such a change takes place - it is a matter of faith - , but such a change is logically possible because substance is really distinct from its attributes. Whether or not transubstantiation actually occurs depends upon whether God chooses to work the miracle. Catholics believe that He does; for we believe that Jesus is the eternal Person of the Word (Son), and he said: "Take this all of you and eat it: this is my body which will be given up for you ... this is the cup of my blood, [which] ... will be shed for you ..." In John we read:

I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world....Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. (Jn 6, 51-56)

The Church has always believed that what we receive in the Eucharist is the real body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ. Very early on, around the year 150 AD (about 60 years after the gospel of John was written), Justin Martyr wrote in chapter 66 of his Apology I:

This food we call Eucharist, of which no one is allowed to partake except one who believes that the things we teach are true,...For we do not receive these things as common bread or common drink; but as Jesus Christ our Saviour being incarnate by God's word took flesh and blood for our salvation, so also we have been taught that the food consecrated by the word of prayer which comes from him, from which our flesh and blood are nourished by transformation, is the flesh and blood of the incarnate Jesus.

But not only do we receive the substance of Christ's body under the appearance of bread, and the substance of his blood under the appearance of wine. What we receive is his body "given up for you", his blood "shed for you." It is his body in the act of self-giving. The Eucharist is the sacrifice of Calvary, the perfect act of religion made on behalf of the entire human race that we receive literally into ourselves. In the Eucharist, we are joined to Christ's perfect act of religion. We become that act. The Mass is a sacrifice, the one sacrifice of the cross made present, that is, re-presented at each moment when and where it is celebrated validly. This is the miracle of the Mass, namely that the one, historical, unrepeatable sacrifice of Calvary can be made present on the altar throughout history, such that anyone present at an ordinary Mass is in reality just as present at the foot of the cross as Mary and John were two thousand years ago.


As was said earlier, the Church is Christ's Mystical Body. Now a body is a unity. In other words, the parts of the body are not isolated units unto themselves; rather, they are parts of the whole, and they exist to serve and maintain the integrity of the whole. When a part of the body is injured, such as a stubbed toe, it is the one whole organism that feels the pain; the one person has been injured. All injury is, strictly speaking, injury of a part or parts. But we do not say that the part has been injured, but that the person has been injured. If we speak of the part as injured, it is always in relation to the whole, i.e., "my toe", or "I hurt my toe". So too for Christ's Mystical Body, the Church. All members of the Church are members of a living body. Sin affects the entire body, just as an injured part affects the entire organism. That is why sin is a public affair, and never a private matter between God and the sinner. If sin only affected one's relationship with God, then perhaps a person could make a case against the need to confess to another person. But the bishop represents the Church, and absolution (release) is forgiveness in the name of Christ's Mystical Body: "And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained" (Jn 20, 22).

For if my sin affects every member of Christ's body, then I must seek forgiveness from every member of the Church. But this is not possible. That is why the sacrament was instituted; the bishop acts in the name of the Church in absolving a person from sin. In being reconciled to Christ's body, I am reconciled to Christ, and in being reconciled to Christ, I am reconciled to God. The graces received in the sacrament of reconciliation strengthen us to eventually overcome the sins that we currently struggle with.

Anointing of the Sick

Sickness and death are part of the fallen human condition. The kind of death that awaits all of us is the result of that mysterious wound called Original Sin. We experience death as a descent into something dark and unknown; it is the breakdown and disintegration of the human person and it manifests to us the deepest truth about ourselves, namely, that ultimately we have no power: "You are dust, and to dust you shall return" (Gn 3, 19).

Death in itself is anything but a happy state, and yet St. Joseph is the patron saint of a happy death. But how can death be happy? There is a real difference between spiritual/psychological suffering and physical suffering. The worst suffering is, without a doubt, spiritual suffering. Depression, loneliness, or the pangs of guilt, paranoia, for example, are far more difficult to live with than a body racked by the pain of cancer or some other horrible physical illness. A person can undergo the worst physical pain and at the same time experience, deep within himself, a profound peace, a fullness, a radiating warmth. Certainly there is no separation between soul and body, but there is a distinction. That is why the very idea of a happy death is not unthinkable.

In joining Himself to a human nature, the Second Person of the Trinity joined Himself to every human person. In other words, he entered into the depths of human suffering. Jesus tasted darkness and human pain, that is to say, God the Son, who is eternal, entered our darkness. And so it is true that in the very depths of our own personal suffering, someone is there. We never suffer alone, even though it may seem like we do. In the midst of suffering, we can find, if we are open and looking, the eternal Person of the Son, who can illuminate our darkness.

The sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick strengthens us and enables us to discover Christ in the midst of sickness and dying. It allows us to more readily join our sufferings to the suffering of Christ. Oil is the matter of this sacrament, and oil, as we have seen, is a natural sign of joy, blessing and strength. It is through this rite of anointing that we are given the grace that will enable us to bear our sufferings bravely--even joyfully--, and we are given the grace that will strengthen and console us in the face of death, and finally, it grants us forgiveness of sins.

Holy Orders

Holy Orders is the sacrament through which men are given the power to carry out the sacred duties of deacons, priests, or bishops. It is the bishop who has the fullness of Orders (the fullness of the priesthood), and both priest and deacon have a sharing in the ordination of the bishop (the deacon has a lesser share). Both priest and deacon act in the bishop's name, whereas the bishop is an official teacher (the bishops are successors of the Apostles). A priest does not have the fullness of Orders; he cannot ordain anyone to the priesthood. So a priest and deacon are really servants of his bishop.

When a man is ordained to the priesthood, he is given the power to transubstantiate, that is, to change ordinary bread and wine into Christ's body and blood. A priest is one who offers the Sacrifice of the Mass. As we said earlier, the Mass is the sacrifice of the cross made present in the "now" whenever and wherever Mass is celebrated validly. On Calvary, the priest and the victim were identical. Christ was the priest who offered the sacrifice to the Father, and Christ was the victim (the Lamb of God) who was offered. If this is true, and if it is true that the Mass is the same sacrifice of Calvary, then it follows that the priest does not act in the place of Christ, but rather in persona Christi, that is, "in the person of Christ". In other words, when you and I attend an ordinary Mass, it is not the priest whose name you know who is offering the sacrifice, but Christ who offers the sacrifice. And the victim that he offers is Himself.


Matrimony is the sacrament through which a baptized man and a baptized woman join themselves in a one flesh union until death severs it. The matter of this sacrament is the bride and groom, and the form is the vows that are exchanged. As a sacrament, it is a source of divine grace that enables them to be loving and faithful spouses to one another and good parents to their children. Christ is the Bridegroom and the Church is his Bride, and so matrimony is a sign of the love that Christ has for his Bride, the Church. One cannot naturally love one's spouse as Christ has loved the Church; we must be given the grace to do so. Matrimony channels the grace to enable the married to love one another with the heart of Christ the Bridegroom. He said that "The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve..." (Mt 20, 28). And so if men have a duty to love their wives as Christ loves the Church (Eph 5, 25), then it is the role of the man not to be served by his wife, but to serve his wife throughout his married life.

Because marriage is a joining of male and female into one body, marriage is essentially a community of love and life--for life is generated as a result of the physical union of husband and wife. Love is essentially unitive (it unites). But genuine love is also effusive; it inevitably seeks to communicate goodness to another, to have another (the beloved) participate in the goodness that the lover enjoys. The love between husband and wife, if genuine and not selfish, will tend to love another human being into existence; for the couple will desire to communicate the goodness of their relationship to another human being, and this child will be the fruit of that love and a living witness and expression of their one flesh union.

The spirituality of the Catholic Teacher

The Spirituality of the Catholic Teacher

Convocation Address to the Catholic Teachers of the Diocese of Pittsburgh (August 24th, 2010)

Deacon Doug McManaman

It is really a great honour for me to be invited to address you this morning, and so I would like to thank Chris Chapman and Father Kris Stubna for their invitation. I really do see this as an honour, and I am so pleased to have an opportunity to offer you some sort of encouragement, because teaching is such a profoundly noble vocation, and it is a very difficult vocation. To get up every morning and face teenagers every day, week after  week, month after month, and to carry that huge responsibility of teaching them and

constantly having to think of better ways to do that is a real cross to carry, a very heavy one at times. I know, because I am a teacher, and I really don’t think anybody other than teachers in the classroom understand that.

As I was thinking about this, I was reminded of the days when I worked for a landscape company in Ontario, during the summers while studying Philosophy at the University of Waterloo. I was the crew foreman one year and we were always astounded at the boss, who’d worked in this field all his life. He’d always be surprised at how few houses we’d aerated and dethatched on a particular day, or that it took so long to complete a particular

lawn. We just didn’t understand him. He was pleased with our work, because customers were pleased, so he didn’t pressure us all that much, but we didn’t quite understand his expectations. We saw them as unrealistic.

One day there was a problem with the transmission, so I had to drop off the crew first thing in the morning to the first house on our list, and it was a huge piece of property. I took the truck into the shop, and the mechanic took five or six hours to repair it. When I arrived back at the house, I was shocked that my crew were not finished aerating, dethatching and raking up the lawn. They reminded me how big the property was in square footage. It was huge, and when I thought about it, I realized that they were right, there’s no way they could finish in six hours. This was a ten hour job, and so I got to work and helped them finish.

But I thought a great deal about how things happen so differently in the arena of the mind than in the arena of the real world. And its not as if I was away from that kind of work for a few years. It had only been one day that I was not out working with the heavy machinery, but sitting in a chair talking with the mechanic while he worked on the truck. I would picture where my crew would be after an hour, where they’d be after two hours,

and so on, and I was convinced they’d be done after 6 hours. How wrong I was, and I’d only been off the job for a day. I found that rather fascinating.

I believe that thinking about the work of a teacher is similar. I am convinced that one has to be right in the crucible of the classroom every day in order to fully appreciate the difficulties involved.

Now, I do believe that it is the same for administrators. I didn’t fully appreciate the difficulties that a principal and vice principal have to face every day until the year I had to take over chaplaincy—I only did that for one year, but that gave me the opportunity to see what I simply hadn’t seen before, because I could not see it. I was in the classroom all day, and that did not permit me to see the school from the vantage point of an administrator.

That was a very important experience for me. I had a good friend who was a Vice Principal, so I could talk to him in a way I wouldn’t dare talk to any other administrator. I remember walking into his office one day and asking him, why do you allow this, that, and the other thing to go on? Why don’t you do something about this? This is ridiculous! That is unjust. Why do you continually allow this kind of thing to go on? Etc.

I have forgotten what the issues were exactly, but because I was his friend, he didn’t have to worry about offending me, about being unprofessional, or receiving a grievance letter, so he turned to me and told me why.

I had no idea things were so complicated, multi-layered, that there are so many angles and levels an administrator has to consider; I had no idea how much an administrator needed foresight and circumspection, and how much foresight and circumspection I was lacking, for the simple reason that Id never been an administrator, I had no experience on that level and that I was looking at things solely from the angle of a teacher.

That was the last day I held any kind of cynical attitude towards administration. And since that time I’ve had a number of friends who have become administrators, and so I know even more now about the difficulties that principals and vice principals have to face, which is the reason that I’m still a teacher and I plan to retire from classroom teaching.

As a Deacon, I have somewhat of a glimpse of what it means to be a bishop. Or better yet, I understand that I really don’t understand the weight of the difficulties that bishops face today, and that is why I’m so glad I’m just a lowly Deacon. Were on the bottom of the hierarchy, and in many ways that really is the best place to be.

But I really do have a much deeper sense that there is a lot that I don’t quite understand, such as the full weight of the responsibility that belongs to administrators, the weight of responsibility that bishops have to carry, there’s a lot about the priesthood that I don’t quite understand, and as a Deacon who ministers to those who suffer from mental illness, I really don’t understand the extent of the suffering of those with mental illness and the weight of the burden that they have to carry every day, struggling with paranoia, hearing voices urging them to suicide, suffering with the horrible despair of clinical depression, struggling every moment of every day not to kill themselves. I understand that I don’t understand, and yet part of my vocation as a permanent deacon is to serve the mentally ill, to visit them, keep them company, bless them, pray with them, visit them every week,

week after week, month after month, year after year, for the rest of my life.

As a teacher in the school, I came to discern that a very important part of my vocation as a teacher is to support administration. It doesn’t mean I shouldn’t challenge them or point out when I think they are wrong about something. It means that they have to trust that I am not going to gossip about them behind their back in the staff room during lunch, and that I am not going to allow myself to be poisoned by cynicism. That if I have a problem with a decision that they’ve made, I go straight into their office, shut the door and ask them to explain to me the reason for their decision, and then challenge them to get me to see the reasonableness of it, and if they cannot, get them to see the reasonableness of another point of view.

And of course, a very important part of that support is to pray for the administration, that they be given the strength that I know I don’t have, the wisdom, prudence, foresight, circumspection, and shrewdness that is required to be a good Catholic principal and vice principal.

But the classroom is where its at for me, and that’s where I want to stay, and I believe that this is where the Lord is calling me to stay. And I’ve thought about teaching for the past 23 years, and I’ve thought about what a spirituality of the Catholic teacher might mean. And that’s what I’ve been asked to speak on: the spirituality of the Catholic teacher. And what comes to mind, as a starting point, is the very first time I entered the United States. That was 31 years ago. I was 17 at the time.

I was an atheist as a teenager. I went to Catholic school up to grade 3, my parents divorced and we moved to a new neighbourhood in the suburbs of Montreal, and I was enrolled in a non-Catholic school. There were no pictures of saints on the walls, no crucifixes, no prayers over the PA, no Masses, no sacraments, nothing. So by the time I was 15, I remember thinking: God does not exist. How could God exist? No one talks about Him, no one mentions Him. He’s a non-issue.

At the time I fell in love with Bluegrass music. I was a 5 string banjo player, and I was intrigued with Bluegrass music and the whole culture that this music opened up. I was the Canadian Bluegrass Banjo Champion in 1980, that’s how serious I was about this, and my dream was to be a musician all my life.

In 1978, wed moved from Montreal to Ontario. Moving was difficult. I was a lost soul in many ways, but I was determined to make it in music. I received a phone call one day from a young man whom I taught banjo when I was in Montreal. He was on his way to Tennessee, and on the plane there he’d sat next to Ronny Prophet, the Canadian Country Singer who was living in Nashville, but who had his own show here in Canada,

The Ronny Prophet Show, which was taped at the Channel 9 Studios in Toronto.

He calls to tell me that he sat next to Ronny Prophet, and that he was looking for a banjo player for his band. My friend told him all about me, and Ronny Prophet told him to tell me to show up at the Channel 9 studios on such and such a day to audition.

So immediately I went out, bought a bright blue three-piece suit—I have no idea what I was thinking. I took the subway to the end of the line, took a bus, and about 45 minutes later was in the line up for a taping of the show. I got in, sat down in the studio audience with my Gibson Banjo and three piece suit, and eventually the band comes out. Everybody in the band was wearing a bright blue three-piece suit. It was uncanny.

But I noticed a banjo on stage. One of the band members picks it up, they introduce Ronny Prophet, and what does he do? He introduces his brand new banjo player. To make matters worse, they are playing a song that I could have blown out of the water: “Rocky Top”. He introduces his new Banjo player, who then takes a solo break in front of the camera, and he is not all that good. It is obvious that banjo is not his first instrument. But they cut, and they have to do the introduction all over again. So, Ronny Prophet comes running out with his guitar, the audience is applauding, and he repeats, “…Id like to introduce to you all our brand new banjo player…” I have forgotten his name, but the camera is there right in front of him, and he picks a verse of Rocky Top, and again, it isn’t all that good.

I’m in the audience, young, egotistical, I just paid money for this ridiculous looking suit, I was told to be there to audition, and I have to put up with this? Well, they had to redo the introduction a few more times, but I couldn’t take it any more. I jumped down off the bleachers, made my way out of the studio, went right to the bus stop and waited.

Then I said to myself, “No, you came this far. Go back and go right up to Ronny Prophet and remind him of the conversation he had with my friend on the plane.” So I did. And while they were on break, I went right up to him and reminded him, and he remembered.

He took me to his dressing room and told me to play for him. I took out my banjo and played like I never played before, while he was walking around in his underwear. He told me to wait where I was, he leaves and returns with Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers. So I played for them, and they each shook my hand and thanked me, and Ronny told me to wait till the end of the show and he’d drive me to a subway station.

But as he let me out of the car, he had to shrug his shoulders: “Sorry, but Id hired a banjo player already”, and of course it was perfectly understandable. He couldn’t just drop one he’d just hired. It was a great time, but it was still a disappointment.

Later on I received a call from the Toronto Folklore Center and was told a local singer was looking for a banjo player. And so I went the next day to audition. He wanted to hire me, but he was a terrible singer. I would have been embarrassed to play in his band. So I said I’d give him a call. I walked back to Union Station in Toronto, got on the go train, and went into despair. It was a very dark despair. I saw how difficult it was going to be to make it in the music industry. Nothing was working out. When the train stopped at Long Branch station, I recall looking out the window and realizing that the thought of suicide took on an appeal that it never had before. I was frightened by that thought. So in the midst of that dark despair, I called out to God, for the first time since grade 3, and I said: “God, if you exist, get me out of this mess”.

Suddenly, it was as if the clouds parted, the despair dissolved, and a feeling of consolation came over me. I felt hope. I knew when I got off that train that God exists. And I decided that I would pray every day to this new found friend of mine, out of gratitude. And I did, every day.

I went back to work in a metal fabrication shop for a few months, until one day in May I walked off the job. I went right to the bank, took out all I had, $150 in travelers cheques, came home, found a piece of cardboard, wrote Nashville on it, packed a backpack full of clothes and a few cans of beans and a can opener and a spoon, a pup tent, told my mother I was hitchhiking to Nashville the next morning, and I did just that.

A Philosophy student gave me a lift to Windsor. We had a good chat on the way, but when we got to the U.S border, I was refused entry. After all, I had only $150, and I was hitchhiking, and hitchhiking was illegal in Detroit. So I had to take a bus through the Windsor tunnel back to Canada. I called my mother and told her I wasn’t allowed to enter the U.S, she was relieved. As I was walking back towards the 401 to hitchhike back, I

stopped and said to myself: “No, I’ve come this far, I cant give up now.” So I went back and found the Greyhound bus station. A young man at the counter advised me to buy a round trip ticket to Toledo, Ohio, about a half hour from Detroit, and to hitchhike from there, which would be much safer. So I did just that.

After I got to Toledo, I looked for a house on which to set up my tent, knocked on the door of an old house near the highway, and an old man allowed me to set up my tent. The next morning I was given a lift by a young man who dropped me off in Columbus, Ohio.

Just outside of Columbus, I put out my sign, and shortly thereafter a young man stopped the car. He opened the trunk, I put my backpack and banjo in it, got in the car, introduced myself, shook his hand, and asked him what he did for a living. He said he was a priest. I immediately told him I was Catholic. He said later that he couldn’t have looked more like a priest that day if he tried. He remembered, because it was a hot day, and he was wearing all black, so he knew that if I had to ask him what he did for a living, obviously I hadn’t seen the inside of a Church in many years. And I hadn’t.

But when he told me he was a priest, I was overjoyed, because I wanted to tell him about the experience I had on the train, praying for the first time in years.

So I began telling the story to this priest, whose name was Father Tom Wells, from the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. This ride on Highway 71 was the beginning not only of a great friendship, but it was the turning point of my life. I questioned and questioned this priest, and he answered my questions very clearly and at times very emphatically.

And I saw that there was a great joy in his eyes and that he belonged to a world that I once knew. I wanted what he had, and when I asked him why anyone had to go to Church, why we cant just pray in the quiet of our own home, he boomed out the answer: “To receive the body of Christ”. I hadn’t heard those words since the third grade, and those words brought back memories of a time when I belonged to that world to which Father Tom belongs, and so I knew that the body of Christ was the key to the joy that possesses him and the light that radiates from him. I just knew it. And so Id decided right then and there that I would return to the Church. It was a very easy decision for me.

I played my banjo for him at the side of the highway just outside of Erlanger, Kentucky, and I made sure to take his address down, wrote in on my map, and I was determined to keep in touch with him. And friendship with this priest was one of the greatest gifts that the Lord had ever given me.

I went on to get a few more rides. I made it to Nashville, auditioned for Rudy Meeks, the six time Canadian National Fiddle Champion, and played in his band. So I traveled all the way to Nashville to join a band back in Ontario. But I returned to the Church and studied the Catholic Faith, and I went to Churches all over Canada while traveling with the Rudy Meeks band.

But eventually I decided to leave music in order to study Philosophy. I thought I had a vocation to the priesthood, but after some discernment, I felt that I was called to be married to a woman I met while studying philosophy at the University of Waterloo.

It was Father Tom who witnessed our wedding and he baptized the child we adopted. In June of 2000, he was murdered in Germantown, MD, by an unemployed tree trimmer who robbed his home one night after drinking all night at a local bar. It was a huge funeral, and it was one of the few times, if not the only time, that the Washington Post had anything good to say about a Catholic priest. They spoke very positively about him,

referring to him as the “widely beloved priest”.

This June I was in Washington for the ordination of his nephew; when he was 17—10 years ago—, he was so struck by the number of people at the funeral whom his uncle had influenced that he began to think of the priesthood, and he was ordained this June, on the 10th anniversary of his uncles death. That vocation was one of the fruits of Monsignor Wells death.

But it was this summer, on my way home back to Canada, that I began to reflect again about what it was that enabled this priest to have such an influence on me 31 years ago and such a wide influence on so many other people.

And I believe a large part of the reason had to do with the way he looked at a person. It was in his gaze. It was in the way he related to me. I am reminded of that great 14th century mystic, Blessed Julian of Norwich. She writes of her vision of Christ, crowned with thorns, heavy drops of blood dripping down, and she said something about Christ’s gaze that I found striking. She said that when Christ looked at her, she was deeply impressed with the familiarity and courtesy in his gaze. It is that “familiarity” that always stood out when I think of her vision. Christ was familiar with her, knew her profoundly, and he loved what he knew. That’s one thing we are not permitted when it comes to the royal family—to show familiarity, and we shouldn’t expect the Queen to relate to us with any kind of familiarity. But Christ, the King of kings, beholds his subjects with


That’s probably the best way I can describe Monsignor Tom Wells. He was not a monsignor when he picked me up on the highway, but I was 17, he was in his early 30s, and there was courtesy, but also familiarity in his gaze. There was no pretension in him, he was a very down to earth priest, and he loved people. He loved being alone, but he loved people.

I don’t know if anyone has read any of the writings of that great Jewish philosopher, Martin Buber, but his classic work I-Thou was entirely devoted to what it means to truly and genuinely enter into relation with another. Not everyone who looks at you is looking at “you”, not everyone sees a “You”, and such people do not encounter “you”, they do not enter into relation with “you”. Rather, they experience a human entity, an It, but

they do not enter into relation with “you”.

The human person is a mystery; for each person has been created in the image and likeness of God, who is the primordial mystery. God is the unutterable mystery. And each person has been created through Christ, the eternal Word, the Second Person of the Trinity, through whom all things came to be, and each person was created “for him”.

The human person can only understand himself through his origin. And since the origin of the human person is mystery, the mystery of the Second Person of the Trinity, each individual person only comes to know the mystery of himself through the mystery of Christ, who is the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity.

And since God is infinitely knowable, each one of the students in our classrooms is a mystery that is always more than what we understand him or her to be at any given time. Each one of our students is an inexhaustible mystery who reflects, in some finite way, an aspect of the primordial mystery that is God.

And that is why each person has the capacity to reveal to me something about myself. He holds the key to an aspect of myself, but if I do not see the human person before me as a “you”, but as an It, a human entity to be experienced or used as a means to an end, I will never discover that aspect of myself that the other is able to reveal to me. And because I refuse to encounter the human person as a unique and unrepeatable mystery, forever more than what I currently understand him or her to be, I will never awaken that person to an aspect of him or herself to which I hold the key.

I believe that priest on Highway #71 that I met 31 years ago saw me as a unique and unrepeatable mystery that could reveal to him something about himself, and I believe that’s something that I had only encountered once before in my lifetime.

One year early on in my teaching career, I had a recurring dream. And it was a very simple dream. I just saw my grade 7 French teacher looking at me, in the way he did back when I was in his class. He was just smiling as he did back then, but it wasn’t a big syrupy smile, with the “pearly whites” all laid out in front. It was just him, sitting there looking at me, as if he was glad I was in his classroom.

And I would wake up in the morning in great peace, and I felt a surge of tremendous strength to go on—in my first ten years as a teacher, I taught in the Jane and Finch area of Toronto, which is a very tough area of the city, i.e., lots of crime, drugs, a tremendously broken area, and very few of our students would go on to university. And this dream really strengthened me, for some reason, and I didn’t know why at the time.

And the dream occurred again, and the same thing—Id wake up feeling a real peace. It was a very healing experience. That year I had that dream a few times, and I remember praying about it at a nearby monastery. Not far from where I live, there is an old Augustinian monastery with an old chapel on the hill where I would go often to pray at night, especially in the winter. And I remember thinking about this dream, and I wanted to know what it meant.

And as I thought about it, I realized that this teacher, although he only taught me French one semester—I was not close to him, had nothing to do with him after that semester—, I realized that he had a tremendous impact on me. It wasn’t the content of his course—I forgot everything he taught me.

I realized that he looked at me as a person, with a degree of reverence in his gaze, as someone equal in dignity to himself. Although I was only 13 years of age and he was an adult, there was something in the way he related to me and to each one of us, individually, something in the way he saw us. There wasn’t a drop of arrogance in

his gaze, not a drop of condescension, nor was there any indifference in his gaze, as there was in the countenance of a lot of my teachers at the time. It was as if his end, the very purpose of his being in the classroom, was the students. Not students in general, but each one. Each one had a dignity that he could see, and I believe he awakened me to  something in me that would otherwise have been left covered up.

And then I began to see that I relate to my own students in much the same way, and I began to worry less about whether students will remember all that I am teaching them, Id worry less about curriculum, although I know curriculum is of the utmost importance. But there is something more important. I don’t remember anything that this man taught me, but he imparted to me something that I cant adequately articulate, something that has

lived deep within me for many years afterwards, something that gave me a great deal of strength and peace. And it was also a kind of pre-conscious knowledge of myself as an unrepeatable mystery who is loveable and who is loved.

All the knowledge we impart to our students is ultimately useless, possibly even dangerous, if they leave our school without knowing, in the depths of their hearts, in their pre-conscious intellect, that they are loved by God. And they will not know that love if we only love our students for what they do for us, not for their own sake. If the first thing we do at the start of the year is count the days remaining to the Christmas holidays, and

after that the number of days remaining to the March Break, and after that the summer holidays, then we are not there for the students first and foremost. They become a means to an end, and the end is the self, not the other, not the kids. And teenagers can sniff out a fake in no time at all.

But as St. Catherine of Siena points out, the Lord loves each one of us as if there is only one of us. The only way we can channel the divine love to our students is to love them for their own sake, to enter the classroom for their sake, not ours, to look at them with reverence and mirror their own goodness back to them, in order to awaken them to that goodness, which belongs to them because God loves them, and it is His love that causes the goodness that is in them.

We cannot impart that knowledge if we don’t know the courtesy and familiarity in Christ’s countenance as He gazes upon us, individually. But to know that is to know joy.


I was in New York recently, and I was thinking of my great grandfather, John Henry Cahill. He came over from Ireland in 1859. When he was only fifteen years old, he hopped a freight train to seek his own fortune in New York. He eventually became the Vice President of the New York Telephone company, later to become AT&T, and so he had a lot of money.

When my great grandfather died, my grandfather dropped out of Princeton and moved to the South of France. He never worked a day in his life, and all he did was throw parties for his friends, like Ernest Hemingway, Somerset Maughm, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Pablo Picasso, and he was very close friends with Eugene O’Neill.

But my grandfather and grandmother had three children, all girls. The youngest was my mother. And they traveled a lot, and wherever they were in their travels at the time their daughter was old enough to begin school, that’s where she would end up, in a boarding school. And so my one aunt went to boarding school in France, another in England, and my mother was in a convent in Quebec City. My mother never knew her sisters growing up. The only time she would see her mother, my grandmother, was in the summer time, and they would go off to a cottage in Quebec for the entire summer, then shed drop her off at the convent in the fall.

And so my mother was virtually abandoned, and it was not a pleasant experience in the convent. Needless to say my mother had a great deal of resentment towards her mother, all throughout her life. I saw it when I was young, but I never gave it much thought. And of course that resentment had everything to do with her drinking problem later on. She eventually joined AA and was 20 years sober when she died, and she was an addiction

counsellor in her final years.

At one point in the early 90s I was reading the works of two psychologists, Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons and Robert Enright, who are pioneers in the psychology of forgiveness. And I remember going out for supper with my mother one day in Toronto, and she was telling me about what it was like growing up in a convent. And I could see her resentment towards the Grey nuns, I could hear it in her voice. And so I asked her at one point: “Do you think you could ever forgive the nuns—for their lack of kindness, their meanness?” She said: “Oh, sure, I forgive...” And she paused. Then she said: “Ah, no, I’m not going to forgive them. Why should I?”

I remember being somewhat shocked. But something in me gave me the sense to just leave it. And we never spoke of it again.

In December of 2000, she fell and broke her hip. She spent a long time in the hospital, and she was not recovering well. She eventually ended up at St. Michael’s hospital in Toronto, and I would visit her regularly and read to her. At one point during the March Break of 2001, she suffered six seizures in the middle of the night, and so we thought that this was the end. She was profoundly unconscious, on oxygen, my friend Father

Don Sanvido drove down to give her the anointing of the sick, and then we just waited. But it was not the end. I came to visit her one day and she was gone, not in her room, I thought she’d died. But they told me they moved her to a different floor. When I entered her room, there she was, sitting up in bed talking to another lady.

But when I began talking to her, it was clear something was off. She thought I was my deceased brother. And when I visited her the following day, she didn’t remember that I was there the previous day. She was suffering from severe dementia.

Eventually I was able to get her to a nursing home two minutes from where I live. I remember going to see her every day, twice a day, during the first week, and I would get her into a wheel chair and bring her to a spot where there was a nice view, and Id sit with her and talk. She said a priest came in that morning to say Mass. I wasn’t sure if that was true, because shed said a lot of things that were imagined. But it turned out to be true,

our local pastor really did say Mass there on Tuesday mornings.

She then said: “He spoke about forgiveness”. When she said that, I suddenly recalled a picture that my cousin showed me. It was a picture of my mother when she was four years old, dressed in a little black tunic, as she was being dropped off to the boarding school in Quebec. My own daughter was four years old at the time, and the thought of dropping her off at a school in a foreign country and leaving her there for the year was

heartbreaking, it was inconceivable. So I asked my mother this question. I said: “If there is one person in your life that you have to forgive, who would it be?”

She thought about it. I suggested: “Your mother?”

“Yes”, she said, “my mother.”

Then I thought of something: I said: “Mom, lets play a game. Close your eyes. Say: „Mom, I forgive you.¡±

My mother sat there in the wheel chair for a few seconds, picked herself up, and said: “No, I don’t think so.”

Well I was shocked, and I thought, of course! What was I thinking? She was abandoned all her life, and I think that forgiveness is so simple a matter as that? But I knew what my work was for the summer, and her dementia was just what I needed to succeed.

So I returned the next day, got her in a wheel chair, took her to the same spot, and said: “Mom, I hear a priest said Mass the other day.”

“Oh?” she said.

“Yes, and he spoke of forgiveness.”

“Did he?”

“Yes. Hey, let me ask you: „if there is one person in your life that you need to forgive, who do you think it would be?

She didn’t hesitate this time. She said: “Oh, Id have to say my mother.”

“Hey, lets play a game. Close your eyes and picture your mother. Now, tell your mother how angry you are.”

And she did. Boy did she ever. I thought: “What have I gotten myself into?”

After a while, I said “Okay, that’s enough. Lets talk about other things.” But the next day, I did the same thing, initiated the same discussion, and I got her to tell her mother how angry she is for abandoning her.

Much more happened that I cant recall, but she was eventually able to say what she couldn’t say before: “Mom, I forgive you”. It took a while to get there.

I felt a sadness when I left, because I knew her work was done and that there was no reason for her to stay. I sensed that the end was near, and it was. She died shortly thereafter and we buried her on September, 11th, 2001, on the morning the Twin Towers collapsed.

I tell this story of my mother’s forgiveness, because I have seen how the decision not to forgive had affected not only my mother throughout her life, but many of my colleagues in teaching. One in particular is a very gifted writer who wrote two books. He had such a gift to be able to open up the world of Toronto in the 40s, 50s and 60s. But his writing is always mixed with terrible bitterness. It was like watching a good movie, then suddenly

the gratuitous sex scene, and you think, “Could we not do without this? Do we need this?” It’s the same thing with my former colleague, only it isn’t lust behind it, but bitterness and anger.

There is so much bitterness in him towards the Church, and it has been sitting in him for so long, that he can no longer think straight. It has affected his natural writing gift. Reading his first book was like reading from two different authors. Inexplicable mood changes would occur, and he’d contradict what he’d said in a previous chapter, but he couldn’t see it, likely because he was so ruled by anger.

In one chapter he’d describe the nuns that were his elementary school teachers, and he would depict them in such a beautiful light. They were evidently not the kind of nuns that raised my mother. He would depict beautifully the heroism of one nun in particular and some holy and unknown priests that taught him and coached baseball and other sports, and then an inexplicable mood change would occur in the next chapter and he’d begin mocking the education system of his upbringing, referring to it as irrelevant, after he wrote, in a previous chapter, that anyone who dismisses the education of those days is blind and in the grip of denial.

There is no doubt in my mind that his anger is rooted in a refusal to forgive, a refusal to heal, to allow himself to be healed. Enough about him, though. What is my point in all of this?

Unforgiveness stifles; it stifles the flowering of our gifts. And the anger that we hold onto will find for itself an object, an outlet. The unresolved anger we have will be directed to someone, often to the Church, the hierarchy, the Pope, bishops, priests, authority figures, father figures—that’s one of the benefits of being a Deacon, nobody pays any attention to you before Mass, but all kinds of people come in looking for “father”, no matter who he is, hankering about this and that, asking him about this or that or the other insignificant thing, and I’m chopped liver, and its great. But there is something about the figure of a priest, the “father”, which makes him the object through which many people will try to work out their own psychology, the issues they have with their own fathers. It’s not about clergy—I’m clergy. It’s about “fathers”.

I have gifted colleagues who are bitter towards all levels of the school administration, because of very hurtful things done in the past, and I have colleagues who are very bitter towards the hierarchy of the Church, and all they see now and in the past are the sins of the Church, or the sins of the administration. That’s about all they have eyes for. And I’ve noticed that when we take that bitterness into the classroom, we leave the kids

completely unmoved, because they don’t have the same hang ups. They don’t understand the background of that anger that has a hold on their teacher. And the students are not full of anger towards the Church. The beautiful thing about teaching kids today is that they are so open. Everybody thinks teaching adolescents religion and morality must be the hardest thing in the world. It isn’t. I think teaching English literature must be the hardest thing in the world. I think English teachers should be paid double.

Teaching religion and morality, in terms of getting kids to see and appreciate truth, is rather easy. Teaching in itself is hard work, but I have always found that when you give kids truth, they come alive. Dealing with all the difficult questions, like sexual morality, contraception, abortion, technologized parenthood, etc., is not hard at all, because young people today are so open to the truth. You just have to articulate it clearly. They are bright, just as intelligent as any previous generation of students. Granted, they don’t read as well, but they are just as intelligent, and they can deal with some of the most abstract concepts, and they are able to imagine difficulties and argue against Church teaching in order to test it. But there is an honesty about them, so that when they see clearly how certain conclusions follow from given premises, which are grounded in first principles, and they are taught the basics of logic and the first principles of natural law, they embrace it.

But often they are not getting the goods, because their teacher is bitter, and perhaps legitimately so, for good reason. But he or she has not forgiven the priest who was just not there for them, or has not forgiven his father who was a successful business man, but was emotionally not there for him, yet went to Church every Sunday and was a traditional Catholic in every other respect, and so he has associated traditional Catholicism with that

emotional absence, which is why he rejects anything that smells of traditional Catholicism.

Harbouring unforgiveness destroys—whether you are an orthodox Catholic or not so orthodox. It makes no difference. There is no peace in the heart of one who refuses to forgive. And there’s the reason for that foreboding line in the prayer that Christ taught his disciples: “…forgive us our trespasses, but only to the degree that we forgive those who have trespassed against us.” That is why my mother did not get her wish. She wanted to go, she thought she was ready to leave this world. She certainly did not want to be in a nursing home dependent upon the care of nurses. Her greatest fear was to be a burden to others, because she felt that she was a burden to her parents all her life, which was why she was abandoned to a convent. But the Lord did not take her at that point, because she had not yet forgiven her mother, and that was a great mercy on Gods part, because unless you forgive, you will never be forgiven, Christ said so often.

The teacher who is bitter through unforgiveness renders himself so much less effective. Unforgiveness blinds the intellect. I have colleagues whose bitterness has taken them so far left that they leave students with a very defective Catholicism. And I have other colleagues whose bitterness has taken them so far right that what they give their students is so lacking in the scope, breadth and depth that belongs to our rich Catholic heritage.


The life of a genuine Catholic teacher, true to the name, all begins with finding Christs face of courtesy and familiarity, there in the depths of the heart. If we find the face of Christ in the depths of the heart, well see that face in our students, even the worst of them, and well awaken them to something that will live in them for the rest of their lives, even if they are not explicitly aware of it.

The locus of our vocation is always that place where the Lord is calling us to love. We were created for love. That’s all. We were created to know the love that God has for us—and He loves each one of us as if there is only one of us. And we were created to love. Teaching is primarily about love, and secondarily about knowledge. What good is all the knowledge we impart to our students if they leave our school not knowing that

they are loved by God—if they die not knowing that they are loved? All education serves love. If it does not, it is twisted. In the evening of our life, we will be judged on love, as St. John of the Cross says.

And God needs you, He needs you and me to channel that love to the students He entrusts to us. He calls us to this, and it is a tremendous responsibility that will have repercussions extending far into the future—negative ones if we fail, but inconceivably marvellous repercussions if we say „yes to the Lord.

Teaching young people is a tremendous blessing, because every day we are given the opportunity to die to ourselves and to love the kids before us. To love them, to pray for them every day, to put up with them and suffer for them as they go through the obnoxious stage of adolescence, to teach them what it is the Lord wants them to know. Life itself is about learning how to love and learning how to pray, and it takes a lifetime to learn.

But if we are in the process of learning to pray and to love, our students are learning from us, pre-consciously, in the pre-conscious intellect.

The great enemy of the spiritual life is concupiscence: the inclination to sin, the tendency in us to selfishness. Its one of the wounds of original sin, and our life must be a battle against that tendency. It is very difficult to love another as another self—to love your neighbour as yourself. To do so, I have to love him as if he were another self, another me.

We are capable of doing so, because we have the ability to know that this person and that person are of the same nature as myself. Human intelligence is the ability to apprehend the natures of things. That person is another „me, of the same nature: human. And just as I naturally will the best for myself, he too naturally wills the best for himself. But we do not naturally will the best for others. We can only do so through a deliberate act of the

will, and the will is inclined to the self, as a result of Original Sin. I know that person as another me, another „self, but I have to choose contrary to that tendency to will the best for him as I naturally will the best for myself.

But when I will his good for his own sake, not for the sake of what he does for me, then I am no longer one, but I have become two persons. That person has become another self, another me. And if I love a third person over there as another me, another self, I am three, and four, and five, and so on. It is through genuine love of another that I expand, that I become larger than myself. And the larger we become through genuine love, the more

joyful we become; the greater our capacity to be possessed by the life of God. Teaching at that point becomes so much more meaningful, because it has become a work of love. We become channels of his mercy.

And that is why regular confession is so important. That’s where we meet the mercy of God. That’s where we find the face of Christ, the face of his courtesy, his familiarity, his incomprehensible and unexpected mercy.

Its really wonderful to know that mercy, that there is nothing I can do that will diminish his love for me in the slightest—that his love for me does not depend on me in any way, that the sight of all my imperfections, all my neurosis, my frailties, none of that  diminishes the Lords love for me. When I know that, in gratitude I can channel that love to the students before me. Then the charism of teaching is released in you.

You can be the most boring teacher in the world in terms of teaching methods, but if you have the charism of teaching, students will like being in your classroom. They will find a piece of heaven in your classroom, and it will not be the result of anything you do, any methods you employ, it will simply be a result of what you have become. You will bring a piece of heaven into the classroom with you, and it will be your joy that will be the

opening to that supernatural world, for your students.

Theres a difference between joy and happiness. Happiness is in us, we contain it, like a glass contains water. But joy is not in us. We are in joy, it is larger than us, it contains us. And the key to joy is to relinquish the pursuit of happiness, to give it up. That basic human right that is enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, we have to give that up if we wish to be possessed by joy. It is a matter of surrendering to something higher

and allowing oneself to be used by God in whatever way He wishes to use us. To live for love, to live primarily in order to channel the divine love, the divine mercy, that is when we discover that we’ve been possessed by joy.

We don’t possess joy; it takes a hold of us. It really is a matter of allowing ourselves to be carried along, like a baby is carried along in a car seat. God is in control, not us, and the more we relinquish the pursuit of our own happiness and allow ourselves to be carried along by divine providence, the more we realize that God is in control, and then anxiety loses its grip on us. When things don’t go our way, that doesn’t bother us much anymore, because we know from within that God is in control, and everything, to the very last detail, is subject to his providential control.

It is a great blessing to have a chapel in our schools with a tabernacle, containing the Blessed Sacrament. I can think of nothing more effective that will do more good for you as a teacher and administrator than spending time every day in front of the Blessed Sacrament at school. The blessings that will come to you as a teacher are simply incalculable. When we sit before the Blessed Sacrament, as one would sit in the sun, we expose ourselves to the radiance and heat of this divine Son and we then bring the heat and radiance of the host-life into our classroom every day.

The students may not notice anything different, for the Lords presence among us is “in the gentle breeze”, not the fire, the earthquake or thunder. But many years down the road, our students will recall these days and they will become aware of something that is here in the present moment that they were not explicitly aware of, but at that future time, they will become aware of it. The strength of the host-life, that Eucharistic presence, a

presence that is in a sense attached to us, like a sun tan, the strength of that living presence that we brought into the classroom will outlive everything else that happens to distract them at this time, such as the desire to be accepted by their peers, their fears of the future, their preoccupation with sex, their pride, their anxiety about their family, etc. One day they will become more explicitly aware of that delicate presence of Christ associated with your classroom, a presence that endured in their memory, and they will come to know that the subtle joy and light of this presence is stronger and more enduring than the pleasures that sin and self-seeking brought them. Your prayer before the Blessed Sacrament could very well be the reason for their return to the Church later in their lives.

It really is a great and noble vocation to be an ordinary Catholic teacher who is destined to be forgotten by the world, but not by the myriads of students that we will have influenced—and certainly not by God.

The effect that a teacher who prays will have on future generations is incalculable. And when you enter into the kingdom of God, and the Lord reveals to you the distant and long term effects of things you said that you’d forgotten, things you said that were inspired as a result of your living out of the heart of Christ, without you having even realized it at the time, but inspired as a result of your prayer life, that will be a moment of

indescribable joy for you, and it will be a moment that will never pass away. It will be eternal. Amen. Thanks be to God.

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