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Let Us Dream: The Path to a Better Future Audio CD – Unabridged, December 1, 2020
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About the Author
- Publisher : Simon & Schuster Audio; Unabridged edition (December 1, 2020)
- Language : English
- ISBN-10 : 1797122347
- ISBN-13 : 978-1797122342
- Item Weight : 8.3 ounces
- Dimensions : 5 x 0.6 x 5.75 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #547,238 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Over the years, I took five courses from Father Ong at SLU. Over the years, I have published extensively about his thought.
Now, because Father Ong was a Jesuit priest, we may wonder what he might have thought of his younger charismatic Jesuit confrere Jorge Mario Bergoglio (born in 1936 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, of Italian immigrant parents). Approximately a decade after Father Ong’s death in 2003, Cardinal Bergoglio was elected the first Jesuit pope in the Roman Catholic Church, even though he had never completed the Ph.D. in theology that he had started years earlier.
The most thorough account of the Italo-Argentine Father Bergoglio’s uncompleted doctoral dissertation on the Italo-German priest and Roman Catholic theologian Romano Guardini (1885-1968) can be found in Masimo Borghesi’s book The Mind of Pope Francis: Jorge Mario Bergoglio’s Intellectual Journey, translated by Barry Hudock (Liturgical Press Academic, 2018, esp. pages 101-141; orig. Italian ed., 2017).
Now, in Father Ong’s first book Frontiers in American Catholicism: Essays on Ideology and Culture (Macmillan, 1957, page 9), he briefly discusses the German edition of Father Guardini’s 1950 book Das Ende der Neuzeit: “At the surface of the American Catholic consciousness is a tremendously vital know-how, an ability to keep alive the message of Christ, to keep Christ present in the face of changes which are so far along the trajectory of history that we are assured by Romano Guardini in Das Ende der Neuzeit that the word ‘modern’ no longer describes them. In so far as it is vital, American Catholicism is essentially adaptability, an adaptability keeping alive the spiritual, interior message of the Gospel in the present-day industrial world of mass culture, and possible only where the Church is face-to-face with this world in its concentrated American form.”
For the record, Guardini’s 1950 book in German is available in English translation in the book The End of the Modern World, revised 1998 edition, translated by Joseph Theman and Herbert Burke; and Elinor C. Briefs (ISI Books, 1998).
Now, Ong takes Guardini’s assurance that the end of the modern world that certain popes had railed against was so far advanced that the term modern no longer describes those historical terms. As a result, Ong does not rail against modernity, as certain popes and other Roman Catholics had.
For an account of how American Catholic rallied around the railing of certain popes against modernity, see the lay American Catholic historian Philip Gleason’s book Contending with Modernity: [American] Catholic Higher Education in the Twentieth Century (Oxford University Press, 1995).
Now, Pope Francis likes to have his cake and eat it too. Like certain popes before him, he likes to rail against modernity. However, in his new 2020 book Let Us Dream: The Path to a Better Future, in conversation with the English Catholic journalist Dr. Austen Ivereigh (Simon & Schuster), he, in effect, takes Guardini’s assurance that the end of the modern world is nigh, as he (Pope Francis) declares, “Coronavirus has accelerated a change of era that was already under way. By ‘change of ear’ I mean not just that this is a time of change [at least from about 1950 onward], but that the categories and assumptions that we used before [1950?] to navigate our world are no longer effective” (page 54; also see 59). I call that having your cake and eating it too.
Now, the English Catholic journalist Dr. Austen Ivereigh (born in 1966) is the author of two biographies of Pope Francis, both published in New York by Henry Holt:
(1) The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope (2014);
(2) Wounded Shepherd: Pope Francis and His Struggle to Convert the Catholic Church (2019).
Now, Pope Francis’ new 2020 book Let Us Dream: The Path to a Better Future is a remarkably lucid presentation of the pope’s thought in a readable English prose. Dr. Ivereigh deserves our thanks for his role in prompting the pope to discuss the matters of personal conversion that he addresses throughout the book: in the “Prologue” (pages 1-7), “Part One: A Time to See” (pages 9-43), “Part Two: A Time to Choose” (pages 49-94), “Part Three: A Time to Act” (pages 95-133), and the “Epilogue” (pages 135-140). We hear from Dr. Ivereigh in the “Postscript by Austen Ivereigh” (pages 141-144), and Dr. Ivereigh supplied the “Notes” (pages 145-149).
The invitation to join Pope Francis in the main title of the book is based on his understanding of Isaiah 1:18-20, as he explains (page 4). Here is the American biblical translator Robert Alter’s translation of the passage:
“Come, pray, let us come to terms,
the Lord said.
“If your offenses be like scarlet,
like snow shall they turn white.
If they be red as dyed cloth,
they shall become like pure wool.
If you assent and listen,
the land’s bounty shall you eat.
But if you refuse and rebel,
by the sword you shall be eaten,
for the Lord’s mouth has spoken.”
In my estimate, it is a bit of a stretch to go from “let us come to term” to Let Us Dream. But I guess we need to dream up some good ways to stop our manifold sinful ways, eh?
The word “Path” in the subtitle of the book is singular because it refers to the threefold path of the discernment process for interested individual persons to undertake that Pope Francis discusses in the book’s three central parts: (1) A Time to See; (2) A Time to Choose; and (3) A Time to Act.
Briefly, this threefold path of the discernment process is based on Jesuit spirituality, as Pope Francis understands it.
Ong’s most relevant publication is his article “‘A.M.D.G.’: Dedication or Directive?” in the now-defunct Jesuit-sponsored journal Review for Religious, volume 11, number 5 (September 15, 1952): pages 257-264 – and also reprinted in volume 50, number 1 (1991): pages 35-42. The back issues of this journal are now available online.
Also see Ong’s discussion of the Jesuit motto Ad majorem Dei gloriam (For the greater glory of god) in his book Hopkins, the Self, and God (University of Toronto Press, 1986, pages 78-81 and 87), the published version of Ong’s 1981 Alexander Lectures at the University of Toronto.
Now, Pope Francis says, “We are living a time of trial” (page 1) – we are being put to the test by the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic. In the United States today, we are living with new records of Americans hospitalized with Covid-19 and of Americans who have died in a single day from Covid-19.
Pope Francis also says, “In the trials of life, you reveal your own heart: how solid it is, how merciful, how big or small. . . . When people’s hearts are tested, they become aware of what has held them down. They also feel the presence of the Lord, who is faithful, and responds to His people. The encounter that follows allows a new future to open up” (pages 1 and 2).
Now, Pope Francis says, “We are born, beloved creatures of our Creator, God of love, into a world that has lived long before us. We belong to God and to one another; we are part of creation. And from this understanding, grasped by the heart, must flow our love for each other, a love not earned or bought because all we are and have is unearned gift [i.e., from God]” (pages 13-14).
But Pope Francis also says, “Indifference blocks the Spirit by closing us to the possibilities that God is waiting to offer us, possibilities that overflow our mental schemes and categories. Indifference doesn’t let you feel the motions of the spirit that this crisis [of Covid-19] must provoke in our hearts. It blocks the chance of discernment. The indifferent person is closed to the new things that God is offering us” (page 20).
In addition, Pope Francis says, “We can start to discern, to see new possibilities, at least in little things that surround us, or that we do each day. And then, as we commit to those little things, we start to imagine another way of living together, of serving our fellow beloved creatures. We can begin to dream of real change, change that is possible” (page 20).
Now, Pope Francis characterizes three challenging experiences in his life as his three “Covids” (his quotation marks; pages 39-44). During one of those “Covids,” he says, “it occurred to me to read all thirty-seven volumes of Ludwig Paster’s History of the Popes” (page 42) – which undoubtedly helped prepare him for his future role as the pope.
Now, Pope Francis also says, “We must not let the current clarifying moment pass us by. Let it not be said in years to come, that in response to the coronavirus crisis we failed to act to restore the dignity of our peoples, to recover our memory and to remember our roots” (pages 99-100). Amen to that.
In addition, Pope Francis says, “The disruption of Covid has turned the tables, inviting us to stop, alter our routines and priorities, and to ask: What if the economic, the social, and the ecological challenges we face are really different faces of the same crisis? What if they have a common solution? Couldn’t it be that replacing the objective of [endless economic] growth with that of new ways of relating will allow for a different kind of economy [to emerge], one that meets the needs of all within the means of our planet?” (page 60).
Pope Francis also says, “If we are to come out of this crisis, we have to recover the knowledge that as a people [i.e., as children of God] we have a shared destination. The pandemic has reminded us that no one is saved alone. What ties us to each other is what we commonly call solidarity. Solidarity is more than acts of generosity, important as these are; it is the call to embrace the reality that we are bound by bonds of reciprocity. On this solid foundation we can build a better, different human future” (page 107).
Indeed, the founding of the United Nations in 1945 and the 1948 Declaration of Human Rights are notable landmarks of the gradually emerging new political era that Pope Francis refers to as heralding what Guardini refers to as the end of the modern political world.
Indeed, the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) in the Roman Catholic Church was also a landmark watershed for “the earlier “categories and assumptions that we [in the Church] used before.”
Before Vatican II, Thomism had been ascendant in Roman Catholic philosophy and theology. But Vatican II downgraded the brilliant thought of St. Thomas Aquinas (c.1225-1274) a wee bit, thereby opening the way for Roman Catholics and others to rediscover Aquinas’ creation spirituality.
See, for example, the Episcopal priest Matthew Fox’s book Sheer Joy: [Four] Conversations with Thomas Aquinas on Creation Spirituality, 2nd ed. (Ixia Press/ Dover Publications, 2020).
As part of Ong’s Jesuit formation, he studied Thomistic philosophy (in Latin) and Thomistic theology (in Latin), as did all Jesuits of his generation – and as did Guardini and other Roman Catholic priests. But Ong described his mature thought from the early 1950s onward as phenomenological and personalist in cast.
Now, in Ong’s mature thought from the early 1950s onward, he positively glories in working with what Pope Francis in his new 2020 book refers to as contradistinctions (e.g., pages 78-79). Ong most famously works with the contradistinction of orality and literacy – for example, in his most widely translated book Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word (Methuen, 1982).
But Pope Francis also says that he learned from Guardini to see contradistinctions as “living polarities,” “alive and dynamic,” rather than necessarily contradictions.
However, Pope Francis also says parenthetically, “(Good and evil can never be a contraposition, because evil is not the counterpart of good but its negation.)” (page 79). But I have no idea why he enclosed this important statement in parentheses. In my estimate, he should have started a new paragraph with it and made it a one-sentence paragraph.
To his credit, Pope Francis also explains how “competition for dominance” can turn “contrapositions into contradictions” (page 98). To avoid falling into this trap, we need to learn how to live with various contrapositions – which may, at times, admittedly seem like living with contradictions.
But make no mistake about it, Pope Francis himself is striving to the best of his ability for dominance in the Roman Catholic thought-world – and as a public intellectual on the world stage with people of good will.
But Pope Francis’ goal is to free himself from seeing his opponents as his enemies (page 76). He says, “Our main task, however, is not to disengage from polarization but to engage with conflict and disagreement in ways that prevent us from descending into polarization” (page 77).
Not surprisingly, the pope calls out “cancel” culture (pages 28, 29, and 76).
But for further reading about how we might emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic from another public intellectual on the world stage, see the late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks’ second new 2020 book Morality: Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times (Basic books).
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His argument suffers from some inconsistencies. He welcomes dialogue, but often denounces others’ positions. He advocates women’s roles as economists and administrators, but not as priests (p62ff). He opposes abortion (p115), but doesn’t address the church’s own ruling against contraception, which condemns women in Latin America to multiple childbirth and poverty. He presents a dualism of oppressor and oppressed, where a closer truth is that everyone shows better and worse characteristics. He doesn’t consider whether the church’s ruling on celibacy contributes to sexual abuse. If the church won’t re-consider its own moral position, its call for others to do so is diminished.
Francis critiques neoliberal economic policy, assumes industry and commerce are totally profit oriented (p108ff), paints a very negative picture of care homes (p58), etc. He assumes technology can be controlled without considering the extent to which, philosophically, it might be objective beyond human agency. These positions need deeper consideration. Industry and commerce also include worthy motivations and outcomes.
He rightly says that ‘it is time to recover values’ (p52). But he doesn’t acknowledge the challenge in defining a value like justice (see Amartya Sen ‘The Idea of Justice’), and doesn’t expand on this core theme of virtue (see André Comte-Sponville ‘A Short Treatise on the Great Virtues’). Herein lies a major failure in the church’s contribution to social thinking. By focussing on creed and doctrine, charismatic experience, power structures, and ritual, the church has failed to prioritise virtue, and failed to make virtue accessible to non-believers. If contemporary post-modern society needs one focus, it is on widespread acknowledgement and embracing of virtue. The church could well lead the way.
Francis’s main policy recommendation is for basic income (UBI) (p132). This is a hugely welcome endorsement. For more see ‘The Case for Basic Income’ at the ubi site, with an org suffix.
Pope Francis encourages us not to resent the disruption brought about by COVID19 but to recognise it as a time of sifting and purification. Life brings to us all these necessary periods of “stoppage” (indeed the Pope shares three examples of his own) from which we should aspire to emerge improved after a period of reflection and discernment.
Presented in three easy sections – A Time to See, A Time to Choose & A Time to Act – the book starts with a review of the pressing issues facing our world (climate change, pandemics, inequality, discrimination), continues with a discussion of the process of discernment the pandemic has allowed and finishes with some suggestions from the Pope about areas where the world might next choose to act.
The simplicity and brevity (160 pages) of this book belies the wisdom of the author. It is a quick, refreshing and uplifting read. Pope Francis reminds us “Where the danger is, also grows the saving power” (Holderling)
The Pope is obviously widely read and experienced. He uses passages of scripture and quotes from eminent philosophers and poets throughout the book and yet, his message has great humility. He walks alongside the reader sharing the experiences of our age, making sense of them and encouraging us to embrace the challenges that they present.
If we had one criticism of the book it would be the naivety of a Pope Francis whose roots lie with the urban poor of Argentina. His confidence in man’s ultimate humanity might be more sorely tested in the West where apathy and complacency are much more deeply embedded. However, maybe it is we who should heed his message of hope!