by the Most Rev. Edward M. Egan
The Cardinal Archbishop of Chicago had friends in the hierarchy across the world. One of them was a Canadian bishop who toward the beginning of the 1970's wrote a letter to several bishops both in Canada and in the United States asking them to send representatives from their diocesan staffs to participate in a seminar which he and the president of a university in his diocese were planning. The purpose of the seminar was to provide background information about certain currents of contemporary philosophy which were thought to be the cause of much of the social turmoil of the era.
At the time I was a co-chancellor of the Archdiocese of Chicago, and it was I whom the Cardinal chose to attend the seminary. "It will last only a week," he observed, "and it might be quite helpful." With that he handed me a list of books that I was to buy and read before leaving for Canada. They were five or six in number, of which I now recall only three. One was by Michel Foucault, another by Jean-Paul Sartre, and a third by Herbert Marcuse - all authors whom I considered quite radical.
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In Canada the participants included twenty-five members of both clergy and laity. We were housed in the university dormitory and immediately upon arrival given a detailed schedule of the events we were expected to attend. Each day there were two lectures in the morning and two in the afternoon, and it was noted on the schedule that there would be "ample opportunity for questions and comments."
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The lecturer who spoke about Foucault was perhaps the least doctrinaire of all. He freely confessed, for example, that his subject was a rather uncritical disciple of Nietzsche, Marx, and Freud. All the same, he evidenced a good deal of sympathy for Foucault's denial of immutable truths and his belief that all human activity must be understood in terms of a pursuit of power. Moreover, while he tolerated a few questions, it was apparent that he preferred that we simply listen to what he had to say.
The lecturer who treated Sartre was thoroughly captivated by his subject. The Marxism, the cynicism, and the desperation so manifest in Sartre's essays, novels, and plays were somehow transformed into positive attributes. A French-Canadian layman from a Catholic charities office attempted to object. He cited Sartre's oft-repeated dictum about the "irrelevance" of the Divinity and asked for a comment from the lecturer. None was forthcoming. Instead, it was simply announced that the class was over.
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The third subject was to be Herbert Marcuse, and the assigned book was a volume of his entitled One-Dimensional Man. I brought it to the breakfast table on the third morning along with my note-pad so that I might go directly from the dining-room to the lecture-hall. I had read it at home and found it to be unsettling, to say the least. The author was plainly an extremist with little use for American democracy and even less for the basic institutions of Western society. I wondered if we would be allowed to say anything about this "seminal thinker".
The group with which I had come to sit for meals found its usual table in the dining-room occupied by visitors. Hence, we looked for another and finally asked to join a retired professor from whom I had taken two seminary courses in Rome but whom I had never met. He was considered in many quarters to be a "world-class" theologian; and I was delighted to make his acquaintance, even if only at a breakfast.
Before the orange juice had been consumed, several of my fellow seminar participants were telling the professor of our travail. He listened without comment until one of our number suggested that we "straighten these folks out" by packing our bags and "shaking the dust of this place off our feet."
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"With that I cannot agree," the professor announced. "If you were youngsters who might be easily misled, walking away would make a good deal of sense. However, all of you are adults; and all of you are well-educated. Why not hear these people out for whatever value their points of view might have? If you get into the habit of closing off communications, even communications of this kind, you will do yourselves no good; and you may do the Church much harm."
He noticed my One-Dimensional Man and asked me to pass it over to him. Holding it aloft, he conceded with a wry smile that it was a "trendy" work which would very likely soon be forgotten. All the same, he added, it had been highly touted for a number of years in the faculties and publications of several American universities; and it enjoyed at least historical interest on this account. This said, his mien changed from sunny to serious.
"You have got to be a `three-dimensional' people," he declared. "You and all members of the Body of Christ must, of course, refuse to remain in situations that could endanger your Faith. This, first and foremost. Still, you must also be willing to listen to others; and you must never seek to give offense."
As he was speaking, I retrieved my One-Dimensional Man and wrote inside the back cover, "Be a three-dimensional Catholic. (1) Protect your Faith, but (2) Be willing to listen to others, and (3) Never give offense."
"What did you write in your book?" the professor inquired.
I read my words aloud.
"Let me have that book again," he said.
The wry smile returned to his face. He drew a pencil from inside his cassock and wrote under my note, "Luke 9:54 and especially 55." He then rose, blessed himself, and left the dining-room.
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All of my table companions joined me in the small library of the university dormitory to find the professor's citation from the ninth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Luke. Verse 54 read as follows:
"When the disciples James and John observed (the opposition of the Samaritans), they asked, "Lord, do You wish us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?"
And verse 55 - the one that had been especially drawn to our attention - continued:
"Jesus turned to His disciples and rebuked them."
The layman from the Catholic charities office, who regularly ate with us, had also brought his One-Dimensional Man to the breakfast table. He borrowed mine when he heard the words from Saint Luke, and copied into his what I had written and what the professor had added. Later on in the day several others did the same.
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Of all the books that I brought and read for the Canadian seminar only one remains in my library. And it is there for only one reason -- three brief rules and a gentle "rebuke" inside the back cover from a "world-class" exponent of the wisdom and kindness of Jesus Christ.