At St. John’s University I start every philosophy course that I teach by encouraging the students to try to experience awe and wonder at some of the truths that we will uncover during the course.
During the pandemic, I decided to try to get my room in some order — putting books into bookcases according to some pattern, getting clippings from newspapers and Catholic periodicals off the floor and into my filing cabinet.
What a great blessing Holy Week is. That we celebrate it every year is a special grace.
I confess that I still get excited and inspired by Holy Week, and I hope I always will. This experience goes back to my days as a grammar school student. I do not know whether I should be most grateful to my family, the sisters who taught me in grammar school, or parish priests. Probably to all of them, for communicating that Holy Week is a special week for Catholics and indeed for all Christians.
During the pandemic, I not only spent a considerable amount of time praying, but I also thought a great deal about the nature of prayer, what it should mean in our lives, what we do when we pray.
I have no statistics, but I have no doubt that loneliness experiences multiplied significantly during the pandemic. A friend of mine, a psychological counselor, told me that after months of the pandemic, she thought it would take a long time for many to return to what their emotional lives were before the pandemic. If she had said that to me at the start of the pandemic, I wonder if I would have agreed with her.
Occasionally, while reading “Let Us Dream Together,” some of the Pope’s words and phrases seem to leap out at me. They seem almost to demand my attention. They often cause me to pause and reflect. That was my experience when I saw the expression “existential myopia.”
What I wrote in last week’s column about Pope Francis’ view of freedom is still on my mind. In the history of philosophy, the first philosopher who strongly emphasized that humans coexist, that we have the power to influence others because we, as it were, are tied together, was Karl Marx.
Teaching the philosophies of existentialism and personalism for many years, I think has deepened my understanding of freedom. Because freedom is one of the mysterious gifts that God has given to us, I don’t claim to understand the mystery of freedom completely. Still, I think reading and teaching some great philosophers has helped me go more deeply into the meaning of freedom and the central role it plays in the development of the human person.
In his new book, “Let Us Dream: the Path to a Better Future,” Pope Francis articulates exactly how I feel during the pandemic and whenever I think about all the problems in the world. He feels overwhelmed, but he insists that he is never hopeless. That he is never hopeless with all the problems he must confront encourages me not to be hopeless but to try to believe that, with God’s help, there is no problem that we cannot confront. The Holy Father notes that we cannot serve others unless we let their reality speak to us.