Arts and Culture

Celebrating Commonweal

MONDAY EVENING, Oct 27, 2014, was just about perfect. It was the 90th anniversary dinner celebration of Commonweal magazine and a fundraiser for the magazine. I went to the dinner with some of my friends and every one of us had a great time.

I found the evening intellectually very stimulating. I saw people whom I had read about in the pages of the magazine for years. To see and meet people whom I have admired for years from a distance was a special treat.

Because of my teaching at St. John’s University, Jamaica, and having some of my essays published in Commonweal, I have formed friendships with many people at the dinner. Yet, I found it inspiring to see all of them in one room.

Many have spent years serving the Church and trying to help build the Kingdom of God through writing and publishing. Writing can be a difficult apostolate because the writer may never know how much his or her ideas influence people.

An evening like Oct. 27 creates a sense of solidarity and a feeling of being affirmed. The presence of so many authors provides an experience of community, a sense that an individual writer is not alone.

At the dinner I had the opportunity to chat with Peter and Peggy Steinfels, Alice McDermott, Valerie Sayers, Father Gerard Sloyan, Msgr. Kieran Harrington, William Barry, David Gibson, Paul Elie, Peter Quinn, Sister Elizabeth Johnson, C.S.J., Grant Gallicho, Roseanne Haggerty, Dr. Lloyd Sederer, Paul Baumann, Dennis O’Brien and Jesuit Fathers James Martin and Raymond Schroth.

I even had the opportunity to chat with Anne Anderson, Ireland’s Ambassador to the U.S. The guest list read like a who’s who in the American Catholic intellectual world. U.S. Senator George J. Mitchell from Maine received the Catholic in the Public Square Award.

Through a Catholic Lens

I first came across this extraordinary magazine in 1952, shortly after I graduated from Xavier H.S., Manhattan. I met this young man, about eight years my senior, who had left the seminary a year before ordination to the priesthood. I would describe him as a Catholic intellectual and he was the first one I had met, or at least recognized as a Catholic intellectual. He was the first person I met who looked at everything from the perspective of his Catholic faith.

When my friend and I had discussions about various topics from politics to literature, from theater to film, he would often refer to this magazine called Commonweal, which I had never heard referred to by anyone else. Very quickly, I subscribed to this magazine.

I can still recall the first issue I received in the mail more than 60 years ago. It was wrapped in brown paper. When I started reading, I couldn’t have realized, or even guessed, that I was beginning an intellectual journey, I would even say a spiritual journey, accompanied by some of the finest Catholic writers who ever put pen to paper.

The journey continues to this day, and it is a journey that has shaped and formed the way I think about many topics.

Perhaps as much as by my formal education in classrooms, I have been educated since my first year in college by the reading of Commonweal and I am grateful to all those who have had a role in putting out that magazine.

Expression of Faith

The following is from the opening remarks that Paul Baumann, Commonweal’s editor, made at the dinner:

“Commonweal owes its longevity to the sacrifices of a great many people, several of whom are in this room tonight. By necessity and conviction, the magazine’s editors and staff have long regarded their work as a vocation, not merely a job. Our writers have similarly understood that Commonweal is more than a venue for their own work, but the expression of a faith – a faith in the mutually invigorating relationship between religion and reason, beauty and truth, the Catholic tradition and the American democratic promise.”

For me, regularly reading Commonweal for six decades has been a grace.

Father Robert Lauder, philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica, is the author of “Pope Francis’ Spirituality and Our Story” (Resurrection Press).

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