Author George Weigel Shares Thoughts and Stories on Pope John Paul II in Book Q&A

By Thomas Dompkowski

Acclaimed Catholic author and NBC News Senior Vatican Analyst George Weigel addressed a group of about one hundred students, faculty members, and visitors about his newest book on Pope St. John Paul II, Lessons in Hope. The lecture, Q&A, book signing, and reception took place on Monday, January 22nd, at 6 PM in Heritage Hall, and was sponsored by Catholic’s Institute for Human Ecology

Weigel, best known for his acclaimed biography of Pope St. John Paul II, Witness to Hope, wanted this new book to tell the stories of the saint rather than provide another analysis of his life and teachings. Weigel, however, never intended to write the book he discussed before the audience. As the pope’s biographer, Weigel became the closest of friends with John Paul II and the two had an annual Christmas dinner. On December 15th, 2004, the last dinner he shared with Pope John Paul II passed away, Weigel promised the pope that he would continue to tell his story. This book, Weigel hopes, is the fulfillment of that promise he made to the pope more than thirteen years ago.

As a completely anecdotal work, Lessons in Hope is meant to “illuminate facets of this extraordinary life.” The book itself is divided into two sections based on statements by the Holy Father. The first section of the book is organized around what Weigel calls “an extraordinarily rich interior life.” In March of 1996, Pope St. John Paul II and Weigel were discussing a book about the history of the pope’s pontificate. In a fashion Weigel described as “whimsical,” the pope said to him, “I can only be understood from the inside.”

Weigel told the audience that all of Pope John Paul II’s actions and decisions were the fruits of his powerful prayer. The pope’s bold ecclesiastical appointments and his proposal of a World Youth Day, which is attended by many Catholic University students annually, were just some of these fruits. The pope could not just be understood by looking at his actions and prayer life, so Weigel needed to seek out John Paul’s friends to fully understand the pope’s “inside.”

While the pope was a priest in Stalin-era Poland, he befriended young Catholics from his area. He took them into the mountains so they could discuss Catholicism, away from the ever-listening Communist authorities who were determined to stamp out religion from the culture of Poland. It was in this “network of friendship” that some of the pope’s major ideas and initiatives were born, some of those being Theology of the Body, the book he would later author called Love and Responsibility, and the concept of World Youth Day. Weigel summarizes, “as he formed them, they formed him.”

The second section of the book came from a statement by the Holy Father to a gathering in Fatima, Portugal, on May 13th, 1982, exactly one year after the assassination attempt in Rome which almost took the pope’s life. Pope John Paul II stated, “In the designs of providence, there are no mere coincidences.” This was a direct reference to the assassination attempt, as the Holy Father believed that one hand fired the shot, but another hand, that of the Blessed Mother, guided the bullet; if the bullet had been mere millimeters in a different direction, the pope would have died. Weigel states that the pope viewed the attempt on his life as a “facet of divine providential plan.”

Weigel closed his lecture with advice to students and the need to reject the “tyranny of the possible,” the restriction that people feel to accept the status quo.

“Trust the instincts that seem right and after you’ve prayed over them, still seem right,” Weigel said. On the topic of vocations, he tells young people not only to pray, but to seek the counsel of friends and family. He ended the evening with a question and answer portion that involved questions about the current state of the Catholic Church and the role students can play.

This article was originally published in The Tower, The Catholic University of America’s Independent Student Newspaper.

Social Generativity: Envisioning a Future Beyond Consumer Society

by Brandon Vaidyanathan, Associate Professor of Sociology


We live in consumeristic societies today in which we’re encouraged to formulate life-goals and identities by perpetually acquiring goods we don’t need for subsistence. The consumerism enshrined in all our institutions today—educational, medical, commercial, political, scientific, and even religious—leaves us mired in a kind of social adolescence, a short-termism that jeopardizes the well-being of future generations.

Popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis have equally lambasted such consumerism. The various economic, social, and environmental crises of our times underscore the urgent need to envision a future beyond consumer society.

What might a future beyond consumer society look like?

In a new book, edited by Prof. Mauro Magatti at the Catholic University of Milan, my colleagues and I propose an answer this question, which we call “Social Generativity.”

Psychologist Erik Erikson coined the term “generativity” to describe the stage of maturity in psycho-social development. In contrast to adolescence, when the personality is focused on identity and is incapable of caring for those around oneself, generativity denotes the stage of maturity in which one can make commitments even to future generations. The answer to the problem of consumer society requires looking for how this capacity might be institutionally cultivated.

Since 2012, the project team has been studying organizations in Italy that suggest a way out of the mess we’re in. This has produced a video archive of more than 100 case studies of organizations. Analyzing these data, we have identified three dimensions of socially generative action:

  1. Authorization (the I-Other axis): Asymmetry in social life need not always lead to domination. Consider a model of parenting in which a child is brought into the world not as a project to control and dominate, but rather as a new life that one nurtures, so as to mature to generate and nurture life of his or her own. Generativity obtains under conditions of social asymmetry when something new is initiated, nurtured, empowered, and let go, so it can to thrive and even generate. This process is exemplified in organizations such as the Loccioni Group, a manufacturing firm that actively incentivizes employees to develop independent spin-offs.
  2. Inter-temporality (the Past-Future axis): The generative logic bridges past and future. To be generative, one has to recognize that one is always generated. Sustainable contributions to the world are aided by one’s history, tradition, and cultural identity. This means not simply learning from ongoing experiments and mistakes, but from our history and tradition. Brunello Cucinelli, spurred by the humiliations suffered by his father as a factory worker, strove to create a business that places human dignity and justice at its core. Today his successful clothing brand donates 20% of company profits to charity; pays workers 20% higher than the industry standard; and pays for the training of young local artisans in the local region. Cucinelli’s projects operate on various time horizons: some 5, others 20, still others 200 years.
  3. Exemplarity (the private-public axis): The generative initiative bridges private and public. It is a proposal to a community; it depends upon validation from and accountability to that community, which can assess whether their real needs are being met. A generative contribution isn’t necessarily a recipe or model to replicate, but can empower and inspire others to act. An example here is 24Bottles, a successful start-up from Bologna which produces multipurpose steel bottles for urban lifestyles. The firm invests heavily in the reduction of plastic bottles in schools, and has received significant recognition in national and international media.

Preaching “thou shalt not consume” isn’t going to solve the problem of consumerism. Our hope is that highlighting such mechanisms and examples of Social Generativity will harness our desire to generate or ex-corporate—which is as natural as our desire to consume or in-coporate.

It simply needs to be activated.

Christianity & National Security: Exploring Church Teaching on Government’s Divine Vocation

IHE Executive Director Joseph Capizzi will be speaking next Saturday, September 30th at the conference: Christianity & National Security: Exploring Church Teaching on Government’s Divine Vocation.

Providence: A Journal of Christianity & American Foreign Policy is hosting this groundbreaking two-day conference on essential historic Christian teaching about God’s purpose for government, starting with its vocation for security and public order. The conference will include leading scholars and practitioners of political theology and national security. They will address issues such as Just War teaching, nuclear weapons, Reinhold Niebuhr, Christian Realism, nationalism, international human rights, American Exceptionalism, torture, and terrorism. This event is open to all but is especially aimed at Christian young people who are graduate students or early career. More information can be found here.

What Exactly is Human Ecology?

What Exactly is Human Ecology?
Like all animals, we are embodied creatures. We need food and water and shelter to survive. But unlike other animals, which act mostly on instinct, we are also spiritual and social beings endowed with free will. We are born into families and raised by parents. We live in neighborhoods and cities and countries, whose customs and cultures shape our habits and outlooks. We are taught by teachers. We worship in parishes. 
Human ecology, then, goes beyond the clean air, water, food, and shelter we need to survive. It includes not just the laws of physics, but the natural law. It includes all those concrete institutions we need to become more than we were. To develop virtue. To be happy. To flourish.
The Paradox
There’s a paradox for those of us who live in the United States and Western Europe. In the last fifty years, we’ve become more concerned about natural ecosystems. And despite problem areas, the air we breathe and water we drink are cleaner than ever. Almost no one dies from the air and water borne diseases that beset our ancestors for millennia. Most of the industrial pollutants of the last century, from lead to sulfur dioxide, are gone. We continue to find clever ways to clean up after ourselves. And still, leading voices in our culture push the cause of natural ecology with life-and-death urgency.
In contrast, our culture has grown detrimental to genuine human flourishing. In the last fifty years, institutions most vital to human flourishing have been under assault. The first environment in which we enter the world—our mother’s womb—is now a high-risk zone. Roughly one in four American children are raised by only one parent. (That number is far higher for the poor and most minorities.) About half of marriages end in divorce. 
Governments around the world now deign to redefine marriage, an institution that predates every state and society. And fast on the heels of that assault is the attack on human nature itself. Even the existence of men and women, of male and female, father and mother, is up for grabs.
Any defense of human ecology, then, must seek to protect and preserve not just our natural environment, but our moral and cultural environment as well. 
Man cannot, and should not, live by clean food, water, and air alone; an ecology is needed that cultivates the mind, the will, and freedom.
Jay W. Richards, Ph.D., is Assistant Research Professor at the Busch School of Business and Economics and faculty fellow at the Institute for Human Ecology.

A theologian’s take on how to avoid conflict with North Korea

By Matt Hadro

.- Dialogue and prudent actions to uphold international resolutions are key to maintaining peace amid rising tensions between North Korea and the international community, one theologian said.

“Dialogue is critical to resolving this particular issue,” Dr. Joseph Capizzi, a moral theologian at the Catholic University of America, told CNA. “We have kicked the can down the road for 50-plus years, with regard to Korea.”

Click here to read the full article, originally published by Catholic News Agency.