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Life Arts    H4'ed 3/12/13

Toward a NEW Anti-Conservative Movement (REVIEW ESSAY)

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As a result of his training in pastoral counseling, in which he had received his Master's degree from Loyola University Chicago in 1964, Tony in time came to the conclusion that many Jesuits were not receiving the full benefits of their retreats because they were not fully functioning emotionally. As a result, he and his team of trained colleagues at the Jesuit retreat center in India started offering experimental group-counseling retreats, which became famous enough to attract Jesuits from outside India to travel to India to make one of these retreats. In addition, when Tony toured the United States during summers, he offered both preached retreats and his experimental group-counseling retreats, albeit in shortened form.


In addition to the word-of-mouth publicity that Tony received among Jesuits, he also became widely known for his book SADHANA: A WAY TO GOD: CHRISTIAN EXERCISES IN EASTERN FORM (St. Louis: Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1978).


Disclosure: When I myself was in the Jesuits (1979-1987), I attended the preached retreat that Tony gave in Denver to approximately 80 Jesuits in July 1980. In that retreat he generously praised the thought of Jiddu Krishnamurti. Krishnamurti's book THINK ON THESE THINGS (1964) is important to consider in connection with Tony's book THE WAY TO LOVE (1992; reissued 2012). It strikes me that both Krishnamurti and Tony are writing about experiencing what Mircea Eliade refers to as the sacred in his book THE SACRED AND THE PROFANE (1959).


Digression: For a discussion of the times when Tony de Mello came into prominence in American culture, see Philip Jenkins' perceptive book DECADE OF NIGHTMARES: THE END OF THE SIXTIES AND THE MAKING OF THE EIGHTIES AMERICA (2006). Jenkins aptly characterizes the conservative crowd as the anti-sixties group, because to this day they have used the sixties as a rallying cry of what they stand opposed to. The anti-sixties group represents the conservative zeitgeist that swept across much of American culture in reaction to the sixties. Remember that the Second Vatican Council, mentioned above, occurred in the sixties (1962-1965). As a result, American Catholics in the anti-sixties group tended to resist and criticize at least certain changes that had come about as the result of Vatican II. For a broader discussion of the sixties, see Mark Kurlansky's book 1968: THE YEAR THAT ROCKED THE WORLD (2004). In Europe, the learned and multilingual and theatrical reactionary conservative Pope John-Paul II and his learned reactionary buddy Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) were part of what Jenkins aptly styles the anti-sixties group. Concerning Rat-the-zinger, see Matthew Fox's fine book THE POPE'S WAR: WHY RATZINGER'S SECRET CRUSADE HAS IMPERILED THE CHURCH AND HOW IT CAN BE SAVED (2011). I myself will allow that the sixties were heady times. Perhaps we could say that they were too yeasty. Nevertheless, yeast is leaven, and we read in the canonical Christian gospels words of praise for leaven and leavening put on the lips of the character in the gospels named Jesus. After more than a half century of the ascendancy of movement conservatism in American culture that William F. Buckley, Jr., helped launched with his ridiculous book GOD AND MAN AT YALE (1951), it strikes me as about time for a NEW anti-conservative movement to emerge in American culture to counter the anti-sixties crowd. However, I do not expect to see a new anti-conservative movement emerge in the Roman Catholic Church in the near future. As a result, conservative American Catholics will probably not be part of a NEW anti-conservative movement in American culture, should such a movement happen to emerge in the near future. Nevertheless, Tony de Mello's perceptive work about awareness could help form Americans into powerful persons who would be ready to combat the entrenched anti-sixties conservatives in American culture today and thereby help a NEW anti-conservative movement emerge in American culture in the near future. End of digression.


In any event, Tony de Mello died suddenly in the Jesuit residence at Fordham University in the Bronx on June 1, 1987. He had traveled there to give a preached retreat that was scheduled to be televised via satellite.


The 25th anniversary of Tony de Mello's sudden death was commemorated by the publication in India of the hardcover edition of ANTHONY DEMELLO, SJ: THE HAPPY WANDERER: A TRIBUTE TO MY BROTHER by Bill deMello, edited by Clifford W. DeSilva (Gujarat Sahitya Prakish, 2012). The American paperback edition has just recently come out from Orbis Books.


Years after Tony had died, as Bill deMello ably explains in his book, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) issued an official Vatican notification warning Catholics to watch out for Tony de Mello's thought. Both the notification and the accompanying explanation are reprinted in an appendix in Bill's book.


Anand Nayak, a theologian and a former Jesuit from India, published a book-length critique of the Vatican notification and explanation, defending Tony's thought: ANTHONY DE MELLO: HIS LIFE AND HIS SPIRITUALITY (2007).


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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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