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Pope Francis Urges Encounter and Dialogue (REVIEW ESSAY)

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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) October 29, 2014: Pope Francis, the first Jesuit pope, has frequently spoken of encounter and dialogue. Of course the words encounter and dialogue call to mind I-thou encounter and dialogue -- and Martin Buber's famous 1923 book I AND THOU.

From my years in the Jesuits (1979-1987), I would say that I-thou communication characterizes certain interactions between Jesuits in the context of spiritual direction.

The American Jesuit cultural historian and theorist Walter J. Ong was mighty fond of referring to I-thou communication. As a result, I titled my book about his work WALTER ONG'S CONTRIBUTIONS TO CULTURAL STUDIES: THE PHENOMENOLOGY OF THE WORD AND I-THOU COMMUNICATION (2000).

In his splendid essay "hermeneutic Forever: Voice, Text, Digitization, and the 'I'" in the journal ORAL TRADITION, volume 10 (1995): pages 3-26, Ong says, "Plato notes that truth can be arrived at only after dialogue within long mutual acquaintanceship, 'partnership in a common life' (SEVENTH LETTER, 341). Ong says that "[i]n a given situation, interlocutors can of course come to a satisfactory and true conclusion, not by reason of words alone, but because the meeting of their minds, mutual understanding, is realized not alone through the words spoken but also through the nonverbal existential context, such as the unconsciously shared cultural or personal memories out of which and in which the words are spoken."

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(I am here quoting from the reprinted version of Ong's essay in volume four of Ong's FAITH AND CONTEXTS, edited by me and Paul A. Soukup [1999, page 187]. For a somewhat schematic discussion of the six couples involved when two interlocutors work toward a meeting of the minds, see Murray Stein's book TRANSFORMATION: EMERGENCE OF THE SELF [1998, pages 80-85]. For a far more specialized discussion of how the meeting of minds is worked out in the context of science, see William Rehg's book COGENT SCIENCE IN CONTEXT: THE SCIENCE WARS, ARGUMENTATION THEORY, AND HABERMAS [2009].)

Now, in the book SAINT CICERO AND THE JESUITS: THE INFLUENCE OF THE LIBERAL ARTS ON THE ADOPTION OF MORAL PROBABILISM (2008), Robert Aleksander Maryks of Boston College, a Jesuit institution of higher education, explains how the Jesuits evolved a way of hearing confessions that is known by the technical term moral probabilism. In the present essay, I am not interested in explaining moral probabilism or the alternative ways of hearing confessions. (Briefly, the early Jesuit educators were part of the larger movement known as Renaissance humanism, which idealized ancient Greek and Roman culture. In any event, Maryks argues that the influence of Cicero in Jesuit education eventually led to the influence of Cicero's thought on what came to be known as moral probabilism.)

However, as Maryks explains, the Jesuit confessors who used this approach to weighing and evaluating moral matters in the context of confession also engaged in conversation with the person in a way that I would characterize as I-thou communication in spirit.

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Next, I want to turn to Murray Stein's fine book TRANSFORMATION: EMERGENCE OF THE SELF (1998).In this book he explores the psychological process of transformation that is involved in the process of psychological individuation in roughly the second half of life, using a Jungian framework of thought -- and using C. G. Jung, M.D. (1875-1961), as an exemplar of a person who had undertaken the transformative process in roughly the second half of his long life.

Stein's book is a solid contribution to making Dr. Jung's thought understandable to people who may not already be familiar with it.

As far as I can tell, all adult Americans of a certain age undergo a mid-life crisis. All Americans who have undergone a mid-life crisis, or who are currently undergoing a mid-life crisis, should find Stein's book instructive.

In his introduction Stein says, "The transforming person is someone who realizes the inherent self [in his or her psyche] to the maximum extent possible and in turn influences others to do the same" (page xxiv). Jesuit spirituality undoubtedly aims to enable each individual Jesuit to realize his inherent self to the maximum extent possible and in turn to influence others to do the same.

In addition, Stein's personal conviction is that "only those who have been or are being transformed can be agents of further transformation" -- in certain other persons who are open to such transformation and in the larger cultural matrix of our times (page xxiv).

I would like to mention two persons who exemplified this kind of transforming person:

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(1) the French Jesuit paleontologist and religious writer Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1995) and

(2) the American Jesuit cultural historian and theorist Walter J. Ong (1912-2003), mentioned above.

Ong became familiar with Teilhard's writings in the early 1950s when both Jesuits lived in a Jesuit residence in Paris, and Ong never tired of referring to Teilhard's thought.

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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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