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Pope Francis' Let Us Dream (REVIEW ESSAY)

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Pope Francis with Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner 4.
Pope Francis with Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner 4.
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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) December 4, 2020: My favorite scholar is the American Jesuit Renaissance specialist and cultural historian Walter J. Ong (1912-2003; Ph.D. in English, Harvard University, 1955) of Saint Louis University (SLU), the Jesuit university in St. Louis, Missouri (USA).

Over the years, I took five courses from him at SLU. In addition to publishing a book about his life and work, Walter Ong's Contributions to Cultural Studies: The Phenomenology of the Word and I-Thou Communication, 2nd ed. (Hampton Press, 2015), I have co-edited books by him and about him, and I have also published numerous other essays about his thought.

Now, because Father Ong was a Jesuit priest, we may wonder what he might have thought of his younger charismatic Jesuit confrere Jorge Mario Bergoglio (born in 1936 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, of Italian immigrant parents). Approximately a decade after Father Ong's death in 2003, Cardinal Bergoglio was elected the first Jesuit pope in the Roman Catholic Church, even though he had never completed the Ph.D. in theology that he had started years earlier.

The most thorough account of Father Bergoglio's uncompleted doctoral dissertation on Romano Guardini (1885-1968) can be found in Masimo Borghesi's book The Mind of Pope Francis: Jorge Mario Bergoglio's Intellectual Journey, translated by Barry Hudock (Liturgical Press Academic, 2018, esp. pages 101-141; orig. Italian ed., 2017).

For my profile of just how doctrinally conservative Pope Francis is, see my OEN article "Pope Francis on Evil and Satan" (dated March 24, 2019):

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Now, in Father Ong's first book Frontiers in American Catholicism: Essays on Ideology and Culture (Macmillan, 1957, page 9), he briefly discusses the German edition of Father Guardini's 1950 book Das Ende der Neuzeit: "At the surface of the American Catholic consciousness is a tremendously vital know-how, an ability to keep alive the message of Christ, to keep Christ present in the face of changes which are so far along the trajectory of history that we are assured by Romano Guardini in Das Ende der Neuzeit that the word 'modern' no longer describes them. In so far as it is vital, American Catholicism is essentially adaptability, an adaptability keeping alive the spiritual, interior message of the Gospel in the present-day industrial world of mass culture, and possible only where the Church is face-to-face with this world in its concentrated American form."

For the record, Guardini's 1950 book in German is available in English translation in the book The End of the Modern World, revised 1998 edition, translated by Joseph Theman and Herbert Burke; and Elinor C. Briefs (ISI Books, 1998).

Now, Ong takes Guardini's assurance that the end of the modern world that certain popes had railed against was so far advanced that the term modern no longer describes those historical terms. As a result, Ong does not rail against modernity, as certain popes and other Roman Catholics had.

For an account of how American Catholic rallied around the railing of certain popes against modernity, see the American Catholic historian Philip Gleason's book Contending with Modernity: [American] Catholic Higher Education in the Twentieth Century (Oxford University Press, 1995).

Now, Pope Francis likes to have his cake and eat it too. Like certain popes before him, he likes to rail against modernity. However, in his new 2020 book Let Us Dream: The Path to a Better Future, with the English Catholic journalist Dr. Austen Ivereigh (Simon & Schuster), he, in effect, takes Guardini's assurance that the end of the modern world is nigh, as he (Pope Francis) declares, "Coronavirus has accelerated a change of era that was already under way. By 'change of era' I mean not just that this is a time of change [at least from about 1950 onward], but that the categories and assumptions that we used before [1950?] to navigate our world are no longer effective" (page 54; also see 59). I call that having your cake and eating it too.

Now, the English Catholic journalist Dr. Austen Ivereigh (born in 1966) is the author of two biographies of Pope Francis, both published in new York by Henry Holt: (1) The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope (2014) and (2) Wounded Shepherd: Pope Francis and His Struggle to Convert the Catholic Church (2019).

Now, Pope Francis' new 2020 book Let Us Dream: The Path to a Better Future is a remarkably lucid presentation of the pope's thought in a readable English prose. Dr. Ivereigh deserves our thanks for his role in prompting the pope to discuss the matters of personal conversion that he addresses throughout the book: in the "Prologue" (pages 1-7), "Part One: A Time to See" (pages 9-43), "Part Two: A Time to Choose" (pages 49-94), "Part Three: A Time to Act" (pages 95-133), and the "Epilogue" (pages 135-140). We hear from Dr. Ivereigh in the "Postscript by Austen Ivereigh" (pages 141-144), and Dr. Ivereigh supplied the "Notes" (pages 145-149).

The word "Path" in the subtitle is singular because it refers to the threefold path of the discernment process for interested individual persons to undertake that Pope Francis discusses in the book's three central parts: (1) A Time to See; (2) A Time to Choose; and (3) A Time to Act.

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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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