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The Good News About Human Psychology According to Anthony de Mello, S.J.

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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) August 16, 2012: The good news about human psychology according to Anthony de Mello, S.J. (1931-1987), was that we can transcend the limitations of our ego-consciousness and thereby we will change, however gradually the change may occur. He claimed that humankind will not be changed by changing structures that are external to us, but humankind will be changed when men and women are changed. The royal road to change is meditation.

In July 1980, I listened to Tony de Mello present a preached retreat in Denver eighty-five Jesuits on retreat (and to me, a Jesuit novice at the time who was not on retreat but just sitting in and listening and taking notes). Over the years after I left the Jesuits, I took out my notes and reread them. I treasured them. Recently I decided to type up my notes so that I could share them with people who might be interested in them. The thoughts recorded in my notes below are Tony de Mello's thoughts and views. However, the terse writing style is my note-taking writing style. In short, there are no direct quotations of complete sentences spoken by de Mello.

Background Information

The Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) in the Roman Catholic Church urged religious orders in the church to revisit each order's charism and work toward renewal of the order. For Jesuits in the Society of Jesus founded by Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556), the review of the order's charism was extensive, deepening their understanding of the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius Loyola. For an account of the earlier approach in Jesuit training, see George T. Tade, "The Spiritual Exercises: A Method of Self-Persuasion," Quarterly Journal of Speech, volume 43 (1957): pages 383-389.

Anthony de Mello played an enormous role in the renewal of Ignatian spirituality not only in India but elsewhere, including the United States. His influential life has been beautifully detailed recently by his younger brother Bill deMello (born 1944) in his biography Anthony deMello: The Happy Wanderer: A Tribute to My Brother, edited by Clifford W. DeSilva (Anand, Gujarit, India: Gujarit Sahitya Prakash, 2012).

Anthony de Mello's 1975 lectures in India on the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius Loyola have recently been published in book form as Seek God Everywhere: Reflections on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, edited by Gerald O'Collins, S.J., Daniel Kendall, S.J., and Jeffrey LaBelle, S.J. (New York: Image/Doubleday, 2010).

Anthony de Mello's book Sadhana: A Way to God: Christian Exercises in Eastern Form was published in 1978 in the United States by the Institute of Jesuit Sources in St. Louis, Missouri (USA), an apostolate of the Missouri Province of the Society of Jesus.

In the summer of 1980, Anthony de Mello presented two workshops at Loretto Heights College in Denver, Colorado (USA) for Jesuits that were sponsored by Ministry Training Services, an apostolate of the Missouri Province of the Society of Jesus. Twenty-six Jesuits participated in Workshop I from June 19 to July 10,1980. Eighty-five Jesuits participated as retreatants in Workshop II from July 13 to 22, 1980. The following notes are based on Anthony de Mello's presentations in Workshop II in July 1980. (Today the former Loretto Heights College is a campus of Regis University, the Jesuit university in Denver.)

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As the following notes indicate, Anthony de Mello discussed awareness in Workshop II. He discusses awareness at greater length in his posthumously published book Awareness: A de Mello Spirituality Conference in His Own Words, edited by J. Francis Stroud, S.J. (New York: Image Books/Doubleday, 1990).

I, Thomas J. Farrell (born 1944), entered the Jesuit novitiate of the Missouri Province of the Society of Jesus in Denver, Colorado, in the fall of 1979. During my first year as a Jesuit novice, I made a 30-day directed retreat following the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, which is customary for Jesuit novices to make in their first year. In the summer of 1980, I and another Jesuit novice were sent to live temporarily at Loretto Heights College in Denver and assist in the mundane details of running Anthony de Mello's two workshops there.

During Workshop II, I sat in on Anthony de Mello's presentations. I sat in the back of the room and took notes, as I would have taken notes in a course. But I was not making a retreat, as the others in the room were.

Because Walter J. Ong, S.J. (1912-2003), refers occasionally to Anthony de Mello's work, I incorporated certain points from my following notes in my book Walter Ong's Contributions to Cultural Studies: The Phenomenology of the Word and I-Thou Communication (Cresskill, New Jersey, USA: Hampton Press, 2000, pages 97, 158, 161, 176, 183, 184, 185, 186, 188).

Under Pope John-Paul II, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger issued an official "Notification Concerning the Writings of Father Anthony deMello, SJ" on June 24, 1998. Bill deMello reprints the entire text of the "Notification" and the accompanying "Explanatory Note" in an appendix in his book (pages 309-321).

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Subsequently, however, church officials toned down Cardinal Ratzinger's "Notification" by agreeing to permit the publication of Anthony de Mello's books along with the following "Caution": "The books of Father Anthony de Mello were written in a multi-religious context to help the followers of other religions, agnostics and atheists in their spiritual search, and they were not intended by the author as manuals of instruction of the Catholic faithful in Christian doctrine or dogma" (quoted in Bill deMello, page 247). In my estimate, it is an understatement to say that he did not intend his books to be manuals of instruction in Christian doctrine or dogma.

In any event, with an audience of eighty-five registered Jesuit retreatants (and me) in Workshop II in July 1980, Anthony de Mello did not undertake to provide us with instruction in Christian doctrine or dogma, which he undoubtedly assumed we were familiar with already. With this caution in mind, I would urge anyone reading the following notes to take all of the statements recorded here with a grain of salt. I plucked these statements out of the air as Anthony de Mello spoke and recorded them to the best of my ability. But anyone reading the following notes should remember that I may not have understood everything he said, so that I may have misrepresented his thought in my notes. And Anthony de Mello is no longer alive and able to explain and defend his points.

One further consideration strikes me as worth mentioning here. Bill deMello quotes one former Jesuit who had worked with Anthony de Mello as making the following observations: "Tony gave up "guiding' people on 30-day retreats and moved to "counseling' sessions -- he saw that the "fruit' of the Spiritual Exercises could not be savored in full because people were locked up in psychological problems and insecurities and were at emotional dead-ends. At that stage, they needed counseling (more than spirituality) to free them from these blocks (as evidenced by the testimony of so many) so that they could then more deeply drink of the waters of the Ignatian vision" (quoted on page 204).

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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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