Friday, May 13, 2005

Fr. John F. Sheridan, SJ (1906-1982)

Fr. John F. Sheridan, SJ taught at my alma mater, Loyola Blakefield in greater Baltimore, for many years. In fact, you could say that he was something of an "institution." (There is even a building named after him on campus). Unfortunately, his teaching career ended before I matriculated there so I was not able to benefit from his instruction. In the lobby of the school, there is a tribute to him. It includes a letter from a former student now a current teacher at Loyola. The letter describes how Father was "old school" in the very best sense. He was not necessarily nice, but he was good to the core. He cared for his students deeply; making them work very hard (gasp...he even failed them if he thought it was warranted...Nearly unheard of today), and he simply would not put up with nonsense in his classroom. He was a firm disciplinarian who inspired his students to reach for lofty goals and not settle for mediocrity. It was said that his mind was like a steel trap - devouring books with an insatiable curiosity and a photographic memory. Reading this testimony from his former student further reinforced that most of today's teacher are the exact opposite of Fr. Sheridan. They want to befriend students and be their "buddies." They push them along without ever challenging them. In short, they woefully prepare them for the real world.

It was common in years past to hear comments like "he is a good priest." Of course, nowadays the best compliment is that "he is a nice priest." We want Richard Simmons or Dr. Phil instead of Fr. John F. Sheridan, SJ. I am fairly certain that I wouldn't have liked Fr. Sheridan all that much if I had had him as a teacher. In fact, I probably wouldn't have respected him either; thinking that he was not "nice." I guess it takes a few years of living to realize that nice does not necessarily equate to good. As Fr. Benedict Groeschell points out "there are plenty of people walking around with smiles on their faces, acting 'nice.' Those same people, oftentimes, live immoral lives. But they sure are 'nice.'" Granted, I am certainly not advocating a sadistic, dour populace. Ideally, we (and our teachers) can be good and nice. Or rather, good and kind. For kindness is not synonymous with niceness, just as goodness and niceness are not synonymous. Kindness includes a genuine spirit of charity and concern for the good of others, whereas niceness is superficial. I have no idea if Fr. Sheridan was kind or not, but I do know that he was good. And in this day and age, I'll trade all of the niceness in the world, for some of Fr. John F. Sheridan's goodness.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Social Justice

Many progressive Catholics lament that the Church is not committed enough to social justice. They want the Church to be the champions of universal healthcare, lifting the minimum wage, ending the death penalty, and for some - relaxing its beliefs with regard to contraception. Did you hear the cacophony in the aftermath of the election of Pope Benedict XVI? "Let's hope this Pope does more for the poor in the developing world." (As if that is the Church's primary mission). I didn't hear the social justice wing of the Catholic Church say "let's hope this Pope continues to uphold Church doctrine with regard to life issues." Now don't get me wrong, I do have serious concerns about our lack of charity toward our fellow man. There is much that the rich West could do to lift our brothers and sisters in Christ out of poverty (see my blog entry on temporality). If we just gave a fraction of our surplus, numerous lives could be improved.

Having said that, my rule of thumb is to never trust a Catholic organization that is committed to social justice and not commited to protecting the unborn. Look through their literature or their homepage and more often than not you will see no mention of pro-Life initiatives. More than likely, because they are luke warm Pro-Lifers at best or pro-abortion at worst. I would argue that the pro-Life cause and Social Justice are inextricably linked. Life is the ultimate Social Justice cause - everything else falls in line behind it. There are organizations promoting Social Justice properly - respecting human life in all its forms - from conception to natural death and all points in between. We would do well to find and support such organizations.