Why Are We Keeping Christ in Christmas?

You’ve likely heard this slogan: keep Christ in Christmas. It’s the mission statement for the Knights of Columbus when they begin selling themed Christmas cards and bumper stickers, sending the proceeds to various charitable causes. It’s their annual effort to promote the true spirit of Christmas. It’s a slogan that’s typically echoed across social media, occasionally coming close to starting interweb and personal wars between “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Holidays” wishers. It is a movement to shift from an engrossment with materialism that intensifies in the weeks leading up to the holiday itself, and return to the light of Jesus Christ and the spirit of giving. We see it in giving gifts to others without expecting or asking for anything in return: gifts for children we’ve never met, their names hanging from the angel tree in the back of the church; gifts of donated food or funds or clothing for the homeless; the gift of bringing the spirit to the home bound, or simply providing the gift of assistance to those who have difficulty helping themselves. The Christmas season is also arguably the most highly anticipated and most festive time of year in the world, and everything gets a lot busier. Our lives become filled with Christmas pageants, recitals, home decorating, caroling, movie marathons, lots of holiday marketing and lots and lots and lots of shopping. Whether you’re a “Merry Christmas” person or a “Happy Holidays” person, it’s difficult to ignore that today’s fast-paced, consumer world creates a tremendous amount of stress and anxiety that can lead to a dreading of Christmas, a day which should be a holy, joyous occasion. “I think what people bemoan about the fast pace is not so much the fast pace, but precisely the materialism of it,” said Fr. Robert Presutti, Divine Mercy University’s chaplain and the director for Spiritual Direction Certificate program. “Unfortunately materialism itself, whether it’s Christmas or not, is deeply unfulfilling. It’s deeply frustrating because we were made for so much more than these material values. When you take Christ out of Christmas, what happens is just increased frenzy activity. I think the fact that people feel the way they do at Christmas is not so much about Christ being taken out of Christmas; He’s being taken out of human activity period. I think it’s a symptom of a much larger problem.” Perhaps, according to Father Presutti, we should try to disengage Christmas from the rural, slow-paced culture with which it has been historically associated, like a country setting where there’s plenty of space and snow is coming down. What does it mean to live it in the middle of a city? What does it mean to live Christmas in the middle of a lot of hustle and bustle? “When you think about the first Christmas, Mary and Joseph didn’t have a quiet time. They were going from place to place with quite a bit of stress. And yet, they were completely focused on it being totally for the Lord. And when the Lord came, that was the joy of Christmas,” said Fr. Presutti. Amidst everything that the season brings in our lives, do we leave any room to journey towards Bethlehem? Do we ever find ourselves capable of lowering our “Keep Christ in Christmas” shields, turn off the carols and marathons and remember how it all began and why we should be overjoyed? As we embrace, inhale and consume the season and spirit of Christmas in today’s world, what happens to us when we allow the Son of Man to be a part of it as well? “It’s something more radical than just keeping Christ in Christmas,” Fr. Presutti said. “I don’t know if illuminating the activity is going to somehow make Christmas more spiritual. But it is, in a certain sense, putting Christ in the center of the activity. Why do we go through the trouble of celebrating at Christmas parties? Why do we go through the trouble of actually making ourselves a little more tired to buy gifts? It’s because there’s a value--something so deep in this Christmas season-- that it’s worth it, and that becomes fulfilling.” Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, in his 2005 Angelus address for the third Sunday of Advent, reflects on how the world has turned away from the true spirit of Christmas, citing how our consumer society suffered a sort of commercial ‘pollution’ that risks changing Christmas’s intimate, authentic spirit, marked by recollection, moderation and joy. Benedict also shares that, to break through chaos and commercial pollution, all we have to do is turn towards the crib: “The crib helps us contemplate the mystery of God’s love that was revealed in the poverty and simplicity of the Bethlehem Grotto,” he says. “The crib can help us understand the secret of the true Christmas because it speaks of the humility and merciful goodness of Christ, who ‘though he was rich, made himself poor’ for us (cf. 2 Cor 8:9)’. Jesus’ poverty enriches those who embrace it, and brings Christmas joy and peace to those who, like the shepherds in Bethlehem, accept the angel’s words: ‘Let this be a sign to you: in a manger you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes’ (Lk 2:12).” “Go back to the root,” Presutti said. “Don’t live Christmas the way modern culture has over the last 200 years; go back to the root. What is this Advent season? It’s a time of preparation to receive the greatest gift of all. We’re not celebrating, we’re preparing.”   The Advent season and the approach of Christmas compels us to keep in mind two things. First, that Christ came to us over 2,000 years ago out of pure love. He came to us incarnate as fully God and fully man, and that he entered into our world, with all its associated ugliness, pain, discomfort, cruelty and sin, solely for the sake of us. Secondly, is that Christ told us that he will come again. “Some writers have also stated that in preparing for Christmas,” said Fr. Presutti, “we’re actually also preparing for the second coming of Christ. We’re orientating our lives towards the Lord Jesus. By preparing to celebrate His birth, we’re also preparing for our final encounter with Christ, and it also prepares us for Christ who comes to us today in many different ways.” Let’s go back in time for a moment. In the winter of 1914--the fifth month of World War I--hostilities were at a standstill. After the Race to the Sea and First Battle of Ypres, leaders reconsidered their strategies, leaving their troops to maintain their positions in the trenches. In the days leading up to Christmas, British, Belgian and French soldiers laid down their weapons, left the trenches and approached their German enemy, exchanging gifts of food, cigarettes and other items. The truce also allowed the sides to bury their fallen comrades, who laid dead on the land between the two sides. The truce took different forms across the battlefields. One account described a British soldier getting his hair cut by his pre-war German barber; others spoke of pig roasts and kickabouts with makeshift soccer balls. Graham Williams of the Fifth London Rifle Brigade recalled the Christmas Truce beginning in song. “First the Germans would sing one of their carols,” Williams wrote, “and then we would sing one of ours, until when we started singing ‘O Come, All Ye Faithful,’ the Germans immediately joined in singing the same hymns to the latin words Adeste Fideles. And I thought, well, this really a most extraordinary thing -- two nations both singing the same carroll [sic] in the middle of a war.” After over 100 years, the Christmas Truce--which has been immortalized and fictionalized in novels, films and even an opera entitled Silent Night--is still remembered as a Christmas miracle and a true testament to the power of hope, humanity, and good in each of us, even in the truly darkest hours of our history. “Somehow,” said Fr. Presutti, “the presence of Christ guarantees what’s good, authentic and well appreciated in human culture, period.”

DMU Residency Converges on Sterling Campus

Although it won’t officially open until next fall, Divine Mercy University’s new campus-in-progress in Sterling, Virginia, served as the host facility for this fall’s residency for the Master’s in Counseling program. This was the first residency hosted at DMU’s future home just off of Old Ox Road. It was also the largest cohort that DMU has ever hosted, with 38 students from all over the United States converging on Northern Virginia. The residency went from October 10th-14th and, for many of the students, this was the first opportunity to meet their DMU instructors and each other in person. “I met my professors online before I met them in person,” said Dawn Costanzo, a counseling student from Front Royal, VA. “We had already established a relationship by interacting through Zoom sessions, emails, and assignment feedback. When I did meet them in person, I felt that I already knew them.” “It was reassuring to see peers classmates, cohorts there,” said Travis Speier of Nashville, TN.  “It was a pretty unique way to get to know everyone. I felt like I was on retreat with the atmosphere endowed, anointed, and in a sacred space.” For Anthony Coppage of Dothan, Alabama, meeting his classmates and professors in person was a refreshing and defining moment in his online education journey. "Flying out to D.C.," he said, "waking up each morning in a dorm setting, and riding on a bus with classmates to participate in the application of my online education in a very hands-on way was extremely welcomed. The physical presence of both my cohorts and professors cannot be understated.  We were able to share experiences and connections that would not have been possible through modern technology. I believe many life-long connections were forged during those wonderful four days." The residency component of selected courses is required of students in the Master’s of Counseling program, and takes place on three extended weekends (Wednesday-Sunday) within the duration of the program. While at the new campus, the students, faculty and attending support staff engaged in a number of group discussions presentations, including a panel discussion made up of faculty members discussing professional ethics and hot topics in the world of Catholic counseling, allowing the students to learn how to navigate between the roles of faith and counseling. "I think the best part of the residency was meeting the faculty," said Edith Ray of Louisiana. "I was encouraged by their example of love for us as students and I felt like they truly are committed to supporting me in my future graduate studies. In addition, I was inspired by their obvious love for their vocations to counseling and teaching as well as to their clients." [caption id="attachment_520" align="aligncenter" width="633"] In October, 38 students in DMU's Master's in Counseling program met in person for the first time. It was also the first time the residency was hosted at the university's new campus.[/caption]   On Friday and Saturday, the students divided into groups of three and jumped right into skills development workgroups. “I was shocked that we would actually be practicing clinical techniques so soon in program,” said Speier. “We were given scenarios to act out and basic techniques to practice on one another. I was shocked considering how soon we were, but it really was a good experience. During the workshops, each group was visited by faculty, who would sit in and observe as the students played out their scenes and offer feedback, pointers and identifying weak spots for improvement as the sessions progressed. “For me,” said Speier, “it was an experience that was not easy: the idea of being a counselor and wanting to talk to people, hear their story, what they are dealing with. The experience of being the one counseling--asking open ended questions, keep the client discussing, summarizing what was said, demonstrating cohesion--was personally the hardest role to play.” Despite the challenges, each student was able to take the skills and techniques they were learning in class and actually apply them in a counseling session setting, receiving positive feedback and critiques from the other students. “I found it difficult to think about open ended questions,” Speier said, “finding myself thinking about what my next question would be while the person was talking, struggle to stay present. That was tough. The role of the supervisor was about trying to hone in on objective manifestations seen, where bodily, emotional, verbally or even spiritual signs were noticed while other two are counseling each other. It was very interesting to see body language from that perspective.” "The workshops and especially the roleplay were my favorite aspects," said Coppage. "I was able to absorb a lot more in person from interactive discussions. Roleplaying was a personal and profound experience where I acquired a real taste of things to come. I could really sit down and understand my strengths and weaknesses as a future counselor." On Sunday, the final day of the residency, each student received a one-on-one evaluation from one of the many faculty members on site--highlighting strengths to continue developing and weaknesses to address--leaving the students with the confidence of knowing where they stand and what they need to improve on as they continue their journey.   “The residency provided an opportunity for us to practice these skills in-person, to receive feedback from our peer clients and from the professors,” said Costanzo. “I left the residency more comfortable in my role as a future counselor and more confident in my abilities to help others. I'm grateful that this opportunity to practice helping skills comes early in our sequence of classes; it was an opportunity to confirm my commitment to becoming a counselor.” "There is nothing like the personal and physical application of intellectual knowledge," said Coppage, "and my first residency experience is one that I will always truly cherish and remember throughout my career." For Speier, even with the packed schedule throughout the extended weekend, the information and pointers discussed during the residency’s workshops--honed in on by the faculty addressing the global need for good, well formed clinicians--left him with a stronger understanding of the gravity of the counseling profession. “With Dr. Keyes’ trauma program,” he said, “the stories and experiences they shared over the years, I became more and more aware how much of a vocation this is. It's not just about my desire; there is a good possibility that God has something to do with this. These are lives-- people's lives--we have a chance to engage in a very unique way and enter into a sacred space. That relationship is profound, with a feeling of awe and being in presence of something awesome. That feeling was nurtured throughout residency and grew.” Learn more about our M.S. in Counseling by visiting  https://divinemercy.edu/.

Abuse & Trauma in the Church: DMU Responds

“Kresta In the Afternoon” host Al Kresta interviews Fr. Charles Sikorsky, President of Divine Mercy University, concerning the abuse scandal in the Church. Live from the Authentic Catholic Reform Conference: https://rn189-f69d0b.pages.infusionsoft.net/ Al Kresta: Hi! Good afternoon! I’m Al Kresta here in Washington, D.C., at the Conference on Authentic Catholic Reform, sponsored by the Napa Institute. With me right now, Father Charles Sikorsky, who is president of Divine Mercy University, and you can learn by going to divinemercy.edu. Great to see you again! Fr. Sikorsky: Nice to see you, Al! Al Kresta:  We usually run into each other in California at the Napa Institute. Fr. Sikorsky: Normally California, yes. Al Kresta: I think we’ve run into each other at other conferences too. Fr. Sikorsky: We have! Al Kresta: But it’s good to be with you here. Let me just ask: Divine Mercy University...when a crisis like this comes about, that seems to touch Catholics everywhere--institutions, individuals--what does Divine Mercy University offer to help us in the midst of a crisis like this? Fr. Sikorsky: Yes. So, we are a graduate-level university; we have have two masters programs and a doctoral program that are focused on psychology and professional counseling, based on a Catholic understanding of the human person, and what a Catholic view of flourishing is, which is fundamental to doing psychology well, it’s fundamental to doing therapy well and counseling well. One of the areas is we also have a center for trauma and resiliency studies. So our students are trained in a way where not only do they appreciate what the human nature really is, but also how trauma plays into that. Or, excuse me, how much trauma is out there. So they’re trained very well to be able to treat victims of abuse; to understand the causes, to help others understand how to deal with victims of abuse, all kinds of abuse and trauma. So that’s one area where we’re really able to help. Al Kresta: And this is a unique type of trauma, too, isn’t it? I mean, it’s not only the psychological dimension of this but, for a victim who’s been abused by clergy, they’ve been abused in that area of their whole idea of the sacred. You know what I’m saying? It’s not just “some authority figure who abused me”, it’s “somebody who stood in the place of Christ abused me”.     Fr. Sikorsky: It’s aggravated trauma, you could call it, because of that. I mean, it’s bad enough as it is, but when you also throw in that spiritual element--that betrayal of such a sacred nature--it just really destroys a person. Right now, we have about 325 students. Virtually all of them are really solid Catholics who understand the importance of faith, the importance of spirituality, and I think that helps them and gives them a better, different perspective on this, and a different ability to help people heal. And a whole sense of the healing would be not only psychological, but also emotionally, spiritually, and so forth. Al Kresta: Do you have any clergy that you teach? Fr. Sikorsky: We do. We have, I’d say, probably between 5-10 percent of our enrollment is our priests in the different programs. We also have several consecrated women of different orders and so forth who are there. But by and large, though, we form laypeople. We have a Master’s in Counseling that’s online, we have another Master’s in Online Psych, and we have a doctoral program which is in our campus here in the Washington area.         Al Kresta: At this time, you’re a priest: what are you going through amidst a crisis like this? I mean, it’s gotta be...if you wear a collar, right? You have to be thinking that some people are not going to think well of you. Fr. Sikorsky: Right. Al Kresta: How to you deal with that? Fr. Sikorsky: Well, I think, first of all, we probably experience probably what most of the rest of the church experiences at first, right? There’s anger at how this could happen. Al Kresta: Right. Fr. Sikorsky: There are a lot of good questions that people have. Maybe in a way there’s an additional...you know, going around, walking around with a collar, you really can’t hide. But I think that we have one or two responses. We could either allow this to somehow draw us closer to God or into despair, and I really think there isn’t any middle ground. I think it’s a challenge for all of us. It’s kind of when St. Paul talks about the thorn in the flesh, and how the whole point of that was that God wanted Paul to rely on Him, and to be humble, and to really cling to our Lord. And he says (it’s in 2nd Corinthians, 12), before he goes into that story, “So as not to be too elated, God gave me a thorn in the flesh”. Al Kresta: Isn’t that an interesting phrase? Fr. Sikorsky: I think that’s one of the most important verses in the Bible, personally. It’s helped me so much to think about that and to say “God allows humiliations, He gives us crosses that we can’t run from for a reason”. That reason is to draw closer to Him, to realize that, apart from Him, we can do nothing. And I think, as a priest, that’s what’s helped me throughout this. I also think that in Romans 8:28, there’s a verse we can’t forget: “That all things work together for good for those who love God”       We just can’t forget that. I think God wants us to go there and really live that out, and realize that, on the other side of every cross, there will be a resurrection. If we open our hearts--if we accept this and embrace our Lord--go to Him first and realize that it’s Christ’s Church. He’s the one. It’s not about a hierarchy, although we need one. It’s really Him, and that’s where we gotta go. If we get too focused on other things, I think it does lead to unhealthy anger. There’s righteous anger; there’s unhealthy anger that leads to despair, that leads to so many things that we really don’t want Al Kresta: Just a little personal story here: at one point, the news was bad. It just coming and I was shaking my head thinking, “what the heck am I gonna do with this?” I mean, I’ve had the opportunity to help many people come into full communion with the Church, and they want to know what to do. Fr. Sikorsky: ‘You’ve trapt me’. (laughing) Al Kresta: (laughing) Right! And then what I did was fell out of the web of all those concerns. And I just asked the question: did Jesus rise from the dead or not?         Fr. Sikorsky: Mm hmmm. Al Kresta: He did! And knowing that changes everything. Because then you come back to “ok, He’s alive, He’s at work. Is this His Body, His Church?” The answer as a Catholic is: yes, absolutely. Knowing that, everything else comes into focus, and you can deal with it. For me, that’s what I’ve felt. I just go back to basics. I’m sure you must know priests that have had faculty suspended, or whatever they’ve done. Why? Why do you think this happens? Fr. Sikorsky: I think one of the things we need to remember is sometimes priests get so busy.  I think there’s a real crisis in the spiritual life of many priests, and one thing is to fall in a moment of weakness. Another thing is to habitually be doing and to not even seem to be care about it and cover it up and just go along. And you wonder how could they have a real spiritual life, and I think there’s a real crisis of that: in prayer life, in Eucharistic life and really putting their heart into their Breviary. One of the  things I think about is: God gives us so many means to be holy, so many means to connect with Him. Sometimes when you connect and read the Breviary, sometimes it can be “oh my gosh, I need to get this all done today”, but then you see how beautiful it is, how renewing it is. Maybe my morning prayer or my mental prayer didn’t go as well as I thought, but then you pray the Breviary and you think “wow, this is God is speaking to me here”. So I think that’s where the biggest crisis because if we’re not men of the spirit, if we’re not men of prayer, we’re gonna go wrong one way or the other. And some of them, for whatever reason or whatever their own personal background is, they may be more susceptible for falling into sexual sins--same-sex attraction, these kinds of things. I think that’s the most important thing. I once knew a priest psychologist who told me he worked with many perpetrators. Over 100, I think he said. And what he told me was that there were two common things with all of them. One of them was that none of them had been to confession in more than a year. And the second was that virtually none of them had been to spiritual direction since they were in seminary. Al Kresta: Isn’t that something?                    Fr. Sikorsky: And so I think that’s a big part of all this. And then, of course, the governance issues are a different thing, but this is at the heart of why priests have fallen into this.   Al Kresta: Sure. How big of a problem is careerism among Catholic clergy?   Fr. Sikorsky: In my role, I don’t see it alot. I’m not close to it. You do hear things when you talk to priests. I think it’s definitely a significant issue with how widespread. We’re all human, and priests are still human and sometimes there’s ambition or wanting to do things for the right reasons. But on the other hand, who would want to be a bishop today?   Al Kresta: (laughs) That’s partly what I’m thinking: what’s the attraction? Fr. Sikorsky: I know your friend if you remember, Fr. Benedict Groeschel C.F.R., Al Kresta:  Oh yes! Yeah, yeah. Fr. Sikorsky: I once heard him giving a talk and someone said “what’s the definition of a bishop?” And he said, “It’s a priest with bad luck”. But, power attracts people and, again, it’s the same thing. If you’re not really in it to follow our Lord, to bring people to His love and bring people to the faith, then you’re gonna fall into human goals and ambitions. Al Kresta: Right. You have graduate students, so they’re doing some research, and you got doctoral students doing some original research. Are they working in this area of clergy and sexual abuse? Fr. Sikorsky: We have several who have done dissertations related to priestly formation and priestly life. We’ve had many graduates doing dissertations, so they research this and have focused on different aspects of the Church. Right now, I don’t how many we have doing abuse, but it’s something that’s definitely right up their alley. Like I said, we see many students looking for more training in trauma and to help people with trauma. There's a great opportunity to do that, and what I say is we have real academic freedom and many things you can study at Divine Mercy University that you would not be allowed to do in other universities in that regard. There are many opportunities for us to help in some way with that, and I’ve talked with a few bishops recently to try and ask if there’s anything we can do along those lines that could help the conference, that could help the different bishops have a better understanding in those areas. Al Kresta: Are they responsive? Fr. Sikorsky:  In general, yes! Al Kresta: Glad to hear it. How do people get a hold of you? Fr. Sikorsky: Well, our website: divinemercy.edu. We’ll be happy to answer any questions or help whoever wants to contact us. Learn more about Divine Mercy University and all of our programs at enroll.divinemercy.edu.

Keeping Faith and Reason Alive

Interview by Jordi Picazo*. Reprinted with permission. PUBLISHED IN SPANISH IN REVISTAECCLESIA.ORG, the online magazine of the Conference of Bishops of Spain. Link to original. "We are trying, not to simply protect the faith from being shriveled up from the influence of psychology, but rather to protect psychology from an impoverishing reductionism, from a certain narrowness of view." This is the statement of Rev. Robert Presutti, L.C., Ph.D., the Vice President of Academic and Student Affairs at a regionally accredited university and stronghold of the Catholic faith near America’s capitol: Divine Mercy University (DMU). Learn more about programs offered at Divine Mercy University. Rev. Robert Presutti, L.C., Ph.D., conversed with me about the importance of the mission of Catholic universities in the world. He discussed freedom of inquiry, faith as light of knowledge, the relationship between mental health and psychology; and the need to think about the old dichotomies of faith vs. reason, science vs. religion, and psychology vs. spirituality in new ways. He also spoke of intellectual honesty, as well as the role of theology and philosophy in preserving these freedoms.
He used striking terms such as integration, volitional, intentional, directability, united, whole, holistic, health, relational, and goodness. Even if we talked as if we were in a scholastic get-together he begins praising "the digital technologies, how much further they have allowed us to extend communication!" In his office in Arlington, Virginia, he is proud of the work of Divine Mercy University and of how "it is an interesting story what is taking place here and in the Institute of Psychological Sciences before and within it; this project was born out of the realization that modern psychology could benefit from, and could contribute to the Catholic Christian view of the human person, with a desire of integration."
"Admit it or not, the fact that we believe in one God who reigns above and provides a safe space in which we can inquire freely, allows ourselves not to be worried about the political pressures of conformism; so Catholic universities are very important to protect the University itself and I think in a certain sense theology and philosophy are very important to keep the possibility of a freedom of inquiry."

From scratch

Fr. Robert Presutti - Historically, it all began in 1999 when a group of psychologists who were doing some work at Our Lady of Bethesda Retreat Center, offering counseling to couples who came for marriage renewal and were working together with a priest. At times, when they work with people, priests realize that some difficulties go beyond that which can be dealt with in spiritual direction and spiritual counsel, and there is a need for psychological work to deal with deeper issues. And the psychologists thought, ‘how beautiful it is, to be able to work in an atmosphere where we can integrate our science in our profession with our faith’— as in a certain way, modern psychology has tried to separate psychology from the Faith; some have tried to separate it from any philosophical concerns regarding the human person, and that just isn’t correct from an intellectual perspective. When you think about it, any psychologist approaching the human person is trying to help that person. Any therapy tries to go from point A to point B. And that directionality from A to B is implicitly saying this is a path towards health, towards wholeness, towards goodness. And why is it? Is it simply because society says so? Is it simply because it is democratically established that certain characteristics constitute goodness? Obviously not... because, suppose the next generation comes along and says: ‘Well, now, what used to be thought of as good is bad, and what used to be thought of as bad is good’. No. Everybody has some implicit view of what the human person is: There is always some philosophy... There is always some anthropology which underpins our ideas, which you can see between the lines. It is tacit, and the Catholic intellectual tradition likes to be very intellectually honest, in terms of ‘This is our view of the human person, this is what we believe, and why’.

Transcending old dichotomies

Fr. Robert Presutti - So, the whole project of IPS has been to try to tease out, to try to elucidate, to try to make explicit this Catholic Christian view of the human person, particularly viz a viz mental health and psychology. And this is exciting on a number of scores. Number one: It allows the elimination of false dichotomies like faith vs. reason, science vs. religion, psychology vs. spirituality. It helps us to understand that it is not correct to say, ‘In order to be an upright and ethical professional, I can’t let what I believe in any way impact it my work’. What we need instead is a proper integration, which is deeply respectful both of the client and the practitioner.” Second, we need the intellectual honesty of ‘This is what I believe about the human person and why’. So, what we have developed over the years is a very clear vision of what we call philosophical and theological anthropology, which doesn’t follow any particular philosopher or theologian but in a certain sense tries to articulate in a very objective way what so many schools of philosophy and philosophers reflect.

The brokenness of the human being does not negate the original goodness.

Fr. Robert Presutti - Thus, we have the theological premises of the human person, what we know from Revelation: that the human person is created by God, created good, has an intrinsic good, an intrinsic value, is lovable, is worthy of all admiration and respect and at the same time the human person has fallen. There is a brokenness about that human person but it’s a brokenness that doesn’t in any way negate the original goodness. And then there is redemption. The human person has been redeemed in Christ and there is then a pathway to growth, a pathway towards perfection, from our current brokenness towards perfectibility of human nature and even eternal beatitude.

We are an integrated whole: implications for social sciences

From the philosophical perspective, such a simple thing that the human person is not a mind and body that is just juxtaposed, like a hardware and a software that have somehow been put together: Rather, we are an integrated whole, we are an embodied spirit. Jordi Picazo - What does that mean for the human person? Does that have direct implications in all of the human and social sciences? Fr. Robert Presutti - You know, the fact that the human being is essentially relational means that we are made to interact with others. What does that mean? It means that you can’t anymore artificially consider a person as a non-related subject of investigation. Relationships are important. We are volitional. We have a certain self-directability. We are not simply the result of our environment. There is a certain starting point which we receive that we can’t change, but what we do with that—in a certain sense and to certain degrees—is in our own hands. There is the fact that we are intellectual. That is, we have cognition, we have rationality, which means we try to make sense of things, we can order things: that is an important part, the fact that we are also ethical, the fact that our moral behavior in a certain sense can also direct us so, is elucidating this kind of things that we understand what the human person is. How does this affect how we do psychology? This gives us a great paradigm, a great model with which we can look at different schools of psychology, take what’s good in them and in a sense maybe understand the limitation of each one”.

Our Catholic identity

Fr. Robert Presutti - I find this particularly exciting for two reasons. In Ex Corde Ecclesiae John Paul II makes a number of points about Catholic universities and about Catholic identity but there are two that have always stood out to me. One is the integration of the sciences: when we think about it, we see that we have grown in knowledge, and we have grown in the sciences, and that it is an incredible human achievement; but we have grown so much that at times we are caught in little islands and we forget what the entire landscape looks like. We know more and more about less and less; and the specialization is great because we really drill in deep but at a certain point we are losing the ability of breath, of understanding what the Renaissance men has been, of what has been a kind of encyclopedic knowledge. This encyclopedic knowledge is now impossible because of the amount of data but does makes it desirable to ensure there is a dialogue taking place, and the integration. So, there is the analysis, which is important, but how do you put it together, what does it all mean? The different sciences have to be talking. Not only physics needs to be talking with chemistry, and needs to be talking with biology, because they shed a lot of light upon one another but, but Philosophy needs to be talking with science too. Because the sciences themselves are enriched when they are set into a larger context”.

The synthesis

Fr. Robert Presutti - John Paul II speaks about the synthesis of knowledge, what does this all mean about the world, what does this all about the ultimate reality, what does this all about the human person mean! And this is important because otherwise the sciences can become very myopic. They kind of lose a little bit of context, they become an end in themselves. So, we see that that synthesis, that integration of the sciences is so intentionally done here in IPS! In this case between the philosophical and theological sciences, and the psychological sciences and with counselling.

The unity in everything, the united whole

Jordi Picazo - Even if I studied Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Mathematics all through my high school, I have always retained from my Philosophy courses the definition of science as the pursuit of knowledge about the things through their causes, and have learnt that God being the Cause uncaused, there is no possibility of conflict between religion, the believe in God, and rigorous science. Of course, we know that from a philosophical stand point conflict is always needed as it creates the superficial tension which creates live and movement. How could we then believe that science can find anything in contradiction with God Who has created it! Fr. Robert Presutti - That is a beautiful vision, that is the vision of the united whole, it's the unity. A holistic view would be this view of integration, and I think that scholasticism did put it so beautifully! why would they otherwise say that theology is the queen of the sciences! And it is that framework which allowed the empirical sciences to grow, because there is meaning in the world, which comes from God, there is something to uncover, beauty, knowledge, truth. Unfortunately, it’s all a philosophic problem now, not a scientific one. We have lost the appreciation for metaphysics, which is the science of being, if you will, about things in themselves. Modern culture considers this is irrelevant, but when you lose this context you must absolutize something. And science has now become a type of philosophy.

'From the Heart of the Church’ by John Paul II, what an amazing insight!

Jordi Picazo – In the May 2016 opening ceremony of the Benedict XVI Center for Religion and Society at St Mary’s University in Twickenham, London, which I attended, the guest speaker, Fr Friedrich Bechina, undersecretary to the Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education in his talk mentioned that Catholic Universities were perhaps the last and only places from where we could teach the truth without being afraid, as you cannot attack Universities in a democracy. You have already mentioned the importance of Catholic Universities... Fr. Robert Presutti - I think it is important to remember that the Western university system as we know it grew out of the Catholic University, and I always found John Paul II’s Ex Corde Ecclesiae interesting: ‘From the Heart of the Church’ ... and it is so insightful! meaning that education for all was no idea of a government, of any prince, of any nation that said ‘we have to found centers of higher education’; rather it was individuals who have received the gospel message and the truth, Revelation. Jordi Picazo - The document was mentioned several times in that opening... Fr. Robert Presutti - And Revelation shows so much light into human reality, that you have to study it, it causes wonder, it causes amazement, it causes that kind of urge that makes you want to unpack this creation that we are in. So Catholic universities, Catholic philosophy and theology gave birth... Newman’s famous paper was on natural philosophy; modern science grew out of natural philosophy, the desire for wisdom, of the things, nature, so Catholic universities are very important to preserve the culture of scholarship, the culture of investigation, the culture of wonder, the culture of trying to gain understanding. State-run universities will always have a pressure towards a pragmatic end, so much so that they need to produce degrees that are useful, which is an important thing, but that's not the only reason why Catholic universities exist». Jordi Picazo - It's amazing though how in the church we have been afraid of freedom for centuries, perhaps not anymore after Saint John XXIII but especially I’d say with Saint John Paul II and Benedict XVI, the champions of truth and of the marriage of faith and reason. Fr. Robert Presutti - Blessed Paul VI used to write encyclicals about doctrine, Saint John Paul IIwas the first to write one about reason: basically, he says, ‘trust human reason’; and he was the first to write about married life and to say that human sexuality is good.
Jordi Picazo - Science and Religion: friend or foe? Fr. Robert Presutti - I said before that Science has become a type of philosophy. Even if not among all, in European as well as in North American universities; so, in science departments there is often this false juxtaposition. The advent of the new atheists as that is called, people like Christopher Hitchens and Dawkins and others really made that point so poignantly: that science is better without any faith, any religion, and in fact, they say, one destroys the other. I think that, to a certain extent, our culture, at least as seen here in the United States, has lost its ability to engage in reason discourse. So much about discourse is so based on feelings and not based on reason that somehow to go against somebody’s opinion means that you are not accepting them as a person, so I can go. And that is really unjust.

The classical formation and the logical discourse

Jordi Picazo - A prominent American Psychiatrist was telling me this in a recent personal interview in his office in Baltimore, that “we will become very opinionated, but we do not accept the facts”. Fr. Robert Presutti - And the fact that part of the understanding of what the human person is much more that their opinions, that there is something good; there is, you know, ontology, for example, which allows us to be engaged in good debate, in this type of discourse. In this regard, I think the scholastic method was incredible: the disputatio. Wow! We have lost the ability to do that. Aquinas is so intellectually honest, and there is nobody that does so greater job of portraying his enemies quote in quote out as his interlocutors would. It is amazing: He takes other people's opinions and makes them stronger before he examines them. Classical formation in humanities, scholasticism is important ... *Jordi Picazo is a philologist and journalist

Newman Lecture Series Continues

On Thursday, January 25, George Mason University Professor of Law Helen Alvaré gave a dynamic presentation to students, faculty and local professionals on "Legal Foundations and History of Male/Female in Jurisprudence." The event was a part of the Divine Mercy University’s Newman Lecture Series, which feature speakers who are widely recognized for their contributions to the fields of psychology, moral and political philosophy, theology, and law. The 2017-2018 Newman Lecture series seeks to explore what science and faith have to offer on the equality, difference, and complementarity of man and woman. Watch the recording to hear her take on the influence of science and faith on human equality, difference and complementarity!
About DMU
Divine Mercy University (DMU) is a Catholic graduate university of psychology and counseling programs. It was founded in 1999 as the Institute for the Psychological Sciences. The university offers a Master of Science (M.S.) in Psychology, Master of Science (M.S.) in Counseling, Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) in Clinical Psychology, and Certificate Programs.