Faith, Ever Seeking Reason

On retreat and reflection
by Rachel Bundang

Today we can illuminate our cities so brightly that the stars of the sky are no longer visible. Is this not an image of the problems caused by our version of enlightenment? With regard to material things, our knowledge and our technical accomplishments are legion, but what reaches beyond, the things of God and the question of good, we can no longer identify. Faith, then, which reveals God’s light to us, is the true enlightenment, enabling God’s light to break into our world, opening our eyes to the true light.

— Benedict XVI, homily for the Easter Vigil (2012)


One does not typically review a retreat, as if it were a book or a film that others could readily seek out if they found the premise intriguing. By its very nature, a retreat is such an interior and singular experience of encounter that the retreatant alone determines its meaning and significance from the silence of the heart. So let’s chalk this essay up under the “Catholic Studies” part of what the Lane Center does.

I recently had the occasion to attend a retreat led by Br. Guy Consolmagno, director of the Vatican Observatory. It was equal parts a critical need for some time away to think and reflect on some knots in my life, plus curiosity about the man and his work, plus the sudden opportunity. Br. Guy first crossed my path through his interviews on shows with Stephen Colbert, Krista Tippett, and Neil DeGrasse Tyson. The brilliance and humor that he displayed in those shows were indeed real. I don’t know whether he would use these same words, but I described him to friends later as “a joyful nerd”… and that is meant as every bit a compliment. He also exuded an easy wonder and awe for the work he gets to do in his dual vocation of religion and science. He had the air of one who now had no need to question that he really was where he was truly called to be. To harken back to Robert Frost’s “Two Tramps in Mud Time,” Br. Guy’s love and need are clearly one, uniting his avocation and vocation.

If it were Oprah doing the talking, she would say that the man is “living his best life.”

Br. Guy covered a great deal of territory in his talks through the weekend. From the whole retreat, I wish to highlight three elements.

First, there is the practice of reverence for nature. Br. Guy used Benedict XVI’s Easter vigil homily to reinterpret for us the creation story in Genesis 1. In our age of electricity, he says, we rarely experience light and dark in their natural state. The artificial light disrupts ecosystems and sleep patterns. Unmoored from a simpler economy ruled by natural day and night, we work stressful jobs in order to afford the electricity and, by extension, the rest of our modern material lives, ultimately making us less self-sufficient. The artificial light, oddly enough, masks our fears– whether of darkness or pain or other unknowns– so that we make the mistake of equating light with safety. Br. Guy reminds us that it is only in the places far from the city that we can see what light actually looks like. Returning to Gen 1, he shows God already there at the beginning, supernatural and beyond time, deliberately creating the universe. In creating light first, God insures that all creation is out there for us to see. Real light, according to Br. Guy, makes knowledge, freedom, and faith all possible.

Next, there is the practice of community. We are a people who believe in the communion of saints– a community that crosses both space and time. A retreat like this was, on the most obvious level, an experience of being among fellow seekers– fellow saints already– being cared for in the simplicity of Jesuit hospitality.  Just as many faithful never grow past a child’s understanding of religion, many educated people have likewise not grown past a rudimentary understanding of science. We remain largely ignorant of how the cosmos actually works. Br. Guy reminds us that science is not about facts, but rather about understanding. He claims, “We are all scientists… and we are all priests.” In our scientific and priestly roles in the world, it is our charge to pay attention to how the universe works, to learn from its mysteries, and to promote understanding. In other words, we are called to practice both intellectual and spiritual generosity as acts of faith and community.

Lastly, we have the practice of silence and space. I am most decidedly an urban creature who would likely not survive off the grid. And yet there was great ease to be had in unplugging, in taking a silent meal if desired, in letting the rocks and trees and rain renew a life force that had been crushed and gone dry. We were even invited one evening, through the break between storms, to engage in stargazing as prayer. We could stay up as long as we wished, to look deeply into the heart of space and time, and feel humbled and alive in the midst of creation’s goodness.

Going on retreat gives us the chance to remember that God is indeed present in all things– even in things that we might consider dark or bereft of life. For Br. Guy, astronomy is prayer. There is no conflict between religion and science.  Rather, science is worship, a way to witness the unfolding of the glory of God, revealed in an ongoing fashion.

Reading Amoris Laetitia as an Act of Critical Hope


by Jane Bleasdale
Associate Professor
USF School of Education


With its challenging vocabulary and dry nature, reading a papal document on your own is no easy task. However, participating in a discussion like a book club makes the experience more lively and palatable, both spiritually and mentally.

Over the course of three meetings, a group of us faculty and staff read Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love), Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation from this past spring. In our discussions, we focused on themes that were relevant, provoking, and affirming:

  • Gender, feminism and modern families
  • Love in marriage and LGBTQ relationships
  • Conscience, pastoral practice and divorced and remarried Catholics

 In a Catholic Jesuit university setting such as ours at USF, it is unsurprising that diverse voices were heard around that table when gathered to reflect on the experience of reading Amoris Laetitia. In reading the document, we found places of and occasions for great hope. The voice of Pope Francis resonated, and his message of mercy and inclusion was deeply present.

In the opening paragraphs, Pope Francis gave us great hope that we were about to read a document that was a true reflection of the modern Church and the families we love:

Each country or region, moreover, can seek solutions better suited to its culture and sensitive to its traditions and local needs. (sec. 3)

But as we journeyed through Amoris Laetitia, we found the document lacking a true understanding of our world, our community, and our families– perhaps because the voices of experience were missing from the conversation. Perhaps we were hoping for something that would at least leave the door open and offer a sign of hope for those trapped in marriages as victims of abuse, the childless couple who decide to use IVF (in vitro fertilization), or the significant numbers of our community who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.

The Synod process allowed for an examination of the situation of families in today’s world, and thus for a broader vision and a renewed awareness of the importance of marriage and the family. (sec. 2)

Pope Francis’ voice of grace and mercy was definitely present in the document – we found this to be consoling and a sign of some hope that those of us at the table who are divorced, or gay or unmarried– or perhaps in nontraditional marriages– would be accepted and welcomed to the table too.

I am in agreement with the many Synod Fathers who observed that “the baptized who are divorced and civilly remarried need to be more fully integrated into Christian communities in the variety of ways possible, while avoiding any occasion of scandal. (sec. 299)

And again,

Hence it is can no longer simply be said that all those in any “irregular” situation are living in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of sanctifying grace. (sec. 301)

It is always jarring to read the words ‘mortal sin’ and know that your life, your relationship, or your family are being described in such ways. Some members of our group felt we could grasp onto the light the hope of this simple statement, while others appear once again crushed or alienated by the Church.

Many people in our group felt that the gift of conscience, written about in a deeply spiritual and faithful way in Vatican II, was once again being recognized by the Church. As faith-filled Catholics, my colleagues experience conscience as a grace, formed in faith and positive messages from the Gospels. We applauded the way conscience was embraced once aging by Church leaders.

Recognizing the influence of such concrete factors, we can add that individual conscience needs to be better incorporated into the Church’s praxis in certain situations which do not objectively embody our understanding of marriage. (sec. 303)

However, we also experienced sadness and frustration when the Synod seemed to go out of its way to affirm the traditional view of marriage and the role of the male and female: patriarchal, rooted in Old Testament teaching, and not what we commonly experience as ‘Gospel values.’ We felt at times that the tone of Amoris Laetitia did not sound or feel like the Pope himself was speaking, and that a more formal, less inclusive message was being conveyed.

As our group concluded – and Advent began—we shared some messages of hope for the Church. However, we were also left with a sense of disappointment for what might be, and could be, within our Church community.



Amoris Laetitia Reading Group

4277328982_a7b1cbee6b_mAfter two synods on the family and a process of consultation involving the Catholic laity, Pope Francis issued his much anticipated Apostolic Exhortation on the Family, Amoris Laetitia, in April 2016. The document offers a reflection on the challenges modern families face and presents Catholic teaching in such a way that emphasizes the dignity of conscience and the importance of pastoral sensitivity.

In this reading group, we will discuss Amoris Laetitia and responses, focusing on three topics that have produced lively debate: the role of women in the family and society, the recognition of LGBTQ relationships, and the Church’s teaching on divorced and remarried Catholics.

Join the conversation Continue reading “Amoris Laetitia Reading Group”