In Irish culture, there is an over-riding belief in what is loosely called "luck." Despite being third generation Irish in the States, I've been amused and amazed to learn how some of these cultural conventions have nevertheless trickled down to us. So, being a "glass half empty" kind of culture after nine centuries of happy relations with the English, the Irish tend to be very superstitious about speaking of things in our lives being "good" because that simply provokes the "bad." Luck. Therefore, the other week, talking with Mum on the phone, I remarked that – other than the surgery stuff I've had to deal with over the last few years – I've gone without so much as a cold for something like three years. Mom immediately gasped, and said something to the effect of "Don't say that! Are you crazy?!" I was just provoking "Luck" to come and give me bad luck. Maybe this is getting slightly toward the same idea the Greeks had about Nemesis.
So naturally, true to form, I spent all last week being oddly achy, and then on Thursday evening, after catching a matinée of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix with Diane after I got done teaching, my tonsils exploded into the giant, diseased form they now exhibit, and which kept me pretty much laid out light-headed and aching all weekend. I keep wishing they'd been chopped out of me as a kid. They're so huge that I've been having trouble sleeping because I keep choking or gagging on them when I lay down. Totally disgusting.
I couldn't talk for more than a sentence yesterday without my voice blowing out, but it seems stronger today. It's been painful, but Mike Canaris visited me from Fordham University this afternoon, and we just spent two hours talking about Francis Sullivan. Mike is the third doctoral student after me and Fr. Dermot Ryan over at the Gregorian University in Rome to plan a doctoral dissertation on Francis Sullivan's work. Mike was out here for the Green Bay/Philadelphia game this weekend, and made a point of getting together with me while staying here in town with his aunt.
It was a lot of fun to be able to talk with someone (if painfully, in a raspy voice) who knew Sullivan's material. Once we had established that our dissertation ideas weren't the same and possibly in competition with or invalidated by the other's work (the first, natural fear you have) we got on very comfortably. The Catholic theological community is past the sort of self-destructive phase that academic theology went through in the mid-20th century (a deconstructionist phase, more in Protestant theology, and before "deconstructionism" had been articulated) and so it tends to be full of people of good will. I walked into Starbucks expecting to see someone who looked more-or-less like myself, dressed in pretentious "junior academic" fashion, and found instead a relaxed and cool "regular student" in a Fordham hoodie, baseball cap, with a big smile and goatee who looked more like he'd stopped by to throw a football around. And so I got to laugh at my expectation and to enjoy the difference. Whereas I'm from working-class rural Midwestern farming country, Mike seemed more from working-class Philadelphia urban stock. We compared notes of how we had drifted upward into academic theology and traced our rising interests into Sullivan's work. I was also particularly interested in hearing about Mike's experience working for one of American Catholic theology's superstars: he's been assisting Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J. for three years now. While my dissertation ideas have more to do with a "marco"-level look at Sullivan's ecclesiology from an organizing paradigm in his charismatic perspectives, and Dermot is looking at Sullivan's concept of the role of the theologian in the church from his response to the CDF's Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian, Mike is looking at putting together something more ecumenically-oriented, in dealing with Sullivan's work regarding Jacques Dupuis, and Sullivan's book Salvation Outside the Church? Tracing the History of the Catholic Response. Soon we were cheerfully throwing around terms like "hermeneutics," "neo-pentecostal," and "ordinary universal magisterium" with the happy ease of a person who has finally met someone who has read all the right books and for whom you don't have to stop to explain what all the basics.
After about an hour at Starbucks, where we met, we moved over to my apartment so that he could look at the Italian dissertation on the Magisterium that Dermot had sent me which had a Sullivan chapter in it (and one on Dulles), so that Mike could judge whether it was something he'd like to copy. I burned him a CD of my interviews with Sullivan while we continued talking, and gave him a copy of a small book from the 1970s that I'd accidentally bought two copies of, which had a chapter by Sullivan that he might be able to use. In time, we walked over to the copy shop through the cool, autumn-like rain greying Milwaukee today, talking about other things, too, like travels in Florence.
So, a very happy couple of hours. My throat didn't give out, though it now hurts a lot more, and so I hope I won't have to cancel class tomorrow. I've had to cancel a third social engagement in four days, but I wasn't going to drop this one entirely, since Mike's presence here in Milwaukee was so extra-ordinary, and too good an opportunity to miss. That it turned into a clear example of the kind of good-will and fellowship that I generally find to be normal in the theological community today – that was just gravy. It's cool that the three of us can have some contact with one another, at our diverse schools, and enjoy the benefits of one another's explorations into Frank Sullivan's work as we open up this hitherto-unexplored corner of theology. And having said all this, I'm going to go pass out. Or maybe moan a bit, first. My apologies to everyone I still owe responses to, etc.