That load, at least, won't have to have all the commentary. First off, just given the fact that I didn't think the situation through when designing the Syllabus and that this lot is just coming due now (a question asking them to creatively synthesize Thomas Aquinas' and Julian of Norwich's treatments of the Trinity), I simply don't have the time before the end of the semester to go into such detail. But everyone has gotten or is getting their first lot back at least a session before their final paper is due, and I wanted to make sure that those had all the analysis and constructive criticism that I could offer, so that perhaps they might have some basis for improvement in their writing. I figure they paid for it, even if I'm only getting $5000 of the $180,000 in tuition they paid for the class. (Catholic universities are still having trouble applying Catholic Social Justice teaching to themselves.)
But they're doing well. We had a great discussion on the Introduction to our current book, an introduction written by philosopher and former head of the Italian Senate Marcello Pera, in the book Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures, by Joseph Ratzinger. It was material written shortly before his election as Pope Benedict XVI. Pera is an atheist who, like the even more prominent atheist and philosopher, Jürgen Habermas, agrees with Ratzinger's assessment of ties to Christianity as critical for the future existence of secular Europe, in the face of the standard Secularist Enlightenment philosophy reigning in Europe today which wants to privatize Christianity out of the public sphere. But given that the liberties promoted by the Enlightenment were justified by an inherited Christian intellectual foundation, modern philosophy no longer has any basis for these, and – odd as it may seem – the absolutization of liberty as a value has lead to the destruction of liberty as a concept. If we want to hold on to our political freedoms, then, the secular world has to back off from absolutizing itself and stay in conversation with its own Christian heritage. Pera's Introduction gave us a jumping-off point for talking about the basics of the Enlightenment and its role in our cultural heritage, and so now the students are ready to work with Ratzinger's proposal for the Vatican II-style synthesis or dialogue between Christianity and Modernity. Fun stuff.
Friday was my birthday, and the Lloyds had made a point of verifying some celebration of this when we were out eating Ethiopian last week. (The Harrises were still sick, alas.) It was quietly perfect. Dan grilled some humongous steaks, seasoned the way he does it, and even baked me a yummy and delicious mint chocolate cake (though he tried to pass that off as Amy's work, and which she gleefully tattled on, reminding me that he is traditionally the baker in their family). I understood more of Owen's words and Anna was at her most absurdly charming, and so it was just a pleasant evening all-around. We enjoyed BSG in the usual way, but talked late about other things, ranging from some of the usual patristics (a little more of Dan's reading of Novatian for his new dissertation topic) to politics (I articulated my hope that weakening the presidency back to its constitutional limits would become a major campaign issue) and farther afield.
Erik woke me up that morning, building off the world's worst standing joke by calling before I'd normally wake up (mercifully, I randomly had woken up a few minutes earlier) and, as I was screening him (feeling no inherent obligation to answer an obscenely early phone call), began crowing like a rooster on my answering machine and launching into the opening line of the Beatle's "Good Morning, Good Morning." I picked up and we had a laughing chat to start the day, although he had more news to share than I did, as I mostly was grading while he's figuring out the details of life after having completed his doctorate. But we've been talking more frequently of late, and so his remembering the birthday was a treat: old friends are a unique comfort. And I ended the day with another call (having talked to the folks in the afternoon) when I got home from Dan's to hear a message I'd missed from Leslie, with Grace also on the line wishing me Happy Birthday and a sweetly-coached "I love you" as well. Other messages and notes seasoned the day with happiness. Simple pleasures, but all good ones. I'm kind of low-key about birthdays nowadays, being a bit wigged out in realizing (shock!) that while I felt like I put my life on "pause" to go to grad school, the numbers kept on rising, and life doesn't accept the "pause" setting. So this was all the right "speed" for me.