As this maybe not so “Sweet November” kicks off, something from the most recent quarterly members’ periodical of the Phi Beta Kappa Society caught my attention. I am not a member of this honorable academic association, whose founding dates back to the American Revolution, but I have two daughters who are, and so daddy just looks over their shoulders, so to speak, and takes considerable interest in the proceedings of those who possess “the Key.”
The comments of the current Secretary and CEO, Frederick M. Lawrence, provide good occasion for reflection as this raucous year draws to a conclusion, particularly his focus on the three core values of the society, namely, “Literature” – essentially scholarship in general, “Virtue” – moral integrity in public and private, and “Friendship” – or more cogently, deep engagement in the lives of others.
Other groups – civic, fraternal and religious – also cite these themes as being foundational to their own respective missions. But I did find the cited lecture comments of one of Phi Beta Kappa member, Dr. Martha Nussbaum, especially compelling. “Democracy needs to learn from, and practice, philosophical dialogue, a way of conversing – and differing – about important issues that substitutes respect for arrogance, and patient probing for overconfident boasting.”
Secretary Lawrence then added the following quote from Judge Learned Hand (another “Key holder” from another generation). “The spirit of liberty is the spirit which seeks to understand the minds of other men and women.” Well, patient understanding of others would seem to be quite out of vogue these days, certainly in high public circles. And if you transpose a couple of words from the previous sentence you have “understanding [the] patient.” Hmm. It’s like we’re all sick, and simultaneously the potential physician on assignment to the spiritual and personal ills of others. One metaphor for the Church picking up steam these days is the Field Hospital. Insofar as we are all “terminal” – let’s be honest – it’s not a bad analogy. Just something to think about as we slide into “the Holidays” this year.
May the Lord be with us all,
Fr. Nicholas A. Marziani, Jr., D.Min.