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On Using Heart and Mind | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J. | Ignatius Insight | July 22, 2010

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"You asked me questions with great frankness and at the same time showed that you have firm points, convictions. And this is very important. You are young men and women who think, who question themselves, and who have a sense of truth and good. In other words, you know how to use your minds and your hearts, and that is no small thing."
-- Pope Benedict XVI, To Young People in the Cathedral in Sulmona, July 4, 2010 (L'Osservatore Romano, English, July 7, 2010.)


The lovely town of Sulmona, in L'Aquila, in Italy, is famous for being the birthplace of the Roman poet Ovid, for its goldsmiths, and for "confetti," sugar coated almonds passed out at weddings and other festive occasions. It is also famous for being the home of the one pope who actually resigned his office, Pope Celestine V, a hermit who ruled the Church for about six months. Not surprisingly, when Benedict visited Sulmona recently, I saw articles speculating whether he might be thinking of resigning since he had an interest in this obscure pope. That this pope might have once looked forward to retiring in Bavaria goes without saying. But once pope, he understands that his office is for life.

The town's patron is St. Pamphilius, after whom the Cathedral is named. This is where, on his recent visit, the Holy Father gave a brief talk to young men and women gathered in the Cathedral. He did not talk to them about changing the world's social structures. He did not talk of philosophy or theology even, but he did talk about history and using their heads. The students evidently had asked him some questions to which he responded.

Both John Paul II and Benedict are at their best in youth audiences. Imagine anyone else in the world telling young men and women that it is"no small thing" to use their minds! Benedict adds:"I would say that it is the main thing in this world: to use the intelligence and wisdom that God has given to you properly." This again is a theme that is typical of Catholicism at its best. It recognizes that our minds are not our own original creations. We are given them by God in the very being we have received, a being that does not originate with us.

We are to use our minds and hearts at the same time. We are not to be afraid of intelligence or insight. But we know that we can choose to use them improperly. These usages the pope calls"shadows," perhaps after Plato. The only thing that can really challenge the improper use of mind is to use it properly, to seek and find the truth of things.

Benedict remarks on the faith and moral values found among the people of that region. But there are"false values" and"deceptive models." They too promise to fill human life, but they are"empty." Benedict knows the relativism and skepticism that surround all of today's youth, even those in Sulmona.


The pope commends the students for recalling to him the example of Pope Celestine, as well as remembering some of the pope's own words in Sydney."The memory of the past is truly an 'extra gear' in life, because without memory there is no future. It was once said that history is a teacher of life!" The past concretizes things for us."The contemporary consumer society tends instead to relegate human beings to the present, to make them lose their sense of the past, of history; but by doing so it deprives them of the ability to understand themselves, to perceive problems and to build the future." The notion of being"relegated" to the present, to be free of history, and hence alone and by oneself is a powerful one. The Christian is"someone who has a good memory, who loves history and seeks to know it."

The students asked:"How does one recognize God's call?" The pope, following the example of the hermit Celestine, speaks of inner and exterior silence."St. Peter Celestine was first and foremost this: a man of listening, of inner silence, a man of prayer, a man of God."

We must in fact take steps to be outside the culture, to allow within our souls other voices than the immediate ones that constantly pound us from media and ideology.

"Being with God, listening to his word, in the Gospel and in the Church's Liturgy, protects you from the dazzle of pride and presumption, from fashion and conformism, and gives you the strength to be truly free, even from certain temptations masked as good things."


The students also asked the delicate question of"How we can be in the world but not of it?" Praying in our room, meditating, going to Mass, Benedict says, does not"remove" us from the world. It rather"helps us be ourselves," not subject to pervasive forces."Dear friends, faith and prayer do not solve problems but rather enable us to face them with fresh enlightenment and strength, in a way that is worthy of the human being and also more serenely and effectively." As he often does, Benedict recalls the examples of actual saints in history. They began first with prayer and attention to God. The pope even talks of a kind of spiritual"entrepreneurship" helped by the Spirit. Not everything that the world most needs is already contained in the world with its own standards.

The pope says that one of the"badges" of being a Christian is that he is never merely an"individualist." Are not hermits and monks such "individualists?""The monk does not live for himself but for others and it is for the good of the Church and of society that he cultivates the contemplative life so that the Church and society may always be irrigated by new energies, by the Lord's action." There always needs to be midst the affairs of the world, for the good of the world, those whose life is primarily directed to God.

The pope urges the students to love the Church, the bishops and priests,"in spite of all our weaknesses." Following the Lord is a joy, the pope remarks after recalling the rich young man in the Gospels who went away "sad" because he had many riches. What is the sign of being a Christian? "For you Jesus Christ is worth much, even though it is demanding to follow him, that he is worth more than anything else." Benedict tells the youth of Sulmona to read the Confessions of Augustine, surely a soul-changing book if there ever was one.

Finally, Benedict says,"I must now depart and I must say that I am sorry to leave you! With you I feel that the Church is young! But I am happy as I leave, like a father who is serene because he has seen that his children are growing up and growing up well." One cannot, in conclusion, help wonder with all the attacks on fatherhood and the family how many young people actually understand this sentiment of the pope. He is the Holy Father; he sees in all such gatherings, the hope for eternal life in which we were created.

Biography of Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI
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Fr. James V. Schall, S.J., is Professor of Political Philosophy at Georgetown University.

He is the author of numerous books on social issues, spirituality, culture, and literature including Another Sort of Learning, Idylls and Rambles, A Student's Guide to Liberal Learning, The Life of the Mind (ISI, 2006), The Sum Total of Human Happiness (St. Augustine's Press, 2007), The Regensburg Lecture (St. Augustine's Press, 2007), and The Mind That Is Catholic: Philosophical and Political Essays (CUA, 2008). His most recent book from Ignatius Press is The Order of Things (Ignatius Press, 2007). His new book, The Modern Age, is available from St. Augustine's Press. Read more of his essays on his website.

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