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Issue Date:  July 14, 2006

From the Editor's Desk

Finally, what makes you laugh?

John L. Allen Jr., in his long retrospective following the death of Pope John Paul II, quoted the Italian historian Andrea Riccardi, who recounted a July 22, 1979, conversation in which the pope had said: “Look, I can surely say by now that I’ve got the antibodies to communism inside me. But when I think of consumer society, with all its tragedies, I wonder which of the two systems is better.”

It would be difficult to conjure a more deeply personal or evenhanded critique of what were, at the time, systems competing for global ascendancy.

During the course of his long pontificate, John Paul, ardent anticommunist, was also severely critical of unbridled capitalism and the growing gap globally between the rich North and the poor South. His criticism of U.S.-style capitalism, of course, was enough to send shivers through the ranks of the neoconservative community in this country, which tends to see U.S.-style capitalism (and, presumably, any of the militarism resulting) as a system entirely compatible with and justified by Gospel values.

The debate over what the pope meant -- and how severe a critic he was of capitalism, if at all -- was not bound to end with his death. Jonathan Luxmoore and Jolanta Babiuch write this week about a debate now over a little-known text comprising lectures by the young Karol Wojtyla in which he exhibits an appreciation of certain elements of Marxism and pens a stern critique of capitalism. (See story)

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Courage is one of those qualities that one normally assigns to activities that happen beyond the sphere of the normal. We think of courage as a big-picture word, a word of the battlefield or some titanic struggle between good and evil. Perhaps we shrink from applying it to ourselves because inherent in courage is a cost. One has to overcome fear in order to exhibit courage, and who wouldn’t want to avoid fearful situations? But they happen, often out of our control, as esteemed Jesuit theologian Walter J. Burghardt points out in his essay on. Burghardt, who celebrated his 92nd birthday July 10, contemplates what it means to have courage in the day-to-day as he contends with physical decline. (See story)

A prolific writer, Burghardt has written 24 books and more than 300 articles. For 44 years he was the managing editor/editor in chief of Theological Studies. He was also founder and codirector of “Preaching the Just Word,”a program of the Woodstock Theological Center.

In addition to his birthday, Burghardt has marked two other significant anniversaries this year. In February, he celebrated his 75th anniversary as a Jesuit and in June, the 65th anniversary of his ordination.

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OK, you might blame the next query on my having spent too much time in the sun during a long July 4th weekend. I spent some time on the golf course. (Having made a lifetime of disparaging remarks about the game, I discovered golf some five or six years ago when one of my sons organized an outing while on vacation. I was smitten, and now somewhat regularly bash the little white ball, mostly with futility, around lovely environs.)

And I nursed tomato plants and flowers. (I consider gardens an adult version of the sandbox, an excuse to go scratch around in the dirt, and I must say my success at coaxing a few vegetables to grow and flowers to blossom occurs at a far higher percentage than my success at golf.) All of which is a long way of saying I had time to think about life’s important issues and burning questions and the most burning question I came away with  was this: What makes you laugh?

Fine, let’s narrow that down. I know many of the irritants of modern church life, we write about them all the time. But what about what makes us laugh? Is there anyone out there who regularly displays a sense of humor about this Catholic journey? Is there a preacher or teacher (and they don’t have to be men) who makes you laugh? Who can make you, just for a moment, forget about liturgy wars and hierarchical cover-ups and the heresy police taking notes in the back pew?

That’s my just-this-side-of-sunstroke question. Let me hear from you at

-- Tom Roberts

National Catholic Reporter, July 14, 2006

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