Yesterday, April 24th, Gonzaga University’s Faith and Reason Institute welcomed the distinguished Jesuit philosopher and writer, Fr. James V. Schall, SJ, who gave an address, “On Remembering What We Know”, in honor of the prolific work of his friend and confrere, Fr. John J. Navone, SJ.
Priests, sisters, seminarians, professors, and community members were captivated by the intellectual greatness of both these celebrated Catholic intellectuals who bore truth to Leo Tolstoy’s insight that, “There is no greatness where there is no simplicity, goodness, and truth.”
In his introduction of Frs. Schall and Navone, Dr. Eric Cunningham noted Pope Francis’ reference to how Navone’s book on the “theology of failure” had influenced his own spiritual formation. Schall’s remarks on Navone’s works did not center on his reflections on “failure,” however, but rather focused on what Fr. Schall refered to as the need to “remember what we know.”
“Memory is necessary, not just to tradition,” said Schall, “but to intelligence itself.” His talk was based on one of Navone’s most quoted assertions: “Tell me what you remember, and I’ll tell you what you are.” It was delightful to witness two Jesuits, both now retired, speak in theological and philosophical contours rarely heard today, transitioning from the theme of remembrance in the Hebrew Bible, to Plato, to Aristotle, to St. Augustine, and even to Lucy and Charlie Brown – in English, Italian, and Latin.
Among the principal themes of Fr. Schall’s comments was the ideal of happiness (and humor) in God’s plan of creation. “We were created by happiness,” he said, “for happiness itself.” And then, after some witty recollections of a dialogue between several characters in one of Charles Schultz’s “Peanuts” comic strips, Fr. Schall looked up from his notes and suggested that, “The only really serious thing in the universe is God.”
Recalling their long lives of priestly service and scholarly writing, Frs. Schall and Navone reminded the audience that we should avoid “taking the universe as merely a given.” For “there can be nothing given without a giver,” they continued, and we should be a people of gratitude for the gift of happiness that the giver has provided his creation.