Remembering John F. Kavanaugh

The work of John F. Kavanaugh, S.J., who died November 5, 2012, have long enriched the pages of this magazine.  "For years his essays in America shed light on films, Scripture and the ethical and political debates of the day," writes Jeanne Schuler in a remembrance of her teacher and friend. We have collected on this page just a sampling of these writings, which reveal a philosopher, scholar and journalist for whom the human person "provides the measure needed to think through the issues we face."

"Our Alien Bodies," April 30, 2012
"If we succumb to the temptation to divest ourselves of our bodied condition for the sake of some alienating dream of autonomous and disembodied minds, we may indeed achieve the twisted desire. But if we do, it will be at the cost of our very selves."
 
"A Quintessential Jesuit," February 20, 2006
"The Denver Post reported that a few hours before he died, Jim Sunderland, S.J., asked his family and friends to put on his shoes, because I want to walk into heaven. Just like him: a flinty realism, a bit of humor and an undying faith."
 
"Catholic Consciences," July 19, 2004
"It is urgent, then, that bishops continue to provide clear teaching. They should make the case in the public square for the inviolability of human life, even at conception, without appealing to their own authority. They should demand that Catholic Democrat and Republican candidates who legally tolerate but do not ethically approve abortion under certain circumstances (rape, incest, threat to life of the mother) provide leadership and strategies to reduce abortions."
 
"Time and Transcendence," December 22, 2003
"[W]herever any of us live, it is there that we have the choice to love or not. We may dream of far-off places and more opportune times to wage the great wars against hate and poverty. We may think that if we could only change the church or start a new political party or rewrite the laws or reform the nation, then we would be doing something significant."
 
"Militant Madness," March 25, 2002
"A Washington Post-ABC News poll, entitled America at War, informed us that 88 percent of us support the way the president is handling the campaign against terrorism.... The almost lock-step uniformity of opinion provides a dangerously uncritical blank check to those who would drop bombs on other human beings."
 
"Extremists at Home," October 15, 2001
"If both sides of this newly declared war listen to the voices of extremism in their midst, it will indeed be a war we undertake, the first truly world war, plotted by the three children of Abraham and Sarah—Muslim, Jew and Christian, strewn across the earth, exterminating one another."
 
"Beautiful Rottenness," April 2, 2001
"I was reminded of a phrase, recalled from my graduate school days, uttered by Professor Albert William Levi while discussing one philosopher’s evaluation of another: beautiful rottenness. Levi was worried that the phrase might one day be appropriate for our entire culture. If he were alive today he might say, See, I told you so."
 
"Humanity's Cross," April 22, 2000
"[U]nlike any time before, we have the technical opportunity to change what we are. Our bodies, those intersections of time and eternity, those crosses we bear, might themselves be changed, even discarded. We would finally be able to throw the cross away. Yet, having rid ourselves of our bodies’ wounds and their threat of death, having stifled the passion within us, we will find ourselves self-exiled from this fallen paradise."
 
"We think if we are need and dependent we are despicable. The we are all dispicable. If we are better off dead than inconvinient or—dare I say the word—unproductive, we would all be better off not to exist in the first place. I say this: If I love you, I expect you to inconvinience me."
 
"Resenting Forgiveness," March 25, 1995
"We try so hard, not only to win the game of life, but to merit eternal life itself. We think our efforts count so much; we hack away at our salvation. And we may well resent it when others find forgiveness."
Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
bill halpin
4 years 1 month ago
[W]herever any of us live, it is there that we have the choice to love or not. (JK) For humans, every experience reveals the self engaged in the experience. This inward reflection, called by some the “space of reasons” and by John awareness of awareness, is how freedom emerges. (JS) (cf. 'remembrance') ... Good words, all, Kavanaugh and Schuler! Happily read. Gratitude for, and continue, please, America, their ilk.
James DuBois
4 years 1 month ago
Fr. John loved people. That is why he was comfortable making them feel uncomfortable. He challenged their assumptions and above all the convenient compromises they made in life. He was a philosopher. But his philosophy of the person was grounded in Christian theology. He once told me at the outset of a project: The key is not so much to identify people who are liberal or who are conservative, but rather people who are serious about their faith. For him, faith was not cheap: It would be translated into action.
THERESA HALLADAY MRS
4 years 1 month ago
I am confused about the 10/15/01 essay by Father Kavanaugh. I cannot find other than two sons of Abraham. ??? Help.

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