Our own Robert P. George shows his more personal side in an interview with America’s Kevin Spinale. Currently McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University, George typically offers his thoughts on more intellectual matters. Here, he shares about personal prayer, family life, advice for young Catholics, vocation, and the reality of suffering.
How do you address spiritual desolation?
I think of Jesus’ prayer on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” [Mk 15:34]. Jesus is stating the first few words of a psalm [Psalm 22] that will end not with an expression of despair but with a profound expression of hope and trust in God. We are not in control. My great and dear and much missed friend, Father Richard John Neuhaus, used to say: “We have to remember that we are not in charge of making things turn out all right. That’s God’s job. We are in charge of being faithful. We are just supposed to be faithful. The rest is God’s part.”
How does your faith influence or sustain your academic scholarship and teaching?
The Second Vatican Council teaches that all of us, not only those called to priesthood and religious life, have vocations. The council stresses the importance of discerning our vocations and integrating all the different aspects of our lives in light of our discernment of what God is calling us to do. I view my teaching, my scholarship and my activism in the world of public affairs as part of my vocation. Faith plays an important integrating role in my life.
My life is sustained by faith. I need God’s help to discern what I should be doing and how to do it well. I need God in my life to apologize to when I fail. I need God as comforter and also God as challenger. I think that God challenges us to do more and to do better. It is in the light of God that we can see just how little we have accomplished, no matter how generously the world has showered its honors on us.
What aspect of Christianity or Christian belief most resists a rational account?
I think that the strongest, most mysterious and, in some ways, the most impressive aspect of Christian faith is that it challenges natural human emotions. Perhaps the most radical of all of Christ’s teachings is love of enemies. I would not say that love of enemies is contrary to reason. But I would say it is contrary to the natural emotions that we have, and so it challenges us in a fundamental aspect of our being, because we are not just pure minds. We do have emotions and we do have feelings, and loving our enemies is not only difficult, it just goes against the way we are made. To me, the fact that Christianity could make so bold and radical a demand is more evidence for the supernatural truth of Christianity.
How does the reality of suffering affect your prayer, your living out of faith?
It is a cliché but, nonetheless, I think it is true—that from the Christian point of view, suffering can only be accounted for as a great mystery. Christianity has a story about suffering. It is a very powerful and beautiful story, but it is a difficult one: suffering offers us the opportunity to participate in a small way in the redemptive work of Christ….With a mystery like this one can only enter more deeply into it rather than solve it. It is not meant to be solved.
What advice do you have for young adult Catholics maturing spiritually and intellectually?
My first bit of advice would be to attend to your spiritual life. Develop a strong interior life, especially when we are making educational choices and anticipating career choices. We have to discipline ourselves to maintain regular prayer, engage a spiritual director and examine the options for different kinds of spirituality—Ignatian spirituality or the spirituality associated with some of the new movements in the church like Opus Dei and so forth.… A lot of young people today will really be determined about jogging or going to the gym and staying physically healthy; we need to have the same attitude toward our spiritual lives.
Read the rest of the interview here.