The Turn to Spirituality
Michael giving a public lecture on The Turn to Spirituality
All Hallows College, Dublin, October 2010
MA in Applied Spirituality (2012)
Michael O’Sullivan SJ was the Director of a DCU Masters programme in Applied Spirituality at All Hallows College, Dublin. He talks to Pat Coyle of the Jesuit Communication Centre about the students and the topics they’ve chosen, in this relatively new and popular discipline.
What Spiritual Capital means (2013)
Reflections on Pope Francis (2013)
Michael worked in El Salvador and Pinochet’s Chile. He talks about the moral dilemmas he faced, the importance of liberation theology and his friendship with Sr Pat Farrell, former head of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LWCR). And all in the context of the papacy of Pope Francis.
How Roman Catholic Theology Can Transform Male Violence against Women (2011)
Michael O’Sullivan SJ’s book ‘How Roman Catholic Theology Can Transform Male Violence against Women’ is a theological analysis of male violence against women ‘which brings a new and unique perspective to bear on the discussion about the sexist substrata of the Christian tradition. It treads where few male theologians have previously gone.’ (Professor Linda Hogan, TCD)
On Pope Francis (2014)
Interview with Jesuit Communications Centre about Michael’s paper ‘On Pope Francis’ at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland on 16 April 2014
On Arturo Sosa, the new world leader of the Jesuits (Oct 2016)
The Bible and gender violence
https://soundcloud.com/jesuits-in-ireland/the-science-of-spirituality (Durham University, 15 Feb 2018)
https://www.jesuit.ie/news/featured-news/spirituality-and-the-professions/ (May 2019)
The first ever international conference on ‘Spirituality in Society and the Professions‘ will take place in the Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT), May 16-18, 2019 in Waterford, Ireland. The conference has attracted speakers from various parts of the USA, Asia, Australia, mainland Europe, UK, and Ireland. The conference is a collaboration between WIT and the Spirituality Institute for Research and Education (SpIRE), headed up by Dr Michael O’Sullivan SJ and Dr Bernadette Flanagan, along with the European Institute for Spirituality in Economics and Society (SPES).
In this interview with Pat Coyle of Irish Jesuit Communications, Michael and Bernadette outline the significance of this international event, and give a brief sketch of the book on which it is based. The Routledge handbook, to which they have contributed a chapter, and of which Bernadette is one of the two editors, features 68 contributors from a wide variety of professions and the arts, who write about the role of spirituality in their respective disciplines. Architecture, business, economics, healthcare, education, the food industry and tourism all feature, as well as chapters on spirituality in film, music, literature and poetry. Many of those who have written for the book will deliver papers at the conference.
Radio Interviews with Michael O’Sullivan
- Interview about Archbishop Romero with Near FM radio (7 Mar 2012) http://www.nearpodcast.org/upload/OscarRomero.mp3 (Duration: 32:49)
- Liberation Theology (2013) – Soul Waves Radio
- Spiritual Capital (2013) – Soul Waves Radio
- Authentic Self-Presence and Liberation Theology (2013) – Soul Waves Radio
- The Pope and the Mafia (2014) – Soul Waves Radio
- SpIRE and the MA in Applied Spirituality (4 March 2016) – RTE Radio
Spiritual Capital by Dr. Michael O’Sullivan SJ – YouTube
(type Michael O’Sullivan SJ in the search box of https://www.jesuit.ie/jesuit.ie)
- See: YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H0BB3D6oB3Q) and Vimeo (https://vimeo.com/260957801): ‘A Jesuit with the People’ (March 2018) – a documentary film (54 mins) about the Director of SpIRE, Michael O’Sullivan, SJ, during his years as a missionary in Chile under the Pinochet military dictatorship.
- Michael launches Noel Keating’s book on Meditation with Children (December 2017): https://www.jesuit.ie/news/childrens-meditation-silent-revolution/
- Michael chairs a panel session at the American Academy of Religion in Denver 2018
- “Michael’s experience of living in Chile under Pinochet also made him the ideal man to interview about Pope Francis’s Latin American background. He was interviewed by BBC1, BBC2 and Channel 4 television news, as well as for radio news on BBC Radio Ulster. See BBC article here ». Michael also featured on a discussion panel on TV3 and was interviewed by the New York Times” (Jesuit.ie)..
- Launch of SpIRE (2016): https://www.jesuit.ie/news/new-spirituality-institute-for-research-and-education-launched/
- SpIRE goes from Strength to Strength (2016) – https://www.jesuit.ie/news/20570/
- Michael on Pope Francis at a colloquium in St Andrews University, Scotalnd, April 2014 / https://www.jesuit.ie/news/pray-with-the-pigs/
- In a wide ranging interview for Irish Jesuit Podcasts and local radio, Michael O’Sullivan SJ contextualises the words and deeds of Pope Francis – Jesuit.ie
- Archbishop Oscar Romero’s beatification (2015) – CatholicIreland.net
- Celebrating the life of Archbishop Oscar Romero (2015) – Jesuit.ie
- https://www.jesuit.ie/news/jesuit-tribute-to-slain-archbishop-2/ Jesuit.ie
- They will never silence us – Jesuit.ie
Irish links with San Salvador
At the 20th anniversary Mass in Milltown for the San Salvador martyrs, Michael O’Sullivan SJ recalled some of their links with Ireland. Amando Lopez studied theology and was ordained in Milltown in 1965. Ignacio Ellacuria, the Rector of the Jesuit university where the killings took place, made his Tertianship at Rathfarnham Castle. Eight years before his death he spoke in Milltown on the situation in El Salvador. Frank Doyle, who concelebrated with Michael, was with Jon Sobrino in Thailand the day he got the news that the members of his community had been murdered in San Salvador. Jon avoided death that night because he was working with the Columbans in Thailand. Fr Jim McPolin from Limerick was in San Salvador at the time, but had opted to work in a parish rather than the University. Jim lived in the Jesuit residence in San Antonio Abad parish where the pastor and four young people on a retreat were murdered by the military in 1979. Rory Halpin (who later left the Jesuits) did some of his theology studies at the Jesuit university while living in San Antonio Abad.
Michael himself was arrested in San Salvador airport in 1991, two years after the killings, held under armed guard for the night, and deported to Nicaragua the next morning. He was able to return to El Salvador some days later following the efforts of the Jesuits in El Salvador. Michael had led protests in Ireland against what was happening in El Salvador over a number of years before and after his years as a missionary in Chile during the military dictatorship in that country where his stands on behalf of the poor and persecuted led to him having to leave the country. Read a summary of Michael’s homily below.
At the Mass in Milltown Michael said to the larger than usual congregation that when Amando Lopez lay prostrate in front of the Milltown altar during his ordination he was not to know that this act of giving himself to God would lead him 24 years later to be dragged from his bed and to have to lie prostrate in the garden of his home to be shot with high velocity bullets that would take his brain from his head and splatter it onto the grass.
Nor was he to know at the time that the front avenue he would have walked up and down during his final years of study before his priestly ordination would one day have a memorial bell erected to him, his community companions, an economically poor woman who cooked for Jesuits, her teenage daughter, a murdered Archbishop, and the suffering people of El Salvador.
Michael reminded the congregation of students and staff that the memorial bell was erected at Milltown, not just because Amando had studied and been ordained at Milltown, but because it was hoped that such a memorial on the grounds would inspire those at Milltown Institute to grow more into the commitment that led Ignacio Ellacuria, and his companions, to demonstrate in so many ways that third level learning, teaching, research, programme development, publishing, and administration could play a crucial role in the struggle for social justice as an absolute requirement of authentic Christian faith.
The Latin American Catholic bishops met for only the second time at Medellín, Colombia, in 1968. (1) They met, three years after the end of Vatican II, to reflect on “the Church in the present-day transformation of Latin America in the Light of the Council.” They knew 80% of the people in the continent were living in dire straits of economic poverty while unrest concerning the cry of the poor was growing. They were also aware of the Conciliar teaching calling on Christians to read the historical signs of the times (GS 4) (2) and to be in solidarity with “the joy and hope, the grief and anxiety of the people of this time in history, especially those who are poor” (GS 1).
In the light of such teaching they urged the Latin American Christian community, which numbered 90% of the population, to make a preferential option for the poor. They conceived this option in terms of a commitment to the liberation of the poor from their poverty, and derived their meaning for liberation from the doctrines of sin and salvation.
For example, they said, “In the fullness of time, (God) sends his (sic) Son in the flesh, so that he might come to liberate men (sic) from the slavery to which sin has subjected them: hunger, misery, oppression, and ignorance (MC, n. 3); (3) “it (the current situation) appears to be a time full of zeal for…liberation from every form of servitude (MC, n. 4)…As Christians we believe this historical stage of Latin America is intimately linked to the history of salvation” (MC, p. 19). Consequently, pledged the bishops, “by its own vocation Latin America will undertake its liberation at the cost of whatever sacrifice” (MC, p. 23).
With the assassination of Rutilio Grande in March 1977, and of Ignacio Ellacuria and companions in November 1989, the Jesuits in El Salvador learned just how great a sacrifice such a vocation could bring. They learned this also from their bonds of solidarity with the poor who were being slaughtered on a shocking scale.
Jon Sobrino would have been killed with his community in 1989 had he not been out of the country at that time. Having avoided assassination he now finds himself at 68 years of age in poor health, and confronted with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s (CDF) negative judgement on aspects of his theology, which he developed from a deeply held and contextualised faith in Jesus Christ. Having lived in community with him in El Salvador, having accompanied him in some of his ministry among basic Christian communities, having an awareness of how much he has strengthened and developed the faith of numerous people, some among the most economically poor on the earth, and having read some of his writings, I am of the view that he may well be a saint.
It is not possible in the space available to me to comment in detail on the charges made against Sobrino by the recent Notification, or to do so in a way that might construe the document in a better light. And so I will confine myself to a few points.
Firstly, Liberation theology, of which Sobrino is a leading exponent, is the only theology to my knowledge that has brought the embodied and historical concreteness of the poverty of the great majority of the world’s people to the very heart of its endeavour. This makes it a frightening theology for those who are not subjected daily to such poverty. Unlike Jon, they have not chosen to live and work in solidarity with people unable to avoid such poverty, or, like him, suffered the loss of loved ones who were assassinated because they took seriously what the bishops said at Medellín.
Secondly, the CDF Notification accuses Sobrino, among other things, of not doing justice to the divinity of Jesus. Since doing justice to the mystery of Jesus Christ in language and concept is a complex task, misunderstandings can easily arise. However, a surprising feature of the Notification is that it seems in places to go against some very reputable scholarship published in the last forty years and more. (4) This may help to explain Sobrino’s view that the CDF, according to information sent to me by friends of his in El Salvador, has misrepresented him.
Like other liberation theologians, Jon has cherished the long standing belief in the tradition that Jesus was “like us in all respects but sin” (Heb 2:17) (5) which indicates that Jesus also “grew in wisdom” (Lk 2:40). It was not felt necessary in the past to add that Jesus was also unlike us because of his divinity. But this is what the Notification would appear now to require. However, a danger with its present position is that it could underemphasise faith in the real humanity of Jesus, which could, in turn, undermine faith in the doctrine of salvation since for centuries Christians have been guided by Gregory of Nazianzus’ belief that “what is not assumed (taken on) is not redeemed”. (6)
Sobrino’s emphasis on the humanity of Jesus is partly influenced by his desire to overcome heretical tendencies concerning the Incarnation. He is concerned that we believe Jesus really was incarnate. If Jesus had a real humanity, and “did not cling to his equality with God” (Phil 2:6), then he was not impervious to his own, and other people’s, suffering having a real effect on him. This makes the love he exercised on behalf of our salvation all the more astonishing since if his love came from his divinity but only appeared to pass through suffering in his humanity it would be much less impressive and do an injustice to the transcendence love sourced in our humanity requires of us.
For Sobrino, and the other liberation theologians, the Incarnation is also not just about Jesus becoming human. What makes it truly extraordinary, in their view, is that Jesus became human “from below,” to use Gustavo Gutierrez’s phrase, in the sense that be became human from a position of low social standing, and was “the human and ordinary God,” to use the phrase of Carlos Mejía Godoy, the Nicaraguan composer.This emphasis on the manner, and not simply the fact, of Jesus’ humanity is part of an overall emphasis by liberation theologians like Sobrino on the historical praxis (7) of liberation of Jesus. It enables them to highlight the soteriological value of the whole lived form of the Incarnation.
It is in virtue of the reality of living a human and ordinary life precisely and carrying out the work of our salvation from the side of the poor, whatever the cost, that Jesus reveals the divine quality of God’s love and draws us to believe in his own divinity: It takes God to love like that and it takes God with us in the form of God’s power at work in and among us for us to do something similar.
The resurrection of Jesus verifies such faith, for liberation theologians, by vindicating the historical person and project of Jesus; so that for us to believe in his resurrection without living a life patterned on his at the level of contemporary knowledge and need would be a contradiction. At this point resurrection faith drives the liberation project and helps to explain the courage of countless Christians in Latin America. The really challenging question posed by Sobrino and other liberation theologians, therefore, is this: Are we willing to learn from God through this Jesus what salvation means and to act accordingly?
I have written this piece on the anniversary of Archbishop Oscar Romero’s assassination (March 24th – he and Sobrino were good friends; Jon was often his advisor). Outside my office, in the grounds of Milltown, rows of lit candles frame the plaque of Oscar inviting people to remember him and pray for the people of El Salvador. As I stood at this plaque today and that of Sobrino’s martyred community which faces it, (8) I wondered, when will the Vatican issue a statement about the writings of theologians who fail to take the situation of the economically poor seriously enough, and when will it issue a statement expressing gratitude to all those who have lived out their vocation for the liberation of the poor at a cost of considerable sacrifice.
1. The first meeting was held in Rio de Janeiro in 1955. The President of the Conference of Bishops at the time was Manuel Larrain of Chile, who was a great friend of St. Alberto Hurtado and gave the homily at his funeral Mass in 1952. The Executive Secretary was Helder Camara of Recife, Brazil.
2. GS = Gaudium et spes (1965).
3. MC = Medellín Conclusions.
4. For example, read what the Vatican Notification has to say about the divinity of Jesus and the knowledge of Jesus in conjunction with Peter Schineller’s “The Newer Approaches to Christology and Their Use in the Spiritual Exercises,” Studies in the Spirituality of Jesuits 12/4-5 (1980).
5. It should also be said, however, that this received formulation is not free of androcentric bias.
6.Gregory of Nazianzus, “Epistle 101,” Christology of the Later Fathers. Vol. 3, ed. Edward R. Hardy (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1954), 215-224 at 218. This formulation, too, is not free of androcentric bias.
7. Praxis means to think and theorise in and in relation to a situation for the sake of transforming it.
8. A memorial to the martyred Jesuits, to the woman and her daughter who had come to the residence a few days earlier because their home had been damaged by gunfire only to be murdered with the Jesuits so as to leave no witnesses, and to Oscar Romero, was erected on the grounds of Milltown Institute in November 1991. One of the slain Jesuits had studied theology at Milltown and another had done a year of his training in Dublin. Also, some staff and students at Milltown had been prominent over the years in public shows of discontent against U.S. foreign policy in Latin America, and there was a desire on the part of the Institute to be associated with the spirit of the Christian faith that does justice characteristic of the Jesuit University of San Salvador
- Michael O’Sullivan SJ, who teaches spirituality in the Milltown Institute, gave a paper in Chicago, USA (in 2008), on ’Teaching Spirituality Well’ to the International Society for the Study of Christian Spirituality, and accepted the job of organizing and running the opening day of next year’s meeting of the Society in Montreal. While in Chicago Michael met Gustavo Gutierrez, the founder of liberation theology, who at the age of 80 gave an inspiring and energetic address on ’40 Years after Medellín’. See full report below.
- Michael O’Sullivan’s roles as a member of the Governing Board of the International Society for the Study of Christian Spirituality and of the Steering Committee of the Christian Spirituality Study Group of the American Academy of Religion took him to Chicago recently. He, the other members of the Governing Board, and a number of past Presidents of the Society, gave papers on ‘Teaching Spirituality Well’ during the first day of the annual proceedings. Michael was later entrusted with some new responsibilities by the Governing Board that include organizing and running the opening day of next year’s meeting of the Society in Montreal.
- He was in Chicago until Nov 4th, when people went to the polls. While there he had lunch with Prof Mary Frohlich, RSCJ, the outgoing President of the Society, at her community’s residence. Barack Obama’s home was nearby. Michael had lunch at the same table that Barack Obama had breakfast some years ago when he was a community activist. Michael also had the privilege, while in Chicago, of meeting and chatting with Gustavo Gutierrez, the founder of liberation theology, and whose theology of the option for the poor he had written about for his licentiate thesis in Toronto in 1986. Gutierrez, who is now 80 years of age, gave an inspiring and energetic address on ’40 Years after Medellín’ at one of the sessions of the American Academy of Religion. The second general conference of the Latin American Catholic Bishops at Medellín in 1968 was the main ecclesial event responsible for proclaiming that an option for the economically poor was required by Christian faith.
- Michael on the international Society for the Study of Christian Spirituality conference inSouth Africa in May 2015 – Jesuit.ie
Michael O’Sullivan SJ delivered one of the papers at the second European Conference on the Academic Study of Spirituality, which took place in July 2009 in London. His paper – “Gender, Narrative and Authentic Spirituality” – was centred on a case study concerning a 12-year-old victim of incest by a 15-year-old brother. Michael teased out the consequences of such a trauma in an ostensibly religious family: the loss of trust, the intrusive image of a punitive God, the huge obstacles to attaining authenticity after such childhood abuse. Responders welcomed the framework offered by Michael for viewing such violence in the context of spirituality.
Delegates from around Europe, as well as from India, the US, Australia, and South Africa attended the conference. Papers were also given by Professor Bernard McGinn, David Lonsdale, Professor Mary Grey, and Professor Bernadette Flanagan.
- “Michael O’Sullivan SJ was the invited Irish delegate at the British Association for the Study of Spirituality (BASS), launched in London on 29 January 2010. The creation of BASS is the latest initiative in a growing worldwide trend concerning spirituality as a new academic discipline. Its inaugural conference in May will explore the relevance of spirituality for the socio-economic, political and cultural challenges in contemporary society.
- Michael O’Sullivan SJ, a serving member on the Governing Board of the International Society for the Study of Christian Spirituality, will deliver a paper on spirituality and social justice. A version of his paper, ‘Authentic Spirituality and a Journey with Incest’, delivered at the second European conference on the academic study of Christian spirituality in London last July, will be published by Continuum this summer.” In 2017 Michael was elected to the Board of Directors of BASS and also became a trustee of BASS,
- Mental Health, Practical Theology, and Spirituality Conference at All Hallows College 2010 – IrishTimes
- Fear and loving in Chile (2006) – Jesuit.ie In this interview for 3R Productions with Pat Coyle on June 20, 2006 Michael O’Sullivan looks back over his days as a Jesuit priest in Pinochet’s Chile and expresses his delight at the then recent election of Michelle Bachelet to the Chilean presidency.
Ms Bachelet was the first woman President of Chile. She served as President from 2006-10, and she was also subsequently re-elected President of Chile in 2014.