Filial Testimonial in Honor of Fr. George F. McLean, O.M.I.

By 20 August, 2017 Culture

Fr. Robert Peter Badillo, M.Id

St. John’s University, New York
Parish of Our Lady of Solace—St. Dominic, Bronx, New York


A Bit of Context Prior to Meeting Fr. McLean

Ever since I was a youngster, born of Puerto Rican parents in the South Bronx, I had a precocious fascination for the meaning of human life. To learn from my pious mother and the Dominican Sisters at St. Luke Church about God the Father and the Son and Mother Mary, in preparation for my First Holy Communion furnished me with answers that were intimately confirmed in my spirit: that I was a child of the eternal Father, brother of Jesus Christ, who died for me and nourished me with his very own life in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar, and a son of Mary my loving Mother, who cared for me, my family and everyone who walked on the earth. At St. James School, experiencing puppy love firsthand when I first beheld youthful Julie by the church schoolyard, I read with delight Dickens’ Great Expectations to the last page wondering whether poor Pip would gain the hand of the so-aloof Estella. Then came Cardinal Hayes High School with Mr. Kroczak, who introduced me to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave and world literature, including the Greek tragedies; indeed we read, among others, Oedipus Rex and Antigone, and discoursed about whether she was right or wrong in burying her brother notwithstanding imperial decree.

By the time I went to Fordham University, I was an earnest disciple, a romantic with a tender heart for human tragedy. There as a freshman I chose to study psychology in the hope of accompanying (empathizing with) those without clear meaning in their own lives, equipping myself so that I might help others to perceive and experience the aperture to transcendence. Yet to my consternation, I discovered that the pioneers in psychology, Freud and Watson, to name but two, were atheists, chained within an intellectual cavern and bereft of the passageway that leads to the contemplation of the supernal Light beyond. It was during this time that I met at Fordham Rose Calabretta, a well-traveled graduate of the Jesuit university, who had encountered a new religious institute of consecrated life in Munich, the Idente Missionaries, that was founded in Spain by Father Founder, Fernando Rielo, who proposed a new metaphysical model that sought to provide rational support for Christ’s revelation of the Godhead as constituted by relational persons rather than by the typical philosophical conception of God in terms of an identity-laden conception of the Divinity. In association with members of the Idente Missionaries, there arose in me a vocation to learn the Christian philosophical tradition such that by mid-spring semester of my freshman year, I decided to see the philosophy chairperson, the genteel Fr. Gerald McCool, S.J., and express my desire to be admitted as a philosophy major.

Providential Meeting of Fr. McLean

That same spring semester, on Easter Sunday, April 14, 1974, I professed private vows in the New York residence of the Idente Missionaries in Astoria, Queens, and was subsequently sent by Father Founder, Fernando Rielo, to continue my philosophical studies at The Catholic University of America. At the time I could not have known what wonders Providence had in store for me but this became abundantly clear when Fr. McLean entered the classroom and began to teach. I knew that I was before a consummate master who would lead me to fulfill my stated vocation as a student of philosophy. My eternal Father placed me under the paternal solicitude of my mentor and friend: Reverend Father George McLean, O.M.I., who was to guide me through the labyrinth of Western philosophy and, especially, metaphysics, explicating with the greatest deference the philosophers and their worldviews, discovering at every turn nuggets of truth, goodness and beauty in the immensity of the philosophical landscape, both classical, modern and contemporary.

While completing MA courses at Catholic University, my teaching schedule at a DC multicultural high school for immigrant students, especially from war-torn El Salvador, made it difficult for me to take courses with Fr. McLean such that we were not communicating regularly then. Yet, in prayer, when it came time to write the MA thesis, it became clear: Ite ad Fr. McLean. That same afternoon I boarded a bus to the Basilica Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, next to the campus of the Catholic University, and as I walked up the winding path to the Shrine, there, at that very moment, Fr. McLean was exiting the doors of the Shrine. We embraced, he with paternal affection and I with filial affection. I confided to him that I wanted to be a metaphysician, that I wanted him to teach me how. He invited me to dinner across the street from the Shrine, to Oblate College where he lived. There he spoke of two possible thesis directions: either to do a critical review of Alexander Mourelatos’ work on Parmenides, the so-called “father of metaphysics,” titled the The Route of Parmenides ; or to do a study on Jacques Maritain’s The Degrees of Knowledge. Without hesitation I opted for the former: to delve into the reasoning of the originator of the Western metaphysical tradition. At the end, even though I was critical of the identity-ridden implications of Mourelatos’ speculative predication, for which Fr. McLean had a more favorable reading, Fr. McLean walked with me and supported my reading with simplicity and meekness of spirit.

Later, after having completed my doctoral studies at The American University, where I adventurously sought new challenges, when it came time for the writing of the dissertation, I again sought the wise counsel of Fr. McLean, and this in the light of the challenges of postmodernist thought. He then introduced me to Jürgen Habermas, a modernist philosopher who championed communicative reason without yielding to the vagaries of irrationalism. For the dissertation, I read Habermas’ ideal speech situation, as reminiscent of a Platonic ideal, whose formal rules for discursive engagement purportedly provided orientation for adjudicating truth and normative claims without appeal to metaphysical groundings. Though Fr. McLean urged me to then make the move to show how the formality of the ideal speech situation can be harnessed in terms of the classical metaphysical One and the transcendental properties of Being, I went, rather, in the direction of Fernando Rielo’s Binitarian notion of the metaphysical One, as consisting at the metaphysical level of two personal and hence dialogical beings who would de facto be the existing realization of the exigencies of the ideal speech situation and its demand for transparency and equanimity. Indeed, Fr. McLean supported this critical approach to Habermas and encouraged me to read the writings of Kenneth Schmitz who most incisively indicated the philosophical relevance of the study of the Christian Trinity: “[the] disclosure into the inherent ‘sociality’ of the divine life has not yet been cultivated in philosophy to the degree that it needs to be done.” Later he asked that I read Habermas in the light of St. Thomas’ transcendental properties of Being, which gave way to a book which he published under the title of The Emancipative Theory of Habermas and Metaphysics, i.e., for the purposes of this work, Thomistic metaphysics.

Fr. McLean’s raison d’être

Then, in October 12, 1991, Fr. George McLean, while in Budapest, happened to meet late that night Fr. Jesús Fernández Hernández, Apostolic President of the Idente Missionaries; and María del Carmen García, General Superior of the sisters’ branch of the Idente Missionaries, whom I had previously introduced to him. There, in a residence for visiting professors, they discussed possible avenues of collaboration. The next morning, before his early departure, he wrote a manuscript letter dated October 13, 1991, addressed to Prof. Jesús Fernández and Prof. María Carmen, the body of which I transcribe below in its entirety for it reveals the raison d’être of this man of God with a universal heart.

It was a great pleasure to meet you last evening and to find that Providence is guiding us along the same paths: I hope and pray that your work will be of great success in bringing the spirit of Christ and the Holy Trinity to new life in Eastern Europe.

In trying to discern God’s plan in bringing us together, it occurs to me that it is probably related to Dr. Badillo. As I mentioned, I consider him my prime continuation in metaphysics especially as it is a spiritual mission. At present I am getting older and wonder about God’s plan for the work I have been doing. It has always seemed to be that of a catalyst to bring to life the Spirit in the work of philosophers. Now it appears more complex, to take a longer time than my life, which raises the question of how it might be continued as part of a broader project such as yours.

All of which brought to mind during the night that I might suggest/request/invite you to have Robert Badillo work with me in Washington for some years as an alter ego doing everything I do, learning everything I know, meeting everyone I meet so that he might link our efforts and put our contacts and teams and works at each other’s disposition.

I do not see this as simple repetition as my efforts have been to serve as a catalyst to raise the issues and stimulate the efforts through which the Spirit might come more to the consciousness of philosophers and their cultures in our times. It might be called the evangelization of culture or being at the service of Christ as He works in the history of people in their pilgrimage toward Him. My sense is that this is coherent with the concerns of the Idente School, though without the proximate goal of uniting Christians or being formally Church; but rather with the sense that all are moving toward Christ in their many modes and through their many crucifixions, that Christ is working in their history and thus that there is much to be done to promote the emergence of the image of Christ, not only in the baptized but in all and entire peoples as their cultures evolve and as they structure and implement their social and community and personal lives now, and not just at some future time, and doing this at the level of the fundamental reflection on being at the level of metaphysics.

Please do take this suggestion/request/invitation into your prayerful concerns and considerations. I will be in Washington from December 18th and can be contacted via my address there at any time.

With all of God’s blessings in your work,

George F. McLean

This masterful piece of literature, written in the very early hours before his departure from the residence, provide insight into the spiritual depths that moved this charismatic master who lived to foster the plenitude of truth and goodness and beauty in all of God’s children. In the next section I will provide a concrete direction in which his concerns may be approached.

Suffice it here to say that with respect to working with Fr. McLean, the Father Founder, Fernando Rielo, in late October of 1991, directed me to relocate from Philadelphia, where I was teaching at the time at Villanova University, to Washington to work with Fr. McLean while completing my theological studies for priestly ordination at the Oblate College. By January 1992 I was in Washington, where Fr. McLean, retired from teaching at the philosophate at Oblate College, recommended to the authorities there that I teach, in his stead, his courses in Metaphysics and Natural Theology, while completing the Master of Divinity for priestly ordination. But two years later, in November 1994, the Idente Missionaries received the care of their first parish for the Archdiocese of New York, Santa Maria, formerly an Italian national church in the Bronx. Fr. Fernando Real, an Idente Missionary, was assigned as pastor, and my superiors indicated that I was to leave Washington in order to prepare for priestly ordination with a view toward assisting Fr Real. With heavy heart I departed from Fr. McLean, who, of course, wholeheartedly acquiesced to the will of the superiors. Arriving in New York in January 1995, a few months later, on the occasion of my ordination to the diaconate on April 8, 1995, I asked Fr. McLean to come to Santa Maria Church so that he could perform the ceremony of investiture at which he would help me vest with the dalmatic of the deacon before His Excellency Patrick Sheridan, Auxiliary Bishop of New York. There are no words to describe the ineffable reverence and veneration that I bore this holy priest and spiritual father.

Promising New Directions

During the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, Fr. McLean and I met in Rome where we both participated, with others of his collaborators, including Juan Carlos Scannone, Kenneth Schmitz, Hugo Meynell, Tran Van Doan, William Sweet, and Oliva Blanchette in the Metaphysics for the Third Millennium Conference, organized by the Idente School as part of the official Vatican events celebrating the stated Jubilee. There Fr. McLean, a plenary speaker, presented a seminal paper titled “Metaphysics and Culture: the Bridge to Religion,” in which, among other insightful directions, he articulated, especially to Christian philosophers in view of their religious sensitivity, the need for more work on two fundamental areas of concern, viz.: first, reflection on a God who, in contradistinction to the Aristotelian Prime Mover, indeed “does know and love us”; and, second, reflection on human persons in view of their sacredness as constituted in relation to God and others. These two areas, as further understood as a function of the letter above in which he discloses his vision of the peoples of the world permeated by a divine presence that orients cultures and their varied expressions in the direction of a unifying summit of fraternity, demands serious reflection, and, I believe, should animate future studies furthering his worldwide project consisting of both symposia and publications. His integrating and non-reductive vision, endeavors to unite all the peoples of the world with a common supernal origin/destiny and sacred nature.

Please allow me to provide some indices of how Fr. McLean’s concerns can be addressed. I previously examined these same concerns succinctly in a paper titled “McLean’s Millennial Vision in the Light of Rielo’s Genetic Metaphysics,” that proffers Rielo’s call for substituting the vacuous and tautological pseudo-principle of identity, as Rielo terms it, for the living genetic principle or more properly the genetic conception of the principle of relation. Briefly put, Rielo contends that all putative metaphysical proposals advanced within the history of philosophy share a common deformity. All incorporate, either explicitly or implicitly, the so-called Original Sin of metaphysical speculation contained in the Parmenidean principle of identity, purporting that A is A or that every being is itself and nothing other than itself: such a being therefore being utterly in itself, with itself, by itself, about itself, for itself, and hence wholly without intrinsic or extrinsic relation. To apply this so-called principle to the Absolute would be tantamount to elevating to absolute a hermetically-sealed Being, a logical tautology, in itself and with itself, and hence absolutely bereft of intrinsic and extrinsic relation that, as such, would render it unable to serve as an agent of creation, for creation necessitates that the Creator be eminently relational first within and then without, i.e., in relation to what it creates and to what it maintains in existence.

Rather, Rielo contends, his relational conception of God provides the ground for a God who “knows and loves us.” The metaphysical Absolute cannot be constituted by one self-same absolute, the unum simpliciter, bereft of inner relation or distinction, as the classical Parmenidean conception holds, or as an absolute ego, if such an “absolute” is conceived as conscious, as the Aristotelian conception contends; but, instead, by an Absolute that is formed intrinsically by two complementary relational beings that, constituting the metaphysical One, the unum geneticum, is accessible to reason without the aid of theological faith. Rielo sees his work as explicating what he takes to be Christ’s original metaphysics, implicit especially in the Gospel of John, when he declares: “Pater et ego unum sumus,” (Jn 10:30). If the metaphysical Absolute is ultimately constituted by two beings, two persons—given that for Rielo the person is the highest expression of being—then with certainty these two persons in an intrinsically complementary and loving relationship would, in turn, reflect this loving complementariness in creation.

Moreover, regarding the issue of the sacredness of human persons, this resides, for Rielo, precisely in the fact that the human person, as in the case of the Absolute, cannot be defined identitatically, i.e., as a human being in, with, by and for itself, but genetically as “human person (+),” the more referring to the term which serves to define it. Since the notion of person is the supreme expression of being, the human person cannot be defined by anything inferior to a person. Whereas the divine persons mutually define each other, for Rielo the human person is defined by the divine constitutive presence, i.e., the ad extra indwelling presence of the Absolute in the human person. This indwelling presence renders the human being, a replica of the divinity, a mystical deity of the metaphysical Divinity.

Fr. McLean always expressed great interest in how his major concerns for the relationality of the Divinity, the mystical sacredness of the human person (expressing something more than human being) and the inter-relatedness of peoples and their cultural expressions, and bridge-building between cultures and traditions are enriched in the light of Rielo’s Binitarian metaphysical view and mystical aperture of humans to God. In 2002, when I was in India for missionary purposes and teaching at the Sacred Philosophy College (Kerala), he prompted me to pursue these inter-relationships in the organization of the First Asian Regional Conference of the International Institute for Metaphysical and Mystical Studies (Rome), and, thereby placed me in contact with Dr. Warayuth Sriwarakuel of Assumption University in Bangkok, where associates of Fr. McLean—Tran Van Doan, Ranilo Hermida, Sr. Marian Kao, Manuel B. Dy and Edward Alam, presented papers on the theme of the metaphysical ground of religious experience, with the subsequent publication of the papers. The following year, Dr. Edward Alam organized an international conference at Notre Dame University, Beirut, on Christian Mysticism, in which, among others, William Sweet and I presented papers on mystical foundations in the work of Edith Stein and Rielo respectively. Indeed, for decades Fr. McLean proposed that seminar themes be developed in the light of the spiritual, human, philosophical, cultural, artistic expressions proper to peoples in their own context. Why not now propose worldwide symposia where the various study groups would be dedicated to studying in-depth Fr. McLean’s twofold concerns with the resources rooted in each cultural group’s multifaceted endowments. What a great and enduring testament this would be in honor of Fr. George McLean.

Doxology

Be praised ever living God and Father for thy holiness and glory untold
Be praised for the human family which Thou hast fashioned and in which Thou dwells and which Thou hast destined to be eternally with Thee.

Be praised expressly for creating one such as George McLean
abounding in thy ineffable attributes:

loving and merciful,
quiet servant,
whose volumes spoke in deeds
with an adventurous spirit soaring high

ultimately to Thee
who are our wings and our tears for release
like Keat’s noble Ode to the Nightingale to rise to Thee
to be with Thee and the likes of Thee:

our sacrificial Oblate ascending
regal son of Mary the Immaculate.

Amen.

New York, the 29th of June of the Year 2017
Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul
88th Anniversary of the Birth of George F. McLean
LVIII Anniversary of the Foundation of the Idente Missionaries

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