Tuesday, May 31, 2005

"Yes - I am the real Inspector Hound!"

Jacob Bernstein was right - Mark Felt was Deep Throat. The former FBI associate director who spent years denying his role in Watergate now admits at age 91 that, yes, he was the secret source who handed Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein the scoop of their lifetimes and and ultimately helped drive Richard Nixon from the White House. The political junkie in me greets the final revelation of Deep Throat's identity with some ambivalence. On the one hand, I'm thrilled to know the answer to a political riddle people have been speculating about for longer than I've been alive. On the other hand, though I knew this day would come I'm sad that political junkies yet born will not have the experience of wondering about the identity of this important but mysterious figure from America's political past. Secrets like the identity of Deep Throat help make our world a more interesting place. There's something great about the revelation of a long-kept secret, but the non-revelation of secrets carries a certain mysterious delight as well. I could probably draw a connection between the revelation or non-revelation of secrets and the nature of religious faith, but I think I'll hold off on that. For now, I'm simply going to sit with the knowledge that tonight the world contains one less secret than it did yesterday. AMDG.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Beer mat ads to recruit priests.

BBC News reports that the Roman Catholic Diocese of Westminster is planning a new vocation promotion campaign "that will use beermats in pubs and posters on the London Underground to promote the priesthood." Nothing occurs in isolation, and it's important to note that the Westminster Diocese's new vocation push comes amid an intensive process of pastoral planning meant to help one of Britain's largest dioceses better plan for a future that, like it or not, includes fewer priests. The first major report to emerge from the process in Westminster is available here for readers wanting a fuller account of things.

The media, as one might expect, is much more interested in the particulars of the new vocation campaign than in the details of the pastoral planning process. Reactions from parishioners and outside observers are likely to be mixed, as this BBC report collecting views from one parish appears to suggest. For my own part, I'll admit that the beermat idea strikes me as a bit gimmicky (the Tube ads aren't gimmicky at all - American dioceses have already done similar things). However, as gimmicky as the beermat ads may be, they may also be a good idea. I'm sure there's a reader out there dying to tell me that pubs are the wrong place to look for prospective priests; the same reader might also want to tell me that if all dioceses were like his or her favorite diocese they'd all be flush with vocations, but I think we both know that isn't likely to happen. I suggest that the beermat ads may be a good idea for a couple reasons. Firstly, the Church needs priests that average Catholics - including Catholics who go to pubs - can relate to. Lest anyone raise some kind of reductio ad absurdum objection to this point, I should say that I wouldn't carry this line of reasoning on indefinitely; I'll simply say that by my lights, going to a bar or a pub is not per se objectionable activity for a prospective seminarian to engage in. (And after all, the Church has already made a very successful foray into the world of bars and pubs with Theology on Tap programs reaching out to young adults.) Secondly, in an increasingly secular culture the Church must take every positive opportunity to boost its public profile. As goofy as the idea might sound on its face, beermats promoting vocations to the priesthood represent just such an opportunity. The ads being contemplated by the Diocese of Westminster will likely provoke a range of reactions among pub patrons, from mockery to approval to indifference. However, if they lead even a handful of men to give greater consideration to a priestly vocation, I'd say the beermat ads will have done their job. God finds us where we are - sometimes even in places where we wouldn't expect to find God. AMDG.

Notes on the Feast of Corpus Christi.

Today many Roman Catholics celebrate the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, popularly known by its Latin name of Corpus Christi. Though this feast commemorating the institution of the Eucharist traditionally falls on a Thursday, in many places it is now observed on the following Sunday. Today's readings are very rich and offer presiding clergy an excellent opportunity to preach on the meaning and importance of the Eucharist. In my experience, Corpus Christi can be a real make-or-break feast, telling parishioners as much about their priest as it does about the Catholic faith. At the morning Mass I attended today at Assumption Church in Windsor, Father Kris Niewinski did what I would consider a commendable job of conveying the meaning of the feast. Going to Mass and receiving communion on a weekly or even daily basis, we often take the Eucharist for granted. One antidote to this complacency is hearing stories like the one Father Niewinski recounted from Jesuit Walter Ciszek's He Leadeth Me about the sacrifices and risks that prisoners in the Siberian gulags would accept to attend Mass and receive the Eucharist in secret. I'll admit I'm somewhat biased as a Jesuit novice and Ciszek fan, but I think Niewinski's use of a memorable, touching and reasonably contemporary (i.e., mid-20th century) story as a reminder of the Eucharist's importance was an excellent way to present the meaning of Corpus Christi to his parishioners.

The above praise is not offered lightly, for I've also heard homilies which did not convey the meaning of Corpus Christi very effectively. One of these was, in fact, the Worst Homily I Have Ever Heard. The WHIHEH was delivered at a Mass I attended a couple years ago - in charity, I will not say where. The priest - a very young and wet-behind-the-ears one - said very little about the meaning of the Eucharist and quite a lot about the conditions under which one could or should receive communion. This he did by negative example, explaining under what circumstances one ought not receive the Body of Christ. His list of nots was so lengthy and exhaustive that I began to wonder whether anyone in attendance would be fit to receive communion - including the priest. If nothing else, this egregious example of horrid homilizing at least provided me with a memorable example of how not to preach about Corpus Christi. At the same time, I'm pleased that this morning's homily at Assumption offered me a positive example of how to get it right. AMDG.

Friday, May 27, 2005

In the year 2525.

Today is my 25th birthday, which I'm told is a milestone event though I don't feel any different than I did yesterday. I can think of at least three things I can do now that I couldn't do yesterday: I can rent a car, buy a condo and serve in the U.S. House of Representatives. Renting a car is something I may conceivably do in my years of formation as a Jesuit, though occasions when I'll have the need to do so are probably going to be rare. Getting a condo probably isn't in the cards; even if I wasn't bound by a religious vow of poverty, I wouldn't be able to afford it. Since Lolek put the kibosh on Jesuits running for Congress (in the year of my birth, ironically), serving in the House doesn't look very likely either. In practical terms, my life hasn't changed all that much since yesterday. Nonetheless, today is a special day and I'm enjoying it. AMDG.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

The Spiritual Exercises in Daily Life.

Back in February, I promised a reader that I would post some comments on the method of making the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius over a period of several months while remaining immersed in one's everyday life, a practice often referred to the 19th Annotation Retreat. For a mix of good reasons (e.g., the planning and execution of my Short Experiment) and bad ones (laziness) I've put off this task until now, but hopefully readers will accept these comments as better late than never.

Making the Spiritual Exercises in daily life is a fairly straightforward if challenging endeavor. The 19th Annotation Retreat takes as its basis the same set of meditations that make up the thirty-day version of the Spiritual Exercises commonly known as the 'Long Retreat.' The chief difference between these two forms of the Exercises is that individuals making a 19th Annotation Retreat complete the assigned meditations in small daily doses over a period of about eight months rather than in the hyper-concentrated form of the one-month Long Retreat. While persons making the Long Retreat typically spend four or five hours a day in prayer, 19th Annotation retreatants usually devote forty-five minutes to an hour each day to the meditations of the Retreat. Persons making the Long Retreat typically meet daily with the spiritual director who is guiding them through the experience; understandably, 19th Annotation retreatants meet with their director less frequently - weekly meetings are common - but spiritual direction remains a key component of the experience.

Like Ignatian spirituality itself, the 19th Annotation method of making the Spiritual Exercises is both vitally contemporary and essentially timeless. The 19th Annotation Retreat can seem like a perfect response to our increasingly fast-paced society, giving individuals who can't put their careers and families on hold for a month to make the Long Retreat an opportunity to make the Exercises without having to lay aside the urgent demands of their daily lives. In a sense, the 19th Annotation Retreat is just the thing for busy people accustomed to multitasking at work and at home. As much as the 19th Annotation Retreat appears to be a concession to modern circumstances, its roots go back even further than the foundation of the Society of Jesus. It's easy to forget that Ignatius developed the Spiritual Exercises as a layman, relying on his own experiences in prayer and as an informal spiritual director to others. The first people who made the Exercises under Ignatius' direction did so under circumstances much closer to those of modern 19th Annotation retreatants than to those of us who have experienced the Long Retreat. Though it was lost for a good many years, the practice of making the Exercises according to the method of the 19th Annotation thus has a very venerable history.

As one may expect, there's a wealth of information about 19th Annotation Retreats available on the Internet. Australian Jesuit Pat O'Sullivan provides a basic introduction to the Spiritual Exercises and some helpful pointers for prospective 19th Annotation retreatants in an article available here. This 2001 NCR article discusses the growing popularity of 19th Annotation Retreats among laypeople. The appeal of 19th Annotation Retreats crosses denominational lines, as evidenced by these reflections from a Protestant laywoman who made the Exercises in daily life. If these links pique your interest or whet your appetite for a 19th Annotation, you may want to get in touch with a Jesuit retreat center near you for more information; failing that, you can at least check out this online version of a 19th Annotation Retreat offered on Creighton University's superb Online Ministries site. I'd also be happy to answer any questions that interested readers may have. Enjoy! AMDG.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Back in Berkley.

I’m starting to get used to being back at Loyola House. The fact that this is familiar territory doesn’t make readjustment any easier: shifting time zones, climates, cultures and schedules is bound to be hard under any circumstances. The last couple days have been lightly scheduled in order to give disoriented primi like myself a chance to get our bearings before we move on to new commitments. The first of these begins this afternoon with a liturgy workshop presented by Father J-Glenn Murray, a noted Jesuit liturgist and director of the Cleveland Diocese’s Office of Pastoral Liturgy. After J-Glenn finishes up on Wednesday, the novitiate welcomes the Chicago and Detroit Provincials, who will be making their annual visitation. In other words, we’ll be having a busy week, but I trust it will be a very interesting one as well. AMDG.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Forever Leaving.

Today was my last day at Catholic Charities, and tomorrow I fly back to Detroit and the novitiate. There’s a lot that I’ll miss about my time here. Above all, I’ll miss the people I’ve gotten to know both through my work and in the Jesuit community at Santa Clara. I’ll also miss various aspects of life in the Bay Area that I’ve come to love. Saying goodbye to people and places I’ve come to care deeply about may be difficult, but it’s also something that I’ll have to do a lot of during my life as a Jesuit. Whether an individual Jesuit spends two months or twenty years engaged in a particular ministry in a particular place, he must be willing to accept the possibility that the needs of the Church and the Society of Jesus may require him to pack up and move on to another ministry and another place. In a sense, the Jesuit is a man always on the go, forever leaving one place to travel to another. The Fourth Vow taken by solemnly professed Jesuits bears witness to this aspect of the Jesuit vocation, summoning forth a commitment to go wherever the needs are greatest. Though it will be many years before I am eligible to be called to Final Vows, in my life as a novice I’m already called to the practice of mobility emphasized by the Fourth Vow. As longtime readers of this blog will have noticed, in the novitiate we do an awful lot of moving around. Though novices shift ministries and locations a lot more frequently than most professed Jesuits, the frenetic pace of our life gives us a lot of experience in how to negotiate transitions – experience that will hopefully serve us well in our lives as men committed to an ideal of mobility.

As I wrote above, saying goodbye can be difficult. Indeed, saying goodbye should be difficult. The sadness I feel in leaving Catholic Charities and Santa Clara is a sign that my time here has been beneficial for me and for those I have come into contact here; if I wasn’t sad at times like these, I’d have to feel that I had done something wrong. In this context then, sadness can be an occasion for thanksgiving. I thank God for the rich graces I have received during my time in San Jose, and I pray that these graces stay with me as I move on to the next stage of the novitiate. AMDG.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Abbot Astrik L. Gabriel, O.Praem., 1907-2005.

I never met Astrik Gabriel, though I would’ve enjoyed the opportunity. A leading light of Notre Dame’s Medieval Institute for over half a century, Father Gabriel died yesterday at age 97. A Norbertine priest (his abbatial title was purely honorary), Gabriel made his mark as a scholar in his native Hungary in the 1930’s and ‘40’s before the Soviet domination of his country forced him into exile. Gabriel found a new home at Notre Dame, a school then just beginning its transformation from a small, sheltered enclave school to a modern research university. When Gabriel joined the Notre Dame faculty in 1948, the university was known as a center of Neo-Scholasticism and routinely played host to émigré scholars like Etienne Gilson and Jacques Maritain. At Gabriel’s death Notre Dame stands, in Peter Steinfels’ apt description, as a kind of crossroads of global Catholicism as well as an academic powerhouse; the intellectual heirs of Gilson and Maritain still find a welcome on campus, but so too do scholars representing a broad variety of disciplines and opinions. Today’s student body and faculty are a lot larger and in many ways more diverse than they were when Gabriel arrived on the campus, and Notre Dame is counted among the top ranks of American universities. As the ND press release announcing his death effectively conveys, in a period of constant change Astrik Gabriel served as a vivid representative of a bygone era. “An unmistakable presence on campus and in the restaurants of South Bend, Dr. Gabriel spoke English with a thick Hungarian accent, a booming voice and the imperious tone of an extinguished aristocracy. He loved good food, fine wine and talkative companionship.” Astrik Gabriel lived through an important period in Notre Dame’s history, and along the way he won a place in the select ranks of legendary campus characters. Ave atque vale. AMDG.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Congratulations, Paul!

In a late-afternoon liturgy yesterday at the Mission Church, Santa Clara religious studies prof Father Paul Fitzgerald pronounced his final vows as a Jesuit. Final vows represent a Jesuit’s definitive full incorporation into the Society of Jesus, coming after many years of living and working as a Jesuit. To become eligible for final vows, a Jesuit must go through tertianship, a period in which one works outside his customary ministry, makes the full Spiritual Exercises and renews his study of the Constitutions and other key Jesuit documents. After a Jesuit has completed tertianship, the Society may call him to final vows. In pronouncing these vows, the Jesuit reaffirms his commitment to serve God in the Society of Jesus; at the same time, in calling a man to vows the Society gives him something like a ‘vote of confidence.’ Yesterday’s Mass marked the first time I had personally witnessed a Jesuit pronounce his final vows, and I found the experience deeply moving. The vows themselves are touching in a way I really can’t put into words. Touching also was the outpouring of support and affection Paul received not merely from the Jesuits at Santa Clara but from the rest of the campus community as well. Many students and faculty attended the vow liturgy, and afterward a group of students from the Loyola RLC presented their beloved “Father Fitz” with a large gift basket. The experience was one I’ll remember as a benchmark in my Jesuit life, the same way I’ll always remember the first Jesuit ordination I attended and the first time I attended a Jesuit’s funeral. Congratulations again to Paul Fitzgerald, and thanks for your outstanding example. AMDG.

". . . twilight time for Howard Johnson's."

The non sequitur Tootsie Pop reference at the tail end of the last post marks a possible return of Novitiate Notes’ long-neglected pop-culture apostolate. Now here’s a more credible sign of the resurgent vitality of the ol’ PCA (not that I ever called it that before). Today’s Globe has an article on the slow but steady demise of Howard Johnson’s restaurants. A legendary chain that once numbered approximately 850 eateries is now down to eight restaurants, mostly in the Northeast. For my own part, I’m not sure if I ever actually ate at a HoJo’s. I might have done so at some point – probably on a family vacation – but I could be thinking of the many IHOP and Denny’s locations I’ve visited. My only concrete HoJo’s memory has to do with the train set I had when I was a kid. One thing I used to like about having a train set was getting new buildings to add to the tiny town that my dad had constructed for the train to go through. Among the many train set buildings available at our local hobby store was a scale model of a Howard Johnson’s restaurant; I never got one, but the fact that such a thing existed suggests the extent of HoJo’s cultural reputation. Even if Howard Johnson’s hasn’t played much of a role in my own history, I’ll miss this American institution after its probable demise. HoJo’s, we hardly knew ye. AMDG.

On the Road.

In a typical workday at Catholic Charities I spend at least forty minutes on the road. I spent part of the day working on various projects around the office and part of the day teaching English to a Burundian refugee family at their home in Sunnyvale, a twenty-minute drive from Catholic Charities’ offices in San Jose. The drive back and forth gives me a chance to listen to the radio (NPR when I’m a newsy mood, Live 105 when I’m not) and occasionally provides entertaining food for thought as well. For example, on the way to Sunnyvale today I noticed that the driver in front of me was shaving his head with a battery-operated electric shaver as he went down the road. Now, multitasking of this kind no longer surprises me, but I couldn’t help but wonder whether the same lawmakers who have been working to eradicate cell phone use by drivers will soon consider the issue of haircutting in moving vehicles. Listening to the radio on the way back from Sunnyvale, I happened to hear “Friday I’m in Love” by The Cure. I wondered then at the motivation of the DJ who opted to play such a tune in the middle of a Monday workday: was this a flash of wicked humor or merely whimsical escapism? In the words of the classic Tootsie Pop commercial, the world may never know. AMDG.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Notes on the Memorial of Our Lady of Fatima.

Just as I remain relatively unaffected by St. Francis of Assisi, I've never had much of a devotion to Our Lady of Fatima. Over the last few years, however, I’ve developed an intellectual interest in particular aspects of what might be called the ‘Fatima phenomenon.’ If I had to guess, the seeds of this interest took root while I was an undergraduate at Georgetown University. On Copley Lawn on the Georgetown campus, there is a white stone statue of Our Lady of Fatima, identified by an inscription on its base as the gift of the Class of 1950. The first time I saw this statue I gave little thought to its provenance, but over time I’ve become very curious about it. I’ve often wondered why the Class of ’50 chose such a statue as their physical legacy to the campus. What kind of cultural, social and religious influences motivated that choice?

Earlier this year I reported on the death of Sister Lucia dos Santos, a Portuguese Carmelite nun who gained notoriety as a ten year-old girl in 1917 when she and her cousins Francisco and Jacinta Marto claimed to have experienced a series of Marian apparitions. The first of these apparitions reputedly occurred on May 13th – hence the date of the memorial – with five subsequent appearances on the same day of the month until October. The authenticity and meaning of the Fatima events are still being debated, but the influence upon the Church of the Fatima phenomenon is indisputable. Our Lady of Fatima was an important symbol of Catholic anti-Communism during the early years of the Cold War, largely on account of the Three Secrets of Fatima, a series of prophecies that the Virgin Mary reportedly dictated to Sister Lucia and her cohorts. The Second Secret seemed to foretell the major conflicts of the 20th century – including the advent of the Cold War and the nuclear arms race – and focused in a special way on Russia’s position in world affairs. The contents of the Third Secret remained, well, secret throughout the 1950’s, and rumors swirled that this final prophecy of Our Lady of Fatima would forecast an apocalyptic conclusion to the brewing conflict between the West and Soviet Bloc; the rumors grew in intensity after Pope John XXIII chose not to reveal the contents of the Secret in 1960 as had been expected. Over time popular interest in the Fatima Secrets declined to the point that the Vatican’s 2000 release of the Third Secret attracted relatively little attention or comment. Though I’ve never felt any spiritual devotion to Our Lady of Fatima, I admit that I am intrigued by the links between Fatima and the Cold War. Someday I hope someone will write a book on that precise subject – heck, that someone might even be me. If I ever do write such a book, I suspect I’ll have little choice but to dedicate it to the Georgetown Class of 1950. AMDG.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Retirement changes eyed for priests.

Today’s Globe reports that the Archdiocese of Boston is planning to trim retirement benefits for diocesan clergy. Facing a $55 million shortfall in available pension funds, the Archdiocese intends to freeze clergy pensions at $1,889 a month, reduce housing and health insurance subsidies and require priests with sufficient means to pay out of pocket for pricier services like nursing care. The Archdiocese will also require all priests to seek Social Security benefits and will encourage younger clergy to take a more active role in planning for a financially secure retirement. Naturally, these proposed changes are ruffling a lot of feathers. Many will interpret these changes as a sign that the Archdiocese is hedging its commitment to care for men who have given decades of devoted service to the local Church. More than a few older priests undoubtedly feel, in the words of one priest quoted in the article, “like they’re getting the rug pulled out from under them.” In some sense, they’re right. However, the impoverished Archdiocese seems to have no choice but to make the cuts, and therein lies the tragedy.

The Globe article on this topic includes some sobering statistics on priestly demographics in the Archdiocese of Boston. I’ve seen these numbers before and am not surprised by them, but they nonetheless bear repetition:

The Boston Archdiocese, like other dioceses, faces a dwindling number of active priests and, in the short term, an increase in the number of retirees. At the end of last year, the archdiocese had 578 active priests, down from 1,002 two decades earlier, and 265 retired priests. The median age of active priests is 59, and 83 active priests are older than 70. The archdiocese expects 173 active priests to retire or die over the next decade and no more than 50 to be ordained.
In other words, in the brief span of my lifetime the number of active diocesan clergy in the Archdiocese of Boston has been almost halved. The serious disproportion between retirements and ordinations means that maintaining adequate parish staffing will become steadily more difficult in the coming years. Of course, this challenge is by no means unique to Boston; many other dioceses are in similar straits and have adopted various strategies. Dioceses in some areas have responded to this problem by appointing laypeople or women religious to run some parishes, with ‘circuit-riding’ priests coming in on weekends to offer Mass. The Archdiocese of Boston has yet to do this, seeming to prefer closed parishes to priestless ones. Lay parochial administrators are no substitute for the parish priests that American Catholics are accustomed to, but I suspect your average parishioner would rather see his or her parishes stay open with a lay administrator than close because the local diocese can’t provide a resident priest.

For me, it’s impossible to introduce statistics like those quoted above and to talk about the problem of parish staffing without also saying a few words about vocations. Clearly, the priest shortage makes the need for stronger vocation promotion all the more critical. Granted, vocations to the diocesan priesthood are a hard sell in Boston nowadays. When the Archdiocese is closing churches left and right, making sharp across-the-board cuts in services and coping with the lingering effects of the clergy sex abuse crisis, convincing young men to give their lives to service of the local church has to be incredibly difficult. The Archdiocese needs to be honest about this, and also has to expect some very lean years in terms of vocation recruitment. In a larger way, we shouldn’t expect another vocation boom of the kind the Catholic Church experienced here in the twenty-year period following World War II. However, we can and should expect a boost in numbers to come from more effective efforts to nurture vocations. As a novice in a religious order, I am perhaps badly qualified to speak about the best way to promote vocations to the diocesan priesthood. However, within the Society of Jesus in the United States we’ve seen a slight increase in the number of men entering the novitiate in recent years, and I am modestly hopeful that the trend will continue.

Returning to the primary topic of this post, the issue of clergy retirement pensions provides a good illustration of some of the differences between religious life and the diocesan priesthood. Unlike members of religious orders, diocesan priests do not take a vow of poverty – indeed, they don’t take vows at all, instead making promises of celibacy and obedience to their bishop. Diocesan priests are expected to live ‘simply’ in some sense, but unlike religious they retain the right to own property and manage their own finances. Some diocesan priests happen to be quite wealthy, while others just barely get by. In this sense, the vowed poverty of religious life fosters greater equality. In theory, all members of a religious order are equally poor, though their actual material circumstances may differ significantly depending upon the place in which they live and the apostolic work they do. When it comes to things like retirement, from a certain perspective the diocesan clergy have greater freedom: the individual diocesan priest has the power to make decisions that will ensure a more or less comfortable retirement. Lacking private property or income, religious are dependent upon their community for their retirement needs. Here again, however, the promise of equality makes up for a putative lack of choice. A Jesuit can’t invest his salary in a 401(k), but he can at least rest easy in the confidence that his province will care for him in his last years. Though I can’t know the specifics at this point in my Jesuit life, this promise of care feels a lot more durable to me than the uncertainty about retirement that many diocesan priests must live with. In this context the vow of poverty is a real comfort, and I thank God for that. AMDG.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

". . . that, of course, would be a breach of protocol."

Today's Gazette has an amusing story on a purported protocol breach involving Montreal Mayor Gerald Tremblay and Princess Margriet of the Netherlands. When Her Royal Highness arrived at City Hall yesterday for an official visit, Hizzoner kissed her on both cheeks - a move that evidently surprised the Princess, visibly irritated protocol officials and provided a context for the following:
[After the incident,] Tremblay denied he had done anything wrong.

"It happened. This is Montreal! It was fantastic. She
didn't mind. She kissed me too," Tremblay said.

Royal spokesperson Hans Kemp told The Gazette: "I don't know
if she was amused, but I can tell you Her Highness was not upset. She
definitely was not upset."

One official with the Dutch entourage refused to say the mayor had made a
gaffe. "To say that it was a breach of protocol would embarrass the person
who may have breached protocol - and that, of course, would be a breach of protocol."
A classic comedy of manners. Some readers may query what this has to do with my life as a novice. The honest answer is nothing, other than the fact that I read the online version of The Gazette regularly and that this story provided me with a chuckle on a midweek work day. AMDG.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Notes on the Memorial of Bl. Damien Joseph de Veuster.

Today the Church remembers Father Damien of Molokai, the 19th century Belgian missionary to Hawaii who devoted his life to serving people with leprosy, eventually contracting the disease himself and dying from its effects. Beatified in 1995, Damien is one of four Catholic priests whose images are included in the National Statuary Hall Collection of the United States Capitol (incidentally, two of the remaining three are Jesuits - Eusebio Kino and Jacques Marquette). Click here for a photo and description of the statue of Damien on display in the Capitol. For more detailed information about Damien's life, click here.

Father Damien and I go back a long way. I'm not sure why, but I know that I've been aware of his story for most of my life - much longer, in fact, that I've known about St. Ignatius Loyola, St. Benedict, St. Therese of Lisieux or a host of other well-known saints. In a sense, Damien of Molokai was probably my earliest model of sanctity; if in elementary school someone had asked me what a "saint" was, I probably would have offered Damien of Molokai as an example. Perhaps it's ironic, then, that I'm hard-pressed to think of any concrete way in which Damien has influenced my life - after all, when I discerned a vocation to religious life it was to the Jesuits and not to Damien's religious community, the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, and apostolically I feel more drawn to academia than to foreign missions. Nonetheless, in some way I still have a nostalgic attachment to Damien of Molokai, so today is a special day for me. AMDG.

Monday, May 09, 2005

TK in The Hoya.

On a much happier note than the preceding post, today is the birthday of Georgetown Jesuit Father Tom King, without whose example and influence I almost certainly would not be a Jesuit novice today. I first encountered TK through his 11:15 pm daily Mass, later took his course on Teilhard (possibly the most intellectually challenging class I've ever taken), made various retreats and visited the Holy Land with him, and developed a keener understanding of Jesuit life and spirituality from his example. We've remained friends over the years, and I regret I won't be back on the Hilltop to attend the TK birthday soiree after tonight's 11:15 - always a very special event. In honor of Father King's birthday, I'm presenting readers of this blog with a variety of articles by or about him from The Hoya ("Georgetown University's Newspaper of Record Since 1920"). A good place to start is this profile from 2000, which provides as fine an introduction as any to a man a 1999 Hoya editorial justly lauded as Georgetown's Man of the Century. For a more recent profile emphasizing change and continuity at the university over the course of TK's 37 years on the Hilltop, click here. For a younger Jesuit's fond ode to Father King's annual Christmas Mass - itself a venerable Georgetown tradition - consult this op-ed by Father Ryan Maher. For a fairly decent precis of King's thoughts on Teilhard, there's this 2002 article reporting on a talk TK gave on the subject. Turning to Hoya pieces written by TK himself, here's a fine 2001 op-ed on Catholic higher education. Saving the best for last, here is "Sources of Stability," a must-read 2000 piece TK wrote touching on the origins of his vocation to the Jesuits. Happy reading! AMDG.

Belgian Jesuit missionary killed in Kinshasa.

Father René De Haes, a Belgian Jesuit who served as rector of the Jesuit philosophate near Kinshasa, died Saturday night after being shot in an apparent carjacking. Father De Haes was a gifted scholar who devoted his life to building up the Catholic Church and the Society of Jesus in Africa; you can read a couple of his articles (in French) here and here. Tragic in itself, Father De Haes' death also reminds us that the threat of martyrdom remains very real, especially for those working in the Church in the developing world. Over 300 Jesuits were martyred over the course of the 20th century; as this list shows, they died in many different countries and under varying circumstances, but all died as servants of the Word and of God's people. As Father De Haes' death indicates, Jesuits continue to face martyrdom in this 21st century as well. Father De Haes may not have been killed specifically for his faith or on account of his work, but in dying as a victim of apparently random violence he died in solidarity with the suffering people of the Congo who face such violence every day of their lives. In his death, Father De Haes was united with the people he served all his life, and I'll remember him as a modern example of Jesuit martyrdom. AMDG.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Monks and Martinis.

On Saturday I drove down to Big Sur with a couple other Jesuits and a Jesuit-to-be. Getting there via Highway offered what may well be the most incredible scenic drive I’ve ever undertaken; the combination of majestic mountains, ancient redwoods and brilliant blue ocean is truly breathtaking, becoming more and more beautiful the further south one goes. Our first stop was at the New Camaldoli Hermitage, a community of Camaldolese Benedictine monks perched on a thousand-foot high promontory overlooking the Pacific. The monks gave us a very gracious welcome; after Mass we joined the community for lunch and enjoyed a tour of the cloister. Though I’ve visited a number of monasteries, this was my first encounter with the Camaldolese, a community that has taken an interesting approach to balancing the different values that jostle for attention in any religious life. Balancing community and solitude, the monks gather for common prayer and meals but also spend much of their time alone in individual hermitages – not separate cells within the same building, but cottages set apart from one another by well-kept gardens. Balancing engagement with the world and separation from it, the monks maintain a small monastery in Berkeley in addition to their rural hermitage at Big Sur. The Camaldolese are also committed to the life of the mind, counting a number of monastic scholars in their midst – including some who teach from time to time at GTU while residing at their Berkeley monastery.

After spending some quality time with the Camaldolese, our Jesuit group took a swing by the Post Ranch Inn, a posh oceanfront resort where those with the means pay in excess of $1000 a night for peace and quiet (two things they could get for a lot less money – and with a lot fewer amenities – up the street at the Hermitage). The Sierra Mar Restaurant at the Post Ranch is open to the public, so we dropped in for drinks and dessert. Though the desserts at the Sierra Mar were excellent (I had a chocolate custard creation served with orange raspberries), the best thing about the place is probably the view; one could easily find a more extensive and higher quality menu elsewhere, and at a much lower price. To be fair, I might have offered a more superlative review of the Sierra Mar had I sampled one of their martini, which is rumored to be among the best around. If I make a retreat someday at the New Camaldoli Hermitage – something I’d very much like to do – perhaps I’ll stop by the Sierra Mar again afterward and give the martini a try. AMDG.

Finding God in All Things.

On Friday afternoon I escorted a family of Iranian refugees to a dental appointment. As of yet the parents speak very little English, but their children – ages fifteen and ten – proved amazingly able translators. The dentist’s office was in an almost entirely Vietnamese section of San Jose, in a plaza completely filled with Vietnamese businesses. Furthermore, with the exception of the Iranians and myself everyone in the office – employees and clients alike – was Vietnamese, and all conversation not involving the Iranians or myself was conducted, as you might expect, in Vietnamese. For the entertainment of waiting clients there was a TV in the waiting room – tuned onto professional wrestling, of all things. I did my best to ignore the TV, absorbed as I was in the book I was reading, The Cistercian Way, by Dom Andre Louf, O.C.S.O. On occasion, however, my attention was diverted to the screen by the enthusiastic commentary of the Iranian kids, offered in a mix of English and Farsi. Eventually it dawned on me that I was undergoing a strangely holy experience. Here I was, spending time with a group of Iranians in a Vietnamese dentist’s office in California, simultaneously reading a book on Cistercian spirituality and watching wrestlers pummel one another. Let’s just say that this moment of insight proved to me yet again that one really can find God in all things – and, just as significantly, that God often chooses to appear under marvelously odd circumstances. AMDG.

Happy Mother's Day!

I promise I'll call you later today, Mom. The time zone difference presents something of a challenge, but expect to hear from me in the evening. 'Til then, know I'm thinking of you and that I hope you're enjoying the day. AMDG.

Friday, May 06, 2005

A fan for the ages.

My hometown paper, the Standard-Times, reports today on a 110-year-old area woman “believed to be the oldest living Red Sox fan[.]” Readers with long memories may recall an October blog entry reporting on Sox fan Fred Hale, Sr., then reputedly the world’s oldest man (at least according to Guinness’ cockamamie birth certificate rules) and thus the putative oldest citizen of Red Sox Nation. Mr. Hale met his maker in November, passing the “oldest Sox fan” cane (or, perhaps more appropriately, bat) to Kate Gemme of Middleboro, Mass. In recognition of Mrs. Gemme’s status, the World Series trophy made an appearance at the widow’s home – delivered, interestingly enough, by my former boss. Hats off to Mrs. Gemme, not only for living long enough to see the Sox break the Curse but also for having glorious proof of the happy event brought to her very doorstep. Go Sox, AMDG.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Further Adventures of a Liturgical Tourist.

For a while I’ve been planning a round-robin post discussing some of the churches I’ve visited in my time out here in California; being busy with work and having more timely things to post on, I’ve been putting this off – just as I keep putting off a long-promised post on Nineteenth Annotation retreats (which, by the way, I still plan to produce, hopefully in the near future). Anyhow, here’s a recap on some of my recent liturgical adventures – better late than never, I figure.When a pope dies, the Jesuits’ Manual of Juridical Practice prescribes that each Jesuit church or public chapel should remember the late pontiff with “a suitable liturgical celebration . . . with the participation of externs.” (You may be unfamiliar with the term “externs,” which is an old Jesuit term for non-Jesuits.) I couldn’t make it to the memorial Mass for John Paul II at Mission Santa Clara because it took place at noon on a day I was at work. However, I did make it to a papal memorial Mass celebrated by the local Chinese Catholic community. Having never attended a Chinese-language liturgy before (and not knowing a word of Chinese), I was eager to see what it would be like. As expected, I didn’t understand a word other than imported terms like “Alleluia.” Even if the language was unfamiliar, in all its externals the Mass was indistinguishable from any other American parish liturgy; even the assigned hymns were set to American tunes. The only noteworthy sign of liturgical inculturation came at the Sign of Peace, when the priest and congregation bowed to each other before a general exchange of handshakes. Considering the 300-year saga of the Chinese Rites controversy and its resolution in favor of local adaptation, I had expected that Chinese Catholics would bring more elements of their culture into their worship. On reflection, however, I wonder whether the presence of much more pressing concerns have stalled progress in this area. Considering the deep divisions between the official and underground churches in mainland China and between Catholics in mainland China and in the diaspora, I suppose liturgical inculturation is fairly low on the priority list for Chinese Catholics.

In my last post I discussed my experience of the Paschal liturgy at Our Lady of Fatima Byzantine Catholic Church in San Francisco. Our Lady of Fatima is one of three Eastern Rite Catholic churches I’ve visited during my time in the Bay Area. My interest in Eastern Christianity began in earnest during a pilgrimage I made to the Holy Land five years ago, when I had vivid and memorable encounters with Armenian, Coptic and Melkite Christians in Jerusalem and the Galilee. Since then my experiences as a liturgical tourist have taken me to a variety of different Eastern Christian churches, though I retain a particular fondness for those with Middle Eastern roots. St. Elias the Prophet Melkite-Greek Catholic Church in San Jose certainly fits this bill; much of the congregation at St. Elias hails from Lebanon, Palestine and Syria, and much of the liturgy is in Arabic. St. Basil the Great Byzantine Catholic Church in Los Gatos reflects the somewhat different Ruthenian tradition of Eastern Europe but offers a very similar liturgical experience and an equally close-knit community feel. Our Lady of Fatima, by contrast, is strikingly sui generis, combining a Russian-flavored Divine Liturgy with distinctively Ignatian preaching. The congregation is very diverse; members who grew up in the Latin Rite and became drawn to the Eastern tradition later on seem to outnumber those who were raised in the Byzantine Rite. All three parishes offer a deeply moving and enriching worship experience, and I commend all of them to readers who find themselves in the vicinity and want to explore the riches of Eastern Christianity.

Rounding out this report, I should say a few words about student liturgies here at Santa Clara. At Georgetown and Notre Dame I developed a love for late-night campus Masses. On the Hilltop I attended Father Tom King’s celebrated 11:15 pm Mass five and sometimes six nights a week, an experience that had a critical impact on my vocation. Notre Dame lives out its liturgical life in a uniquely decentralized manner; each residence hall has its own chapel, and most offer Sunday and daily Mass in the evening. As a law student I eventually got into the habit of attending the 10 pm daily Mass at Alumni Hall most weeknights, and while the Mass at Alumni could never match the exceptional appeal of the 11:15 I nonetheless found that there’s something special about having Mass in the midst of the eclectic and frenzied signs of life that characterize a college dorm in the late evening. As for Santa Clara, I regret to report that they don’t offer daily Mass in the evenings – instead, I go to the daily Jesuit community liturgy, which I like very much – but they do have a 10 pm student Mass in the Mission on Sunday nights. The 10 pm here is a lively, well-executed liturgy with great music, outstanding homilies and an energetic sense of community. On the down side, the student Mass here can also run a bit long – eighty minutes would seem to be an average time – mainly because the planners seem to have done everything possible to draw the thing out. It isn’t the meaty homilies or the lingering handshakes and hugs at the Sign of Peace that make the 10 pm so long; the musical interludes, five-verse hymns and elaborate choreography are what do it. As a result, I often feel exhausted and ready for bed long before the Mass is over, but fatigue is a small trade-off given the overall quality of the experience. I’ve yet to find a Sunday liturgy in Detroit that matches what I’ve found at Santa Clara, so 10 pm Mass at the Mission is definitely something I’ll miss when this Experiment is over. AMDG.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Christos Voskrese!

That’s your cue to say Voistinu Voskrese! In the wee hours of Sunday morning – specifically, from around midnight to three a.m. – I attended Pascha (i.e., Easter Vigil) services at Our Lady of Fatima Byzantine Catholic Church in San Francisco. Our Lady of Fatima is a unique and intriguing place, a Jesuit parish established in 1950 to minister to a small community of Russian Byzantine Catholics living in exile in San Francisco and now serving an ethnically diverse congregation brought together mainly by shared interest in the Eastern liturgy and Russian culture. The name of the parish owes less to any particularly Russian devotion to Our Lady of Fatima (there is none) than it does to the synergy between the Fatima devotion and anti-Communism in the early 1950’s, a topic I’ve discussed before. Anyhow, Our Lady of Fatima follows the Orthodox calendar, which is why they celebrated Pascha this weekend and not several weeks ago as in the West. The liturgy was beautiful and impeccably well-done in all respects, though though the fact that I had been up since 8 a.m. of the previous day made staying awake a positive challenge. I'm pleased to report that I rose to the challenge, but by the end I was so exhausted that I skipped the feast in the parish hall and drove back to JSTB to go to bed. In doing so I missed out on further fellowship and some Russian delicacies, but I'd say I had a good night nonetheless.

The preceding day in Berkeley featured a Chi Prov reunion of sorts. Loyola House's own superior and director Father Bill Verbryke was in town for a visit, and with him and Chi Prov theologian Kent Beausoleil I took in scenic Muir Woods in the afternoon. "Scenic" is almost too trite a word to describe Muir Woods, where ancient, enormous redwoods and tranquil silence (broken only occasionally by the shouts of visitors) conspire to evoke a sense of sacred space. Later, joined by Chi Prov theologian Mike Conley, we had dinner at a surprisingly tiny Italian restaurant in a trendy section of Oakland. On a somewhat related note, back at Nobili on Sunday I took part in a conversation in which several of Ours lamented the relative lack of truly authentic Italian restaurants in the Bay Area. I was pretty satisfied with the meal I had at the Italian place in Oakland, but on reflection I could see that my experience confirmed the Fathers' point. After all, here was a restaurant that advertised an "All-American" pizza (what many places would call "The Works") and had a Hawaiian-themed upstairs bar called The Conga Lounge; I'm tempted to think you wouldn't see either of this things at a pizzeria in Naples, but in this era of globalization and American cultural hegemony I'm not so sure about that.

In other news, greetings to reader Matt Monnig, a New England Province theologian studying at JSTB. I'm glad you found my blog, Matt, and I hope you'll feel free to post a comment now and then as the spirit moves you. AMDG.