Wednesday, December 29, 2004

I'm back at Loyola House . . .

albeit very briefly. Returned safe and sound a couple hours ago from a great trip home for Christmas. After taking care of a few routine odds and ends here, it's off to Manresa for the formation conference. I likely won't be posting until the end of conference, which runs through New Year's Eve. If you can't wait 'til January 1st to get my greetings, here's a preemptive "Happy New Year!" AMDG.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

The Snow is Coming Down / On Our New England Town.

And it's been falling all day long . . . or at least it was falling all Sunday night and much of Monday morning. All told we got whacked with about a foot of snow, as reported here in the local paper. Shoveling the dreaded white stuff out of my parents' driveway wasn't fun, and the old saw maintaining that manual labor builds character offers me little consolation. If my aching back and sore limbs are any indication, I'm not cut out for the life of an outdoorsman.

Braving adverse weather conditions, we had dinner Sunday night at the Frigate Steakhouse, a local surf 'n turf joint of a certain age. The blinding snow and whipping winds were enough to scare off other potential diners, so we had the place to ourselves - we also closed it down, as they shut out the lights as soon as we left, even though fidelity to the posted hours would've kept the place open for another thirty minutes. The food was good, and the atmosphere exactly as it had been the last time I visited - which was probably at least seven years ago. Indeed, the atmosphere of the Frigate has probably been the same since before I was born; my brother Ken suggested that the place "feels like 1974," and I bet he's right. In this respect, the Frigate is something like another SouthCoast period piece, Thad's, which my family frequented for years before it closed in early 2003. Part of the fun of dining at Thad's was the soundtrack of cheesy Muzak renditions of easy-listening retro tunes like "Moon River." The music combined with the posh late-'60's decor and heavily-accented hostesses and waiters made a trip to Thad's feel vaguely like a visit to the set of The Lawrence Welk Show. The Frigate isn't nearly in the same league as Thad's, but the place nonetheless retains a similarly timeless atmosphere. The Muzak they played there Sunday night included a tune that my parents, my sister and I all recognized but couldn't quite identify. To us, this unnerving yet undeniably catchy song sounded like the theme of a '70's sitcom we simply couldn't recall the title of. Further research at home produced no leads, until Ken came up with the answer. What we mistook for TV music was actually "Feels So Good" by Chuck Mangione - a song I couldn't help but recognize even though I'd never actually choose to listen to it. My guess is you'd recognize it too if you heard it, though you'll have to find and download it yourself if you want to test that hypothesis. "Feels So Good" is the kind of song you may want to dislike for its schmaltziness but can't quite bring yourself to hate - perhaps because with its self-conscious pep it really does feel so good in spite of itself. With that, we conclude another foray into Novitiate Notes' pop culture apostolate.

Rounding out this post, I should mention that I saw The Life Aquatic on Christmas night with my sister Elizabeth and with John DiSalvo, who is surely pleased to be mentioned here. I kinda agree with Jonathan and with other reviewers who've commented on the film's retread feel. There were some obvious script problems, particularly in the somewhat disjointed handling of the relationship between Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) and Ned Plimpton (Owen Wilson). The semi-romance between Wilson's character and Jane Winslett-Richardson (Cate Blanchett) was also very poorly dealt with. For that matter, it also struck me that Seymour Cassel's considerable talents were wasted in what was essentially a cameo. Nonetheless, I found much to enjoy in The Life Aquatic - mostly great performances, awesome production design and music (it was fun hearing Brazilian star Seu Jorge belt out David Bowie tunes in Portuguese). I'm also glad they found a part for a three-legged dog, as I imagine animals in that situation have a hard time getting work. The Life Aquatic may not be Wes Anderson's masterpiece, but it was still well worth seeing. AMDG.

Notes on the Examen of Consciousness.

A while back, a reader asked me if I would post some detailed thoughts on the Examen of Consciousness. At the time I appreciated the suggestion and promised to have a post up on the subject within a few days. For a number of reasons, I failed in this objective. For one thing, I was humbled by the request and had a hard time summoning up reflections worthy of publication - here I am, a mere novice, called upon to give advice on weighty spiritual matters and predictably feeling inadequate to the task. Beyond that, I was also busy with any number of things and, I must confess, some laziness crept in as well. Maxima mea culpa. After the passage of nearly two months, however, I feel like I ought to offer something to the reader in question, so here goes.

For anyone reading this post who doesn't know what the Examen is, the article linked above by Phyllis Zagano offers an accessible and detailed introduction to this form of prayer. The reflections that follow assume a basic understanding of what the Examen is, and if you don't have one you may want to at least skim Zagano's piece before reading on. Speaking as a novice, I'll say that the Examen is the most important prayer I do each day. Ignatius himself regarded the Examen as an indispensable part of each Jesuit's prayer life: in fact, our founder went so far as to maintain that no Jesuit could ever omit his daily Examen, even if unable to do any other prayer during the day. Furthermore, the Constitutions recommend not one but two daily Examens, one at midday and another before bed. In practice, I'll admit that I'm often delinquent about the midday Examen; depending on one's schedule and circumstances, it's often hard to find the right time and environment to do it (perhaps for this reason it typically isn't as strongly insisted upon as the evening Examen). However, the evening Examen has been a key part of my prayer life for some time - not simply since I entered the Society, but as a layperson as well. Praying the Examen has helped me see where God is at work in the events of my daily life and has made me more mindful of where I have and haven't been faithful in my relationship with God. The Examen has also made me more attentive to my relationships with other people and has given me a greater awareness of my own strengths and weaknesses, helping me see both where I've done well and where I need to improve. That's basically my experience in a nutshell - I could go into more detail, but these humble reflections should at least convey the fact that the Examen of Consciousness has been a great help to me - not simply in my life as a Jesuit novice, but in my life as a Christian.

In addition to wanting to know more about my personal experience of the Examen, the reader comment referenced above also sought my advice on pastoral approaches for advancing the popular practice of the Examen. Again, I'm just a novice and my experience is quite limited, but I'll take my best stab at the question. The Examen is a form of prayer anyone can do - it requires no special equipment or training, nor does one need a great deal of practice to get "good" at it, whatever "good" means in this context. All one needs to do the Examen is a patient willingness to put in the time to do it, a quiet place to pray, and the raw material of one's daily experience to pray over. For many, the daily experience element may be a stumbling block - we may find our daily routine too banal or ordinary to provide much worth praying over, but speaking from experience I can say that this perception is a false one that is easily overcome. Great variety can hide behind the seeming monotony of routine; on the same token, it's important to recognize that the God who is present in all things speaks through monotony as well as through variety.

As I hope the above makes clear, it's fairly easy to integrate the Examen into one's prayer life. At the same time, however, I'll admit that promoting the Examen among the laity - especially at the parish level - presents something of a challenge. Though, as I've said, the Examen is easy to do, I think the emphasis on step-by-step processes often employed in explaining the prayer can make the Examen sound more complex than it is and thereby discourage potential practioners who may feel themselves too busy to give it a try. As a form of mental prayer, the Examen may also present a challenge to Catholics who are more accustomed to forms of prayer that emphasize the repetition of set formulas and the performance of physical actions - saying the rosary, for example. The Examen can work for busy people (it certainly did for me) and it can work for people who aren't used to mental prayer, but creative efforts are needed to promote it. In this regard, however, the simplicity of the Examen could be its finest attribute. Though spiritual direction is perhaps the best context within which to introduce the Examen, it can be brought to the faithful in other ways as well. I've heard priests (and not only Jesuits) use parish homilies to describe the Examen and encourage its use, and bulletin inserts and leaflets can also get the point across on different levels. Then there's the Internet; the Zagano article I linked to above is just one of many online resources touching on the Examen and other aspects of Ignatian spirituality. The Irish Jesuits' Sacred Space and Creighton University's Online Ministries are just two of many excellent sites offering resources in this area. Though the material is there for those looking for it, it remains the case that others who could benefit from practices like the Examen aren't looking. Consequently it falls to Catholics who have been nourished by their experience of the Examen to share the fruits of that experience with others and to encourage them to try it for themselves. I'm old-fashioned enough to believe that word of mouth is the best kind of advertising. I'm doing my bit - why don't you do yours? AMDG.

Notes on the Feast of the Holy Innocents.

Today the Church remembers the Holy Innocents, the male infants of Bethlehem and environs who were killed at the command of King Herod. Though tradition put the number of children slaughtered by Herod in the thousands, the comparatively small population of 1st century Bethlehem has led modern scholars to suggest that there may have been as few as twenty. This conclusion in no way diminishes the poignancy of the Holy Innocents' martyrdom. Unlike later martyrs, the Holy Innocents were killed not because they professed faith in Jesus Christ but essentially because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Nowadays we're sadly accustomed to hearing similar reports of innocent people killed in acts of random violence, often in their own homes or in the streets of their neighborhoods. The Feast of the Holy Innocents offers us an opportunity to remember these modern victims of violence and to pray for a safer society.

On a very different note, the Feast of the Holy Innocents relates to two distinct but similar customs of religious life. I'm told that in many religious houses there was once a tradition that on this feast the youngest member of the community would take the place of the superior and assume leadership for one day. Though I can't speak for other communities, this custom certainly isn't practiced at Loyola House (even if it was, the novices' being away on home visits on December 28th would seem to make the matter moot). However, we do have some other customs with ties to the Holy Innocents. From what I've heard, the title of "Holy Innocent" is traditionally conferred upon the youngest novice in each class. Though Jonathan is the youngest novice in this year's entering class at Loyola House, the Holy Innocent moniker eluded him. By entirely mysterious means, the title passed instead to Drew, whose good-natured acceptance of the honor perhaps explains how it fell on him in the first place. Jonathan, it should be noted, still retains certain traditional prerogatives as the youngest novice, most notably the privilege of preaching at the community Mass on the Feast of St. Stanislaus Kostka. Satisfactory to all, this state of affairs might be a sterling example of another great Jesuit tradition - forsaking "either/or" in favor of "both/and." AMDG.

Friday, December 24, 2004

'Twas the Night Before Christmas, and All Through Loyola House . . .

Okay, enough of that. I'll be leaving in a few minutes for Midnight Mass at St. Florian Church in Hamtramck. Our extensive novitiate Christmas activities wrapped up about an hour ago - we had Mass in the afternoon, a sumptuous dinner prepared by the formation staff and attended by numerous guests, and a community gathering where we opened our "Secret Santa" gifts. An integral part of the last activity was guessing who your gift came from, a task easier in some cases than others; when the nature of the gift or the handwriting on the label didn't give it away, good ol' process of elimination had to suffice. To fall back on a cliche I've used before, a good time was had by all. For my part, when I get back from St. Florian's I'll go into intensive packing mode in preparation for an early morning flight home to visit the folks. I may or may not be blogging while I'm in Massachusetts - we'll see how it goes. 'Til next time, merry Christmas to all and to all a good night. AMDG.

Back from Triduum.

Returned yesterday afternoon from making our three-day Advent retreat at Manresa. The director of the retreat, Father Joe McHugh, is a New England Province Jesuit who serves as director of novices in Jamaica; he brought along his novices (all two of them) and the group will be staying with us through the Long Retreat at Gloucester. Fittingly for a group of "companions of Jesus," the conferences of the retreat focused on Jesus' interactions with different individuals - from Mary to the Apostles to the Samaritan woman at Jacob's Well. I culled helpful insights from each of Joe's conference presentations, and I enjoyed the opportunity to get away for a few days of quiet recollection. In between conferences, prayer, Mass and meals, I also managed to polish off two books. The first was Sir, We Would Like to See Jesus: Homilies from a Hilltop, a now out-of-print work by Walter J. Burghardt, S.J. As the "Hilltop" in the title implies, nearly all the homilies in the collection were given at Sunday liturgies at Georgetown University, where Father Burghardt spent many years (including the years I was there, though I never met him). Most of the homilies in the book were good, and a few were actually great, so I'd rate Sir, We Would Like to See Jesus as worthwhile reading - if you can find a copy. You shouldn't have any trouble finding a copy of the second book I read, Jesus the Teacher Within by Laurence Freeman, O.S.B. Though easier for interested readers to locate, I wouldn't recommend Jesus the Teacher Within quite as enthusiastically as the Burghardt book. Freeman is a Benedictine monk of the Priory of Christ the King, Cockfosters (hope you appreciate the link, Jonathan) and widely known as a Christian meditation guru. Though not a seasoned veteran of the Hilltop like Burghardt, Freeman does have a Georgetown connection, having served as a visiting lecturer in Catholic Studies at the university (after my time, however). In any case, Jesus the Teacher Within attempts to articulate a contemporary spiritual vision that answers the question "Who is Jesus?" At least that's what I think the book attempts to do, because at times it seems very scattershot. Freeman offers some good insights into prayer, Christian spirituality and human psychology, but his occasionally meandering prose can compromise his effectiveness. At 271 pages, Jesus the Teacher Within struck this reader as at least a third too long for its message and content. That said, the book has an ecumenical perspective which some readers may appreciate. Freeman often relates concepts in Christian theology and spirituality to somewhat analogous elements of Buddhism and Hinduism, not so much as a guide to Christians but so as to help members of Eastern traditions understand what Christians believe. One can often walk a tightrope on stuff like this, but as far as I can tell Freeman avoids falling off. Then again, I'm probably not the best person to evaluate a book like Jesus the Teacher Within - I'm not particularly into Eastern religions or Freeman's Christian meditation. If you're into those things, however, Jesus the Teacher Within may be just the book for you. AMDG.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Happy Birthday, Dad!

Mom says you want to keep the occasion low-key, so I won't say much about it. I hope you don't mind that I didn't get you a gift - I figure the Sox winning the Series this year was enough. Anyhow, I'll see you and the rest of the family in a few days.

Not much to report at Loyola House other than the bone-chilling cold. Six degrees Fahrenheit this morning, four now. I'd have something to say about the Christmas party last night except for the fact that I was in bed all of yesterday with a nasty bout of stomach flu and completely missed the festivities. I've made a full recovery, however, and I'm now looking forward to the events of the coming week. Our triduum retreat at Manresa starts tomorrow evening, so I probably won't have be posting again 'til Thursday. Until then, hope all are doing well and that readers in climates as frosty as mine are keeping warm. AMDG.

Friday, December 17, 2004

The hospital experiment comes to end.

Yesterday was my last day at Abbey Mercy Living Center, bringing the ten-week hospital experiment to a close. My time at Abbey had its share of ups and downs. The first few weeks were difficult, as I wrestled with feelings of discomfort and unfamiliarity with the nursing home environment. After I got used to things, I actually started to enjoy going to Abbey and spending time with the residents - I was no longer there simply under obedience, but also because I liked being there. In the last few weeks, I think I started to become bored with the experience - I'd gotten as much out of it as I was going to, and began to eagerly anticipate my last day. As it happens, the last week was fairly low in intensity: my fellow novices and I spent much of our time saying goodbye to residents we'd come to know, and little time on structured group activities. I think what I'll miss most about going to Abbey is conversing with the residents I got to know and who passed along many great stories and pearls of wisdom. At the same time, there's a lot I won't miss, like negotiating wheelchair traffic jams in narrow hallways.

As previously reported, our next major experiences are the Long Retreat in January and teaching religion at La Salette in February. Before then, however, there's a lot to do. Tomorrow is the annual Loyola House Christmas party, about which I'll presumably have more to say after the event. Next week, all the novices will go on a triduum (i.e. three-day) retreat up at Manresa. After Mass and dinner here on Christmas Eve, we get to go home for four days - I'll be flying to Massachusetts to see my family. Then it's back to Michigan - and, in fact, back to Manresa - for a bi-province formation conference, nicknamed the "kiddie conference" because it's a gathering of all the younger Chicago and Detroit Province Jesuits. ("Youth" in this question is measured by when one entered the Society - if a man is in his fifties but has been in for fifteen years or less, he's still considered a "kiddie" in Jesuit terms.) After the kiddie conference finishes up on New Year's Day, the primi will be off to Eastern Point Retreat House in Gloucester, Mass. to do the Spiritual Exercises along with novices from some of the other provinces in the American Assistancy. In short, the next couple weeks will be busy ones, but I'll blog about them as I'm able. Thanks for your support and prayers - keep 'em coming! AMDG.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Good news from the Archdiocese of Boston.

In a surprising if welcome development in the traumatic and highly controversial reconfiguration process, Archbishop Sean O'Malley has cancelled a planned parish closing. For details understandably absent from the Archdiocese's press release, see what the Herald and the Patriot Ledger had to say. Though he has previously postponed the closing of some churches where parishioners have raised concerns about the process, this is the first time O'Malley has actually revoked an earlier decision to suppress a parish. Apparently Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha Church in Plymouth was saved largely by its dedicated parishioners' efforts to alert the Archdiocese to the explosive population growth going on within parish boundaries. I'd like to hope that Catholics aggrieved by the reconfiguration process will take to heart the example given by Blessed Kateri's parishioners. Rather than docilely accept the demise of their parish, the people of Blessed Kateri brought their concerns to the Archdiocese in a proactive way and succeeded in reversing what struck them as an unjust decision. The truth remains, of course, that this is but one church out of 83 slated for closure. Like Plymouth, my own hometown of Rochester is growing steadily, but this fact did not save St. Rose of Lima parish from suppression. I'd love it if the people of St. Rose of Lima - not to mention the people of many parishes in similar straits - reacted to planned closures as Blessed Kateri's parishioners did. Realistically - or, I might even say, pessimistically - I don't expect many other miraculous rescues like this. Nonetheless, I'm glad to see that Archbishop O'Malley was willing to admit - though not in so many words - that he made a mistake in ordering the closure of Blessed Kateri. Maybe - and here I'm shifting into optimistic mode - today's news signals a shift toward greater openness and pastoral sensitivity in how the reconfiguration process is carried out. Here's hoping. AMDG.

Monday, December 13, 2004


Today was my last day working at Colombiere, and an easy one at that - I spent most of my time taking pictures and assisting Colombiere resident Father Tom Gedeon at the pottery wheel. This was only my third experience working with clay (the first two are noted in this post), and if not for Father Gedeon's constant direction I probably wouldn't have gotten very far. Though he spent the better part of his life as a Jesuit doing retreat work, Father Gedeon is also an accomplished potter - the only example of his work I could find photos of online are this chalice and paten, but that should at least give you some idea of his style. The Jesuits at Colombiere conveyed their good words and promises of prayer for the first-year novices who'll be making the Long Retreat soon, and in turn we promised to come back and visit when we get back in February.

This afternoon the primi had a tour of Our Lady of La Salette School, an experience meant to give us a better sense of the place and to help us think about what grade level we may want to teach when we're there on experiment early next year. At the same time, our visit to the school and our meeting Friday afternoon with the La Salette faculty give the teachers data that will help them think about what novices they may want teaching in their particular classes. Of course, the formation staff here have their own views about who should go where as well. Ultimately, through the process of dialogue and deliberation that characterizes Jesuit discernment, we'll all end up assigned somewhere - perhaps to our first choice, perhaps not, but ultimately to the place that seems most suitable to each of us at this stage of formation. Stay tuned for the final word on what grade I'm assigned to. In the meantime, please pray for me as I discern my own preferences in the matter and, more crucially, pray for me and my fellow primi as we prepare for the Long Retreat. AMDG.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

The Society of Jesus in the news.

Make sure you read this great op-ed by David Gibson in today's New York Times commenting on a prospective merger between Boston College and Weston Jesuit School of Theology, one of two Jesuit theologates (i.e., seminaries) in the United States. Gibson gives, it seems to me, a pretty good snapshot of the current state of the Society. Despite the hopes of our critics, the Jesuits aren't going to wither away. On the contrary, we're adapting and innovating - as we've done repeatedly over the past 450 years - to meet the ever-changing needs of the contemporary Church and the human community.

As for the merger (about which you can learn more from this article in last Tuesday's Boston Globe), I'd love to see it happen. By joining forces with BC, Weston would be able to give its Jesuit and lay students access to the resources of a world-class university. By taking Weston under its wing, BC would substantially improve its already strong theology program, standing to become - as Weston prez Father Bob Manning says in the Gibson piece - "the center for the study of Roman Catholic theology in the United States." For my own part, I'm very fond of the BC campus - sometimes when I'm in the vicinity, I'll stop there just to walk around - and I love its location, close by the leafy streets of Newton and Brighton as well as the delights of downtown Brookline. I've often thought BC would be a great place to live and to study, and I'd love to do theology there as a Jesuit. So here's hoping (and praying) that the potential BC-Weston alliance works out. AMDG.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

See, see, see . . . Tennessee Tuxedo!

For the edification of fellow first-year novice Jim Shea, with whom I was reminiscing earlier about old cartoons, here's a link to the lyrics of the Tennessee Tuxedo theme song. If you don't remember Tennessee Tuxedo, you can read more about him here and here. Research for this post refreshed my memory of the character, who I recall watching in reruns but sometimes conflated with Huckleberry Hound - who is not only a very different character but of a different species as well. (Family members familiar with my penchant for mixing up the names of our pets probably aren't surprised that I'd make such an error.) I watched both cartoons in syndication when I was a kid, though I was a much bigger fan of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Underdog. And yes, in case you were wondering, this post marks a continuation of the pop culture apostolate begun by my Bartles & Jaymes and Scarecrow and Mrs. King blog entries. Similar bursts of nostalgia are likely in the future, so consider yourself warned. AMDG.

Silk Nog.

Yes, you heard me right. Silk Nog. My jaw dropped when I spotted the stuff at Sam's Club this morning on the weekly shopping run. I'm not quite sure how to feel about this - part of me views the advent of Silk Nog as an unconscionable desecration of a venerable holiday tradition - is nothing sacred? However, another part of me regards this as positive evidence of the march of progress - after all, vegans and the lactose intolerant should be able to savor the seasonal delight of egg nog, shouldn't they? For my own part, not even a single glass of soymilk has ever crossed my lips, so I'm in no position to say whether the taste of Silk Nog even remotely approximates the taste of real egg nog. I also don't expect to try the fake stuff any time soon, which means all the more Silk Nog for those who actually want or need it. AMDG.

Guests and more guests.

Yesterday was a busy day at Loyola House, taken up largely with providing hospitality for two groups of gracious and welcome visitors. In the morning and early afternoon, we had Mass and lunch with the women who constitute the committee that coordinates the annual Jesuit formation benefit that we all attend in October (read my reflections on that event here). Having the committee over to visit gave us an opportunity to express our gratitude to some of the generous benefactors who pay for our formation while also giving the benefactors a chance to tour the novitiate and meet the novices and staff. Chatting with members of the committee was a lot of fun; I was especially interested to discover their diverse Jesuit connections - some are relatives of Jesuits, others have spouses or children who attended province schools, others have ties to Jesuit parishes and retreat centers, and so on. The benefactors also enjoyed a sumptuous meal prepared by the undisputed culinary giants of the first-year class, Denis and Ryan. Someday these guys should come out with a cookbook in the tradition of Brother Rick Curry's The Secrets of Jesuit Breadmaking and its sequel The Secrets of Jesuit Soupmaking. If you have any ideas for a catchy title, let me know.

Practically as soon as Loyola House had big goodbye to the benefit committee we began to prepare for our second big group of visitors for the day: the teachers from Our Lady of La Salette School across the street. Starting in early February - shortly after making the full Spiritual Exercises or "Long Retreat" - the first-year novices begin teaching religion at La Salette, and yesterday afternoon we had the school's faculty over for a social hour. The social gave us an opportunity to meet the teachers we'll be working in a couple months and to get a better feel for the culture of the school. Over the next few days each of us will be thinking about what grade(s) he may be interested in teaching, and yesterday's meeting with the teachers is a key help in our discernment. Like the benefactors we met earlier in the day, the La Salette teachers were a great group and I enjoyed my time with them. The anecdotes and stories they told reminded me how little things have changed since my own elementary school days - it seems like a lot of what went on then still goes on now, despite the passage of almost twenty years. Hopefully in February I'll be able to say whether this hunch is true. AMDG.

Friday, December 10, 2004

David Brudnoy, 1940-2004.

Boston radio great David Brudnoy has died of cancer at age 64. In addition to the Globe obit linked in the preceding sentence, check out this piece by Brian McGrory in yesterday's paper and the tribute page on the website of WBZ Radio, Brudnoy's on-air home for the past 18 years. I became an avid listener of 'BZ's "David Brudnoy Show" while I was in college; almost every night, I'd tune in to hear part or all of the erudite host's conversations with politicians, public intellectuals and notable people of the moment. As much as I appreciated Brudnoy's thoughtful interviews, my favorite part of the program was the call-in portion, in which the host and his guests engaged in intelligent dialogue (and sometimes pointed debate) with assorted callers, some of whom were regulars who later went on to greater fame - like Libertarian gadfly Carla Howell. Though I disagreed with Brudnoy on many issues, I've yet to find a talk-radio program (including anything on NPR) that can match his in quality. As my friend Steve Silver relates, we once encountered the legendary radio host at an advance movie screening in Boston. Though my memory on point is as fuzzy as Steve's, I seem to recall that after we were unable to get seats for Enemy of the State we were instead conducted to a simultaneous screening of The Siege. In any case, Steve accurately recalls the brush-off we got from Brudnoy; even if the guy was rather abrupt in person, I continued to listen to his show afterward and still count myself among his many of fans. Now, David Brudnoy has departed this mortal coil - but, for what it's worth, we've still got the very different though nonetheless excellent and apparently immortal Paul Harvey. AMDG.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

What I'm reading.

On Monday I completed Christianity Rediscovered, by Vincent J. Donovan, C.S.Sp. A neat and thoughtful quick read, Christianity Rediscovered tells the story of Spiritan priest Donovan's experiences as a missionary among the Masai in Tanzania. Donovan began his missionary career content with the traditional approach of evangelizing the Masai from the security of mission stations replete with hospitals, schools and the like. Over time, however, the American cleric came to realize that conversions obtained through time-honored mission approach were superficial and tenuous, and that most Masai remained indifferent to the Christian message. Donovan thus decided to take a radically different approach, traveling alone from village to village in his Land Rover to directly engage Masai audiences with the simple, unvarnished teaching of the Gospel, unencumbered by European and American cultural baggage and expressed in terms that the Masai could understand and appreciate. Though some Masai villages rejected Donovan's message outright, many more accepted it and began the work of building their own Christian communities. Donovan offers a very inspiring story, but he also left this reader wanting more. He raises intriguing questions about evangelization, inculturation and the nature of ministry, but he merely hints at the larger implications of such questions. Donovan suggests that his experience in Tanzania contains lessons for the Church in America, but he doesn't go into as much detail as he could about how those lessons could be applied. Even so, the fact that Donovan didn't take Christianity Rediscovered as far as he could have is not necessarily a shortcoming. In some sense, his approach in this regard mirrors the approach he took with the Masai, giving the American reader the kernel of the message and inviting the reader to do the rest. At the end of the day, Christianity Rediscovered is a wonderful little book, well worth reading and reflecting upon at length. AMDG.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Name that dessert.

What do you call a little ball-shaped cookie containing nuts and coated in white confectioner's sugar? This has been a matter of debate at Loyola House the last couple days, and give-and-take on the issue has opened my eyes to interesting regional differences in the naming of one of my favorite desserts. Growing up, I knew these delectable treats as Mexican Wedding Cakes. Fellow first-year novice Drew Marquard - whose mother kindly baked the cookies in question - says he grew up calling them Russian Tea Cakes. This website would seem to indicate that both names are correct; several novices from Ohio also reported that they knew these cookies - often but not exclusively prepared during the Christmas season - as "Snowballs." Anecdotally, it strikes me that the "Mexican Wedding Cake" moniker is fairly widespread, as fellow first-year novice Mike Singhurse - who grew up in Indiana, geographically and culturally worlds away from my home digs in Massachusetts - reported that he knew the cookies by this name as well. On the same token, I'm sure the "Russian Tea Cake" and "Snowball" names are widespread too. The whole experience taught me an interesting and valuable lesson in cultural geography and family traditions. More importantly, the cookies - whatever you want to call them - were delicious. Thank you, Mrs. Marquard! AMDG.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

"We never should have been closed."

So say parishioners of St. Rose of Lima Church in Rochester, Massachusetts in an article in today's (New Bedford) Standard-Times. Some readers may remember a previous post in which I commented on the suppression of St. Rose of Lima, the church I grew up in and still think of as my home parish even though I haven't attended Mass there regularly in some time. The Standard-Times article fills in the blanks on what has been going on since St. Rose of Lima lost its status at the end of October. I share the frustration expressed by one of the parishioners named in the article about the decision to close the parish and the way the reconfiguration process has been handled; it's also important to note that, despite the article's emphasis on how little the church has changed since its suppression as a parish, the Archdiocese has made no commitment to keep St. Rose of Lima open as a "worship center" beyond next year. For the most part, I stick by what I wrote in my initial post on the demise of the parish and in later comments on Archbishop O'Malley's letter. The only thing I'll add has to do with an oft-cited rationale for parish closings, the declining number of Catholic priests. Rather than rehash what I've already written, let me add some further reflections stemming from my own experience.

For most of my life and certainly when I attended St. Rose of Lima as a kid, I gave absolutely no thought to becoming a priest. It wasn't until I arrived at Georgetown and got to know the Society of Jesus that I began to actively consider a religious vocation, and even then it took seemingly unrelated and certainly unsolicited bits of advice from Jesuits and lay friends to prod me in the direction of serious discernment. My experience has taught me the critical role that personal encouragement, invitation and support play in vocation promotion. In the religious environment of my youth, priestly and religious vocations simply weren't promoted. At no time in my childhood did anyone urge me to think about becoming a priest, and I don't recall my parish ever undertaking any kind of collective effort to encourage vocations. Regrettably, my personal experience of the Church in Massachusetts has been of a community which hasn't been particularly nurturing or welcoming of priestly and religious vocations. A lot of work needs to be done to build the "culture of vocations" that is much discussed but seldom seen in Boston. The rocky process of reconfiguration suggests that things will get worse before they get better, as it's difficult to imagine that many parishioners whose churches have been closed will step forward to serve the institution that ordered the closing.

I recognize that the above reflections are gloomy ones, but I have a hard time feeling optimistic about the situation I'm describing. I am optimistic about my own vocation to the Society of Jesus, in which I feel more and more confirmed each day and for which I'm deeply grateful. If readers get anything at all out of the post, I hope you'll take the following point to heart. Praying for vocations isn't enough; personal encouragement, invitation and - on the part of some - response to the call are also required. I'm doing my bit - now it's your turn to do yours. AMDG.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

An evening at the Symphony.

Tonight Adam and Jonathan and I went to see the Detroit Symphony Orchestra perform various pieces by members of the Bach family, most notably J. S. Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 4. Once again, we owe the opportunity to our neighbor Sister Barbara, to whom we collectively owe many thanks. As Jesuits we seek to find God in all things, and it's quite easy to find God in beautiful music and in the lovely surroundings of Detroit's historic Orchestra Hall. If I may say so, a great time was had by all. Thanks again, Sister Barbara! AMDG.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Profiles of the Class of 2004.

As it does every year, the fall issue of Company magazine has photos and short bios of about half the men who became Jesuit novices in the United States this year; the other half will be profiled in the winter issue. Click here to learn about some of the guys in the same stage of formation I'm in, including Loyola House's own Jonathan Dawe, Ryan Duns, Jake Martin, Mike Singhurse, Eric Styles and Denis Weber. If you can't wait until the next issue of Company to learn about the rest of the guys in my class, you can read profiles of all of us (including the departed Kevin Koehler) here and - in slightly more detail - about the Chicago Province novices here. Happy reading, AMDG.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Of Ukrainian liturgy, Walter Ciszek and Teilhard's "Mass on the World."

This morning at Abbey Living Center we had our once-monthly Byzantine liturgy, offered by a priest of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, one of the Eastern churches in union with Rome. Abbey has a decent number of Ukrainian residents, but today's liturgy expected a goodly number of non-Ukrainians as well. The entire liturgy was done in Ukrainian, including the homily and pre- and post-liturgy banter from the priest (who, I later discovered, speaks virtually no English). I've been to a few Byzantine Catholic liturgies before, but this was the first one I attended outside a parish church. Watching the elaborate Eastern liturgy conducted in the mundane setting of a nursing home dining room somehow made me think back to American Jesuit Walter Ciszek's descriptions in With God in Russia and He Leadeth Me of the experience of offering Mass in the Soviet gulags. Celebrating the Eucharist in the midst of suffering humanity - whether covertly in the terrifying environment of the gulag or openly among elderly people struggling with the effects of aging - somehow makes what we Catholics describe as the Real Presence a bit more real, serving as a powerful reminder that Jesus is both with and among us in our suffering. In the process, I hope that the experience helps those who are suffering together to find God in one another and in all things. Perhaps inevitably, these reflections lead me to Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin's "Mass on the World." If you haven't read this short but profound piece, I encourage you to check it out at the link provided (in the same way, if you haven't read Ciszek's two books, I encourage you to pick those up as well). Just as Teilhard did on the battlefield and on the steppe, the priest offering Mass in the prison or in the nursing home lifts the sufferings of the world to God. Perhaps some of my readers have gotten this far only to scratch their heads and say, "Huh?" By contrast, some others may have found my abstruse ramblings on this subject interesting and even moving. Whichever category you find yourself in, thanks for indulging me as I think and pray aloud. AMDG.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Pierre Berton, 1920-2004.

An incredibly prolific and always colorful Canadian journalist and popular historian, Berton died yesterday in Toronto. Berton's notable works of history are too numerous to list; personal favorites among his oeuvre would have to include the World War I battle chronicle Vimy, epic history Marching As to War: Canada's Turbulent Years, 1899-1953 and 1967: Canada's Turning Point (though its original subtitle - The Last Good Year - had a much better ring). As the Globe and Mail obit acknowledges, Berton was hardly an academic historian, but he was a peerless popularizer who'll surely be missed by good-hearted enthusiasts of Canadian history everywhere, myself included. AMDG.

An evening at UDM.

Tonight several veterans of the SOA trip, myself included, drove down to UDM for a kind of debriefing session to discuss the experience. Not much to report from the meeting, which focused mostly on our personal impressions of the trip and on things we'd like to see done better next year. While on campus, we had Mass and dinner at the Lansing-Reilly Jesuit Residence, which I hadn't visited since September (as reported here). I really enjoyed the Mass, which reminded me in many respects of the daily liturgy I came to know and love at Georgetown. Despite various similarities, the two liturgies differ in key respects, one of the most obvious being that the daily Mass at UDM takes place at 4:30 in the afternoon rather than 11:15 at night as at Georgetown. Even so, I liked the UDM Mass enough that I'll be sure to return sometime when my schedule allows it. The same goes for dinner with the UDM Jesuits, whose gracious hospitality and wonderful dinner conversation I hope to enjoy again on future visits. In short, another enjoyable night out at Detroit's Jesuit university. AMDG.