Friday, December 24, 2004

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.


At December 27, 2004 8:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Merry Christmas, Joe!

Can you comment on the connection (if any) between Jesuits and "Hilltop"? Marquette University High School in Milwaukee has as its sports moniker "Hilltoppers." It dates from the days when the university and the high school were one, and the main building sat up on a hill.

Your post here suggests to me that there is more to it than that.

At December 28, 2004 10:24 PM, Blogger Joseph Koczera, S.J. said...

I never knew that about MUHS, but it did get me thinking... Georgetown has long been known to Hoyas as "the Hilltop" because it's located on a hill overlooking the Potomac - making the campus and especially the tower of the Healy Building visible from much of the surrounding neighborhood and from a large part of Arlington as well. Among other Jesuit universities, I know that BC's Chestnut Hill campus is known as "the Heights" and also stands on high ground. Then there's Holy Cross, which stands atop a fairly prominent hill in Worcester. And there's probably other examples neither of us is aware of. I think you're right in suspecting there's something to all this - I suspect the Jesuits who built all these institutions deliberately chose lofty locations for greater visibility and perhaps a sense of prestige as well. The Jesuits have always had a distinctly urban character, and it's no surprise that Ours would choose the most prominent locations they could in the various cities where Jesuit schools took root. Thanks for the comment - merry Christmas and God bless.


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