Thursday, March 31, 2005

Cesar Chavez Day.

Today is a California state holiday, in observance of which Catholic Charities of Santa Clara gave all its employees the day off work. Cesar Chavez's inspiring life story and continuing work are worth knowing about, so check out the provided links for more info. I took advantage of the day off to explore downtown San Jose, one of the more attractive, vibrant and happening urban centers I've encountered (as icing on the cake, I got to park for free because of the holiday). While downtown I attended a noontime Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph, which (continuing a theme) happens to be one of the more beautiful cathedrals I've seen. For lunch I made my maiden visit to a much-revered California institution, In-N-Out Burger. In-N-Out deserves the great word of mouth it typically receives. I can't say that In-N-Out provided the best burger I've ever had (I'd have to think a while before deciding who gets that award) or even that it provided the best chain restaurant burger I've ever had (that award goes to Fuddruckers), but I can say that In-N-Out provides a lot more value for money than most other fast food burger joints. I'll definitely be going back, particularly to sample some of the intriguing combinations on In-N-Out's celebrated "secret menu." So thank you, Cesar Chavez, not simply for fighting for social justice and the rights of workers, but also for indirectly giving me the opportunity to further explore the lovely area that I'm privileged to call home for the next couple months. AMDG.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

The kids are back.

Spring quarter classes started today at Santa Clara, and in contrast with the idyllic quiet of Holy Week the campus is now teeming with undergraduates. Even though I'm barely three years older than most of the students in the senior class, in some ways I feel like an old codger compared to the Class of 2005. This feeling is hardly new: I sensed that I'd passed a maturational milestone last spring with the graduation of Georgetown's Class of 2004. When Hoyas who were freshmen when I was a senior received their diplomas and (mostly) dispersed from the Hilltop, I knew that my own undergraduate experience was irrevocably a thing of the past. In other words, I'd received a potent reminder that I wasn't a kid anymore. One year later, I'm beginning to feel a kind of generational distance between me and today's college students. The undergrads I see walking hither and thither on campus no longer register in my consciousness as my contemporaries, but as "the kids."

Oddly enough, I probably wouldn't have been able to articulate the sentiments expressed above had it not been for an odd little experience I had last night. As I do on most weeknights, I was out for a mid-evening stroll. Walking by a residence hall on the Santa Clara campus, I passed two students in the midst of . . . well, let's say they were making use of a controlled substance that often enters into the stream of commerce on college campuses. As I walked by, one of the students shouted at me or at no one in particular, "Hey, you want a hit of this weed?" I said nothing and kept walking. Interestingly, the first thought that leapt into my head was: That wouldn't have happened in my day. In my day, I thought, college kids were a lot more discreet. If they were into that kind of thing (I certainly wasn't), they generally did it behind closed doors rather than in brightly-lit public places with a lot of strangers milling about - and they certainly didn't invite random passersby they didn't know to share in the revelry. In my day . . . gosh, in my day! Am I so old that I'm starting to think about "my day" as a time in the past?

Now, the incident I've just related didn't really make me feel like an old codger, but it did make me wonder whether the cultural milieu that I sprung from and the cultural milieu that formed today's college students are different in some respects. Beyond the question of plausible generational differences, I wonder whether the nexus between culture and geography is relevant here. Maybe Californians are simply less inhibited than Easterners, particularly in their attitudes toward controlled substances. One might even look at disparities in statutory penalties for possession of illegal drugs from state to state as evidence of cultural differences. Musing on this possibility led me to recall these lines from NOFX's "The Decline":
Jerry spent some time in Michigan
Twenty year vacation, after all he had a dime
A dime is worth a lot more in Detroit
A dime in California, a twenty dollar fine
Critics may object that I'm talking apples and oranges here, and in deference to their objections I shall desist from further analysis of an ultimately inconsequential event. At the very least, I hope my readers get a chuckle out of this rather atypical post - you might consider it an early observance of April Fool's Day (which saves me from having to say something clever on the date itself). These scribblings should prove that I'm not an old codger - at least not yet, anyway. AMDG.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Easter with the Carmelites.

Today I celebrated Jesus' Resurrection with morning Mass at the Carmel of the Infant Jesus a few blocks from the Santa Clara campus. Members of the Nobili Hall community offer Mass at the Carmel on most weekdays and Sundays, including this one. This morning I tagged along with the presider du jour, Father Dennis Smolarski, who I mention here by name because he gave an outstanding homily on the necessary link between the sorrow of Good Friday and the joy of Easter morning both on the liturgical calendar and in each of our lives. I was also impressed by the beauty of the Carmelites' chapel, reputedly judged by the relevant authorities to be "the finest example of Spanish Renaissance architecture in the New World" (in the words of a historical marker at the convent). There seem to be about fifteen nuns, of whom I met two - a fairly old one and a very young one (in her twenties, I'd estimate), both of whom were friendly and welcoming. Dennis and I were far from the only externs at the liturgy, which attracted a crowd of over a hundred (daily Mass, I'm told, gets a good number as well). My good experience of Mass at the Carmel led me to return later in the day for vespers (also open to the public), which left something to be desired. As one might expect for a group of cloistered nuns, visitors attending the vespers service do not sit in choir but watch the proceedings through a grate - a grate that in this case was also obscured by somewhat foggy glass. This setup lent an appealing air of mystery to the vespers service, but unfortunately the acoustics were such that the nuns could only be heard obscurely as well. This isn't to say that I wouldn't go back, but the experience was quite a bit different from visits I've made to Benedictine and Trappist monasteries where one can not only watch and listen to the monks chant the Office but sometimes sit with and share prayer books with them as well. That said, I'm happy to have done my bit to help continue a tradition of spiritual collaboration between Jesuits and Discalced Carmelites that goes back to the days of Teresa of Avila. AMDG.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Making This Friday Good.

This year I'm marking the Triduum at the historic (and beautiful) Mission Santa Clara de Asis on the Santa Clara University campus, a one-minute walk away from my digs in Nobili Hall. So far, so good - last night's Holy Thursday Mass and today's Commemoration of the Lord's Passion have both been excellent, and I'm sure tomorrow night's Easter Vigil Mass will be strong as well. Nonetheless, I still find my mind wandering to memories of the fine Triduum services I attended last year at the Church of Our Lady of Loretto on the campus of Saint Mary's College at Notre Dame. Particular details from last year's Triduum linger in my memory, such as the last line of Father Paul Kollman's stellar Good Friday homily, which went more or less like this: "It is difficult to make this cross holy, and it is hard to make this Friday good."

It is hard to make this Friday good. Many Christians scratch their heads at the seemingly odd naming of the day on which we commemorate Jesus' death on the cross. At the same time, however, if we rack our brains we can also come up with many reasons why this is in fact a "Good" Friday. We believe that Christ died to free us from our sins - that's a pretty good deal, isn't it? We also believe that Christ rose in glory from the dead, which would seem to make his terrible death a preparation for better things and thus in some sense a good event. And we believe too that the death of Christ was necessary and foretold as part of a larger plan, a plan made good insomuch as it was drawn up by a good God. We can also argue that this day is good in that Christ's death offers us an example of patient and redemptive endurance of extreme suffering. There are a lot of ways in which we can make this a Good Friday. The best way, I think, is to enter into the Passion as fully as we can.

Truly entering into the Passion can be a real challenge, given the sheer familiarity of the Passion story and the difficulty of really paying attention to a Gospel reading we've heard proclaimed innumerable times. However, if we can find a way to listen to the Passion with new ears - listening as though for the first time - we can open ourselves to sharing in a very personal way the feelings of the story's participants. John's vivid and dramatic account of Jesus' trial and death offers a wonderful catalyst for prayerful reflection. Try to imagine the scenes as well as you can, and try to imagine the way that the different characters felt. How did Peter feel about his denial of Jesus? How did Judas feel about his acts of betrayal? How did Pontius Pilate feel about the difficult situation he was confronted with? How did Mary feel when she saw her son on the cross? Above all, how did Jesus feel throughout the events of the Passion?

The account of the Passion we hear proclaimed on Good Friday offers powerful food for thought and for prayer. If we respond to the invitation to enter into the story of Jesus' death, this Friday can be a very good one for each of us. AMDG.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

"Jesuit Joe."

That's what some of my coworkers at Catholic Charities have decided to call me, continuing a tradition that began last year, when they dubbed my Short Experiment predecessor and fellow Loyola House novice John Shea "Jesuit John" (not to be confused with "Jesuit Jon," though I can't remember ever hearing that moniker applied to Jon Dawe outside the confines of his URL). Meanwhile, back at the ranch (properly known as Nobili Hall) one of my Jesuit confreres greeted me just after introducing himself by saying, "You're the novice from Detroit who's been sent to edify the community." The extent to which I am "from Detroit" and to which my presence is a source of edification for the Santa Clara Jesuits could both be debated, though I'm pleased to report that I've received nothing but positive feedback on the latter front. For my part, I can say that I'm enjoying the fellowship and hospitality provided by my brothers at Nobili Hall and look forward to spending the next ten or so weeks here.

My work at Catholic Charities has been interesting and enjoyable so far. Though I do some routine office work, most of my time is spent working directly with refugees. Most of the refugees coming into San Jose lately hail from East Africa; our recent arrivals come from Burundi, Congo, Eritrea, Somalia and Sudan. Right now I'm doing a lot of one-on-one language tutoring, which is a bit of challenge given that I've never taught ESL before. My linguistic background in French is helpful in working with the Burundians and the Congolese, giving me a medium to explain concepts that the refugees don't yet have the English vocabulary for. My coworkers are an open and friendly lot, and impressively diverse as well; notably, several of the staff in Refugee Resettlement are former refugees themselves. Though they come from various countries, cultures and religions, the Catholic Charities staff all seem to have a good sense of who I am as a Jesuit novice and why I'm spending a couple months in their office. I suppose it helps that I'm not the only religious in the office: my boss is a Sister of Mercy (and a terrific one at that) and there are also BVM and RSCJ sisters among my coworkers. Nonetheless, being the only Jesuit working at Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County makes me rather distinctive. Accepting that reality, I've embraced the "Jesuit Joe" moniker for the compliment it is. AMDG.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

A Man with a Price on His Head.

Today the Church celebrates Palm (or Passion) Sunday, the first day of Holy Week. Today's readings are hard to match for depth, drama and pathos, and though many people in the pew may gripe at having to stand (or, in many parishes, sit) through the long reading of the Passion, paying attention to the gripping story Matthew tells is worth the effort. In listening to and reflecting on Matthew's Passion this Palm Sunday, I found myself paying particularly close attention to the account of Judas' dealings with the Sanhedrin. I was most struck by Matthew's description of the thirty silver coins paid to Judas by the Sanhedrin and subsequently returned to them as "the value of a man with a price on his head." It's good to be reminded that Jesus of Nazareth was "a man with a price on his head." When we hear someone described thus, we tend to conclude that the person in question is dangerous; for instance, the words "a man with a price on his head" make me think of the 'wanted' posters you sometimes see at the post office, posters that detail the alleged crimes of a sought person and offer a cash reward for information leading to his capture. To the civil and religious authorities of first-century Palestine, Jesus was a dangerous man, so dangerous that a fairly large sum of money (large enough to buy a piece of land, anyway) could justifiably be spent to bring about his capture. Jesus remains a dangerous man today. Living out the message of love contained in the Gospels and internalizing the values contained in the Beatitudes is as radical a challenge today as it was nearly twenty centuries ago. As we enter into the mysteries of the coming days, we should try not to get so caught up in the 'how' of Jesus' death that we forget the 'why' of the event. The content of Jesus' message made him a person fit to be killed by those in power, "a man with a price on his head." Such was Jesus of Nazareth in first-century Palestine, and such he remains today. AMDG.

From California.

The last time readers of this blog heard from me, I was at St. Ignatius College Prep in Chicago for Vo To 05. I had a great time talking to the kids there on Friday, though telling them same story and entertaining many of the same questions for eight periods was a bit tiring. Mike, Ben and myself had lunch in the school cafeteria, where to our surprise we were treated like visiting celebrities or, as fellow novice Jake Martin has sometimes characterized our group, like members of a boy band. Students we'd spoken to earlier in the day shouted our names at us and, yes, some wanted their pictures taken with us. (We obliged.) Thankfully, our reign of notoriety drew to a close with the end of the school day, and we went back to being regular people. I'd be remiss if I didn't conclude these remarks by noting that SICP is a great school, with bright students and beautiful facilities - one of the many gems of the Chicago Province.

As the title of this post implies, I'm writing from California. (The title is also a musical reference that most readers probably won't get; if you think you know what it's about, feel free to chime in and I'll let you know if you got it right.) Earlier today I arrived at Santa Clara, where I found a friendly and welcoming Jesuit community and a very pleasant place to live for the next couple months. Tomorrow, I start work at Catholic Charities. It bears mentioning that this is my first time west of the Rockies; putting things in perspective, at table this evening an older Jesuit told me that he did not venture east of the Rockies until he was in his mid-thirties. Jet lag aside, Short Experiment seems to be off to a good start, and I'm already loving California. Hopefully I'll be able to post regular updates - more regular, I hope, than the sporadic posts of the last few weeks. AMDG.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Vo To 05 Redux.

As promised in my last post, here's another update on what Ben, Mike and I have taken to calling "Vo To 05" (pronounced "voe toe oh-five"), our whirlwind tour of Chicago-area Jesuit high schools. Yesterday we took a break from giving vocation talks to tour two of our province's most notable and interesting apostolates, Chicago-based publishing house Loyola Press and gargantuan Loyola University Medical Center in suburban Maywood. The Press was really neat - thanks are due to the president, Father George Lane, for leading an interesting and in-depth tour, buying us lunch and giving us free books. LUMC wasn't really my cup of tea, but I still genuinely enjoyed seeing the facility; I was surprised to learn that Loyola University Chicago is the only Jesuit institution in the country that still owns its own hospital, a distinction which bears vivid witness to the school's commitment to patient care and medical education.

Today we spoke to classes at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in the predominantly Mexican Pilsen-Little Village section of Chicago. As reported in this November post, Cristo Rey has won favorable national comment and has inspired a network of similar high schools across the country. If what we found today is any indication, the praise that has been heaped on Cristo Rey is well-deserved. The kids were enthusiastic and respectful and asked great questions, and the faculty and staff were dedicated and dynamic. I should also note that the Cristo Rey faculty includes a number of Georgetown alumni, most of whom came to the school through the ingenious Jesuit Alumni Volunteer program. To sum it up, a fun day at a great school.

Tonight my confreres and I are staying with the Jesuit community at St. Ignatius College Prep, a venerable Chicago institution where we'll be giving vocation talks tomorrow. Hopefully I'll have time tomorrow evening or on Saturday to give another update on this, the final stop of Vo To 05. AMDG.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Live from Loyola U.

I'm writing this post from Loyola University Chicago, where Ben, Mike and I are staying for the middle portion of a week-long "vocation tour" of Chicagoland. Since it's been nearly a week since my last post - and a busy week at that - it can safely be said that I have a lot to report on.

Last Friday the primi wrapped up our teaching experiment at La Salette. I had a great time and will miss the kids, many of whom lamented the fact that as soon as they feel like they're really getting to know the novices we have to leave them. I look forward to visiting my seventh-grade class when I return to Berkley in May, at which time I'll hopefully have some special item from Santa Clara to present to them as a souvenir.

Transitions tend to be rapid in the novitiate, and the shift from teaching at La Salette to touring the province to promote vocations was no exception. On Saturday morning, Ben, Mike and I left Loyola House for the drive to Chicago; at the same time, the rest of the Chi-Prov novices set out for Cincinnati - because of numbers, they decided to divide the class into two groups - and the Detroit guys headed for Cleveland. On the way to Chi-town, we enjoyed a delicious lunch at the Henri de Lubac House Jesuit community in Granger, Indiana and stopped at Notre Dame to visit Mike's cousins. Being back in South Bend for the first time since my law school graduation was fun, but we really didn't spend enough time there for me to get the elusive ND fix I've sometimes found myself craving in the novitiate.

From Saturday night through today we were based at lovely Loyola Academy in suburban Wilmette, an outstanding high school with a friendly and welcoming Jesuit community (which currently includes Loyola House's own second-year novice Eric Sundrup, there for a few months on Short Experiment). Sunday morning found us attending Mass at Northwestern University's Sheil Catholic Center, which is run by the Archdiocese of Chicago but has a notable Jesuit presence thanks to a number of Ours who often preside at weekend liturgies there. On Monday my confreres and I worked hard all day giving vocation talks to classes at the Academy and having dinner with selected students (senior boys regarded as particularly promising vocation prospects by the faculty) at the Jesuit residence. The freshmen, juniors and seniors we spoke with showed great interest in our stories and asked great questions; my favorite classes were probably the two sections of freshman religion I spoke with, in large part because they asked eminently practical nuts-and-bolts questions like "What do you do for fun?" and "Are you allowed to have your own car?" A frosh also asked my favorite question of the day, one I set myself up for talking about my Massachusetts roots in my presentation: "Did everyone go nuts when the Red Sox won [the World Series]?" The answer, of course, was yes. I followed up by saying that, while I remain a Red Sox fan, I've also begun to root for the Cubs - I had an easy time doing so, I told the class, since their hometown team picked up Nomar. This provoked much merriment among the students, and if it piques their interest in religious vocations even slightly I'll feel that I've done my job.

Today was something of a free day; after giving a final vocation talk in Father Bob Ytsen's English class at the Academy this morning, Ben, Mike and I headed to the province office for a tour and a yummy lunch with the vocation director at the Four Farthings Tavern & Grill. Afterward, we visited Loyola University Chicago's downtown Water Tower Campus, walked the Magnificent Mile and took a peek at the curiously small and minimalistically if intriguingly-furnished Holy Name Cathedral. This thoroughly enjoyable tour left us exhausted, and we thankfully had time to rest before dinner at the Academy and a drive to our new lodgings at the university campus. So far, the vocation tour has been a lot of fun and, God willing, it will likely continue to be so. Expect another report later in the week. AMDG.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

March in the Midwest.

This is my fourth year living in the Midwest, and one thing I've discovered is that this part of the country seems to really have only two seasons: summer and winter, with March representing the messy transition between two extremes. One of my professors at Notre Dame once quipped that March was the worst month to spend in the Midwest, because the weather this month is so erratic - you'll often have thirty-degree temperatures and snow one day, highs in the fifties the next day, and lows in the teens or single digits the day after that. That's what March was like in South Bend, and the last few days in Detroit have been similar. Knowing that April is right around the corner would normally be the only consolation of March, but in my case I suppose I can count my imminent departure for considerably more temperate California as a consolation as well. For the next ten or so days, however, I'll have to tolerate the melancholy Midwestern March I've become accustomed to. AMDG.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Novices in the news.

Today's issue of The Michigan Catholic, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Detroit, has a neat write-up on our current experiment at La Salette, prominently featuring Jon and Ryan and their respective classes. It's not surprising that the paper chose to focus on the kindergarten and the second grade, as playing music and drawing with kids probably makes for more appealing copy than, say, me urging the seventh graders to come up with modern versions of Jesus' parables ("How would you tell the Good Samaritan story today?"). In any event, the story is good publicity for us - and, more importantly, good publicity for La Salette, which (like many Catholic schools) could use a boost in enrollment. And so it goes. AMDG.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Thanks, Mom!

The banana bread you sent was greatly appreciated, and as expected the guys here made quick work of it. (Incidentally, I also enjoyed the copy of O Jornal that Boo sent in the same box.) We're also still working through numerous goodies that Mrs. Marquard left on a recent visit - including some awesome cheesecake - so despite being in a penitential season we're doing quite well in the dessert department. Living in a community of nineteen novices (thirteen of them in residence this month, the secundi being off on Long Experiment) is almost like having nineteen moms, inasmuch as we receive shipments of baked goods and other assorted treats with welcome regularity. Even if the 'Jesuit Mothers Club' is a thing of the past, we at Loyola House still appreciate the thoughtfulness of the mothers and other family members who send us brownies, cakes, cookies, pies and the like. If nothing else, I hope this post serves as an adequate expression of our (and particularly my) heartfelt gratitude. AMDG.