Thursday, September 29, 2005

I've had this ice cream bar since I was a child.

A couple Fridays ago, I went to see Wong Kar Wai's film 2046 at the Detroit Film Theatre. I was quite simply overwhelmed by the film, which is easily one of the best I've seen this year. I've been meaning to say something about 2046 on this blog ever since I saw the film, but feeling at a loss for words I've repeatedly held off on doing so. Rather than allow this kind of inertia to prevent me from posting on 2046 at all, I figured I should post something while the movie is relatively fresh on my mind.

The plot of 2046 is fairly easy to summarize. Protagonist Chow Mo Wan (Tony Leung) is a freelance journalist/pulp fiction writer living in a hotel in Hong Kong in the late-1960's. In episodic fashion, Chow recounts the story of his relationships with a number of women, including his landlord's two daughters (Faye Wong and Jie Dong), an old flame who has undergone a subtle but significant name change (Carina Lau), call-girl-next-door Bai Ling (the stunningly attractive Ziyi Zhang) and an enigmatic professional gambler known as "Black Spider" (Gong Li, who doesn't work as much as she used to). In between telling us about each of these women, Chow takes us inside a novel he is writing - a futuristic sci-fi tale called (you guessed it) 2046. This story-within-a-story deals with a man on a long subterranean rail journey to a mysterious and never-reached destination; aside from a human conductor, the man's only companions on the trip are several female androids - who happen to look just like the women with whom Chow is involved in real life. (In a strange and morbid way, the sci-fi scenes in 2046 reminded me of the classic Ren and Stimpy episode "Space Madness," from which I borrowed the title of this post.) Chow's recollections do not lead to a neat conclusion but unfold the way human lives often do - revealing patterns that promise a great degree of predictability without foreclosing the possibility of surprise, allowing viewers to discover that the 'turning points' in the story weren't what they initially expected.

Writer-director Wong treats each of the relationships at the heart of 2046 with great care. When he meets each woman, Chow finds himself in a different emotional space and with different needs. Each woman finds herself in a unique place as well, and consequently each relationship plays out differently - some remain thoroughly platonic, others subsist in the ambiguous territory of flirtation, and some are plainly erotic. And yet each of the relationships at the heart of 2046 share a certain lack of fulfillment. One or both parties finds that they aren't getting what they really want or need from the other person, and that the other person simply can't provide the missing element. In each case, too, there's a lack of communication, which Wong makes fairly explicit by having the characters speak to one another in different Chinese dialects - for example, Chow speaks to Bai Ling in Cantonese and she replies in Mandarin. Though I understand neither dialect, I think I could appreciate the intended effect: each person understands in a general way what the other is saying, but they miss crucial details.

As I wrote above, 2046 reveals the way lives can fall into particular patterns or cycles - cycles that often include elements of frustration and melancholy, as one repeatedly confronts situations one would like to avoid but can't seem to escape. Some of the film's most poignant sequences deal very effectively with this theme, showing that even though Chow manages to secure a date every Christmas Eve he still finds himself feeling very lonely. Chow ultimately makes an attempt to break this cycle, and while things don't turn out as he might like, they do turn out differently. And yet, somewhat like Ren and the ice cream bar of his delusion, Chow can't separate himself from his essential sense of melancholy.

2046 is a sad movie, but it never becomes depressing. With reverent tenderness it deals with the indispensable human feelings of compassion, loneliness, love and pain. 2046 is a film that rewards attentive and thoughtful viewing. 2046 is not for everyone, but if you've appreciated my reflections you might appreciate the film as much as I did. AMDG.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Notes on the Memorial of St. Wenceslaus.

Today the Church remembers St. Wenceslaus, a 10th-century Bohemian ruler whose efforts to spread the Christian faith in his domain brought about his martyrdom. In the English-speaking world, St. Wenceslaus is perhaps best known as the subject of the Victorian Christmas carol "Good King Wenceslas." Today's memorial means something to me this year because it evokes memories of St. Wenceslaus Church, a small country parish on Michigan's Leelanau Peninsula that I visited this summer during my stay at Villa Marquette in Omena. I owe my acquaintance with St. Wenceslaus to my brother novice Jim Shea, who discovered the tiny brick church by happenstance and was so taken with what he found that he later took me to see it. St. Wenceslaus can be found at the intersection of two winding country roads at the center of Leelanau County. The parish sits on one of several rolling hills sparsely dotted with farmhouses, barns and silos. Unlike most churches nowadays, the doors at St. Wenceslaus were unlocked the day that Jim and I visited, so we took a look inside. St. Wenceslaus has a bright and fairly simple interior; the stained glass windows bear the names of the parish's Bohemian founding families - names like Kalchik, Kolarik and Korson. The same names appear on many of the antique iron grave markers and headstones in the parish cemetery beside the church; surprisingly, among the graves of many Bohemian immigrants and their descendants lies buried a European nobleman - Stefan Habsburg-Lothringen, Archduke of Austria. Given that Bohemia was long part of the Austrian Empire, the fact that a member of the Habsburg family is buried in a cemetery named for a saint who ruled as Duke of Bohemia seems oddly appropriate. All in all, I was really charmed by St. Wenceslaus Church, and I'm grateful to Jim for sharing the place with me. If you'd like to learn more about this neat little church, take a look at this interesting article from a Traverse City magazine. On this day in honor of St. Wenceslaus, I'll be thinking of and praying for the Leelanau County parish that bears his name. AMDG.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Hans Küng and Joseph Ratzinger.

After a long estrangement, two old friends and colleagues got together for dinner this weekend. The two friends had a lot of catching up to do, for their lives had changed a lot since they'd last met. Both had achieved great notoriety and weathered serious controversies, and the two had often found themselves on the sides of different issues. For years, the two friends hadn't spoken with one another. However, as the friends aged and became more aware of their mortality, they decided to put aside their differences for a while and get together for a meal and the sort of intellectual discussion they both greatly enjoyed.

A reunion of two old friends isn't the kind of story you'd typically see in the New York Times. When one of the friends is a controversial though still world-renowned theologian and the other is Pope, this kind of story becames very newsworthy - so much so that you can indeed read about it in the Times. (You can also read about it - and in greater detail - in this John Allen piece on the NCR website.) This is the kind of story that gives me great hope, as the fact of a Küng-Ratzinger reunion speaks volumes about both men. Though his old friend Cardinal Ratzinger played a role in his censure, Küng speaks of the Pope in positive and fairly optimistic terms. Pope Benedict's willingness to engage in an apparently cordial and good-natured dialogue with a theologian he previously censured bears witness to the Pontiff's fundamental openness - an openness that is said to be constitutive of Benedict's character but which stands in contrast with the bullish persona he acquired at the helm of the CDF. The Pope's personal openness may yet surprise those who expect him to hem to a narrow and predictable course, and I'm hopeful that history will remember Pope Benedict XVI was a pontiff who listened respectfully to people on all sides of an issue before making decisions that impact the present and future of the entire Church. Even when the Pontiff makes pronouncements with which some of the faithful disagree, I am hopeful that a spirit of serious discernment will be evident in his modus operandi. Thus the dinner that took place this weekend between two old friends is an event of some importance, and an event that gives me some cause for hope. AMDG.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Twenty minutes into the future.

Being somewhat slow to adapt to new technologies, I'm a bit surprised to find myself adding to this blog yet another hi-tech gizmo (or at least my version of a hi-tech gizmo). Discreetly placed at the foot of this page you'll find a tiny Site Meter hit counter. You may be wondering why I'd want another such device, since I added the ClustrMaps hit counter on the sidebar less than a week ago. As far as I can tell, Site Meter does all the same things ClustrMaps does - and, by my judgment, does them better. Site Meter also provides more detailed statistics on visitor traffic, including a slough of neat graphs and pie charts. That said, I still like having an easy-to-view map on the sidebar illustrating where my readers come from, so in addition to Site Meter I'll be keeping ClustrMaps on this blog.

Readers who know something about web design will probably be bored by this post. However, given my general lack of expertise in technical matters I count my ability to successfully add two new features to my blog in the space of a week as a major accomplishment. AMDG.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

A weekend at Loyola House.

I thought about preceeding the word "weekend" in the title of this post with an adjective like "quiet" or "unexceptional." On reflection, it occurred to me that to do so might be disingenuous, for this weekend has been neither quiet nor unexceptional.

In some sense, one might say things have been quiet here because a lot of people are away for the weekend. The staff are all away for various reasons, the primi have left for the annual fall pilgrimage to the Martyrs' Shrine in Midland, and several of the secundi are out of town for weddings, conferences and the like. While the customary whirl of activity around the novitiate has been stilled for a few days, the parish festival going on this weekend at Our Lady of La Salette Church across the street has had a definite impact on Loyola House. The festival brings in many more people and a lot more vehicle traffic than we normally see in our tranquil suburban neighborhood. The festival also brings a lot more noise than we're accustomed to - over the last couple days, the joyful sounds of families enjoying the carnival rides and games of chance brought in for the occasion and the strains of music provided by a succession of live bands have been seemingly omnipresent. In short, the La Salette parish festival shakes things up quite a bit. The crowds and sounds that descend on our usually empty and silent street one weekend a year bring with them a welcome sense of wonder and vitality. Not everyone can say that they have an annual carnival in their front yard, but we at Loyola House can.

At the start of the preceding paragraph, I noted that a fair number of Loyola House residents happened to be away this weekend. I'd be remiss if I didn't also acknowledge the visitors Loyola House has welcomed over the past few days. Visiting from Skokie, Illinois were Mr. and Mrs. Shea, my brother novice Jim Shea's parents. I first met the Sheas when they came to visit last fall, and it was great having a chance to see them again. Another visitor of the past few days has been Father Terry Charlton, a Jesuit originally of the Chicago Province who has spent the past eighteen years living and working in Africa. Terry is currently spending a few months back in the United States to visit friends and family and to promote the work of St. Aloysius Gonzaga Secondary School, a new Jesuit institution serving AIDS orphans in Nairobi, Kenya. For more information on Terry's work, check out this article from the Summer 2004 issue of Partners, the Chicago Province magazine.

Attended Divine Liturgy this morning at Our Lady of Redemption Melkite Catholic Church in Warren. Of the various Melkite parishes I've visited, Our Lady of Redemption is the largest and most impressive. The brand-new church building is authentically Byzantine and Middle Eastern in design and stands in striking contrast with the nondescript suburban tract houses and strip malls of the surrounding neighborhood. The packed pews at this morning's liturgy, the strong singing and active participation by parishioners and the long list of activities listed in the bulletin all proved that Our Lady of Redemption is a strong and vibrant parish community. I was also impressed and moved by the great care that all involved in the liturgy - priests, deacons, cantors, servers et al. - showed in making their corporate worship as lively and reverent as possible. When commenting on different parish liturgies on this blog, I often say that I look forward to going back to this or that church. I look forward to going back to Our Lady of Redemption, and in this case I really, really mean it.

Earlier this evening, my brother novices Ben Krause, Jake Martin and myself attended a potluck dinner at the JVC community house in Detroit. As our contribution to the potluck, the three of us threw together some vegetarian chili (Ben's idea) with cheddar and pepper jack cheese mixed in to add a richer taste and a thicker texture (my idea). To our surprise and delight, we had all the ingredients we needed in the novitiate kitchen, so we didn't have to do any extra shopping. The finished product was a big hit at the potluck, which featured a diverse variety of uniformly tasty dishes brought by various attendees. It was also great to meet this year's group of Detroit and Pontiac JV's, several of whom have connections to Georgetown, Santa Clara and other places close to my heart. Far from being "unexceptional," in the final analysis this was an exceptionally fine weekend at Loyola House. AMDG.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Padre of the Pigskin.

In today's edition of The Hoya there's an interesting piece on GU Jesuit Alvaro Ribeiro's ministry as chaplain of the Georgetown football team. An Oxford-educated Hong Kong native whose academic specialty is 18th century English literature, Father Ribeiro is in some sense an unlikely chaplain for an American college football team. However, as Ribeiro approaches his fourteenth year as the Hoyas' football chaplain, it's clear that he has found great joy and life in the job. Finding God in all things is an integral part of Ignatian spirituality, and Alvaro Ribeiro's work with the Georgetown football team demonstrates this very well.

As a side note, readers may be interested to learn that Father Ribeiro and I have more in common than mutual connections with Georgetown and the Society of Jesus. As candidates for the Society, we had the same spiritual director - albeit twenty-five years apart and in different countries. I don't know if I would be in the Society if I hadn't had the benefit of Brian Daley's superb direction, and perhaps Alvaro Ribeiro could say the same. At the very least, I'm honored to be in such distinguished company. AMDG.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Notes on the Memorial of Bl. Tomás Sitjar and the Martyrs of Valencia.

Today the Society of Jesus remembers Father Tomás Sitjar and ten other Jesuits who were martyred in the early months of the Spanish Civil War. Little known outside Spain, Father Sitjar and his companions are part of a much larger group of Spanish martyrs beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2001. Though the cause of the group known as the Martyrs of Valencia was introduced by the Spanish Catholic Bishops in the 1950's, their beatification was delayed by decades in part for political reasons. Because the Martyrs of Valencia were murdered by representatives of the fiercely anticlerical Spanish Republic, the Vatican was hesitant to move too quickly on their cause for fear that such an action would be regarded as a sign of favor toward the dictatorship of Francisco Franco. Following Franco's death in 1975 and the eventual softening of Civil War-era divisions in Spanish society, the cause of the Martyrs of Valencia began to move forward. (The causes of numerous other Spanish martyrs of the 1930's got moving at around the same time - see this page on the website of the Spanish Bishops' Conference for comprehensive data.)

Today's Memorial of the Martyrs of Valencia challenges us to confront the true nature of war. We can too easily justify or ignore the atrocities perpetrated by soldiers fighting for causes we believe in. In the English-speaking world, the Spanish Civil War has long been the subject of a romantic myth that portrays the Republican forces as noble idealists bravely resisting the reactionary Nationalists. Ernest Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls, George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia and numerous other literary works have done much to build up this myth. Accepting the myth can be tempting, but deep down we ought to know better. While Franco's Nationalists committed some very serious atrocities, so did the Republicans. In any war and especially in civil wars, no one can truly claim to have clean hands. Remembering the Martyrs of Valencia and the thousands of other priests and religious who died in the Spanish Republicans' campaign of religious persecution helps remind us that war produces many victims but no lasting victors. AMDG.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Novitiate Notes goes global.

Attentive (and frequent) visitors to this blog may notice that there's now a small world map in a little white box below the sidebar on the right. This map, produced by an outfit called ClustrMaps, is a hit counter intended to give an idea of where in the world my readership comes from. Adding a hit counter to this blog is a big step for me; until now I've resisted introducing a hit counter for the simple reason that I don't really care how many hits I get. The initial and still primary mission of Novitiate Notes is to keep my family and friends reasonably up to date on what and how I'm doing in my life as a Jesuit novice. Over time, I've come to realize that a blog like this necessarily has a wider mission as well - given its authorship and content, it also serves as a means of evangelization and vocation promotion. That said, I'm less concerned about how many people I reach through this blog than I am about who I am reaching. I'd like to learn more about my readership, which includes getting a better sense of where my readers live. Anecdotally, I know that Novitiate Notes has been read by individuals in various parts of the United States and in international cities as diverse as Baden-Baden, Manila and Rome. Hopefully this new hit counter will give me a better sense of who's looking at this site, and hopefully it will yield a few surprises. The way I look at it, it could be a great success or a glorious failure. One way or another, I'm going to try it out - ad experimentum, of course. AMDG.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Archbishop seeks calm over closing of churches.

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water, here's more news on the difficult process of pastoral reconfiguration in the Archdiocese of Boston. Today's Boston Globe reports on what seems to be a new and more conciliatory approach to the issue by Archbishop Sean O'Malley. In my view, this is a very welcome turn of events.

For months, parishioners holding vigils at several closed Boston-area churches have sought meetings with Archbishop O'Malley, but to no avail. Until recently, the Archbishop typically turned down the aggrieved parishioners' entreaties or else delegated the task of meeting with them to subordinates. However, in recent weeks O'Malley seems to have turned to a softer approach. According to the Globe, he has met with members of some - but not all - of the parishes that have held ongoing vigils to protest the Archbishop's decision to close them. Over the past year, the Archdiocese has reversed a number of parish closings after concerted and effective lobbying from parishioners. As the Globe pointedly notes, Archbishop O'Malley has not promised to reconsider his earlier decisions regarding any of the parishes whose members he is now speaking with. Nonetheless, it's encouraging that O'Malley is taking the time to listen respectfully to the concerns of people who have been hurt by his decisions. If carried out in a spirit of genuine humility and openness, dialogue of this kind can play a key role in healing a deeply wounded and divided community. The Archdiocese of Boston still finds itself in a very difficult place, but today's news gives me a little more hope for the future than I had yesterday. AMDG.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Parish closings delayed in Detroit.

In the latest on a story I've been following, the Detroit Free Press reports today that the parish reorganization plan the Archdiocese of Detroit planned to release in November won't appear until next February. Cardinal Maida seems to have heard the cries of parish leaders who wanted more time to complete Together In Faith, the detailed process of dialogue and planning that will help the Cardinal decide which parishes to close and which to keep open. As far as I'm concerned, the delay is very good news for Detroit parishes. Hopefully devoting a very extra months to the Together In Faith process will result in a fairer and more just reorganization plan and avoid a pastoral debacle of the kind we've been seeing in the Archdiocese of Boston.

On a side note, I was pleased to come across Dominican Sister Jolene Van Handel's name in today's Freep article. As principal of East Catholic High School in Detroit, Sister Van Handel fought long odds to keep open an institution that helped make Catholic education an option for innercity students. Unsurprisingly, Van Handel was a strong critic of Cardinal Maida's decision earlier this year to close all remaining diocesan high schools in Detroit, East Catholic included. (It's worth noting that the closings leave the city with only two Catholic high schools, both of which are Jesuit institutions - U of D Jesuit and Loyola High.) I'm glad to hear that Sister Van Handel is involved in local discussions about parish reorganization, as she brings a sense of determination and spirit to the table that will hopefully help parishioners more effectively present their cause to the Archdiocese and to the larger public. I'm sure I'll have more to say as things develop. In the meantime, I'd welcome your prayers for the Church in Detroit. AMDG.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

The Battle of Washtenaw County.

Today is the Memorial of St. Robert Bellarmine, at once a Jesuit, a Cardinal and a Doctor of the Church. On this date last year, the new novices of Loyola House took a tour of Detroit and spent an evening with our brothers in the Jesuit community at the University of Detroit Mercy. This year, Bellarmine's memorial was celebrated with much less fanfare here at the novitiate. The only really noteworthy thing I did today was attend a University of Michigan football game in Ann Arbor with my classmates Drew Marquard and Eric Styles. U-M beat cross-county opponent Eastern Michigan 55-0 - for details, click here. We all went into the game expecting U-M to win big, but I was nonetheless a bit surprised by Eastern Michigan's failure to score a single point in any quarter of the game. Hoping to beat post-game traffic, my companions and I left after the third quarter. We then made a quick stop at Jesuit-run St. Mary Student Parish a few blocks from Michigan Stadium and had an enjoyable chat there with Associate Pastor Dennis Glasgow. Though we cooled our heels at St. Mary's for the better part of an hour, we still managed to avoid the worst of the post-game traffic and made it back to the novitiate for dinner. Hopefully Cardinal Bellarmine - who, by his own choice, spent his last days in humble quarters in a Jesuit novitiate - appreciates the fact that a trio of novices chose to mark this day in honor of him by attending a college football game. As I see it, making a pilgrimage to college town Ann Arbor was as good a way as any to mark this scholarly saint's memorial. We had a lot of fun, and hopefully we did old Robert proud. AMDG.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

John Roberts, movie buff.

From an article in today's New York Times:

Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, said that Judge Roberts' refusal to answer many questions had rendered the hearings absurd. Mr. Schumer suggested that Judge Roberts would not even name his favorite movies.

Judge Roberts named two: "Doctor Zhivago" and "North by Northwest."

Now, I may not be too keen on the president who nominated Roberts to the Supreme Court, and it's too soon to know what I'll think of Roberts' performance as Chief Justice, but I must commend the nominee for his fine taste in cinema. AMDG.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Our blogiversary.

Today the Church celebrates the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, and today is also the first anniversary of Novitiate Notes' birth. If you, like me, are the nostalgic type, you may want to have a look at the original Novitiate Notes post from a year ago. There's nothing terribly remarkable about my maiden post - it is what it is.

Readers may be wondering if there's any significance to my decision to start blogging on this particular feastday. When I was thinking of starting a blog, I gave some thought to what might be an appropriate starting date. I knew that whatever date I chose would become, in some sense, "the patronal feast" of my blog, and I wanted to choose a good one. Today's feast won out mainly by happenstance - I was eager to start blogging, and this was an especially noteworthy day on the Church calendar even though it wasn't a day I'd previously attached much importance to. For better or worse, then, Novitiate Notes lies in the shadow of the Cross.

In other news, I began my fall ministry today. On Wednesdays I'll be volunteering at the Windsor Refugee Office right across the border in the eponymous Ontario city. I enjoyed my first day, which I spent doing background research for one asylum case and translating documents for another. I've been told that every day at the WRO is unpredictable and different, so I'm looking forward to the surprises that surely lie ahead. The staff and other volunteers at the office have been friendly and welcoming, and I'm glad to be spending time with refugees again. Stay tuned for periodic updates. AMDG.

Monday, September 12, 2005

My Middle Eastern weekend.

I was on something of a Middle Eastern kick this past weekend, if my culinary, liturgical and musical choices are any indication. Around lunchtime on Saturday I had a craving for shawarma so I headed to the Beirut Palace at the corner of 11 Mile and Main in Royal Oak. The Beirut Palace provided the shawarma fix I was looking for, and it did so very efficiently and at an affordable price. I was sufficiently impressed by the restaurant's broad menu of Middle Eastern specialties that I'll be sure to return at some point for a fuller meal.

On Sunday I attended Divine Liturgy at St. Michael Melkite Catholic Church in Plymouth, which offered an authentic and deeply moving experience of Arab Christian worship. Though I've visited a handful of other Melkite parishes in the United States, my experience at St. Michael's reminded me in a particularly strong way of what I heard, saw and smelled during my pilgrimage to the Holy Land five years ago. The congregational singing at St. Michael's was particularly strong and soulful, and the ritual incorporated some traditional practice which aren't always seen Stateside, such as the faithful reaching out to touch and reverence the book of Gospels and the chalice as they are carried by in procession. The liturgy itself was almost entirely in Arabic, which I hadn't expected - I though it might be bilingual in Arabic and English, but I was mistaken. Though the language barrier was a bit of a frustration - especially during the lengthy homily - it didn't really prevent me from being able to follow the liturgy or from finding spiritual sustenance. I also appreciated the congregation's hospitality toward a guest who may have seemed a fish out of water.

My musical choices over the last few days have also reflected Middle Eastern influences. In particular I've been listening a lot to The Rough Guide to the Music of Sudan, a gift from one of my coworkers at Catholic Charities in San Jose. I've had this CD for several months and have listened to it now and again, but for whatever reason I've been playing it a lot more lately and particularly over the past weekend. The songs on the Rough Guide disc offer an interesting blend of African and Arabic influences; I have some other African music in my collection but nothing else that could be described as a Arabic or Middle Eastern. This Sudanese compilation may well be a bridge to greater diversification in my musical tastes. Though readers outside the Detroit metro area may not be in a good position to visit the Beirut Palace or St. Michael's, but if you're looking for a neat addition to your CD collection, consider The Rough Guide to the Music of Sudan. AMDG.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Notes on the Memorial of Bl. Francisco Garate.

If you're lucky, at some point in your life you've encountered someone like Francisco Garate, the saintly Jesuit brother we commemorate in today's liturgy. The longtime porter at a Jesuit college in Spain, Brother Garate is remembered for the kind and patient way he dealt with people - students, visitors and Jesuits alike. The title of his biography - Garate the Gentle - reflects the universal esteem in which this Jesuit was held. There are many people like Francisco Garate in the world, ordinary saints who live lives of quiet service to others. Most of these saints never achieve wide renown, memorialized instead in the hearts of the people whose lives they touched. I've encountered some of these ordinary saints, and perhaps you have as well. Few if any of them will ever be recognized in the Church calendar as Francisco Garate now is, but that fact does nothing to diminish their role in bringing God's love to others. As we remember Garate today, let us also take time to remember the ordinary saints who have touched our lives the way this gentle Jesuit brother touched the lives of his friends. AMDG.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Notes on the Memorial of St. Peter Claver.

Today the Church remembers 17th-century Jesuit Peter Claver, the "Slave of the Slaves" who spent four decades working among African slaves in Cartagena, Colombia. In the United States, Claver's name has been given to numerous institutions and organizations serving African Americans. The Chicago Province honors our brother Peter's memory with the Claver Jesuit Mission, a community of Jesuits serving in diverse ministries in an innercity African American neighborhood in Cincinnati.

Though Peter Claver is remembered today mainly for his dedicated spiritual and physical ministry to the slaves, what intrigues me most about this saint is the role that friendship and mentoring played in the development of his vocation. Early in his Jesuit formation, Claver got to know Brother Alphonsus Rodriguez, the long-serving porter of the Jesuit college in Palma, Mallorca. Though he lived and labored in obscurity, Rodriguez had a reputation as a wise and patient spiritual counselor and, like Claver, he would ultimately become a canonized saint. When the two men met, Claver was 25 and Rodriguez was 72. Despite great differences in age and life experience, the two men became close friends. Rodriguez's advice and encouragement helped Claver to discover his calling as a missionary.

Intergenerational friendships of the kind that blossomed between Claver and Rodriguez are an important part of Jesuit life - or perhaps of religious life in general. Though such relationships can and do occur outside religious life, something about the structure of religious communities seems to encourage and nurture them. In my view, this is a very good thing. I'd even go so far as to say that friendships of the Claver-Rodriguez variety are an essential part of religious life. I couldn't imagine life as a Jesuit novice without the example, encouragement and support of my elders who have been Jesuits for much longer than I've been alive. Friendships between younger and older Jesuits provide a significant amount of mentoring, but at their best they're also characterized by a certain brotherly equality and give-and-take that suggests that different generations can learn from each other. From my perspective as a Jesuit novice, it strikes me that at their best intergenerational Jesuit friendships can also help young Jesuits sort out their deepest apostolic desires from more transient ones and figure out what they want to do with their Jesuit lives. So it was with Peter Claver and Alphonsus Rodriguez and, I hope, so it can be today. AMDG.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

John Michael Talbot.

This evening the novices and staff of Loyola House attended a local concert by Catholic musician John Michael Talbot. A Secular Franciscan who produces music on religious themes in a genre he describes as "country rock," Talbot is a figure I knew absolutely nothing about before entering the Jesuits. Some of his liturgical compositions have made their way into parish songbooks and can be heard in Catholic churches across North America, but beyond a setting of the Sanctus that we sometimes use at the novitiate I can't think of any Talbot songs I've heard more than once. In that sense, I have to thank the Society of Jesus in general and the novitiate staff in particular for expanding my musical horizons.

Contemporary Christian music generally isn't my thing, but Talbot's classical guitar solos have a meditative quality I can appreciate. Though Talbot's mellow voice and demeanor made me think of the late Bob Ross, his comments in between songs nonetheless included a few dry quips. There was, for example, his remark on spilling a glass of water near some electric wiring: "Maybe I'll be electrocuted, following in the footsteps of Thomas Merton." Happily Talbot completed his set without duplicating the freak accident that killed Merton. Talbot did, however, take up a collection for hurricane relief, a cause that I'm sure Merton would have been glad to support.

Though Talbot's concert didn't make a Christian rock fan out of me, I'm glad I had the chance to go. Much like seeing Rick Springfield last Saturday, the concert allowed me to experience a cultural phenomenon that would otherwise have remained quite alien to me. If seeing John Michael Talbot in concert enables me to minister better to the people of God, I'd classify the experience as an important part of my novitiate formation. AMDG.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

". . . mint juleps, crinolines and plantations."

If, as you live your life, you find yourself mentally composing blog entries about it, post this exact same sentence in your weblog.

By way of Susan. The preceding blog entry was the one thus composed, especially the part about Rick Springfield. The completely random title comes from an interesting interview I heard Friday on the Michigan Radio program Stateside. Sometimes I just can't resist a non sequitur. AMDG.

Better Than Ezra, Rick Springfield and John Chrysostom.

Fellow secundi Adam, Drew, John, Mike, Tony and I went to see New Orleans' own Better Than Ezra last night at Chrysler Arts, Beats & Eats ("Oakland County's Summer Festival") in downtown Pontiac. BTE played an hour-long set that included a fair amount of new material. Old radio standards like "Desperately Wanting" and "Extra Ordinary" were mixed in as well (I suspect "Good" was there too, but I arrived late and didn't hear it), as were obligatory calls to support hurricane relief and poignant tributes to BTE's hometown. Not bad for a free show.

Never in my life did I think I would see Rick Springfield in concert. In fact, never in my life did I think about Rick Springfield, period. I'm too young to remember Rick's glory days, and up to last night my ignorance of his career was so complete that I couldn't even identify him as the guy who sang "Jessie's Girl." Though most of my companions were in the same boat, we were curious enough that we stuck around after BTE finished playing to watch Rick Springfield take the stage. The 56-year-old performer looks amazingly youthful - like a "pod person," as my parents would say, referencing the movie Cocoon. I can't say I was particularly taken with Rick's music, but I can say that watching a mostly middle-aged, predominantly female crowd go crazy over a singer I'd basically never heard of before was an interesting experience. I'm sure there are a few Rick Springfield fans among the people that I hope to serve as a Jesuit, so I'd like to think last night's experience was of some apostolic benefit. Maybe that's what GC34 meant by "entry into cultures" - I'm not too sure it was, but there's always an outside possibility.

On an entirely different note, I attended Divine Liturgy this morning at St. Nicholas Byzantine Ruthenian Catholic Church in Detroit. The pastor was away on pilgrimage, so the liturgy was celebrated by Father Carl Bonk, S.J., pastor of SS. Peter and Paul Jesuit Church downtown. Carl is one of a number of Jesuit priests in the United States who are bi-ritual - that is, authorized to celebrate the sacraments in one or more of the Eastern Rites as well as the Roman Rite. There's an organization of North American Jesuits who are bi-ritual or otherwise interested in Eastern Christianity called Jesuits for the Christian East, though judging from the state of the group's website I'm not sure they've done much lately. Jesuits have long been involved in the life of the Eastern Church, not only through pastoral work but also in the Society's educational apostolates and perhaps most notably through the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome. As for St. Nicholas Parish, I appreciated the hospitality of the community there and look forward to returning. All in all, another exciting weekend at Loyola House. AMDG.

Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, 1924-2005.

Earlier this summer there was a lot of speculation in the media about when and whether Chief Justice Rehnquist would retire from the Court. As I told anyone who would listen, I always had a hunch the Chief would die in office. A widower and a workhorse, Rehnquist struck me as the kind of guy who wanted to die with his boots on, remaining active on the bench until the very end of his life. I guess I was right: Rehnquist died yesterday at age 80, not as a lonely retiree, but as the sitting Chief Justice of the United States.

I saw Chief Justice Rehnquist at least twice in person. The first time was while I was an undergrad at Georgetown. For a class assignment I attended oral arguments at the Supreme Court, an experience I highly recommend. At times, the Court can be the best show in Washington. The proceedings struck me as surprisingly warm and informal; justices and counsel frequently exchanged amusing banter, and titters of laughter sometimes filled the room. Though he generally remained serious and stonefaced, the Chief Justice had a zinger of a comment ready when one lawyer asked for additional time: "You may continue if you wish, Counsel, but if you do, I believe you may lose this case." The lawyer subsequently dropped his request. I never found out how the Court ruled on the case, the name of which I no longer remember.

The second time I saw Chief Justice Rehnquist was as a 2L at Notre Dame Law School. You can read about Rehnquist's visit to NDLS in these articles from the Observer and Notre Dame Lawyer. I was lucky enough to snag a ticket to the Chief Justice's closed-door lecture in the NDLS mock courtroom, and I regret to report that Rehnquist was a lot less engaging in an academic setting than he had been on the bench. Even so, I'm grateful to have had two chances to see a sitting chief justice. The Rehnquist family will be in my thoughts and prayers. AMDG.

Friday, September 02, 2005

The horror.

I'd like to be able to say something consoling and eloquent in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, but I'm at a loss. The scale of the devastation on the Gulf Coast and the chaos that has followed the hurricane - especially in New Orleans - have been a true shock to me. Though the impact of Hurricane Katrina pales in comparison with those of the tsunami that followed last year's Indian Ocean earthquake, this disaster understandably strikes much closer to home for many Americans. In a way, this is our tsunami. I hope my readers will join me in praying for all the victims of Hurricane Katrina - those who have died and those who survive but must now struggle to rebuild their shattered lives. I also encourage those who are able to donate generously to the relief efforts. AMDG.