Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Happy birthday, Father General!

Today the novices of Loyola House are pleased to extend our prayerful best wishes to Father Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, Superior General of the Society of Jesus, on the occasion of his birthday. We are grateful for all he has done as General of this least Society, and our thoughts are with him and all Jesuit major superiors as they meet in Loyola, Spain to discuss the the Society's future (click here to read more about this meeting). On a personal note, as one with a strong interest in Eastern Christianity I've long appreciated the fact that Father Kolvenbach was ordained in the Armenian rite and spent much of his Jesuit life in Lebanon before he was elected General. I hope my readers will join me in wishing Father General a very happy birthday. Ad multos annos! AMDG.

Monday, November 28, 2005

So Old, It's New: Notes on the Season of Advent.

There’s a scene in Orson Welles’ 1958 film Touch of Evil that captures a little of how I feel about Advent, the liturgical season we began yesterday. One of my favorite movies, Touch of Evil is a film noir police procedural about a murder investigation set in a seedy town on the U.S.-Mexico border. At one point, world-weary lawman Hank Quinlan (played by Welles himself) pays a visit to old flame Tana (Marlene Dietrich), a mysterious gypsy who operates a home business of a necessarily vague nature. During a brief reunion Tana remarks on the ways in which Quinlan has changed, admitting that she failed to recognize him at first and pointing out his increasing decrepitude (“you should lay off those candy bars . . . you’re a mess, honey”). For Quinlan, by contrast, Tana and her digs haven’t changed much at all – among other things, the aging cop notes that Tana’s house still contains the player piano he remembers from years before. “The customers go for it,” Tana says of the piano, “it’s so old, it’s new.” A bit like Tana’s player piano, Advent is so old that it’s new.

Advent offers much that is invitingly familiar. Entering a church newly bedecked in seasonal purple and watching the celebrant (likewise in purple) light the first candle in the Advent wreath, it’s hard not to get swept up in memories of Advents past. Even if we’re celebrating Advent with a new community, the season’s visuals have a way of reminding us of old places, things and people. Attending Mass on the First Sunday of Advent, we may recall distinctive ways in which the parishes of our past (perhaps one we grew up in, or one we attended when we were in college) marked the wonderful weeks leading up to Jesus’ birth. This year, I find myself recalling how I experienced Advent at Georgetown with attendance at Tom King’s 11:15 pm Mass. I also remember last year, when I celebrated the Sundays of Advent at Assumption Church in Windsor – something I hope to do again this year. I’m sure the start of Advent evokes special memories for you too. The familiar symbols of Advent summon us to a kind of spiritual homecoming, reminding us – particularly when we find ourselves in new locations or stages of life – that in some sense we’ve been here before.

Advent provides us with a poignant opportunity to reconnect with our past. However, we mustn’t allow our appreciation for the delightful oldness of the Advent season to blind us to its eternal newness. Advent prepares us for an event that should be as startling now as it was two thousand years ago – God’s entry into human history. In the person of Jesus Christ, God came among us to share in our humanity and to offer anew the promise of salvation. Living as religious believers in a secular society, we sometimes have to make an effort to remind ourselves of God’s presence in our world. The Byzantine tradition offers such a reminder in a greeting often exchanged at the end of the Divine Liturgy: “Christ is in our midst,” the priest says, to which the people respond, “He is and shall be.” The season of Advent provides another reminder that God is still and always present among us. Likewise, the season also reminds us that our need for salvation is as great today as it was at the time of Jesus’ birth. In the Advent readings from Isaiah, we find a sense of yearning for the coming of the Messiah – a yearning that can become our own. As old as the prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures, our need for a divine savior is also urgently contemporary. More than just a season of nostalgia, Advent is a celebration of a longing that is ever new. AMDG.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Happy birthday, Boo!

Today my sister Elizabeth, also known as Boo, celebrates her 18th birthday. I spoke with Boo on the phone this morning and she said she didn't feel any different than she did yesterday. This is about par for the course, as I didn't feel instantly transmogrified on my 18th birthday either. In fact, the only birthdays which felt like milestones for me were my 21st and 25th - the first for perhaps obvious reasons, and the second because I realized I was now closer to being 30 than to being 20. Anyhow, I hope the readers of this blog will join me in wishing Boo a happy birthday.

Today is also the Memorial of St. John Berchmans, a 17th century Jesuit who is chiefly remembered - as one of Ours mordantly observed - "because he followed all the rules." Entering the Society of Jesus in 1612 despite stiff opposition from his family, Berchmans attracted notice for the joy with which he devoted himself to the routine of the novitiate ordo and for his rigorous penances. As a scholastic, he studied so hard that he literally ruined his health, dying in 1615 a month after completing his comprehensive philosophy exams (the famous De Universa or "De U," which still exists). Berchmans passed away before he'd had much chance to direct his considerable zeal to apostolic work, but with the witness of his brief life he might be considered a Jesuit analogue to Therese of Lisieux. If it's possible to speak of a "little way" of the magis (and I think it is), John Berchmans would have to be seen as an exemplar. AMDG.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Thanksgiving at Loyola House.

Winter has arrived in Michigan; two inches of snow fell on Wednesday and remain with us, and freezing temperatures and strong winds are keeping people indoors. In spite of the cold, Loyola House's annual Chicago vs. Detroit football game went ahead as scheduled yesterday, with Detroit beating Chicago 42-28. After a fine Thanksgiving dinner, the community repaired to the rec room to watch the holiday classic Planes, Trains & Automobiles - a change from last year, when we watched The Sound of Music. As happened last year, John Ferone came up from Cincinnati to spend the holiday weekend at Loyola House; this afternoon, he joined several of us novices for a visit to the DIA followed by a delicious lunch at the Laikon Cafe in Greektown. Traditionally, the day after Thanksgiving finds Loyola House flush with visiting family and friends of novices, and this year is no exception. Amid all the hospitality and entertaining of the coming weekend, I hope to find some time to get working on a couple papers and some other pressing writing projects. Any prayers for my efforts would be appreciated. AMDG.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Notes on the Memorial of Bl. Miguel Agustin Pro.

Today the Society of Jesus remembers Miguel Agustin Pro, a Mexican Jesuit who exercised his priestly ministry in secret during years of intense religious persecution and died a martyr. Not long after Pro entered the Society in 1911, Mexico entered a lengthy period of civil unrest and political turmoil. A succession of fiercely anticlerical governments attacked organized religion, banning public worship and making all clergy into wanted criminals. After completing his formation outside Mexico, Pro returned to his home country in June 1926 to offer the sacraments and spiritual counsel to Catholics who continued to gather in secret. For over a year, the brave and ingenious Pro managed to serve a circuit of underground parishes while evading arrest. In November 1927, Pro was captured by the Mexican army and sentenced to death. As he faced the firing squad without a blindfold, Pro spread his arms in the form of a cross and shouted "Viva Cristo Rey!" Hoping to make an example of the defiant priest, the authorities took several photographs of Pro's execution; much to their consternation, these memorable images only served to encourage popular devotion to the martyred Jesuit. Pro was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1988.

As is the case with a number of other 20th century saints and beati, there are still people alive who knew Miguel Pro personally. I haven't met any, but at Santa Clara I lived with a ninety-year-old Jesuit who had known some of Pro's novitiate classmates. However, it isn't necessary to resort to exercises like "six degrees of Miguel Pro" to make this modern martyr relevant to our times. Miguel Pro was killed for being a Catholic priest in a century that was rife with religious persecution, a century in which dying for one's faith was unfortunately far from unusual. The circumstances of Pro's death should neither shock nor surprise us, for many other modern Christians have died in similar ways. As we commemorate the witness of Miguel Pro and countless other martyrs, let us also reflect on how each of us can help build a world free from religious violence. Only by hoping for such a world - no matter how remote or impossible it may seem - can we sincerely echo our brother Miguel's dying cry: "Viva Cristo Rey!" AMDG.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Last "Christmas truce" veteran dies.

Alfred Anderson, believed to have been Scotland's last living World War I veteran as well as the last survivor of the 1914 "Christmas truce" on the Western Front, died yesterday at 109. See The Times and The Scotsman for two very good obituaries. The intriguing "Christmas truce" has been justly celebrated in art and literature as an instance in which the best aspects of human nature prevailed - even if only briefly - over the worst. The death of the truce's last surviving participant is a sad event. More generally, I feel a particular kind of melancholy whenever I hear that the last person who experienced this or that bygone event has passed away. I felt a tinge of this as a kid on hearing that the last veteran of the Spanish-American War had died, and I feel the same way now each time I read a story noting the passing of one of the few remaining participants in "the Great War." When I was a kid, veterans of the First World War were - though far outnumbered by their counterparts in what we now call "the Greatest Generation" - still fairly common. For example, I can recall hearing a spry, nonagenarian WWI vet speak at a school assembly when I was in junior high, and in most cases a group of World War I vets was an indispensable part of any local parade on Memorial Day or the Fourth of July. Now that veterans of that conflict are harder and harder to come by, it's all the more critical that we take the time to record their stories and recall their role in history. Now that no living person can tell the story of "the Christmas truce" from a participant's perspective, it's all the more crucial that younger generations work to keep alive our consciousness of the event. Retelling the stories of our shared past is part of how we make sense of our present and understand ourselves as human individuals and members of a society. With the passing of Alfred Anderson, we have a tangible reminder of what an important duty storytelling can be. Requiescat in Pace, AMDG.

Monday, November 21, 2005

"Priests rock!"

The above words were spoken to me yesterday by a high school student who was apparently quite impressed to see a young man in clerics (namely me) at the gates of Fort Benning. The comment made my day, giving me the sense that the witness of my attire had done its bit for vocations. In a few other respects, I'd say that I got more of this SOA weekend than I did out of last year's. That's not to say that I didn't have a good experience last year, but this time around I ran into more people that I knew (mainly young Jesuits I met this summer in Denver) and in general felt more conscious of the fact that my participation in the weekend's events was part of my Jesuit vocation. Saturday night's Vigil Mass for the Feast of Christ the King was a palpably Ignatian event, with representatives of most of the country's Jesuit high schools and universities among the 3,000+ attendees and a powerful homily from Father John McGarry, the new provincial of the California Province. Broadly speaking, I'd say that what moved me the most about the weekend was seeing so many Jesuits and individuals formed in the Ignatian tradition brought together by mutual concern for social justice.

As for the trip from Detroit to Columbus and back, I can't really affirm that 'getting there is half the fun,' especially when getting there involves spending two nights out of three sleeping on a coach bus. As was the case with last year's trip, the Loyola House contingent traveled to Columbus with student groups from UDM and U of D Jesuit High School. When the sound on the bus' onboard DVD player obstinately refused to work, the UD High kids cleverly responded by reading aloud the subtitled dialogue of the movie being shown (Love Actually) and adding supplemental color commentary, all in creative - and hysterical - character voices (Laura Linney, for instance, was given the voice of Fran Drescher). I really have to thank these students for supplying entertainment that made what would otherwise have been a grueling travel experience into an enjoyable one. On the way back from Columbus, our group stopped briefly in Atlanta to visit the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site, which includes King's grave and the church he co-pastored with his father, Ebenezer Baptist. Afterward, we ate at the locally celebrated (and enormous) drive-in known as The Varsity. Special thanks are due to my brother novice (and Atlanta native) Tony Stephens and his mom and stepdad, who treated us to dinner. So there it is - another year, another SOA weekend. AMDG.

Friday, November 18, 2005

An exceedingly brief post with a movie plug.

In a couple minutes, I and a number of other novices and Loyola House staff will be heading out the door to begin the first leg of our trip to Columbus, Georgia for the annual School of the Americas Watch Vigil at Fort Benning. See my posts before and after last year's SOA trip for more information. Details on this year's trip will be posted when I return.

If you're looking for something to do in the meantime, go see Noah Baumbach's superb film The Squid and the Whale. I saw the movie last weekend, and while I'm not going to post a full review (as I did with Wong Kar Wai's 2046) I strongly recommend it. The Squid and the Whale is one of the best films I've seen this year - for that matter, it's one of the best films I've seen in the last few years. Check it out if you have the chance. AMDG.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

It was the first snow of the season . . .

. . . and that's always an important milestone, even if all we got today were a few light flurries. Thankfully it hasn't gotten so cold that I have to de-ice the car before going to Windsor in the morning, but as of today I'm wearing my cords and my winter coat. As part of my ministry at the Windsor Refugee Office I attended a forum this afternoon on human trafficking. Recognizing that trafficking is a serious human rights issue locally as well as globally, the WRO and a number of other NGO's in Windsor have come together to form the Windsor-Essex Committee Against the Trafficking of Women and Children. The Committee's efforts to sensitize local law enforcement and policymakers to the problem of trafficking are carried out in part by means like today's forum, at which experts spoke about anti-trafficking efforts elsewhere in Canada and in the United States. It's important to note that these local efforts are linked to a larger campaign by the Canadian Council for Refugees to enact federal anti-trafficking legislation in Canada and to support more effective outreach to trafficking victims. The Sisters of the Holy Names, some of whom I've gotten to know through the WRO, are also seeking to raise awareness of the issue.

Working for and with various human rights and social service organizations, I've run into the issue of human trafficking again and again. I first learned about trafficking as a law student interning for a DC-based NGO now known as Global Rights. I didn't work directly on trafficking issues while I was at Global Rights, but I became aware of the problem through various anti-trafficking initiatives sponsored by the organization. This past spring, I began my Short Experiment at Catholic Charities just as that group and other social service providers in the San Francisco Bay Area were beginning to put together a coordinated response to the problem of human trafficking. My contribution to this response was fairly limited - I helped out a little on some grant proposals - but I suppose I can still say I was present at the creation of something good and important. And now at the WRO I find myself confronting trafficking yet again.

As a Jesuit novice, I see my humble contribution to various efforts to end the trafficking of women and children and to assist trafficking victims as very much in line with the Society's mission today. GC34's Decree 14, "Jesuits and the Situation of Women in Church and Civil Society," calls on Jesuits to support "movements which oppose the exploitation of women and encourage their entry into political and social life," and anti-trafficking initiatives certainly meet these criteria. At the same time, the fact that I've run into the trafficking issue in three separate jobs in three very different parts of North America just goes to show how widespread the problem is. I think I'm doing my bit, and I encourage you to do yours. AMDG.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Father Robert A. Pollauf, S.J., 1915-2005.

Father Bob Pollauf, a longtime parish priest and retreat director, died last Thursday at Colombiere at age 90. His funeral this morning drew much of his large family and many of his fellow Jesuits. I got to know Father Pollauf somewhat when I working at Colombiere during my hospital experiment last fall. In spite of his physical frailty, Father Pollauf remained mentally sharp and aware of goings on in the larger Jesuit world. When we first met, he said, "You're a novice? Then you live with Walt Farrell - I was a year ahead of him in the novitiate." Generally a man of few words, with a little prodding Father Pollauf would nonetheless share recollections of his seven decades in the Society. Being able to attend his funeral meant a lot to me, especially because several other Jesuits I got to know at Colombiere - men like George Prickril, Stan Wisniewski and Tom Gedeon - passed away during periods when I was away from the novitiate. I may not have been able to attend their obsequies, but I was able to attend Father Pollauf's, and for that I'm grateful. Requiescat in Pace. AMDG.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

IET in the NYT.

Today's New York Times has a story on Indiana's ongoing time zone debate. Though this may be the first time the NYT has commented on the issue, Indiana has been mulling changes in this area for quite some time. In this July post, I bemoaned the possible demise of "Indiana East Time," under which much of the Hoosier State effectively spends half the year in the Eastern time zone and the other half on Central time. When I lived in Indiana, I found that the minor inconveniences brought about by Indiana East Time - mainly occasional uncertainty about whether it was the same time in Chicago as it was in South Bend - were outweighed by the luxury of never having to reset one's wristwatch or clocks and the novelty of being in a state with its own time zone. Though IET seems to be on its way out, it's far from clear what it will be replaced with. Right now, each of the 92 counties in Indiana is wrestling with the question of what time zone they want to be in. For some counties - mainly those that find themselves in the cultural and economic orbit of big cities in one of the abutting time zones - this is a fairly easy decision, but for others - especially rural counties in the middle of the state - it isn't. Hopefully, Indiana's leaders will find a reasonable way out of the quagmire. In the meantime, I wonder if the state was better off simply putting up with IET in all its quirkiness. It certainly made sense to me. AMDG.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Red poppies.

On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, hostilities officially ended in the conflict that many piously hoped would be the "War to End All Wars." Sadly, World War I was far from the last international conflict in what would become the bloodiest century in the history of humankind. Nonetheless, Armistice Day retains a special resonance. Over time, the anniversary of the end of the First World War has become a more universal day of remembrance. In the United States, today is the date of Veterans Day, a holiday honoring all who have served in the country's armed forces. In Canada and other British Commonwealth countries, today is Remembrance Day, a holiday paying particular homage to those who died in the First and Second World Wars.

Working in Windsor has given me a much greater appreciation for the Canadian commemoration of Remembrance Day. Broadly speaking, Remembrance Day seems to be a much bigger deal in Canada than Veterans Day is in the United States. Undoubtedly, the fact that Remembrance Day focuses on the dead while Veterans Day celebrates the living helps give the former a much more solemn character. It also helps that World War II was the last major armed conflict that Canada was involved in, giving that war a much more central place in the Canadian national consciousness than it has in the United States. Beyond these factors, there's another reason Remembrance Day has such a high profile in Canada: red poppies.

During the past few weeks, it seems like every other person I've seen in Windsor has been sporting a red poppy on their jacket or shirt. Adopted in the wake of the First World War as a memorial emblem honoring the war dead, the red poppy is an international symbol with particularly Canadian origins. While serving on the Western Front during World War I, Canadian army physician John McCrae wrote an elegiac tribute to his fallen comrades entitled "In Flanders Fields":
In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard among the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
McCrae's poem helped make the red poppy a popular token of remembrance. In the early 1920's, artificial red poppies began to bloom on lapels across the British Empire, and they still appear each year in the weeks leading up to Remembrance Day. The Royal Canadian Legion's annual Poppy Campaign keeps alive an important tradition and also raises funds to support aging veterans. Though Remembrance Day and its traditions are very new to me, I'm doing my bit today by wearing the red poppy. I'm one of millions who are doing so today. Most of us too young to remember the last world war, but by wearing the poppy we're making an important statement - we remember, and we won't forget. AMDG.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The Supreme Court, Samuel Alito and "Public School Catholics."

In this Monday post, Susan at Musings of a Discerning Woman wondered what the prospect of a Catholic majority on the Supreme Court says about American Catholic assimilation in general and the role of parochial schools in particular. Over the past week or so, I've thought a lot about these issues in light of President Bush's nomination of Judge Samuel A. Alito, Jr. to replace retiring Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor on the Supreme Court. Reading newspaper profiles of the nominee, one fact inevitably caught my attention: a lifelong Catholic, Alito has never attended a Catholic school. Educated in public schools in New Jersey from kindergarten through the twelve grade, Alito went on to Princeton and Yale Law School. Among current Catholic justices, three - John Roberts, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas - were at least partly educated in Catholic institutions while one - Anthony Kennedy - mirrors Alito in having attended public elementary and secondary schools and two prestigious nonsectarian universities (Stanford and Harvard, to be precise). In terms of educational background, the only common bond shared by all the current Catholic justices and the man who may soon join them is that they all attended Ivy League law schools.

Samuel Alito and Anthony Kennedy are representatives of a group I like to call "Public School Catholics." As the moniker itself implies, Public School Catholics are lifelong Catholics who completed their primary and secondary education entirely in the public school system. I'm a member of this group myself, and as it happens so are a majority of American Catholics. Before I say more about this, some historical background may be in order.

The divide between Catholics who attended parochial schools and those who did not goes back many decades. Long a source of justifiable pride among American Catholics, this country's vast Catholic school system has played roles that are cultural and social as well as educational. For more than a century, attending a parochial school has been an important part of Catholic identity formation for many. The parochial school system was long seen by many as a critically important means of transmitting the Catholic faith and culture to the next generation, but throughout its history the system has served a minority of American Catholic schoolchildren. In other words, it has always been the case that a majority of American Catholics were educated in non-Catholic - and mainly public - schools. Unfortunately, Public School Catholics have taken more than a few knocks over the years - from bishops and pastors who viewed the public schools with suspicion and admonished the faithful to avoid them, and from contemporaries who had gone through the parochial schools and in some cases came away with a disdain for the "publics." As Catholics have moved more and more into the mainstream of American life and lost the sense of separation that in some sense contributed to a kind of parochial school elitism, much of the stigma that formerly attached to being a Public School Catholic has disappeared.

My own sense as a Public School Catholic is that the old parochial vs. public school divide still persists in some quarters of the American Catholic community, albeit in muted ways. Every now and then, I still run into Catholics who view their public school-educated coreligionists as somehow less than up to snuff. Then again, I've also run into graduates of secular private schools who regarded both parochial and public schools with equal disdain. In my own experience attending public schools from kindergarten through twelfth grade, I also encountered people who unfairly viewed Catholic parochial schools as backward and inferior institutions. It's important that I mention this to place my earlier comments in a broader context; I'm basically trying to say that no one is perfect.

Regardless of how I might feel about Alito's record as a judge or his potential impact on the Supreme Court, I enjoy seeing an accomplished Public School Catholic in the spotlight. After all, we don't often get our due. AMDG.

Monday, November 07, 2005

A Catholic majority on the Supreme Court?

If the Alito nomination clears the Senate, five out of nine justices on the Supreme Court will be Catholic. Alan Cooperman considers the possible implications in this article in today's Washington Post. Though I wish that Cooperman's article could have been longer and more detailed, there's plenty of food for thought in the different views expressed by the academics quoted in the WaPo.

Catholics have long since ceased to be a monolithic force in American politics, which is why I'm uncomfortable with sweeping statements made by some of the scholars quoted in the article. I believe USC political scientist Howard Gillman is correct when he suggests that conservative Catholic lawyers and jurists have coalesced into a well-organized and increasingly influential movement over the past several decades, but it's important to emphasize that this group represents only one among many strata of public opinion in the Catholic community. I cannot agree with the views expressed by Notre Dame's Gerry Bradley, who says:
I do think that there is an important truth in saying that Catholics are the intellectual pillars of social conservatism. Compared to their political allies in that movement, Catholics are heirs to a richer intellectual tradition and . . . are more inclined to believe that reason supplies good grounds for the moral and political positions characteristic of social conservatism. Call it the 'natural law' thing.
Or call it the 'sweeping generalization' thing. Beyond the lack of nuance in Bradley's comments - for example, he never clarifies that he means only some Catholics, and that's a pretty glaring omission - he also seems to imply that faith can acceptably be made subordinate to ideology. Bradley seems to be okay with using Catholicism to justify a particular strand of political opinion, and I have a hard time with that. Whenever faith is subordinated to politics, faith inevitably gets badly mangled in the process. I could say a lot more about this, but I should probably stop there.

Having a Catholic majority on the Supreme Court is most significant not as a sign of the ascendancy of a particular political ideology but as sign that the religious beliefs of judicial nominees is becoming less of an issue than it once was. As Notre Dame law prof Cathy Kaveny points out, the prospect of a Catholic majority on the Court represents "a victory over historic prejudice" against Catholics, but it also represents much more. Here's another persective from the WaPo article:
Dennis J. Hutchinson, a court historian at the University of Chicago, noted that one of the most liberal Supreme Court justices of the 20th century, William J. Brennan, was a Catholic, and so is one of the most conservative, [Antonin] Scalia.

The religious affiliation of the justices is not a burning issue because "we've learned that Catholics can be conservative or liberal, and that in terms of judges, ideology trumps any sort of presumption about church doctrine - and that's true whether the justice is a Protestant, a Catholic, or a Jew," he said.

Hutchinson questioned whether it makes any real sense to speak of a "Catholic majority" on the court when the five men concerned may disagree on hot-button social issues. . . .

In other words, don't presume you know how justices will rule depending on where they worship - or, for that matter, where they went to law school or what president chose them for the Court. It would be wrong to suggest that Catholic justices will – or even should – act as a religious bloc. If all the Catholic justices do rule the same way on a contentious issue, their reasons for doing so must be grounded not in the Catechism but in the principles of secular jurisprudence.

Though we shouldn't speak of a 'Catholic bloc' on the Supreme Court, a Catholic majority wouldn't be a bad thing. Such a development would send a positive message, not simply to Catholics but to all Americans, that one's religious beliefs should not be a barrier against holding prominent positions of civil responsibility. That message is, I believe, a message of hope and opportunity for all. AMDG.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Notes on the Feast of All Saints and Blessed of the Society of Jesus.

Today the Society of Jesus remembers all of our brothers who have become companions of the saints in heaven - both those who are recognized as saints and blessed of the Church, and those who have not received these honors but are nonetheless remembered by their brethren for their holiness and virtue. Preaching today at the community Mass, I emphasized the common heritage that the Jesuits of today share with the saints and blessed of the Society. Despite differences of language, culture, time and place, we are bound together by the shared vocabulary of Ignatian spirituality, our common experience of the Spiritual Exercises and the individual fruits of a transformative personal encounter with Christ. These gifts enabled the Jesuits who went before us to become saints, and they can do the same for us. That, in a nutshell, is what I told my brothers at Mass today. Given that today is National Jesuit Vocation Promotion Day, it seems quite appropriate that several visiting candidates were with us at the Mass. With its emphasis on the legacy of the Society's greatest lights and their contribution to our life today, I can't think of a better day to promote vocations. If you're feeling the pinch yourself, why don't you check out the Vocations section of the U.S. Jesuit Conference website for more information. AMDG.

Friday, November 04, 2005

From Berry Gordy to Camille Claudel.

As part of the novitiate's annual Fellow secundi Jim Shea, Eric Styles and I marked the novitiate's annual "Detroit Day" small-group outing with an enjoyable afternoon downtown. We intended to stop first at the Motown Historical Museum, which unfortunately happened to be closed for renovation. From there we proceeded to Detroit's Greektown, which has some great restaurants and an authentic feel despite being more like an Epcot pavilion or a Potemkin village than an actual living, breathing ethnic enclave. After a quick peek at the interior of the imposing but beautiful Old St. Mary's Church, we had lunch at the venerable New Hellas Cafe followed by dessert at the Astoria Pastry Shop nearby. A few pounds heavier and a few dollars poorer, Eric, Jim and I headed next to the recently-renovated Detroit Institute of Arts to see a much-hyped exhibit entitled Camille Claudel & Rodin: Fateful Encounter. Though I've paid relatively little attention to sculpture in the past, the skill that went into the pieces on display made quite an impression on me. I also couldn't help but feel bad for Claudel, whose career peaked a bit too early and who apparently descended into a lifetime of mental illness after her lover Rodin refused to marry her. At the DIA until February, Camille Claudel & Rodin adds a lot to one of Detroit's premier attractions. It also added a lot to an excellent novitiate outing. AMDG.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Rupert Mayer, Martin de Porres, a birthday and a funeral.

Today the Church remembers two extraordinary men who lived lives of devoted service to God's people. One of these is Bl. Rupert Mayer, a German Jesuit who spent the better part of his life as a parish priest in Munich, attracting a devoted following with his stirring preaching. Regarding Nazism and Catholicism as incompatible, Mayer was also a vocal opponent of Adolf Hitler. Unsurprisingly, Mayer's outspokenness got him into trouble with the authorities, and the frail priest (who had lost a leg in World War I) was jailed three times for criticizing the Nazi regime. His health broken by long periods of confinement, Mayer died in November 1945, living just long enough to see the collapse of the evil system that he so strongly opposed.

A very different example of Christian witness is offered by St. Martin de Porres, who we also remember today. Born in Peru in 1579, Martin entered a Dominican priory in Lima as a young man and devoted the rest of his life to serving the poor. Martin tirelessly nursed the sick, clothed the naked and fed the hungry, managing all the while to reserve several hours of each day for personal prayer and reflection. Though Martin de Porres' life and ministry differed markedly from that of Rupert Mayer, I like to think of the two men as co-laborers in the Lord's vineyard. Both are sterling examples of the faith that does justice - Martin through his direct engagement with the poorest of the poor, and Rupert through his tireless preaching against the forces of hatred. Martin de Porres and Rupert Mayer are two sides of the same coin; if we to reach out and serve others as Martin did, we must also be willing to put our lives on the line as Rupert did. It's highly appropriate that we remember both on the same day, as they illuminate different but equally essential aspects of the struggle for justice to which we are all called.

In other news, I'd like to wish my brother Ken a happy birthday. Ken, I hope you don't mind me publicizing the event on my blog for all the world to see. In doing so, I hope I can count on the loyal Novitiate Notes readers out there to all their good wishes to my own.

Wrapping up this post, I'd like to remember Chi Prov Jesuit Brother Paul Mattingly, who died Sunday and was buried today at Colombiere. I didn't know Brother Mattingly - in fact, I only met him once. Even so, I was deeply moved by his funeral, which offered a touching tribute to a gentle and generous Jesuit. It helped that Brother Mattingly had left detailed instructions for the event, selecting the music and naming the priest he wanted to give the homily. Though Brother Mattingly didn't specify the readings he wanted for the funeral Mass, the planners of the event took great care in selecting Scripture passages that reflected Paul's great love of nature - a very nice touch, I thought. All in all, a fine memorial. Ave atque vale, AMDG.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Notes on All Souls Day.

As a kind of follow-up to yesterday's Feast of All Saints, today is known as the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed. I'm a big fan of All Souls Day, as I noted in this post from last year. Last year's post still offers an accurate summation of my feelings about this feast, so rather than try to top it I'll simply refer readers to what I wrote a year ago today. Last year, All Souls Day and the federal election fell on the same date, and after voting early I spent the day working at Abbey Mercy Living Center in Warren as part of my hospital experiment (described here, here and here). This year, I'll spend the day working with refugee claimants at the Windsor Refugee Office. Just like last year, however, I'll spend All Souls Day remembering all the faithful departed who've changed my life for the better. Regardless of what activities may occupy me from year to year, I hope that I'll always have the opportunity to make All Souls Day a special day of recollection amid the hectic clamor of daily life. AMDG.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Notes on All Saints Day.

Yet again, we come to the Feast of All Saints, the Church's collective remembrance of all the holy women and men that God has sent to bless us. Today we remember in a special way those saints who have no other place in the Church calendar - those whose good deeds have gone unnoticed and perhaps unrewarded, individuals who have not gone through the elaborate canonization process but who are nonetheless remembered, sometimes only by a few, as true saints. We've all known people who fall into this category, and today offers us an opportunity to remember them in a special way.

The kind of quiet recognition we give to the anonymous saints we've encountered in our own lives harkens back to Christianity's earliest days. For much of the Church's history, there was no formal process for investigating and authenticating individual claims to sainthood - saints were basically named by acclamation; in a real sense, the people knew a saint when they saw one, and they did not hesitate to make their feelings known. The much more rigorous process by which saints are recognized today - a process which actually dates back several centuries - is perhaps more suited to a skeptical age such as ours, but the old 'sainthood by acclamation' model still appeals to me.

Even today, the faithful know a saint when they see one. Apart from any pronouncement of the official church, the average Catholic can still spot the saints in any lineup. As I wrote above, we've all known saintly people - some of them we've known personally, and others we've only heard about. On reflection, I believe that any one of us can identify the saints who've impacted our lives - those who've brought God to us and who've brought us closer to sainthood through their good example. On this All Saints Day, let's take some time to remember the everyday saints who've graced our lives. AMDG.