Monday, July 31, 2017

Ours on St. Ignatius' Day.

As I've noted here before, I have been fortunate to celebrate the Feast of St. Ignatius in various circumstances in Jesuit communities on three different continents. Some of these celebrations have been very grand: I think especially of the experience of spending St. Ignatius' Day in Innsbruck and in Santiago de Chile, where the feast was observed with solemn Masses in Jesuit churches followed by sumptuous banquets. In other years, I've marked the feast in quieter ways. One year, for example, I spent St. Ignatius' Day in Toronto with two other Jesuits; the three of us were busy working on theses and dissertations and didn't have the energy to trek out to the regional Jesuit celebration of the feast day, so instead we celebrated a quiet Mass in our community chapel and had dinner in a nearby restaurant. No matter where I've celebrated St. Ignatius' Day, I always look forward to the opportunity to celebrate the bonds of brotherhood that I enjoy with my fellow Jesuits and to give thanks for the gift of our shared vocation.

This year's celebration of St. Ignatius' Day was a quiet one. I'm currently in Toulouse for the summer to brush up on my French before beginning doctoral studies in Paris in the fall, so I celebrated the feast day with the small local Jesuit community. The eight of us gathered for Mass and dinner and once again honored the memory of our founder and the legacy that he left us, a legacy that we all try to continue in admittedly imperfect ways. As always, I pray today not only for the gift of my own vocation but for that of my brother Jesuits, that the Society of Jesus may be for all of us a help to salvation and a means of doing God's will. Borrowing from the words of the formula that we all recited at the time of our First Vows, I pray that God who freely gave us the desire to make this complete offering of ourselves may also give us the abundant grace that we need to fulfill it. AMDG.

Monday, June 05, 2017

The Prayer of Ordination.

This weekend I was in Milwaukee to witness the priestly ordination of twelve of my Jesuit confreres; video of that event is available (at least at this writing; I'm not sure for how long) on the Midwest Jesuits' website. As I pray for my brothers as they begin their priestly ministry, I also remember my own ordination two years ago. Doing so, I was reminded that I've been meaning to post something here about the prayer of ordination which, together with the imposition of hands by the ordaining bishop, forms an essential part of the rite. Like some other prayers, this one strikes me with even greater force since I've been ordained. The text, recited or chanted by the ordaining bishop with hands outstretched over the ordinandi, reads as follows:
Draw near, O Lord, holy Father,
almighty and eternal God,
author of human dignity:
it is you who apportion all graces.
through you everything progresses;
through you all things are made to stand firm.

To form a priestly people
you appoint ministers of Christ your Son
by the power of the Holy Spirit,
arranging them in different orders.

Already in the earlier covenant
offices arose, established through mystical rites:
when you set Moses and Aaron over your people
to govern and sanctify them,
you chose men next in rank and dignity
to accompany them and assist them in their task.

So too in the desert
you implanted the spirit of Moses
in the hearts of seventy wise men;
and with their help he ruled your people with greater ease.

So also upon the sons of Aaron
you poured an abundant share of their father's plenty,
that the number of the priests prescribed by the Law
might be sufficient for the sacrifices of the tabernacle,
which were a shadow of the good things to come.

But in these last days, holy Father,
you sent your Son into the world,
Jesus, who is Apostle and High Priest of our confession.
Through the Holy Spirit
he offered himself to you as a spotless victim;
and he made his Apostles, consecrated in the truth,
sharers in his mission.
You provided them also with companions
to proclaim and carry out the work of salvation
throughout the whole world.

And now we beseech you, Lord, in our weakness,
to grant us these helpers that we need
to exercise the priesthood that comes from the Apostles.

Grant, we pray, Almighty God,
to these your servants
the dignity of the priesthood.
Renew within them the Spirit of holiness;
may they henceforth possess this office
which comes from you, O God,
and is next in rank to the office of bishop;
and by the example of their manner of life,
may they instill right conduct.

May they be worthy coworkers with our Order,
so that by their preaching
and through the grace of the Holy Spirit
the words of the Gospel may bear fruit in human hearts
and reach even to the ends of the earth.

Together with us,
may they be faithful stewards of your mysteries,
so that your people may be restored by the waters of rebirth
and nourished from your altar;
so that sinners may be reconciled
and the sick raised up.

May they be joined with us, Lord,
in imploring your mercy
for the people entrusted to their care
and for all the world.

And so may the full number of the nations,
gathered together in Christ,
be transformed into your one people
and made perfect in your Kingdom.

Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God forever and ever.
You can hear the prayer in its entirety in the video below, taken from my ordination two years ago. The ordaining prelate, then-Archbishop Joseph Tobin of Indianapolis (now Cardinal Archbishop of Newark), impressively chanted this very long prayer (and, in fact, sang much of the Mass).

For a deeper look at the theology of this prayer and an explanation of its various scriptural allusions, take a look at this post by Msgr. James Moroney, rector of St. John's Seminary in Brighton, Massachusetts. More importantly, though, please join me in praying for this year's ordinandi, that God may grant them much grace and consolation and that their ministry may bear much fruit. AMDG.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Rick Yoder on Flannery O'Connor, Philip Neri, Julien Green, and more.

Posting here has been infrequent here in the last little while, mainly because I've been busy enough as a priest and a graduate student that I haven't had much time for blogging. Though my writing here has slowed to a thin trickle, I'm stubborn enough to stick with it even if posting is likely to remain infrequent. I am grateful to those readers who have expressed appreciation for what I write, but I'll also admit that, like many other writers, I ultimately write for myself: this blog is essentially a kind of commonplace book where I record things that I want to remember and also don't mind sharing with a broader public.

In the absence of much new content from me, I would like to commend your attention to a relatively new blogging venture by my friend Rick Yoder, The Amish Catholic. I referenced Rick's work here a few months ago in a post on The Young Pope. Since then, Rick has been churning out excellent posts on topics as varied as the seven sacraments in the work of Flannery O'Connor, Benedictine resonances in the life of St. Philip Neri, and writer Julien Green's relationship with the University of Virginia. Having recently graduated from UVA, Rick will be heading to Oxford this summer to begin graduate school. I wish Rick well as he begins the next stage of his academic life, and as he moves on I hope that he will find time to continue to update his blog. If you appreciate the content that I try to post here from time to time, you may also enjoy The Amish Catholic. AMDG.

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Ratzinger Revolution.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI turned ninety on Easter Sunday, marking his birthday today with a quiet celebration in Rome. Pope Benedict has had a profound impact on my life as a Catholic, as a Jesuit, and as a priest, and I proudly identify as a member of the Benedict Generation even though I came of age and entered the Jesuits before he became pope. Pope Benedict's decision to vacate the Chair of St. Peter was a spiritual trauma from which I have not yet fully recovered, and the efforts that some have undertaken to dismiss or to undermine his legacy have often rubbed salt in the wound.

Given the pain that the abdication of Pope Benedict XVI still provokes, I took some comfort from an article by Tracey Rowland published on Good Friday in the Catholic Herald. Looking at "the brave new world of 21st-century Catholicism," Rowland argues that Ratzinger's theological output "will form a treasury to be mined by future generations trying to piece together elements of a fragmented Christian culture." According to Rowland, Ratzinger's work could serve as a precious resource for young people trying to get their bearings in societies increasingly divorced from their roots:
Today we cannot even presume the existence of the baptismal certificate. Members of the millennial generation find themselves in a situation where they have rarely experienced a fully functional Christian social milieu. To find out about Christianity, especially the Catholic version of it, they watch documentaries and films. They interrogate older Catholics, and google information about the saints, liturgies and cultural practices.

The cultural capital that should follow as a natural endowment upon their baptism has been frittered away, buried and in some cases even suppressed by previous generations. They are like archaeologists. They discover fragments of the faith which they find attractive and then they try to work out where the fragment once fitted into a Catholic mental universe.

When a new generation arises in full rebellion from the social experiments of the contemporary era, craving a human ecology that respects both God and nature, and wanting to be something more than rootless cosmopolitans, Ratzinger’s publications will serve as Harry Potter-style Portkeys, giving creative young rebels access to the missing cultural capital – indeed, access to what Ratzinger calls the memoria Ecclesiae.
Having encountered Ratzinger and some of his interlocutors, from John Henry Newman to Henri de Lubac, Rowland hopes that "a generation tired of the banality of cheap intimacy and nominalism gone mad may rediscover the buried capital of a civilisation built on the belief that the Incarnation really did happen. They may also gradually learn to distinguish a secularised Christianity that hooked itself up to whatever zeitgeist wafted along from the real mysteries celebrated in something called the old Christian calendar." I hope and pray that she is right, and that future generations who did not know the pontificate of Benedict XVI at first hand might come to know and appreciate Joseph Ratzinger through his writings. AMDG.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Christos Voskrese!

Observing another old tradition of this blog, I would like to mark the Feast of the Resurrection by sharing the Paschal Sermon of St. John Chrysostom:

Are there any who are devout and love God?
Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival!

Are there any who are grateful servants?
Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!

Are there any weary with fasting?
Let them now receive their wages!

If any have toiled from the first hour,
let them receive their due reward.

If any have come after the third hour,
let them with gratitude join in the Feast!

And those who arrived after the sixth hour,
let them not doubt; for they too shall sustain no loss.

And if any have delayed until the ninth hour,
let them not hesitate; but let them come too.

And those who arrived only at the eleventh hour,
let them not be afraid by reason of their delay.

For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first.
He gives rest to those who came at the eleventh hour,
as well as to those who toiled from the first.

To this one He gives, and upon another He bestows.
He accepts the works as He greets the endeavor.
The deed He honors and the intention He commends.

Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord!
First and last alike receive your reward.

Rich and poor, rejoice together!
Sober and slothful, celebrate the day!

You that have kept the fast, and you that have not,
rejoice today for the Table is richly laden!

Feast royally, for the calf is a fatted one.
Let no one go away hungry.

Partake, all, of the cup of faith.
Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!

Let no one grieve at his poverty,
for the universal kingdom has been revealed.

Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again;
for forgiveness has risen from the grave.

Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free.
He has destroyed death by enduring it.

He destroyed Hades when He descended into it.
He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.

Isaiah foretold this when he said,
"You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below."

Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.
It was in an uproar because it is mocked.

It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.
It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.

It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.
Hell took a body, and discovered God.

It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.

O death, where is thy sting?
O Hades, where is thy victory?

Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!

Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ, having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!

Christ is Risen! AMDG.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Es ist vollbracht.

In the latest iteration of the Good Friday tradition of this blog, here is the aria "Es ist vollbracht" ("It is accomplished") from J. S. Bach's Johannes-Passion, BWV 245. This video comes from a 1985 performance by Concentus Musicus Wien and the Tölzer Knabenchor, directed by Nikolaus Harnoncourt (RIP); the soloists are Panito Iconomou (alto) and Christophe Coin (playing the viola da gamba, a Baroque instrument).

In the Johannes-Passion, this aria comes immediately after Jesus' final words on the cross - "Es ist vollbracht" in the German text - and right before the Evangelist announces Jesus' death. Given below in the original German and in an English translation from the Bach Cantatas Website, the words of the aria move from mournful lament to sure yet somber faith in Christ's final victory:

Es ist vollbracht!
O Trost vor die gekränkten Seelen!
Die Trauernacht
Läßt nun die letzte Stunde zählen.
Der Held aus Juda siegt mit Macht
Und schließt den Kampf.
Es ist vollbracht!


It is accomplished!
What comfort for all suffering souls!
The night of sorrow
now reaches its final hours.
The hero from Judah triumphs in his might
and brings the strife to an end.
It is accomplished!

Prayers for those who are celebrating the Paschal Triduum, and good wishes to all. AMDG.

"What she has done will be told in remembrance of her."

Once again, it is Holy Week. As often happens at this point in the liturgical year, I feel acutely aware of the challenge of finding a contemplative space at a very busy time; this time is busy on account of academic projects that tend to pile up at this point in the calendar, but it's additionally busy for me as a priest called upon to lead services and to hear confessions during the days of Holy Week and the Paschal Triduum. As I observed five years ago, it can be tempting for people in ministry to view the Triduum as "another damn thing," a pile of practical tasks and responsibilities added to an already busy schedule. What I wrote then remains true today: for one who works through the Triduum, praying through the Triduum can seem an elusive goal.

As part of my effort to prepare spiritually for the Triduum, I spent some time earlier this week praying with the various Gospel accounts of the Passion. As I did this, I was newly struck by a detail that the Evangelists Mark and Matthew both record in their accounts of the anointing of Jesus at Bethany (Mk 14:3-9, Mt 26:6-13). After an unnamed woman anoints Jesus with precious spikenard, provoking the ire of some observers who see her gesture as wastefully extravagant, Jesus defends the "beautiful thing" done by the woman and makes this statement: "Truly I tell you, wherever the Gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her" (Mt 26:13, cf. Mk 14:9).

The anointing of Christ is recounted in all four of the Gospels, but the details of the event differ somewhat in each Evangelist's telling. Luke sets himself apart from the other three by setting the event not at Bethany but in "a Pharisee's house" (Lk 7:36) and by describing the woman as a notorious public sinner (Lk 7:37, 47). John is unique in identifying the woman as Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus (Jn 12:3), and tradition has often presented her as Mary Magdalene. Absent from Luke and John but found in Matthew and Mark is the insistence of Jesus that "what she has done will be told in remembrance of her."

What is it about the actions of this woman that should be remembered "wherever the Gospel is proclaimed in the whole world"? Part of the answer lies in the sheer lavishness of her devotion; some accounts note that a few witnesses were scandalized at the apparent waste of costly perfume, suggesting that it should have been sold to benefit the poor (Mt 26:9; Mk 14:5; Jn 12:5). One hears an echo of such attitudes today in the voices of some who wrongly argue that concern for beauty in church architecture and sacred liturgy is an affront to the poor. On the contrary, those who are materially poor often have a heightened appreciation for the beauty of the sacred. In this regard, I sometimes think of the Latin inscription chiseled above the entrance of a splendid old church in the city where I was born: Aedificarunt Domino opifices Sancti Antonii, which can be translated, "The workers of Saint Anthony [parish] built [this church] for the Lord." In much the same way that a humble woman felt moved to anoint Jesus with costly perfume, the desire to do something beautiful for God moved a community of poor French Canadian immigrants in a small city in New England to construct a magnificent temple.

In his enyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia, St. John Paul II described how the anointing at Bethany can be seen to represent the care which Christians should have for the sacred liturgy. "Like the woman who anointed Jesus in Bethany," he wrote, "the Church has feared no 'extravagance,' devoting the best of her resources to expressing her wonder and adoration before the unsurpassable gift of the Eucharist. No less than the first disciples charged with preparing the 'large upper room,' she has felt the need, down the centuries and in her encounters with different cultures, to celebrate the Eucharist in a setting worthy of so great a mystery." Given this, we can better see "how the faith of the Church in the mystery of the Eucharist has found historical expression not only in the demand for an interior disposition of devotion, but also in outward forms meant to evoke and emphasize the grandeur of the event being celebrated." Whether we associate her with St. Mary Magdalene, with St. Mary of Bethany, or with another person whose name we cannot know, the woman who anointed Jesus at Bethany may be remembered as a patron for all who have exercised special care for the form of divine worship.

In praising the actions of the woman who anointed him, Jesus also presents her as an example to be imitated. Noting the extravagant care that she lavished upon the person of Jesus, we are invited to reflect upon our own care for Christ as he comes to us in the Eucharist and in the liturgical services of the Church. Do we receive him with affection and with reverence, unafraid to show our devotion in ways that others may fail to appreciate? May those of us who take part in the services of the Paschal Triduum find in these sacred rites an opportunity to grow in the love that moved the woman of Bethany to an act of profound adoration. In a special way, may those of us for whom this is a very busy time - particularly the clergy - increase our devotion to the One who has called us to service. AMDG.

The image of the Anointing at Bethany at the start of this post was found here.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

America's America.

As suggested by my recent posting of a homily given in Palo Alto, I spent some time this month in the San Francisco Bay Area. This part of California has played a small but special role in my Jesuit life. I visited California for the first time when I was a novice, spending two months living at Santa Clara University and working at Catholic Charities in San Jose. (On one of my first nights in the Jesuit community at Santa Clara, I commented at dinner that it was my first time west of the Rocky Mountains; putting things in perspective, an elderly priest at the table commented that he didn't venture east of the Rockies until he was in his forties.) I was well enough received at Catholic Charities that my supervisors invited me to come back, and two years later I returned to spend a summer working there and strengthened the ties that had drawn me back to Silicon Valley. After I began theology studies in Toronto, I took advantage of the long summers afforded by the Canadian academic calendar to spend a couple of months after my first year of theology living and studying in Berkeley. All of this has enabled me to form friendships that give me an incentive to return to California, as I was glad to do for ten days this month.

My experience of California has been geographically limited: I've gotten to know the Bay Area well, and I've explored the coast as far north as Fort Ross and as far south as Big Sur, but I've seen little of the rest of the state (for example, I've only made one brief visit to Los Angeles, and a busy conference schedule kept me from seeing much while I was there). Nevertheless, I've seen enough of the Golden State to appreciate the mythic place that California holds in the American imagination. For generations of Americans – and perhaps especially for those who grew up in damp, wintry, long-settled places like New England – California has been an object of fascination and a repository of dreams, a lush and verdant place at the far end of the continent where people go to carve out new identities. The reality is more complicated than the myth, and one could easily cite California's many modern problems – a bloated, debt-choked state government, years of drought, a high cost of living, and so on – as evidence of a crumbling dream. In spite of all that, California retains its mythic appeal, and I still feel drawn to return there as often as I can.

Another Jesuit who appreciated the allure of California was Father Ray Gawronski, whom I met by chance in Berkeley at a time when we were both guests of the Jesuit community there. A native New Yorker who first visited California as an eighteen-year-old college student in the summer of 1969, Father Gawronski spent various periods of time living and working in the Golden State from then until his death of cancer at the Jesuit infirmary near San Jose in the spring of 2016. In an essay entitled "California Coming Home" published in the Summer 2012 issue of the journal Logos, Father Gawronski wrote very eloquently about the place in his own life and in the American imagination of a state he called "America's America." The full text of the article is currently available online through Project MUSE, but I'll share some excerpts here to give the flavor of it.

When Ray Gawronski visited California for the first time, fresh off his sophomore year at the College of the Holy Cross and wearing a three-piece suit (because "[t]hat's what a young man at a college in New England still wore in 1969"), he was stunned both by the shock of recognition and by the distance between the world in which he had grown up and the new world suddenly presented to him. The movies, music, and television of his youth gave him a sense of California as "the ultimate American place," and, visiting relatives in suburban Cupertino, he found himself "in the world I had been watching on television for my entire life... a world that was all new, all shiny, sparkling, full of hope and confidence." The beauty of the natural environment offered a vivid contrast with gray, industrial New York, as did the values that seemed to define this new place. Silicon Valley was just being born – the term wouldn't appear in print until 1971 – but its distinctive culture already stood out. As Gawronski wrote:
The sorrows of the old world were left far behind, replaced only by science and technology as sources of meaning. The world in which I had been raised was a world of tradition, family tradition above all. There was the Church. There were the traditional schools, which appealed, not so much for their academic excellence as for the simple prestige reflected by their ivy walls...

And suddenly, all this was deemed irrelevant. Science was the new religion... The old world was the world of the broken heart – the hearts broken in human experience – and salvation was found in the heart of Jesus, the Sacred Heart. Here, now, salvation could be found in technological safety, free from the labyrinth of the heart.
Years later, having passed in and out of the California counterculture before returning to the faith of his childhood and entering the Jesuits, Gawronski found himself studying theology in Berkeley in the 1980s in preparation for ordination to the priesthood. By now, Gawronski had come to realize that "California represented the ultimate nonhistorical place. Not that it did not have a history, or people affected by history: but history was not part of its image, nor was it for history that people came here. People came here to get away from the nightmares of human history, and to seek refuge in the beauty of nature." After years of intensive study of Zen Buddhism and other Asian spiritual traditions, Gawronski's own efforts to escape the burden of history had led him to re-embrace his Slavic roots. He found fellowship with other "refugees from modernism" worshiping at the Russian Catholic parish in San Francisco, and he later cultivated close ties with a Ukrainian Catholic monastery nestled among redwoods a couple of hours north of the Bay Area. Reflecting late in life on his long relationship with California, Gawronski reached the following conclusions:
. . . [T]he beauty of [California] remains: the magic of the air, the smell of the ocean carried in on the fog, the night blooming jasmine. The fruit is better than any on earth, and, curiously, the bread is fantastic. Place remains.

History is something else. Perhaps California was the ultimate attempt to replace history with technology and, along with it, to undercut the sorrows of the human heart by technique. Zen (as Balthasar writes) is perhaps the ultimate technique, and the various attempts at reviving religious tradition have all foundered, I believe, because their ultimate guide has itself been technique. The only real antidote to technique is faith: that acceptance of our human limitation that trusting in a word of promise reaches out in humble confidence. Psychology as religion has proven inadequate. And original sin remains the one Christian doctrine that should be obvious to all.

In a place dedicated to timeless being in this world, where the only reality is what can be created for the future against a seemingly perfect present – occasional earthquakes being odd reminders of original sin – the only revolutionary act is tradition (the insight is that of the late Fr. Tom King, SJ, of Georgetown, who shortly before his death visited me in California, where he made a "Teilhardian" retreat). It is fidelity that is the revolutionary act, fidelity in marriage, fidelity in relationship, fidelity through time, in which the horrors of life in this fallen world are experienced, the cup drunk to its dregs. Fidelity is the only revolutionary act, not mobility, not change, which are merely of this world.

Which leaves me – leaves us – with the Cross, which is where I started back in 1969, a student at Holy Cross in old New England, where the campus had the Jesuit cemetery at its heart. All this beauty is cold and empty without the Cross. All human endeavor is folly. All human relations are variations on power trips, without the Cross.
Writing "California Coming Home" at a time when he was living and working in Colorado, Gawronski concluded by saying that "I hope to keep coming back to California all my days," a hope that now seems poignant given that he would ultimately die a few miles from the place where he first encountered the Golden State. I don't know how well "California Coming Home" will be understood by readers who didn't know Ray Gawronski or experience the state in the way that he did, but I like the essay enough to discuss it here, and I hope that it reaches an appreciative audience. AMDG.