Tuesday, January 31, 2006

A State of the Union I Would Watch

Karen Hall at Some Have Hats seems to be emerging from hibernation, and offers us this gem.

(Actually, it's her son Caleb that deserves the credit, but he's not blogging yet.)

St. Ignatius' Autobiography, Part 5: Imagine

In reading the Life of our Lord and the Lives of the Saints, he paused to think and reason with himself. “Suppose that I should do what St. Francis did, what St. Dominic did?” He thus let his thoughts run over many things that seemed good to him, always putting before himself things that were difficult and important which seemed to him easy to accomplish when he proposed them. But all his thought was to tell himself, “St. Dominic did this; therefore, I must do it. St. Francis did this; therefore, I must do it.” These thoughts also lasted a good while. And then other things taking their place, the worldly thoughts above mentioned came upon him and remained a long time with him. This succession of diverse thoughts was of long duration, and they were either of worldly achievements which he desire to accomplish, or those of God which took hold of his imagination to such an extent, that worn out with the struggle, he turned them all aside and gave attention to other things.

My mind is often filled with a rapid succession of ideas of many worthwhile things I could do, write, or propose. At that moment, such ideas can so capture my imagination that they seem a direct inspiration of God. “What’s to prevent me from doing this now?!” I ask myself. Then reality intrudes, and I remember all the immediate responsibilities that need to be taken care of. There are papers to grade, classes to prepare for, an event to attend. My brilliant idea will just have to wait. Maybe I should write it down, so I won’t forget it? Or maybe I shouldn’t write it down? If it’s an inspiration from God, won’t it stay with me, not be forgotten? If only it were that simple.

Suppose that I should do what St. Ignatius did? Pause, to think and reason with myself. Turn aside, and give my attention to other things. And, later, recall these ideas when it is time to pray, and ask: is this something that God wants, or that I want?

Monday, January 30, 2006

St. Ignatius' Autobiography, Part 4: The Lure of Romance and the Allure of God

He had been much given to reading worldly books of fiction and knight errantry, and feeling well enough to read he asked for some of these books to help while away the time. In that house, however, they could find none of those he was accustomed to read, and so they gave him a Life of Christ and a book of the Lives of the Saints in Spanish.

By the frequent reading of these books he conceived some affection for what he found there narrated. Pausing in his reading, he gave himself up to thinking over what he had read. At other times he dwelt on the things of the world which formerly had occupied his thoughts. Of the many vain things that presented themselves to him, one took such possession of his heart that without realizing it he could spend two, three, or even four hours on end thinking of it, fancying what he would have to do in the service of a certain lady, of the means he would take to reach the country where she was living, of the verses, the promises he would make her, the deeds of gallantry he would do in her service. He was so enamored with all this that he did not see how impossible it would all be, because the lady was of no ordinary rank; neither countess, nor duchess, but of a nobility much higher than any of these.

Nevertheless, our Lord came to his assistance, for He saw to it that these thoughts were succeeded by others which sprang from the things he was reading.

I must admit that I’m a romantic at heart. I remember having many such dreams myself as a younger man. But when it came to dating I was shy, and my insecurities got the better of me. Even when I was fortunate enough to fall in love, and be loved in return, still my insecurities would cause me to question whether it was possible for me to be loved by such an extraordinary woman. I nearly married once, but other ambitions drew me away for a time, and the opportunity was no longer there when I returned.

Now, eight years a Jesuit, it seems, anyway, that God had other plans. Yet, still, even now when things get a little rough, or I meet someone whom I attracted to, my imagination can get the better of me. What if we were to fall in love? What if I were to marry this or some other woman who fell in love with me, and I with her? My romantic side tells me how wonderful it would be! Yet, soon the Lord brings other thoughts. It is as a Jesuit that I have found peace in God’s will for me, though such moments bring me face to face with what I have given up for it—that deep love with one other, children of my own. I also realize that if someone were to fall in love with me, they would be falling in love with Mark, the Jesuit, the Mark who by means of the commitment I have made is freer to strive to be all that God wishes me to be. To abandon that for someone’s love, even if I also shared that love for her, would to become somebody other than the person she fell in love with. Indeed, at least insofar as I understand my vocation at this point in my life, it would be to ignore God’s will for me and choose to be something other than my best self. Such mysteries are the stuff of all vocations whether to religious life, priesthood or married life. We hold to our commitments so that we might someday be all that God wishes us to be.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Whisperings About the Jesuit Father General

Rocco at Whispers in the Loggia tells us that Jesuit Father General Peter-Hans Kolvenbach has met with Benedict numerous times since his becoming Pope, more times than any other major religious superior (maybe he's not so aloof after all!). He also fills us in on speculation about Kolvenbach's possible retirement, and rumors of the calling of a Jesuit General Congregation in the near future:

At a private audience granted to Kolvenbach on 11 June 2005, sources within the Society tell Whispers that the Father-General requested Benedict XVI's input on consulting with the Jesuit provincials worldwide on the "possible" calling of a General Congregation in 2008, the business of which which would "possibly" include the election of his successor as Superior General.

Check out his post here.

Quote from This Week's Homework

"Therefore, I believe, anyone should not think himself to be Christian if he disputes about instances, relations, quiddities, and formalities with an obscure and irksome confusion of words, but rather if he holds and exhibits what Christ taught and showed forth" --Erasmus

A good reminder, I thought.

St. Ignatius' Autobiography Part 3: Sixteenth Century Nip/Tuck

When the bones knit, one below the knee remained astride another, which caused a shortening of the leg. The bones so raised caused a protuberance that was not pleasant to the sight. The sick man was not able to put up with this, because he had made up his mind to seek his fortune in the world. He thought the protuberance was going to be unsightly and asked the surgeons whether it could not be cut away. The told him that it could be cut away, but that the pain would be greater than all he had already suffered, because it was now healed and it would take some time to cut it off. He determined, nevertheless, to undergo this martyrdom to gratify his own inclinations. His elder brother was quite alarmed and declared that he would not have the courage to undergo such pain. But the wounded man put up with it with his usual patience.

After the superfluous flesh and the bone were cut away, means were employed for preventing the one leg from remaining shorter than the other. Many ointments were applied and devices employed for keeping the leg continually stretched which caused him many days of martyrdom. But it was our Lord Who restored his health. In everything else he was quite well, but he was not able to stand upon that leg, and so had to remain in bed.

This is kind of like the sixteenth century version of cosmetic surgery. Got an unsightly protuberance after your cannonball injury healed? Don’t fret! We’ll just cut away that recently healed flesh, saw at the bone a little, and then stretch your leg out as if it were in a torture device, in hopes that this leg won’t end up shorter than the other. Better you should suffer now than you should find your injury getting in the way of seeking your fortune in the world! Saint Ignatius, after the Battle of Pamplona, on the next Nip/Tuck!

Yes, it seems that vanity and pride are “showing through” again, not unlike that pesky bulge in Ignatius’ leg. What is it going to take to cut that pride away? Well, probably a lifetime, because Jesuit Father General Ignatius, the narrator of the story, still seems to be bragging a little bit again: “But the wounded man put up with it with his usual patience.” Yeah, no big deal!

But this isn’t unmitigated vanity. After all, in the midst of this it is also striking that he doesn’t take all the credit, recognizing “it was the Lord Who restored his health.” Given that realization, I have to wonder if he isn’t poking fun at himself in the next line where, loosely translated, he observes: All was well, except for the fact that I couldn’t stand!

The Ethics of Espionage: A Contradiction?

There's an interesting ethical discussion happening in Washington. The question is: What, if any, moral constraints should be placed on the activity of intelligence officers? Some say that the work itself is already unethical, so how can you speak about ethics at all? Others contend that despite the fact that spying itself might be considered unethical, there must be limits as to what spies can and cannot do. The NYT reports on efforts to reflect on this topic:

An Exotic Tool for Espionage: Moral Compass

WASHINGTON, Jan. 27 — Is there such a thing as an ethical spy?

A group of current and former intelligence officers and academic experts think there is, and they are meeting this weekend to dissect what some others in the field consider a flat-out contradiction in terms.

The organizers say recent controversies over interrogation techniques bordering on torture and the alleged skewing of prewar intelligence on Iraq make their mission urgent. At the conference on Friday and Saturday in a Springfield, Va., hotel, the 200 attendees hope to begin hammering out a code of ethics for spies and to form an international association to study the subject.

Conference materials describe intelligence ethics as "an emerging field" and call the gathering, not sponsored by any government agency, the first of its kind. The topics include "Spiritual Crises Among Intelligence Operatives," "Lessons From Abu Ghraib," "Assassination: The Dream and the Nightmare" and "The Perfidy of Espionage." . . .

"It doesn't make much sense to me," said Duane R. Clarridge, who retired in 1988 after 33 years as a C.I.A. operations officer and who will not attend the conference. "Depending on where you're coming from, the whole business of espionage is unethical."

To Mr. Clarridge, "intelligence ethics" is "an oxymoron," he said. "It's not an issue. It never was and never will be, not if you want a real spy service." Spies operate under false names, lie about their jobs, and bribe or blackmail foreigners to betray their countries, he said . . .

read the rest

Saturday, January 28, 2006

St. Ignatius' Autobiography, Part 2: Piety, The Communion of Saints, and Coincidence

His condition grew worse. Besides being unable to eat he showed other symptoms which are usually a sign of approaching death. The feast of St. John drew near, and as the doctors had very little hope of his recovery, they advised him to make his confession. He received the last sacraments on the eve of the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, and the doctors told him that if he showed no sign of improvement by midnight, he could consider himself as good as dead. The patient had some devotion to St. Peter, and so our Lord wished that his improvement should begin that very midnight. So rapid was his recovery that within a few days he was thought to be out of danger of death.

The kind of piety expressed in this short passage might, in a modern understanding, seem naïve. Ignatius’ faith that the coincidence of the Church feast and his devotion to St. Peter had something to do with his recovery might even strike some as superstitious. Even if we are Catholic and believe in the Communion of Saints, we recognize in our reticence to endorse this kind of piety a reflection of contemporary cultural attitudes which we perhaps didn’t even choose, but simply absorbed as a consequence of growing up in 20th century America. After all, how rational is it to imagine that the date on which an event fell, coupled with the intercession of someone long dead, would have any impact on the course of events? Who’s to say it isn’t all just coincidence?

As I grow older, I come to believe less and less in “mere coincidence.” If as Catholics we believe in the Communion of Saints, and the guiding hand of God in history, don’t we also believe that God and the Saints can impact that history in all sorts of “irrational” ways? In his book, The Strangest Way, Fr. Robert Barron points out that Christianity is the “strangest way,” that it does fly in the face of the rationality that has so dominated Western culture since the Enlightenment, an eventuality that has led to the loss of many of the things that make us distinctively Catholic. Reading of the “strange” piety of heroes like Saint Ignatius can help us to recapture the beauty and the reality of our traditions.

J.R.R. Tolkien was one who also believed in the providence of God, and the importance of even specific days within that providence. This is reflected in his epic tale The Lord of the Rings, in which the newly formed Fellowship of the Ring sets out on their journey to destroy the ring on December 25 (Christmas), and Frodo and Sam, with a little help from Gollum, succeed in destroying the ring on March 25 (9 months before Christmas). Coincidence? I think not!

Friday, January 27, 2006

Lunch With A Wayward Catholic

Today I had the pleasure of meeting up with Jenn from Confessions of a Wayward Catholic for lunch. It was a very nice time. And purely by coincidence (?) we could hear from the table next to us talk of Ignatius, Xavier, Santa Clara University, a Jesuit-related conversation! We weren't far from BC, so that might have had something to do with it. The fact that we already knew a good bit about each other from blogging made things easy and familiar. It probably didn't hurt that she definitely had the air--and the accent--of someone from around these parts, like myself (though I've kinda lost the accent). Besides being a kindred spirit in terms of things Catholic, she also clearly shares my enthusiasm for popular culture--and sci-fi! So it was not difficult at all to come up with things to talk about. She clued me in on some interesting religious aspects to the show "Rescue Me," which I've never seen, but now might have to explore a bit. She also clued me in a bit on the new "Doctor Who" which will be arriving in the States soon, I hope! I also hope we'll have the opportunity to visit again soon. If you haven't discovered her blog, I encourage you to have a look-- you can read about her recent "arrest" on the way back from a visit to a monastery, and her inspiring journey back to the Church! In her latest post, she also asks prayers for her brother. So, Oremos!

Reflections on Ignatius' Autobiography, Pt. 1: Sometimes It Takes a Cannon Ball

The talk of Saint Ignatius in the last post, has given me an idea. I think there are many people who are interested in the life and the spirituality of Saint Ignatius. So, beginning today, I’m going to offer a short excerpt from Saint Ignatius’s autobiography, followed by a brief reflection, and invite your reflections on the same. The text is taken from a translation by William J. Young, S.J. Note: Though this is an autobiography, Saint Ignatius speaks of himself in the third person.

Up to his twenty-sixth year he was a man given over to the vanities of the world, and took special delight in the exercise of arms, with a great and vain desire of wining glory. He was in a fortress which the French were attacking, and although others were of the opinion that they should surrender on terms of having their lives spared, as they clearly saw there was no possibility of a defense, he gave so many reasons to the governor that he persuaded him to carry on the defense against the judgment of the officers, who found some strength in his spirit and courage. On the day on which they expected the attack to take place, he made his confession to one of his companions in arms. After the assault had been going on for some time, a cannon ball struck him in the leg, crushing its bones, and because it passed between his legs it also seriously wounded the other.

With this fall, the others in the fortress surrendered to the French, who took possession, and treated the wounded man with great kindliness and courtesy. After twelve or fifteen days in Pamplona they bore him in a litter to his own country. Here he found himself in a very serious condition. The doctors and surgeons whom he had called from all parts were of the opinion that the leg should be operated on again and the bones reset, either because they had been poorly set in the first place, or because the jogging of the journey had displaced them so that they would not heal. Again he went through this butchery, in which as in all others that he suffered he uttered no word, nor gave any sign of pain other than clenching his fists.

As someone who was a little late to the whole vocation thing (I was 29 when I entered the Jesuits), I always find it comforting to know that Saint Ignatius was kind of late getting there too. When I despair of the long Jesuit formation process, or the fact that I’ll be 40 by the time I’m ordained, I remember that Saint Ignatius was on a similar track. And, hey, he managed to do a few things, didn’t he?

I also love this opening to the autobiography for many reasons. First, Saint Ignatius, in his humility, begins by describing one of the more foolish things he did in his life. He let his pride and his “delight in the exercise of arms” get the best of him, and he threatened the lives of others with his foolish insistence on fighting an unwinnable battle. Yet, at the same time, he recognizes that if not for this foolishness, his life might not have taken the fortunate turn that it did—sometimes it takes a cannon ball to wake you up to what life is really about!

I also, like what it reveals about the Ignatius, now Father General of the Jesuits, who is recounting this story years later. Though he is no longer “given over to the vanities of the world,” you can still sense a little bit of his pride coming through when he feels compelled to add, “Again he went through this butchery, in which as in all others that he suffered he uttered no word, nor gave any sign of pain other than clenching his fists.” When my pride gets the best of me—all too often—it’s comforting to know that even a long-tested saint is not immune from it either!

ReRuns of Saint Ignatius

I'm embarassed to say that, though I have less than 10 "episodes" to go, I have gotten so far away from my last Autobiography post, that no one is likely to remember what happened!

So, I've decided that for the next couple of months I will republish my reflections on Saint Ignatius' Autobiography, one day at a time, along with whatever other things come to mind. This will serve as a refresher for those of you that have seen them before, and give newcomers to this blog an opportunity to journey with Saint Ignatius.

And so those of you that have seen them before won't get bored, feel free to contribute your own reflections in the comments box!!

Frey (no relation) on Frey and a somewhat "creepy" Oprah

Oprah's revenge

The daytime queen didn't just expose the lies in James Frey's "memoir." She publicly shamed him -- and it was a little creepy.

By Hillary Frey

Jan. 27, 2006 | Today, Oprah Winfrey found herself in a position she has never been in before: having to apologize to her audience. "I regret that phone call," she said during a live taping of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in Chicago. She was referring to her Jan. 11 phone-in to Larry King, during which the daytime queen expressed support for Oprah's Book Club author James Frey, who was under the initial round of fire for having fabricated parts of his mega-selling memoir "A Million Little Pieces." "I left the impression that the truth does not matter," she said. "To everyone who has challenged me about this book -- you are absolutely right."

Good for Oprah, right? Admitting being wrong, as Oprah has no doubt counseled guests on her show many times, isn't an easy thing to do, especially in front of millions of people. Yet, in the wake of this week's New York Times reports casting even wider doubts on the veracity of Frey's memoir, she didn't have much of a choice. Besides the Smoking Gun's initial investigation showing that Frey (to whom I am not related) lied about time he spent in jail and various run-ins with the law, some employees at the rehab center Frey attended have come forward to dispute his portrait of life there. No doubt her many, many followers (and admirers like myself) have been waiting for Oprah to finally pronounce James Frey a fraud, and to distance herself both from the flimsy book that she made into a phenomenon, and from the lying man she made into a hero.

Yet, even for those of us who have wanted to see Frey go down in flames for his lies, today's "Oprah" was unnerving . . .

read the rest.

The Latest on the Frey Saga--Oprah Can Be Tough Too

I don't watch Oprah, but not to worry, the NYT brings us up to date on the latest:

No debate about the meaning of memoirs and memory will clear the air around James Frey, the author of "A Million Little Pieces," and his publisher, Nan Talese of Doubleday. But what happened yesterday on Oprah Winfrey's couch came close. In a remarkable moment of television, Ms. Winfrey did what we have so often waited for public figures to do: she admitted openly that she had made a mistake in supporting Mr. Frey. Then she did her best to force him, and Ms. Talese, to admit the extent of his deception and the publisher's failure.

read the rest.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Meet the Family

Men in formation of the New Orleans province, including me

(Yes, that's sixty Jesuits in clerics! That's one preconception out the window!)

I was walking out of the Jesuit residence at Loyola University one day and a ran into a parent of a student. She asked, "Are you a Jesuit?" And I said, "Yes, I am." "Thank God!!" she said. It is these kind of reactions which help to give me confidence in my choice to serve God and the Church as a Jesuit priest.

But, as you might imagine, others are not always so supportive. One day, I went to the abortion clinic in town to pray with a group of my students. And one thing I didn't get from the people there was support. No "I'm so glad you are here," standing for the unborn. Rather, I got people making jokes about Jesuits teaching heresy and arguments about who Catholics must vote for in order to be good Catholics. So, if you ask me why I don't make regular trips to the abortion clinic--that's why. Who's going to go to some place where they are made to feel unwelcome by the people who they've come to stand in solidarity with? I'd rather find other ways to support the cause.

These are two extremes. It seems sometimes that when it comes to Jesuits, people either love us or they hate us. The difference I find is that the people who love us, in most cases, do so because they have had good, personal encounters with Jesuits. As for the people that hate us, some have had a bad experience with a Jesuit, but some have just jumped on the bandwagon. There seems to be a rule in some quarters that if you are striving to be an orthodox Catholic, you have to hate the Jesuits. There's a strange sense of solidarity that comes with having a common "enemy."

But as with any prejudice, there are many who will say mean-spirited things about the group as a whole, but when challenged they will allow, "I didn't really mean all Jesuits. Hey, I even have friends who are Jesuits." This, then, serves as permission to continue to malign the group as a whole.

Thankfully, I have found that this is true of only a small minority of Catholics. The majority of my experiences with people are positive. People are very pleased to meet a young man who has chosen to serve God and the Church as a priest. Most don't care that I'm a Jesuit, some don't even know what a Jesuit is. They are very supportive, especially when I can share with them who I am and why I have chosen the life I have. I have not chosen this for myself, I'm not doing this to become famous or write books or whatever, I'm responding to the call of Christ who told me that he wanted me to serve him as a Jesuit. He also told me I'd be persecuted, so what am I whining about?

I'm convinced that God gives those of us in the Church many gifts that, in the grand scheme, which only God knows, complement each other, even if at times they seem to contradict each other. I have come to this realization largely through sharing my life with my brother Jesuits. Especially among younger Jesuits, there is such a great diversity of backgrounds, perspectives and ministerial gifts. Some are "conservatives," some "liberals," and most of us fall into neither category because frequently those categories make no sense to us. Like John Paul II, I would likely fall into the "conservative" category when it comes to ecclesial issues, but I would be more "liberal" in my views about social justice. Indeed, one of the things I find most bizarre in the Church these days is the tension between "pro-life" Catholics and "social justice" Catholics because, to me, that is all of a piece, not in tension but based in the same convictions about the sanctity of life, human dignity, justice and peace. Not all my Jesuit brothers agree with me on this score. But I will say that I don't know of a single Jesuit who is not opposed to abortion (contrary to the belief of some, among them one of my sister's college professors, who got an earful after that comment!).

It is true that many Jesuits who lived through the changes after Vatican II are apt to have something of a knee-jerk reaction to anything that suggests a return to a pre-Vatican II understanding of Church. In my early Jesuit years, this lead to some unfortunate arguments for me until I began to understand that this reaction was not because they were "intolerant liberals," but because these men were so personally invested in those changes. They were taking these things personally. Once I became sensitive to that, I found myself able to talk to them, and to suggest to them that the recovery of some parts of our tradition that were lost could be a good thing, and not some kind of regression to a pre-Vatican II Church. I have found this especially important in my work with young people in recent years, where there is a clear attraction to things traditional, but not a desire to "turn back the clock."

Avery Dulles described this well in a 2002 review of the book Passionate Uncertainty:

"The distinction, I believe, is not between older and younger Jesuits—the categories most often used by the authors—but rather between those whose attitudes were shaped by the ideological revolutions of the 1960s and the rest of the Society. For the most part, the Jesuits who had completed their formation before Vatican II have remained faithful to their previous vision of the Church and the Society, and were able to integrate Vatican II into that vision. But then came a group who belonged to the restless “baby–boom” generation. Like many of their contemporaries, they became wildly optimistic about secularization in the early 1960s, and then in the early 1970s deeply involved in protests against the Vietnam War and in fighting for various social causes. They interpreted Vatican II as a kind of “palace revolution” in which the bishops put limits on the papacy, decentralized the Church, and transferred to the laity many powers formerly reserved to priests . . . At the present moment members of this intermediate age group hold positions of greatest power and influence in the Society, but they no longer represent the cutting edge. A younger group is arising, much more committed to the Church and its traditions."

This, I think, gets closer to the reality of the Society of Jesus today than the common prejudices both against and for us (some of our biggest fans would likely find Dulles' observations a bad sign for the Jesuits). When I look around at my peers what I see is a group of men dedicated to the building up of the Church, not to tearing it down, as many believe. And even the "Baby Boom" generation of which Fr. Dulles speaks, while loath to let go of some of the prejudices born of the Vatican II "revolution," are exemplary servants of God and his people. While we may not hold all the same opinions, have the same talents, and be as charitable or forgiving as we might at times, we are all men formed in Saint Ignatius' Spiritual Exercises, dedicated to the help of souls, sharers in a noble history of saints and servants of God and the Church. I am proud to be a member of this company, and thankful for all those who support us, especially those in this community of bloggers (Maggie, Amy, Steve, Karen, etc. I couldn't possibly name you all) who have promised their prayers for me and my brothers, so that we might, to the best of our abilities fulfill that vocation which God has given to each one of us.

Those Darn Jesuits . . . Redux

Some are clamoring in the previous post, for "evidence" that the Jesuits aren't the terrible horde they prefer to think. I refer them to my occasional blog "column," "Those Darn Jesuits." And, hey, if you were really looking for good news about the Jesuits, you needn't ask me, it's quite available from a variety of sources. But, here are the links to "Those Darn Jesuits":












You might also try Company magazine.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

More Pieces in the Frey Puzzle

A follow-up to my previous entry on the controversy over James Frey's book:

Further questions today about the 95% of the book which Frey says is actually true. Former staffers at the rehabilitation center which it is presumed he is writing about say the things he describes could not have happened there. They may just be covering their butts, and Frey insists that what he wrote is true.

But here's the problem: When we already know that he made things up, like a three month prison term, one is much more inclined to believe his critics than him.

Don't be surprised if Oprah abandons her book club again.

Monday, January 23, 2006

The Vast Jesuit Conspiracy, Fuzzy Math, and a Troubling Pope: Fr. Neuhaus Attacks the Jesuits and Challenges the Pope

Readers of my blog know that few things engender my ire so much as attacks on my Jesuit family, especially as often they are uninformed, unfair and even untrue. The Society of Jesus portrayed in such attacks is not the Society of Jesus I know, and I think I know my brother Jesuits far better than many of these people claim. Richard Neuhaus uses his latest article as an excuse to mount just such an attack. I feel compelled to respond.

Fr. Neuhaus at First Things proves in his latest article that the vast Jesuit conspiracy theory is alive and well. He also shows the “fuzzy math” typical of such articles. 5 living Jesuits + 1 deceased Jesuit + an “aloof” Father General = the entirety of the 19,000+ Society of Jesus. He also demonstrates the tired double standard that “liberals” are dissenters if they criticize the Pope, but “conservatives” like himself are free to criticize the Pope when the Pope doesn’t agree with them or do what they want. Perhaps there’s not here the “smell of mendacity” which he speaks of in his article, but one may just detect an odor of duplicity.

He calls the words of Jesuit Provincial Father Robert Scullin “defiant,” but they strike me as rather complicit with the intentions of the recent instruction:

“We continue to invite all qualified young men of either orientation who desire to lead a celibate chaste religious life to consider joining us on our mission.”

The key word here is “qualified.” The instruction, as I and many others have come to understand it, does not exclude men merely on the basis of orientation. Thus those charged with approving such men would have to determine whether that person was qualified according to the standards set by the instruction. Nowhere does Fr. Scullin say that the instruction is to be ignored.

I also have to say it’s a cheap shot when Neuhaus calls it “surprising” that transsexuals are not included in Scullin’s statement.

“Jesuits do seem to be in the vanguard of the attack” he says.

I have to question how he gets this impression, unless silence on a topic is now considered being in the vanguard of an attack. With the exception of Father Tom O’Brien, whom he mentions (and who did so without permission, it seems), I can only think of one or two Jesuits that have said anything publicly on the matter. Furthermore, he tries to suggest that O’Brien’s provincial’s rebuke of him for doing so points to something sinister:

“It is a way of proceeding that candidly says (at least within the family) that the instruction will be ignored, while asking Jesuits to be publicly discreet about their repudiation of the Church’s teaching on sexuality.”

Again, Neuhaus is promoting the vast Jesuit conspiracy theory. All Jesuits now, it seems, are dedicated to the “repudiation of the Church’s teaching on sexuality.” (I hate it that my superiors keep forgetting to send me the memos about our secret mission to undermine the Church). Fr. Neuhaus also knows, I presume, that it is common practice in religious communities for one to seek permission from one’s superior before making statements or publishing articles or books on potentially controversial topics. It’s not something devious, it’s the tradition of the Church.

I’d also question, in part, his view of vocational discernment. He says:

“Presumably, the individual discerns whether he—or, for that matter, she—is called to the priesthood, and the role of the Church is limited to ratifying that discernment. Needless to say, this is not the way the Catholic Church understands the vocation to the priesthood.”

Besides obfuscating things by throwing in “she,” I wonder if Fr. Neuhaus has been to an ordination liturgy lately. While there is certainly more involved in the process than merely what he describes above, the way in which the ordination liturgy proceeds is much like it. The superiors of the man to be ordained, who have discerned with him throughout the time of his formation, judge him worthy of ordination, and the Church affirms that judgment by means of ordination. Again, the process is more complicated than that and, clearly, doesn’t involve women, but I’m puzzled by the confidence of his statement that “this is not the way that the Catholic Church understands the vocation to the priesthood.”

As for his criticisms of Father James Keenan, it would seem to me that since Father Keenan is a moral theologian, he is asking questions within his area of expertise, as is allowed by canon law. If the Vatican finds his questions problematic, I’m sure they will let him know, as they have several other moral theologians, among them Jesuits.

Father Neuhaus is also exceedingly kind in allowing us Jesuits a little “cachet”:

“Then, too, and despite the Jesuits’ diminishing numbers, prestige, and influence, there are still those who think the word ‘Jesuit’ carries a certain intellectual cachet.”

Given all this time I’m spending studying, I bloody well hope it does!
And then there’s the matter of the Pope, who isn’t quite measuring up:

“Among those who greatly admired Cardinal Ratzinger and were elated by his election as pope, there is a palpable uneasiness.”

Neuhaus says that Benedict’s choice of his successor at CDF, and his successor’s successor in San Francisco are “troubling.” Neuhaus hopes gentle Benedict will put aside his fear and stand up like a man against those wily Jesuits who, by the end of Neuhaus’ article, are now threatening schism (again, where’s that memo I didn’t get?) and are “rejectionists”:

“And so it is that we are faced with what may be a defining test of the pontificate of Benedict XVI. As all who know him can attest, he is in personal relations a gentle man and averse to unpleasantness. He cannot relish the prospect of a direct confrontation with major institutions such as the Society of Jesus. Early on in his pontificate, John Paul II made an effort to bring the Jesuits into closer alignment with church teaching and authority, and ended up with little to show for it. As is his custom, the father general of the society, Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, remains publicly aloof.

With this pope, as with all popes, there is the fear of schism. That was the great fear in 1968. Public confrontation would undoubtedly spark a media storm of historic proportions, but, after the dust settled, where would the rejectionists go? Lefebvrism of the left, whether in this country or elsewhere, cannot hold much appeal.”

Well, at least I can agree with that last sentence! As for that intervention in the governance of the Jesuits by John Paul II that Neuhaus mentions, what it proved, and why it resulted in the restoration of the Jesuits’ governance so quickly, was precisely that the Jesuits, though displeased by John Paul’s action, were not poised for schism.

Father Neuhaus and others need to wake up to the fact that the Society of Jesus is not engaged in some vast conspiracy to undermine the Church. It’s a provocative tale to tell, but it’s not the truth. And, also, even if all his charges were valid, 5 men can never stand as representative of 19,000. The Society of Jesus as Father Neuhaus paints it is nothing more than a caricature. In charity, I hope it is simply because he is uninformed. But I can’t help but wonder if he’s simply willing to ignore the truth to promote his agenda, which seems to be laying down a challenge to the Pope to show how “manly” he can be by beating up who Neuhaus paints as the largest bully in the Church's schoolyard—those darn Jesuits.

Squirrel Wars

Grey squirrels face massive cull

A massive cull of grey squirrels is to take place across England to try to halt declining numbers of the endangered native red population.

Biodiversity minister Jim Knight said "humane and targeted pest control" would cull greys in areas where red squirrels are being 'squeezed out'.

Most UK reds are confined to Scotland, Cumbria, Northumbria, the Isle of Wight and islands in Poole Harbour.

They are weaker than grey squirrels, which also carry the squirrelpox virus.

Mr Knight said the aim was not to completely eradicate the greys, which have a population estimated at more than two million - outnumbering red squirrels by 66 to one.

read the rest.

Why can't I be Biodiversity Minister?

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Seeing Munich

I don't remember the Munich Olympics (had my sights set on Kindergarten then). So, seeing Munich last night was an interesting introduction to a moment in history of which I was largely un aware. Though the subject matter is very different, I would rank it with Woody Allen's Crimes and Misdemeanors as an effective portrayal of the banality of evil. It is perhaps even more effective since the subject goes beyond adultery and murder to terrorism, revenge and murder. But, unlike Allen's film, in which Martin Landau's character, in the end, seems to be able to put aside his conscience, Avner, the main character in Spielberg's film, finds that despite the growing ease he finds with killing, putting aside his conscience is something he ultimately can't do. By the end of the film we see clearly, I think, that no amount of killing will end the cycle of violence, even if some still believe it to be necessary. And the backdrop to Spielberg's poignant final scene is clearly no accident. See it if you can.

Still pondering the film, we arrived back at the Jesuit house in New Orleans, where I'm visiting for a few days. Across the streets were the red pulsing lights of four fire engines, in front of the synagogue. Rather eery to come back to that after seeing Munich. The fire officals left without incident. Perhaps it was a false alarm, or a bomb scare.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Well, That Was Bloody Unexpected! (Surprising Headlines)

Whale spotted in central London

A seven-tonne whale has made its way up the Thames to central London, where it is being watched by riverside crowds.

The 16-18ft (5m) northern bottle-nosed whale, which is usually found in deep sea waters, has been seen as far upstream as Lambeth Bridge.

A rescue boat has been sent to protect the whale and rescuers have been trying to keep it away from the river banks.

Specialist equipment, including inflatable tubes to re-direct the animal downstream, are being sent.

read the rest

Last Friday

Jim has beat me to it, but I do have to say a little something about last Friday. I had the pleasure of meeting Jim Cork, who runs a nice blog but does not post as frequently as his brother Bill (Jim's forgiven, as he has a little one running around at home). Jim was in Cambridge for the meeting of Communion and Liberation, one of the many movements that are contributing so much life to the Church these days. He is only the second blogger I've met in person (the first, purely by coincidence, was his brother Bill). Jim's flight was delayed, so our dinner plans got somewhat waylayed. When it became clear that Jim, who was starving, wasn't going to even arrive at the hotel until about 10:00, I decided to grab a selection of food at a nearby Whole Foods. So, we had a couple of hours of conversation over pseudo-gourmet food in the hotel lobby. I wish we could have spoken longer, but we did manage to learn a good bit about each other in a short time, and also managed to trade opinions about Battlestar Galactica, both the new and the old. Jim and his wife both spent some time living in Japan, and both have jobs in which they are called upon to speak Japanese. They have a beautiful son, Liam, who I think is about a year and a half (check out the pictures on Jim's blog). One of the most interesting things, having met both Jim and his brother Bill, is the remarkably different ways that each ended up becoming Catholics, after being brought up in another tradition. It's reflected in the different ways each approaches the Church. Bill's was an intellectual conversion--by means of study he became convinced that he should become Catholic. Jim's, on the other hand, was a relational conversion. He began going to Church with Jess, then his wife-to-be, when both were in college and, as a result, ended up becoming a Catholic. This also accounts in some ways for his interest in Communion and Liberation and, after having met some of the others at the conference, I can definitely see why. They are an enthusiastic bunch of committed but down-to-earth Catholics. They were very warm and even invited me to join them. I was tempted, but unfortunately I had some projects to take care of and, truth be told, some football to watch. Here's hoping that I can get down to Atlanta soon, or that Jim makes it up this way again. I know there's so much more we could talk about!

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

One Step Closer

While I was away, a book that I co-authored got one step closer to publication!

You can't buy it yet, but it's due out it in March.

But you can get more information at the Orbis website.

Orbis has also redesigned their site, so look around!

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Write Away!

I'm hoping not to post anything for the next several days.

I'm off for a little personal writing retreat, to catch up on a few projects.

Prayers would be appreciated.

Have a very nice Ordinary week!!



He Looks Like How I Feel

Yeah, that about sums up how I felt as I watched the Pats self-destruct.

Still, Thumbs Up, boys, for a hard-fought season!

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Come Meet Steph . . .

. . . at My Frappr Map and add yourself to the community, and check out hers.

Look forward to seeing you there!

Brangelina does it again, and other news . . .

Please, please, please . . .

If you haven't, DO check out the two latest "reports" at the blog of my favorite advent wreath making instructor, Maureen Martin.

She's at CatholicNews

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Creative Non-Fiction or Making Stuff Up

The controversy over James Frey's book, A Million Little Pieces points to an interesting question in the literary community and publishing world that has been going on for years.

When writing non-fiction, how much can you make up?

Non-fiction writers do have to make decisions about things like the details of incomplete memories. Significant events in our lives are not always remembered in complete detail, and sometimes we remember things incorrectly, so there should be a little leeway here.

Conversely, some recollections are too unwieldy to write about in an effective way, they have to be pared down to an easier to follow narrative which doesn't necessarily include all the details.

But at least in both these cases the basic facts are verifiable, though someone, like a family member might remember certain details differently. (A recent debate broke out in my family about whether or not we ever owned a chihuahua, which only one family member seems to remember)

More questionable are things like using composite characters (as is often done in film retellings of "true" stories).

Can a number of different individuals in your life who imparted a certain type of wisdom to you be morphed into one person? After all, non-fiction writers often use psuedonyms to protect the privacy of people in their lives anyway. This one I admit, is a bit more questionable.

But these ones, in my mind, fall into the category of potentially allowable alterations.

However, in the case of Frey, even though he claims that only 5% of the book is untrue or inaccurate, it's not all so "innocent" (I would contend) as the above practices.

The New York Times reports today that he writes about three months spent in jail and the consequences of that incarceration, but he never spent three months in jail! That's not a creative flourish or a filling in of unremembered details, that's just making stuff up.

So, while I would agree with those who argue that not everything in non-fiction has to be completely true and accurate (heck, even our history books could probably not meet that standard), there is a limit to how much you can make up in a work like a memoir. If you say you went to jail, you very well should have gone to jail, unless it's clear that you mean "jail" as a metaphor.

Reminds of one of my favorite lines from Barton Fink:

Well . . . actually, no Bill . . .

Barton looks nervously at Audrey before continuing.

. . . No, I've always found that writing comes
from a great inner pain. Maybe it's a pain
that comes from a realization that one must
do something for one's fellow man - to help
somehow to ease his suffering. Maybe it's a
personal pain. At any rate, I don't believe
good work is possible without it.

Mmm. Wal, me, I just enjoy maikn' things up.
Yessir. Escape...It's when I can't write, can't
escape m'self, that I want to tear m'head off
and run screamin' down the street with m'balls
in a fruitpickers pail. Mm . . .

He sighs and reaches for a bottle of Wild Turkey.

. . . This'll sometimes help.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Toadally Pumped

. . . that there's only 3 more days of finals week to go! Pray I make it!

Sunday, January 08, 2006

We interrupt this program . . .

. . . to plug one of the best shows on TV right now.

from Heather Havrilesky at Salon.com:

What's strange is that, even when people told me, very directly, that the new "Battlestar Galactica" was a really smart, character-driven drama that just happened to be set in space, I didn't believe them. That's how insidious the layers and layers of crappy space-show buildup can be. Even though I heard "dark" and "smart" and "unpredictable," all I could picture was Captain Kirk in a toga.

It's all been said before, but I'll say it again: "Battlestar Galactica" is much, much better than you can possibly imagine . . .

What's most remarkable about "Battlestar Galactica" is that it's populated by distraught, fallible characters who fumble around in the dark and make big mistakes, but never lose our sympathies. Many of them aren't likable or even easy to understand, but we're offered some way of seeing the world through their eyes. For example, Col. Tigh (Michael Hogan), Commander Adama's (Edward James Olmos) right-hand man, may be the least likable character of all, but his indiscretions are balanced by his confusion and uncertainty about his decisions. During the second season, he kept going back to the bedside of an unconscious and ailing Adama, telling the captain over and over again how badly he was screwing up. As soon as Adama was conscious, Tigh told him he wouldn't believe the mess he left for him. When do you see a captain of any kind, let alone a captain on a show about outer space, behave this way? You think you're watching for the tough-girl hero Starbuck or for the battle scenes, and suddenly you're heartbroken over the plight of this poor old jackass.

. . . Of course, this show has so many strong female characters in it, where do you begin? Roslin, Starbuck, Number Six, Boomer... And unlike network TV's lead females, who so often veer into the realm of fragility and Teri Garr "Forget your job and come to bed, honey" moments, these characters - particularly Roslin and Starbuck - are presented as just as confident and as flawed in interesting ways (Take note, "Commander in Chief") as their male counterparts.

. . . This show is so fracking intense it makes me want to take a Raptor out for a spin through an asteroid belt - or at least drive that El Camino through the mud until it overheats. Frackin' A! With such insanely high stakes and so many fast-moving storylines, "Battlestar Galactica" may just be the anti-"Lost."

See also Gashwin's post on Galactica.

Friday, January 06, 2006

War, Peace, Canon Law, Ethics, Scripture & PAGE PROOFS!

Light to no blogging this week as I try to get my final exams and final papers completed, and try to fight off distractions!

The distraction of the day: PAGE PROOFS! for the book I co-authored, Just War, Lasting Peace, which will be published by Orbis this year. I've read other people's page proofs before, but this is my first time receiving page proofs of my own!

But, like I said, there's finals, and papers to write . . . So please pray I don't get too distracted!

And HAPPY NEW YEAR everybody!



Thursday, January 05, 2006

An Oscar Nod for Jon Stewart

No, he wasn't in King Kong, or Memoirs of a Geisha. He's still just helming The Daily Show.

But the Academy has tapped him to be this year's Oscar host. As a fan of The Daily Show, and someone who never misses the Oscars, I must say I'm pleased with the choice.

But hosting the Oscars is not an easy gig--just ask Letterman--so we'll see if he can pull it off!

Stewart's reaction: "As an avid watcher of the Oscars," he said in a statement, "I can't help but be a little disappointed with the choice."

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Townshend Knows What It's Like

Some good advice from Rock n' Roll legend Pete Townshend, who suffers from hearing loss:

Pete Townshend warns iPod users

LONDON (AP) — Guitarist Pete Townshend has warned iPod users that they could end up with hearing problems as bad as his own if they don't turn down the volume of the music they are listening to on earphones . . .

read the rest

Tuesday, January 03, 2006


One of the most fascinating and moving blogs that I have come across is Post Secret. People send in anonymous confessional post-cards, sometimes making sad and dark confessions, sometimes happy and joyous ones. Here's a couple:

There was an exhibit in Washington (closes this week). And a book is now available.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Proclaiming and Embodying the "Gospel of Peace"

Pope Benedict XVI has issued his message for the World Day of Peace:

"In view of the risks which humanity is facing in our time, all Catholics in every part of the world have a duty to proclaim and embody ever more fully the ''Gospel of Peace'', and to show that acknowledgment of the full truth of God is the first, indispensable condition for consolidating the truth of peace. God is Love which saves, a loving Father who wants to see his children look upon one another as brothers and sisters, working responsibly to place their various talents at the service of the common good of the human family. God is the unfailing source of the hope which gives meaning to personal and community life. God, and God alone, brings to fulfilment every work of good and of peace. History has amply demonstrated that declaring war on God in order to eradicate him from human hearts only leads a fearful and impoverished humanity toward decisions which are ultimately futile. This realization must impel believers in Christ to become convincing witnesses of the God who is inseparably truth and love, placing themselves at the service of peace in broad cooperation with other Christians, the followers of other religions and with all men and women of good will."

Read the entire document here.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

This Year's Model

Here's one reason why blogging's been light lately. I spent most of the final days of 2005 with my brother Jesuits in the New Orleans Province who are also in formation. I am blessed to be part of this impressive group of men! Please continue to keep us in your prayers!

The content of this site is the responsibility of its author and administrator, Mark Mossa, SJ, and does not necessarily represent the Society of Jesus