Sunday, September 30, 2007

Who knew?

Last week, for one of my classes, I was reading Hannah Arendt's The Origins of Totalitarianism, and was interested to come across the following in her discussion of pre-Nazi Germany:

“What they conspicuously lacked, despite all high-sounding nationalist phrases, was a real nationalist or other ideology. After the first World War, when the German Pan-Germans, especially Ludendorff and his wife, recognized this error and tried to make up for it, they failed despite their remarkable ability to appeal to the most superstitious beliefs of the masses because they clung to an outdated nontotalitarian state worship and could not understand that the masses’ furious interest in the so-called ‘suprastate powers’ (uberstaatliche Machte)—i.e. the Jesuits, the Jews and the Freemasons—did not spring from nation or state worship but, on the contrary, from envy and the desire also to become a ‘suprastate power.’”

All this time, and I've been blissfully ignorant of my membership in a "suprastate power." Maybe a good icebreaker at parties?--Oh, by the way, did you know that I belong to a suprastate power?

Overheard in My Jesuit Community

So, me and one of my Jesuit brothers (who is also being ordained next Saturday) are sitting watching some college football about 10:30 on Saturday night.

Enter one of the recently ordained priests we live with.

"So, hey, this is your last Saturday night as a lay persons! You should celebrate!"

True, I think, but I wasn't really thinking about that. I was just thinking that it looks like Auburn is going to beat Florida (sorry Karen!).

"Hey thanks for the reminder" (as if the reality of it all isn't already hitting us hard enough!).

"Oh, look, what a play!!"

We go back to watching football.

And Florida did lose (sorry again, Karen). That might be celebration enough!

Saturday, September 29, 2007


The Boston Red Sox are the AL East Champs!

Congrats also to all the Cubs fans out there!

Monday, September 24, 2007


For some reason, my scanner is cutting off part of the text, but you get the idea! That's "ten o'clock in the morning," "Cambridge, Massachusetts."

Friday, September 21, 2007

God in the Dock, Really!

Interesting news from Omaha:

A legislator who filed a lawsuit against God has gotten something he might not have expected: a response. One of two court filings from 'God' came Wednesday under otherworldly circumstances, according to John Friend, clerk of the Douglas County District Court in Omaha.

read all about it.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

News From Around the World

This is the time of year in my community when everyone is sharing their stories of the summer. Last night, one of my brother Jesuits was telling stories of being a newly ordained priest, and the only priest in a refugee camp in Africa. If you read Spanish, you can read some of his reflections in a blog he kept this summer here (if you don't read Spanish, there are still some lovely photographs worth checking out). My superior attended a number of different ordinations this summer. In the period of about a week he was present at the ordinations of some of our Spanish brothers, and that of one from Poland. "Very different," he said, "but both very beautiful."

One of my friends in the community is from Chile. He was also ordained this summer. When I saw him at one of our first masses upon returning, he said, "Remind me that I have something to tell you." After mass I caught up to him and said, "Well . . . " He told me of how he had met a young man this summer who was interested in becoming a Jesuit. They talked about discerning a vocation and this young man explained that where he was from there were no Jesuits nearby and, indeed, there were many in his Catholic community who were critical of the Jesuits. This made things difficult for him. But, he said, the internet helped him to learn more positive things about the Jesuits, despite the negativity around him. He went on to say that especially enjoyed reading the blog of an American Jesuit named Mark Mossa. "Do you know him?" he asked my friend. "Of course I know him, he's a member of my community," he replied. Yet another of many "small world" stories.

Of course, I was happy to learn I have a fan in Chile. But, more importantly, it was nice to know that this blog is, at least in this case, achieving one of its main purposes. I started this blog not because I was hoping that people might become more interested in me, but largely in hopes that through me that people might become more interested in God, the Church and, perhaps a little more selfishly, the Society of Jesus. I also hoped that by reading about my vocation, that others might be helped in discerning their own. So, it makes me very happy to learn that for this young man in Chile this has been the case, and I'm keeping him in my prayers.

L'Engle Again

For those of us already missing Madeleine L'Engle, Jana Riess offers a nice and fitting tribute in Publisher's Weekly:

This began my love affair with the books of Madeleine L'Engle—books I saved my hard-earned allowance for, devoured quickly, then returned to, savoring them again and again. When I was applying to colleges, my Wellesley application asked me to write about any individual—past or present, real or fictitious—I would most want to learn from as an apprentice, and to explain why. I chose Madeleine L'Engle, not because I wanted to be a writer—I had no literary ambitions and (incredibly, now) aspired to practice international law—but because I wanted to be her. Her books had stretched my imagination, and while I didn't know it at the time, they formed the core of my fledgling Christian beliefs.

Read it all here.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Why Are We Here? The University as Alternative to Religion?

Here are some excerpts from an interesting piece in Sunday's Boston Globe, "Why Are We Here?", by Anthony Kronman of Yale University, followed by some of my thoughts:

In a shift of historic importance, America's colleges and universities have largely abandoned the idea that life's most important question is an appropriate subject for the classroom. In doing so, they have betrayed their students by depriving them of the chance to explore it in an organized way, before they are caught up in their careers and preoccupied with the urgent business of living itself. This abandonment has also helped create a society in which deeper questions of values are left in the hands of those motivated by religious conviction - a disturbing and dangerous development. . .

. . . In the humanities, however, the legacy of the research ideal has been mixed. We know vastly more today than we did even 50 years ago about the order of Plato's dialogues, the accuracy of Gibbon's citations, and how Benjamin Franklin spent his time in Paris. But the research ideal has excluded the question of life's meaning from serious academic concern as a question too large, too unformed, too personal, to be a subject of specialized research. A tenure-minded junior professor studying Shakespeare or Freud or Spinoza might re-inspect every scrap of his subject's work with the hope of making some small but novel discovery - but would be either very brave or very foolish to write a book about Spinoza's suggestion that a free man thinks only of life, never of death; or about Freud's appealing, if enigmatic, statement that the meaning of life is to be found in work and love. . .

. . . Conservatives who bemoan our schools' disengagement from spiritual questions often point a finger at political correctness, a stifling culture of moral and political uniformity based on progressive ideals. But to blame political correctness reverses the order of causation. The culture of political correctness is only a symptom, a discouraging response to a larger sense of directionlessness in the humanities.
Multiculturalism, anti-colonialism, and insistence on race and gender as organizing principles of study are an expression of the anxious search for a new and morally honorable role for the humanities once their older role as guides to the meaning of life lost its credibility. It is that older role we now need to recover.
Can the meaning of life be studied independent of religion? There are many who doubt that it can. They say that any program of this sort must rest on religious beliefs, which have lost their status as a source of authority in higher education. But that is a mistake. For even after the rise of the research university, with its secular and scientific culture, there were humanists who believed that the question of life's meaning can be studied in a disciplined but nonreligious way. Their approach gives us a model to follow today. . .
. . . There is an increasing demand among undergraduates for courses that address the big questions of life, in all their sprawling grandeur, without reticence or embarrassment. At Harvard, Michael Sandel's famous course on justice, which explores the meaning of the concept from Aristotle to Mill and beyond, draws hundreds of students each year. Ten percent of the freshmen at Yale now apply to Directed Studies - more than can be admitted.
Most importantly, perhaps, the great upsurge of religious fundamentalism outside our colleges and universities is a sign of the growing appetite for spiritual direction. These movements can be a source of danger and division, and intellectuals may mock and despise them, but teachers also ought to see in them the energy that will drive the restoration of the question of life's meaning - and, with that, of the humanities themselves - to a central place in our colleges and universities. The fundamentalists have the wrong answers, but they've got the right questions. We need to learn to ask them again in school.
Our culture may be spiritually impoverished, but what it needs is not more religion. What it needs is an alternative to religion, for colleges and universities to become again the places they once were - spiritually serious but nondogmatic, concerned with the soul but agnostic about God. . .

During my years as a graduate student in English Literature I was continually disappointed by the fact that few—if any—of my professors were interested in literature for the same reasons that I was. I was interested in how literature spoke to the “big questions”—the meaning of life, how we should live, what it means to be a person, etc. Unfortunately, most of my professors seemed more concerned with discovering obscure facts about authors and works (which is not without value, I admit) or with deconstructing or dispensing with the very types of meaning with which I was concerned. I was told by some professors at the time that I could make a career of exploring the religious aspects of works of literature because nobody else was doing it, but also that if I were to do so I was likely to be marginalized, especially since I was a Catholic, and worse, a serious one.

So I read with interest this piece which appeared in Sunday’s Boston Globe, “Why Are We Here?”, by Anthony Kronman of Yale. In the article he despairs at the failure of the contemporary university to confront and engage those very questions about the meaning of life. It is an important critique of the contemporary university, and he diagnoses the problem well. He urges universities to return to their historic roots and become places where once again such questions are pondered. To that I say “Amen.”

However, there is also a strange irony to his argument in that the urgency he feels is based upon a fear that without such a return the place where such questions are asked will become the environs of religion, “a disturbing and dangerous development.” His urgency is based on his belief that universities must provide “an alternative to religion.” This fear betrays the fact that his concerns are much more modern than he realizes. He seems to forget that the very idea of a university was forged in a culture that was at ease with religion, not threatened by it. Yes, the meaning of life can be studied independent of religion. Indeed, if taken seriously, it may even be wise to begin there. But the result should not be “an alternative to religion,” but an engagement of religion. To ignore the ways in which people throughout the centuries have answered questions of meaning for fear of being persuaded by some religion or another is to fail to engage the question fully and to ignore the riches of the human spirit. Ultimately, one can arrive at no satisfactory answer to the question “Why are we here?” ignorant of humankind’s religious sensibility and religious heritage. To do so would be to undermine his very argument about the importance of engaging such questions.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Splitting Hairs With Stephen Colbert on Mother Teresa

Father Jim Martin, SJ plays straight man to Stephen Colbert on the doubt of Mother Teresa.

"Well you did invite a Jesuit onto the show," he says in his defense. And what's that about M.Div Comps?


Saturday, September 08, 2007

Goodbye, Meg

There are only a few authors that I can say that I have been reading almost my entire life. C.S. Lewis is one. Another is Madeleine L'Engle whose book A Wrinkle in Time first captured my imagination when I was in grade school, and whose work I'm inspired by to this very day. Her book on faith and art, Walking on Water has especially meant a lot to me in recent years. She died Thursday at the age of 88. Meg, the protagonist of A Wrinkle in Time, and its sequels, is a literary character that has long stayed with me and with whom I identify Madeleine L'Engle with, as she did herself. The memory of both will no doubt continue to inspire, though Madeleine will be missed. Here's an excerpt from one of the many obituaries to appear in the last couple of days:

L'Engle was best known for her children's classic, "A Wrinkle in Time," which won the John Newberry Award as the best children's book of 1963. By 2004, it had sold more than 6 million copies, was in its 67th printing and was still selling 15,000 copies a year, the New York Times reported.

She had been the writer-in-residence and librarian at the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City.

In November 2000, she told an interviewer for Religion and Ethics Newsweekly that suffering and grief are a part of life.

"In times when we are not particularly suffering, we do not have enough time for God," she said. "We are too busy with other things. And then the intense suffering comes, and we can not be busy with other things. And then God comes into the equation. Help. And we should never be afraid of crying out, ‘Help!' I need all the help I can get."

Goodbye, Meg.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Stood Up

Don't believe it! Karen Hall made some noise recently about the two of us finally breaking bread. Well, today was the day. But, two hours before I was going to get in the car to drive to Rhode Island to meet her, she called and cancelled!

So, now I think you'll all agree it just might be incumbent upon here to come up here to Cambridge on October 6 for my diaconate ordination. She could act as "reporter" for those of you unable to make it.

It wasn't a total loss. I got to have dinner with my community and greet some of our new international members! "You could drive to Chicago and meet me," she said. I'm not sure she realizes how far Chicago is from Boston (1000 miles).

Monday, September 03, 2007

I'm Ready For Some Football!

Today was draft day for my Fantasy Football League. Last year I played for the first time and enjoyed it enough to try again. This year, I joined a league made up primarily of Catholic priests and seminarians, featuring such teams as the Justin Martyrs and Extreme Unction. My team's called the Patriots & Saints, after my two favorite NFL teams (who, to my dismay, both were one win short of making the Super Bowl last year). Thus, appropriately, I managed to pick up Tom Brady & Reggie Bush for my team! Last year I made the playoffs, but lost in the first round. I'm hoping Tom & Reggie will help me go all the way this year! My league last year was pretty sedate, no trash talking. I wonder if they'll be any of that in this league and, if so, what it will be like? I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Being There, Saying The Words

Much of my silence this summer was due to the fact that I was engaged in CPE, an intensive summer practicum in hospital chaplaincy. The 400+ hours of work, plus about 100 hours spent commuting, over eleven weeks left time for little else. But it was a rich and valuable, if exhausting, experience. You can expect that I’ll probably be offering some reflections on that experience in the weeks to come. Here’s one.

with thanks for A

On Monday morning the group of us twelve summer interns would gather for some role play exercises. On one Monday morning, not quite halfway into the program, we were interrupted by a knock at the door. They needed a chaplain in the emergency room. I’ll admit that I wasn’t quick to volunteer and A, who had been doing much of her work in that department anyway, said she would go. I turned my attention back to the role play of the day.

Not five minutes later, A returned. “They want a Catholic,” she said. All eyes turned to me. You see, I was the only Catholic among the summer interns, so that meant me. I somewhat embarrassedly—because I consider A a much better hospital chaplain than myself—stood up to go. A came with me.

I arrived at Emergency, the Catholic, to find an unconscious man surrounded by his wife, daughter, son and son-in-law. The man had suffered a sudden stroke that morning, and they weren’t sure about what was going to happen next. A watched as I greeted the unconscious man, introduced myself, told him why I was there, and offered to pray. I joined hands with the grieving family around the bed. I prayed Catholic prayers. They were grateful and thanked me, and seemed to be indicating they were done with me. I’d given them what they wanted.

Surely that couldn’t be it?! I was there to talk with them, to help them through this difficult time. Surely my job wasn’t just to pray, and go? Was it? So, I stubbornly stayed, and waited, feeling more and more like a fifth wheel. A managed to talk a bit to the son (which seemed to affirm that they’d have been better of with her than this Catholic), but I felt like the rest of them were wondering why’s he still here? Eventually, I found an opportunity to make an awkward exit.

Later, I found myself angry at this family. Why all the fuss about wanting a Catholic, if that was it?! A could have done a much better job praying with them. She’d even learned the Hail Mary for just such an instance! How dare they not grieve in a rational way! How dare they not grieve the way that I expected them too!

And I realized that was it, wasn’t it? I was making this about me, not them. I resented the fact that they hadn’t made use of me, except as a dispenser of Catholic prayers.

But shouldn’t I have been thankful that I had been able to be there for them in their grief, to say the words that would bring some comfort? If it’s not about me, then that’s what it’s about—bringing Christ into the room—and then, yeah, maybe, they don’t need me to hang around.

It took me a little while to get to this realization, but a few weeks ago I had the opportunity to see it from another perspective. I was reading Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking where she recounts how she dealt—or didn’t—with her husband’s death. I recommend the book highly. Early in the book, she describes being in the hospital on the night of her husband’s death. Almost as an aside, she mentions, “They asked if I wanted a priest. I said yes. A priest appeared and said the words. I thanked him.” Then she moves on. At first I again felt that question, “That’s it?!” welling up inside of me. And then not a question, but a conviction: Yeah, that’s it. The grieving widow expressed a desire for something holy, something of God. The priest appeared; he was there. He said the words. She was grateful. Communion. What more was necessary at that moment?

Maybe later the offending family would ask again for more. But, for the moment, the words were what they needed. And I had the duty and the privilege of being there to speak them. Maybe it is the case that anybody could be there, anybody could say the words, and many better. But for some reason the responsibility has been given to me. And for that I, too, should be grateful.

My Point of View

Joseph Fromm, at his encouragingly entitled blog, “Good Jesuit, Bad Jesuit” (I, his recent post seems to imply, am one of the latter), says of me, “People read his blog and can get confused to his point of view.” Well, many of you have been reading my blog much longer than Joseph, are you confused? He cites as evidence that among the top links on my blog are ones he deems incompatible—DotCommonweal (for which many of my friends write, and on which I frequently comment) and A Little Battalion (for which, along with several friends, I am one of the contributors). Maybe he'd think it confusing that I have friends in both places, too. But they're good ones, and I'm afraid I'm not giving them up just to avoid the possibility that some might be confused. ( Just to add to the confusion, I’ve added a few more links to that top links section).

You see, I’ll admit to having a bias against swimming in one “theological stream,” as he put it, because, frankly, Catholicism does not and never has had only one theological stream. Jesus somehow finds a way to speak to us in all streams, and if we only go looking in one, we’re only going to get part of the message. That’s my point of view, anyway. Indeed, I think there is ample evidence to show these days that people who swim only in one stream—and I don’t point to any particular one—often seem to miss out on the part of Christ’s message which has to do with charity. So, part of my point of view (if it can be said to be a point of view, it’s probably more of a mission) is to point that out, and when I do the response is sometimes far from charitable—yes, bad, bad Jesuit.

So, how, in general, can I characterize my point of view, so as to be less confusing? I know! Let’s just say my point of view is a Catholic point of view. It may not be your Catholic point of view. It may not be what you consider to be the Catholic point of view. But it’s a Catholic point of view from the perspective of one who dares to read Commonweal, First Things and America, and who sees no inconsistency in encouraging others to do the same.

So, I hope you're not confused. But I also hope that you're not so familiar with my point of view that you're bored. And I especially hope, whether or not you think you have me figured out, that I still have the capacity to surprise you once in a while! And, for that matter, I hope Jesus does too!

Note: The above referenced post seems to have disappeared.

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