Monday, July 28, 2014

An Meine Völker!

Today marks the one-hundredth anniversary of Austria-Hungary's declaration of war against Serbia, an act which signaled the formal commencement of hostilities after a month of escalating tensions following the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo. The above copy of Emperor Franz Joseph's war declaration, addressed An Meine Völker! ("To my peoples," that is, to the various nationalities of the Habsburg realms), is on display at the Military History Museum in Vienna, not far from the display case that contains the gun that started it all. If you would like to read the text of the declaration, you can find the original German here as well as an English translation.

With respect to this anniversary, a friend reminded me earlier today that the roots of the ongoing violence in places like Israel/Palestine, Iraq, and Ukraine can be traced to the aftermath of the Great War and the failure of the world leaders who gathered at Versailles to achieve a just and durable peace. Though I admit that I am not very optimistic about current efforts to resolve the world's intractable conflicts, I can only hope that an awareness of the tremendous human suffering caused by the wars of the last century will somehow lead us to a greater appreciation for peace. AMDG.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

"Iconoclasm kills."

As the tragic dispersion of Iraq's ancient Christian communities continues unabated in the face of the Islamist takeover of the city of Mosul and surrounding areas, news emerges that the Sunni militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have started to level Mosul's historic Shia mosques and have used sledgehammers and bulldozers to destroy the tombs of prophets revered by Christians and Muslims alike. Reacting to these latest developments, Father Stephen Freeman offers some thoughts that deserve your attention:
There is a strange spirit of iconoclasm (the Greek for "icon smashing") and it breaks out now and again across human history. It is not just a short period in Byzantine history successfully resisted by the Orthodox but a strange manifestation of human sin that has as its driving force and hence allurement, the claim that it is defending the honor of God.

The icon smashers are as varied as certain forms of Islam or certain forms of Puritanism (and some of its Protestant successors). Some icon smashers direct their attention to pictures or statues, per se, while others turn their attention to even ideological icons such as honoring certain days and holidays. Those Christians who rail against the date of Christmas belong to this latter group of iconoclasts.

What is striking to me is that iconoclasm has almost always accompanied revolutions. I suppose those who are destroying the old and replacing with the new have a certain drive to "cleanse" things. Thus during China’s Cultural Revolution, books, pictures, older faculty members, indeed a deeply terrifying array of unpredictable things and people became the objects of the movement's iconoclasm. As in all of these revolutions – iconoclasm kills.
To read the rest, click here. AMDG.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

28 June 1914 and the Jesuits.

Today is the one-hundredth anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Duchess Sophie von Hohenburg during a visit to Sarajevo, an event that precipitated a political crisis that led to the First World War. The assassination has a little-known Jesuit connection, as I discovered in the course of two successive summers in Austria. A display case at Vienna's Military History Museum offers an enigmatic clue: the pistol that Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip used to kill Franz Ferdinand and Sophie is identified by a small plaque including the words Leihgabe d. Österr. Provinz der Gesellschaft Jesu - "On loan from the Austrian Province of the Society of Jesus."

I was quite amused when I first saw the ascription of ownership on the plaque below the murder weapon; it struck me that this was another proof that truth is stranger than fiction, and I mused that this unlikely fact would surely titillate enthusiasts of Jesuit conspiracy theories. The story behind Jesuit ownership of the artifact is actually rather straightforward, and it was even reported by the international news media ten years ago when the Austrian Jesuits agreed to lend the pistol to the museum. After serving as evidence in the trial of Princip and his co-conspirators, the murder weapon and a few other items - including two other pistols, some bullets, and the Archduke's bloodied shirt - were given to an Austrian Jesuit, Father Anton Puntigam. A teacher and school chaplain who worked in Sarajevo at the time of the assassination, Puntigam administered the last rites to Franz Ferdinand and Sophie and evidently respected the murdered couple so much that he hoped to establish a museum in their memory. The vicissitudes of war and the austere peace that followed prevented Puntigam's plans from coming to fruition, and after the priest's death in 1926 the murder weapon and related items ended up in the Jesuit archives in Vienna. Loaned to the Austrian Military History Museum in 2004, Princip's gun and the other objects given to Father Puntigam have been on display ever since - with the aforementioned plaque making it clear that they still belong to Ours.

As the late Paul Harvey used to say, "And now you know... the rest of the story." AMDG.

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Eucharist and Tom King.

This blog has been silent in the weeks following my ordination to the diaconate, partly because I've been on the move (first Massachusetts, then South Bend and Chicago), partly because I've been busy with other things (I'm preparing to take comprehensive exams to receive my Master of Divinity degree at the end of the summer), and partly because I really haven't had much to say. The inspiration that I need to write here occasionally runs dry, but I've found that it invariably returns sooner or later.

This post is occasioned by the fact that today is the fifth anniversary of the death of Father Tom King, the Georgetown Jesuit whose companionship and example did much to lead me into the Society of Jesus. I always publish a sort of memorial post on this date, and the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar helped to shape this latest installment insofar as the anniversary of Tom's death falls this year on the heels of the Feast of Corpus Christi, the annual commemoration of the institution of the Eucharist. Though Father Tom King achieved renown as a scholar, teacher, and retreat-giver, the Eucharist was the true center of his life: this was so not only by virtue of Tom's priesthood but also because of the particular sense of devotion and commitment with which he celebrated the liturgy; every semester for forty years, Father King offered Mass six nights a week at 11:15 pm in Dahlgren Chapel on the Georgetown campus. The 11:15 was a Mass unlike any other at Georgetown - it was celebrated by candlelight, punctuated by Gregorian chant and periods of silence, and conducted with a prayerful solemnity that helped to lift the minds and hearts of those present to contemplation of the divine. Father King's 11:15 pm Mass taught many Georgetown students that the Eucharist is the true center of the Christian life. The 11:15 pm Mass and the good example of the priest who celebrated it so faithfully also inspired a fair number of young men to become priests, helping to provide a living legacy that endures five years after Tom went to his reward - and will continue to endure for years to come.

For all of his achievements as a teacher and a scholar, I suspect that Tom King would want to be remembered primarily as a priest. In accepting God's invitation to enter the Society of Jesus and to be ordained, Tom chose to make the Eucharist the center of his life. Through his own ministry, above all by celebrating the 11:15 pm Mass nightly for so many years, Tom helped many others to make the Eucharist the center of their own lives as well. Thus, it seems highly appropriate that the anniversary of Tom's death falls so close to Corpus Christi this year. As I anticipate my own ordination to the priesthood next year, I pray that I will never lose sight of the great gift and good example offered by the priestly ministry of Father Tom King. Together with many others, I also continue to pray for the repose of Tom's soul - and I pray that he may intercede for us with his own prayers before the altar of the Most High. AMDG.

Thursday, May 29, 2014


Today is Ascension Thursday, and it has been nearly a week since my ordination to the diaconate last Saturday in Toronto. For me, the days before and after the event were both joyful and exhausting, offering a lot of consolation but also offering a lot in general - constant activity with precious little opportunity for rest or introspection. I'm finally getting some opportunity to rest now as I spend a few days at home with my family in Massachusetts, but even now there is work to do: I will be serving as a deacon and preaching at my childhood parish this weekend, so over the next couple of days I'll be attempting to fine-tune my homily. For those who may want a glimpse of the ordination, I can offer the above photograph of an important moment in the ordination rite, when the ordaining bishop (in this case, Archbishop Terrence Prendergast of Ottawa) presents the newly-ordained deacon (in this case, me) with the Book of Gospels. For a few more images and for more information on the event and the other ordinandi, take a look at the website of the Jesuits in English Canada.

For another look at the ordination weekend, here is an image of me at my first Sunday liturgy as a deacon. For at least the last couple years, I've been looking forward to serving my first Sunday as a deacon at St. Elias Church in Brampton, Ontario - and I did so this week, not in the beautiful temple that burned to the ground two weeks before Pascha, but in the high school atrium where the parish has gathered most Sundays since then; thus I chanted my first diaconal litany in a high school setting replete with athletic trophies and a poster advertising prom tickets ("Go get 'em! $85"). All things considered, there is nowhere I would rather have been for my first full liturgy as a deacon than in that atrium with the parishioners of St. Elias, and, with God's help and grace, I hope to celebrate the Divine Liturgy as a newly-ordained priest with the same community.

Please pray for me and for my fellow recent ordinandi as we exercise our new ministries. In this season of ordinations, I hope that you will also join me in praying for vocations to the priesthood, diaconate, and religious life. AMDG.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Coming soon to a church near you...

Though I finished my annual retreat a while ago, this blog has been silent lately because I've been busy making practical preparations for an event some readers of this blog have already learned about from other sources: one week from today, I will be ordained a deacon. Readers who find themselves in striking distance of Toronto and are not otherwise occupied are welcome to attend the Ordination Mass at 9:30 am next Saturday at Our Lady of Lourdes Church. If you would like to attend but cannot because of distance or other circumstances, you can still join in the celebration through your prayers.

Some might imagine that these last days before ordination are full of quiet reflection and relaxation, but that is not the case; in addition to being one of the ordinandi, I have also been responsible for much of the work involved in planning the ordination, including working with the choir director to select music, finding individuals to serve as acolytes and other ministers, and designing and editing the program booklet for the Mass. Though I look forward to simply being ordained, I will also feel a great sense of relief next Saturday when all of hard work involved in planning the actual event comes to a conclusion. The next week will certainly be very busy and I don't know whether or not I'll have time to post anything here, but I ask your prayers for me and for the other ordinandi, Matthew Livingstone, Greg Kennedy, and Boniface Mbouzao, in these last few days of preparation. AMDG.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Obsculta, o fili, praecepta magistri.

Some readers of this blog will be familiar with the opening words of the Prologue of the Rule of St. Benedict: Obsculta, o fili, praecepta magistri, et inclina aurem cordis tui - "Listen, my son, to the master's instructions and attend to them with the ear of your heart." These words come to mind today as I prepare to begin my annual eight-day retreat, a time of silent prayer and, I hope, a time of attentive listening. Please know of my prayers for all readers as I start my retreat; if you are so inclined, please pray for me in return. AMDG.