Thursday, June 30, 2016

Brexit, Evensong, and the Economy of Salvation.

Yesterday was the Feast of SS. Peter and Paul, which has gotten me thinking about an experience I had long ago at this point in the liturgical year. As law student at Notre Dame, I spent a summer in London studying the British legal system. I was not yet a Jesuit, but I already had a deeply-ingrained habit of attending daily Mass. During my time in London, I usually attended Sunday and weekday Mass at the Brompton Oratory; the experience of the liturgy at the Oratory was one of the crucial formative experiences of my liturgical life up to that point, together with the 11:15 pm Mass at Georgetown and the Sundays I had spent at Old St. Mary's in Washington. One of the first Sundays I spent at the Oratory coincided with the Feast of SS. Peter and Paul, a holy day of obligation in England and Wales and a feast that took precedence over the ordinary Sunday liturgy. The Mass was celebrated with the solemnity for which the Brompton Oratory is famous, with some special touches for the feast day such as the vesting of the Oratory's statue of St. Peter in a red cope (a custom copied from St. Peter's Basilica in Rome). What stands out most in my memory, however, is a line from the homily, delivered from a raised pulpit in the center of the church: "Only the Mass will save England."

Only the Mass will save England. At the time, the phrase struck me as a line from another time, recalling past generations of British Catholic apologists as well as the English Catholic laypeople of the sixteenth century who resisted the introduction of the Book of Common Prayer, declaring, "We wyll haue the Masse." Those words have a different ring for me now as I think about the referendum held last week regarding the United Kingdom's membership in the European Union. Observing the contentious and often ugly debate over 'Brexit' and the chaotic aftermath of the vote, I found myself recalling some ancient and still valid words of warning: "Put no trust in princes, in a son of man in whom there is no help" (Ps 146:3). Neither the bureaucrats in Brussels nor the politicians who persuaded a majority of British voters to opt for Brexit can provide a lasting solution to the anxieties that rend the hearts and minds of individuals and nations. England will not be saved by Brexit, nor would England be saved by the European Union.

Only God can save us, and his chosen means are not political but ecclesial and liturgical. Neither Britain nor Europe can be saved through politics, but a renewed appreciation for the Christian values that shaped both would still be helpful; Pope Benedict XVI expressed this point with gentle but insistent force, and I'm pleased that others have taken up the theme as well. Outside the political realm, I'm encouraged by reports like the following, which was published by The Telegraph in March but which I only discovered a couple of days ago:
College chaplains have seen a steady but noticeable increase in attendances at the early evening services which combine contemplative music with the 16th Century language of the Book of Common Prayer.

It mirrors a similar trend reported by cathedrals across England for growing congregations at choral midweek services, which appears to challenge the view that the church is in irreversible decline.

Chaplains say the mix of music, silence and centuries-old language appears to have taken on a new appeal for a generation more used to instant and constant communications, often conducted in 140 characters rather than the phrases of Cranmer.

Neil McCleery, assistant chaplain of New College, one of Oxford’s oldest and grandest chapels, said it was now rare to see an attendance below 150 at a weekend evensong.

"We get people, especially very hard working postgraduate students who say that it provides a time towards the end of the day, when you can just sit in silence and tune out all of these influences and instead tune in God perhaps," he said.

"We get a lot of people who perhaps come to faith or return to faith by being drawn into that worship experience."
The chaplains interviewed by The Telegraph also pick up on a theme I've noted here before, namely the openness of many Millennials to traditional patterns of belief and observance often eschewed by members of their parents' generation:
Mr McCleery, a member of the Oxford committee of the Prayer Book Society, said [the growing popularity of evensong] reflected a wider interest in older styles of worship, including greater interest in the Prayer Book among trainee clergy.

"The era of jaded folk worship is coming to an end," he said. "Indeed I think the people who want that sort of thing are the older generation now and the young are coming back to traditional worship and the choral tradition."

Nearby, the Rev Dr Daniel Inman, Chaplain of The Queen's College agreed.

"Although the language of the Prayer Book is rather alien to modern ears, precisely for that reason it's also less threatening and more inclusive," he explained.

"You're not really asked to signal your own dogmatic beliefs or lack thereof, but invited to join in a pattern of worship that has shaped our national life for centuries."
All of this deserves to be unpacked in greater detail, but for now I'll simply observe that, whatever happens in the realm of politics and whatever sort of chaos plagues Western society, one can still find signs of grace at work. AMDG.

The photo that illustrates this post was found here.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

A quiet memorial.

One of the most charming features of the Georgetown University campus is the number of quiet and sometimes hidden memorials that dot the Hilltop. I suspect that most university campuses have their own secret places, known primarily to a small circle of students and alumni, but Georgetown is my alma mater and I write about what I know. One such quiet memorial is this plaque located in a corner of the sacristy at Georgetown's Dahlgren Chapel, a plaque "[g]iven in memory of Rev. Thomas M. King, S.J. by many of his friends." Father Tom King died seven years ago on this date, and one year ago today I offered a Memorial Mass for him at Georgetown. Before I returned to the Hilltop to offer that Mass, I was unaware of this memorial's existence; the plaque's location in the sacristy is discreet enough that I might have missed it if it had not been pointed out to me.

Reflecting on the plaque in the Dahlgren sacristy has me thinking about how we remember people after they've died and how we measure their impact. Father Tom King spent forty years as a professor of theology at Georgetown and had an unparalleled impact on generations of Hoyas, not only as a teacher but also a priest and spiritual father; such was Father King's influence on Georgetown students over the decades that at the turn of the millennium The Hoya declared him Georgetown's Man of the Century. It has been four years since the last group of undergrads who knew Tom personally received their degrees, so his influence is now felt mostly among Georgetown alumni and others who walked the Hilltop in decades past. That influence is likely to linger, though, thanks in large part to the many Hoyas who became priests thanks to Tom and to others whom he inspired to become theologians.

Some may wish that the Georgetown campus featured a more public memorial to Father Tom King, noting that a small plaque in a sacristy is likely to be seen by very few. I would be happy to see a more visible reminder of Tom's presence in campus, but I still like the plaque in the sacristy very much. I think that Tom would have approved of the use of the Anima Christi on the plaque, which speaks to the sense in which he sought to point others to Christ. It also seems right to me to locate a memorial to Tom King in the place where he prepared to offer Mass six nights a week for forty years; Tom was as much at home in the sacristy as he was in the classroom, and it was precisely as a priest that he had the greatest impact on others. Though few may see the plaque in its current spot, I'm sure that those who most need to see it will do so. Ultimately, that is what matters most. AMDG.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Receive me, O Lord, according to your word.

I was ordained to the priesthood one year ago on this date. I've written about that happy event before, and I'm not sure what to add except for another expression of gratitude; my first year as a priest has brought me abundant grace and consolation, and sacramental ministry has been a source of great joy for me even (or perhaps especially?) at times when I've felt particularly rundown by the stresses of academic life or vexed by the problems facing the Church and the world. After many years of prayer and preparation, I'm now doing the work that I've been called to do for the rest of my life, and there is great joy and contentment in that.

In my post last week, I wrote a bit about the image and words on the prayer card distributed at Father Vincent Strand's ordination and first Mass. In light of today's anniversary, I thought I'd say something about the prayer card I designed for my own ordination last year; the two sides of the card may be seen above, with the 'front' side bearing my name and the date and place of my ordination and the back bearing a verse from Psalm 119. A monk I met last summer at Heiligenkreuz described my ordination prayer card as sehr benediktinische, and with good reason: the two sides of the Medal of St. Benedict illustrate the front and back of the card, and one also finds the words Deo Optimo Maximo, a motto traditionally associated with the Benedictine Order, as well as a psalm verse (Ps 119:116) which forms part of the rite of monastic profession in Benedict's Rule (cf. RB 58:21). The Austrian monk may or may not have noticed, but the design of the card was also inspired by prayer cards I'd picked up on visits to Portsmouth Abbey, giving it a sort of intentionally Benedictine aesthetic.

Some may be surprised that a Jesuit's ordination prayer card would be so benediktinische, but those who know me personally should not be. My affinity for the Benedictine tradition goes back a long way, even though I knew from the time that I began to discern a vocation that I would probably enter the Jesuits. I see no contradiction in this; I think I've always intuitively agreed with a confrere who said that one couldn't be a good Jesuit without having the desire to be a monk, by which I think he meant that every Jesuit should aspire to be a contemplative. I've argued for the essential compatibility between the Ignatian charism and earlier traditions of Christian monasticism, a theme that may animate some of my future scholarly work. As I look forward with joy and hope to many more years of priestly ministry, I repeat a prayer I made two years ago on the tenth anniversary of my entrance into the novitiate, one offered again on my ordination prayer card: Receive me, O Lord, according to your word, and I shall live; and let me not be confounded in my hope. AMDG.

Monday, June 06, 2016


In my last post, I mentioned that I was scheduled to attend ordinations on three consecutive Saturdays in late May and early June. The last of three took place this past Saturday in Milwaukee, where I attended the priestly ordination of my Jesuit confrere Vincent Strand, an old friend and a housemate from my years in philosophy studies at Fordham University in New York. Vince's ordination has attracted some attention from the media due to the unusual fact that his two brothers Luke and Jacob are also priests; the shared calling of the Strand brothers has drawn the notice of international news outlets like the Daily Mail as well as the Catholic press and local TV stations. The day after his ordination, Vince celebrated his first Mass at his family's home parish in Dousman, Wisconsin, a small town forty-five minutes west of Milwaukee. I was happy to be there and to concelebrate with Vince and around two dozen other Jesuits and a few diocesan priests.

Yesterday, I heard that Vince's first Mass was the fourth Mass of Thanksgiving of a newly-ordained priest to take place at St. Bruno Church in the last seven years, meaning that the three Strand brothers are not alone among recent priestly vocations coming from the parish. Apparently a fifth St. Bruno's parishioner is expected to be ordained for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee in the next couple of years, so there are clearly good things happening in this parish.

At the end of Mass, the new Father Strand offered a few words to a congregation which included his extended family, lifelong friends and neighbors from Dousman, former students he taught as a regent at Creighton Prep in Omaha, and many Jesuits and fellow priests. Hearing him speak, I naturally recalled my own experience offering Masses of Thanksgiving in familiar places after my ordination last year.

In accordance with a venerable Catholic tradition, many of the faithful present at a priest's first Mass will seek the blessing of the newly-ordained priest. In fact, the special blessing of the newly-ordained may be given for up to a year after one's ordination to the priesthood; I gave many in the first couple of weeks after my ordination, with another big burst of requests in August when I visited Austria, where the Primizsegen is held very dear. At different times over the past year, I have given the blessing in English, Latin, French, and German - and I can still remember the traditional formula I memorized in each of the four languages. In the photo seen above, Father Strand imparts the blessing of a newly-ordained priest to Father Chris Cullen, S.J., who taught me and Vince philosophy at Fordham.

The prayer card distributed at Vince Strand's ordination and first Mass is illustrated with this striking image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which was etched into the wall of a cell at Auschwitz by a Polish prisoner named Stefan Jasieński as he awaited execution. The cell where Jasieński carved this image is near that of St. Maximilian Kolbe, though it should be noted that Jasieński arrived at Auschwitz a couple of years after Kolbe's death and probably wasn't aware that the priest had preceded him there. Some readers may also recognize this image as the one that graces the cover of the English edition of Hans Urs von Balthasar's superb little book Love Alone Is Credible. As it happens, Vince Strand introduced me to Love Alone Is Credible (and, by extension, to the work of Balthasar) when he lent me his copy of the book during the time we lived together at Fordham, so this card inevitably reminds me of old times.

On the back of the prayer card, one finds a quotation from Pope Benedict XVI which comes from a homily given at World Youth Day in Sydney in 2008: "We know that in the end – as Saint Ignatius of Loyola saw so clearly – the only real 'standard' against which all human reality can be measured is the Cross and its message of an unmerited love which triumphs over evil, sin and death, creating new life and unfading joy. The Cross reveals that we find ourselves only by giving our lives away, receiving God's love as an unmerited gift and working to draw all men and women into the beauty of that love and the light of the truth which alone brings salvation to the world."

A couple of miles down the road from the current home of St. Bruno's, one finds the parish cemetery and the former parish church, dating from 1887. The old church building was locked when I visited, but photos visible online depict an impressively well-preserved interior. I'm told that Mass is still celebrated here from time to time, ensuring that this monument to the faith and hard work of the German immigrants who founded the parish remains a living place of worship.

The old parish cemetery includes a number of graves like this one with inscriptions in German, offering another reminder of the community's roots. The American Midwest is dotted with rural communities that remained predominantly German-speaking until the time of the First World War, when the inexorable forces of assimilation were boosted by ugly and short-sighted nativism to stamp out what had once been a vibrant extension of the deutsche Sprachraum in the New World. I can't help but feel a bit sad about that, but such is life. More broadly, I am grateful for the opportunity to have visited Dousman to celebrate the joy of a new priest. May God grant Father Vince Strand many happy years of service, and may the people of Dousman rejoice in a native son's gift to the Church. AMDG.

Monday, May 30, 2016


May and June have long been seen as particularly auspicious months for ordinations to the priesthood and diaconate, so it shouldn't be surprising that by this time next week I will have attended ordinations on three consecutive Saturdays. In Toronto, Jesuit ordinations usually take place on the second-to-last Saturday in May; some readers may recall that my ordination to the diaconate took place two years ago at this time. This year, the Jesuits in English Canada gathered on Saturday, May 21 to witness the ordination to the priesthood of Paul Robson as well as the ordination to the diaconate of four Jesuits from outside Canada who are studying at Regis College: Eddie Cosgrove of Ireland, Pierre Edward Luc of Haiti, and Matt Dunch and Sylvester Tan of the United States.

It was a particular joy for me to witness the diaconal ordination of Matt Dunch, a friend of many years and one I've been lucky to live with here in Toronto. I first met Matt about eleven years ago, when I was a Jesuit novice and he was a candidate for the Society; we quickly bonded over various common interests and shared quirks, and in later years Matt would sometimes joke that he was on the "Koczera Plan" because of our similar experiences in formation, especially insofar as he followed me in doing unusual things like teaching philosophy to university undergrads during regency, studying German in Austria, and coming to Toronto for theology. Among other adventures, Matt was my traveling companion on the great Southern road trip from New Orleans to Savannah via Alabama that preceded my priestly ordination. In short, seeing Matt as a deacon and anticipating his ordination to the priesthood makes me proud and happy beyond words.

I was also especially happy to witness the ordination of Sylvester Tan, whom I hadn't known before he came to Toronto for theology but who has became a good friend in our time here. Henri de Lubac's dictum about Hans Urs von Balthasar being the most cultivated man of his time could also be justly applied to someone like Sylvester, who has the added virtue of being self-effacing enough to blush at such effusive praise. As a cradle Catholic who has had fruitful relationships with many Anglicans and significant experience of what Pope Benedict XVI described in Anglicanorum coetibus as "the Anglican patrimony" within the Catholic Church, Sylvester has been actively involved with the work of the Anglican Ordinariate in Toronto at St. Thomas More Parish. (I'll add that Sylvester has also gotten me involved in the Ordinariate, at least in a small way: when the local Ordinariate priest was indisposed, I celebrated Sunday Mass for the community using the new Ordinariate missal.) On Trinity Sunday, Sylvester served his first Mass as a deacon and preached at St. Thomas More, and I'm glad to have been able to attend and to sit in choir.

A week after the events described above, we had another Jesuit ordination: this past Saturday, Cyril Pinchak was ordained a deacon in the Byzantine Rite at the Slovak Catholic Cathedral of the Nativity of the Mother of God in Toronto. During his years in theology, Cyril has adeptly managed to split his time between the Slovak cathedral and St. Elias in Brampton, and I know that his presence has been deeply appreciated in both places. For my part, I've been grateful for Cyril's company on the long drives out to St. Elias; many were the Sunday mornings when we left the house in the winter darkness, still shaking off sleep, and managed to keep one another awake and entertained as we drove out to Brampton for matins. It's been great to share the experience of St. Elias with Cyril, and I know that the community shares my joy in seeing him ordained to the diaconate at last.

As noted at the start of this post, I'll also be attending a third ordination in the near future: next weekend, I'll be in Milwaukee to see my old friend Vince Strand ordained to the priesthood. I hope that you'll join me in praying for Vince and the others who have been ordained recently or will be ordained in the near future. May God give them all the grace and the strength they need to accomplish their ministry in his service. AMDG.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Remembering Ray Gawronski.

Father Raymond T. Gawronski, S.J. died last week in California on the same day I arrived on the island of St. Thomas for my sister's wedding. Having moved to the Jesuit infirmary at Los Gatos barely a month ago after being diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer, Father Gawronski passed away at what is now considered the "young" age of 65, an age at which he was nonetheless able to look back on an interesting and varied life; as his obituary notes, Father Gawronski entered the Society of Jesus in his late twenties after "some years of various experiences," graduating from the College of the Holy Cross at the top of his class, working on Wall Street, farming in Virginia, driving a taxi in Hawaii, and earning a master's degree in world religions under the tutelage of comparative religionist Huston Smith. As a Jesuit, he studied at the Pontifical Oriental Institute and prepared for possible work in Russia but ended up doing a doctorate on the theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar and moving on to a career of teaching and spiritual direction in the United States. The news that Ray had been diagnosed with terminal cancer and had weeks to live came as a shock to the many people who knew and were influenced by him, and his death leaves a bit of unfinished business: a friend who will be ordained to the priesthood this June had expected Ray to preach at his first Mass, while someone else I know had wanted to make the Spiritual Exercises under Ray's direction this summer. I'm sure that many others are similarly bereft at the moment, and my prayers are with them as they mourn.

I can't claim to have really known Ray Gawronski, but he made a strong impression on me when we met in passing in California three summers ago. Ray's reputation preceded him even before we met; I already knew a number of people who had had him as a teacher or as a spiritual director, and I also knew that we had a common mentor in Father Tom King, whom Ray had gotten to know during his Jesuit formation. With this background, Ray Gawronski and I crossed paths at a Jesuit residence in Berkeley where we were both staying as guests; thinking that I lived there, Ray asked me where to find something in the kitchen, which unexpectedly led to a three-hour conversation on topics ranging from media perceptions of the papacy to modern Russian Orthodox theology to Polish culture. (Regarding the last topic, Ray urged me that I should learn Polish if I wanted to understand my roots and my place in the world; I regret that I've yet to realize that goal.) Ray was a force of nature, and though we never met or spoke again after that conversation in Berkeley, the impact of the encounter has lingered strongly in my memory ever since.

For an introduction to Father Ray Gawronski, his personality, his interests, and his characteristic emphases, one could do well to watch a lecture he gave in May 2014 at the Lumen Christi Institute in Chicago on "St. John Paul II and the Polish Catholic Experience" - or, to give the alternate title which Ray suggests in the lecture itself, "St. John Paul II and the Polish Hermeneutic." In any case, the mention of St. John Paul II at the start of both titles may be somewhat misleading, as the lecture focuses much more on the distinctive elements of the Polish Catholic experience over the centuries than on the life of Karol Wojtyła. Ray's love for Poland and insight into its culture are amply displayed here, as are the breadth of his learning and his love for the Church. Listening to this lecture again, I pray that Ray Gawronski will continue to inspire others, particularly through those whom he mentored in the intellectual and spiritual life. AMDG.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

An island wedding.

This post comes to you from Saint Thomas in the United States Virgin Islands, which I'm visiting for my sister's wedding. To mark the event officially on this blog, I'd like to share some island wedding music by recently deceased English composer Peter Maxwell Davies. Premiered by the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1985, An Orkney Wedding, with Sunrise was apparently inspired by a real wedding Davies attended in the Orkney Islands north of Scotland, with the various shifts in the music reflecting different phases of a riotously festive celebration. Among other things, this composition is one of very few pieces for classical orchestra that features a bagpipe solo. The recording featured here includes piper George MacIlwham as soloist, with Peter Maxwell Davies himself conducting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.

Best wishes to all readers, with a special hope that those in Toronto and other northern climes may soon enjoy warmer weather. AMDG.