Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Remembering Father Kolvenbach.

In spite of major events like the U.S. presidential election, this blog has been silent over the past month as I contend with various academic projects. I expect to remain busy in the coming weeks, but I think it's important to write here with some news that touches in a significant way upon my life as a Jesuit: Father Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, the 29th Superior General of the Society of Jesus, died on Saturday in Beirut at the age of 87. Father Kolvenbach was General of the Society when I entered the novitiate and resigned his office while I was in philosophy studies, meaning that my earliest years as a Jesuit took place during his generalate. Though I've seen the election of two superiors general since then - Father Adolfo Nicolás in 2008 and, last month, Father Arturo Sosa - the fact that Father Kolvenbach was the first General of my Jesuit life gives him a special place in my heart and memory.

As Superior General of the Society from 1983 to 2008, Father Kolvenbach led the Society of Jesus through a period of great challenge and opportunity. Elected in the aftermath of Pope John Paul II's intervention into the governance of the Order, Father Kolvenbach applied the diplomatic finesse and tact he had honed as a missionary in war-torn Lebanon to the task of restoring trust between the Holy See and the Society. In his twenty-five years as General, Kolvenbach faced the challenge of changing demographics as the number of Jesuits in Europe and North America fell and vocations boomed in Africa and Asia and responded to new geopolitical realities as the fall of the Iron Curtain gave the Society greater freedom of action in the former Soviet bloc.

Though the General of the Society is elected for life, as he reached his ninth decade Father Kolvenbach sought and received permission from Pope Benedict XVI to resign his office and allow for the election of a new General. Returning to Beirut after his resignation, Father Kolvenbach quietly resumed the scholarly study of Armenian linguistics and literature that had occupied him before he was called to positions of leadership in the Society. Always humble and unassuming, Father Kolvenbach reportedly responded to the election a few weeks ago of Father Arturo Sosa as the new Jesuit general not by offering his own advice or personal opinion but by sending his successor a one-sentence note promising prayers.

As I pray for the repose of Father Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, I also pray also that many other Jesuits will be inspired to emulate his exemplary characteristics - brilliance balanced by humility, a sharp memory matched by great discretion, and a notable simplicity of life combined with gracious generosity. May his memory be eternal! AMDG.

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Dies irae, dies illa.

As is now my annual custom, I am marking All Souls' Day by reposting a translation of the Latin sequence for All Souls that I made a few years ago. The translation below as well as my commentary are identical with what I have provided in years past; I still hope to eventually revise the translation, but for now I hope that my annual reposting of this text is helpful and edifying to some readers.

Attributed to the thirteenth-century Franciscan Thomas of Celano and long prescribed as part of the Latin Requiem Mass, the Dies Irae enjoys a special place in Western musical culture thanks to the memorable settings of the Requiem text by composers ranging from Mozart to Verdi to Britten, among many others. For All Souls, I typically avoid any 'classical' setting of the Dies Irae in favor of the traditional Gregorian setting, because some days when only chant will do - and for me this is one of those days.

Below you can find the Latin text of the Dies Irae followed by my own English translation. I decided to translate the text myself out of a sense of dissatisfaction with the various translations that I found online, as a spiritual exercise for All Souls' Day - and, finally, to practice my Latin. The translation was made in haste and could certainly be improved - indeed, I have sometimes thought of starting from scratch and doing a new one - and I welcome comments and criticism; my goal was to convey the sense of the original faithfully and in a style that flows well in English without trying to reproduce the poetic meter of the original. So here goes:

Dies irae! Dies illa
Solvet saeclum in favilla:
Teste David cum Sibylla!

Quantus tremor est futurus,
Quando iudex est venturus,
Cuncta stricte discussurus!

Tuba mirum spargens sonum
Per sepulchra regionum,
Coget omnes ante thronum.

Mors stupebit, et natura,
Cum resurget creatura,
Iudicanti responsura.

Liber scriptus proferetur,
In quo totum continetur,
Unde mundus iudicetur.

Iudex ergo cum sedebit,
Quidquid latet, apparebit:
Nil inultum remanebit.

Quid sum miser tunc dicturus?
Quem patronum rogaturus,
Cum vix iustus sit securus?

Rex tremendae maiestatis,
Qui salvandos salvas gratis,
Salva me, fons pietatis.

Recordare, Iesu pie,
Quod sum causa tuae viae:
Ne me perdas illa die.

Quaerens me, sedisti lassus:
Redemisti Crucem passus:
Tantus labor non sit cassus.

Iuste iudex ultionis,
Donum fac remissionis
Ante diem rationis.

Ingemisco, tamquam reus:
Culpa rubet vultus meus:
Supplicanti parce, Deus.

Qui Mariam absolvisti,
Et latronem exaudisti,
Mihi quoque spem dedisti.

Preces meae non sunt dignae:
Sed tu bonus fac benigne,
Ne perenni cremer igne.

Inter oves locum praesta,
Et ab haedis me sequestra,
Statuens in parte dextra.

Confutatis maledictis,
Flammis acribus addictis:
Voca me cum benedictis.

Oro supplex et acclinis,
Cor contritum quasi cinis:
Gere curam mei finis.

Lacrimosa dies illa,
qua resurget ex favilla
Judicandus homo reus.
Huic ergo parce, Deus:

Pie Iesu Domine,
dona eis requiem. Amen.


O day of wrath, that day
when the earth will be reduced to ashes,
as David and the Sibyl both testify!

What great fear there will be,
when the judge comes
to judge all things strictly.

A trumpet casts a wondrous sound
into the realm of the tombs,
calling all [to come] before the throne.

Death and nature will both marvel
as the [human] creature rises
to answer its judge.

A book will be brought forth
in which all things are recorded –
all that for which the world will be judged.

When, therefore, the judge appears,
all that is hidden will appear,
and no ills will remain unavenged.

As miserable as I am, what am I say?
whose protection may I invoke,
when even the just lack security?

O most majestic King,
who freely saves those to be saved,
save me, source of mercy!

Remember, merciful Jesus,
that I am the one for whom you came:
may I not be lost on that day!

Seeking me, you sat down tired:
to redeem me, you suffered the Cross –
may your toil not be in vain!

Just and avenging judge,
may you grant remission [of sins]
before the day of reckoning.

Guilty, now I sigh,
my face red with shame:
save thy petitioner, o God!

Having absolved Mary [Magdalene],
and heard the plea of the thief,
may you give me hope as well.

Though my prayers are not worthy,
be kind to me, o Good One,
that I may be spared the eternal fire!

Place me among the sheep,
and separate me from the goats,
setting me at your right hand.

When the wicked are confounded
and given over to bitter flames:
call me among the blessed.

Meek and humble, I pray,
with a heart contrite as ashes:
Help me reach my final end.

How tearful that day will be,
when from the ashes will arise
the guilty man for judgment.
Therefore spare him, O God!

Merciful Lord Jesus,
grant them rest. Amen.

To some modern ears, some of the above lines may seem a bit harsh; the familiarity of the Latin text and the beauty of its poetic form can easily distract us from the admonitory content of the Dies Irae. As stern as these words may be, though, they also remind us that God is merciful - indeed, the very source of mercy - and they call on us to pray: first for our beloved dead and for our own repentance, but also that we may offer to others the same mercy that we seek for ourselves. May all of us who celebrate this Feast of All Souls take these words in the right way, and take them to heart. AMDG.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The new St. Elias.

At the start of October, I flew from Washington to Toronto for the consecration of the new temple of St. Elias Ukrainian Catholic Church by His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk, Patriarch of Kyiv and Halych. Longtime readers of this blog will remember that St. Elias was destroyed by fire two years ago, a tragedy from which this resilient community quickly rebounded with the help of friends and supporters in Canada, Ukraine, and around the world. As a student of theology in Toronto, I worshipped regularly with the people of St. Elias for two years in the old temple and then served them as a deacon and as a priest during the two years that they met for Sunday services in a high school atrium while a new church was being built. Given my relationship with the community, I knew that I ought to return for the consecration of the new church. The weekend was a whirlwind of activity and a time of much grace and consolation, and the difficulty of finding words to capture the experience is one reason that I haven't written about it on this blog until now - indeed, even though it's been a bit more than three weeks since the event, I'm still not sure that I can summon adequate words to describe it.

To give a sense of what the consecration of the new St. Elias was like, this video by Markian Radomskiy offers some highlights of the four-hour consecration liturgy, compressed into about thirty-five minutes. Particularly worth watching and hearing is the very eloquent homily given by Patriarch Sviatoslav, mostly in English but with some Ukrainian, beginning around the 19'09" mark. Though nothing can compete with the experience of actually attending such a liturgy, the Patriarch's warmth and charisma and the joy of the assembled congregation are palpable even through the mediation of technology.

Though the consecration liturgy was beautiful, in some sense for me the liturgical highlight of the weekend was the celebration of regular Saturday evening vespers later the same day. In contrast with the boisterous and exuberant consecration liturgy, the service of vespers was quiet and meditative; having attended vespers regularly in the old church, doing so in the newly-consecrated temple felt to me like a sort of homecoming - a sign that the parish had truly returned to the place where it belongs again after a time of exile. Even though the new church building remains relatively spartan and unfinished, at times during vespers that night it felt like the last two years had somehow been cancelled and that we'd never really left the old church.

I can't write as articulately or eloquently as I would like about the consecration weekend and what it meant for all involved, but I can share one more video that captures an important facet of the experience. Psalm 104 (numbered Psalm 103 by the reckoning followed at St. Elias) is always sung at the start of the Byzantine service of vespers, and the version heard here is the one normally heard at St. Elias. I shot this video with my phone, and I'll admit that the picture quality isn't the best; this was a candlelit service in semidarkness, so you really can't see very much. Rather than focus on what you can't see, pay attention to what you hear - this, for me, is the sound of St. Elias, and hearing it in the new temple was a blessing that I'll never forget. I pray that the graces of that weekend will remain with all who experienced them for years to come, and I hope that those who read this post can perceive some fragment of those graces as well. AMDG.

Friday, October 14, 2016

A new General.

This morning in Rome, the delegates of the 36th General Congregation elected Father Arturo Sosa as the 31st Superior General of the Society of Jesus. A political scientist by training, the 67-year-old Father Sosa taught in his native Venezuela before serving as provincial superior of Jesuits in the country. Since 2014 he has served as Father General's Delegate for the Roman Houses of the Society, a position which gives him oversight of the various Jesuit communities and institutions in Rome. This range of experiences has given Father Sosa a sense of the global scope and diversity of the Society, and this will certainly serve him well as General. For my part, I'm also happy to note that Father Sosa has a link to my alma mater, having served as a visiting professor of Latin American Studies at Georgetown in 2004.

Following the customary prescriptions of the Society, later today I will offer Mass for the intentions of the new General. I am sure that I will also continue to pray for him in the days ahead, and I invite others to do the same. (As an aside, praying for the new General reminds me that Father Sosa is the third General I've served under as a Jesuit, after Father Peter-Hans Kolvenbach and Father Adolfo Nicolás; I'm starting to feel "old in the Society," as Jesuits sometimes say.)

As leader of the largest religious order in the Catholic Church, the Superior General of the Society of Jesus holds a position of great responsibility as well as visibility; whereas the leaders of most religious orders are little known outside their own communities, the "Black Pope" is often seen as a figure with influence beyond his own order and as something of an institutional bellwether. Though our last three superiors general have been permitted to resign, the General of the Society is still elected for life, and being elected to the office inevitably changes one's life forever. The sense in which the General is called to be "the Successor of St. Ignatius" must be both humbling and intimidating, challenging the man to serve as a model and an inspiration as well as an administrator.

In anticipation of today's election, one of the delegates to the Congregation wrote a "Letter to an Unknown Soldier" addressing the then-unknown General. In this letter, Father Dermot Preston exhorts the new General to take heart in spite of his own doubts in the face of a monumental task. Here is some of what Father Preston writes:
I write this on Thursday and you will be elected as Father General on Friday. Whether you are old or young, or whether I know you well, or whether we have only exchanged a smile and a few words in these last days, I will speak.

Firstly, the days of murmuratio will have been gruelling for your soul: as the hours have unfolded, you will have grown aware that people have been inquiring about you and scrutinising you, and those people who know you. For any sane person this scrutiny will have been near-intolerable: it will have invaded your inner space, broken into your precious time of prayer and cut across your discernment as you, too, looked into our midst for a possible successor to St Ignatius.

Yet, as others have been probing, you also (perhaps unwillingly) will have been forced to probe deeply and explore the ambiguities of your own personality, history and spiritual life; and almost certainly you will have perceived much within that is amiss – the failures of love, the compromises with life, the sins of omission and commission. These will be high on your agenda, even if others don’t appear to have seen them.

So, when you take your seat as General and look out over the Aula, almost certainly, at some level, you will feel yourself to be a fraud and not fit to untie the sandals of any of the Generals who have preceded you and inspired you.

Please do not ponder unduly on these inadequacies; like the rest of us you are a broken human-being seeking the healing & inspiring graces that the Lord offers to those He loves. God will provide those graces in so many ways – directly through the heart, certainly; but also indirectly through the very imperfect structures of the Church and the Society of Jesus which, as Ignatius knew, would hold and protect its General and allow him graciously to do great things for God.

Secondly, continue to learn who you are, and then be who you are; don’t brood about what you are not. That might seem a rather simple instruction, but it is imperative and will either lead to an inner contentment or a huge frustration.

. . .

True humility is seeing yourself as God sees you – with all your strengths & weaknesses, lights & shadows. The more you realise how God sees you, and the more you delight in that realisation, then God will rejoice in your uniqueness and, working through you, will Make All Things New.
Once again, my prayers are for Father Sosa as he assumes his new office as General of the Society. May God grant him great consolation and the wisdom and strength he needs to govern the Society, and may the Holy Spirit continue to guide the work of the 36th General Congregation. AMDG.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Archbishop Tobin.

On Sunday, Pope Francis announced the creation of seventeen new cardinals, including three from the United States. Many were surprised by the name of one of the new American cardinals, Indianapolis Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin, C.Ss.R. The Archdiocese of Indianapolis has never been led by a cardinal before, but Archbishop Tobin's varied resumé helps to explain his appointment: having pastored inner-city parishes in Chicago and Detroit and having served in Rome as superior general of the Redemptorists and as archbishop-secretary of the Congregation for Religious before leading the Church in Indianapolis, the Cardinal-designate has a background that enables him to balance a global perspective with attention to local concerns. (I'm also happy to note that this global perspective includes an appreciation for the importance of relationships between Eastern and Western Christians: Archbishop Tobin has spent several years as co-chair of the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation, and I'm told that he has performed very well in that role.)

I've written here about Archbishop Tobin's elevation to the College of Cardinals because we share a sort of personal connection. We've only met once, but the occasion of that meeting was unique - as some will recall, Archbishop Tobin ordained me to the priesthood. Archbishop Tobin performed his duties as ordaining prelate with great grace and dignity, and his words of exhortation to the ordinandi were thoughtful and consoling. I'm sharing this video of the Archbishop's homily at my ordination Mass to give some sense of his personality as well as to preserve a record of his words on that occasion. As Cardinal-designate Tobin prepares for next month's consistory, I pray that he may receive abundant consolation as well as the courage and strength he will need as he assumes his new office. I pray also for the faithful of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, as their shepherd takes on a position of greater responsibility and visibility within the universal Church. Ad multos annos!

Monday, September 26, 2016

William Kurelek and the Canadian Martyrs.

This is the date on which Canadian Catholics remember the Jesuit Martyrs of North America, figures who also played a role in my own vocation to the Society of Jesus. To mark the feast, my Jesuit confrere John O'Brien has a post on his blog Veritas Liberabit discussing a little-known set of drawings by the iconic Canadian artist William Kurelek depicting scenes from the lives of the Canadian Martyrs. John and I share an appreciation for Kurelek's work, and John has also written a fine introduction to the art of William Kurelek. In today's post, John notes that Kurelek's drawings of the Canadian Martyrs are currently in storage as the space in which they were formerly displayed undergoes renovation; I hope that these images will soon be displayed publicly once again, and in the meantime I hope that John's post helps to bring them more attention. AMDG.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Father Jacques Hamel, Martyr.

I posted something here in July about the death of Father Jacques Hamel, an elderly French priest killed during daily Mass by militants acting in the name of ISIS. At the time of his death, I suggested that Father Hamel should be considered a Christian martyr, having been murdered in church by assailants motivated by a hatred for the Christian faith. Father Hamel's local ordinary, Rouen Archbishop Dominique Lebrun, recently indicated that the first steps were being taken in a process which would hopefully lead to the priest's canonization. Today, on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, it appears that Pope Francis has lent his support to the cause. In a homily given this morning at his residence in the Vatican, the Pope spoke about the martyrdom of Father Jacques Hamel before a group of pilgrims from the Archdiocese of Rouen. Here is my own rough translation of the homily, which I undertook mainly to practice my cobwebbed Italian:
In the Cross of Jesus Christ – today the Church celebrates the Feast of the Holy Cross – we understand fully the mystery of Christ, this mystery of annihilation, of [his] nearness to us. He, "being in the form of God" says Paul, "did not consider it a privilege to be like God, but emptied himself, taking on the form of a slave, coming in human likeness. Found to be human, he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even to death on a cross" (Phil 2:6- 8). This is the mystery of Christ. This is the mystery that is martyrdom for the salvation of men. Jesus Christ, the first martyr, is the first one who gives his life for us. And from this mystery of Christ begins the entire history of Christian martyrdom, from the first centuries until today.

The early Christians confessed Jesus Christ and paid with their lives. To the early Christians was proposed apostasy, namely: "You say that our God is the real one, not yours. Make a sacrifice to our God or our gods." And when they did not this, when they refused to commit apostasy, they were killed. This story is repeated until today; and today in the Church there are more Christian martyrs than in the early days. Today Christians are murdered, tortured, imprisoned, and slaughtered because they do not deny Jesus Christ. In this way, we come to our Père Jacques: he is part of this chain of martyrs. Christians who are suffering today – either in prison, or by death, or by torture – because they refuse to deny Jesus Christ, show the cruelty of this persecution. And this cruelty which demands apostasy is – we must say the word – Satanic. And how much good would come if all religious confessions were to say: "To kill in the name of God is Satanic."

Father Jacques Hamel was slain on the Cross, just as he celebrated the sacrifice of the Cross of Christ. He was a good man, mild, a brother to others, one who always sought to make peace, assassinated as if he were a criminal. This is the thread of Satanic persecution. But there is something in this man who accepted his own martyrdom, with the martyrdom of Christ, on the altar, something that makes me think: seeing in that difficult moment the tragedy that was coming, this gentle man, this good man, this brotherly man, did not lose the clarity to accuse and to clearly state the name of the murderer, and he said clearly: “Go away, Satan!” He gave his life for us, he gave his life so as not to deny Jesus. He gave his life in the same sacrifice of Jesus on the altar and from there he also accused the author of persecution: "Go away, Satan!"

May this example of courage, but also the martyrdom of his own life, emptying himself to help others and working for brotherhood among men, help us all to move forward without fear. From heaven, may he – because we must pray to him, for he is a martyr, and the martyrs are blessed – we must pray, give us mildness, fraternity, peace, and also the courage to tell the truth: to kill in the name of God is Satanic.
On this Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, may the Martyr Jacques Hamel intercede for us before the heavenly throne. AMDG.