Friday, July 31, 2015

Ours on St. Ignatius' Day.

Today is the Feast of St. Ignatius, a day when I typically find myself honoring the memory of the founder of the Society of Jesus by praying and breaking bread with my brother Jesuits. I've celebrated this feast with other Jesuits in a variety of different cities - San Jose, Santiago, Philadelphia, Innsbruck, Vienna, Toronto, and now Paris, where today's festivities began with a solemn Mass at the Église Saint-Ignace, seen in the photo above, followed by a festive lunch at a Jesuit residence nearby. Though I would be the first to admit the reality of Jesuit subcultures, celebrations like this remind me that, in some ways, Jesuits are the same everywhere: we were all formed by the same spiritual tradition and share in the same charism, but we also tend to discuss similar topics at table and to tell similar stories, and there are certain Jesuit "types" who show up in every community I've lived in, regardless of the cultural or national context. I find these similarities very consoling; they have helped me to feel at home among Jesuits in various places, reminding me of the truth of Jerónimo Nadal's classic maxim that "the world is our house."

For me, there is also something special about celebrating the Feast of St. Ignatius in Paris, the city where the Society of Jesus was born. Though Ignatius' conversion and desire to serve the Lord were solidified before he reached this city in 1528, the seven years he spent studying here served to transform his vision of service from an individual call to a corporate enterprise. The example of Ignatius' charisma and personal devotion made him the center of a small group of friends gathered from among the thousands of students at the University of Paris. On August 15, 1534 - the Feast of the Assumption - this group gathered in a small chapel in Paris to collectively promise to serve the Lord and to take vows of poverty and chastity, with a third vow to go to Jerusalem if possible and, if this couldn't be done, to put themselves at the disposal of the Pope in Rome. Since going to Jerusalem proved impossible, the group that became known as Ignatius' First Companions eventually went to Rome instead and, after further discernment and with papal approbation, they became a new religious order.

The First Companions took their vows at the Crypte du martyrium de saint Denis, a subterranean chapel marking the place where St. Denis, the first bishop of Paris, is traditionally believed to have been martyred in the third century. The Martyrium gave its name to the area where it was located - Montmartre - and it was a well-established place of pilgrimage by the time Ignatius and his companions gathered there in 1534. Though the Martyrium was destroyed during the French Revolution, a copy of the crypt chapel was built on the presumed site of its predecessor later in the nineteenth century. Some might quibble that the new Martyrium isn't really the place where Ignatius and the First Companions took their vows, but it nevertheless serves as a place of pilgrimage for Jesuits and for others who want to establish a tangible bond with the founding experience of the Society.

As I suspect some readers can well imagine, there is something deeply moving about seeing a place like the Martyrium; I made a brief visit to the place the day after my arrival in Paris, taking the photos that I have shared here. At the time, I thought that I might return at some point during my stay in Paris to celebrate Mass in the chapel; that has not happened, both because I quickly got busy with other things and also because of the logistics involved in saying Mass there - the Martyrium is only open to visitors a few hours a week, and Mass is not regularly celebrated there, so the various accoutrements of the liturgy would have to be brought in from elsewhere; a spare key to the chapel is held by one of the Jesuit communities in Paris (albeit not the community where I've been living) and ultimately the whole thing proved complex enough that I never got around to it. I have no regrets, though, as simply seeing the site was enough for me.

Being in Paris has given me the opportunity to visit the virtual birthplace of the Society of Jesus, but the experience has also touched me in other ways. When I celebrate Mass each day, I usually do so facing a crucifix which hangs on the wall of the sacristy in my Jesuit community. This crucifix is a sort of double relic - it contains a small relic of St. Ignatius, just behind Christ's head, but the whole crucifix is itself a relic insofar as it belonged to Father Pierre Olivaint, a French Jesuit who was executed on May 26, 1871 by the forces of the Paris Commune. Offering Mass before Father Olivaint's crucifix offers a particularly vivid reminder of the implications of my vows as a Jesuit and as a priest - martyrdom may seem like a far-off and purely abstract possibility for most of us, yet it remains just that: a possibility. A character in one of Flannery O'Connor's short stories famously held that "she thought she could be a martyr if they killed her quick." As members of an order that has produced many martyrs, Jesuits are also invited to reflect on the meaning of martyrdom for ourselves: could we also die for our faith, regardless of whether or not "they killed [us] quick"?

Father Pierre Olivaint is buried in a side chapel at the Église Saint-Ignace, joined by four other Parisian Jesuits who also died as martyrs during the time of the Commune. The physical presence of their remains offers a reminder - perhaps little heeded by regular visitors to the church - of what living under the standard of the Cross entails.

Finally, returning to a theme that has featured in some earlier posts on St. Ignatius' Day - the beginning and the end of the Jesuit vocation - it strikes me as particularly appropriate that the remains of Father Olivaint and his companions are interred below an altar dedicated to St. Paul Miki and the Japanese Martyrs. The choice to place these two groups of martyrs in close proximity is far from incidental: burying a group of Jesuits who were killed for their faith in nineteenth-century France beneath a memorial to a group of Japanese clergy and laypeople who were martyred in the sixteenth century provides a reminder of the intimate bond that unites all martyrs in spite of differences in outward circumstances. The decision to link the two groups of martyrs also makes me wonder whether the example of earlier Jesuit martyrs and other saints led Father Olivaint and his companions to enter the Society of Jesus and, eventually, to accept the crown of martyrdom. This seems a rather poignant thought for the Feast of St. Ignatius, but it is an important one as well. Prayers for all who read these lines. AMDG.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

For favors received.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

"The musical adventure of the Reductions" and sacred music today.

A week ago, I took note of a recent address by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI on the origins of music and on the particular value of the Western European musical tradition. Today, I would like to call your attention to a piece by the great vaticanista Sandro Magister linking the Pope Emeritus' words with a particular aspect of his successor's recent apostolic journey to South America:
At his arrival [on Friday, July 10] in Paraguay, the third and final stage of his South American journey after Ecuador and Bolivia, Pope Francis will listen to music composed four centuries ago in the "Reducciones," the indigenous communities created by the Jesuits to civilize and evangelize the populations of those lands.

The musical adventure of the Reductions borders upon the incredible, because it was able to integrate the best of European Baroque music of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries with the innate musical talent of the indigenous Guaraní, all in the context of the liturgical celebration. A masterpiece of "inculturation" of Christianity not in a dumbing down, but at the highest levels of missionary intelligence, of comprehension of the spirit of the liturgy and of creation of true liturgical music as is rarely found today.

Domenico Zipoli, a Jesuit who was not a priest, was the best-known and most brilliant creator of this musical genre, in the Reductions of present-day Paraguay and of the neighboring countries.

Well then, by an eloquent coincidence the questions implicit in the musical genius of the Reductions - all questions of urgent relevance - were the object of an unanticipated address given by pope emeritus Benedict XVI right on the eve of his successor’s departure for the Americas.
To get a sense of Zipoli's work, listen to his Misa de San Ignacio, written for use in the Guaraní mission and performed above by the Ensemble Elyma, a group specializing in Latin American Baroque music and led by Argentinian conductor Gabriel Garrido. A student of Alessandro Scarlatti and Bernardo Pasquini, Zipoli entered the Society of Jesus with the desire to work in the Jesuit missions in Paraguay; written in the same period as the great works of Bach, Handel, and Vivaldi, the Masses and oratorios which Zipoli produced in South America remind us that Baroque music was a trans-Atlantic and transcultural phenomenon. As Magister sees it, Zipoli's music offers an important lesson for today, serving to illustrate a point made recently by the Pope Emeritus:
[According to Pope Emertius Benedict, the Western tradition of sacred music] "is a demonstration of the truth of Christianity. Wherever a response like this is developed, there has taken place an encounter with the truth, with the true Creator of the world. This is why great sacred music is a reality of theological stature and of permanent significance for the faith of the whole of Christianity, even if it is by no means necessary that it be performed always and everywhere. On the other hand, it is also clear that it cannot disappear from the liturgy and that its presence can be an entirely special form of participation in the sacred celebration, in the mystery of the faith."

And again:

"We do not know the future of our culture and of sacred music. But one thing seems clear to me: where the encounter with the living God who comes to us in Christ really takes place, there is born and grows anew also the response whose beauty comes from the truth itself."

The Jesuits of the "Reducciones" of Paraguay or Bolivia, like the great Domenico Zipoli but not only him, were brilliant witnesses of precisely this, albeit without thinking it out the way Ratzinger has been able to do.

But today the Catholic liturgy, apart from rare exceptions, is dramatically distant from that miraculous balance between great sacred music and the "participatio actuosa" of the faithful for which Vatican II called and of which John Paul II sought to give an example on the five continents he visited, as his successor took care to recall.

An intelligent re-listening to the liturgical music of the South American "sacred experiment" of the seventeenth and eighteenth-century Jesuits has everything to teach the Church of today, in every region of the world.
To read the rest, click here. AMDG.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Laus Trinitati.

A month after my first Mass, here is one more souvenir of the event, brought to you through the kindness of a member of the schola who recorded the Mass for posterity. As I mentioned in an earlier post on the subject, the only piece of music performed at the Mass which I did not choose personally was St. Hildegard of Bingen's votive antiphon Laus Trinitati. The director of the schola suggested using Laus Trinitati as an offertory hymn after the completion of the Gregorian offertory verse Benedícam Dóminum, correctly anticipating that we would need more music to cover the offertory rites and the incensation of the gifts as well as the lavabo. I loved the piece as soon as I heard it in rehearsal, and I believe that it will continue to stand out in my memory as one of the highlights of my first Mass.

To accompany the video, here is the text of the antiphon, together with my own English translation:
Laus Trinitati, quae sonus et vita
ac creatrix omnium in vita ipsorum est,
et quae laus angelicae turbae
et mirus splendor arcanorum,
quae hominibus ignota sunt, est,
et quae in omnibus vita est.


Praise to the Trinity, who is the sound and the life
and the Creator of all things in their very life,
and who is the praise of the angelic throng,
and wonderful splendor of mysteries
which are unknown to men,
and who is the life of all things.
Some might be struck by the use of the feminine creatrix to describe the Trinity, but this merely reflects the fact that trinitas (trinitati in the dative) is a feminine noun. For my part, I like the description of the angels as a turbae, which can be translated as a "crowd" or a "throng," much as the chorus is identified as a turbae in the Good Friday Passion settings. In my mind's eye, the image of the angelicae turbae is that of a teeming and somewhat unpredictable group, very unlike the well-disciplined military unit evoked by the image of "the heavenly host." Of course, the action of the angels that remains so unpredictable to us is known fully by the Triune God, that "wonderful splendor of mysteries which are unknown to men."

May Hildegard's words and music bring peace and consolation to those who hear them. AMDG.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Benedict XVI on the origins of music.

One week ago, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI received a pair of honorary doctorates from two Polish institutes of higher education, John Paul II Pontifical University and the Krakow Academy of Music. The address given by the Pope Emeritus at the conferral ceremony in Castel Gandolfo is worth reading, even if you have to rely on imperfect translations like this one posted by ZENIT. (I thought about making my own translation to share here in place of the infelicitous one by ZENIT, but I've been busy enough in Paris that I can't spare the time right now.) Having posted previously on Benedict XVI and music, reading the Castel Gandolfo address reminds me of an off-again, on-again desire to write something more serious and systematic on the subject. Other writers with qualifications greater than mine have already written on Benedict XVI and music - indeed, there have been entire conferences on this theme - but I may still try to find the time to say something unique and original on point. In the meantime, here are some particularly striking paragraphs from last week's address:
At this point, it is right, perhaps, to pose the basic question: What is music in reality? From where does it come and what does it tend to?

I think that three "places" can be localized from which music flows.

One of the first sources is the experience of love. When men are seized by love, a new dimension of being opens in them, a new grandeur and breadth of reality, and it also drives one to express oneself in a new way. Poetry, singing and music in general stem from this being struck, by this opening of oneself to a new dimension of life.

A second origin of music is the experience of sadness, being touched by death, by sorrow and by the abysses of existence. Opened also in this case, in an opposite direction, are new dimensions of reality that can no longer find answers in discourses alone.

Finally, the third place of origin of music is the encounter with the divine, which from the beginning is part of what defines the human. All the more so here in which the totally other and the totally great is present, which arouses in man new ways of expressing himself. Perhaps, it is possible to affirm that in reality also in the other two ambits – love and death – the divine mystery touches us and, in this sense, it is the being touched by God that, overall, constitutes the origin of music. I find it moving to observe how, for instance, in the Psalms singing is no longer enough for men - an appeal is made to all the instruments: reawakened is the hidden music of creation, its mysterious language. With the Psalter, in which the two motives of love and death also operate, we find directly the origin of sacred music of the Church of God. It can be said that the quality of the music depends on the purity and the grandeur of the encounter with the divine, with the experience of love and of pain. The more pure and true this experience is, the more pure and great also is the music that is born and develops from it.
To read the rest, click here (or, better yet, read the original). AMDG.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Live from Paris.

This post comes to you from Paris, where I've been staying since I completed a round of Masses of Thanksgiving in the United States. I will be here until the end of July, brushing up on my French and doing some archival research which will hopefully become part of a master's thesis I will be writing this coming year in Toronto. Though I studied French for five years, I took my last course in the language when I was a senior in high school; I have kept up my reading knowledge through various means, including praying the Divine Office each day in French and reading a lot of books and articles in the language, but I've gotten rusty in terms of speaking and writing and I hope to regain a degree of proficiency in both over the next month. On a spiritual level, I also think that there is something special about being able to spend some of my first weeks as a priest in the city where the Society of Jesus was born. I will post updates as I am able, and in the meantime please know of my prayers and good wishes. AMDG.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The faith of the Precursor.

As promised in the preceding post, here is the text, more or less, of a homily which I gave last night at a Mass in Dahlgren Chapel at Georgetown University. The Mass was the last of three 'official' Masses of Thanksgiving celebrated following my ordination to the priesthood, and it was also offered in memory of Father Thomas M. King, S.J. on the sixth anniversary of his death. The Mass celebrated was that of the Vigil of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, with scripture readings (which admittedly don't figure much in the homily, which is more concerned with the general spirit of the feast) taken from Jeremiah 1:4-10, 1 Peter 1:8-12, and Luke 1:5-17. Though I'm not sure that the text can be fully appreciated outside the particular liturgical context in which it was delivered, I offer it here for the sake of attendees who may want a record of what I said, and for the hopeful edification of others who would like to have attended the Mass but were prevented from doing so by distance or other obligations.


It is a joy for me to be here with you, both to give thanks for my recent ordination and to honor the memory of Father Tom King, who was a friend and mentor to many of those who are here. As a proud Hoya, it is also good for me to come home to the Hilltop, and I feel particularly happy to do so for the first time as a priest. Robert Frost once said that, "if you have to love something, you could do worse than to give your heart to a college." I think those of us who attended Georgetown and know this place can appreciate the sentiment. On the other hand, Robert Frost also said that "home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in." I'm grateful to this community for taking me in, and I'll try not to wear out my welcome.

I. Saint John the Precursor

Tonight we celebrate the Vigil of the Birth of St. John the Baptist. The feast of John’s birth, 'the main event,' as it were, takes place tomorrow, and tonight's celebration has an anticipatory character about it. The vigil is a part of the feast, but it has its own special prayers and scripture readings which are different from the ones you would hear if you came to Mass tomorrow. John the Baptist belongs to a very select company of people whom the Church honors with feasts that are preceded by vigils – the others who come immediately to mind are the Apostles Peter and Paul, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and Jesus Christ himself, so that should tell you something about John’s place in the communion of saints.

What makes John the Baptist so significant is the way in which he prepared for the coming of Jesus Christ. As some of you know, in the Orthodox tradition, John is most often referred to not as John the Baptist but as "John the Forerunner," placing special emphasis on his role as one who anticipated the coming of Christ. We find a similar thought in the opening prayer of tonight’s Mass, which expresses the hope that, "attentive to what Saint John the Precursor urged, [we] may come safely to the One he foretold, our Lord Jesus Christ."

II. Tom King and Other Precursors

To be a precursor is to point out the way to another greater than oneself, to urge others along the way that leads them to the fulfillment of the vocation to which God has called them. This is what John the Baptist did, but we know others who have done the same. For many of us, Father Tom King was also a precursor; as a teacher and as a priest, as a friend and as a mentor, he helped to move us further along the way to becoming the people God invites us to be. He did not point to himself, but to Jesus Christ.

Even if you didn't know Tom King - and if you did not, you will surely hear stories about him after Mass tonight - I'm sure that you have known someone who played the role of a precursor for you. None of us would be here tonight if we had not been invited and nurtured by others in our journey of faith, and none of us would have found our own particular vocation if others had not pointed out the way for us.

In our own way, each of us is also called to be a precursor. We all have a duty to point out the way to others, even if, like John, we will not share in the same journey to the end. Those of you who are parents do this in raising your children, and those of us who are or who have been teachers do something like this with our students, urging them along the path of knowledge and discovery while knowing that they will ultimately know and discover things which we ourselves will never know and will never discover.

III. Faith

To be a precursor demands great faith. It took great faith for Zechariah and Elizabeth to become the parents of John the Baptist, accepting the gift given to them by God even though human reason would have suggested that they were to remain childless. It took great faith for John to complete his mission as the forerunner, and it takes great faith to fulfill the vocation which God has entrusted to each one of us, knowing that, like John, we will not see the fruit of our labors come to complete and perfect fulfillment. As we give thanks this evening for the gifts God has given us – the gift of faith, and the gift of having been encouraged in that faith by Tom King and others like him – let us also give thanks for the gifts that God continues to give us, as he nourishes us here with his Body and Blood.


Peace and good wishes to all who read these lines. AMDG.

A time of gifts.

Like many other Jesuits and priests, I've told my 'vocation story' innumerable times, identifying people and places that impacted my decision to seek entry to the Society of Jesus and to seek ordination to the priesthood. I will certainly continue to do this, but over time I've also come to realize that trying to offer a comprehensive account of all of the natural and supernatural signs that led me to this point would be (to borrow a line from St. Athanasius) a bit like trying to count the waves of the sea: in grasping after particulars, one inevitably fails to comprehend the whole. In this sense, every vocation is a mystery; twelve days ago, as I lay prostrate on the floor of Queen of All Saints Basilica in Chicago with seven other men about to be ordained priests, a succession of images passed through my consciousness - people, places, and events that figured in my journey to ordination - but at the same time I realized that the complete story of how all these pieces fit together is known only to God.

The days since my ordination have been busy, but nevertheless full of joy and consolation. One highlight of these days was certainly the celebration of my first Mass of Thanksgiving on Sunday, June 14 at Loyola University Chicago. It should not surprise those who know me well that I planned my first Mass very carefully. For starters, I chose nearly all of the music myself - primarily the Gregorian propers for the Sunday and the Mass ordinary provided by the Missa de Angelis, balanced with a Byzantine communion hymn, a venerable English recessional, and - in a nice addition suggested by the director of the schola - Hildegard of Bingen's Laus Trinitati. I recruited the members of the schola from among my friends, and I asked Father Brian Daley, a long-time friend from Notre Dame, to give the homily. The venue was also significant: I chose to celebrate the Mass in the domestic chapel of the main Jesuit residence at Loyola University, not because of any particular link to the school (I have none, aside from the fact that I've visited the Jesuit community there any number of times) but rather to recall an old tradition of the Society of Jesus whereby the newly ordained would celebrate Mass for the first time in the house chapel before venturing out to celebrate in their home parishes or elsewhere.

Like the larger ordination weekend of which it was a part, my first Mass had a bit of a "this is your life" quality about it. The congregation included my immediate family as well as friends I'd made in various places - Detroit, New York, Philadelphia, San Jose, South Bend, Toronto, Washington, and beyond - together with Jesuits from near and far. Though most who attended the Mass were there by invitation, I was particularly grateful for the presence of others whom I hadn't expected to see - of priests like Father Jim McCann and Father Mitch Pacwa, who both approached me at the reception after the ordination and asked whether they could concelebrate at my first Mass the next day, and some Jesuit novices who later told me how much they had appreciated the Mass.

The work of the schola was a particular source of consolation for me over the ordination weekend. Their work did much to dignify the celebration of my first Mass, but I was also deeply gratified by the considerable time and effort they put into rehearsing the music I had chosen, and the experience of camaraderie and commitment that emerged from their collaboration moved me a great deal.

The title of this post was borrowed from a classic travel narrative by Patrick Leigh Fermor; though the experiences Fermor described in that book were very different from the ones I've had over the last couple weeks, the phrase 'a time of gifts' still seems very appropriate. I have been given a number of tangible gifts like vestments and religious icons, signs of love and support from family and friends who wished to honor me on the occasion of my ordination, but I have received even an greater gift in the company of those who gathered for the ordination and the celebratory events that followed. A Jesuit I met the day after my ordination advised me to hold onto the consolation gathered in these days, particularly as a way of getting through the more challenging days that are inevitably a part of any priest's ministry. I hope and pray that the graces of this time remain with me.

Newly-ordained priests typically celebrate a number of Masses of Thanksgiving following their ordination, often in their home parish and in other places that have been particularly meaningful to them. In observance of this venerable custom, I returned to my home parish in Massachusetts to celebrate Mass on the next Sunday following my first Mass in Chicago. In the photo seen here, you can see me in the sacristy after that Mass, joined by the pastor, Father John Sheridan.

Returning to my Hilltop alma mater, I celebrated another Mass of Thanksgiving last night in Dahlgren Chapel on the Georgetown University campus. This Mass was timed to coincide with the sixth anniversary of the passing of Father Tom King, and I offered the Mass in his memory as well as in thanksgiving for my ordination; the homily from that Mass is also posted on this blog for posterity. The Mass provided an opportunity for a reunion of some of my Georgetown contemporaries as well as a gathering of other friends in the Washington area, and in the tradition of Father King's 11:15 pm Mass we gathered afterward for a festive soiree including dessert and drinks. I was also happy to be able to concelebrate the Mass with Jesuit Father Ron Murphy of Georgetown's German Department, who has the distinction of being the first Jesuit who told me that I should think about entering the Society of Jesus.

Rounding out this post and returning to one of the great consolations of the ordination weekend, here is a short video from the final rehearsal of the schola that I assembled to sing at my first Mass. Just after running through the first verse of the recessional hymn, "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross," the group finished its work for the day and we all went to a neighborhood restaurant for a small celebratory dinner. As I told the assembled company, it was a perfect way to conclude the day of my ordination to the priesthood. As I look back on the past twelve days, I pray that the memory of that evening and of many other joyful experiences of the past days may sustain me for years to come. AMDG.