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.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Senses of place.

I'm not sure when or how I fell in love with Canada. It might have started when I visited Niagara Falls with my family in 1988 or went to Quebec City and Montreal on a class trip in 1993, or it might have resulted from reading books by writers like Hugh MacLennan, Mordecai Richler, and Pierre Berton. Perhaps my love of Canada was the result of growing up watching everything from SCTV to You Can't Do That on Television to The Kids in the Hall, or maybe it had something to do with hailing from a part of the United States with deep cultural ties to Quebec and the Maritimes and where hockey is only slightly less popular than baseball. One way or another, my affection for Canada was deeply ingrained by the time I entered the Society of Jesus. That affection grew during the four years I lived in Toronto, deepened by many relationships as well as the experiences of daily living. When I moved back to the States earlier this month, I felt as if were leaving an important part of myself behind.

Though I'll miss Toronto, I'm happy to have moved back to Washington, a city that I know well and one that has been a sort of second home to me for virtually all of my adult life. Returning to Washington last year to celebrate Mass at Georgetown reminded me of the important role that this city has played in my life, and I've ruminated on similar themes since I moved back to the District a couple of weeks ago. I first went to Washington to study government at Georgetown, hoping to land an internship on Capitol Hill and launch a career in politics; to my surprise, Georgetown proved to be a springboard not to government service but to religious life in the Society of Jesus and ordination to the priesthood. Washington was the city where I found my vocation, and it was also the city where I reached adulthood and began to reckon with my place in the world.

I thought of all of this in a particularly vivid way yesterday afternoon when I saw a large group of fresh-faced Georgetown students on the Metro; some of them looked a bit confused as they tried to figure out how to buy farecards, and I gathered that they were new to the city. Watching those young Hoyas figure things out, I remembered when I was in their shoes and I wondered where their college years would take them. More generally, whenever I stand on the platform and wait for the Metro I feel as though the last two decades of my life have been suddenly compressed as I find myself, in some sense, back where I started. There is a particular grace in returning to familiar places after years away, and I am grateful to be able to do so. AMDG.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

On the monastic character of Ignatian spirituality.

Today is the Feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus. I'm currently busy with many things, especially trying to get my master's thesis into shape and preparing to move back to the United States after four years in Toronto; given this, instead of attempting to produce a new post from scratch to mark the feast I think it would be better to share an old favorite, posted two years ago on this date and presented again below with minor revisions. Good wishes to all who celebrate this feast today.


Father Frans Jozef van Beeck, a Jesuit whom I've discussed here before, once began an autobiographical essay with the admission that "I am by no means the sole Jesuit for whom the Society of Jesus is in the first place and very palpably something international." This has certainly been true for me: as I have noted in the past, part of what drew me to the Society of Jesus was its cosmopolitan character – the sense in which, as Jerónimo Nadal put it, "the world is our house." I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to celebrate the feast of the Society's founder, St. Ignatius of Loyola, in a number of different countries and in various circumstances, ranging from large public festivities to low-key community celebrations to virtually private observances (one year, for example, St. Ignatius' Day fell in the middle of my eight-day retreat, so I passed the feast in silence).

In whichever place and in whatever way I spend St. Ignatius' Day, this feast inevitably leads me to reflect upon the roots of my vocation. Some of the better things I've written on point are in posts produced in Innsbruck, in Philadelphia, and in Paris. In this post, I would like to share some excerpts from a 1937 essay by Karl Rahner entitled "The Ignatian Mysticism of Joy in the World," in which Rahner considers how one might reconcile the mystical and contemplative dimensions of Ignatian spirituality with the decidedly 'worldly' mission of the Society of Jesus. In explaining how the mystical and the worldly fit together in an Ignatian context, Rahner also shows how the Society of Jesus stands in essential continuity with the monastic tradition that came before it:
Ignatian piety is a piety of the Cross, like all Christian mystical piety before it. One would lay oneself open to the danger of completely misconstruing Ignatian piety, were one to overlook this first fundamental characteristic. We must take note of the fact that Ignatian piety is and intends to be primarily 'monastic' piety; 'monastic' not in a juridical sense, nor monastic in the external arrangement of the community life of his disciples, but 'monastic' in the theologico-metaphysical sense which constitutes the first and last meaning of this word. What we mean to say by that is that Ignatius in his life, in his piety, and in the spirit which he impresses upon his foundation is consciously and clearly taking over and continuing the ultimate direction of life by which the life of the Catholic Orders, the 'monazein,' was created and kept alive. Proof of this is the simple fact that he and his disciples take the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. And with them necessarily take over the attitude of the monachos, of one alone in God far from the world. Ignatius stands in the line of those men who existentially flee into the desert in a violent fuga saeculi, even though it may be the God-forsaken stony desert of a city, in order to seek God far from the world. It is nothing but superficiality if one allows the difference in external mode of life between Jesuit and monk to mask the deep and ultimate common character which dominates the ideal of every Catholic order.
At times, some Jesuits have tended to regard our particular charism in the light of rupture, insisting (sometimes a bit grumpily) that "we're not monks" and that St. Ignatius offered the Church something essentially discontinuous with the traditions of older religious orders. I've always been skeptical of that approach, partly because of my appreciation for the Benedictine tradition, but also on account of my awareness of Ignatius' debts to the writings of the Benedictine abbot Garcia de Cisneros and to the monks of the Abbey of Montserrat. I appreciate what Rahner has to say about the 'monastic' character of Ignatian piety because he helps to confirm certain intuitions I've always had about my Jesuit vocation. As Rahner emphasizes, the worldly dimension of the Ignatian charism must be seen in the context of an inward "flight into God," which is ultimately the same fuga saeculi that has always driven Christian monasticism: "Ignatius approaches the world from God. Not the other way about. Because he has delivered himself in the lowliness of an adoring self-surrender to the God beyond the whole world and to his will, for this reason and for this reason alone he is prepared to obey his word even when, out of the silent desert of his daring flight into God, he is, as it were, sent back into the world, which he had found the courage to abandon in the foolishness of the Cross." Rahner further suggests that the Ignatian vision of 'finding God in all things' presupposes a healthy indifference that allows us to find God wherever God wishes to be found: "Ignatius is concerned only with the God above the whole world, but he knows that this God, precisely because he is really above the whole world and not merely the dialectical antithesis to the whole world, is also to be found in the world, when his sovereign will bids us enter upon the way of the world." In other words, we seek God in the world because the One whom we seek in the desert of the heart has bidden us to seek him also in what Rahner calls "the stony desert of a city."

As I read Rahner's lines about seeking God in the urban desert, I am mindful of some of tensions inherent in our lives as Jesuits. The Society of Jesus is well known in the wider world for the adventurous missionaries and cosmopolitan nomads who have sojourned in our midst, even though just as many of us have, as Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote of St. Alphonsus Rodriguez, merely "watched the door" for "years and years . . . without event." Finding God in all things obliges us to work out our salvation in a variety of different circumstances, and sometimes to serve in ways very different from what we might have hoped for or imagined when we entered the Society of Jesus. The lifelong challenge for each of us is to nurture and cultivate the interior freedom and stillness, the spirit of fuga saeculi, that allows us to be what Jerónimo Nadal described as "contemplatives likewise in action." In the words of the current Superior General of the Society, Father Adolfo Nicolás, "every Jesuit should be able to live like a monk in the middle of the noise of the city... That means that our hearts are our monasteries and at the bottom of every activity, every reflection, every decision, there is silence, the kind of silence that one shares only with God."

On this Feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola, I pray in gratitude for the gift of my vocation. I pray also for my brother Jesuits, that the Society of Jesus may be for all of us a help to salvation and a means of doing God's will. Finally, I pray for you who are reading this and for your intentions, and I ask also that you pray for me and for the members of the Society as we remember our founder. AMDG.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

«Pour lui, partir au moment où il célebrait la messe, c'est une forme de consécration...».

I awoke this morning to the horrific news of the attack in the French town of Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray by Islamist militants who invaded a Catholic church in the midst of daily Mass, taking the faithful hostage and murdering an eighty-five-year-old priest, Father Jacques Hamel. Though the Church has formal processes for declaring these things, I would not hesitate to say that Father Hamel died a martyr, killed as he celebrated Mass by attackers motivated by a hatred of the Catholic faith. In this context, I was particularly struck by these words spoken by a fellow priest who knew Father Hamel:
Malgré son âge avancé, il était toujours aussi investi dans la vie de la paroisse. On lui disait souvent, en rigolant «Jacques, tu en fais un peu trop, il serait temps de prendre ta retraite». Ce à quoi il répondait , en riant, «tu as déjà vu un curé à la retraite? Je travaillerai jusqu'à mon dernier soufflé». Pour lui, partir au moment où il célebrait la messe, c'est une forme de consécration, malgré les circonstances dramatiques.

(In spite of his advanced age, he was still deeply engaged in the life of the parish. People often said to him, jokingly, "Jacques, you're doing a bit too much. It's time for you to retire." To which he used to reply, laughing, "Have you ever seen a retired parish priest? I'll work until my final breath." For him, to die while celebrating Mass was a form of consecration, in spite of the dramatic circumstances.)
Though he surely did not expect to die as a martyr, there is a sense in which Father Hamel's tragic death represented the fulfillment of his priestly vocation; as he wished, he labored until his final breath in offering the sacraments. His death also offers a sobering lesson, as Father Ray Blake tersely stated today: "This is what the priesthood is about. This is what the Mass is about. This is what the Catholic Church is about."

We live in an age of Christian martyrs, with regular reports coming from the Middle East, Africa, South Asia, and elsewhere of bishops, priests, religious, and laypeople murdered for their faith. I've written here before about the "ecumenism of blood," the sense in which the death of Christians in other parts of the world and of other Christian confessions should perhaps lead complacent Westerners to think more carefully about the meaning of Christian solidarity and about how they live out their faith. Picking up on this theme today, political scientist Bradley Jensen Murg asks whether the shocking death of Father Hamel might lead Christians in the West to think differently about their relationship with suffering Christians elsewhere:
Jewish institutions in Europe have regularly been targets of extreme violence, with the climate of anti-Semitism becoming so marked that the Jewish Agency has reported significant increases in the number of French Jews making aliyah to Israel. A direct attack on a Catholic church and Catholic clergy in Europe is a new and horrid addition to this history of religious violence. In high-income Western states we tend think of these things as "something that happens to other people" (or, to other people's priests). One hundred million Christians around the globe are recognized as living in a state of persecution for their faith – but we rarely experience it close to home.


If our response is to be constructive, it must begin with the understanding that "a church of martyrs" is the reality we confront today. And that reality is one that also provides a small sliver of consolation in that, as Pope Francis stated in his meeting with the Ethiopian Patriarch earlier this year: "The ecumenism of the martyrs is a summons to us, here and now, to advance on the path to ever greater unity." This attack on the Church in France can help to connect those of us in the West to the suffering of our co-religionists for whom these events are so horridly normal.
To read the rest, click here. As we seek a way forward in the wake of horror, let us seek the intercession of the martyr Father Jacques Hamel as we ask God for the prudence and wisdom we need to respond to attacks on our faith and on our very well-being. Let us also pray that the goodness and dedication which Father Hamel showed in his life of priestly service will not be forgotten in a time of fear and uncertainty, and that he will be remembered for the way he lived as well as the way he died. AMDG.