Sunday, May 23, 2010

This Jesuit life.

Today, on Pentecost Sunday, Jesuits from five continents gathered in the Chapel of St. Joseph on the campus of Saint Joseph's University to celebrate the profession of Final Vows by Father Joseph Sands, a Jesuit of the Maryland Province who has been living and working at SJU this semester. You can learn more about Father Sands and his background by clicking here and here. I first met Joe at Santa Clara University, where he taught political science for several years and where I spent a couple of months on experiment as a first-year novice. In typical Jesuit fashion, our paths diverged for five years and then reconverged at Saint Joseph's; in the intervening years, Joe had gone to work in the Brazilian Amazon while I professed First Vows, completed three years of philosophy studies and began regency. Our paths are set to diverge once more - Joe will move on to a new assignment this summer - but the relative smallness of the Jesuit world gives me confidence that we'll meet again soon.

The exact size of the clerical and religious world inhabited by Jesuits often surprises our lay friends and colleagues outside the Society. It always amuses me when I meet people who say that they've known other Jesuits but express a strange certainty that I would not know those Jesuits as well; in such situations, I typically press for names and, as often as not, I've met the Jesuits in question. At the same time, I've met others who seem to presume that all Jesuits (and perhaps all priests, religious and seminarians) know one another and are in regular contact - some have expressed genuine surprise when I admit that I do not know the diocesan priest or seminarian that they count as a treasured friend or valued acquaintance. The Jesuit world is a fairly small one, but the Catholic world remains somewhat large.

The nature of the vows professed by Jesuits is also a bit of a mystery to many outside the Society. In contrast with the practice of most religious orders, in which the first vows that a novice makes are temporary, the three vows that Jesuits make at the conclusion of the novitiate are intended to be permanent; at the end of two years of initial formation and probation, I made the promise that all Jesuits make to "enter this same Society to spend my life in it forever." In theory - and sometimes in practice - a Jesuit's First Vows could be his last and only vows, insofar as they represent a "total commitment of myself," an offering just as complete and entire as the one exchanged by spouses at the time of marriage.

By calling a Jesuit to Final Vows, the Society of Jesus offers an affirmative response to the total commitment of self made at the time of First Vows. The call to Final Vows represents a reaffirmation of the individual Jesuit's commitment to serve God in the Society of Jesus as well as something like a 'vote of confidence' in the individual Jesuit on the part of the Society. In contrast with most other religious orders, in which final profession comes a few short years after the completion of one's novitiate, Final Vows in the Society follows years of ministry - in most cases including experience of ordained ministry as a priest. Final Vows also follows the experience of tertianship, when a Jesuit repeats the thirty-day retreat that he first made in the novitiate, reviews the foundational documents of the Society, and reflects on how his relationship with Christ and his understanding of Jesuit life has grown and evolved over time.

To round out this post, I would like to share some reflections on the experience of making Final Vows in the Society of Jesus offered six years ago in The Hoya by Jesuit Father Kevin Wildes, then a faculty member and administrator at Georgetown and now the president of Loyola University in New Orleans. Having discerned his Jesuit vocation as an undergraduate at Saint Joseph's University, Father Wildes reflects gratefully on the years between his initial 'yes' to the Society during his time on Hawk Hill and his Final Vows in Dahlgren Chapel three decades later:
Though the event [of Final Vows] is hard to explain, it has led me to pray and reflect on the past 28 years. Looking back to when I entered the Society as a novice, I realize now that I had no idea what was ahead for me. In hindsight I can say that, at the time, I really wasn’t sure how long this Jesuit adventure would last.

In my last years as an undergrad at St. Joseph’s University, where I first encountered Jesuits, I had become intrigued by this community of religious men — this company of “friends in the Lord.” Now, I am a person who does not like to look back and ever wonder if I should have tried something. I would rather try and fail than not try. I was intrigued by the Jesuits and finally decided that I needed to test the waters. I didn’t know what would happen. I figured if it did not work out, I could leave and find a job, or go to law school. But I never wanted to look back and wonder if I should have tried it.

Well, that was almost 28 years ago and I can’t imagine a happier life than the one I have been given. Now, don’t get me wrong, not every day has been great. But the Society has been a wonderful place for me. It has brought me to a much deeper sense of my relationship to God and to God’s people. I have been privileged to enter into people’s lives at times of great joy, like weddings, births, graduations and other celebrations, and times of great sorrow, like illness, suffering and death. I have slowly come to realize that “I” don’t really “do” anything other than be there and accompany them on part of the journey of their lives. This Jesuit life has allowed me to explore the world of ideas with wonderful colleagues and students. It has helped me find the wonders of God in the life of the mind and see the impact of that life on the daily lives of men and women. The Society has not only given me a wonderful way to be a priest, but it has also given me great friends and companions for this journey that is my life. Ignatius and his companions called themselves “friends in the Lord.” Indeed they were. In the Society I have been blessed with Jesuit companions and friends who have supported me on this journey. . . . So as I look ahead to [Final Vows] . . . I think back on my life as a Jesuit and I can only say that it has been a wonderful life. . . .
Please join me in praying for Father Joe Sands on the day of his full incorporation in the Society of Jesus. Please pray, too, for all young men who are discerning a vocation to this least Society. As Joe Sands, Kevin Wildes and countless others already have, many they someday discover the joys of this wonderful life. AMDG.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Orthodox liturgy at St. Peter's.

Here is a piece of news I would have expected to receive a bit more attention, which I found out about by way of Byzantine, Texas:

On 19 May 2010, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, Chairman of the Moscow Patriarchate’s Department for External Church Relations, currently in Italy with the blessing of His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia, celebrated the Divine Liturgy at the burial site of St. Peter in the crypt of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Concelebrating were Archbishops Kirill of Yaroslavl and Rostov and Feognost of Sergiev Posad.

Assistant to the DECR Chairman, L. Sevastianov sang hymns in Znamenny chant. Present in the crypt were believers who arrived from Russia to take part in Metropolitan Hilarion’s pilgrimage.

After the divine service, the hierarchs, clergymen and all worshippers venerated the particles of St. Peter’s holy relics, singing magnification to the apostle.

This is the first report that I've read of an Orthodox prelate celebrating the Divine Liturgy at St. Peter's, which is why I'm surprised this event hasn't received more media attention. As one might expect, Metropolitan Hilarion's visit to Rome has been noted by Vatican watchers, but none of the press reports that I've come across have made mention of Thursday's liturgy in the crypt of St. Peter's. I do not know whether this event is the first of its kind; the least I can say is that I have yet to find evidence that any other Orthodox liturgies have been celebrated in the Vatican in recent times. I'd be happy to hear from any readers who may have more information on this topic. In the meantime, I'm sure that I'll continue to wonder why this has been such a quiet story. AMDG.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

"Metropolis" and the moral life of babies.

Dealing with the topics in the title in reverse order, I'd like to call your attention to a couple of interesting items in the New York Times. First, there is an early preview of an article in this weekend's New York Times Magazine summarizing some current research on the moral development of infants and toddlers. Here's the lead paragraph:
Not long ago, a team of researchers watched a 1-year-old boy take justice into his own hands. The boy had just seen a puppet show in which one puppet played with a ball while interacting with other puppets. The center puppet would slide the ball to the puppet on the right, who would pass it back. And the center puppet would slide the ball to the puppet on the left . . . who would run away with it. Then the two puppets on the ends were brought down from the stage and set before the toddler. Each was placed next to a pile of treats. At this point, the toddler was asked to take a treat away from one puppet. Like most children in this situation, the boy took it from the pile of the "naughty" one. But this punishment wasn't enough - he then leaned over and smacked the puppet on the head.
As author Paul Bloom observes, many developmental psychologists and others have long embraced the view that "we begin life as amoral animals" and need to be nurtured and socialized into morality. Bloom suggests that this received opinion may be in need of revision:
A growing body of evidence . . . suggests that humans do have a rudimentary moral sense from the very start of life. With the help of well-designed experiments, you can see glimmers of moral thought, moral judgment and moral feeling even in the first year of life. Some sense of good and evil seems to be bred in the bone. Which is not to say that parents are wrong to concern themselves with moral development or that their interactions with their children are a waste of time. Socialization is critically important. But this is not because babies and young children lack a sense of right and wrong; it's because the sense of right and wrong that they naturally possess diverges in important ways from what we adults would want it to be.
To read the rest of Bloom's article, click here. For enlightenment of a very different sort, check out this article in yesterday's NYT on the recovery of an apparently complete print of Fritz Lang's 1927 film Metropolis. Originally released at a length of two and a half hours, Metropolis was withdrawn shortly after its Berlin premiere and later re-released in a much shorter version. Much of the footage cut from the original theatrical release was thought to have been lost forever until a print of the complete film was discovered two years ago - in Buenos Aires, of all places. The story of that print and its journey to restoration and re-release is quite fascinating, albeit in a very different way from Bloom's article on the moral life of babies. I commend both articles to your attention, especially if you're looking for a brief distraction at this busy point in the academic year. AMDG.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

The future of "B+ Catholics."

Though I'm currently knee-deep in student papers and bluebooks, I would like to take note of a couple of related items that I came upon over the weekend. The first is this piece by John Allen who offers data and reflections on the changing demographics of the Catholic Church in the United States and those who minister within it. Among other points, Allen notes the following:
. . . the ministers of the Catholic future will be increasingly "evangelical." The broad mass of twenty- and thirty-something Catholics today may be thoroughly secularized, but there is an inner core of faithful and practicing young Catholics who are the ones most likely to pursue a vocation to the priesthood or religious life, or to be most interested in making a career in the church as a lay person. The future leaders of Catholicism in America will come from this inner core. By now there's a considerable body of data about these "millennial Catholics," and the consistent finding is that they're more traditional in their attitudes and practices than the "Vatican II" generation they're replacing. These younger Catholics are attracted to traditional spiritual practices such as Eucharistic adoration and Marian piety; they have a generally positive attitude towards authority, especially the papacy, and they're less inclined to be critical of church teaching. I use the word "evangelical" rather than "conservative" to describe all this, in part because most experts say it's not really about the politics of left vs. right so much as generational dynamics. These young Catholics came of age in a rootless secular world, and are hungry for a clear sense of identity. More and more, the church's ministerial workforce will be stamped by this evangelical ethos.
The phenomenon of "evangelical" Catholicism leads Allen to pose a number of open-ended questions: "For example, will the rising tide of evangelical energy among young ministers fuel tribalization in the church? Will it shade off into a sort of 'ghetto Catholicism,' effectively disengaged from the broader culture? Or, will it revive important markers of Catholic identity, recharging the church's batteries to offer a distinctive contribution to the challenges of the 21st century?" Allen refrains from offering any predictions about all of this, effectively concluding that the answer to all of his questions is 'time will tell.'

The second item that I'd like to bring to your attention is an entry from the blog dotCommonweal in which Notre Dame law prof Cathy Kaveny (a former teacher of mine) takes note of the Allen article and asks, 'What about the B+ Catholics?' What, you may wonder, is a 'B+ Catholic'? Professor Kaveny explains:
There used to be room in the Church for the B+ Catholic - who went to Church on Sundays, fulfilled his or her Easter duty, but who wasn't into all that other stuff, such as retreats, Eucharistic Processions, etc. In fact, most people who went to Mass when I was growing up - the pre-Boomers and the older Boomers - were B+ Catholics. I'm either a late Boomer or an early Gen X. Most of my cohort has wandered off. They're not conservative or even 'evangelical' - but they're not interested in staying and fighting either for change, either, like the older Boomers. I expect that's the majority of the next generation too.

Will there be B+ Catholics in a church run by Millennials and ecclesiastical movements? If not, will the lack of B+ Catholics exacerbate the polarization between the "smaller, purer Church" and the rest of an increasingly secularized society?

I regret that I don't have the time to present an in-depth analysis of Allen's article and Kaveny's response, but I will offer some of my instant reactions, all highly impressionistic. Hopefully, some of what I write will inspire interested readers to leave their own comments.

First off, I must say that I often feel somewhat left out of generational analyses like those cited by Allen and Kaveny. I'm too young to fit into the range of years that most (though not all) demographers asign to Generation X, but I don't really fit into the Millennial bracket either. Simply put, I lived too much of my life in the 20th century and have been too deeply marked by it to embrace the 'Millennial' label. I have vivid memories of the Reagan presidency and of the last days of the Cold War (an intellectually precocious youngster, I even starting reading Gorbachev's Perestroika in junior high school, though I never got all the way through it). I grew up without cellphones or the Internet, and most of my high school and college research papers were written with the aid of books and articles located exclusively through card catalogues and bound periodical indexes. (In fact, the legal research class I took as a 1L at Notre Dame focused on the same paper- and print-based methods of accessing information - I wonder whether that's still true for today's law students.) In short, I am emphatically not a Millennial - I should note that this conviction has grown increasingly stronger as I've taught and gotten to know more and more current college students, many of whom started grade school around the time I started college.

Reading Kaveny's description of "B+ Catholics," I quickly realized that most of the active Catholics I've known throughout my life could be placed in this category. They may go to Sunday Mass more often than not, but they don't have time for "all that other stuff," especially if it occurs on weekdays. (On that note, I still remember how novel going to daily Mass felt to me when I started doing it at Georgetown - before that, I had been vaguely aware that some Catholics went to Mass every day, but I scarcely understood why.) The "B+ Catholics" that I've known generally don't have a fully-articulated rationale to explain why they are active Catholics. Going to Mass is simply something they do, a part of who they are. There is a real grace in this - the grace of a faith that is neither scrupulous nor particularly demonstrative but nonetheless serves as an integral and natural element of one's life.

Of course, it also bears mentioning that many of the Catholics I've known in my life have not been Catholics of the B+ variety. A good number of them have been cultural Catholics who seldom or never attend Mass but nonetheless regard their Catholic identity as something indelible; they may express open hostility toward the institutional Church or they may regard their Catholic roots with a sort of distant and rueful affection, but in a real sense all who fall into this category would affirm the truth of the maxim, "Once a Catholic, always a Catholic." Even if they never darken the door of a Catholic church, members of this group have no intention of joining any other religious group - for them, Catholicism is 'the only show in town' in religious terms, even though they're not in the habit of going to Mass. At the risk of being somewhat provocative, I tend to think that cultural Catholics of the kind I've described understand what religion and spirituality are actually about in a way that members of the trendy "spiritual but not religious" crowd plainly do not.

As I reflect on my own experience of life in the Church, I can say that I've known more B+ Catholics and cultural Catholics than I have members of the group that Allen labels as "evangelical." The "evangelical" Catholics that I have known tend to be very impressive individuals; they have chosen to practice their faith in a boldly countercultural way, often at some cost. My sense in working with Millennial Catholics - including many of my current students - is that this "evangelical" group, though growing in influence and visibility, is a minority in numerical terms. A greater number of the Catholic students I've encountered at SJU would fall into the "B+" category - they go to Mass and they love the Church, but they're not into "all that other stuff." They may be seeking deeper answers to questions of faith and doctrine than the ones they received in CCD or in Catholic primary and secondary schools, but they don't seem to regard their Catholicism as something countercultural. The question of whether members of this group are more likely to be energized or repelled by the "evangelical" zeal of some of their peers is well worth asking, but I have yet to come to any firm answer.

It's also worth asking what will happen to cultural Catholics as the face of the Church changes. Some of the Millennial Catholics I've met fit into the "cultural" category as I describe it above - they don't go to church and they don't seem that interested in religious matters, but they still identify themselves as Catholic. What it means to be a cultural Catholic in the future may be very different from what it has meant in the past. I sometimes feel called upon to defend cultural Catholics against the dismissive criticism of "evangelical" peers - I think it's a better strategy to work with gentle sensitivity to try to bring inactive Catholics back to church than to write them off as lost sheep.

Notwithstanding the point just expressed, I also wonder how many generations a purely cultural Catholicism can survive. Inactive Catholics who spent at least part of their formative years before the Second Vatican Council often base their sense of Catholic identity on memories of a bygone world. One of the easiest ways to explain this is to cite a line from a recent rumination on Jewish identity offered by historian Tony Judt: "Being Jewish largely consists of remembering what it once meant to be Jewish." Something similar can be said of many cultural Catholics, for cultural Catholicism depends on the same kind of memories. I have known cultural Catholics of the Baby Boom generation whose children had no sense of a Catholic identity, cultural or otherwise. For me, it remains an open question whether cultural Catholicism can long endure once the memory of life in a pervasively Catholic culture recedes.

As I note in various ways in the above paragraphs, I have more questions regarding these topics than I presently have answers. I hope that sharing some of my questions here will lead interested readers to reflect on their own views of the matters at hand. AMDG.

The photo above shows Massgoers at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in the Bronx, observed through a glazed window at the entrance of the church. Sadly, I can't take credit for this wonderfully evocative image - I found it here on Flickr.