Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Letter's long journey ends, mystery begins.

Somewhat in the same category as my "Time in a bottle" post from a couple of years ago, here is an item from today's Boston Globe on a piece of mail that has finally reached its destination after sixty-six years in postal limbo:
If it were actual snail mail, it would have gotten there 10 times faster.

A letter mailed from Hyde Park, N.Y., in 1945 arrived in Gloucester last week, long after its intended recipient, a Mrs. S.E. Lawrence, had died. A common garden snail could have made the 173-mile journey in 6 1/2 years. Instead it took 66.

Where has it been all these years? That remains a mystery. Among the few things postal officials know is that it appeared Saturday, when carrier James Patrick picked from the day’s batch of mail a slightly yellowed envelope, with a hand-typed address and four ornate one-cent stamps.

"When you see stamps like that, and type-written, you know something’s different," said Richard Tansey, officer in charge of the Greater Boston Postal District.

The letter’s nearly seven-decade odyssey is being puzzled out by most everyone who has come in contact with it. Dennis Tarmey, a spokesman for the Greater Boston Postal District, said that it may have been lost in postal equipment or fallen into a sorting machine — which is often the case with letters that take decades to deliver — but added that that theory is pure speculation.

Tansey said a postmark on the back of the envelope indicates that it appeared in Seattle this month. "It seems to me that somebody had it for a long time and put it in the mail," he said. "Maybe it ended up in an estate sale. Who knows?"

The letter, which the carrier brought to the Annisquam Historical Society before the Gloucester Post Office took it back yesterday, is what is known as a First Day Cover — when a new stamp is issued, collectors celebrate by gathering at the place it is issued and having it postmarked on the first day. In this case, it was a one-cent stamp to commemorate President Franklin D. Roosevelt, issued from and featuring his Springwood estate, shortly after his death. The "cover" is a collector’s term for an envelope.

. . .

[Two observers] theorized that Lawrence — who lived at 123 Leonard St. — was a stamp collector who had a friend mail her the letter, or mailed it to herself from the event.

"But how did it get lost all those years?" asked Tom O’Keefe, curator of the Annisquam Historical Society. "Did it go to Gloucester, England? We’ll never know."
To read the rest, click here. AMDG.

Eis polla eti, Despota!

Regular readers who are interested in such things may already be aware of the election late last week of 40-year-old Ukrainian Catholic bishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk as Major Archbishop of Kyiv-Halyč. The youngest hierarch chosen to lead the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church since Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky - who was enthroned in 1901 at the age of 35 and served until his death in 1944 - the new Major Archbishop could potentially serve for as many years and have as significant a long-term influence as his legendary predecessor did in the last century.

As we reach the midway point of Lent, I pray that we may take some inspiration from some words from a sermon preached by the new Major Archbishop at his enthronement on Sunday, available in an English translation posted by Rocco Palmo on Whispers in the Loggia:
Beloved in Christ, brothers and sisters!

Glory to Jesus Christ!

"We praise your Cross, Lord, and glorify Your holy resurrection!”

With these words today, the Church of Christ focuses on the Honest and True Cross. Today, as we pass the halfway point of our Lenten journey, the Life-Giving Tree is given to us, that we might find in it a source of strength and courage to go on to the Resurrection, to put the Sign of the Cross at the center of our lives.

In his Epistle to the Philippians, St Paul has left us a unique early Christian hymn that a young Church, newly enlivened by the Holy Spirit, solemnly sang in its Liturgy.

The Apostle calls to us this way:

"Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God, something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (2:6-11)."

In these words, the word of the Cross is central. Here, on the one hand, we see an icon of the earthly life of Jesus Christ -- his everyday humanity en route to his death on the cross. But the Cross is the greatest moment of his humiliation, extreme humility and divine self-giving. In the second part of this hymn, however, we see Christ, who glorifies the Father. That from the death of the Cross begins the Resurrection -- the praise and triumphant discovery of his divine glory, which is the glory of the Father.

As a disciple of Christ, every Christian who follows his Lord must witness in their personal lives to the effectiveness of his paschal mystery. Only in the celestial glory of the Resurrection can one enter through its only door, through His honest and True Cross. Our vocation is to follow the Savior to the end, even until the death of the Cross. His True Cross is the lowest degree of humility and obedient disgrace, but it is exactly the place from which the Father proceeds to raise him, that we might praise the divine glory which lay before the knee that bends in heaven, on earth, and under the earth.
Please join me in praying for Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk as he begins his mandate. May the Holy Spirit inspire him to lead the Church with great courage and wisdom for a long time to come. May God grant him many blessed years! AMDG.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Of Gods and Men.

At the start of Lent, I went to see Of Gods and Men, Xavier Beauvois' film about the 1996 martyrdom of seven Cistercian monks from the Abbaye Notre-Dame de l'Atlas in Tibhirine, Algeria. In Europe, Of Gods and Men has already won critical accolades (including the Grand Prix at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival) and has achieved considerable box office success; now the film is slowly making its way to theaters across North America.

Though I don't think Of Gods and Men has had the sort of impact here that it has had on the other side of the Atlantic, the film has received fairly rapturous responses in Jesuit circles. Writing on America's blog In All Things, Father Jim Martin described Of Gods and Men as "the greatest film on faith I've ever seen"; over at Whosoever Desires, my fellow scholastic Tony Lusvardi echoed Father Martin's sentiment but also went a step further by declaring, "It’s hard to imagine a more moving or a more challenging depiction of religious life than Of Gods and Men, nor a better introduction to Christianity."

While I would readily affirm that Of Gods and Men is a great film, I cannot say that it's the greatest film on faith I've ever seen - that prize would probably go to Ingmar Bergman's Winter Light. I must also respectfully disagree with Tony's suggestion that it's difficult to imagine a better introduction to Christianity than Of Gods and Men. The question of what constitutes the best introduction to Christianity is, I suppose, a kind of theological Rorschach test: your answer inevitably reflects your own particular sense of what Christianity is about, or at least what you take to be its most characteristic or essential features. Of course, questions of context must also be considered - the best introduction for whom?

I don't think I would put forward any film on Christian themes (even Winter Light) as the ideal introduction to the faith. Christianity is as much about experiences as it is about ideas, so the best introduction to Christianity may come in the concrete experience of Christian community. If I wanted to give people with no concept of Christianity a sense of what the faith was about, I might tell them to spend the night of Pascha in a Russian parish, or perhaps to attend Forgiveness Vespers at the start of Lent. If geography did not matter, I might counsel a visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, for I know of no place that better reveals the essence of Christian faith, or more effectively rebuts bourgeois Western misapprehensions about the nature of Christianity, than this temple. If field trips are out of the question and some sort of text is essential, then I would probably counsel the inquirer to read the Paschal Sermon of St. John Chrysostom before anything else.

This is supposed to be a post about Of Gods and Men, so I should probably say something about the film itself. As I noted above, Of Gods and Men really is a great film, one that tells the story of the monks' martyrdom with sensitivity, subtlety, and, for the most part, exemplary understatement. Why do I write "for the most part"? Well, I agree with Macrina Walker and others who suggest that the 'Swan Lake scene' in the refectory was a bit much. The use of prior Christian de Chergé's testament in a concluding voice-over also struck me as a gratuitous touch in a film that otherwise avoids preaching overtly to its audience, though I must admit that the film's final scene - of the hostage monks being marched through the snow by their captors - is one of the most haunting I've ever seen captured on film.

Part of what makes Of Gods and Men so compelling is the way that it reveals the essential humanity of its subjects. Beauvois clearly wants the audience to see the monks of Tibhirine as heroic martyrs - as indeed they were, at least in my view - but he also shows us the difficulties that they faced as individuals and as a group grappling with the hard choice of whether to remain in Algeria in the certain knowledge that doing so could lead to their murder or to leave the country and save their lives at the loss of the sense of mission that had guided their community since its foundation. Roger Ebert, usually one of my favorite film critics, really missed the boat on this when he faulted the monks for possibly "committing the sin of pride" by choosing to stay and suggests that "Christian should have had the humility to lead his monks away from the path of self-sacrifice." The choice to remain was one that each monk made in freedom and as the fruit of careful discernment, ultimately motivated not by personal concerns but by a commitment to a higher calling.

Thanks to Beauvois' intelligent direction and fine performances by a distinguished cast, the monks of Tibhirine emerge as flawed but holy men, each with his own strengths and foibles. In Lambert Wilson's portrayal, Christian de Chergé comes across as austere and earnest, yet also gentle and compassionate in his care for his brethren, humble enough to change course when his initial decision to remain in Tibhirine without consulting the other monks comes under harsh criticism at a chapter meeting. Olivier Rabourdin is very good as Christophe, the youngest of the monks, who could reasonably have looked forward to many more years of life in the monastery yet must confront the terrifying fact that he and his community may be called to martyrdom. As the aged Brother Amédée, Jacques Herlin shows us the prototypical "living rule" found in many religious communities, including my own: a scene in which the outwardly frail yet apparently robust Amédée is prophetically told that "you'll survive us all" led me to chuckle in recognition, as I've heard the same comment made regarding similarly frail yet robust senior Jesuits.

All in all, I think that the best performance in Of Gods and Men is offered by Michael Lonsdale, a veteran of many religious roles, as the elderly physician Brother Luc. Despite chronic asthma and diminishing energy, Brother Luc spends five days a week tending to the medical needs of local villagers in a free clinic on the grounds of the monastery. Brother Luc also dispenses sage counsel to all who ask, including a young Algerian woman who seeks the old monk's advice on life and love. In a brief but beautiful scene - my favorite in the film, actually - Brother Luc speaks movingly to the young woman about the experience of falling in love with another person, making it clear that he has done so a number of times, before finally stating that the love he has chosen to follow for sixty years as a monk is the greatest he has ever known. Brother Luc's words in this scene are, I believe, the key to Of Gods and Men - they offer the best possible explanation of the monks' choice to stay at Tibhirine, and they also provide a simple yet eloquent statement of what religious life is about.

Though I can't say that Of Gods and Men is the best film I've ever seen on faith, I can say that it's the best new film on religious themes that I've seen in years. It also offers the best portrayal of religious life on film since Philip Gröning's Into Great Silence. (As an aside, I suspect that few who have seen and appreciated Into Great Silence will be able to watch Of Gods and Men without thinking of the earlier film - the visual style and narrative pacing of Beauvois' film is so suggestive of Gröning's exploration of Carthusian life that I can't help but wonder whether Of Gods and Men would have been made very differently if there had been no Into Great Silence.) If you haven't seen Of Gods and Men and the film makes it to your area, do yourself a favor and see it. AMDG.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Good news from Hawk Hill.

After a week of generally bad news, here's some good news from Hawk Hill, concerning my brother Jesuit and departmental colleague Joe Godfrey:
Professor-Designate of Philosophy, Joseph J. Godfrey, S.J., has been named the inaugural holder of the Reverend Joseph S. Hogan, S.J. ’03 Endowed Chair in Philosophy.

"I am grateful to colleagues and the University for the appointment, and eager to expand my teaching, research and service in the spirit of the Chair," said Fr. Godfrey. "As the donor and the University wish, the Chair will contribute to conversations between philosophy and Catholic understanding and life, within and beyond Saint Joseph's."

. . .

Fr. Godfrey joined SJU’s philosophy department in 1976. His area of specialization is the philosophy of religion. A dedicated teacher and advisor, he received teaching awards in 1986 and 1992, and served as Rector of the Jesuit Community from 1997-2003. He has held visiting professorships at Marquette University, as the Francis C. Wade, S.J., Chair, and at Santa Clara University as the Bannan Scholar in the philosophy department. His most recent book, Trust of People, Words, and God: A Route in Philosophy of Religion, has been accepted for publication by the University of Notre Dame Press.
As indicated by the use of the unusual term "Professor-Designate," Father Godfrey's appointment to the Hogan Chair coincides with his promotion from the rank of associate professor to full professor in the Department of Philosophy at Saint Joseph's University. I can affirm that these honors are very well-deserved: Joe is one of the most dedicated and hard-working people I know, an exemplary Jesuit, a generous colleague, and - I can say this because our offices are next to one another - a good neighbor. As I extend my congratulations to Father Joe Godfrey, I pray also that he may continue to serve SJU faithfully and well for years to come. AMDG.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


This is an odd sort of post, serving as a kind of spiritual bookend to my direct appeal for disaster relief in Japan. I've already made mention of my prayers for the victims of last week's earthquake and tsunami, and I've asked readers of this blog to add their own prayers. Since prayer is so often expressed through music, I thought it might be a good idea to augment our prayers of petition with a musical offering.

One of Japan's greatest modern composers, Tōru Takemitsu first gained widespread attention outside his own country with his Requiem for Strings, heard above in a 1990 performance by the New Japan Philharmonic under the direction of Seiji Ozawa. Takemitsu composed his Requiem in 1957 as a tribute to fellow composer Fumio Hayasaka, who had died two years earlier at the age of forty-one. This single-movement instrumental work may not be a "requiem" in the traditional sense, but it remains appropriately somber and subdued.

The second musical selection in this post depicts another sort of requiem, which some readers will recognize as a traditional Orthodox panikhida, offered here in Japanese at Holy Annunciation Cathedral in Kyoto. If you would like to know what is being sung, take a look at this English text of the panikhida. The Orthodox Church in Japan was born through the missionary efforts of nineteenth-century Russian bishop Nikolai Kasatkin, venerated today as St. Nicholas of Japan. Like Japanese Roman Catholics, the Orthodox in Japan are a small minority in a largely secular society still marked by Buddhist and Shinto influences. Even so, through its very existence the Orthodox Church in Japan offers a potent reminder that Byzantine Christianity is just as universal as its Latin counterpart.

As the situation there still seems to be getting worse before it gets any better, please join me in continuing to pray for Japan. AMDG.

The Emperor's speech.

As his country faces its worst crisis since the end of the Second World War, the Emperor of Japan did something today that he has never done before: he delivered a televised address to the nation. Here's more on the speech and reactions from the Japanese public, courtesy of the Wall Street Journal:
In a move that underscored the extraordinary turn of events that have unfolded since Friday and tapped into the tense mood of the nation, Japan's rarely seen emperor urged the stricken country not to give up and said he was "deeply concerned" about the unfolding nuclear crisis in an unprecedented video address.

Speaking slowly and deliberately, Emperor Akihito, 77 years old, said: "I hope that those affected by the earthquake will not give up hope and will strive to survive, while taking care of their health." The address lasted roughly five minutes, and all major television stations simultaneously broadcast the recorded message at 4.30 p.m. on Wednesday.

The short address came as panic and fear were mounting in Japan over the country's unfolding nuclear crisis. Though the imperial family in Japan is seen by some Japanese — especially the younger generation — as an anachronism, Emperor Akihito is still held in high regard by many, particularly among older Japanese.
Even though the WSJ insists that young people are less respectful of the monarchy than their elders, the quotations chosen for the article tend to give the opposite impression:
Many observers were stunned that the emperor gave such an address.

"I'm shocked that the Emperor actually agreed to do it. This is an extremely rare occurrence, and I'm humbled," said Keiko Matsumoto, 48, a businesswoman. "If the emperor says we need to come together, help each other, and work hard to get over this crisis, then those words mean a lot to me coming from him, and that's what I'll do."

Others said that the emperor's address resonated with them, in stark contrast with speeches by politicians and Prime Minister Naoto Kan, which had left them cold. "What Mr. Kan says or politicians say are not convincing at all, and I don't understand what they are saying very much," said Mami Saotome, 23, who works in the financial industry in Tokyo. "When the emperor speaks, I listen to his words."

. . .

Still, others in Japan weren't so impressed by the broadcast. "I saw the broadcast. I must profess that I have no great love for the emperor," said Tatsuo Horikawa, 77, a retired Tokyo resident. "People of my generation feel a little differently toward the imperial family than, say, their parents, who generally harbor a deeper reverence — or at least respect. But growing up in the aftermath of [World War II], I came to realize that a lot of the hardship we went through was due at least in part to the fact that people in authority — like the emperor — who could have done something to make our lives better, simply didn't."
To be fair to the WSJ reporters who composed the article, I don't think the comments of three individuals can necessarily be taken as a gauge of public opinion at large. Even so, I find it striking that the younger people quoted in the article viewed the Emperor in positive terms as a symbolic father of the nation, someone more trustworthy than elected politicians, while an older viewer reacts with cynicism forged in the crucible of war.

The generational divide suggested by the different quotations in the WSJ article seems to be between those whose views of Japan's ancient monarchy were shaped by the devastation of the Second World War and its aftermath and those who grew up in peaceful and prosperous times and perhaps regard the Emperor as a benign representative of continuity and stability. Given the limits of my knowledge of Japanese culture and society, I'll conclude with the humble observation that reactions to the Emperor's speech may reveal something significant about the place of historical memory in the present. AMDG.

Help Japan.

Over the past few days, I've felt a deepening sense of sorrow as I've read reports of the aftermath of last week's earthquake and tsunami in Japan. I've been told that Japan was ahead of most nations in its efforts to prepare for emergencies like this one; over the past few decades, considerable effort and ingenuity went into designing and building structures that could resist serious earthquakes, finding ways to try to help coastal areas withstand tidal waves, and trying to make nuclear reactors safe in the event of emergencies. Despite all of these carefully-laid plans - which, it must be said, have undoubtedly helped to save the lives of people who might otherwise have died in this tragedy - the worst fears of Japan's emergency planners seem to have been realized.

Whenever we confront major humanitarian crises - whether they take place far from where we live or in our own backyards - we may be tempted to lose hope. We might think to ourselves, "There's nothing I can do about a disaster so large, so why should I even try?" Of course, we can always do something: our individual efforts to respond to major disasters may seem small, but even the smallest effort can make a positive difference.

One thing that readers of this blog can do to help the people of Japan is to offer financial support to humanitarian groups that are working to assist survivors of the earthquake and tsunami. One such group is Caritas Japan, an affiliate of the global Catholic relief agency Caritas Internationalis. Readers in the United States can help support the work of Caritas Japan by making targeted donations to the emergency relief fund of Catholic Relief Services. Readers around the world can also donate to Caritas Internationalis, specifying that one's donation be earmarked for earthquake relief in Japan.

Regardless of whether or not you are able to make a financial donation, I hope that you will at least join me in praying for the people of Japan in this time of great need. AMDG.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Of your charity . . .

. . . please pray for Father Joseph O'Keefe, S.J., who was named in January as the next president of Saint Joseph's University but has now been forced to withdraw his acceptance of the post after a routine medical exam unexpectedly revealed serious cardiovascular problems that require immediate and sustained treatment. Father O'Keefe received a very enthusiastic reception from the campus community when he was announced as the 27th President of Saint Joseph's, so his withdrawal is a shock and a serious blow to many on Hawk Hill. I hope that you will join me in praying for Father O'Keefe's health and consolation, but please also pray for all of us at SJU in a time of considerable uncertainty. AMDG.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Lent and the Church.

I'd like to offer some more thoughts on the start of Lent, taking as a theme the focus on reconciliation inherent in the service of Forgiveness Vespers with which Byzantine Christians start this season. Beginning Lent with a rite of forgiveness is a reminder that this season has a horizontal as well as a vertical dimension - Lent is not simply a time when we think about repairing and strengthening our relationship with God, it's also a time to repair and strengthen our relationships with one another. Lent is thus an inescapably communal experience, one lived out within the context of a Christian community made up of saints and sinners.

The imperfection of life within the Church is plainly visible, not simply on account of press coverage of clergy sexual abuse and other crimes committed by church leaders, but also in the experience of virtually any practicing Christian. I don't think I'm being cynical or pessimistic in suggesting that anyone who has lived in the Church has probably been hurt in some way - given the inherent frailties, shortcomings, and sins of the Church's human members, could it be otherwise? Nevertheless, it is precisely within the Church that we are called to work out our salvation.

Father Stephen Freeman touches on at least some of these issues in reflections posted earlier today on his excellent and often provocative blog Glory to God for All Things. Though I hope that you'll read the entire post, here are some excerpts:
I have sometimes said (in a light-hearted manner) that God gave us the Church to keep us honest. The truth is, that God gave us the Church that we might be saved. The failure to see why and how the Church is the ark of salvation is a failure to understand some of the most fundamental parts of our Christian faith – and often a failure which transforms Christianity into an ersatz religion that knows nothing of the Church.

. . .

The Church exists by the grace of God and is dependent for its very existence on the love of each for each and the love of each for all. Forgiveness is not a moral act – it is an existential act. Goodness, meekness, kindness, generosity and the like are matters of our true existence and not the mere moral obedience to some outward norm.

The Scriptures teach us that “God is love.” We ourselves only exist to the extent that “we are love,” and so Christ gives us His Church – the locus and the very nexus of His love.

. . .

St. Paul tells us in his writings that “God made [Christ] to be sin, that we might become the righteousness of Christ” (2 Cor 5:21). That same “exchange” is continually happening in our lives. The Church is the locus of this change (or certainly the arena in which it takes place). Thus every gathering of the Church, whether for Eucharist or for Council, inevitable means an assembly of sinners, those who, at best, have become righteous with the righteousness of Christ (though not their own).

My experience of life in the Church is that I am not only in the company of sinners such as myself, but that those very encounters are not occasions of lamentation, but occasions in which love, forgiveness, kindness and generosity, etc., are the only way forward. It is not for nothing that we find constant exhortation to such virtues within the epistles of the New Testament. A local Church either embraces Christ’s way of the Cross, or it becomes just one more outpost of hell.
For some further thoughts, here is an excerpt from a Forgiveness Sunday sermon given by Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh:
. . . [O]ver the course of this [first week of Lent], let us reflect upon ourselves one last time, let us look at one another, and become reconciled to one another. Peace and reconciliation does not mean that [our] problems have ceased to exist. Christ came into the world in order to reconcile the world to Him and in Himself, with God, and we know at what cost He did so: helpless, wounded, defenseless, he gave Himself up to us, saying: do what you will, and when you have performed the ultimate evil, you will see that My love was unwavering, that it was there in time of joy and in time of piercing pain, but that it remained, always, love.

This is the example which we can, and which we must follow, if we want to be Christ's own. Forgiveness begins at the moment we say to one another: I know how fragile you are, how deeply you wound me, and because I am wounded, because I am a victim - sometimes a guilty victim, and sometimes an innocent one - I can turn to God and from the depths of my pain and suffering, shame, and sometimes despair, can say to the Lord: Lord, forgive him! He knows not what he does! If he only knew how his words wound me, if he only knew how much destruction he is bringing into my life, he would not be doing it. But he is blind, he is immature, he is fragile; yet I accept and welcome him, I will carry him/her as the good shepherd carries the lost sheep, for we are all lost sheep of Christ's flock. Or I will carry him/her/them as Christ carried the cross: even unto death, unto crucified love, when we receive the power to forgive everything, because we have agreed to forgive everything and anything that might be done to us.

Thus, let us enter into Great Lent, as people moving out of utter darkness into dusky semi-darkness, and from the dusk into the light, with joy and light in our hearts, having shaken the dust from our feet, loosing and casting off all of the entanglements that keep us in thrall: in thrall to greed, envy terror, fear, envy, in thrall to mutual misunderstanding, self-absorption - for we live imprisoned by ourselves, while God has called us to be free.

Then we will see that step-by-step, we are crossing, as it were, a great sea, from the shore of utter darkness and semidarkness, into the Divine Light. Along the way we will encounter the Crucifixion. At the end of the journey, day will come, and we will face Divine Love in its tragic perfection, before it overcomes us with inexpressible glory and joy. First the Passion, first the Cross - then the miracle of the Resurrection. We must enter into the one and the other - together with Christ we must enter into His Passion, and together with him enter into the great rest and the brilliant light of the Resurrection.
Prayers for all readers at the start of Lent. AMDG.

The photo that illustrates this post was taken inside Immaculate Conception Ukrainian Catholic Church in Hamtramck, Michigan (source).

Lenten reading (and listening).

Whether you started Lent last night with Forgiveness Vespers or begin the season two days from now on Ash Wednesday, readers who observe this season of fasting and penance have probably already started thinking about Lent. If you are looking for some new Ignatian or Jesuit-specific reading resources for Lent, the following links may be of interest.

Last year, I called readers' attention to the Spiritual Exercises blog, a joint venture by several young Jesuits offering Lenten meditations based on the Spiritual Exercises. The Spiritual Exercises blog is back again this year with a new group of authors, Jesuit scholastics Andrij Hlabse, Joe Simmons, Michael Wegenka, Stephen Wolfe, and Michael Wood. If you'd like to know more, check the Spiritual Exercises blog for daily updates starting on Ash Wednesday.

Though not specifically tied to Lenten themes, another new Jesuit blog that I'm pleased to recommend is Catching Fire, written by a group of scholastics studying in London. Reflecting the varied interests and experiences of authors Eddie Cosgrove, Stefan Garcia, Philip Harrison, Kensy Joseph, John Duhyun Kim, and Samuel Overloop, Catching Fire offer regular reflections on topics ranging from culture to ecology, sports to spirituality, film to scripture, and beyond. If you enjoy the range of content that I share here, there's a good chance that you'll like Catching Fire as well - so go ahead and check them out.

Finally, moving from reading to listening, I'd like to share news of the fourth annual Lenten podcast offered on the website of the Chicago-Detroit Province of the Society of Jesus. This year's podcast provides brief audio reflections for each of the weeks of Lent, given by Father Jim Gartland, president of Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Chicago, and Father Martin Schreiber, a doctoral candidate in education at Loyola University Chicago. If you're looking for a way to deepen your experience of Lent but can't find the time for spiritual reading, please consider this Lenten podcast. AMDG.

The photo that illustrates this post depicts the iconostasis of Immaculate Conception Ukrainian Catholic Church in Hamtramck, Michigan (source).

Musical miscellany.

Here is an item that I would have shared last week, had it not been for a jam-packed schedule that made blogging impossible. After periodic bouts of serious illness, numerous missed concerts, and rampant speculation about his ability to simultaneously hold down two major musical posts in two different cities, James Levine will be stepping down as Music Director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Though Levine won't officially leave his post at the BSO until the fall, his withdrawal from all remaining concerts this season makes his departure more or less immediate. All of this may provide a positive answer to a question posed here in October: "Is James Levine the next Manny Ramirez?"

As a second musical item, I'd like to share something amusing that I discovered today: a synopsis of Vincenzo Guaraldi's little-known opera Lino e Lucia di Arachidi. I considered delaying any mention of Lino e Lucia until the first day of April, but I finally decided that doing so would only help to prolong the undeserved obscurity of this sadly underappreciated work. At the very least, I hope that you enjoy this post on Lino e Lucia as much as I did. AMDG.