Thursday, January 31, 2013

"A Warrior King might be just the thing . . ."

Ending January with another political post, here is a piece from today's Toronto Star in which columnist Rosie DiManno considers whether the one who is currently (though probably not for much longer) the third in line to the throne of this constitutional monarchy may have something positive to offer the Commonwealth thanks to his recent military experience in Afghanistan. After decrying "sensitivy-trained war-making," in which soldiers "are taught to tread carefully lest their swagger offend either the host populace or the vigilantly reproachful domestic audience back home," DiManno has this to say:
One hopes and is fairly confident that Prince Harry rejected this lesson in mealy-mouthed quote clips arising from comments made to reporters during a stopover in Cyprus as he headed home following his latest four-month front-line deployment in southern Helmand. A co-pilot gunner on an Apache attack helicopter, Captain Wales, as he’s known in Her Majesty’s Armed Forces — which would be his grandmother — acknowledged killing Taliban insurgents on this mission and was entirely pragmatic about it: "Take a life to save a life, that’s what we revolve around. If there’s bad people who try to do bad stuff to your guys, then we’ll take them out of the game."

Innocuous content, really, of potential grievance only to the most sententious big-girl blouses, except there’s never any shortage of those. Hence Harry has been chastised in various quarters — even by an academic in the op-ed pages of the Toronto Star last weekend — for his “casual, emotional detachment’’ in speaking about killing the Taliban. Perhaps the third in line to the British throne should touchy-feely sniffle for the combatants he took off the grid in a country where nearly 440 of his compatriots have been killed since 2001. Further, there is a particular strand of anti-war sentiment that keenly resents Harry as the Happy Warrior Prince, the dimwit face — and a handsome face — of neo-imperial adventure in Central Asia.

I look at Harry and see a 28-year-old man who clearly loves soldiering, who’s made something useful of his royally cosseted life, and who is arguably better suited to rule the realm some day than his older brother, because strong stuff will be required to hold together both monarchy and Commonwealth. A Warrior King might be just the thing to put some lead back in the sovereign pencil.
To read the rest, click here. I am intrigued by DiManno's suggestion that a potential monarch could benefit from the "strong stuff" that serving in combat provides. As one of my Jesuit confreres quipped today as we discussed this article at lunchtime, one wonders whether DiManno could conceivably make a similar argument about a potential Prime Minister - who, of course, has much more to say about the use of force than any modern monarch does.

Turning to the not-unrelated American context, it is worth noting that the military service (or lack of it) of potential commanders-in-chief still becomes a topic of political discussion during every presidential election season, even though it has been twenty years since the United States has had a president who served in combat. Some think that the view that possible presidents should have served in the armed forces is motivated by nothing more than flag-waving patriotism, but in fact there is a deep and genuine moral concern embedded here: a leader who has experienced the harsh reality of war firsthand may reflect on the implications of military action differently than one for whom the effects of drone warfare and the like are mere abstractions. As President Dwight D. Eisenhower once put it, "I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity." In a world as dangerous and divided as ours, could we not benefit from the particular perspective that only a combat veteran can bring? AMDG.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Two days in Ontario politics.

The two days preceding this one saw some significant developments on the local political scene. Dealing with these in reverse order, let's start with Saturday night, when the governing Ontario Liberal Party selected Kathleen Wynne (seen above) to replace Dalton McGuinty as leader of the party and, by default, as the new Premier of Ontario. Wynne is the first woman to lead Canada's most populous province, and media reports have also noted that her selection made further political history because she is a lesbian; in fact, Wynne's sexual orientation was never much of an issue during a leadership campaign in which the Ontario Liberal Party's future direction and current political prospects received a lot more attention than the details of the various candidates' private lives.

Going forward, Wynne will have her work cut out for her as the leader of a minority government facing a divided, rancorous legislature. A new election is likely to come within the next few months, and recent polls place the governing Liberals in third place behind the opposition Progressive Conservatives and the New Democrats; as a Torontonian regarded as a representative of her party's left wing, Wynne will likely face an uphill battle as she seeks to convince the moderate and conservative suburban and rural voters who will decide Ontario's next election to give another chance to a Liberal government that has been weakened by various scandals and politically-costly squabbles with core constituencies like organized labor. As I say, Wynne has her work cut out for her, and I'll be interested to see what happens next.

Let's step back one more day to Friday morning, when Toronto Mayor Rob Ford won the reversal of a November court decision that initially seemed likely to force him from office. As previously reported on this blog, the earlier ruling demanding Ford's departure from the mayor's office hinged on his participation in a February 2012 City Council vote on whether or not he should be required to return $3,150 in donations that he had raised from lobbyists to support a high school football charity that he had founded. In November, Ontario Superior Court Justice Charles Hackland found that Ford's involvement in the vote constituted a violation of the provincial Municipal Conflict of Interest Act and ruled that Ford should leave office within a few weeks.

Some of Ford's critics cheered Justice Hackland's decision, but many others regarded the ruling as overly draconian and wondered whether taxpayers should have to cover the seven-million-dollar cost of a potential byelection to choose a new mayor on account of a relatively minor infraction involving a few thousand dollars, none of which had gone to Ford personally. Ford's lawyers launched an appeal, and Friday's Divisional Court ruling reversed the November decision and ruled that Ford can remain in office. Describing himself as both humbled and vindicated, Ford now intends to run for a second term in the next mayoral election, scheduled for October 2014. I will still be in Toronto then, so - political junkie that I am - I look forward to watching what I'm sure will be an exciting race. AMDG.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Remembering Cardinal Glemp.

Earlier today, I learned that Józef Cardinal Glemp died yesterday at the age of 83. Cardinal Glemp spent twenty-five years as Archbishop of Warsaw and nearly three decades as Roman Catholic Primate of Poland, leading the Polish Church through an often-tumultous era that included the period of martial law under General Jaruzelski, the fall of Communism and the return of democracy, and the development of a more secular and consumeristic culture that challenged the traditional place of Catholicism in Polish society. As Pope Benedict XVI said in a statement released today, throughout his episcopate Cardinal Glemp served as "an apostle of unity against division, of harmony in the face of confrontation, of the building of a happy future based on the past joyous and sorrowful experiences of the Church and the nation."

The role that Cardinal Glemp played in my own life was small but, in retrospect, rather significant. As a teenager in the mid-1990s, I met Cardinal Glemp during a pastoral visit he made to Polish communities in the United States. We spoke only briefly, mostly about the area my ancestors had come from in Poland; though we didn't speak about the priesthood at all, at the end of our conversation the Cardinal turned to the other people around, pointed at me, and said, "He will go to the seminary." That idea was the furthest thing from my mind then, and I believe that Cardinal Glemp was the first person to suggest, even if indirectly, that I consider the priesthood. As I pray for the soul of Cardinal Glemp, I also express my appreciation for his discreet role in encouraging my own vocation. Requiescat in pace. AMDG.

Gates of paradise within the heart.

In a recent post on the Feast of Theophany, Father Stephen Freeman of Glory to God for All Things offered some sage words which I am happy to share for your edification this Thursday morning:
For an Orthodox priest, the services of the Church involve many "comings and goings." Part of any service takes place within the altar area, which is usually enclosed by an iconostasis, a wall on which icons are hung. The wall does not truly separate one area of the Church from another so much as it marks one area off from another – the space of the Church is itself an icon. But within these spaces, the priest (and deacon) move back and forth. Going out from the altar and entering back in to the altar. Each exit and entrance has its own meaning within the context of the service. I often think of the Psalm verse, "May the Lord bless your going and your coming in." With this action, for me, has come an increased awareness of doors and entrances within Scripture. For the doors of the altar bear a relationship with the various "doors" in Scripture.

I have often thought about the meditation attached to the closed doors of the altar early in the service of Vespers. The priest stands before them, head bowed, and prays. I have been told that the closed doors represent the closed doors of paradise, with the priest standing outside them, like Adam, weeping for his sins. It is always a poignant thought.

The gates of paradise always have a strange double quality to them. When they are open the world becomes heaven. When they are closed all becomes Hades. It is the gates of Hades that Christ promises will not prevail against the Church.

I have also noted over the years that most people seem to concern themselves with the "larger" gates of Hades. They want to know who goes there, who stays there and why, and how they can avoid the entire thing. Some people seem to be experts on Hades and Hell.

There is a far more intimate and immediate question concerning Hades' gates. This is the question of its gates within the heart. For the human heart is like a microcosm of all things. There we can find both the gate of paradise and the gate of Hades. I'm convinced that if we do not first find paradise within our heart then we will never know it otherwise. Salvation may be eternal, but it is also immediate.

To stand before the closed gates of paradise within the heart and weep is to begin to pray.
To read more, click here. AMDG.

Monday, January 21, 2013

The best game you can name.

To mark the end of the NHL lockout and the belated start of the professional hockey season in North America, here is a classic of musical Canadiana from Stompin' Tom Connors. Much as many baseball fans declared themselves to be thoroughly disgusted and disillusioned following the 1994-95 Major League Baseball strike, one can now hear many hockey fans expressing bitter dislike of the NHL, the NHL Players' Association, and the business and commercial aspects of professional hockey in general. Perhaps I lack the sort of high-minded scruple that can lead to such bitterness, but I'm simply glad that the lockout is over and that I can now look forward to future broadcasts of Hockey Night in Canada and - assuming that I can act quickly enough to get one of the few remaining affordable tickets - a Leafs home game at the Air Canada Centre.

As French Canadian writer Roch Carrier reminds us in a bit of prose reproduced on the back of the Canadian five-dollar bill, winter can be a long, long season. Whatever we might think of costly disputes between franchise owners and professional athletes, let us be thankful that we have diversions like ice hockey to help us get through months of cold and darkness on the way to spring and summer. AMDG.

Monday, January 14, 2013

A Jesuit on Capitol Hill.

In the past, I have written about Jesuit Father Pat Conroy and his work as Chaplain of the United States House of Representatives. Tonight, I'm pleased to direct your attention to a video interview in which Father Conroy discusses his ministry and considers the particular significance of maintaining a Jesuit presence in the United States Capitol. I hope that you enjoy the video, and perhaps you'll join me in praying for Father Conroy as he continues his unique and very special ministry. AMDG.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The hiddenness of God.

Having just completed a busy first week of classes, I'm now enjoying a quiet and restful Saturday. For your edification this weekend, here are some thoughts from Father Stephen Freeman of Glory to God for All Things on how the hidden God enters into our own hidden selves:
There is much in Orthodox worship and life that seeks to teach humanity of the Secret Place of the Most High and of the secret place that lies within our own heart. The lack of such knowledge robs us of our ability to worship God, of our ability to fully understand our own Personhood, of our ability to love others rightly, and of our right mind. Only a crazy world would destroy the secret places. Without them, we become human beings who have no center. Violated by the presence of others where we should be alone, we become mad with the madness of Legion.

Many visit, as I have noted, in an Orthodox Church and are offended at its practice of secret things, of the hiddeness of God. Some draw back at doors and curtains, others draw back at the exclusivity of the altar. I am asked, “Why can only men be priests?” And I respond, “It is not ‘only men’ who can priests, but only a few men.” Some few are set aside to stand in that most Secret Place and offer the Holy Oblation. Democracy and equality stop at its doors because before God no one is justified, no one is worthy, no one may make a claim. We come only as we are bidden. And those who have been bidden to stand in that place at the altar and to hold in their hand the Most Holy Body of our Lord, God and Savior, do so with trembling if they do so rightly. For they stand in the Secret Place of the Most High God.

The most profound moment in all of the Liturgy (if I dare say such a thing) occurs as the curtains are opened along with the doors and the Deacon cries out: “In the fear of God and with faith and love draw near!” And the faithful come forward to receive the Body and Blood of God. That which is Most Holy, which lies in the Most Secret Place, is now brought forward as a gift to the believer who receives in joy, in faith, in repentance, and in a renewed knowledge of the God Who dwells in the Secret Place, and Who now enters into our most secret place.
To read the rest, click here. AMDG.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

20 + C + M + B + 13.

It has been my custom in recent years to celebrate the Feast of the Theophany (or Epiphany) of the Lord with a special post on this blog. For this year's incarnation of the annual Theophany/Epiphany post, I would like to focus on the tradition of marking the entrance to homes with chalk blessed on this feast. If you have been to more heavily Roman Catholic parts of Central and Eastern Europe, you may have seen evidence of this practice. During my two summers in Austria, I saw many doors and thresholds marked with Epiphany chalk; the chalked door seen here leads to the refectory of the Jesuit residence that I stayed in during my language studies in Vienna. I have previously posted photographic evidence of similar markings spotted in Bavaria, and I'm told that the custom of marking doors with Epiphany chalk is also kept in Poland; I wouldn't be surprised if it also appears in places like Hungary and Slovakia, but I can't say for sure.

You can learn more about the custom of chalking doors on Epiphany by clicking here and here. Some readers might also consider adopting this custom themselves even if they haven't kept it before; those who are parents of small children might find this to be a particularly good way of teaching the next generation about one of the oldest and most important feasts in the life of the Church.

Continued prayers and good wishes to all in this bright season, whether you're celebrating Theophany today or preparing to celebrate the Nativity of Christ according to the Old Calendar. Special prayers also for those who, like me and my cohorts here in Toronto, must return to school tomorrow after a too-brief winter break. AMDG.

Friday, January 04, 2013

Winter in New England.

This blog has been silent since my annual Christmas Day post, and with good reason: I have been on vacation, visiting family in Massachusetts and attending a yearly gathering of young Jesuits in Michigan (earlier described here). I will return to Toronto tomorrow to begin the next semester of theology studies, and I hope to resume more regular posting soon. In the meantime, this photo taken earlier this week in my hometown of Rochester should give you a sense of what this place is like in early January. I am not one to romanticize winter, which is a harsh and unforgiving season. That being said, I still appreciate the unique beauty of a winter sunset.

Belated best wishes for a happy new year to all readers, and particular hopes for a good start to a new academic term for those involved in education, whether as students, teachers, or support staff. AMDG.