Saturday, September 02, 2006

Gray skies and Jesuit skywatchers.

With what's left of Hurricane Ernesto sweeping across the Northeast, all day today we've been having windy, intermittently rainy and generally miserable weather. Braving the squall, I ventured out earlier this afternoon in search of the Daily News and the New York Times; ordinarily, copies of these two newspapers are purchased each morning by Ciszek Hall's minister and left in the dining room for members of the community to read. (For the benefit of readers who don't speak Jesuitese, I should explain that a "minister" is a Jesuit placed in charge of the physical maintenance and administrative maintenance of a Jesuit community - in other words, he's the guy who makes sure there's food in the pantry, who ensures that the bills get paid on time, and who fixes things when they break.) Because our minister is out of town, this weekend the task of picking up the daily papers falls to willing volunteers. So it was that I found myself searching this neighborhood's numerous small convenience stores for the day's newspapers.

Though I found the Daily News at the first store I visited, finding a copy of the New York Times proved well-nigh impossible. Each store seemed to have thick piles of today's Daily News and New York Post as well as Italian and Spanish-language dailies, but no Times. When I got back to Ciszek, I spoke with two scholastics with previous experience living in the Bronx, both of whom affirmed that newsstand copies of the Times are rarer than hen's teeth in these parts. However, another scholastic told me that he'd heard from someone else that one store on 187th Street sells the Times, though he didn't know which one. My explorations today took me down 188th and 189th, but I never made got as far as 187th. If I try there tomorrow, perhaps the Sunday Times (a surprisingly elusive prize) will be mine.

Even if I couldn't buy a copy of the New York Times, my wanderings earlier today yielded a surprise reunion with a Jesuit I got to know during my sojourn at Santa Clara - none other than Brother Guy Consolmagno. An astronomer at the Vatican Observatory, Guy is apparently going to be spending the coming academic year at Fordham as a visiting professor. As an employee of one of the world's oldest and most prestigious astronomical research institutions, Guy spends several months out of each year in Arizona and Italy and also has the opportunity to do research in exotic locales like Antarctica. When I first met him, Guy was spending a few months at Santa Clara as part of his tertianship. A period of spiritual probation that prepares one to take final vows in the Society of Jesus, tertianship also typically involves an experience of ministry that is different from one's normal work. In Guy's case, this meant taking a break from astronomy to do research on the relationship between faith and technology in Silicon Valley. I always enjoyed talking with Guy Consolmagno at Santa Clara, and I'm looking forward to more conversations with him over the course of the coming year.

Running into Guy Consolmagno today reminded me how much my vocation has been influenced by the diversity of ministries that Jesuits engage in. I've never contemplated becoming an astronomer - even though I enjoy stargazing - but the fact that there are Jesuit astronomers who see their contributions to science as a form a ministry is a source of great joy and consolation to me. In a similar vein, when I was a candidate I was intrigued to discover that one of the leading scholars of the films of Ingmar Bergman is a Canadian Jesuit, Father Marc Gervais. (For more on Gervais and his impact on my vocation, see this Novitiate Notes post from last December.) I don't expect to become the next Marc Gervais - though I am something of a film buff, and I particularly appreciate the work of Ingmar Bergman - but I'm proud of the contribution that Gervais and other Jesuit film scholars make to the common mission of the Society. In an important sense, Jesuits like Marc Gervais and Guy Consolmagno remind us of the spiritual essence that underlies all of Jesuit ministry. As men formed in the Ignatian spiritual tradition, Jesuits are committed to finding God in all things - and in many different kinds of work. This has been true throughout the history of the Society; to provide one very topical example, Jesuits have been working at the Vatican Observatory since the 16th century. The Jesuit tradition of creative engagement in diverse apostolates continues to nourish and shape my sense of vocation. Running into Guy Consolmagno today gave me a chance to reflect on this, leaving me surprisingly grateful for the frustrating experience of trying to buy a newspaper on a soggy afternoon. AMDG.


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