Thursday, December 28, 2006

We'll take a cup o' kindness yet.

Tomorrow morning, I head to Detroit for the annual gathering of Chicago and Detroit Province Jesuits in formation, a group that includes everyone from first-year novices to recently-ordained priests. I probably won't have the opportunity to update this blog while I'm in Detroit, so this will likely be the final post of the year 2006. When I return home on New Years' Day, I hope to post an update on the formation gathering and sundry other things. Until then, I wish readers old and new a very happy new year. AMDG.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Urbi et Orbi.

Considering the name of this blog, I should make note of the Urbi et Orbi message delivered on Christmas Day by Pope Benedict XVI. The Holy Father took as the starting point for yesterday's address the proclamation found in the Roman Missal, "Our saviour is born into the world!" Hearing these familiar words, we may ask whether they "still have any value or meaning for the men and women of the third millennium" considering advances in technology that have made humankind an apparently "sure and self-sufficient master of its own destiny, the avid proponent of uncontested triumphs." Despite the march of human progress, the many forms of poverty and violence that still surround us show our need for God. Surveying the state of the world, the Pope asks:
How can we not hear, from the very depths of this humanity, at once joyful and anguished, a heart-rending cry for help? It is Christmas: today "the true light that enlightens every man" (Jn 1:9) came into the world. "The word became flesh and dwelt among us" (Jn 1:14), proclaims the Evangelist John. Today, this very day, Christ comes once more "unto his own," and to those who receive him he gives "the power to become children of God"; in a word, he offers them the opportunity to see God's glory and to share the joy of that Love which became incarnate for us in Bethlehem. Today "our Saviour is born into the world," for he knows that even today we need him. Despite humanity's many advances, man has always been the same: a freedom poised between good and evil, between life and death. It is there, in the every depths of his being, in what the Bible calls his "heart," that man always needs to be "saved." And, in this postmodern age, perhaps he needs a Saviour all the more, since the society in which he lives has become more complex and the threats to his personal and moral integrity have become more insidious. Who can defend him, if not the One who loves him to the point of sacrificing on the Cross his only-begotten Son as the Saviour of the world?
To read the rest of the Pope's fine and very pertinent message, click here. AMDG.

Monday, December 25, 2006

A new and wondrous mystery.

On this Christmas morning, I extend my prayerful best wishes to all readers of this blog. May this Feast of the Nativity of Jesus Christ be an occasion of great joy for you and your families.

This year and every year, I pray that we may greet the birth of Christ with the same sense of wonder that St. John Chrysostom expresses in this sermon on the Nativity:

I behold a new and wondrous mystery.

My ears resound to the Shepherd's song, piping no soft melody but chanting full forth a heavenly hymn.

The Angels sing. The Archangels blend their voice in harmony. The Cherubim hymn their joyful praise. The Seraphim exalt His glory.

All join to praise this holy feast, beholding the Godhead here on earth, and man in heaven. He Who is above, now, for our redemption, dwells here below; and he that was lowly is raised up by divine mercy.

Bethlehem this day resembles heaven: she hears from the stars the singing of angelic voices; in place of the sun, she enfolds within herself on every side the Sun of Justice.

Ask not how - where God wills, the order of nature yields. He willed, He had the power, He descended, He redeemed, and all things move in obedience to God.

This day He Who Is is born, and He Who Is becomes what He was not.

Merry Christmas! AMDG.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Venite adoremus, Dominum!

In contrast with the last couple years, when Christmas Eve was filled up with festivities at the novitiate and when I couldn't go home until Christmas morning, I'm enjoying a relatively low-key Christmas Eve in Rochester. Other than helping my mother make golabki for a small family get-together we'll be having tonight, I haven't had much to do today besides waiting for Midnight Mass - and that's something worth waiting for.

A tradition in the Western Church for at least a millennium, Midnight Mass on Christmas is one of my favorite liturgies of the year. For me, nothing evokes Christmas quite like the darkened nave and candlelit sanctuary of a parish church packed with people who've come in the middle of the night to celebrate their Redeemer's birth. Where Midnight Mass is concerned, my tastes are fairly traditional. I look forward to hearing "O Come All Ye Faithful," "O Holy Night" and "Joy to the World" - with organ accompaniment, thank you - and I expect the Mass to begin no earlier than midnight. I'm always able to find a Midnight Mass that satisfies my nostalgic yearnings, though some years I've had to shop around to find a parish that actually offers Midnight Mass at the appropriate time.

With the exception of when I was a novice - then I attended Midnight Mass at parishes in metro Detroit - my habit in recent years has been to celebrate tonight's liturgy at the church where I was baptized, St. Patrick's in Wareham. At times I've been tempted to go elsewhere - there's a handful of other churches in the area that are said to offer a fine Midnight Mass - but to me there's something special about celebrating Christmas year after year in a place that has a kind of intimate familiarity to it. So tonight I'll be off to St. Patrick's once again. I hope those readers who are in the habit of attending Midnight Mass on Christmas can look forward to celebrating tonight's liturgy in a church or chapel that means something special to them, a place they can look forward to returning to year and after year. My prayerful best wishes to all on this holy night. AMDG.

Angels heard on high C.

In time for Christmas Eve - which I hope to write more about later in the day - the Boston Globe has a human interest story on a Dorchester church choir that gives a diverse group of inner-city youngsters access to a rich tradition of sacred music:
There were only six of them, but the boys' high, sweet voices filled the huge, empty church.

"Christe Eleison," they sang, sending the Greek words for "Christ have mercy," to the vaulted ceiling high above the sanctuary, and to the diamond-paned windows in the darkened nave.

It was three days before tonight's Christmas Eve service, and the last chance for the boys in the choir at All Saints Episcopal Church in Dorchester to be drilled on their high notes and their phrasing.

It takes a lot of practice for 9- and 10-year-olds to sing like angels in Latin and Greek and archaic English.

The boys are part of an institution that endures at All Saints - improbably, in the face of tight finances, rising secularism, and tectonic changes in the neighborhood that surrounds the limestone and Quincy granite building.

The church, built by Brahmin benefactors Colonel Oliver Peabody and his wife, Mary Lothrop, in 1893, has a congregation that is 60 percent West Indian. Only two of the eight boys in the choir have the Irish ancestry that once dominated the area. The others have parents born in India, Vietnam, Honduras, Haiti, and Jamaica.

Tonight, they will put on their red cassocks, white surplices, and starched, ruffled collars. They will conquer jiggling legs and itchy noses and the temptation to horse around with each other. They will hold candles and try not to let the wax drip. And they will sing.
As the Globe's Yvonne Abraham reports, the boys who make up the All Saints' Choir are trained to the high standards of a great tradition:
The All Saints choir is one of only 30 remaining choirs of men and boys in the country. A century ago, there were hundreds of them, said Frederick Backhaus, the choir's director. Boys need not be Episcopal parishioners, or even Christian, to join the choir. A few of the boys are Catholic, and one is Hindu, he said. The boys are taught about Christian traditions so they can understand what they are singing about, he said.

There are fewer boys in the choir than Backhaus would like. A choir like this is not for every grade-schooler, he said. Few have the good pitch, the facility to learn to sing music on sight, which can take two years, or the confidence to hit their highest notes.

"They're afraid of sounding like girls, and we say 'Listen, girls can't sing half as high as boys,'" Backhaus said.

Few boys have the patience, the time, or the family resources, to invest in two rehearsal nights a week, services every Sunday, and special performances in the Boston area. Or the will to subject themselves to the instruction, which is in the strict, English Cathedral Choir tradition: Choristers are expected to learn complex pieces, and demonstrate skilled musicianship. Backhaus is a tough choirmaster, requiring that the boys raise their hands every time they make a mistake, and urging them not to sound "like chipmunks being put in a blender."

Backhaus also demands that they know repertoires far larger than those of most adult choirs.

"We train them to read music, so they're not learning by rote," he said. "You know how kids always play at being grown-ups? Here, they get to be treated like adults: they sing the same music as men do, they get rehearsed like the men do."

Last year, Backhaus held auditions with about 200 boys in area schools. He invited 45 of them to consider the choir. Ten of those joined. Five stayed.
Demanding for its members, the All Saints' Choir also places heavy demands on a cash-strapped urban church. According to the Globe, the choir costs the parish at least $80,000 a year. For the sake of the choristers and the community they serve, I hope that the All Saints' Choir will continue to keep a great tradition of sacred music alive in Dorchester. If you'd like to help them do so, check out their webpage to learn more. AMDG.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Requiescat in Pace.

Your prayers are requested for the repose of the soul of John Beebe, father of Chicago Province second-year novice Richard Beebe. Mr. Beebe passed away Wednesday morning after a battle with lung cancer and will be buried today in Chicago. I had the opportunity to chat with Mr. Beebe on the occasions that he came to visit Richard at Loyola House, and I always enjoyed his conversation. John Beebe was a good friend of the Society of Jesus, and I pray that he is now among the Society's patrons in heaven. Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace. Amen. AMDG.

Irish bishops urge greater awareness of Palestinian Christians' plight.

This week the Catholic bishops of Ireland wrote to all the parish priests in the country, "suggesting that they might raise awareness over Christmas, in their homilies, of the current suffering facing the Christian community in Bethlehem - the town where Jesus Christ was born." In a short statement entitled Bethlehem: A Vanishing Christian Community, the Irish bishops describe how strict Israeli security measures, illegal land seizures and economic woes have devastated one of the world's oldest Christian communities. Christians once made up 70% of Bethlehem's population but now represent no more than 30% - a percentage that will likely decline even further as Christian families emigrate in search of a better, safer life. As the bishops note in the last paragraph of their statement, the diminishment of Bethlehem's Christian community is part of a larger picture:
Disturbing as it is to acknowledge that almost ten per cent of the Christian population of Bethlehem have emigrated since the year 2000, the decline of the Christian population in the totality of the Holy Land is even more striking. Today, it is estimated that there are more Christian Palestinians in Sydney, Australia, than in Jerusalem and that there are more Christian Palestinians in North America than there are in the Holy Land. Christian Palestinians traditionally found employment in the tourism sector associated with the holy places. With the decline in tourism and the economic and social hardships of living in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, many have felt left with little option other than to emigrate. Christian Palestinians have traditionally greater links abroad than their Muslim compatriots, and as the statistics show, many have used these contacts to seek a new life outside of the Holy Land.

This Christmas in a spirit of solidarity may we join in prayer with the Christian community in Palestine and with all Israelis and Palestinians of good faith:

Living Lord, ignite in us a passion for justice and a yearning
to right all wrong.
Strengthen us to work for peace in the land we call holy:
for peace among Jew, Christian and Muslim
for reconciliation between communities
for harmony between faiths.
Inspire us to act with the urgency of your quickening fire,
for blessed are the peacemakers
they shall be called children of God.
May this prayer be ours as well. AMDG.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Paul Koczera wins the lottery.

New Bedford city councilor Paul Koczera received an early Christmas gift yesterday, as my hometown paper reports:
Paul Koczera, the longtime city councilor from Ward 2, won $2.5 million on a scratch ticket he purchased at the Stop & Shop in Dartmouth yesterday.

"I'm still in a state of shock," he said from his cell phone, minutes after he had turned in the $10 scratch ticket to Massachusetts State Lottery headquarters in Braintree. "You go on with business as usual. I'm not going to change my lifestyle or anything."

Mr. Koczera decided to take the money over 20 years. He left the lottery with the first check for $87,500, which he said he will deposit in the bank. After taxes, he will take home $1.75 million.
Reading about Paul's win made me recall a couple local news stories from around the time I finished high school. In June 1997, Len Roberts - a longtime teacher at my high school, a longtime school committee member, and a local TV personality - won $1 million on a scratch ticket. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Roberts ran into his friend Craig Collyer, who joked about Roberts' lottery win. "Don't worry Craig, you're next," Roberts said. Mr. Collyer and his wife Joanne won $1.7 million on a Megabucks ticket the next day. Now, I'm not saying you should go out and buy a lottery ticket - I'm just recalling some people I know who beat the odds. Congratulations, Paul! AMDG.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


My fall semester officially ended at one this afternoon, when I turned in my last paper. Eager to do something celebratory, I immediately treated myself to a cheeseburger and fries at Pete's Cafe, a popular greasy spoon on Fordham Road. After that, I walked down to 187th Street and got a haircut. I should probably say a word or two about the kindly old Neapolitan barber that I go to - which would be at least two more words than my barber and I typically exchange while he's cutting my hair. That's not to say that my barber isn't talkative - he talks a fair amount during the haircut, just not to me and not in English.

Like many barbershops of yore, Saverio's doubles as a neighborhood hangout where old men go to chat in the language they grew up with and read days-old copies of Italia Oggi and La Repubblica. Though I took Italian in college, I can't pick up much of the conversations, which are carried out in a fairly impenetrable dialect. Saverio's is the kind of barbershop you go to as much for the atmosphere as for the haircut, and that's what I like about it. I've also been uniformly pleased with the haircuts I've gotten there, so I suspect I'll be going back there when I return to Fordham for the spring semester.

Tomorrow morning, I head home to Massachusetts to spend Christmas with my family. I'll be there for about two and a half weeks, interrupted at the end of December by a weekend trip to Detroit for the annual bi-province Jesuit formation gathering. I'll probably update this blog sporadically during the break, so stay tuned. AMDG.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Comings and goings.

The fall semester is heading into the home stretch. On Monday, I have an exam for my Aristotle class and a paper to turn in on Plato's Republic. After that, I'll be tying up loose ends until Thursday, when I go home to spend Christmas with my family. With temperatures in the fifties, it doesn't feel much like Christmas in New York. All the same, I'm looking forward to wrapping things up here and enjoying the holiday at home.

On a sad note, I learned today that Ben's Delicatessen will be closing permanently after 98 years in business in downtown Montreal. A venerable Montreal institution with an eclectic clientele that included celebrities, tourists and locals, Ben's has been closed since July on account of a labor dispute. For nearly five months, the restaurant's unionized employees have been on strike to demand a forty-cent wage increase and an improvement in working conditions. Now, Ben's owner Jean Kravitz, 83, has decided to close the restaurant for good, claiming that a single-outlet restaurant like hers cannot afford the costs of doing business with a unionized workforce. As Alan Hustak and Mike King write in the Montreal Gazette, the storied history of Ben's belies the restaurant's long decline:
Ben's has been a Montreal landmark since Ben Kravitz opened his first delicatessen on St. Laurent Blvd. in 1908.

It has been at its present location, at Metcalfe St. and de Maisonneuve Blvd., since 1950. After Jean's husband, Irving Kravitz, died in 1992, the staff declined from 75 to 25. Though the restaurant remained a popular tourist attraction, many former customers say it was coasting on its reputation.

Ben's is in one of the last three-storey buildings on de Maisonneuve amid an ever encroaching canyon of skyscrapers. Construction of a 28-storey, $150-million office tower that would wrap around the building that houses Ben's was announced in October. Since then, there has been speculation the project would be redesigned to include the space now occupied by Ben's.

. . .

In its heyday, Ben's was part of Montreal's entertainment district, an after-hours night spot behind the Mount Royal Hotel that attracted actors, athletes, celebrities, movie stars, politicians and weirdos. Its walls were plastered with photographs of legitimate film stars, like Richard Chamberlain, and others who had their 15 minutes of fame and were forgotten, like Wayland Flowers.

For years, a faded newspaper story displayed in the front window told the story of how a 9-year-old Montrealer, Michael L'Abbe Aylwin, knocked out boxing legend Jack Dempsey.

The Kravitz family said yesterday it donated the photos and much of the deli's memorabilia to a Montreal museum, the name of which was not made public.

"Through our doors have passed the entire 20th-century history of Montreal," a prepared statement said. "In appreciation, we have an agreement in principle with a well-known institution to preserve Ben's unique memorabilia.

Details on the memorabilia are expected to be announced early in the new year.
So ends the life of one of my favorite restaurants. Before I entered the Society, I used to enjoy going to Ben's on periodic visits to Montreal. Aside from their trademark smoked meat sandwich, the cuisine at Ben's was nothing to write home about. Ben's had a dingy, 'past its prime' air about it, but for me that was part of the charm of the place. Another part of the charm of Ben's was a sign at the entrance that read, "Through these doors pass the finest people in the world - our customers." Matching the spirit of this sign with friendly service, Ben's had a crew of chatty, bow-tied waiters who had worked at the restaurant for decades and who would happily linger at a customer's table to share stories of their many years at Ben's. Never very busy, Ben's was also a place where I could sit with a book or a newspaper and spend a relaxing hour or two eating, reading and watching the world go by without having to give up my table for another customer. In all of these ways (and others), Ben's differed from its longtime competitor Schwartz's, which arguably served better food but was also a crowded, noisy place where the staff treated the customers like cattle.

For all of the foregoing reasons, I will miss Ben's Delicatessen. Montreal is a city I love returning to again and again, but going there without going to Ben's will take some getting used to. With a melancholy heart, I say farewell to Ben's - and thanks for the memories. AMDG.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Iraqi Christians in The Tablet.

Having been busy with papers and exam prep the last couple weeks, I've missed a few articles that I otherwise might have brought to your attention. Hoping that it's better late than never, I'd like to point out an article I came across recently in the November 25th issue of The Tablet on an issue of special concern, the plight of Iraqi Christians. Written by John Pontifex of the Catholic relief agency Aid to the Church in Need (UK), the article is available online - but only to registered readers of The Tablet. For the benefit of readers interested in the situation of the Iraqi church, some excerpts from the article follow. If you're able to get your hands on a print copy of The Tablet or are willing to register for the online version, I think you'll find the rest of the text well worth reading. For now, here's a taste of it:

[J]ust who is bearing the brunt of the incessant fighting [in Iraq]? The media have given very full reports of the internecine warfare that has broken out between Shia and Sunni Muslims. Nor indeed is the Kurdish question overlooked, particularly as the debate intensifies over the possible break-up of Iraq into three groups.

There is nonetheless a fourth group who appear to have been airbrushed from the media portrait of Iraq. They are a people who, it turns out, have most to lose from this apparently never-ending conflict. Christianity in Iraq is staring oblivion in the face. A population of 1.2 million, mostly made up of ancient-rite Catholic Chaldeans, enjoyed some measure of protection under Saddam Hussein's regime, which was secular by Middle East standards. It is now clear that they have been rendered virtually defenceless in the ebb and flow of conflict, which over time has become ever more deadly, ever more driven by politico-religious zeal.

It was not always like this, or at least not if the Iraqi bishops are to be believed. Especially in the early days after the overthrown of Saddam, reports to charities such as Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) were full of optimism that the turmoil was by its very nature transitory. Indeed, Archbishop Louis Sako of Kirkuk saw the time of change as an historic opportunity for the Christian community. He suggested that ancient-rite Churches had much to offer their Muslim neighbours, not just in terms of their own highly developed educational and professional skills, but also through introducing fresh thinking on the relationship between religion and society.

Now things could not be more different. That the total civilian dead could be as high as 150,000 - or 655,000 if The Lancet medical journal is to be believed - is sadly only one symptom of the crisis. A catalogue of disastrous events has unfolded, each one quicker in succession than the last. The fall of key parts of the country to militia control has gathered pace, each zone dominated by a "mini-Saddam," as one Baghdad priest put it to me.

If there was an all-important turning point for the Christians of Iraq, it took place last summer. The kidnapping and murder of three priests, Fr Saad Sirup Hanna, Fr Raad Washan and Fr Basil Yaldo, came as the militia stranglehold over Baghdad was reaching its zenith. The onset of ethnic cleansing under a religious banner, apparently so alien to the Iraqi way of life, had begun in earnest. According to priests close to ACN, the capture of the three men and the torture they suffered were seen by the faithful as the moment when the presence of Christianity in this, their most ancient home, was no longer tolerable. If there was no respect left for the priests, the people could expect no mercy either. As fellow Baghdad priest Fr Bashar Warda told me: "It was the sign that we had to leave the area altogether."
After detailing other atrocities against priests and laypeople - including the beheading of a Syrian Orthodox priest in Mosul and the crucifixion of a 14-year-old boy in Basra - Pontifex describes how a mass exodus has depleted Iraq's Christian communities and created a refugee crisis as thousands of Iraqi Christians seek shelter and safety in neighboring countries. As for those who stay in Iraq, "[t]he only forces holding back these remaining Christians from fleeing Iraq would seem to be extreme poverty, illness or the very real fear of kidnap. The hope of better times to come has vanished - at least for the time being. For most, they can no longer put off the day of their departure." Though "these blows to Christianity may turn out to be fatal," Pontifex writes, these tragic events "have failed to show up on the media radar, despite journalists' constant struggle to find a new angle on an old story." Church leaders outside Iraq are starting to speak out on the plight of Iraqi Christians - the U.S. Catholic Bishops, for example, have come out with an open letter on the issue - but it remains to be seen whether their intervention will do any good. As Pontifex writes:
Reports of these events, slow to catch the eye of the media, have a significance that has not been lost on the US Catholic Bishops' Conference. Determined to play their part in raising awareness of the near annihilation of Christianity in Iraq, they have written to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, calling for the creation of a safe haven for Christians. The creation of what the bishops call "an administrative region," governed by Baghdad but controlled by the Kurds, has, according to Bishop Thomas Wenski of Orlando, the advantage of offering the Christians "greater safety and more opportunity to control their affairs."

But before Ms Rice or indeed President Bush leap on the US bishops' plans in a bid to restore lost faith, especially among the disenchanted conservative Christian Right of America, they should hear out the objections raised by Archbishop Sako of Kirkuk. For a start, he dismisses as "difficult and risky" the idea of the safe zone for Christians, which is planned for the Nineveh plains outside the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.

Bishop Antoine Audo went further, saying: "The Sunnis in Mosul will take this ['safe-zone' plan] as a pretext to attack the Christians. The Sunnis will say: 'Look, the Christians are asking for independence from us. We must stop them.' The Christian has to live with everybody else. That is the way it should be."
In a larger sense, vocal leaders of the Iraqi Christian community like Archbishop Sako question whether any plan from the United States - whether its initiative comes from within the Catholic Church or from the government - will help Chaldean Catholics and members of Iraq's other Christian churches overcome the distrust of their fellow citizens. Pontifex continues:
The religion shared by the Iraqi Christians and the US forces has for so long been a delicate issue. Archbishop Sako and the faithful have fought a desperate public relations battle with the Muslim majority to show that they are no fifth column in league with so-called latter-day Crusaders. It is difficult to know which part of the safe-zone plan Archbishop Sako finds more abhorrent - the content of the scheme, or the fact that it would be masterminded by the Americans. It is a sign of just how bleak things have become. Given the semi-religious zeal with which President Bush pursued the war in Iraq, it is ironic that the biggest loser in the whole sorry affair is the country's ancient Christianity, which stands on the brink of extinction.
I have nothing to add, except what I've said before. Pray for the Christians of Iraq, and tell others what is happening to them. AMDG.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Another Chaldean priest abducted, freed.

Buried under the weight of papers for Aristotle and Church History - both of which have thankfully been turned in - I initially missed last Tuesday's story on the abduction of Father Samy Al Raiys, the rector of the Chaldean Catholic major seminary in Baghdad. However, this morning I was pleased to read that Father Al Raiys has been released by his still-unknown captors. Father Al Raiys is the second Chaldean Catholic priest to be kidnapped in recent weeks, following Father Doglas Yousef Al Bazy, who was taken from his parish last month and held captive for nine days before being released. Though I'm thankful that both men are now safe and apparently unharmed, I'm concerned about a pattern that may be revealed by their kidnapping. Fathers Al Raiys and Al Bazy are both prominent members of the Chaldean community - Father Al Raiys serves as rector of the Chaldean Catholic Church's leading center for priestly formation, while Father Al Bazy has been heavily involved in youth ministry and ecumenical relations. My fear is that the kidnapping of these two priests is part of a calculated effort to intimidate the Chaldean community by targeting its most visible leaders. In a larger sense, organized church life is already very difficult. As the article on Father Al Raiys' release from captivity notes, the Chaldean major seminary in Baghdad has had to delay the start of classes for this academic year because of violence and instability in the Iraqi capital. Elsewhere in the country, a theological institute for laypeople that has operated in Mosul since 1983 continues to offer classes, but has had to relocate for security reasons and faces severely diminished enrollment. As we await the birth of the Christ Child, let us continue to pray for the Christians of Iraq, for whom this season of peace and joy is dominated by violence and fear. AMDG.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Last African American World War I veteran dies.

I'm working on a paper that I have to turn in tomorrow, so I'm writing this post in haste. That said, I feel obliged to call your attention to this obituary in today's New York Times:
Moses Hardy, believed to be the second oldest man in the world and the last black United States veteran of World War I, died Thursday. He was 113.

Evelyn Davis, 68, one of Mr. Hardy's eight children, said her father died at a nursing home in Aberdeen [in Mississippi]. He would have been 114 on Jan. 6.

Robert Young, a senior consultant for gerontology for Guinness World Records, said that research by his group, National Public Radio and others had been unable to locate any other surviving black World War I veterans. Only 10 to 12 American veterans of that war remain, Mr. Young said. Mr. Hardy was sent to France and apparently saw some combat.
What really caught my eye about Mr. Hardy's obituary was the statistic claiming that no more than a dozen U.S. World War I veterans remain alive. As I've written on one or two previous occasions, I feel a real sadness at the loss of historical memory that occurs when the last participants of an important historical epoch pass away. No matter how hard we strive to record the oral histories of the last surviving World War I veterans or to organize and preserve documents relating to their lives, something irretrievable is lost each time someone who actually lived through that conflict dies. To put it very simply, there's a difference between listening to a tape recording of a person talking about their experiences and having the opportunity to speak with that person directly. Not only is there a greater sense of intimacy and of actual contact with history when one is able to speak with a survivor of some great event, but in having the opportunity to ask questions and actually dialogue with another person one can learn more than one ever can simply by listening to an oral history.

Where World War I veterans are concerned, opportunities for dialogue and learning are becoming fewer and fewer between. As I've written before, I can still recall a time when veterans of the First World War were still numerous and nimble enough that one would invariably encounter a contingent of them in local Memorial Day and Fourth of July parades. As the number of Americans who can recall their participation in that long-ago conflict dips into the single digits, an important piece of our history will soon be lost forever. AMDG.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Ambassador Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, 1926-2006.

It's not every day that I wake up to see obituaries for one of my former professors on the front pages of the New York Times and the Washington Post. A professor of government at Georgetown since 1967, Jeane Kirkpatrick attracted wider notice as President Ronald Reagan's ambassador to the United Nations from 1981 to 1985 and as a prolific commentator on international affairs. A longtime Democrat whose hawkish views on foreign policy won her a place in the administration of a Republican president, Dr. Kirkpatrick was an assertive Cold Warrior who took a tough line on U.S.-Soviet relations. A maverick whose independence ruffled feathers in the White House as well as at the UN, Dr. Kirkpatrick was not asked to stick around for President Reagan's second term and returned to academia.

As an undergrad at Georgetown, I took a course with Dr. Kirkpatrick entitled "Culture, Personality and Leadership." Dr. Kirkpatrick's politics were not mine, but I found her to be a cordial and generous teacher. The first half of the semester consisted of Dr. Kirkpatrick giving us her interpretation of Plato's Republic and Aristotle's Politics, with occasional asides touching on her years in public service. These asides typically proceeded along these or similar lines: "This reminds me of something that happened to me in 1983. One day I received a call at home from the Soviet ambassador. He told me that a friend of his in Moscow was sick and wondered if I could recommend an American specialist to treat him. He didn't say who this friend was, but I knew it was Andropov."

One requirement of the course I took with Dr. Kirkpatrick was that each student write a term paper on the cultural background, personality and leadership style of a particular leader, past or present. (I wrote my paper on Lyndon Baines Johnson.) Students who wished to do so could give an in-class presentation on the subject of their paper, and these presentations took up the entire second half of the semester. Dr. Kirkpatrick would listen attentively to each presentation and respond with some questions or comments. In contrast with her acerbic public reputation, Dr. Kirkpatrick was unfailingly charitable in her comments to students. After a student completed a presentation on Cold War power broker John J. McCloy, Kirkpatrick said, "I've only had one other student write on John McCloy. He's now the editor of The New Republic." For moments like that and for many others, I'm grateful I had the chance to study with Jeane Kirkpatrick. To say the very least, she made things interesting. AMDG.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Midnight oil, loathsome toil.

Today, as Roman Catholics around the world celebrate the First Sunday of Advent, Jesuits mark the official end of the Jubilee Year commemorating the 450th anniversary of the death of St. Ignatius Loyola and the 500th anniversary of the birth of St. Francis Xavier and Bl. Peter Faber. I would like to post some reflections on Advent and perhaps something also on the Jubilee Year, but I'm going to have to wait. As the end of the semester draws near, I'll be extremely busy over the next couple weeks completing papers and preparing for exams. Accordingly, posting will probably be very light this month. When it comes to writing papers, I hold to the views famously (and perhaps erroneously) attributed to Dorothy Parker: "I hate writing. I love having written." Until we meet again, I ask my readers to pray for me and my fellow scholastics during this period of intensive study and writing. AMDG.