Friday, February 29, 2008

Chaldean Catholic archbishop abducted in Mosul.

I just learned that Chaldean Catholic Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho was abducted today in his see city of Mosul. Archbishop Rahho was apparently taken shortly after leaving a church where he had led a celebration of the Way of the Cross; the Archbishop's driver and two others were killed during the abduction. Last November, Archbishop Rahho gave an interview to AsiaNews in which he spoke very forthrightly about the threats facing his beleaguered flock and about the spirit of Christian hope that he seeks to foster in the face of intimidation and violence. I pray that Archbishop Rahho will soon be released safe and unharmed, and as always I pray for the embattled Christians of Iraq. AMDG.


Some sectors of the blogosphere have been buzzing lately in response to an editorial in The Hoya with the provocative title "Where Have All the Jesuits Gone?". When I first read the editorial in question, I made a prudential judgment to refrain from comment. I obviously have my own opinions, but I felt that I should defer to the Jesuits at the Georgetown and wait to see what they had to say. One Georgetown Jesuit, Father Ryan Maher, offers a response to The Hoya editorial board in the regular column that he shares with Father Jim Schall, As This Jesuit Sees It . . . In answer to the question posed by The Hoya, Father Maher says that "The Jesuits Are Still Right Where You Need Them". Most of what Father Maher says in his first few paragraphs is specific to the Hilltop, but the second half of his column touches on issues of wider import. The view that Maher's father expresses in the following lines is a view that I share, but I'm not sure that I've ever seen anything like it in print before:
My own thinking regarding these questions is greatly colored by a conversation I had with my father many years ago. We were discussing the attitudes of some Jesuits when it comes to the question of how best to perpetuate the Jesuit tradition in our schools.

At one point in the conversation, I explained to my father that there are some who argue that, when it comes to passing on our tradition, the time has come for Jesuits to leave the heavy lifting to our lay colleagues. "That's what Vatican II asks us to do," they claim. "Plus, we just don't have the numbers to do it ourselves anymore."

My father is a man of few words, an engineer by training. He and my mother raised six kids and sent them all to Catholic schools, most of them to Jesuit schools. He thought about what I told him for a couple of quiet minutes.

Finally, oracle-like, he responded. “Listen, you guys need to get your collective act together. Since the day you entered the Jesuits, you all haven’t had to pay for a single thing — not tuition, not food, not rent, not cars, not medical care, not anything. The Church has taken all of those burdens off of you. We did that to free you up to be concerned about other things. The most important thing we want you to do is safeguard, adapt and pass on the tradition you inherited from St. Ignatius and all the Jesuits who came before you. The Church has entrusted the care and feeding of that tradition to you in a unique way, especially in your schools.”

He concluded, “You guys can’t pass that obligation off to anyone else. If you think you can, then you might as well do us all a favor and close up shop as a religious order.”

As usual, Dad was right.

If you know the Jesuits, you know that we are a group of strong-willed, intelligent, passionate, opinionated men who do not shy away from a good argument. Our conversations among ourselves are not uncomplicated. Still, I am hopeful that the coming years will find an invigorated and determined Georgetown Jesuit Community that is even more engaged in the university’s project than it is today.
I share Maher's hope, and I hope that Jesuits at our other universities, colleges and high schools will engage this task with equal vigor and determination. Great challenges call for great commitment. AMDG.

Thursday, February 28, 2008


In some parts of the francophone world, Thursday of the Third Week of Lent is traditionally celebrated as "Mi-Carême," the symbolic middle point of the Lenten season. The most notable characteristic of communal celebrations of Mi-Carême is the relaxation of Lenten discipline: the day is typically marked by lots of eating, drinking, and festive merrymaking. The basic message of Mi-Carême is the following: we've made it halfway through Lent and Easter is in sight, so let us give thanks to God for his great mercy before recommitting ourselves to penance. Whether or not the average person approaches Mi-Carême with this exact attitude, the insight behind the celebration remains a good one.

Lent ought to be a time for thanksgiving, a time to enumerate and express gratitude for God's many gifts to us. As we recall the ways in which God has blessed us, we should also consider how we have responded to God's love and how we might offer a better and fuller response in the future. In a way, the Lenten season offers an opportunity for a kind of retreat in daily life. One way of approaching our Lenten retreat is to consider the questions that St. Ignatius poses at the start of the First Week of the Spiritual Exercises: What have I done for Christ? What am I doing for Christ? What ought I to do for Christ? During Lent, we have an opportunity to reflect upon our own answers to these questions. As we examine the areas of light and shadow in our lives, we should consider our actions and attitudes in light of the choice that we have made to follow Christ. As we move ever closer to the time of the Lord's Passion and Resurrection, we should consider whether or not the choices we make each day are consistent with the one choice that ought to define who we are.

One of the comments on my Ash Wednesday post asked whether I experience Lent differently as a Jesuit. I believe that the preceding paragraph provides a partial answer to the question - as a Jesuit, my experience of Lent is conditioned by my experience of the Spiritual Exercises. In the Season of Lent, Christians are called to repent for their sins and to recommit themselves to lives of discipleship. In a similar way, individuals making the Exercises are called to a recognition of themselves as sinners who are nonetheless loved by God and called to serve Him. The liturgical readings of Lent, Holy Week and the Paschal Triduum invite to accompany Christ through his earthly ministry, his suffering and death, and his ultimate resurrection to glory. The Spiritual Exercises offer us a way of entering into these events in a particularly profound way through the practice of Ignatian contemplation. I could write much more about this, but for now it should suffice to say that my experience of Lent has been deeply influenced by the Spiritual Exercises in particular and by Ignatian spirituality in general.

On another level, living in Jesuit community has added a new dimension to my experience of Lent. There is a real sense in which each of us journeys through Lent alone, coming before God with our own strengths, gifts, sins and shortcomings. At the same time, making this journey with one's brothers in religion can be a great source of blessing and consolation. Once in a while, things will happen in community that remind me that every Jesuit goes through Lent in his own unique way - at the dinner table, for instance, one gets a sense of the different things that individuals elect to give up by way of food and drink. We may sometimes speak with one another about the particular joys and struggles of our Lenten journey, but the greater hallmark of a Jesuit Lent seems to be a silent sense of solidarity. Lent is something we all do together, yet it's still something each of us has to do by himself.

The notion that Lent is something we do both alone and together might struck some readers as paradoxical. This may be so, but it strikes me that the same paradox is present in every Christian's experience of life in the Church. As a Church, we are called to live and to worship together as a community of faith. At the same time, each of us has been called by God in a unique way - each of us has received a personal invitation to follow Jesus Christ. At this middle point of Lent, as we take stock of our journey toward the Feast of the Lord's Resurrection, we may do well to reflect upon the nature of the call that we have each received. On Thursday of the Third Week in Lent, how have I come to be where I am? Looking forward to the second half of Lent, where is God calling me to go? AMDG.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Pew Forum survey illustrates Catholic challenges.

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life has just released the results of a major survey of what it calls "the U.S. religious landscape," providing detailed data on the changing face of American religion and offering copious analysis of trends in religious identification. The text of the report is available on the Pew Forum website, together with various maps, pie charts and graphs that illustrate the findings. Most major dailies also have stories in today's editions summarizing the report's findings - see, for example, these stories in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, the Chicago Tribune, and the Los Angeles Times.

The Pew Forum report provides much for American Catholics to think and pray about, offering a snapshot of some of the pastoral challenges facing the Catholic Church in the United States. The Catholic Church remains the largest single denomination in the country - almost twenty-four percent of Americans identify as Catholic - but the report also notes that "Catholicism has experienced the greatest net losses as a result of affiliation changes," with nearly a third of people who were raised Catholic no longer identifying as such. Nonetheless, the number of Catholics in the United States has increased by twenty million over the last four decades and the percentage of Catholics in the general population has remained relatively stable, thanks in large part to immigration: among immigrants to the United States, Catholics outnumber Protestants by almost two-to-one. According to the Pew Forum, twenty-nine percent of Catholics in the United States are Hispanic, and this percentage will rise in coming decades.

I came away from the Pew Forum report with two questions: Why do a third of people in the United States who were raised Catholic apparently no longer identify as members of the Church? What, if anything, can the Church do to respond to this phenomenon?

Before any attempt to find answers to the above questions, one must admit that the reality behind the statistics is quite complex. The data contained in the Pew Forum report suggest that cradle Catholics who change their religious affiliation divide almost equally into two groups: about half join other religious groups, while half join the ranks of the religiously "unaffiliated." The Pew Forum reports states that about sixteen percent of Americans now claim to be "unaffiliated," though most of these do not identify themselves as nonreligious agnostics or atheists but describe their religious affiliation in ambiguous terms as "nothing in particular." Given the available data, it is difficult to generalize about what leads people to adopt "nothing in particular" as their religious identity.

On another level, Catholicism has a particularity and uniqueness that goes beyond mere "affiliation." I've known plenty of people who identify as Catholic but go to Mass only for major solemnities ("Christmas and Easter Catholics") or for special events such as baptisms, weddings and funerals (liturgies where people are "hatched, matched and dispatched"). It's unclear to me how the Pew Forum's researchers would count these Catholics, since the survey doesn't touch on levels of religious practice but looks merely at religious self-identification. At the same time, particular aspects of Catholic doctrine - such as the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays - help to create a distinction between 'practicing' and 'non-practicing' church members that seems less apparent in some other religious denominations. The Washington Post article on the Pew Forum report includes a comment along these lines from sociologist Mary Gautier of Georgetown's Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate; as Gautier puts it, "If you're a Methodist and you only go to church occasionally, you don't consider yourself no longer practicing, but Catholics tend to do that."

Being Catholic is - or at least should be - a unique experience. That said, the Catholic Church in the United States shares with other denominations the challenge of holding on to its faithful in a pluralistic religious marketplace. There isn't any single magic bullet or simple strategy that we can turn to. However, one question that needs to be asked is whether or not Catholic parishes meet the spiritual needs of their parishioners. The Washington Post article cited above quotes a diocesan official in Virginia to the effect that many Catholics who have difficulty developing a "mature" faith in the Church drift to Protestant denominations where they feel a more tangible bond with Jesus Christ. A related point could be made of Catholics who "disaffiliate" by dropping out of religious practice altogether; I believe that many do so in part because their experience of parish life has not offered them a compelling reason to keep going to church. Most Catholics encounter the Church in only one place - their parish. If Catholics can't find God in their parish, they'll either look for God somewhere else - perhaps in another parish, or in a church of another denomination - or else they'll simply stop looking for God.

Making Catholic parishes into places that truly nurture the spiritual life of all parishioners takes hard work - it takes commitment, creativity and hard work on the part of clergy and laypeople. It also take a recognition that people at different stages of life have different needs; a spiritual development program designed for high school students probably won't be a good fit for twenty-something adults, and a prayer group made up of senior citizens may not draw new members from parents with young children. I could say a lot more about this - noting, for example, the challenge of maintaining a sense of close fellowship in larger parishes - but I think I've made my point. I hope the Pew Forum report is taken seriously by dioceses and individual parishes, and I hope that the discussions that follow are fruitful and productive. AMDG.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Norwegians on the South Coast.

If you listen to A Prairie Home Companion, you probably know that Minnesota is home to a lot of Norwegians. In a more general sense, the largest Norwegian-American communities may be found in the Upper Midwest. However, there is also a small but venerable Norwegian-American community in my home region of Southeastern Massachusetts. Today's edition of my hometown paper has a short article on SouthCoast Norwegians, which I post here simply because I'm proud of where I grew up and enjoy sharing stories about the area:
David Lyng, manager of the Kinsale Inn, was a little bemused when Mattapoisett resident Luana Josvold first approached him with the idea of having his most Irish establishment host a Norwegian dinner.

"I reminded them that the Vikings founded Dublin as a trading post and we both eat salmon and potatoes, so he agreed," Ms. Josvold said.

The idea has proved a popular one. Three of the informal dinners have been held, with another one scheduled in the future.

"It's been good for us," Mr. Lyng said. "It offers something different at what is usually the quietest time of the year."

Ms. Josvold, who teaches Norwegian language classes several times a week and plays Norwegian music on the accordion, organized the dinners as a way for the Norwegian community along SouthCoast to get together periodically.

"There are a lot of Norwegians here, mostly associated with fishing," she said. "If you look in the Seamen's Bethel, some of the earliest names there are the Larsens, the Andersens and the Karlsens. These gatherings offer us an opportunity to socialize, listen to some familiar music and eat some authentic Norwegian food."

Johan Gundersen, owner of Scandia Propeller Service on Union Street in Fairhaven, said many of the Norwegian people who came to this area to fish were from the island of Karmoy, which had long ago forged an unusual link with the United States, since the copper used in the Statue of Liberty was mined on the island.
For the rest - and there isn't much more - click here. AMDG.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Eliane has her say.

Last June, I published a post on Peru's controversial ex-First Lady Eliane Karp and her role in an international dispute over the ownership of various Inca artifacts excavated at Machu Picchu early in the last century. The wife of Peru's first indigenous president, Alejandro Toledo, the French-born Karp embraced indigenous causes and traditions in a manner that many Peruvians found crass and somewhat patronizing. As detailed in a New York Times Magazine article from last year, Karp was especially adamant that in demanding the return to Peru of various artifacts taken from Machu Picchu in 1912 by American explorer Hiram Bingham and now held by Yale University. After lengthy negotiations, Yale and the Peruvian government have apparently come close to a final agreement for the return of the artifacts.

In a New York Times op-ed published today, Eliane Karp expresses her displeasure with the proposed agreement. Basically, Karp seems to be unhappy that Yale won't hand over the artifacts immediately and that the university is expected to play a role in curating a museum that will be built to display the items when they return to Peru. I haven't been following this affair closely and don't really have an opinion on it. Since my earlier post on Eliane Karp has gotten a lot of hits, I figured I should give the former First Lady equal time now that she has made a public statement on the Peru-Yale controversy. To those who continue to reach this blog by way of Google searches for "Eliane Karp" and related terms, I extend a happy welcome. AMDG.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Calendar collision for Irish Catholics.

Today's Boston Globe reports on "a rare clash between St. Patrick's Day and Holy Week" pitting parade organizers against religious authorities in Irish Catholic communities across the United States. This year, March 17th falls on Monday of Holy Week - that is, the day after Palm Sunday - and the optional Memorial of St. Patrick (you heard me right - in liturgical terms, St. Patrick's Day is always a mere option) is accordingly suppressed. (I should note that the Solemnity of St. Joseph falls on Spy Wednesday this year; as a solemnity, the liturgical commemoration of St. Joseph will not be suppressed but will be transferred to Saturday, March 15th, the day before Palm Sunday.) In consequence, some Irish Catholics are a bit frustrated that St. Patrick's Day has to yield to a remembrance of the Lord's Passion. In some Catholic dioceses of the United States, the organizers of annual St. Patrick's Day parades have yielded to the request of local bishops that parades be held early this year in deference to the Church's calendar. In other places, including Boston, St. Patrick's Day parades will be held this year on their normal dates - even if those dates happen to fall on Palm Sunday or during Holy Week.

Given that I'm not Irish and that I don't celebrate St. Patrick's Day, I hope my Irish-American readers will forgive my perplexity at the attitudes of some of their fellows. I respect the desire of Irish-Americans and other distinct ethnic groups to celebrate their cultural heritage, but it strikes me as problematic to accord greater importance to an ethnic feast day than one grants to the most solemn days in the Church calendar. I should say here that I am a big fan of ethnic Catholicism; I do not care for the "melting pot" model of assimilation, and I believe that the preservation of cultural diversity within the Church should be preferred over a move toward a generic "American" style of religious practice. Still, it's worth asking about the role of ethnicity in determining one's sense of religious identity. When ethnicity and religion go hand in hand, can one maintain one's faith if the sense of ethnic identity that sustained that faith is lost? On the same token, is it possible to maintain one's ethnic identity divorced from the faith that long served as a constitutive element of that identity?

The "St. Patrick's Day vs. Holy Week" conflict strikes me as a battle in a larger struggle between conflicting conceptions of ethnic and religious identity. For many Irish-Americans, St. Patrick's Day seems to have become a secular celebration of ethnic pride with little connection to its religious roots. This mentality comes out in a widely-reported comment by Mark Dempsey, the organizer of the annual St. Patrick's Day parade in Columbus, Ohio, which will be held on Monday of Holy Week despite the objections of the diocesan bishop. "It's not a sin to celebrate your Irish culture," Dempsey said. "Actually, you're born Irish first, and then you're baptized Catholic." The logic of Dempsey's statement seems to be that Irish identity is something immutable while Catholic faith is secondary and optional. As America's Jim Martin put it, "You have to wonder what St. Patrick would say to someone who thinks that being Irish is more important than being Catholic."

What seems to be lost on many of those involved in planning St. Patrick's Day parades this year is that their celebration of Irish culture takes place in the context of a Christian saint's feast day, and thus within the larger context of the Church's liturgical year. Rather than gripe about how the Church is interfering with their plans to have fun on St. Patrick's Day, perhaps the organizers could save themselves some trouble by giving their celebration a new name, like "Irish-American Heritage Day." I'm sure that many would be uncomfortable with such a name change, even if it better reflects the contemporary reality of what has become a secular holiday. In any event, the current controversy suggests that actions speak louder than words. AMDG.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Notes on the Memorial of St. Claude La Colombière.

In the Jesuit ordo, today is the Memorial of St. Claude La Colombière, a 17th-century Jesuit who spent most of his life in the Society as a spiritual director to religious women. Together with one of his directees, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, St. Claude played a key role in establishing and promoting devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Rather than repeat anything else that I wrote in last year's post on St. Claude La Colombière, I'll merely suggest that you visit the website of the Apostleship of Prayer. Continuing the ministry of prayer begun by St. Claude La Colombière and St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, the Apostleship of Prayer is perhaps one of the most popular Jesuit apostolates even if it is also one of the least visible. I won't say anything more about it than that, because I want to encourage you to visit the website and see for yourself.

On another note, I'll be praying in a special way today for the aged and infirm Jesuits residing at the Colombiere Center, where I spent part of my hospital experiment as a novice. I invite you to join me in giving thanks to God for the ministry of these men, who pray daily for the needs of the Church and the Society of Jesus. AMDG.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

From the Hilltop to the Main Line.

It may not be 'big news' in the grand scheme of things, but I felt my undergraduate experience recede a little further into the past a few minutes ago when I read that Dean Jane McAuliffe will be leaving Georgetown to become president of Bryn Mawr College. My encounters with Dr. McAuliffe during my time on the Hilltop were very few, though I did dine at her house a couple of times as part of "Dinner with the Dean" evenings open to students in Georgetown College. That said, one of the best courses I had at Georgetown was a class on Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy taught by Professor Dennis McAuliffe, the Dean's husband. Since both McAuliffes are going to Bryn Mawr, I hope that students there will have the benefit of taking "Dante: The Vision and the Poet" (or a course much like it) with Dennis McAuliffe. My prayers and good wishes are with the McAuliffes as they prepare for this new stage in their lives. AMDG.

Product placement?

Coming across the above news photo, my first thought was that product placements had started to infiltrate the campaign for president. I then wondered if, among all the "human interest" questions that reporters regularly ask political candidates about their personal likes and dislikes, anyone has asked the current presidential frontrunners whether they prefer Dunkin' Donuts or Starbucks.

The above photo also got me thinking about British journalist Gerard Baker's recent column on the alleged confrontation between "latte liberals" and "Dunkin' Donuts Democrats". Leaving aside any consideration of the political points Baker wishes to make, I don't buy his argument about a cultural divide between customers of Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts. I've lived in places in the United States where Dunkin' Donuts is ubiquitous and Starbucks is basically nonexistent, and I've also lived in places where one can find a Starbucks on every corner while Dunkin' Donuts is hard to find. If you live in one of these places, your choice for either Dunkin' Donuts or Starbucks cannot be seen as a vote against the other. Nonetheless, in a city like New York (where Dunkin' Donuts and Starbucks are both thick on the ground) one can easily opt for one or the other depending upon one's preference. Even so, stopping into Dunkin' Donuts or Starbucks isn't a "lifestyle choice" or an indicator of one's cultural or social values. I've seen blue-collar workers at Starbucks, and I've also seen well-heeled executives at Dunkin' Donuts. I've yet to meet anyone who views Dunkin' Donuts or Starbucks patronage as a political act.

Speaking personally, I tend to prefer Dunkin' Donuts coffee but more often go to Starbucks while I'm in New York. Why? Because Starbucks outlets normally have places to sit down, and the staff (or associates, or baristas, or whatever they call themselves) tend not to mind if customers want to stick around for a while to read or study or chat with their friends while they drink their coffee. This is an impossibility in most New York Dunkin' Donuts locations I've been in, which tend to be counter operations with little or no seating. If I had the choice, I would probably pass on both Dunkin' Donuts and Starbucks to go to Peet's Coffee, which I grew to love last summer while I was in San Jose. Alas, Peet's has yet to come to New York. In coffee, as in politics, you often have to accept that you can't have what you really want and simply settle for what's available. AMDG.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Faithful receive ashes at supermarket.

In today's edition of my hometown newspaper, I came across a story on an unlikely Ash Wednesday service led by a local Methodist pastor:

Ash Wednesday is one of those rare times when faith takes on a physical manifestation. The tell-tale black smudge on the forehead reveals a person observing the beginning of Lent, the traditional Christian time for repentance and re-evaluation of belief that reaches its conclusion on Easter Sunday.

But with church attendance down markedly in many parishes, some pastors and congregations are taking their church services to other, more accessible venues.

Like Stop & Shop, for instance.

"In a way, we're bringing it out to the community. If you can't get to the church, we bring it out to you," said Alice Franklin, a parishioner of the Wesley United Methodist Church on Main Street [in Wareham, Mass.].

Ms. Franklin was one of a handful of church members who took part in the Wednesday morning blessings led from 9 to 10 by the Rev. Walter Wnek, who is a familiar face at this particular Stop & Shop. Nearly every week for the past year and a half, the Rev. Wnek has visited the store to lead sessions of Christian meditation and talk to shoppers passing by.

"It was this year, as we looked toward the Lenten period, that I thought, 'Well, why don't we provide ashes on Ash Wednesday?'" he said. "And so here we are today, hopeful that people will take advantage of this opportunity to receive the ashes of repentance and dedicate the period between now and Easter to a new desire in their hearts to live a new life following more closely the commands of God and living in the wonder of God's love and grace."
To read the rest, click here. Though I'll admit that I'm a bit unsettled by the image of a clergyman in liturgical vestments leading prayers stacked cartons of soda cans, I like the idea of bringing the message of Lent into secular environments where the season might otherwise go unnoticed. At the same time, I hope that pastoral initiatives like this actually lead people back to active religious practice and don't give them the sense that faith is simply another consumable item they can pick up at the supermarket.

Ideally, seeing ashes being given out in a supermarket should remind us that God is present in all areas of our lives - not simply in our worshipping communities, but in our homes and workplaces and even the places where we shop. As we reflect upon the way we live out our Christian faith during Lent, we would all do well to consider whether we are truly able to find God in all things.

How do we find God in all things? One way is through the Examen, considering how we have encountered God over the course of our day. Another way might be to simply think of the places we visit on a regular basis - markets, offices, schools, and so on - and reflect on whether and how we encounter God in each one of them.

Becoming aware of the presence of God in our daily activities can be challenging, especially when we're thinking about apparently mundane tasks we find frustrating or boring. Many people easily find God in joyful or surprising events, but finding God in the ordinary can sometimes be more difficult. If you simply give it a try, though, you may be surprised to realize that you've encountered God at Stop & Shop. AMDG.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Notes on Ash Wednesday.

As it was in the fall, Wednesday is the busiest day of the week for me this semester. Three of my four classes meet on Wednesdays - one in the morning, two back-to-back in the afternoon - and I usually feel so worn out by evening that after dinner I tend to retire to my room, shut the door, listen to something by Bach or Beethoven, do some reading, and generally avoid looking at my computer. I'm usually back to normal by Thursday morning, but I still need to take Wednesday nights off to recharge my batteries after a particularly intense day.

Given the dynamics of my Wednesday schedule, this Ash Wednesday post won't be as detailed or thoughtful as I might like. This may be an appropriate way to start Lent, as it reminds me in a very concrete way of my own limitations. In some sense, Lent is all about finitude. Rather than attempt to come up with some original reflections on the start of Lent, I'd like to call your attention to Word Incarnate, a weblog I was recently introduced to by one of my Jesuit companions here at Ciszek Hall. Word Incarnate is the work of Abbot Joseph Homick, a Ukrainian Catholic monk who serves as superior of Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Redwood Valley, California. Abbot Joseph has some fine reflections on the meaning of Lent and on the practice of 'giving up' during the season. I suggest you take a look at Abbot Joseph's blog, with the warning that you may feel obliged to return frequently, as I intend to do this Lent.

Please know of my prayers for you and for all readers of this blog during the coming weeks. I pray that we may all experience this season of penance as a time of joyful preparation for our meeting with the Resurrected Christ. AMDG.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Georgetown panel discusses Jesuit identity.

My alma mater is currently celebrating Jesuit Heritage Week, a yearly tradition that began while I was an undergraduate. Among various offerings on Ignatian spirituality, film screenings and social events, the calendar for the week included a panel with the provocative title, "Jesuit Education, So What? Conversations with Priest-Professors." The Georgetown Voice had this to say about the event:
At a panel discussion about Jesuit identity earlier this week, Father John O'Malley scanned the twenty or so faces in the spacious sitting room in Wolfington Hall. Fewer than half of the faces belonged to students, most of whom drifted out of the room before the discussion was finished.

"True to Catholic form, you're all sitting in the back," he chuckled.

O'Malley kicked off the event - titled "Jesuit Education . . . So What?" and held as part of Georgetown's Jesuit Heritage Week - with an overview of the history of Jesuit education, describing the first Jesuits as an edgy bunch that were ahead of their time.

"They faced a lot of criticism for the introduction of dance and the arts into their schools," he said. "They studied what was the forerunner of the modern, natural sciences. Jesuit universities sponsored some of the first organized sports." Beside him, Fr. Kevin FitzGerald nodded vigorously.

By point out that Jesuits were the original sports fans, O'Malley sent the same message emitted by nearly every event that the Jesuit community has hosted this week: in the contemporary world, Jesuit education is not obsolete. The same message could be heard in the Jesuit community's Spirituality Series held in Copley Crypt, where O'Malley described Ignatius of Loyola's "Spiritual Exercises" as "a remarkably adaptive book and program." This year, Georgetown's Jesuit Heritage Week seemed not only to showcase the University's Jesuit identity, but to insist upon the compatibility of Jesuit education and the contemporary world.
To read the rest, click here. Discussions of Jesuit identity at places like Georgetown tend to excite passionate disagreement. This intensity of feeling is at least somewhat understandable; questions about what it means for an institution to be Catholic and Jesuit touch upon deeply held values. As a Catholic, a Jesuit, and a Georgetown alumnus, I feel strongly about these questions myself. I discovered the Society of Jesus at Georgetown and, in a very real sense, I found my Jesuit vocation there as well.

I could say a lot about the Jesuit identity issue, but for now I'll simply say that I'm glad the issue is being discussed publicly on the Hilltop and that I hope these discussions continue. Reading the Voice article, the only regret I felt was that relatively few current students attended the panel. Students have an important role to play in conversations about Jesuit identity, but first they have to be interested in the topic. I've met some undergraduates who genuinely care about the Jesuit identity of the universities they attend, for which I give thanks to God. I've also met students at Jesuit colleges who could seemingly care less about the issue, and I'm curious - not just as a Jesuit, but as one who hopes someday to work in higher education - how they could be persuaded to care about the mission and identity of the schools of which they will soon be alumni.

As an aside, I like what Father Alvaro Ribeiro has to say in the Voice article about his own vocation as a Jesuit and an English professor. The Voice errs in describing Father Ribeiro as an Englishman: he is actually from Hong Kong. Otherwise, the newspaper captures him well:
One Jesuit familiar with the challenge of connecting secular culture with Jesuit values is Fr. Alvaro Ribeiro. An expert in British and Shakespearian literature hailing from England [sic!], Ribeiro has a commanding voice, a spectacular vocabulary and no reservations about observing the connections between Jesuit tradition and secular literature.

"When people learn that I am an English professor, they are aghast," he said, "They cry, 'You are a man of God, you are supposed to speak of things of God!' To which I tell them I find the Word to be expressed in a hell of a lot of words, including 'to be or not to be.'"
I also know some people who balk at the idea of priests teaching in fields other than theology. In my own life, though, the place of what someone once called "hyphenated priests" in the Society of Jesus played a key role in my own discernment. The fact that the Society had room for priests who could find God in the humanities and the natural and social sciences impressed me deeply when I was a student at Georgetown, and it impresses me just as much today. It would be very sad, I think, if Jesuit educators wrote and taught only about "things of God" in the narrowest sense. As long as we have Jesuits like Father Ribeiro - and any number of others I could mention, at Georgetown and elsewhere - I doubt that day will come. AMDG.

Tighter border threatens to distance U.S., Canadian towns.

A couple times last year, I commented on news reports about the impact of proposals to tighten U.S.-Canadian border security on the neighboring towns of Derby Line, Vermont and Stanstead, Quebec - two communities that are so closely tied to one another that they even share a library. Today's Boston Globe has a story considering how new restrictions on border crossings may drive a wedge between another set of close-knit border towns, Houlton, Maine and Woodstock, New Brunswick:
Canadians are among the best customers in [Houlton, Me.], where Interstate 95 links to the Trans Canada Highway. On frequent visits fueled by a stronger Canadian dollar, they fill up their tanks at gas stations near the highway and pile their shopping carts high with milk and butter at the local IGA grocery.

Yesterday, as the U.S. government enforced stricter rules along its borders, requiring all travelers to show a passport or two other forms of identification, Canadians were able to cross the border and visit Houlton businesses without a hitch.

But in Maine and in Woodstock, New Brunswick, a dozen miles away, some residents said the beefed-up border will widen the symbolic distance between them and might chill their economic and social relations. The new rules end a long practice of allowing travelers to prove their citizenship with an oral declaration.

"A lot of people would like to think they could slow down and wave like they used to, but everyone knows we're not going back to that," said Ken Harding, chief administrative officer in Woodstock.

The tightened requirements, to be enforced by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents along the 5,525-mile Canadian border and the shorter border with Mexico, precede a more dramatic shift in June 2009 that will require all border crossers to present passports. The rule was scheduled to take effect this year, but was recently postponed by Congress.

. . .

Relations have long been friendly between Houlton, population 6,500, and Woodstock, a town of 5,200. Americans and Canadians intermarry; youth hockey teams cross over for competitions; and some residents commute to jobs through customs, including dozens of Canadian nurses at Houlton Regional Hospital.

Many residents said that the increased security is necessary and that it does not diminish the friendliness between them.

"It's important," said Gladys Dalton, a Canadian who enters Maine twice a week to buy gas and groceries. "There's too much going on."

Others said the changes create an unwanted barrier and do little to protect against terrorism.

Lonnie Forbes, another Canadian, shopped in Houlton yesterday, but said he will balk at spending $400 for four passports for his family.

"I'm just not going to do it," he said. "We would come down to Kittery in the spring to buy a bunch of stuff, but it's like a stop sign that says, 'We don't want you.'"

Troy Obar, a Houlton native, said he has no plans to apply for a passport and will abandon his favorite Canadian wilderness and find new places to go camping when the rules clamp down next year.

"I'm a stickler for the old times," he said, "for the way it was done for years, like you were going from state to state, instead of country to country."
To read the rest, click here. For my part, I respect the need for secure borders but regret the fact that border communities that have enjoyed close and harmonious links for generations may now be driven further apart. I pray that the residents of towns like Houlton and Woodstock will find ways to stay close to their friends and family across national lines in spite of harsh new realities. AMDG.