Saturday, April 26, 2008

Papal visit buoys seminary, while aspiring seminarian seeks a helping hand.

According to yesterday's New York Daily News, the Archdiocese of New York is facing a "tsunami of interest" in the priesthood following last week's papal visit. Before Pope Benedict XVI came to the United States, officials at St. Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers expected to have no new students in the coming academic year - something that hasn't happened in over a century. However, the combined effect of Pope Benedict's exhortation to young people and the publicity surrounding his visit seems to have offered a ray of hope to the seminary. Since the papal visit, archdiocesan vocation director Father Luke Sweeney claims to heard from "dozens" of young men who are interested in the priesthood. While it's too soon to tell how many of these men will actually enter the seminary, I'm glad to hear of the groundswell of interest and I hope it's a sign of greater things to come.

The road to the seminary can be a difficult and winding one, and men who aspire to become priests often face numerous challenges along the way. Some of these challenges are spiritual, as one seeks through prayer and experience to discern God's call. Other challenges are more mundane, like paying off one's student loans. Such is the challenge facing Neven Pesa, an aspiring Melkite Greek-Catholic seminarian who has been accepted to enter the novitiate of the Basilian Salvatorian Order but first has to pay off considerable student loan debt from college. A singer and songwriter, Neven has recorded a CD of religious music, which he's advertising on the web and through various Catholic parishes; all proceeds from the sale of the CD will go toward paying off Neven's student loan debts so he can enter the novitiate. I'm happy to commend Neven Pesa for taking a creative approach to a common difficulty facing aspiring seminarians, and I wish him well in his endeavors. If you think you might like to lend him a hand, take a look at his website. While you're at it, say a prayer for all who are discerning vocations to the priesthood and religious life, and pray that more might answer the call. AMDG.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Pope, people in books, and God.

Today is the Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Society of Jesus, a Jesuit feast commemorating the date in 1541 when St. Ignatius and the First Companions professed solemn vows at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside-the-Walls in Rome. It's also been two days since the end of Pope Benedict XVI's pastoral visit to the United States, a significant event that I'd like to write something about while I have the chance.

I never got a chance to see the last pope, but I can now say that I've seen the present one. On Saturday, I joined a number of other scholastics from Ciszek Hall, Jesuit novices from Syracuse, and roughly thirty thousand young people (including about five thousand seminarians and religious) at St. Joseph's Seminary in Yonkers, New York to greet the Holy Father. Though exhilarating, the event was also fairly exhausting - as any event that involves standing for hours in a dusty, unshaded field on a hot day probably would be. The demands of security as well as the practical logistics involved in gathering such a large crowd meant that everyone had to be in place hours before the Pope's actual arrival. During the wait, the assembled multitude listened to performances by various musicians (Kelly Clarkson was the only one that I'd previously heard of) and got to wait in long lines to get lunch (outside food being prohibited). At around five o' clock - four hours after the scholastics from Fordham had arrived - the Holy Father finally appeared on the field.

It's hard for me to think of appropriate words to describe my impressions of the Pope, though "awe-inspiring" would be a good start. What impressed me the most about Pope Benedict XVI in person were two qualities that I'd noticed before in reading things written by or about the present pontiff: his evident humility and great sincerity. There's something disarming - and, in a way, refreshing - about this soft-spoken pope who seems more at home in the study than in the pulpit, a theologian who is firm in his beliefs but who can nonetheless listen respectfully to the opinions of others, a teacher who still enjoys meeting with former students to discuss their latest discoveries, a classical pianist who loves cats (and who apparently used to adopt strays off the streets of Rome, until his staff begged him to stop).

In short, Pope Benedict XVI strikes me as very genuine - a man comfortable enough in his own skin to take his own approach to the ministry that God has called him to, rather than try to conform to others' expectations that he act just like this or that previous pontiff. That comfort - and the humility that comes with it - came across most vividly on Saturday when the Pope came to the apparent end of his prepared remarks and stood up to move on to the next portion of the program, only to be reminded by an assistant that he had an additional text to read. The Holy Father didn't try to conceal his mistake, but with a smile and a lifted finger, he said, "I forgot my Spanish." Judging from the appreciative chuckle that went through the crowd, I would say that Benedict's audience appreciated his honesty as well as his humor.

The highlight of the Holy Father's appearance on Saturday was his very fine address to an audience he consistently addresed as his "young friends." In my estimation, the Pope's remarks included a great deal of very practical and eminently down-to-earth advice and showed a keen awareness of the cultural and social challenges facing young Catholics in the United States. I was especially pleased to hear Pope Benedict emphasize the example of the saints - a topic we don't hear enough preaching on, in my opinion - and I liked the connections that he drew between personal prayer, participation in the Church's liturgy, and service to others. As an aspect of service, the Pope quite naturally spoke about vocations to the priesthood and to religious life, pointing to "the wondrous array of charisms proper to each religious institute" and telling the assembled crowd that "no perfect community exists, but it is fidelity to a founding charism, not to particular individuals, that the Lord calls you to discern." At several points, Benedict also directly addressed the priests, religious and seminarians in the audience; I was quite moved to hear him say that he prays daily for seminarians. To think that the Pope offers special prayers each day for a group that you belong to is, to say the least, very consoling.

To round out this post, I should note a couple of things. Firstly, for those who may be interested, here's an article on the Pope's private visit with Avery Cardinal Dulles, which also took place on Saturday. Secondly, for those who may be curious, yes, the Pope does have a sort of 'aura' about him, though it's something one feels rather than something one can actually see. It's hard to describe, but there is something special about seeing the pope in person and fairly close up - I felt it most vividly when he went by in the Popemobile, about fifteen feet away from where I was standing. This 'aura,' I suppose, is probably something that others have felt when catching a glimpse of Benedict XVI, John Paul II, and their predecessors. I'd be curious what any readers who have seen a pope close up may have to say on this subject. In closing, I'll say again how great it was to see Pope Benedict XVI on Saturday; in the coming days, I'll be praying that the Holy Father's message bears great fruit in the hearts of American Catholics. AMDG.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Saying hello.

Yesterday, my sister Elizabeth sent me the above photo of the latest addition to the Koczera household, an eight-week-old Yorkshire Terrier puppy, as yet unnamed. I hope that the pup enjoys her new home and appreciates the care and attention of her new family (which includes another, older Yorkie - hopefully the two dogs will get along).

You may have noticed that posting has been infrequent lately, and it will likely continue to be so over the coming weeks. I've entered into the last month of the semester at Fordham, and I'll be busy until early May working on papers and preparing for exams. At the same time, I also have to make time to firm up my summer plans (which I'll write something about, once the firming process has been completed). I'll probably post something every now and then as I'm able, but as a general matter I don't expect to have much time for blogging until I've completed my school work for the year. Please pray for me and the other scholastics at Ciszek as we try to wrap things up. AMDG.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

The world's oldest photograph?

As a kind of follow-up to an earlier post on what may be the world's earliest sound recording, I thought some readers might be interested in the image shown above. Known as a 'photogenic drawing,' a kind of photographic negative produced by placing an object directly on paper treated with silver nitrate, this simple picture of a leaf may be the world's oldest photographic image. Scholars previously believed that this image was created by photographic pioneer William Fox Talbot in 1839, but studies by photo historian Larry Schaaf suggest that it may actually be the work of Thomas Wedgwood (as in Wedgwood china), who started to experiment with photography in the 1790s. Sotheby's New York has shelved plans to auction the image next Monday so that its origin may be studied further. If the image is really Wedgwood's work, the early history of photography will have to be substantially rewritten. Even if the 'photographic drawing' is very primitive by our standards - or even by the standards of other early photographers like William Fox Talbot and Louis Daguerre, who produced much more sophisticated work - it remains historically significant. As the saying goes, great things have small beginnings. AMDG.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Cardinal Dulles to give final McGinley Lecture.

At eight o'clock tonight, Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J. will deliver his thirty-ninth and final lecture as Fordham University's Laurence J. McGinley Professor of Religion and Society. At 89, Cardinal Dulles is finishing a long and distinguished teaching career that began at the same university where it will end: Dulles enjoyed his first foray into teaching as a Jesuit regent at Fordham in the early 1950s. After completing a doctorate in sacred theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University, Dulles taught at the old Jesuit theologate at Woodstock, Maryland, joining a veritable "dream team" faculty that included such luminaries as John Courtney Murray, Gustave Weigel, Walter Burghardt, and Joseph Fitzmyer. When Woodstock closed, Dulles moved on to a faculty position at the Catholic University of America. Mandatory retirement ended Dulles' tenure at CUA in 1988, at which time he accepted the McGinley Chair at Fordham. A prolific and influential scholar as well as a teacher, Father Dulles was named a Cardinal in 2001 in recognition of his exceptional service to the Catholic Church.

Though Cardinal Dulles' last lecture as McGinley Chair will be tonight, the teaching career of this great Catholic theologian isn't over just yet. Still mentally sharp and incisive despite physical frailty, Cardinal Dulles is teaching a seminar this semester on the theological writings of Pope Benedict XVI. As one of the students in the seminar, I'm grateful for the opportunity to study under a theologian of Cardinal Dulles' caliber. In some sense, having had a class with Avery Dulles represents a worthy encounter with history. The same might be said of attending Cardinal Dulles' final McGinley Lecture, an experience that I recommend to any readers who may find themselves in the area this evening. AMDG.