Friday, May 30, 2008

Notes on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Today Roman Catholics celebrate the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a feast day that draws our attention to the love of God for humanity that has been made manifest in the person of Christ. Though evidence of devotion to the heart of Jesus can be found in the writings of some medieval mystics, the modern form of the devotion comes from the visions of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, a Visitandine nun who lived late in the 17th century. Though some of her sisters questioned the authenticity of her spiritual experiences, St. Margaret Mary enjoyed the support of her Jesuit spiritual director, St. Claude La Colombière. Since that time, Jesuits have played an important role in promoting devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, notably through the work of the Apostleship of Prayer.

On this Feast of the Sacred Heart, I'd like to share with you the following prayer by St. Claude La Colombière; though I've shared these words before, I believe they're worth posting again because they convey the meaning of today's feast exceptionally well:
O God, what will you do to conquer
The fearful hardness of our hearts?
Lord, you must give us new hearts,
Tender hearts, sensitive hearts,
To replace hearts that are made of marble and of bronze.

You must give us your own Heart, Jesus.
Come, lovable Heart of Jesus.
Place your Heart deep in the center of our hearts
And enkindle in each heart a flame of love
As strong, as great, as the sum of all the reasons
That I have for loving you, my God.

O holy Heart of Jesus, dwell hidden in my heart,
So that I may live only in you and for you,
So that, in the end, I may live eternally with you in heaven.

Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make our hearts like yours. AMDG.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008


Here's a trio of images from my most recent visit to my alma mater. I've always enjoyed taking pictures of the Healy Building (top), and I particularly like the way this Georgetown landmark looks against the cloudy sky in this late afternoon photo. The statue in the foreground is of John Carroll, the first Roman Catholic bishop in the United States and the founder of Georgetown College. The subdued light of an overcast day brings out the realistic details of the statue, such as the folds and wrinkles in Carroll's cassock. At the same time, the color of the statue seems to blend well with the varied gray hues of the sky and the Healy Building.

I've often noted the critical impact that my experiences at Georgetown had on my life and vocation. Many of those experiences took place at Dahlgren Chapel of the Sacred Heart (center), where I regularly attended Father Tom King's 11:15 pm daily Mass. Dahlgren is an important place for me, and I've taken many pictures of the chapel over the years. The success or failure of my efforts to photograph the inside of Dahlgren have varied a lot depending on available lighting; in this instance, a combination of natural light and the dim wall lamps in the chapel seems to have produced good results.

Finally, we have a night shot of the entrance of Joseph Mark Lauinger Memorial Library (bottom). Thousands of Hoyas have walked beneath the words Cognoscetis Veritatem et Veritas Liberabit Vos - "You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free" (Jn 8:32). My sense of the meaning of these words owes a great deal to a January 2000 opinion piece in The Hoya by the aforementioned Tom King, S.J. I strongly recommend you read this piece, which offers a highly personal yet universal reflection on the theme of vocation as well as a view of the "inside story" behind the Latin words that many Georgetown students have passed without reflecting on their meaning. To the extent that I have grasped these words, I have to give a lot of credit to my experiences at Georgetown. AMDG.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Globe: Jimmies thrive, tonic declines.

This Memorial Day, the Boston Globe reports on the state of the English language in Eastern Massachusetts. Though I'm hard-pressed to find a connection between the holiday and the article, the Globe has some interesting things to say about the continuing evolution of Boston English. Here's an excerpt:
Jimmies. Regular coffee. Elastic. Bubbler. Tonic. Dungarees. Carriages. Gonzo. Packie. Parlor. Rotary. Bang a U-ey. Hosey. Wicked. There are hundreds of local terms. Some are going strong. Some have even gone national. Some aren't ours alone. And some are fading fast. Almost no one says "scoop" or "score" anymore. Boston teens have become like their counterparts around the country; they use the blanket term for youthful intimacy, "hook up."

So in the age of the mass media, with our national dialect becoming increasingly standardized, which of our local slang words are going to survive?

To gauge the status of Boston English, City Weekly polled the two camps that know the most about our language - the adults who study it, and the teenagers who dictate its evolution. Linguists say the terms that have the best chance of surviving are those that don't have an accepted term nationally, or that cover something that is relatively obscure.

"The media isn't telling you what to call 'jimmies,' " said John McCarthy, a linguistics professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, referring to the local term for the rod-shaped chocolate bits used as an ice cream topping. "You don't see any advertising or discussion of jimmies, so people don't know that there is another word for it - 'sprinkles.' " (There are some who believe jimmies to be a racial slur - a play on the Jim Crow segregation laws - but McCarthy says it originated as a trademark name from a local company that made the chocolate topping, a contention that is supported by the Dictionary of American Regional English.)

What do you call the thing you push in the grocery store? "In Boston," McCarthy said, "that's called a 'carriage.' To the rest of the world, that's a grocery cart. But unless you've traveled, you don't know that there's anything else to call it because it's not the sort of thing they usually talk about on a television show."

At Boston Latin, the city's elite entrance-exam school that draws kids from all corners of "the Hub," an informal poll of nearly 200 students found that 61 percent still use the term jimmies, and 29 percent still say carriage. But some of the other iconic words are not so lucky.

Ever spill tonic on your dungarees? The kids at Latin don't. They spill soda on their jeans. Only 11 percent said they still used tonic - one of the more peculiar Bostonisms because it's the name for a completely different beverage - while just 7 percent still use dungarees as a term for denim jeans.
On one level, to speak of "Boston English" as a monolithic dialect is somewhat inaccurate. It's often lost on people who grew up elsewhere, but Massachusetts is home to a great variety of dialects. The accents of people in my native region are not identical with those of people who grew up in South Boston, though there are similarities in vocabulary as well as some differences. I've always preferred to ask for "jimmies" and not "sprinkles," I drink from a "bubbler" rather than a "water fountain," I keep a bag of "elastics" in my desk, and I can navigate a "rotary" with relative ease. As far as I can recall, I've never used the word "tonic" as it is used in Bostonese, nor am I aware of the term being used that way by members of my family. However, I think I've always been aware that "tonic" was a word that some older people used to refer to the stuff that I always called "soda." (On an unrelated note, the Midwestern term "pop" still sounds strange to my ears, and the generic use of "Coke" for all soft drinks baffles me completely.)

"Wicked" is a class by itself. I've used "wicked" as an intensifier for most of my life, but I've noticed that over time the term has crept across the country and acquired a certain degree of national usage while retaining its reputation as Bay State slang. I've always thought of "sketchy" and its derivatives as having a similar canonical status as part of the Massachusetts lexicon, partly because "wicked" and "sketchy" (or just "sketch") were commonly used together when I was growing up - to describe a person, place or thing as "wicked sketchy" was to label he, she, or it as dangerous or simply suspect in a vague but nonetheless definite way. I don't know if this use of "sketchy" really originated in the Bay State, but as far as I'm concerned it might as well have.

More seriously, I believe that the distinctive regional identities that local accents and dialects represent are worth preserving. Reading the Globe article, I was intrigued by what UMass linguist John McCarthy had to say about the impact of the media and of popular culture on the death or survival of purely local slang. The use of a term like "jimmies" continues because it isn't challenged by the larger North American culture - unlike, say, the use of terms like "tonic" and "dungarees," which haven't held up well in the face of national ad campaigns pushing "soda" and "jeans." Truly distinctive elements of local culture would also seem to be better able to survive - a frappe, for example, really is different from a mikshake, so the term hangs on. May the same prove true of some of the other terms that make "Boston English" distinctive. AMDG.

Friday, May 23, 2008


Visiting Quebec in the years before I entered the Society of Jesus, I always made a point of stopping at the Cistercian Abbey of Notre-Dame-du-Lac, located near the village of Oka sixty kilometers west of Montreal. This past January, I returned to Oka for the first time in four years and took the above photos. My first visit to Oka as a Jesuit will almost certainly be my last, as the Trappist community that has resided there for 127 years will relocate to new premises within the next year. Confronting the challenges of aging and numerical decline that face many religious communities, the Trappists of Oka have also found that their treasured silence is becoming harder to preserve as suburban sprawl transforms the surrounding area. In consequence, the monks plan to move to a smaller, more remote monastery currently under construction in Saint-Jean-de-Matha in the rural Lanaudière region of Quebec. Meanwhile, the old monastery at Oka will be redeveloped by a non-profit group that promises to maintain the property's historic character. While I'm happy that the monastery at Oka will be preserved, it clearly won't be the same without the inhabitants who gave the place its unique spirit.

The first photo should give you an idea of the monastery's physical setting, though the building itself isn't visible. I took this picture from the south shore of the Lake of Two Mountains; you can see Oka in the distance, on the far shore of the frozen lake. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the rural solitude that drew the Trappists to the Lake of Two Mountains has more recently attracted upwardly-mobile professionals and retirees who have made places like Oka into growing bedroom communities. Enjoying the charm of rural living within commuting distance of a major metropolis is an understandably appealing prospect for many, and I expect that Oka will retain its cachet even as the Trappists move on to quieter pastures.

I'm not sure what to say about Oka's abbey church (second photo), except that I've always found it an easy place to pray. As a visitor I found that the architecture of the church lends itself to an undistracted focus on God (if I were a monk at Oka, though, I might get sufficiently used to the setting to find ways to get distracted). I'm grateful for the times I was able to attend the early morning Mass in the abbey church, and I regret I won't have the same experience again. Regarding my limited experience of the monastery at Oka, I'm happy to affirm the words of the Psalmist: "A day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere" (Ps. 84:10).

The architecture of the monastery (third photo) is fairly typical of a lot of old ecclesiastical buildings in Quebec. Though built in the last years of the 19th century, the monastery at Oka looks as though it was constructed much earlier. To me, the stone construction of the building conveys a sense of solidity and permanence - this place was built to last, in contrast with more recent structures that often seem worn and fragile before they can really be considered old. The durability of the monastery offers a message of assurance: the building itself seems to bear witness to the values of stability and tradition at the heart of monastic life. Sadly, the power of this message may be undercut somewhat by the departure of the monks who gave this venerable building its soul. Nonetheless, I hope that future visitors to the old monastery will somehow come to understand what makes places like Oka so vitally important. AMDG.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Notre Dame du Cap.

For me, photography is something of a contemplative discipline. The work that goes into framing an image that is both aesthetically and spiritually meaningful makes me more aware of God's presence in creation; as a result, photography can often be an aid to prayer. Over the next few days, I'd like to share some photographs that I've taken over the course of the last semester. My hope is that some readers will find them to be an aid to their reflection.

The three photos shown above were taken at the Sanctuaire Notre-Dame-du-Cap, located at Cap-de-la-Madeleine on the outskirts of Trois-Rivières, Quebec. I visited Cap-de-la-Madeleine on a weekday evening in early January; Christmas decorations were still up (Epiphany was a couple of days away) but no more than a handful of pilgrims (mostly locals, I surmised) loitered and prayed on the grounds. Looking at the exterior shot of the basilica (top), I'm struck by the way in which the newfallen snow, the subdued glow of electric lights, and the twilight sky conspire to give a monumental 1950s church building an eerily ethereal look. The interior shot (middle), with its bank of votive lamps and softly lit windows, conveys an atmosphere of calm that somehow makes me think of Simeon and Anna in the Temple. Finally, the gates of the Jardins de Lumière (bottom) have an elegiac quality that leads me to reflect on the culture that produced places like Cap-de-la-Madeleine but which pays little attention to them now.

I hope the above photos are of interest. Expect to see another set in a couple of days. AMDG.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Another one down.

After several weeks of intense exam prep and paper-writing, I'm officially done with the spring semester. The end of the semester typically leaves me bewildered and spent, as frenetic days of nonstop reading and writing very abrubtly give way to days when I seemingly have nothing to do. The feeling of having nothing to do is purely illusory - I actually have a lot of loose ends to tie together before I leave New York for the summer - but it's nice to be able to work at a more relaxed pace than I'm able to during the semester. In fact, I'm looking forward to rereading some of the books I was assigned over the past academic year, this time at a more reflective pace and without having to worry about writing papers based on their contents.

My summer will involve a fair amount of travel to new and familiar destinations. Through the kindness of my provincial, I'll be making my annual eight-day retreat in Jerusalem along with a few other scholastics from my province. This won't be my first visit to the Holy Land - I made a trip there in March 2000, while I was a student at Georgetown - but it will be my first as a Jesuit. On the way to and from Jerusalem, I'll be spending a few days in the Netherlands with family and friends. After a brief stop back in New York, I'll be off to Chile for a month to work on my Spanish.

To round out this post, I should say something about my recent extracurriculars. I've often told people in person (and perhaps also written on this blog) that what I enjoy most about living in New York is being able to take advantage of the cultural opportunities available here in the city. Before I came to Fordham, I'd often read about different events in the Arts section of the New York Times and think, "I wish I could do go to that." Now I'm at least theoretically able to say "I could go to that," subject to the limitations imposed by a Jesuit scholastic's budget and a graduate student's schedule.

Though I've been fairly busy over the past month writing papers and studying for exams, I have found the time to attend musical peformances at the Metropolitan Opera and at Carnegie Hall. In late April I had a chance to check out the Met's production of Philip Glass's Satyagraha, an opera about M. K. Gandhi's years in South Africa. Coming from an unconventional composer, Satyagraha is a fairly unusual opera - the libretto consists entirely of passages from the Bhagavad Gita, and the work eschews linear narrative in favor of what might best be described as an attempt to get inside Gandhi's mind to try to understand how he came to embrace the path of nonviolent resistance. Though I didn't quite know what to expect, I found Satyagraha very moving - I liked the arresting visuals (which included the use of puppets - something the Met is doing a lot of these days) and I appreciated the music as well, though I started to find Glass's trademark repetition a bit grating towards the end.

Last Friday I went to Carnegie Hall to hear Bernard Haitink conduct the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in a program of works by Joseph Haydn and Dmitri Shostakovich. This was my first time seeing Haitink and the CSO live, though I've been a fan of both for a while. I'm also a fan of Shostakovich, so it was a great pleasure for me to hear Haitink (one of the greatest living intepreters of Shostakovich's work) conduct his Symphony No. 4. I'm less familiar with the work of Haydn, and Friday's performance was the first time I'd ever heard his Symphony No. 101, aptly nicknamed "The Clock" on account of the 'tick-tock' rhythm of its second movement. My brother Jesuit and fellow concertgoer Julian Climaco and I parted company in our estimation of Shostakovich - Julian found the 4th too dissonant for his liking - but we both liked "The Clock." On the whole, Haitink and the CSO both lived up to their respective reputations, and I hope to hear both again. In the meantime, I'm grateful for the opportunities that I've had here in New York, and I'm looking forward to the summer. AMDG.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

McImages of America.

Among the sundry publications that regularly come into Ciszek Hall's mailbox is CommonWealth, a magazine on "politics, ideas and civic life in Massachusetts" (in the words of the masthead) put on a Boston think-tank called the Massachusetts Institute for a New Commonwealth (MassINC). Published quarterly, CommonWealth (not to be confused with Commonweal, which we also receive) comes to Ciszek Hall for the simple reason that a former MassINC staffer who used to live here apparently has not updated his erstwhile employers on his current mailing address. Given my own experience with Bay State politics, I usually take a cursory glance at the issues of CommonWealth that come my way before tossing them on top of the pile of mail that we periodically forward to Old Ciszekians.

I mention CommonWealth on account of an interesting article in the current issue of the magazine on Arcadia Publishing's "Images of America" series. If you don't know what I'm talking about, I'll let CommonWealth's James V. Horrigan explain it to you:
Walk into a bookstore almost anywhere in America and you'll find a shelf full of thin paperback books with distinctive sepia-toned covers. Light on text, heavy on photos, numbingly similar in format and content, they're volumes in Arcadia Publishing's Images of America series of local history books.

Since 1994, Arcadia has put out more than 5,000 books for local, sometimes tiny, niche markets. Images of America was Arcadia's first and remains its most successful series. The series began by covering cities and towns; then it branched out to parks and neighborhoods, and now includes colleges, businesses, individual buildings, and vanished sports teams.
Horrigan goes on to explain that Massachusetts is better represented in the Images of America series than any other state, with about 350 titles (and counting) devoted to places in the Commonwealth. Volumes in the series are typically written by locals, relying on materials culled from local archives and private collections. There is, for example, an Images of America book on my hometown, produced by Judith Hartley MacKinnon of the Rochester Historical Society.

I'm happy that Rochester (a "tiny, niche market" if there ever was one) is included in the Images of America series, and I'm proud to have a copy of the book on my shelf. That said, I find Horrigan's characterization of the "fast-food" aspect of the series to be pretty accurate:
Whether it's the Boston Braves or Boston Harbor Islands, Allston-Brighton or Cuttyhunk, when Arcadia's research determines there's a market for a topic, an Images of America book is sure to follow. The drawback is the 128-page template they foist on authors, which makes the books so formulaic they might be described as McImages of America.

The photographs themselves are sometimes so prosaic they could be inserted into other books in the series with the very real possibility that nobody would notice. If you've seen one photo of a Kiwanis or Lions Club banquet, you've seen them all. The same goes for staged shots of Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts, and high school marching bands.

. . .

Needham [Mass.] native Jen Jovin, the author of a new book on Wellesley, says there is a reason for the books' one-size-fits-all similarity. "To a degree I think we all have a common experience, a shared history," she says. "I think the books would be missing something if we didn't include those so-called generic qualities."

Fair enough, except when generic spills into cliché, like the 1901 photo of Wellesley shopkeeper William McLeod. He wears an apron and stands behind a counter next to a young assistant, with jars of preserves in front of them and shelves of canned goods behind them. It's nice, but I swear the same shot is in my Images of America book on Dedham. And Westwood. And Cambridge. And Nahant.

Wellesley even has what may be the ultimate Images of America cliché: a long-gone tavern reportedly once visited by George Washington. My guess is there are dozens of Arcadia volumes, from Virginia to New England, with a similar photo and boast to go with it.
I wouldn't be surprised if Horrigan is right about the George Washington bit. He's nearly correct about the "shopkeeper" photo: leafing through my copy of Images of America: Rochester, I did find some shopkeeper scenes on pages 70 and 71 - scenes from the 1950s and without the young assistant, but shopkeeper scenes nonetheless.

My guess is that one could identify a fair number of specific genres of small-town photography by comparing volumes in the Images of America series. What fascinates me about the series (and, I suppose, about Horrigan's article) is the fact that the popularity of the books seems to stem in part from their ability to help people preserve a sense of distinctive local identity, yet the structure of the books themselves gives rise to a kind of homogenization. Reflecting on this paradox offers me a welcome distraction from writing final papers and preparing for exams, and hopefully it gives you something to think about too. AMDG.