Thursday, July 31, 2008

Notes on the Memorial of St. Ignatius of Loyola.

Every year on St. Ignatius' Day, I take some time to reflect on how I've spent this day in years past. The annual celebration of our founder's feast day gives me an opportunity to remember some touchstone experiences in the development of my Jesuit vocation and to consider the varied encounters I've had with the Society of Jesus in different times and places.

The first time I really celebrated St. Ignatius' Day was in July of 2002. At the time, I was a Notre Dame law student studying abroad in London. Already considering the possibility of a vocation to the Society, I often attended daily Mass at the Farm Street Church, a central London parish staffed by the Jesuits of the British Province. In late July, I learned that the parish would be celebrating the Feast of St. Ignatius with a special Mass to which all Jesuit alumni in London were invited. As a Georgetown alumnus, I made a point of attending the Mass. At a reception held afterward in the parish hall, I met people from the around the world and from all walks of life who had all been shaped by the common experience of a Jesuit education. This microcosmic encounter with the global dimension of the Society of Jesus strengthened my growing desire to become a Jesuit, and the recollection of that day still gives me a great sense of consolation.

In July of 2003, I found myself in Washington, D.C. In between my second and third year of law school, I had a summer fellowship with an international human rights organization and was living in a Georgetown residence hall that the university let out to visiting students during the summer. Being back on the Hilltop gave me the opportunity to once again attend the 11.15 pm daily Mass that had been an important part of my life as an undergraduate at Georgetown. Though the Mass was officially suspended for the summer, Father Tom King still offered it most weeknights for the benefit of 11.15 pm regulars who happened to be around. Advertised mainly by word of mouth, this summer edition of the 11.15 managed to draw a respectable crowd made up of the usual suspects as well as new faces who providentially appeared from time to time. As happened during the academic year, at least once a week over the course of the summer the 11.15 would be followed by a soirée at which attendees would chat over beverages and baked goods brought by loyal volunteers. Naturally, just such a soirée followed the 11.15 pm Mass on St. Ignatius' Day of 2003. Thus my reflection on the Memorial of St. Ignatius of Loyola brings me back, as reflection on my vocation often does, to the pivotal experience of the 11.15 pm Mass at Georgetown.

Two out of the four years that I've been in the Society, I have spent St. Ignatius' Day at Villa Marquette in Omena, Michigan. (In 2004, I should note, I spent St. Ignatius' Day at home with my family and marked the feast only by attending Mass in a local diocesan parish.) My memories of St. Ignatius' Day at Omena tend to blend together with my memories of villa in general. At Omena, St. Ignatius' Day is typically celebrated with a festive meal featuring surf n' turf and assorted fancy desserts. Beyond a special menu, though, St. Ignatius' Day at Omena does not mark much of a departure from the customary villa routine - or at least it hasn't marked much of a departure in the times that I've celebrated St. Ignatius' Day at Omena.

Last year, I spent St. Ignatius' Day in California, where I worked for most of the summer at Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County. Living at Bellarmine College Preparatory in San Jose, I celebrated St. Ignatius' Day by attending Mass with the ten or so Jesuits who were present in the community that day and later had dinner at Santa Clara University with other Jesuits in the San Jose area. I wrote something about these experiences on this date last year, and those reflections still ring true. For me, the quiet, low-key celebration of St. Ignatius' Day that I enjoyed in 2007 seemed a perfect way to end a summer of rich but subtle graces, a summer in which I had what remains one of the very best experiences of community that I've enjoyed in the Society of Jesus.

This year, I'll be celebrating St. Ignatius' Day by joining other Jesuits in Santiago for Mass and dinner at one of the Jesuit communities here in the Chilean capital. It remains to be seen what role this particular experience of St. Ignatius' Day will play in the unfolding story of my Jesuit vocation. At the very least, though, I hope and pray that this day gives me another opportunity to explicitly give thanks to God for the great gift of belonging to this least Society. AMDG.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

An update from Santiago.

In my (still very few) years as a Jesuit, I've often had the feeling that the amount of time I'm able to spend in any one place is somehow too short. Just when I've gotten used to a place, it seems, I have to pack up and go somewhere else. Though saying goodbye to people and places I've become fond of is always difficult, the sadness I feel at such times paradoxically affirms my sense of vocation. St. Ignatius wanted Jesuits to possess the kind of indifference that would allow us to be sent wherever we are needed most or can do the most good. However, Ignatian indifference does not mean that Jesuits should regard the places where they live and work with apathy. If a Jesuit does not feel the sadness of parting, he may not have invested himself in his mission in a particular place in the way that our vocation demands.

This is my last full week in Santiago, and I'm sorry to have to leave so soon. Though the last month has been challenging in various respects - from having to communicate all day in a language I do not speak well to keeping warm during the Chilean winter - I've really enjoyed my time here. The Chilean Jesuits have been unfailingly kind and hospitable, providing me with regular reminders of what a great blessing it is to belong to a global Society. I've also come to enjoy living in Santiago, a capital with many points in its favor. For one thing, the city counts a Jesuit saint among its former residents: canonized in October 2005, St. Alberto Hurtado is widely revered in Chile for his work among the poor. The Jesuit community where I currently live is a few blocks away from the Santuario Padre Hurtado, which houses the saint's tomb as well as exhibits about his life. The headquarters of Hogar de Cristo, a social service organization founded by Father Hurtado, is located next door to the Santuario. Thus, appropriately enough, one cannot visit Hurtado's tomb without coming into contact with the people he served.

To the extent that I've been able to participate in the cultural life of the Chilean capital, I've been impressed with what I've found. Over the past month, I've attended two concerts given by the Orquesta Sinfónica de Chile as well as a sort of 'double feature' presentation of one-act operas (Bartók's Bluebeard's Castle and Puccini's Suor Angelica) at Santiago's venerable Teatro Municipal. All three performances were excellent and, I'm pleased to report, played to nearly full houses that included a lot of young people. (A couple of weeks ago, one of the local dailies ran an article on the great success that Chilean orchestras and opera companies have had in attracting more patrons in their twenties and thirties by offering deep discounts on ticket prices and performing more works by contemporary composers.) The two museums that I've visited here - the Museo Histórico Nacional de Chile and the Centro Cultural Palacio La Moneda - were similarly impressive. I should note, too, that getting to these places and others has been fairly easy thanks to Santiago's clean and efficient Metro. Like any other public transportation system, the Metro de Santiago has its own particular flaws - it's packed to the gills at rush hour (think Tokyo) and has very little seating (even on nearly empty trains, I've always had to stand). With trains running about every two minutes on average, however, the system is much more reliable than the New York Subway.

I've been very neglectful of this blog during my time in Chile - my classes and community responsibilities have eaten up most of my waking hours - but I have been praying daily for family and friends who watch this space for updates on where I am and what I'm doing. I hope to resume more regular posting once I return to the United States next week. Until then, please know of my prayers and good wishes. AMDG.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Live from Santiago.

Earlier this year, when I told friends that I was thinking of spending the month of July in Chile to work on my Spanish, most of the responses I received fell into one of two categories. People who had never been to Chile and knew little of the country were usually very enthusiastic. Those who had some experience of the country or had spent time with Chileans were typically more cautious. Some opined that Chile was a great place to visit, except during winter - which is to say, except at the time when I planned to be there. Others praised the Chileans they knew for their kindness and hospitality, and then went on to note how incomprehensible Chilean Spanish could be to foreign ears.

Unfazed by the warnings of trusted friends, I went ahead with my plans to study Spanish in Santiago in ostensibly frigid July. Though temperatures have hovered in the thirties and forties for most of my days here, I haven`t found winter in Santiago to be all that daunting when contrasted with the many frigid and snowy winters I`ve lived through in the United States. As for the language, I`ve done alright so far despite the reputation that Chileans have for speaking fast and using a lot of slang. In any event, the Spanish that I`ve been studying at the Pontifica Universidad Católica de Chile is grammatically correct and generally free of chilenismos, so I`m definitely learning something that I`ll be able to apply outside of Chile.

In my experience, learning a new language as an adult is fundamentally different from learning a new language as a child. Learning a language by full-time immersion is also quite different from learning in the insular confines of the classroom, especially when that classroom is the only place where you come into contact with the language you`re seeking to learn. Part of the challenge of learning a language as an adult in a full immersion situation is that one needs to be prepared to interact with other adults and to have conversations about adult topics from day one. I`ve been working to augment my Spanish vocabulary by reading daily newspapers and books in areas of interest, with the possibly unfortunate result that in Spanish I can converse more easily about politics, history and Jesuitica than I can about more practical topics like food and transportation. Living in community with Chilean Jesuits, I`m fortunate to have brothers who tolerate my linguistic limitations and comment favorably on whatever slow progress I might make in my spoken Spanish.

I hope to write more about my experiences in Chile as time permits. In the meantime, I hope all who read these lines will accept my very best wishes. AMDG.