Friday, July 31, 2009

Ours on St. Ignatius' Day.

Today is the Memorial of St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus. As I wrote two years ago on this date, I tend to prefer private community celebrations of this feast day to grand public ones. We will be having such a celebration this evening at Saint Joseph's - brothers in the Lord, with our own imperfections and rough edges, gathering in our small chapel and around the common table to celebrate the bond that unites us.

Each celebration of St. Ignatius' Day that I've taken part in has been unique, as I noted in this post from last year. In all cases, though, I have found that this is a day when gratitude comes very easily. As I thank God for the gift of belonging to this least Society, I also pray for God's blessings upon all Jesuits and upon all who have been touched by the Ignatian charism. AMDG.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

A retreat at Georgetown.

As some readers well know, most Jesuits typically make an eight-day retreat each year to renew the graces of the Spiritual Exercises and to refresh their prayer life away from the day-to-day demands of the apostolate. The form and content of each Jesuit's retreat varies depending on his particular circumstances, needs and wishes. Reflecting on my own experience in the Society thus far, I can say that each of the eight-day retreats that I have made has been very different - not simply because I made each retreat in a different location and with a different director, but because each retreat came at a distinctly different point in my Jesuit life.

This year, I made my eight-day retreat on the campus of Georgetown University. As I began to make plans for this retreat in the spring, I was acutely conscious that I was entering a time of transition: coming to the end of my philosophy studies at Fordham, I was also preparing for the adventure of regency and my first attempt at university teaching. I also realized that I was approaching a rough halfway point in my initial formation as a Jesuit: as I approach the fifth anniversary of my entrance into the novitiate, I'm also about five years away from the time when (God and the Society willing) I will be ordained to the diaconate in preparation for ordination to the priesthood. Reflecting on these transitions and turning points, I felt the desire to make my retreat at Georgetown, where I first began to discern my Jesuit call.

In part because I was back where it all started, the importance of mentoring and a sense of place in formation and discernment loomed large in my prayerful reflections during my retreat. The still-recent death of Father Tom King cast a shadow over the experience, both on account of the important role that Tom played in my life and in light of the fact that he had actually agreed to direct me on this retreat; though I found much grace and consolation over the course of the eight days, I often wondered what the retreat would have been like if Tom were leading me through it.

As one who regards photography as a contemplative discipline, I typically take a lot of pictures while I'm on retreat. The above five images are perhaps my favorite of the more than two-hundred photographs I took during my retreat at Georgetown; I'm not sure that I can explain why I chose these particular photos as my favorites, except to say that the elements of light, color and composition in each capture my attention as much now as they did when I took them. I also take delight in some of the small details in each photo, like the two birds circling over Healy (second photo) and the chipped paint and window-unit air conditioners on the dormers of Maguire Hall (fourth photo). I'll leave it to interested readers to notice any common qualities that bind the five images into a cohesive set. At the very least, I hope that these photos may be taken as a creative expression of my gratitude to God for a fine retreat. AMDG.

The last of the last.

I completed my eight-day retreat on July 28th, which happened to be the 95th anniversary of the start of the First World War. This anniversary came just three days after the death at age 111 of Private Harry Patch, the last living veteran of the war to have fought in the trenches of the Western Front. Celebrated last year as one of Britain's last remaining veterans of the Great War, Patch died a week after fellow British veteran Henry Allingham, making 108-year-old Royal Navy veteran Claude Choules the last living person to have served in the British armed services during the war. Choules is also one of only three surviving veterans of the Great War in the world, the others being American Frank Buckles and Canadian John Babcock.

As I've noted before - in fact, as I've noted multiple times - a clear though barely perceptible shift in historical understanding occurs whenever the last living participant in (or witness to) some major event passes away. As I pray for the repose of the soul of Harry Patch, I also pray that the living will pay close attention to his story and the stories of the other Great War veterans labeled by one website as "the last of the last," a handful of survivors who lived long enough to teach the youth of the 21st century about a conflict that shaped the lives of their great-grandparents. May the living continue to learn from Harry Patch and his comrades, and may their memory be eternal. AMDG.

Monday, July 20, 2009

On retreat.

I'm about to start my annual eight-day retreat and would welcome and appreciate your prayers. I will not be posting anything on this blog during the retreat, though I will check my e-mail each day and moderate any new comments. As I enter into relative silence, I'll leave you to meditate upon this passage from Book IX of St. Augustine's Confessions:
Imagine a man in whom the tumult of the flesh goes silent, in whom the images of earth, of water, of air and of the skies cease to resound. His soul turns quiet and, self-reflecting no longer, it transcends itself. Dreams and visions end. So too does all speech and every gesture, everything in fact which comes to be only to pass away. All these things cry out: "We did not make ourselves. It is the Eternal One who made us." And after they have said this, think of them falling silent, turning to listen to the One Who created them. And imagine Him speaking. Speaking Himself, so that we could hear His word, not in the language of the flesh, not through the speech of an angel, not by way of a rattling cloud or a mysterious parable. But Himself. The One Whom we love in everything. Imagine we could hear Him without them. Reaching out with speeding thought we come to Him, to the Eternal Wisdom which outlasts everything. And imagine if sight of Him were kept available, while all lesser sights were taken away. Think of this encounter, seizing, absorbing, drawing the witness into the depths of joy. Eternal life would be of a kind with this moment of understanding.
Once again, I welcome and appreciate your prayers this week; please know that I will be praying for you as well. AMDG.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Notes on the Memorial of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

Today is my mother's birthday (happy birthday, Mom!) as well as the Memorial of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, patronal feast of the Carmelite Order. Though they fall on the same day, I've never drawn any connection between these two events; my mother has done many things in her life, but I think that she has yet to meet any Carmelites. My years in the Society have afforded me a few fleeting encounters with followers of the Carmelite charism; today's memorial gives me an opportunity to reflect upon some of these experiences.

While I was living at Santa Clara University as a first-year novice on experiment, I occasionally attended Mass with the Discalced Carmelite Nuns at the Carmel of the Infant Jesus a few blocks from campus. During one of these visits I took the above photos of the Carmelites' chapel; the tombs visible in the bottom photo are those of an early benefactor of the Carmelite foundation in Santa Clara, Alice Phelan Sullivan, and of the community's first prioress, Mother Agnes of Jesus (who also happened to be Alice Phelan Sullivan's daughter). You can read about my experience celebrating Easter at this Carmel in a post from my old weblog. When I was back in Santa Clara two summers ago, I saw another side of the Carmel of the Infant Jesus when I attended the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom offered under the auspices of St. Volodymyr Ukrainian Catholic Mission, which gathers every Sunday in the Santa Clara Carmelites' chapel. A Jesuit who began attending the Divine Liturgy as an undergraduate at Santa Clara in the mid-1970s told me that this arrangement has continued amicably for nearly four decades, making the Carmel of the Infant Jesus in Santa Clara a rare place where the Church really breathes with both lungs.

In one form or another, the Carmelite charism has appeared in many of the places that I've visited as a Jesuit. On this date in 2006, I enjoyed a memorable meal at a French Carmelite restaurant in Lima where dinner service concluded with an Ave Maria and a painting of Our Lady of Mount Carmel cast a protective eye over the dining room. During summer villa at Omena, I once attended Sunday Mass at a Discalced Carmelite monastery in Traverse City (this Carmel seems to attract a lot of visitors, as a fair number of Internet searches have led to my post mentioning the place). During my three years in New York I lived a couple of blocks from a church called Our Lady of Mount Carmel, though the parish has always been served by diocesan priests and has no absolutely connection with the Carmelite Order. My former community of Ciszek Hall has a Carmelite connection of sorts, inasmuch as Father Walter Ciszek was a friend and patron of the Byzantine Discalced Carmelite Nuns at Holy Annunciation Monastery in Sugarloaf, Pennsylvania. Philadelphia has a Discalced Carmelite monastery of its own, though I have yet to visit the place.

I offer prayers and good wishes to all for whom this is a special day, particularly members of the Carmelite family. On top of that, I'm offering my own special prayers for my mother on her birthday - once again, Mom, have a very happy birthday! AMDG.

One small step, forty years later.

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 11, the first manned mission to land on the Moon. NASA has a special website commemorating the anniversary, which has also begun to attract considerable media attention in the form of "where were you when..." items, updates on the Apollo 11 astronauts and editorial analyses of the present and future status of human space exploration.

Among the various Apollo 11 anniversary items that have caught my eye this week was a short post on the Boston Globe website discussing Apollo Through the Eyes of the Astronauts, a book of photographs taken by NASA astronauts during the six lunar landings made between 1969 and 1972. Used to illustrate the Globe post about the book, the above photograph was taken by Lunar Module Pilot Charles M. Duke, Jr. during the Apollo 16 moon landing in April 1972; the item in the center of the image is a snapshot of Duke's family, though at first glance I almost mistook it for a holy card.

More than any editorial analysis, the above image of an intimate human keepsake on the lunar surface offers a profound commentary on the "giant leap for mankind" that we celebrate this week. The Apollo 11 moon mission might be regarded as a product of the eternal human longing to expand the frontiers of knowledge, grasping that which once seemed beyond our reach and coming to know that which once seemed mysterious to us. An integral part of this quest for knowledge has been the desire to leave some human imprint on that which we find, as the Apollo astronauts very literally when they walked on the surface of the Moon.

With our creative drive and thirst for knowledge, we human beings possess a remarkable ability to leave a mark not simply on the world (and the cosmos) that we inhabit. Given all that we can do, we can easily be tempted to see ourselves as masters of creation and not merely as responsible stewards. As we celebrate the great achievements of the Apollo space program, I pray that we may also humbly acknowledge the limits and responsibilities that come along with the great abilities that we possess. AMDG.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Whispers: Newman beatification set for May 2010.

Rocco Palmo of Whispers in the Loggia offers the happy news that the beatification of John Henry Newman has apparently been scheduled for May of next year. An anonymous (but presumably reliable) source cited in a Catholic News Service story suggests that Newman will be beatified at the Birmingham Oratory on May 2, 2010. Once an official announcement has been made, further details on the ceremony will presumably be posted on the Newman Cause website. Having followed Cardinal Newman's cause with great interest and enthusiasm, I hope that today's reports are accurate. I also look forward to hearing what Deacon Jack Sullivan may have to say when the date of Newman's beatification is confirmed. AMDG.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Le quatorze juillet.

As an unabashed and unrepentant Francophile, it is my pleasure to acknowledge today the 220th anniversary of the Storming of the Bastille. Though I'm happy to endorse the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity, I'll admit that some of the events of the French Revolution were inimical to these principles. Many people suffered in the years following 1789, and many lives were lost (including those of thousands of Catholic priests and religious who suffered religious persecution meted out by the new government). Just as one can proudly celebrate the Fourth of July without endorsing everything that the United States government has ever done, one can proudly celebrate Bastille Day without embracing all of the consequences of the French Revolution.

As Paul Brian Campbell suggests on his blog People for Others, today's holiday provides an opportunity to give thanks for the considerable contributions that the French nation and French culture have made to the good of humankind. You can take my word on this, or you can read what Pope John Paul II had to say to President Jacques Chirac on the occasion of a papal pilgrimage to Lourdes in August 2004:
I joyfully recall my previous visits to France and gladly take this opportunity to pay homage to the great patrimony of culture and faith which have marked her history. I cannot fail to mention the great Saints who came from this land, the outstanding masters of Christian thought, the schools of spirituality and the many missionaries who left their homeland in order to carry throughout the world the message of Christ the Lord. And I look with confidence to the Christian community of today, which generously takes up the call to enrich our own times with the wisdom and hope that come from the Gospel.

With respect for the responsibilities and competences of all, the Catholic Church desires to offer society a specific contribution toward the building of a world in which the great ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity can form the basis of social life, in the tireless pursuit and promotion of the common good.
This Bastille Day, I pray for God's blessings upon the people of France. As they remember and celebrate their history, I pray that they may also heed the call to work for a better future for themselves and for all the world. Vive la France! AMDG.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

A Pennsylvania Fourth.

On Saturday, I celebrated the Fourth of July by joining a couple of other Jesuits for fireworks in suburban Narberth, a short drive from the SJU campus. Given that I live in Philadelphia, some readers may wonder why I didn't join in the massive holiday festivities downtown - after all, you might say, how could I pass up the opportunity to celebrate Independence Day in the city where it all started? The answer is very simple. As I wrote in a Fourth of July post two years ago, I've always regarded Independence Day as a small-town affair. The prospect of celebrating the Fourth in the midst of a major metropolis holds no appeal for me; my template for Fourth of July celebrations remains the beachfront fireworks display of my Massachusetts childhood. Narberth is far from any beach, but it does provide the sort of small-town atmosphere that I associate with Independence Day.

Some of my experience of Narberth's Independence Day celebration is captured in the above images, which represent my first attempt to photograph fireworks with a digital camera. I'm generally very pleased with the results, though I'm hard-pressed to explain the odd band of light in the lower left-hand corner of the fourth photo. On the whole, I had a very fine Independence Day in Narberth and would be happy to celebrate the Fourth there in the future. I hope that all readers who celebrated U.S. Independence Day this past weekend enjoyed themselves as much as I did. AMDG.