Friday, August 28, 2009

Goodbye, Ted.

From the Associated Press, a report on the funeral procession that yesterday bore the body of Senator Edward M. Kennedy from Hyannis Port to Boston:
His life's journey ended, the body of Sen. Edward Kennedy traveled by motorcade Thursday from the family compound where he spent his last days, past the building where he opened his first office to the presidential library named for his slain brother.

Thousands of mourners assembled along the 70-mile route, gathering to bid farewell to the last of the famed Kennedy brothers and mark the end of a national political chapter that was both triumphant and tragic.

For many, it was hard to untangle Kennedy's larger-than-life role as a statesman from his role as neighbor and local celebrity, whether he was taking a turn conducting the Boston Pops or throwing out the first pitch for the Red Sox.

"It was Teddy's home team. It just seemed appropriate to leave him the cap," said James Jenner, 28, placing a Red Sox cap he was wearing near the entrance to the library. "It symbolizes everything that he loved about his home state and everything he was outside the Senate."
From the Boston Globe, similar sentiments:
Yesterday's procession, for all its grandeur and scope, seemed to captivate the region because many knew Kennedy not as an exalted senator and powerful statesman, bellowing on the national stage, but as an intimate figure who frequented their neighborhoods, knew their names, and exuded an uncommon compassion, especially in private moments.

"We're his family," said Teresa Antonelli, 82, who watched the senator's hearse pass through the North End and who carried a plastic bag with a framed photograph of Kennedy with her son.

"We loved him so much," she said, her voice breaking. "We'll miss him so much."
The Cape Cod Times quotes some Cape residents who turned out to say goodbye to their longtime neighbor as he left the Cape for the last time:
At the intersection of Bearse's Way and Route 132 [in Hyannis], hundreds of people lined the street, some waiting more than two hours to catch a glimpse of the motorcade.

Ava Pothier, who set up her chair in front of the Cape Codder Resort & Spa, remembered her grandmother crying when she heard that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated. At the news of Sen. Kennedy's passing, she felt the same devastation, she said.

"I couldn't leave my house. I cried all day, don't know why, just because they've been with us all our lives," said Pothier, of Harwich. "It's just a weird thing, I don't know. I feel a connection. I feel a loss, too."

Wendy Higgins of Marstons Mills brought her two daughters, ages 6 and 7, and two other young family members to watch the procession. While the girls admitted they did not know what was happening, Higgins hopes someday they will.

"Later in life, they'll learn about it and understand it and they can say that they were a part of it," she said.
Later in the same Cape Cod Times article comes this tribute, which moved me more than anything else I've read in articles covering Senator Kennedy's death:
Linda Thomas of Ringwood, N.J., stood stoically, holding her daughter Marisa's wheelchair in place and grasping a simple cardboard sign that read "Thank You" in big black letters. Marisa has cerebral palsy and is blind. Thomas was on the Cape visiting relatives when she heard about the senator's death.

"We wanted to see Mr. Kennedy go by and to say thank you for the Americans with Disabilities Act," Thomas said. "Both he and his family did so much good for people with disabilities. (Marisa's) emblematic of the type of person they helped."
Thank you, Ted. We'll miss you. AMDG.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The last of three.

United States Senator Edward Moore Kennedy died last night at the age of 77. Whatever you thought of the man or his politics, you have to admit that this is an event of extraordinary cultural significance. As a Massachusetts native, I felt a great sense of loss in learning of the death of a public servant who has represented the Commonwealth in the United States Senate since my father was in high school. For me, the loss is not simply political but cultural: within the once-dominant Catholic culture of the Bay State, the Kennedys were iconic figures. As a product of that culture, I cannot help but think that an element of our collective identity has been irretrievably lost.

To those who may be tempted to critical comment, I can only repeat the old dictum, De mortuis nil nisi bonum dicendum est. Again, whatever you think of the person or the politician, you should be able to affirm that this is an event of cultural as well as political significance - all the more so, perhaps, if you come (as I do) from a place where culture and politics were once tightly bound together. Requiem aeternam dona ei, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat ei. Requiescat in pace. Amen.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Ad maiorem Dei gloriam.

Whoever desires to serve as a soldier of God beneath the banner of the cross in our Society, which we desire to be designated by the name of Jesus, and to serve the Lord alone and the Church, his spouse, under the Roman pontiff, the vicar of Christ on earth, should, after a solemn vow of perpetual chastity, poverty, and obedience, keep what follows in mind.

He is a member of a Society founded chiefly for this purpose: to strive especially for the defense and propagation of the faith and for the progress of souls in Christian life and doctrine, by means of public preaching, lectures, and any other ministration whatsoever of the word of God, and further by means of the Spiritual Exercises, the education of children and unlettered persons in Christianity, and the spiritual consolation of Christ's faithful through hearing confessions and administering the other sacraments.

Moreover, he should show himself ready to reconcile the estranged, compassionately assist and serve those who are in prisons and hospitals, and indeed to perform any other works of charity, according to what will seem expedient for the glory of God and the common good. Furthermore, he should carry out all these works altogether free of charge and without accepting any salary for the labor expended in all the aforementioned activities.

Still further, let any such person take care, as long as he lives, first of all to keep before his eyes God and then the nature of this Institute which is, so to speak, a pathway to God; and then let him strive with all his effort to achieve this end set before him by God - each one, however, according to the grace which the Holy Spirit has given to him and according to the particular grade of his own vocation.

- From the Formula of the Institute of the Society of Jesus, as confirmed by Pope Julius III in the apostolic letter Exposcit debitum, July 21, 1550.

The end of this Society is to devote itself with God's grace not only to the salvation and perfection of the members' own souls, but also with that same grace to labor strenuously in giving aid toward the salvation and perfection of the souls of their neighbors.

- From Saint Ignatius' General Examen, "which should be proposed to all who ask for admission into the Society of Jesus," Chapter 1, Section [3].

Today marks the fifth anniversary of the date on which I entered the Society of Jesus. Five years isn't much in the grand scheme of things: many Jesuits live to celebrate the fiftieth and sixtieth anniversaries of their entrance into the novitiate, and one Jesuit I know is currently marking his seventy-fifth year in the Society. Nonetheless, this anniversary seems an opportune time for me to give thanks for the special gift of this vocation. Reflecting back on the last five years also reminds me of the odd nature of human memory: I recall some events of my Jesuit life as vividly as if they had just occurred, while others have taken on the same sort of hazy, dream-like quality that I generally associate with memories of early childhood.

Anniversaries aside, this has been a fairly ordinary day. I did some prayer and personal reading in the morning, had an unexceptional lunch with other Jesuits in the community dining room, then spent much of the afternoon revising the syllabi for the courses I'll start teaching in just a few days. In a few minutes, I'll be going back to the community for Mass and dinner. In other words, this day hasn't unfolded any differently for me because it happens to be the anniversary of my entrance into the novitiate.

The ordinariness of this day is quite appropriate, I suppose, as it reminds me that the mission of the Society so heroically described in the Formula of the Institute and the General Examen is most often accomplished in apparently ordinary ways. In joining other Jesuits at table and in preparing to begin teaching, I am making my own humble contribution to the mission for which the Society was founded: working out my own salvation, and giving aid toward the salvation of others. As I give thanks to God for having been given a part in this mission, I give thanks too for the abundant joy and consolation that I have received and continue to receive as I serve beneath the banner of the cross. AMDG.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Teacher, what good deed must I do?

Returning to Philadelphia late last night after two weeks in Michigan, I began my regency in earnest today by taking part in the first of three days' worth of orientation sessions that Saint Joseph's University offers for new faculty. Before heading out the door, I followed what has become my regular weekday practice here by joining two of the priests in my community for an early-morning Mass in a tiny chapel down the hall from my room. As sometimes happens - typically when I'm least expecting it - the Gospel reading appointed for the liturgy (in this case, Matthew 19:16-22) struck me as particularly timely:
And behold, one came up to [Jesus] saying, "Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?" And he said to him, "Why do you ask me about what is good? One there is who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments. He said to him, "Which?" And Jesus said, "'You shall not kill,' 'You shall not commit adultery,' 'You shall not steal,' 'You shall not bear false witness,' 'Honor your father and mother,' and 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'" The young man said to him, "All these I have observed; what do I still lack?" Jesus said to him, "If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come follow me." When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions.
The rich young man's sorrow isn't terribly surprising; after having worked very diligently to fulfill the demands of the Mosaic law, he must have been saddened to learn that the promise of eternal life still seemed to be far from his grasp. The invitation to lay aside one's possessions in order to follow Jesus can be very difficult to accept, but it still remains within reach. On Saturday, I had the great privilege of attending the Mass of Profession of First Vows of three young Jesuits of the Chicago and Detroit Provinces, Andi Hlabse, Jim Riordan and Kyle Roark. Making lifelong pledges of chastity, poverty and obedience, Andi, Jim and Kyle manifested their joyful acceptance of the invitation that Christ offered to the rich young man. All who accept this invitation must also accept the inevitability of sacrifice and struggle - and, perhaps, even a bit of sorrow - but in doing so they also receive the incomparable gifts that come with a life of service. As Andi, Jim, Kyle and other Jesuit vovendi across the United States make the transition from the novitiate to First Studies, I hope that you will join me in praying that God may grant them abundant joy and consolation in the life that they have embraced.

The rich young man's sorrow may give us pause, but his initial question to Jesus - "what good deed must I do?" - should challenge us. Whether our goal is eternal life or ordinary earthly satisfaction, we should all be concerned with doing what is good. This question gets at the heart of ethical inquiry: what, after all, does it really mean to be good? Over the next four months, I'll be pondering the implications of this question with the fifty or so students enrolled in the introductory ethics course that I've been assigned to teach. I hope that I'll be able to help these students see how questions about the good make a difference in their own lives. I hope that each student will, in his or her own way, come to a better understanding of why the answers to such questions may lead one to joy or sorrow. Please pray with me that, with God's help, I may bring the hopes of a new academic year closer to fulfillment. AMDG.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Live from Omena.

Since Monday, I've been relaxing in the company of other Jesuit priests, brothers and scholastics at Villa Marquette in Omena, Michigan. I've spent some time at Omena every summer since I entered the Society, and I always look forward to coming back to visit with my peers in formation and to enjoy a bit of a break before the start of a new academic year. Next week, I head to Detroit to watch the second-year novices profess First Vows; after that, I return to Philadelphia to put the finishing touches on the courses that I will begin teaching at the end of this month.

I tend to do a lot of reading while I'm at Omena, often focusing on particularly long or dense books that I might struggle to complete amid the distractions of daily life during the school year. Two books that fit into this category are Rebecca West's Black Lamb and Grey Falcon and Catherine Pickstock's After Writing, both of which I've been reading this week. An unexpected but very welcome addition to my Omena reading has been Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis, which I recommend without hesitation. As for the other books, I'll refrain from potential comment until I've finished reading them. Until I post again, my prayers and best wishes go out to all readers. AMDG.