Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Beati mortui qui in Domino moriuntur.

Today is the first anniversary of the death of Father Thomas Mulvihill King. I've written about Father King and his role in my life a number of times; for now, I'll simply direct your attention to one post written a few days after his passing. A year after the day on which Father King entered into eternal life, I ask you to join me in praying for his blessed repose. May the Lord grant eternal rest unto his servant, the priest Thomas, and may his memory be eternal.

I'll be making my annual eight-day retreat starting tomorrow morning, so I also ask you to pray for me and my fellow retreatants. Please know, too, of my prayers during the retreat for you and for all who read these words. AMDG.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Jesuit subcultures.

Two years ago this month, I spent a few days in the Netherlands on the way to and from Jerusalem. At the conclusion of my stay in a large Jesuit community in Nijmegen, I was given an interesting parting gift: a set of postcards illustrated with photos of the Jesuit residence, which happened to be a grand and not-unattractive building constructed in the early 20th century. Most of the cards in the set showcased aesthetically or architecturally significant elements of the building and its grounds - the old high altar in the domestic chapel, details of a large mural in the refectory, a well-kept garden surrounding a fountain - but one card depicted one of the truly unexceptional aspects of the place: the refectory napkin box, which was nothing more than a grid of identically-sized wooden cubbyholes providing space for each member of the community to store the cloth napkin he used during meals. Napkin boxes like this one are a standard element of Jesuit domestic architecture: one can find them in Jesuit residences across the globe, regardless of differences in local culture or custom. This isn't to say that every Jesuit house has such a napkin box - indeed, I've come across a few communities that eschew cloth napkins altogether - but enough of them do have them to give the image of the Jesuit napkin box a sort of universality within the unique and distinctive global culture that is the Society of Jesus.

Jesuit communities come in all shapes and sizes. To some extent, Jesuit houses throughout the world are are all alike: they are all bound by certain norms and rules pertaining to the universal Society, and all are peopled by men who have been formed by a shared tradition. In another sense, however, all Jesuit houses are unique: the practices common to all Jesuit communities are invariably supplemented by purely local customs (which may be 'local' insofar as they apply to all the houses in a province or region, or may also be unique to a particular house), while the culture of each house is perceptibly affected by the individual and collective traits of the individual Jesuits who live there.

To be a Jesuit is to belong to a universal culture. Despite differences in national and social origin as well as ideology and personality, all Jesuits are united by certain shared experiences and common customs. The Exercises, the Constitutions and our public vows are part of what holds us together, but so is the oral tradition of the Society - the inherited attitudes, practices and pastimes that have been passed from generation to generation within the context of community life. Some of what has been passed down as distinctively Jesuit differs from place to place - each Jesuit province has its own culture, as does each apostolate and each community. The existence of these differences makes it possible to speak of Jesuit subcultures, which overlap with one another and coexist within the universal culture of the Society.

All of this has been on my mind lately on account of the travel that I've been doing and will do in the coming weeks. Spending a week in Chicago and a weekend in Milwaukee offered many vivid reminders of the differences in the culture of different Jesuit provinces, partly as the experience gave me an opportunity to spend a lot of time with Jesuits from three Midwestern provinces (Chicago, Detroit and Wisconsin) and to reflect on what makes each province unique. Returning to Philadelphia, I also returned to another province (Maryland) with a distinctive ethos of its own. When I arrive in Innsbruck in early July, I'm sure that I'll find a mix of the strange and the familiar as I immerse myself in the culture of the Austrian Province of the Society of Jesus.

If it may be said that each Jesuit province has its own unique culture, the same may also be said of Jesuit communities associated with particular kinds of apostolates. Individual 'university' communities often have a lot in common with other 'university' communities, even if those communities are located in different provinces or countries. The same might be said of high school communities, or parish communities, or communities attached to retreat houses. Between the unique subculture of each province and the universal culture of the Society, one might speak also of other subcultures that cross national and provincial lines.

The above reflections might seem a bit vague, partly because I've had to write in haste and haven't had the time to provide illustrative examples that might clarify what I'm trying to say. I suspect that a lot of what I've written above might also have an 'inside baseball' character that might bemuse readers outside the Society of Jesus. My hope is to write more on this topic at a later date; for now, I simply wanted to present some initial thoughts that may be of interest to a few readers. If you're one of the interested few, please be patient and stay tuned. To the rest, please accept my thanks for your patient indulgence. AMDG.

Monday, June 14, 2010

On the move.

Though I'm not traveling at this exact moment, I may be said to be "on the road." Having flown from Philadelphia to Chicago last Wednesday, I spent Thursday through at a gathering of approximately four hundred Jesuits from the Chicago, Detroit and Wisconsin Provinces, very graciously hosted and housed by Marquette University in Milwaukee. On Friday evening, we celebrated the ordination to the priesthood of six of our own: Jim Ackerman, Michael Christiana, Mark Luedtke, Tom Neitzke, Paul O'Connor, and Richard Ross. Please join me in praying for these men as they begin their priestly ministry, and please remember to continue praying for vocations to the Society of Jesus and for Jesuit scholastics preparing for ordination.

All this week I'll be in Chicago, enjoying a visit to my home province and attempting to complete the syllabi for my fall courses. As it happens, my initial arrival here coincided with the Chicago Blackhawks' victory over the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals, which understandably led some Jesuits to ask me which of the two teams I'd been rooting for. (You're welcome to speculate about my answer, which I shall not reveal online; all that I'm willing to say is that I'm glad to have been away from Philly when the Flyers lost, as I'm sure that their defeat led to much weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.)

It was also here in Chicago that I first read the welcome news that Yannick Nézet-Séguin has been named the eighth music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Long regarded as one of the finest classical ensembles in the United States, the Philadelphia Orchestra has lately suffered from financial woes and a serious leadership vacuum. For several years, the Philadelphians have been seeking a new music director who can provide credible artistic leadership as well as a dynamic public face for the ensemble. 35-year-old Montrealer Yannick Nézet-Séguin seems to be the right kind of maestro for Philadelphia, combining youthful energy and charisma with an impressive interpretive range and sensitivity to the orchestra's proud tradition. I heard the Philadelphia Orchestra under Nézet-Séguin's direction in a concert last December and came away very favorably impressed; I'm optimistic about this new artistic partnership, though I regret the fact that Nézet-Séguin won't officially take the reins until after I've finished regency.

I may or may not have the opportunity to post again before I return to Philadelphia on Saturday. Please pray for me (and my students!) as I seek to put the finishing touches on my fall courses, and please know of my prayers and best wishes for all readers. AMDG.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Corpus Christi.

Corpus Christi procession in Amsterdam, June 2007 (source).

While admitting at the outset that exactly when Corpus Christi should be celebrated is a point of contention - traditionally observed on the Thursday following Trinity Sunday, it is now typically transferred to the following Sunday - I would like to offer some words on this feast. In particular, I would like to invite your prayerful reflection on one of the most important liturgical texts of the day, the sequence Lauda Sion, which St. Thomas Aquinas composed for Corpus Christi shortly after Pope Urban IV prescribed the celebration of the feast throughout the Latin Church. Meant to be intoned immediately before the proclamation of the Gospel, this sequence has remained a part of the liturgy to this very day, though I suspect that relatively few contemporary Roman Catholics have the opportunity to hear it sung during Mass. With apologies for the great length, here is the text in the original Latin followed by a loose but poetic English translation:

Lauda Sion Salvatórem
Lauda ducem et pastórem
In hymnis et cánticis.

Quantum potes, tantum aude:
Quia major omni laude,
Nec laudáre súfficis.

Laudis thema speciális,
Panis vivus et vitális,
Hódie propónitur.

Quem in sacræ mensa cœnæ,
Turbæ fratrum duodénæ
Datum non ambígitur.

Sit laus plena, sit sonóra,
Sit jucúnda, sit decóra
Mentis jubilátio.

Dies enim solémnis ágitur,
In qua mensæ prima recólitur
Hujus institútio.

In hac mensa novi Regis,
Novum Pascha novæ legis,
Phase vetus términat.

Vetustátem nóvitas,
Umbram fugat véritas,
Noctem lux elíminat.

Quod in cœna Christus gessit,
Faciéndum hoc expréssit
In sui memóriam.

Docti sacris institútis,
Panem, vinum, in salútis
Consecrámus hóstiam.

Dogma datur Christiánis,
Quod in carnem transit panis,
Et vinum in sánguinem.

Quod non capis, quod non vides,
Animósa firmat fides,
Præter rerum ordinem.

Sub divérsis speciébus,
Signis tantum, et non rebus,
Latent res exímiæ.

Caro cibus, sanguis potus:
Manet tamen Christus totus,
Sub utráque spécie.

A suménte non concísus,
Non confráctus, non divísus:
Integer accípitur.

Sumit unus, sumunt mille:
Quantum isti, tantum ille:
Nec sumptus consúmitur.

Sumunt boni, sumunt mali:
Sorte tamen inæquáli,
Vitæ vel intéritus.

Mors est malis, vita bonis:
Vide paris sumptiónis
Quam sit dispar éxitus.

Fracto demum Sacraménto,
Ne vacílles, sed memento,
Tantum esse sub fragménto,
Quantum toto tégitur.

Nulla rei fit scissúra:
Signi tantum fit fractúra:
Qua nec status nec statúra
Signáti minúitur.

Ecce panis Angelórum,
Factus cibus viatórum:
Vere panis fíliórum,
Non mittendus cánibus.

In figúris præsignátur,
Cum Isaac immolátur:
Agnus paschæ deputátur
Datur manna pátribus.

Bone pastor, panis vere,
Jesu, nostri miserére:
Tu nos pasce, nos tuére:
Tu nos bona fac vidére
In terra vivéntium.

Tu, qui cuncta scis et vales:
Qui nos pascis hic mortales:
Tuos ibi commensáles,
Cohærédes et sodales,
Fac sanctórum cívium.
Amen. Allelúja.


Sion, lift thy voice and sing;
Praise thy Savior and thy King;
Praise with hymns thy Shepherd true.

Strive thy best to praise Him well,
Yet doth He all praise excel;
None can ever reach His due.

See today before us laid
The living and life-giving Bread,
Theme for praise and joy profound.

The same which at the sacred board
Was by our Incarnate Lord,
Giv'n to His apostles round.

Let the praise be loud and high;
Sweet and tranquil be the joy
Felt today in every breast;

On this festival divine,
Whih records the origin
Of the glorious Eucharist.

On this table of the King,
Our new paschal offering
Brings to end the olden rite.

Here, for empty shadows fled,
Is reality instead;
Here, instead of darkness, light.

His own act, at supper seated,
Christ ordained to be repeated
In His memory divine;

Wherefore now, with adoration
We the Host of our salvation
Consecrate from bread and wine.

Hear what holy Church maintaineth,
That the bread its substance changeth
Into flesh, the wine to blood.

Doth it pass thy comprehending?
Faith, the law of sight transcending,
Leaps to things not understood.

Here, beneath these signs are hidden
Priceless things, to sense forbidden;
Signs, not things, are all we see:

Flesh from bread, and blood from wine,
Yet it is Christ in either sign
All entire, confessed to be.

They too who of Him partake,
Sever not, or rend, nor break,
But entire their Lord receive.

Whether one or thousands eat,
All receive the selfsame meat,
Nor the less for others leave.

Both the wicked and the good
Eat of this celestial food;
But with ends how opposite!

Here 't is life, and there 't is death,
The same, yet issuing to each,
In a difference infinite.

Nor a single doubt retain,
When they break the host in twain,
But that in each part remain,
What was in the whole before.

Since the simple sign alone
Suffers change in state or form,
The signified remaining one
And the same for evermore.

Lo! upon the altar lies,
Hidden deep from human eyes,
Bread of angels from the skies,
Made the food of mortal man.

Children's meat, to dogs denied:
In old types foresignified:
In the manna heav'n-supplied,
Isaac, and the paschal Lamb.

Jesu! Shepherd of the sheep!
Thou Thy flock in safety keep.
Living Bread! Thy life supply;
Strengthen us, or else we die;
Fill us with celestial grace:

Thou who feedest us below!
Source of all we have or know!
Grant that with Thy saints above,
Sitting at the feast of love,
We may see Thee face to face.
Amen. Alleluia.

If you compare this English rendering of Lauda Sion with a more literal translation, you may see why I chose eloquence over strict accuracy in this instance. For me, verses like "Doth it pass thy comprehending? / Faith, the law of sight transcending, / Leaps to things not understood," have a more pleasing ring than "What you do not understand, / what you do not see, / a lively faith confirms / in a supernatural manner." Then again, a seasoned Latinist might reply that the elegant simplicity of the original text is hard to replicate in any translation. In the end, though, academic questions like these matter little when one considers the message of St. Thomas' text and of the feast for which it was written. In offering us his own body and blood under the appearance of bread and wine, Jesus Christ offers us the very food of salvation - a source of spiritual sustenance which, we hope, will enable us to become companions of the saints and finally "see Thee face to face."

Belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist has been a spiritual stumbling block for many. This should hardly surprise us, particularly given the reaction that Jesus receives in John's Gospel when he tells his listeners in the synagogue at Capernaum that his flesh and blood would be the food of everlasting life. "This is a hard saying," some of the disciples murmur, "who can accept it?" The meaning of the Christ's presence in the Eucharist has long been debated by church leaders and theologians, but it has also been a source of consternation for everyday Christians. I was reminded of this a few years ago when I taught religious education classes to middle-schoolers. The students in my class had all made their First Communion, so I took it for granted that they had already received some basic instruction about the Eucharist. Nevertheless, many expressed a kind of shock when I began to teach them about the Real Presence - for the most part, they weren't so much skeptical or disbelieving as they were unsure about what receiving the body and blood of Christ should mean for them in their own lives. In other words, they were unsure about how the change in the bread and wine offered at Mass was meant to change them as followers of Christ.

Thinking about these matters, I can't help but recall some deeply challenging words that I once heard from the liturgical theologian Father Robert Taft in a talk given last year at St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary in New York. Here is a bit of what Father Taft had to say:
. . . the point of liturgy is that we are supposed to become what we celebrate. The purpose of the Eucharist isn’t to change bread and wine into Jesus Christ, it’s to change you and me into Jesus Christ – that’s what it’s all about. We are supposed to become the word of comfort and forgiveness, we are supposed to become the bread of life for the world, we are supposed to become the healing oil – and by 'we,' I don’t mean just the ordained, [but] all Christians. . . .

. . . What we do in church is simply the initiation into, and the feeding, and the restoration, if it’s lost by sin, and the intensification through preaching and the sacraments of what we’re supposed to be. If we don’t become it, we might as well stay in bed on Sunday morning, because what we’re doing is just a comedy.

We who believe that Christ is truly present in the Eucharist that we so regularly (and, perhaps, nonchalantly) receive would do well to reflect on Father Taft's words. As we receive Christ in the form of the "life-giving bread" that promises to "fill us with celestial grace," are we truly open to the transforming change that the Eucharist is intended to bring about in our lives? Are we really willing to "become what we celebrate"? If not, why not? In what ways do we resist being more fully open to the mystery commemorated by the Feast of Corpus Christi? How can we make the effects of our sharing in Christ's body and blood more visible in our day-to-day lives? AMDG.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

South Coast cuisine.

I've been away from Philadelphia since Pentecost Monday, enjoying visits to my family in Southeastern Massachusetts and to friends in Montreal. On Monday, I will return to Philly to begin a summer full of movement. First, I'll head to Milwaukee for tri-province days (the 'tri-' indicating the fact that, for the first time, the Wisconsin Province Jesuits will be joining with Chicago and Detroit for the event). After a week in Chicago, I'll fly back to Philadelphia and take a breather before driving down to Southern Maryland for my eight-day retreat. The day after I finish the retreat, I'll be flying to Austria for six weeks of German language study at the University of Innsbruck. Though I'm sure that I'll have to deal with my own fair share of fatigue, frustration and disorientation over the course of the summer, I take some comfort in the words of Father Jerónimo Nadal, an early Jesuit, who once wrote of the Society, "Nuestra casa es el mundo" - "The world is our house." This was true in Father Nadal's day, when the demands of the Society's universal mission pushed Jesuits to transcend national and cultural boundaries, and it's just as true of Jesuits today.

Though we are called to be men on the move, each Jesuit also remains rooted in the particular cultural and social context that helped to shape his personal identity. The days that I've spent visiting my family in Southeastern Massachusetts have given me an opportunity to reconnect with my own roots, which in part means that I've been visiting familiar places and enjoying local products that can't be easily obtained elsewhere. The edibles that I miss the most when I'm away from home include homemade dishes (my mother's kale soup, my father's American chop suey) and specialties commonly found in local restaurants (such as stuffed quahogs, crunchy brown-battered fish n' chips, and a variety of fried rice that, in my experience, is unique to New Bedford-area Chinese restaurants - it's darker, drier and not as greasy as run-of-the-mill fried rice). Then there are the name-brand products that I grew up with, including Gaspar's linguiça, Autocrat coffee syrup (used to produce coffee milk, another local delicacy) and Hoo-Mee Chow Mein; though all of these products are impossible to find in supermarkets outside of Southern New England, they are available to the South Coast diaspora thanks to Famous Foods, a New Bedford-based mail order company that specializes in New England comfort food.

Though many of the foods that I associate with my native region are made and consumed at home, there are certain local restaurants that I always enjoy returning to. One of these is Chuck's China Inn, a place my brother and I sometimes visit for lunch when I'm home. A fixture of the New Bedford dining scene for nearly half a century, Chuck's China Inn is a relic of a bygone era - a large sit-down Chinese restaurant with table service, notable for its imported Qing Dynasty decor (including elaborately-carved ceilings and wall-sculptures, lots of gold dragons and red brocade fabrics and an indoor coin fountain). Though the restaurant's original interior thankfully remains largely intact, my impression is that Chuck's currently does most of its business as a takeout place. Keeping up with changing times, the restaurant also offers free delivery within a five-mile radius and has experimented with drive-thru pickup. Holding on to popular menu items like its signature chow mein sandwich - a local staple in its own right - Chuck's also seeks to keep its menu fresh by offering unique new dishes (like its 'Portuguese' wontons, stuffed with ground linguiça) and surprising specials like poutine (an odd choice for a Chinese restaurant, perhaps, but also a shrewd nod to New Bedford's French Canadian heritage).

Another South Coast establishment that I try to visit whenever I can is Mattapoisett's Oxford Creamery. A cottage-sized eatery serving fresh seafood, ice cream and little else, Oxford Creamery provides superlative quality at generally fair prices. The fact that the Creamery is only open seasonally adds to its mystique: though open for limited hours in the spring, it's basically a summer place. If, at other times of the year, I sometimes find myself pining for the first lobster roll of the summer at Oxford Creamery, I do so with an awareness that what I'm pining for is precisely a summer experience. In other words, the peculiar temporality of the Oxford Creamery experience is a part of its appeal. The fact that Oxford Creamery isn't open year-round makes me particularly glad that I'm often able to get home at times when the place is open for business. More importantly, though, I'm grateful for the opportunity to return to my roots and to spend time with my family at the start of a busy summer. AMDG.