Sunday, July 31, 2011

Under the standard of the Cross.

For the second year running, I'm marking the Feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola in the deutsche Sprachraum. Last year on this date, I was in Innsbruck; this year, I'm celebrating our founder's feast day in Munich. My itinerary for this afternoon includes a visit to the tomb of Father Rupert Mayer, seen above in a Nazi-era mug shot.

A German Jesuit who won great affection and respect as a preacher and retreat director in interwar Munich, Rupert Mayer eventually gained an even wider reputation as an outspoken foe of Adolf Hitler. Father Mayer's opposition to National Socialism led to his detention in a concentration camp and later house arrest at a Benedictine monastery; his mug shot is featured above. Father Mayer lived just long enough to see the defeat of Nazism, felled by a stroke a little less than six months after the death of Hitler. Rupert Mayer was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1987, and his grave in the crypt of Munich's Bürgersaalkirche remains a popular shrine and a place of pilgrimage.

After paying my respects to my brother Jesuit Rupert Mayer, I plan to head to the Perlacher Friedhof in southeastern Munich to visit the graves of the three young people seen above: siblings Hans and Sophie Scholl and their friend Christoph Probst, members of an anti-Nazi student group called Die Weiße Rose who were executed in February 1943. Some readers probably know a bit of this story from the 2005 film Sophie Scholl - Die letzten Tage or from other sources; some may also recall that Christoph Probst figured in an earlier post on this blog.

When I told some of the Jesuits in my community in Vienna that my most significant plan for my brief time in Munich was to see the graves of Rupert Mayer, Christoph Probst and the Scholls, one of my companions remarked that the trip sounded like a pilgrimage. In a sense, it is a pilgrimage - and, I believe, a very fitting one for St. Ignatius' Day. To round out this post, here is a prayer attributed to Rupert Mayer, first in the original German and then in my own English translation (not quite word-for-word, but hopefully faithful to the sense of the original; I'll happily accept any critiques and corrections):

Herr, wie Du willst, so will ich geh’n,
Und wie Du willst, soll mir gescheh’n.
Hilf Deinen Willen nur versteh’n.

Herr, wann Du willst, dann ist es Zeit,
Und wann Du willst, bin ich bereit.
Heut und in alle Ewigkeit.

Herr, was Du willst, das nehm’ ich hin,
Und was Du willst, ist mir Gewinn.
Genug, dass ich Dein Eigen bin.

Herr, weil Du's willst, d’rum ist es gut,
Und weil Du's willst, d’rum hab’ ich Mut.
Mein Herz in Deinen Händen ruht.


Lord, what you want for me is what I want,
and what you want is what must happen to me;
Help me only to understand your will.

Lord, when you want is the time,
and when you want, I'll be ready,
today and forever.

Lord, what you want for me is what I'll take,
and whatever you want for me is my gain;
it is enough for me that I am yours.

Lord, because you want it, so it is good;
because you want it, I will have courage,
for my heart rests in your hands.

On this Feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola, may the words of this prayer be our own. AMDG.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Die Sommerpause.

As my time in Vienna winds down – the last session of my German course meets tomorrow morning – I must admit that there is one downside to being here at this time of year: the Sommerpause. The regular season of musical and theatrical performances ends in late June, leaving most of the city’s major concert halls and theaters effectively closed until fall. As much as I would like to attend a concert at the Musikverein or catch a play at the Burgtheater, but I won’t be able to do either during my current stay in Vienna.

Even though the music scene here slows down considerably for the summer, it never grinds to a halt. On my second night in Vienna, I attended the very last performance of the 2010-11 season at the Wiener Staatsoper. The Staatsoper’s presentation of Leoš Janáček’s Kát’a Kabanová was a mixed bag: the orchestra made a much stronger impression than the cast, and the production concept was tolerable (director André Engel transferred the setting of the opera from a nineteenth-century Russian village to a twentieth-century immigrant enclave in New York, with no harm to the story) but poorly realized (the sets looked cheap and flimsy, and the cast often acted as though they hadn’t been given stage directions). In any case, I’m very glad that I was able to get to the Staatsoper during my time here. The above photo captures a curtain call after the performance, as conductor Franz Welser-Möst and the cast file out to take their bows.

Though the Staatsoper and other opera venues like the Volksoper and the Theater an der Wien are shuttered for the summer, one can still hear opera here in July thanks to the Opernwerkstatt Wien, which annually presents a series of staged open-air opera performances during the summer. Early last week, I heard the Opernwerkstatt perform Mozart’s Don Giovanni in the courtyard of the Technische Universität Wien. The above photo offers a sense of the venue; here, the cast performs "Giovinette, che fate all'amore," the wedding song from the first act. Open-air opera has its drawbacks – the acoustics of the courtyard and ambient noise from the surrounding neighborhood sometimes made it difficult to hear the singers – but hearing great music outdoors on a pleasant summer evening was still a lot of fun.

Last Friday, I went to the Dominikanerkirche around the corner for the latest in a series of Kreuzgangkonzerte presented each summer in the historic cloister of the Dominican priory (pictured above). The concert featured a young tenor from Innsbruck, Paul Schweinester, singing Schubert’s song cycle Die schöne Müllerin accompanied by pianist David Lutz. This was my first time hearing Die schöne Müllerin, which was, well, sehr schön – beautiful enough that I plan to add a recording of the cycle to my collection (though regrettably not by Paul Schweinester, who hasn’t yet recorded this piece or much else, but really should).

As noted above, my language studies here are coming to an end. I’ll be lingering in Europe for a few more days – expect an update soon on my weekend travels – before returning to the States late next week. Prayers and good wishes for all. AMDG.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Sic transit gloria mundi.

In my preceding post on Otto von Habsburg's funeral, I promised to write something on the Anklopfzeremonie, which has previously been a part of Habsburg obsequies and may have been performed for the very last time when the former Crown Prince of Austria and Prince Royal of Hungary was laid to rest Saturday evening in the Habsburg family crypt in Vienna's Kapuzinerkirche. The title of this ritual is perhaps most easily rendered in English as the 'Knocking Ceremony,' though the German anklopf conveys a more specific sense of 'knocking on' something, such that a better (albeit wordier) translation might be, 'the Ceremonial Knocking on the Doors.'

As you can see in the above video, the Anklopfzeremonie is fairly straightforward. A Habsburg family representative (in imperial times, I suppose this would have been the Lord Chamberlain) approaches the closed doors of the Kapuzinerkirche and knocks on the door three times. On the other side of the door, the Capuchin friar who serves as custodian of the crypt answers, "Wer begehrt Einlass?" ("Who desires entrance?") In response, the chamberlain reads a long list of the deceased's titles, ranging in this case from erstwhile Crown Prince of Austria-Hungary to Voivode of the Voivodeship of Serbia. The Capuchin answers emphatically, "Wir kennen ihn nicht!" ("We do not know him!") The chamberlain again knocks three times, the Capuchin again asks who wishes to be let in, and the chamberlain responds by again invoking the royal status of the deceased (in Otto's case, this was substituted with a recounting of some of his personal accomplishments, such as his service in the European Parliament). The Capuchin again says, "Wir kennen ihn nicht!" The chamberlain knocks on the door three more times, with the Capuchin again asking who wishes to be let into the church. The chamberlain replies, "Otto – ein sterblicher, sündiger Mensch!" ("Otto, a mortal, sinful man!") The Capuchin answers, "So komme er herein!" ("He may come in!") Only then are the doors opened and the coffin brought into the church.

I first learned of the Anklopfzeremonie several years ago, when I saw video footage of the ritual being performed for Otto's mother Empress Zita, who was interred at the Kapuzinerkirche in April 1989. Among other things, the Anklopfzeremonie bears poignant witness to the transience of our earthly existence and the inescapable nature of the four last things. The Capuchin guardian of the crypt remains unmoved by the announcement of the deceased's earthly titles and honors, opening the door only to those who express humility and repentance. The message of this simple yet powerful ritual is one that we all need to hear, for even the least powerful among us can easily forget that all earthly things are ultimately ephemeral.

Otto von Habsburg was a great statesman and humanitarian, a devout man who used his considerable talents to serve others. Like the rest of us, he was also an imperfect human being and a sinner in need of God's mercy. May we who believe in the power of prayer and the reality of the final judgment remember to pray for God's servant Otto and for all who sleep in Christ. AMDG.

Denn wir haben hier keine bleibende Stadt.

Last Saturday afternoon, I observed a historical coda of sorts as I watched Otto von Habsburg's funeral procession make its way through central Vienna. (For background, consult this post on Otto's death from earlier in the month and this fine obituary from The Economist.) Having spent two years as crown prince before Austria dropped its monarchy in 1918, Otto von Habsburg represented one of the last living links to a European cultural and political milieu that was largely swept away by the First World War. With Otto's death, a vanished world becomes even more distant and inaccessible.

For readers who may be interested, I'm presenting a selection of the photos I took of the Habsburg funeral procession as it passed through the Michaelerplatz near the former imperial place (the Hofburg). Leading the procession was a company of the ceremonial Gardebataillon of the Bundesheer, Austria’s army.

And here comes the Gardebataillon's marching band, playing an appropriate Trauermarsch.

Another shot of the band.

Courtesy of a brother Jesuit who joined me at the Michaelerplatz, here is some video footage showing the army band as well as some of the many civilians who marched in the procession in period uniforms. I'd be curious to know whether any readers can identify the music (I could not).

Most of the 'period uniform' groups in the funeral procession seemed to be made up of historical reenactors, many of whom carried flags or placards identifying the towns or villages from which they came; my impression is that these groups represented historical military units that had actually come from their home communities, showing a devotion to local history that I found very moving.

Some of the aforementioned reenactors.

Members of the Wien Süd-Inzersdorf Chapter of the Österreichische Kameradschaftsbund. The mission of the ÖKB is to help preserve the memory of soldiers who were killed or went missing during wartime; in practice, this mostly means working with the Austrian government to help maintain military graves.

Some groups marching in the procession came from former Habsburg dominions outside Austria. Here, Croatia is represented by members of the Zrinska garda Čakovec in sixteenth-century uniforms.

Marchers from Tyrol in traditional dress.

Some younger members of the Tyrolean contingent.

Members of the Historische Landwehrschützen Wals from Wals-Siezenheim near Salzburg.

Members of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.

I don't know who these women are - in an earlier age, perhaps they would have been described as an order of widows.

The acolytes and clergy who were on the altar during the Requiem Mass at the Stephansdom make their appearance. If you look closely, you may notice that the processional cross is actually being carried by a helmeted soldier from the Bundesheer.

Concelebrants and other priests and clerics who participated in the Requiem walk in the procession.

The Archbishop of Vienna, Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, who served as principal celebrant and homilist at the Requiem Mass.

The coffin bearing the body of the deceased comes into view, escorted by Tiroler Schützen and by members of the Orden vom Goldenen Vlies, a chivalric order closely associated with the Habsburg family.

Another view of the coffin and its attendants.

Karl von Habsburg, Otto's oldest son and heir, walks behind the coffin with his immediate family.

A closer view of Karl von Habsburg, with daughter Eleonore on the left and son Ferdinand Zvonimir on the right.

From the same Jesuit who provided the earlier video of the military band at the start of the procession, here is a short video of the coffin and the Habsburg family.

Otto von Habsburg's funeral drew a number of European royals, including King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia of Sweden (visible in the center of this photo) and Prince Hans-Adam II of Liechtenstein (in the upper right-hand corner, behind the bodyguard with a hand to her ear and the partly-visible man in Tyrolean Tracht).

Towards the end of the procession, here are Munich's senior rabbi Steven Langnas (second from left, in frock coat and bow tie) and the Grand Mufti of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Mustafa Cerić (seventh from left, in red-and-white turban), both of whom offered prayers for Otto von Habsburg at a wake service on Friday.

As soon as the procession had left the Michaelerplatz, my Jesuit companion and I moved as quickly as possible to the Kapuzinerkirche, where Otto would be buried, hoping to be able to see the procession reach its destination. A lot of other people had the same idea; this photo shows the crowd that gathered behind and around us near the Kapuzinerkirche, straining to catch a glimpse of the procession's arrival.

Here, finally, is a photo of the coffin's arrival at the Kapuzinerkirche. It may be hard to tell - the crowd was simply too large for me to get any closer to the church or to get a better shot - but this photo was actually taken during the Anklopfzeremonie, which deserves a post of its own, and gets one here. AMDG.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Weekend milestones.

I marked two personal milestones this past weekend, one being my first trip behind the former Iron Curtain. The above photo was taken in Znojmo, a Czech border town less than two hours by train from Vienna. Znojmo was known during the Kaiserzeit as Znaim and had a German-speaking majority until the end of the First World War, when it became part of the new state of Czechoslovakia and underwent a very dramatic (and, for German-speakers, quite traumatic) transition to being monolithically Czech in language and culture.

Here is a closer look at the Soviet victory monument visible in the background of the first photo. An inscription below this column indicates that the Red Army entered Znojmo on May 9, 1945 - this was the day of liberation, at least as understood by those who built the monument.

For another view of the Soviet impact on Znojmo, consider this memorial dedicated to members of the anti-Communist resistance who died at the hands of the government between 1948 and 1989.

Outside of a bicycle shop in Znojmo, here is the Czech version of a common Slavic family name of which my own surname is a relatively rare variant.

The second milestone I marked this weekend was the experience of seeing Peter Paul Rubens' two paintings depicting the miracles of St. Ignatius of Loyola and St. Francis Xavier, executed in 1617/18 for the high altar of the Jesuitenkerk in Antwerp but now displayed in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. These monumental works are very familiar to Jesuits - reproductions are displayed in many Jesuit communities - but seeing them in person was still quite moving.

I spent some time seated before each of the two paintings, contemplating them as prayerfully as I might if they were still displayed in a church. Both canvases are a bit overwhelming - one can't take them all in at once, and one can easily get sufficiently distracted by the details of each so as to lose a sense of the whole - but I suppose that sensory overload is what Rubens was going for.

One of the things that I most enjoy about visiting places like the Kunsthistorisches Museum is the delight of discovering works of art that are entirely new to me - works like sixteenth-century Italian painter Marcello Venusti's Madonna del Silenzio, pictured above. What I like about this painting is the strikingly natural but still very creative manner in which each of the figures is presented. The Child Jesus sleeps in the way that small children often do when they've been tired out by a day full of activity, passed out on his mother's lap with his arms flung over her legs. Mary's legs are crossed in a fashion that is almost surprisingly relaxed and informal; the book in her right hand recalls many traditional depictions of the Annunciation. In the background, Joseph broods pensively while a young John the Baptist (already clad in animal skins!) bids the viewer to remain silent.

This final photo is connected neither with the weekend nor with any particular milestone. For yesterday's Feast of St. Benedict of Nursia, I attended Vespers and Mass at the Schottenstift, a Benedictine abbey in the center of Vienna. The Schottenstift was founded in 1155 by missionary monks from Ireland (then considered part of Scotland, hence the Schotten- in the abbey's name), who came to Vienna at the invitation of the Austrian ruler Margrave Heinrich II. Today, the monks of the community run a parish and a school and help preserve the longstanding monastic presence in the heart of the city.

Language study is keeping me very occupied, but I do hope to post another update on this blog later in the week. In the meantime, please know of my prayers and good wishes. AMDG.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Der Kaiser ist tot.

The above photo was taken nearly a century ago. The octogenarian Franz Joseph I, Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary, sits with his great-great-nephew Otto. Franz Joseph had ascended the throne at the age of eighteen in December 1848, when his uncle Emperor Ferdinand I abdicated in hopes of quieting the popular unrest that had reached Vienna in Europe's "Year of Revolution." Personal tragedy and the specter of revolution were two constants of Franz Joseph's long reign: his only son committed suicide in 1889, his wife was killed by an Italian anarchist in 1898, and the murder of his nephew and presumptive heir in Sarajevo in June 1914 led directly to the start of the First World War. In spite of all this, as Franz Joseph sat for this portrait he may perhaps have nourished the hope that the young Otto would someday lead his country in more peaceful times.

The young boy in this picture, Archduke Otto von Habsburg, died yesterday at the age of 98 after a truly remarkable life. Having been Crown Prince during the brief reign of his father, Emperor Karl I, Otto was forced into exile with his family and formally banished from his homeland at the age of six. As the prospects of a restored Habsburg monarchy grew dimmer and dimmer, Otto made a happy and successful new life for himself as a journalist and public lecturer and ultimately (and perhaps most remarkably) as a democratic politician, represting Bavaria in the European Parliament for twenty years. Otto von Habsburg became one of Europe's great statesmen, a vigorous advocate for European economic and political integration and an articulate champion of the continent's Christian heritage.

Numerous tributes to Otto von Habsburg have been published in the international press over the past two days; one that particularly caught my attention is this editorial from the Salzburger Nachrichten, entitled "Otto Habsburg - Der Kaiser ist tot" (Otto Habsburg - The Kaiser is dead). Here are some excerpts, in my own loose and admittedly imperfect translation:
Only now is the Empire really history. The Republic has made its peace with the Habsburgs.

There is a picture of Otto Habsburg from the year 1914. The two-year-old sits in a white dress on the lap of his great-great uncle, Emperor Franz Joseph, with his father, who later became Emperor Karl, standing in the background. With his lifetime of almost 100 years, Otto von Habsburg was the last direct connection to the Danube Monarchy. With him, the Emperor is truly dead for the first time.

His long life was closely connected with the history of Austria. He was involved in the country's futile struggle against Hitler in 1938. He helped Austria stand anew in 1945. He was there with his Pan-European Movement as Europe came together. He helped bring about the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989 and helped move Austria back into the center of Europe. And he was there when Austria, and subsequently its neighboring countries, joined the European Union. A few days before his death, another of his great dreams come true as Croatia's accession to the EU was sealed.

. . .

All attempts to make the name of Habsburg forgotten failed, because they had to fail. Just as the history of Europe is unthinkable without Christianity, the existence of Austria is simply unthinkable without the Habsburgs. Yet it was only this year - after more than 90 years - that the Republic made its peace with the former ruling family and lifted its ban on their candidacy in presidential elections.

As I said before [in the title of the editorial], it seems that it is only now that the Emperor is really dead.
Eternal memory! AMDG.

Live aus Wien.

I've been in Vienna for nearly a week, so I think that it's about time that I posted something here about my summer sojourn in Austria. Taken earlier today, the above photo shows the view from my bedroom window of the Jesuitenkirche, a historic church in Vienna's Innere Stadt cared for by the local Jesuit community, which has been kind enough to feed and house me and to patiently put up with my halting attempts to communicate in the German language.

Yesterday I began a four-week intensive German course at the University of Vienna, studying alongside over nine hundred other students from other seventy countries. In contrast with my experience last summer in Innsbruck, when I was one of a dozen Jesuits studying German together, this time I'm the only Jesuit in my language program. Though I somewhat enjoy the anonymity that comes with not being part of an identifiable crowd, I also suppose that being the only Jesuit in class could lead to fruitful conversations with curious classmates who have never before heard of the Jesuits, much less met one in person.

Language-learning can be very challenging, particularly as one gets older and one's brain looses the sponge-like qualities of retention that it seems to possess in childhood. I realized with a bit of a shudder last week that, excluding my native English, German is the fourth modern language that I've set out to learn, having been preceded by French, Italian and Spanish; I have also studied Classical Latin and New Testament Greek, but only with the relatively modest goal of acquiring reading proficiency. Though I'm ambivalent about the global dominance of English, I am grateful that it's my first language; if I tried to learn English now after having studied the other languages listed above, I might have a hard time.

In a certain limited sense, I've found that learning new languages actually does get easier over time, as one learns to adopt more efficient learning strategies on the basis of experience and practice. At the same time, though, I'm not sure that one can really master a language without living with it for a long time. Though I haven't formally studied French in fourteen years, it remains my strongest language after English because I've made a conscious effort to keep it up and to use it every day. Long exposure has allowed the language to seep into my brain and get permanently stuck there; I think that it makes a difference that I started learning French at age twelve and not, say, twenty-four (my age when I encountered Spanish for the first time) or thirty (how old I was when I started German last year). I can appreciate the practical need for short, intensive language courses, but I think that prolonged study and regular (even if limited) use remains the best way to learn - at least for me.

Though the demands of my language course will make it harder to find the time and energy for blogging, I do intend to post some further reports on my time in Vienna. In the meantime, please pray for me and my classmates as we contend with the difficulties, mysteries and wonders of the German language. AMDG.