Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Happy families are all alike...

Readers who know Tolstoy's Anna Karenina will probably recall the second part of the sentence quoted in the title of this post: "every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." This line came to mind when I learned that Lana Peters, aka Svetlana Alliluyeva, the daughter of Joseph Stalin, died last week at the age of 85 at her home in Wisconsin. As you can surely glean from her obituary, Mrs. Peters lived a turbulent life: making a high-profile defection to the United States in 1967, she later returned to the Soviet Union only to reverse course a second time and go back to America, finally settling in small-town Wisconsin. As journalist Doug Moe noted yesterday, Svetlana Alliluyeva Peters died knowing that she would always be "a political prisoner of [her] father's name."

Though the young Svetlana, her brother Vasily, and father Iosif are all smiling in the above snapshot from the 1930s, their life together was far from idyllic. Nadezhda Alliluyeva committed suicide in 1932, when her daughter was six. Vasily Dzhugashvili dealt with the pressures inherent in being a dictator's son by turning to alcohol, dying from its effects two days before what would have been his forty-first birthday; Stalin's other son, Yakov, died in a German prison camp during the Second World War. While Stalin apparently spent little time with his two youngest children after their mother's death - he was perhaps too preoccupied with the doings of his enemies, both real and imagined - it seems impossible to deny that the tragic turns in each of their lives had much to do with his actions.

What was it like to be one of Stalin's children? What did Svetlana think of her father? For some insight into these questions, here is an excerpt from an interview that Svetlana Alliluyeva Peters gave to the Wisconsin State Journal in April of 2010:
Peters was asked if she thinks often of her father.

"No," she said. "He broke my life. I want to explain to you. He broke my life twice."

She said she had fallen in love with an older man, a writer and filmmaker named Aleksei Kapler. Her father did not approve.

"I was 17," she said. "He put to jail, and then to labor camp, the man who I loved. I saw for the first time that my father could do that."

Kapler had introduced her to the arts - giving her books, taking her to galleries - and Peters said the second time her father "broke" her life came when she applied at a university to study the arts.

Josef Stalin scoffed. "Bohemians," Peters recalled him saying. "You want to be with Bohemians?" He insisted she study history and become "an educated Marxist."

Peters was asked: "Do you think your father loved you?"

"Oh, yes," she said. "I looked like his mother. I had this red hair, which I still have. It's not colored. It's my own hair. I have freckles all over, like her."

She continued: "He was a very simple man. Very rude. Very cruel. There was nothing in him that was complicated. He was very simple with us. He loved me and he wanted me to be with him and become an educated Marxist."
It would be easy to treat the above lines as further evidence of how evil Stalin was, but are the basic details of the story that Svetlana tells really that unusual? Stalin was hardly the first or last father to disapprove of his daughter's choice of boyfriend or her proposed course of study, though few fathers in comparable situations have had the ability to react as he did. Morever, I'm sure that many otherwise tolerant parents would express some concern if their seventeen-year-old daughter made plans to marry a much older man. Could an infamous tyrant, responsible for widescale persecution and countless deaths, also have been, in at least some respects, a fairly ordinary human being?

One other anecdote concerning Svetlana Peters' relationship with her father struck me as worthy of attention. A Guardian profile published yesterday includes Svetlana's memory of the time that she took her father for a ride in a car; Stalin never learned to drive, but he was proud that his daughter had acquired this skill. "He sat next to me, beaming with joy," Svetlana later recalled. "My father couldn't believe I knew how to drive."

What are we to make of this? Should we be surprised that a paranoid dictator took joy in the fact that his daughter had learned how to do something that he could not do? On another level, how do we handle the fact that a man like Stalin was also capable of showing love for his family, even if he often treated them badly? Some well-intentioned people would urge us not to ask questions like these, suggesting that any move to 'humanize' perpetrators of evil is a first step toward efforts to rationalize and perhaps even excuse their evil actions. I can appreciate the basis for this concern, but I also think that the 'anti-humanization' approach can be a way of avoiding more difficult - and ultimately more important - questions about what it means for us to be rational beings who are capable of doing monstrous evil as well as great good.

As the world remembers Svetlana Alliluyeva Peters, I pray that in death she may find the peace that was often denied her during her earthly life, and I pray that her memory may be eternal. AMDG.

WaPo: Hoyas study Chinese nuclear program.

This Washington Post article both made me proud to be a Georgetown alumnus and excited my latent nostalgia for certain aspects of the Cold War:
The Chinese have called it their "Underground Great Wall" — a vast network of tunnels designed to hide their country’s increasingly sophisticated missile and nuclear arsenal.

For the past three years, a small band of obsessively dedicated students at Georgetown University has called it something else: homework.

Led by their hard-charging professor, a former top Pentagon official, they have translated hundreds of documents, combed through satellite imagery, obtained restricted Chinese military documents and waded through hundreds of gigabytes of online data.

The result of their effort? The largest body of public knowledge about thousands of miles of tunnels dug by the Second Artillery Corps, a secretive branch of the Chinese military in charge of protecting and deploying its ballistic missiles and nuclear warheads.
A few paragraphs later, my favorite part of the article appears:
Beyond its impact in the policy world, the project has made a profound mark on the students — including some who have since graduated and taken research jobs with the Defense Department and Congress.

"I don’t even want to know how many hours I spent on it," said Nick Yarosh, 22, an international politics senior at Georgetown. "But you ask people what they did in college, most just say I took this class, I was in this club. I can say I spent it reading Chinese nuclear strategy and Second Artillery manuals. For a nerd like me, that really means something."
To read the rest, click here. Hoya Saxa! AMDG.

One that went straight up.

A longtime professor of classics at Georgetown University, Father Edward W. Bodnar, S.J. died yesterday morning at 91. I never had Father Bodnar as a teacher - he retired from the classroom in 1991 - but he was still very active on campus during my college years: he regularly said Mass and heard confessions in Dahlgren Chapel, and he also offered words of advice and encouragement to students of Latin, myself included. After I graduated, I invariably ran into Father Bodnar whenever I returned to the Hilltop; he always remembered my name, and I hope that I will remember to pray for him now that he has gone to his reward.

For more on Father Bodnar's life and legacy, here are some words from Georgetown Provost Jim O'Donnell, posted today by Vox Populi:
Father Bodnar was born in 1920 in West Point, New York, where his father played in the post band before moving family to Washington to join the US Marine Band. Edward Bodnar graduated from Gonzaga and came to Georgetown but left after two years to enter the Jesuit novitiate. He was ordained in June 1952 and so passed away just a few months shy of 60 years in the priesthood. With a Ph.D. from Princeton in 1958, he concentrated his scholarship on the work of the indefatigable Cyriac of Ancona, a merchant traveler from Italy in the 15th century who studied ancient Greek inscriptions in Athens during the last years before the Turkish conquest of Constantinople. That work filled a rich lifetime of scholarship and it was a particular privilege for some of us to attend the "book launch" in 2004 of his edition and translation of Cyriac’s later writings. Fr. Bodnar came to Georgetown in 1967 and remained as professor of classics until his retirement in 1991. In his honor, the department hosts an eminent scholar each year to deliver the "Bodnar Lecture," and it is sad to think we will not see again the twinkle in his eye when he regularly remarked on that occasion that he was surprised that it was not yet a posthumous honor. We will refresh that celebration in a few months.

Priest, scholar, and Hoya, his gentle way, his keen intellect, and that distinctive twinkle will be remembered by many, including a Provost for whom he has been his "oldest" Georgetown friend, dating from our meeting in Woodrow Wilson’s living room 35 years ago. A friend and admirer of his of very long standing remarked this morning, "Well, he’s one that went straight up," and many of us know exactly what she meant. Requiescat in pace.
May he indeed rest in peace, and may his memory be eternal. AMDG.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thanksgiving in Tri-Town.

Having returned to Philadelphia, I would like to share some photos taken on Thanksgiving Day in the Tri-Town Area, a group of mostly coastal communities in Southeastern Massachusetts comprised of my (non-coastal) hometown of Rochester and the adjacent (coastal) towns of Marion and Mattapoisett. Rochester is the oldest of the three towns - it was first settled in 1638 - but it is also the smallest of the three in terms of population and the most rural. The fields seen here represent a typical Rochester landscape; as you can see, I really did grow up in the country.

As a child, I was fascinated by this stained glass window in my home parish - in fact, the experience of staring at this window from a nearby pew is one of the three most vivid religious memories of my childhood, the second being the ringing of the handbell at the consecration (I wasn't yet tall enough to be able to see the kneeling altar boy who rang the bell, so I wondered where the sound came from) and the third being the sensory impressions that accompanied my first confession (the dark yet comforting environment of the confessional, the feeling of my knees on the cushioned prie-dieu, and the pastor's silhouetted profile seen obscurely through the mesh of the grille). In other words, my earliest religious memories are all linked to confession or transubstantion - make of that what you will.

This is not my home parish, but rather the First Congregational Church of Rochester and its vestry, which dominate the historic town green. The physical prominence of this church building offers a reminder that Congregationalism was once the established religion of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts; thinking of this church and its heritage leads me to recall the description that Nathaniel Hawthorne gave of his Puritan ancestors in The Scarlet Letter - "bearded men, in sad-coloured garments and grey steeple-crowned hats" - for I imagine that Rochester's founders were men like these.

Here is another view of the First Congregational Church, captured in the sun and shadows of a bright Thanksgiving morning.

The American flag seen here is reflected in a window of Rochester's Town Hall, which is next door to the church vestry seen earlier. For more photos of the Town Hall and other highlights of 'downtown Rochester,' consult this post from May 2009.

This photo wasn't taken in the Tri-Town Area, but rather in Wareham, a larger town immediately east of Rochester and Marion where many Tri-Town residents shop and work. This new liquor store opened just a few weeks ago in a space formerly occupied by a Borders bookstore. When I saw Wines & More for the first time, I remarked to my sister that, while the book business may be suffering, plenty of people are apparently still willing to spend money on alcohol.

Getting back to Tri-Town, this is Marion's Silvershell Beach. Residents of landlocked Rochester have water rights in Marion, so this is the beach that I went to growing up. The strip of land visible at left, across the Harbor, is also part of Marion; though it's hard to tell in this photo, in person one can also see Cape Cod in the far distance.

Here are two seagulls at play, seen from Silvershell Beach. If you look very closely, you can also see a narrow strip of land on the horizon, across Buzzards Bay - that strip of land is Cape Cod, more specifically West Falmouth.

Moving on to Mattapoisett, the youngest and most populous of the Tri-Town communities, this is Salty the Seahorse, who has loomed over U.S. Route 6 in central Mattapoisett since the 1950s. Mattapoisett businessman Henry Dunseith built this 36-foot-tall sculpture to draw passing motorists to a small store he ran specializing in nautical souvenirs; appropriately enough, the store was called the Sea Horse Gift Shop. Following Dunseith's death in 1988, the Mattapoisett Land Trust assumed responsibility for Salty's care. The dilapidated remains of Dunseith's home and store were later torn down to make room for a public park now known as Dunseith Gardens, offering locals a pleasant place to relax in Salty's shadow.

Finally, this is the place where my Thanksgiving Day came to a close: Gilda's Stone Rooster, a venerable Marion bar where I had a midnight drink with my sister (note her purse at right, next to my Red Sox cap) before taking her to a nearby shopping center where she sought to take advantage of early-bird Black Friday bargains. In case you're curious, the "Stone Rooster" moniker is derived from the Italian surname of the bar's owner, Gilda Pietragalla, who is still going strong - and running the Stone Rooster on her own - at the age of 87. To learn more about Gilda and the Tri-Town institution over which she presides, read this June 2010 story from the Wareham Observer.

I hope that readers who may have been traveling for Thanksgiving have made it safely back to the places where they normally reside. I also hope that those readers who live according to the academic calendar are ready for the final weeks of the semester. Lastly - and most importantly - prayers and good wishes for all readers who begin the Season of Advent this weekend; may this time of preparation for the Feast of the Nativity be spiritually fruitful for us all. AMDG.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

On Thanksgiving Day.

This post comes to you from Massachusetts, where I'm spending Thanksgiving with my family. As I do each year, I wanted to post something for this quintessentially American holiday. Aaron Copland's 1944 ballet score Appalachian Spring is a distinctively American piece of music, though it may be hard to explain exactly what makes it such beyond Copland's use of a series of variations based on the nineteenth-century Shaker tune Simple Gifts. For what it's worth, when feeling homesick while spending extended periods outside the United States, Appalachian Spring is the piece that I've turned to for comfort.

In this video, Appalachian Spring is performed in Copland's original chamber arrangement by the Sydney Camerata, conducted by Luke Gilmour. Given this work's status as an icon of musical Americana, it may seem strange that I chose to showcase an interpretation by an Australian ensemble, but, after all, great music belongs to the world. To all readers celebrating Thanksgiving today, I offer my prayers and good wishes for a blessed and happy holiday. AMDG.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A priest and a scientist?

I suspect that regular readers who are scientists (you know who you are) will like this video featuring Jesuit Father Kevin FitzGerald, a molecular geneticist and bioethicist who holds the David Lauler Chair for Catholic Health Care Ethics at Georgetown University. In this video, Father FitzGerald explains how his two callings as a priest and scientist complement one another and talks about how his research helps the Church. I have never felt drawn to a scientific career, but I have written before about how the presence within the Society of Jesus of "hyphenated priests" who found God in various academic disciplines helped me to find my own vocation as a Jesuit. If you know someone who might be similarly inspired by the existence of priest-scientists like Father FitzGerald, you might suggest that he take a look at the above video. AMDG.

+Sviatoslav at Fordham.

In the midst of a pastoral visit to Ukrainian Catholics in the United States, Patriarch Sviatoslav (Shevchuk) stopped at one of my old stomping grounds, as reported here:
Fordham conferred an honorary degree on the new head and father of the Ukrainian Catholic Church and honored his predecessor on Nov. 20 at the Rose Hill campus.

His Beatitude Major Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, the new 41-year-old patriarch of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, received a doctorate of humane letters, honoris causa, at a ceremony in the University Church. More than 800 members of the Fordham, Catholic and Ukrainian communities filled the sanctuary to capacity.

In the same ceremony, Archbishop of New York Timothy Dolan unveiled and blessed a newly installed marble mosaic coat of arms of Ukraine’s patriarch emeritus, His Eminence Lubomyr Cardinal Husar, GSAS ’66, major archbishop of Kyiv-Halych. Due to ill health, the cardinal was unable to attend.

. . .

Patriarch Shevchuk, in accepting the honorary degree, made light of his age: He is one of the youngest prelates in the world and has been credited with attracting young, educated and invigorated believers to his church.

"One of my Angelicum professors in Rome used to joke that honorary doctorates are usually given to those people for whom it is too late to get an ordinary one," said the prelate, who holds a doctorate in theology from Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas and speaks several languages.

The prelate insisted that, while such an honor hardly befitted him, it did indeed befit "the martyred church that I have been called to carry on my shoulders."

"I personally experienced this church when she was despised, scorned and humiliated," said the prelate, who grew up under Communist rule. "But despite all of this, she remained the authentic church of the Risen Christ. So it is this church, to her Christian wisdom and her intellectual life, that these honors befit."
To find out more, click here. AMDG.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Notes on the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple.

For today's Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple, known in the West as the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, here are some reflections by Father Alexander Schmemann, taken from the third volume of his collected sermons:
Here we have the feast of the Entrance of the Mother of God into the Temple. Its subject is very simple: a little girl is brought by her parents to the temple in Jerusalem. There is nothing particularly remarkable about this, since at that time it was a generally accepted custom and many parents brought their children to the temple as a sign of bringing them into contact with God, of giving their lives ultimate purpose and meaning, of illumining them from within through the light of higher experience.

But on this occasion, as the service for the day recounts, they lead the child to the "Holy of Holies," to the place where no one except the priests are allowed to go, the mystical inner sanctum of the temple. The girl's name is Mary. She is the future mother of Jesus Christ, the one through whom, as Christians believe, God himself came into the world to join the human race, to share its life and reveal its divine content. Are these just fairy tales? Or is something given to us and disclosed here, something directly related to our life, which perhaps cannot be expressed in everyday human speech?

Here was this magnificent, massive, solemn temple, the glory of Jerusalem. And for centuries it was only there, behind those heavy walls, that a person could come into contact with God. Now, however, the priest takes Mary by the hand, leads her into the most sacred part of the Temple and we sing that "The most pure Temple of the Savior is led into the temple of the Lord." Later in the Gospels Christ said, "destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up," but as the Evangelist added, "He spoke of the temple of His Body" (Jn 2: 19, 21).

The meaning of all these events, words and recollections is simple: from now on man himself becomes the temple. No stone temple, no altar, but man - his soul, body and life - is the sacred and divine heart of the world, its "holy of holies." One temple, Mary - living and human - is led into a temple made of stone, and from within brings to completion its significance and meaning.

With this event religion, and life even more so, undergoes a complete shift in balance. What now enters the world is a teaching that puts nothing higher than man, for God Himself takes on human form to reveal man's vocation and meaning as divine. From this moment onward man is free. Nothing stands over him, for the very world is his as a gift from God to fulfill his divine destiny.

From the moment the Virgin Mary entered "the Holy of Holies," life itself became the Temple. And when we celebrate her Entrance into the Temple, we celebrate man's divine meaning and the brightness of his high calling. These cannot be washed away or uprooted from human memory.
Prayers and good wishes for all readers on this bright feast. AMDG.

Two perspectives on Christians in the Mideast.

The Sunday Review section of yesterday's New York Times included two op-ed pieces reflecting on the troubled present and uncertain future of Christians in the Middle East. In the first, André Aciman considers the current prospects of Egypt's Copts following a recent upsurge in violence against them and suggests that a Christian exodus would be bad for all Egyptians:
The friendly army that Copts embraced during the Arab spring has turned its guns on those who embraced it. Your pal today, your killer tomorrow.

There are no rules and there is no trust. The poor man on the street, if he is to think for himself — which is a tall order in a country that has no history of free speech — must either wear warped lenses to see through wholesale agitprop or surrender to blind fanaticism.

Copts represent approximately 10 percent of Egypt’s population and are the direct descendants of the ancient Egyptians. Yet, sensing danger while everyone else in Egypt and in the West was busy celebrating the fall of Mr. Mubarak during the much-heralded Arab Spring, 93,000 Copts have already fled Egypt since March. In light of the events in Maspero, it is thought that another 150,000 Copts may leave their ancestral homeland by the end of 2011.

When Mr. Mubarak was in power, the Copts were frequently the victims of violent attacks and official discrimination — the New Year’s bombing of a Coptic Church in Alexandria that left 21 dead is the most recent instance. Now, with Mr. Mubarak gone, Copts fear that an elected Muslim majority is likely to prove far less tolerant than a military dictatorship.

. . .

What doesn’t occur to most Egyptians is that the Copts represent a significant business community in Egypt and that their flight may further damage an economy saddled with a ballooning deficit.

But this is nothing new for Egypt. The Egyptians have yet to learn the very hard lesson of the post-1956 departure of its nearly 100,000 Jews, who, at the time, constituted one of the wealthiest Jewish communities in the Mediterranean region.

The Egyptian economy never recovered from this loss. While blaming Zionism and the creation of Israel or turning to Islamic leadership may take many people’s minds off the very real financial debacle confronting Egypt and help assuage feelings of powerlessness, the hard lesson has not been learned yet.

The Arab Spring was a luminous instance of democratic euphoria in a country that had no history of democracy or euphoria. What happened to the Copts this fall cast a dark cloud, which the interim government, whatever its true convictions, would do well to dispel.

Egypt should not lose its Copts. For if that is what autumn brings, then, to paraphrase Shelley, winter may not be far behind.
In the second piece, Anthony Shadid situates current concerns about the future of the Christian communities of the Middle East in a broader cultural and historical context, arguing that the fate of Arab Christians has deeper implications for the Arab world's sense of self:
Fear is . . . a sentiment voiced often these days by Arab Christians, a sad refrain for an ancient community that was so long a force in politics and culture in the Arab world. These days, a community that still numbers in the millions — with the largest populations in Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Iraq and the Palestinian territories — finds itself little more than a spectator to events reshaping a place it once helped create, and sometimes a victim of the violence that those events have unleashed. In all the narratives that the Arab revolts represent — dignity, democracy, rights and social justice — many Christians hew to a far bleaker version of events: that their time may be running out.

. . .

Worries about the fate of Christians in the Middle East are often thrust uncomfortably into the conflict between the West and the Muslim world; in the American presidential campaign, Newt Gingrich regularly warns of an “anti-Christian Spring,” as he did in a Republican debate last weekend.

But focusing on that conflict, and the bigotries that beset it, misses the nuances of what Christians represent to the region, and the lessons that their history in other times of tumult might offer the future. In the 19th century, they ushered in a renaissance of Arab culture. Just generations ago, they helped articulate the ideologies that seized the Arab world’s imagination. The fate of Arab Christians today will help define the unresolved struggle within the Arab world about its own identity — how universal, fair, just and equal its societies turn out to be.
To read the rest, click here. AMDG.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

On the strange beauty of trees.

The inspiration for these photos came to me very suddenly. One day last week, during the short walk from the building where I have my office to the Jesuit residence, I took a look overhead and thought, "I should really take some pictures of these trees, while they still have their leaves." On the afternoon and the one following it, I took many pictures of the trees that I see whenever I walk between my home and my office; some of the best of those images - or at least my favorites - are presented here.

Though I don't always pay attention to the trees that I pass each day, I know some people around here who are avid tree-watchers. Having made an effort in recent days to look more carefully at trees that I would otherwise would tend to ignore or to take for granted, I've come to better understand why some regard trees with such great affection.

Trees really can be quite beautiful, especially at this time of the year and in this part of the Northern Hemisphere. These photos show trees in the process of losing their leaves; silhouetted against a late afternoon sky with their trunk and branches increasingly exposed, these trees look very fragile. Appearances can be deceptive, though, for we know that these strong and hardy trees have survived many winters - and will hopefully survive many more.

The longevity of trees has long impressed me. Recalling, for example, of the trees that I saw at the Garden of Gethsemane - trees that do not go back to the time of Christ, but are nonetheless many centuries old - it's hard not to feel a sense of awe at all of the human events that have come and gone in the lifetime of the oldest trees. The trees seen in these photos probably aren't that old in the grand scheme of things, but generations of human activity have nonetheless gone by while they have maintained their inscrutable silence; at the very least, realizations like this should give us a greater dose of humility.

Of course, part of what makes trees so beautiful at this time of the year and in this part of the world is their foliage: many people drive hours for a brief glimpse of trees that are said to have particularly vivid colors on certain fall weekends. I've never gone out of my way for great foliage - why should I, after all, when I can see it in my own backyard?

One thing that particularly caught my attention as I was taking these photos was the effect of the late-afternoon light on the campus trees. For example, take a look at the glow that the sunlight bestows on this tree's trunk and and on its leaves.

The influence of the afternoon sun is also seen in this image, which I like for the particularly intricate, vein-like branches lined with leaves so delicate that they look like they might as well have been applied by hand.

Of course, all of the leaves on these trees eventually find their way to the ground - in fact, at the time of writing, all of the trees in these photos have become bare. Leaves can be quite beautiful on their own, especially when they have colors as vivid as the red in the maple leaves seen here.

I took this photo solely because I liked the way that the colors of the leaves seem to match the chipped and fading paint on the old wooden gate seen here.

Finally, here are many more of those vivid red leaves lying on the ground, waiting to be raked up and taken away by university groundskeepers. Thank you for your indulgence of this unusual photo essay - more typical posting will resume soon. AMDG.

Friday, November 18, 2011

More on married Melkite priests.

Earlier this month, I shared a report from Orthocath indicating that Melkite Bishop Nicholas (Samra) of Newton (pictured above) intends to ordain married men for priestly service in his eparchy. Yesterday, Orthocath posted a follow-up with more information from a Catholic News Service story on Bishop Nicholas' proposal - and how it has been received in Rome.

The CNS report notes that Rome's policy on the ordination of married Eastern Catholic priests in the West remains unchanged - that is, such ordinations are still not generally permitted, though dispensations may be granted on a case-by-case basis. The reaffirmation of this de facto 'ban' may be news - many had thought that such dispensations were no longer required - but Bishop Nicholas' viewpoint on the issue certainly should take no one by surprise, as the CNS report notes:
In a Nov. 9 telephone interview with Catholic News Service, Bishop Samra said his comments should not provoke any surprise at the Vatican.

"This is not new that I said this. I've said it before. They must have known this when they named me (bishop)," he said, adding he has even published his views in a book. "I know a copy went to Rome and I'm sure they saw that."

"I haven't hidden the fact that it's a necessity for our church," he said, noting that any such initiative would need to be "properly managed, and not just ordaining somebody who thinks they have a vocation."
In my earlier post on this topic, I discussed some of the practical considerations that American Melkites would have to deal with if they had more married clergy. In his comments to CNS, Bishop Nicholas has more to say about two of these issues, namely the thorny questions of formation and finances:
"We have a bunch of people who want to be ordained, yeah, but we need to have men who have the credentials," [the Bishop] said, adding there are priests in the diocese who have complained, "If I had to go through all that training to get it (ordination), why shouldn't they?" To that end, Bishop Samra said he planned on meeting with representatives of the Byzantine Catholic seminary where Melkite seminarians are educated to work out those issues.

There are some married priests serving the diocese; four are assigned to small parishes that struggle to pay the expenses incurred by the priests' families. To address that, Bishop Samra said he would like to reinstate a dormant philanthropic arm of the diocese, and apply 30-40 percent of the funds raised as an escrow account to have the dioceses pay the costs of a priest's family, leaving the individual parish to pay the same costs whether the priest is celibate or married.
Last but not least, I liked these lines at the end of the CNS report, in which Bishop Nicholas offers a wry reference to the words with which bishops are greeted in the Byzantine liturgy, Eis polla eti, Despota! ("Many years to you, Master!"):
Melkite parishes have been closed, not for a lack of priests but for a lack of parishioners, according to Bishop Samra. He said Melkite Catholics without a priest will typically worship at a Latin-rite church, but that the longer they attach themselves to a Latin-rite parish, the harder it is to bring them back to the Melkites once a priest becomes available.

"I haven't had people calling me up complaining they have no priest. They just don't understand modern-day assignment procedures," Bishop Samra said. "I'm a bishop, but that doesn't mean I can be a dictator. ... Although they sing 'despota' in the liturgy, I can't be a despot."

He added, "God provides, and that's my faith. We're working on it."
For more on the larger issues involved, read the latest report from Orthocath. AMDG.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Koopman and Lisiecki play Bach.

Some music for a November afternoon: J. S. Bach's choral prelude Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, BWV 645, which Bach adapted from the fourth movement of his own sacred cantata of the same title (BWV 140, featured in an earlier post on this blog). The fleet-fingered account heard above is performed by Ton Koopman.

For a very different approach to the same work, consider the above performance of Ferruccio Busoni's piano trancription of BWV 645 by Jan Lisiecki. Others may disagree, but I like both versions equally; the first may be more reflective of the composer's intentions (even though some may contest Koopman's choice of tempo), but I'd like to think that Bach would have approved of Busoni's transcription as well. I hope that you enjoy the music. AMDG.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

On the purpose of fasting.

For Eastern Christians following the New Calendar, today is the first day of the Nativity Fast, sometimes called St. Philip's Fast because it begins the day after the Feast of St. Philip the Apostle. Like the Season of Advent in the Western churches, the Nativity Fast serves as a time of spiritual preparation for Christmas; the beginning of the Nativity Fast offers a reminder that the Feast of the Nativity is a mere forty days away - a fact that leads me reflect soberly and with some surprise on how quickly 2011 has gone by!

As its name implies, the Nativity Fast is intended to be a time of fasting, which has traditionally meant that those who are able to do so should abstain completely from meat, poultry and dairy products and consume fish, oil and wine only on specified days. Of course, there is a great deal more to fasting than merely watching what one eats. In a recent post on the start of the Nativity Fast on his blog Glory to God for All Things, Father Stephen Freeman explains the true purpose of fasting:
I read recently (though I cannot remember where) that the rejection of Hesychasm was the source of all heresy. In less technical terms we can say that knowing God in truth, participating in His life, union with Him through humility, prayer, love of enemy and repentance before all and for everything, is the purpose of the Christian life. Hesychasm (Greek Hesychia = Silence) is the name applied to the Orthodox tradition of ceaseless prayer and inner stillness. But ceaseless prayer and inner stillness are incorrectly understood if they are separated from knowledge of God and participation in His life, union with Him through humility, prayer, love of enemy and repentance before all and for everything.

And it is this same path of inner knowledge of God (with all its components) that is the proper context of fasting. If we fast but do not forgive our enemies – our fasting is of no use. If we fast and do not find it drawing us into humility – our fasting is of no use. If our fasting does not make us yet more keenly aware of the fact that we are sinful before all and responsible to all then it is of no benefit. If our fasting does not unite us with the life of God – which is meek and lowly – then it is again of no benefit.

Fasting is not dieting. Fasting is not about keeping a Christian version of kosher. Fasting is about hunger and humility (which is increased as we allow ourselves to become weak). Fasting is about allowing our heart to break.

I have seen greater good accomplished in souls through their failure in the fasting season than in the souls of those who "fasted well." Publicans enter the kingdom of God before Pharisees pretty much every time.

Why do we fast? Perhaps the more germane question is "why do we eat?" Christ quoted Scripture to the evil one and said, "Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God." We eat as though our life depended on it and it does not. We fast because our life depends on the word of God.

. . .

Why do we fast? We fast so that we may live like a dying man – and that in dying we can be born to eternal life.
To read the rest, click here. AMDG.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Tintin and the eternal search.

I have been a fan of The Adventures of Tintin for much of my life: I discovered the classic comic books of Belgian graphic artist Georges Remi (alias Hergé) in public libraries in Massachusetts when I was a child, and I went on to amass a respectable collection of books by or about Hergé; I can even say that I've seen every episode of the early '90s Ellipse/Nelvana Tintin cartoon series. As an adult, I have had much less time to read The Adventures of Tintin than I had in my boyhood, but Hergé's creation has still influenced my life in small and subtle ways: on the day of my law school graduation, for example, I wore a Tintin necktie.

Despite my history with Tintin - or perhaps because of it - I am ambivalent about the new Tintin film directed by Steven Spielberg, which reaches these shores in December. I share Gavin Plumley's concern that Spielberg's film "seems to have bypassed the central charm of Tintin" by eschewing the unique style of Hergé's illustrations in favor of flashy, computer-generated 3D effects. Of course, I also face the classic dilemma of the fan who is used to thinking about cherished literary characters in particular ways and does not wish to see those views forever altered by Hollywood.

An interesting side effect of the hoopla surrounding Steven Spielberg's The Adventures of Tintin has been the publication of at least a couple of articles in the Catholic press considering the potential place of faith and transcendence in the Tintin books. First, in the official Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, we find French journalist Denis Tillinac explaining why Tintin may be seen as "a Catholic hero":
Tintin is not a Catholic identifiable as such: he never prays to God during his brushes with death and you never see him in a Church. A brief allusion to St. John the Evangelist hints at a residue of the Catechism. The guardian angels of Captain Haddock and Snowy, at war with an imaginary devil, make you smile. Religion – Incas, sun cults, Buddhists, Muslims – is that of others, to be respected as it perpetuates a culture. On this level, Hergé is something of a relativist. The treasure of the Incas (The Temple of the Sun) or the burial of pharaohs (The Cigars of the Pharaoh) should not be the object of Western curiosity. Only twice does Tintin utter, “May God have his soul!” when he learns of the death of a evil Japanese man (The Blue Lotus) and of the two scoundrels on the high seas (Red Rackham’s Treasure). As for millenarianism, it got what it deserved from the enlightened one in The Shooting Star, who announces the end of time by striking his gong.

Yet Tintin is a hero of Catholicism, imbued with the ideal of the scouts, which was important in Hergé’s formation and which is seen in his first works, Jo, Zette and Jocko and Popol Out West. He is ageless, does not even really have a sex or ordinary yearning, he has a job which allows him to wander around and an art of disguise which hides his identity: he is an angel, or almost one. Curious, adventurous, helpful, like Chesterton’s priest detective Brown, he seems to have come to earth to defend widows and orphans. He is Roland crossed with Mermoz and Saint-Exupèry, who has, like Durendal, a dog that speaks and reasons. He challenges the arrogance of the powerful, the veniality of colonizers, protects the weak and the oppressed. . . .

. . . Tintin is a Western knight of modern times, an unstained heart in an invulnerable body. He crosses through common humanity like a meteor – his geography, his psychology – doubly exalted by his profane taste for mystery and a sacred moral imperative: save the innocent, defeat evil. He loves life too much to be a saint, his curiosity ties him to humanity, sometimes he awards himself with a cruise or a beach to rest in the bucolic refuge of Marlinspike Hall, from where, around the corner, you can see the bell tower of the village. This double for the castle of Cheverny, seat of Haddock’s ancestors, reclaimed (with its treasure) thanks to the generosity of Prof. Calculus, is more or less the time of a Grail. If paradise existed in this world, Marlinspike Hall would be its headquarters. But he needs to leave it to go rout out evil, to gather the crumbs of exoticism here and there like the crusades that Tintin revives (without their warmongering) and like the missionaries (without their proselytism). He is the guardian angel of Christian values that the West denies or constantly denigrates. Without fear, without blame, Hergé’s creation unites with candor the virtues which they tried to teach me in the Catechism. . . .
Tillinac's passing reference to Hergé's background in the Catholic scout movement invites a further consideration of the influences and ideas that motivated Tintin's creator. In a recent article in The Tablet (regrettably unavailable to non-subscribers) entitled "Tintin and the eternal search," Brian Morton notes that Hergé began his career in the 1920s as an illustrator for Le Vingtième Siècle, a Catholic newspaper edited by the outspokenly right-wing Abbé Norbert Wallez, who was later jailed as a Nazi collaborator. As Morton writes, scholars have tended to forgive Hergé for his youthful ties to Wallez as they seek to mine the illustrator's work for deeper meanings:
Posthumous revisions of Hergé’s reputation – he died in 1983 – initially centered on his political defaults. It was as if a generation that had grown up on Tintin suddenly discovered that a much-loved uncle had a murky past. A comic strip once read by torchlight became the subject of PhDs. Young academics wanted the character to grown up with them and move into the same sober contexts. So, over time, a “psychoanalytic” Tintin emerged, and a “Derridan,” and inevitably a “postmodern.” Above all, a Tintin who had begun in conservative error morphed into a liberal hero.

. . .

One sensed in the 1980s that revisionists only debunked Hergé in order to forgive and rehabilitate him, writing off many of his attitudes as specific to time, place and circumstance, opportunistic distortions of his “natural” liberalism. The reality is not quite as straightforward as that and Wallez’s influence – and that of Catholicism – cannot be easily written off.

News that Steven Spielberg has made a film version of Hergé’s greatest creation is unsurprising but potentially uncomfortable, given the uniform failure of most previous attempts to bring Tintin to the screen. The young reporter is almost a Spielberg ready-made: an eternal boy, lonely, innocent but alert to darker realities. We can assume high-class entertainment from Spielberg, something worthy of the source material, but one doubts whether it will capture the original’s multiple levels: boxes within boxes, narratives within narratives; those dark-lined, flat-coloured images seem deceptively literal but are laden with subtexts, spiritual or agnostic, sexual or asexual.
As far as the "spiritual or agnostic" bit goes, Morton does not follow Tillinac in anointing Tintin as a "hero of Catholicism," but he still manages to find "some possibility of the numinous" in Hergé's work:
It is hard to say what Tintin is, what he stands for, what he (or Remi) believes. The stories almost always lead from the revelation of a secret into Melvillean blankness, which might be the face and front of God or the revelation of a cosmic nullity. When Tintin flies to the moon, it is not covered in oases and peopled with small green aliens, but realistically blank and empty, a tabula rasa. In one of his most radical and celebrated frames, Tintin looks out of [Bianca] Castafiore’s bedroom window at Marlinspike and says (reassuringly?) “Nothing here, signora. Absolutely nothing.” The night outside is flat black.

Yet, we always sense in Tintin that there is some possibility of the numinous, that God – and Hergé stands in his place, as Remi stood as the head of the increasingly collaborative Hergé studio – has not absconded but is simply inexpressible. Never a passionate Catholic, Remi does not make a convincing atheist, either. Tintin’s escape from prison and other confinements – from human relations, from death, torture and sex – are an escape from meaning, or rather from any specific meaning. “Tintin” itself is a name packed with ambiguity. It suggests nothing or everything, a sonorous tintinnabulation or the empty tinkling of bells, most likely on cash registers.

In holding back the ultimate secret, though, he only convinces us that the secret must be there, out of reach of rockets and telescopes, close analyses of text, radio waves, treasure hunts. It would be a stretch to recast Georges Remi as a mystical Catholic (some irony now in a Jewish movie director turning to a character whose first sponsor, Abbé Wallez, was a fervent anti-Semite) but as Hergé he addressed ultimate questions in an ultimate and irreducible way.
I don't think that it ever occurred to me before to consider questions of belief and ultimate meaning in The Adventures of Tintin, but I'm glad that others have done so. As a Jesuit who is also a longtime Tintin fan, perhaps I should think more about this; I don't think that I'm likely to revisit this topic on this blog - I doubt it would interest most of the readers who lurk or comment here - but if you are interested in more about God and Tintin, please feel free to drop me a note. AMDG.

All Saints Day at Georgetown.

Some readers will already have seen this, but I thought I would pass along this NLM report on All Saints Day at my alma mater:
There [at Georgetown University], on that feast, Fr. Stephen Fields, S.J., celebrated a Mass for the students in the usus antiquior (a Missa Cantata). In point of fact, there were two Masses celebrated for the students on All Saints, one according to the ancient liturgical books, and one according to the modern Roman liturgical books. . . .
For more photos and comments, click here. AMDG.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Harry Patch (In Memory Of).

Each year on this date, I post something for the anniversary of the end of the First World War, widely observed as Remembrance Day (or, in the United States, as Veterans Day). This year, Remembrance Day is a bit different than it has been in the past: with the death of Royal Navy veteran Claude Choules in May, no one who served in combat during the Great War remains alive. I've written before what the loss of "the last of the last" might mean in cultural terms, and I don't want to repeat myself by writing more on that theme in this post. Instead, I'd like to offer something different for this Remembrance Day: the Radiohead song "Harry Patch (In Memory Of)," presented above with the visual accompaniment of film footage from the Great War.

As Thom Yorke explains, "Harry Patch (In Memory Of)" was written as a tribute to the eponymous British veteran, who was the last living survivor of the trenches of the Western Front. The song was recorded shortly before Patch's death in 2009; the lyrics, which were based on comments that Patch himself made in a 2005 interview with the BBC, are presented below:

i am the only one that got through
the others died where ever they fell
it was an ambush
they came up from all sides
give your leaders each a gun and then let them fight it out themselves
i've seen devils coming up from the ground
i've seen hell upon this earth
the next will be chemical but they will never learn

As Thom Yorke commented at the time of the song's release, "It would be very easy for our generation to forget the true horror of war, without the likes of Harry to remind us. I hope we do not forget." I share this hope; may we never forget the sacrifices made by the countless millions who fought in the wars of the past century, and may their memory be eternal. AMDG.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

SJU has a new leader.

Here is some very good news from Hawk Hill, announced late this afternoon:
The Saint Joseph’s University Board of Trustees today elected C. Kevin Gillespie, S.J., Ph.D. as its 27th president. A Saint Joseph’s alumnus (’72) who currently serves as associate provost for University Centers of Excellence at Loyola University Chicago, he will be introduced to SJU students, faculty and staff at a special gathering of the campus community tomorrow, Friday, Nov. 11, at 11:30 a.m. in the Campus Commons on the University’s Maguire Campus.

"It is truly an honor for the Board of Trustees to introduce Fr. Gillespie as the next president of Saint Joseph’s University," said Robert Falese ’69, chairman of Saint Joseph’s Board of Trustees. "He is an accomplished, and acclaimed, scholar with a commitment to academic excellence and a fervent dedication to advancing his alma mater and Catholic, Jesuit education in the region and indeed around the globe."

"He is the right Jesuit to lead Saint Joseph’s forward and into the future at a time of great momentum for the University."
To read the rest, click here. My congratulations and good wishes are with Father Gillespie as he prepares to become the 27th President of Saint Joseph's University, and I hope that you will join me in praying for him as he returns home to Hawk Hill. AMDG.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

An Irish abbot in Jerusalem.

Dormition Abbey is a German-speaking Benedictine monastery in Jerusalem that I've written about before; visiting this monastery during both of my two stays in Jerusalem had a profound effect on me (halfway between those two visits, Dormition Abbey actually came up in my dreams during the Spiritual Exercises). Thus, it seemed right to report the following news: in July, the monks of Dormition Abbey elected a new abbot, Father Gregory Collins of Glenstal Abbey in Ireland. The above video offers a glimpse of the solemn blessing of the Belfast-born abbot, which took place early last month.

For those who may be interested in learning more about Abbot Gregory, the interview in this second video offers a bit more detail on his background. It will be interesting to see how the new abbot's roots in Northern Ireland inform his approach to the situation in Jerusalem: though he arrives as an outsider, his lifelong experience living in a land divided by political and religious conflict may prove highly instructive. I was surprised, yet somehow edified, by Abbot Gregory's admission that he is not yet fluent in German: one must be both humble and courageous to agree to lead a community in which the common language is a tongue that one speaks imperfectly.

Reading about Abbot Gregory's election inevitably leads me to wonder when I may be able to return to Jerusalem; it also leads me to reflect on the mysterious pull that the Holy City in general and Dormition Abbey in particular have exerted on my heart and mind. My thoughts and prayers today are for the monks of Dormition Abbey and their new leader: may God grant them peace, and may they be a sign of God's peace to others. AMDG.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Bishop Nicholas (Samra) on the priestly ordination of married men in the Melkite Church.

Orthocath reported on Saturday that recently-enthroned Melkite Bishop Nicholas (Samra) of Newton intends to ordain married men for priestly service in the Melkite Greek Catholic Church in the United States. This news has been making the rounds of the blogosphere, but as far as I know it has not yet drawn the attention of the news media.

Like most other Eastern Catholic churches, the Melkites have a long tradition of married clergy in their patriarchal territory (in this case, Lebanon, Syria and Palestine) but in North America they - again, like other Eastern Catholic churches - have been compelled by Rome to accept Latin discipline regarding clerical celibacy at the insistence of the local Roman Catholic hierarchy. Orthocath has a detailed and well-sourced post giving more historical background on all this, which you should read if this topic is new to you.

Frankly, this really should not be news: Bishop Nicholas is merely upholding the traditions of his Church, and, as Orthocath notes, the Melkites (and, for that matter, the Ukrainians and, in at least one instance, the Ruthenians) have already ordained married men for priestly service in North America, though they have generally done so discreetly. If there is anything newsworthy about Bishop Nicholas' statement, it is the fact that he is willing to speak forthrightly and publicly on a topic that Eastern Catholic hierarchs in North America have generally been very reticent about. If you want to know what the Bishop actually said, here is the key paragraph, as quoted in the initial Orthocath report:
God calls men and women to religious vocations. And I believe he also calls married men to the priesthood. We need to study this situation in our country and develop the proper formation for men who are truly deemed worthy of this call. The Deacon Formation Program is a good program; however is not the backdoor to the priesthood. Married men who are called to priesthood need the same formation as those celibates who are called. I have already discussed this issue with those involved in priestly formation and hopefully soon we can see the growth of properly formed married clergy. Of course there are also major financial issues to be looked at and we will embark on this also.
The above text suggests to me that Bishop Nicholas is taking a very careful, cautious and realistic approach to this issue. I'm particularly glad that the Bishop mentions finances, as this is a real problem that needs to be discussed; the salary of a parish priest is not adequate to support a wife and children, and trying to raise priestly salaries to make them adequate for the needs of families could impose crippling financial burdens on parishes and eparchies. All of the married priests that I know have had to work full-time jobs in addition to their church positions in order to make ends meet; invariably, their spouses work as well. The time that a married priest spends attending to family responsibilities and to his necessary second job means that he has less time to devote to his parish - and that is a reality that must be faced in a church with more married priests.

So, while this shouldn't be news, Bishop Nicholas has given his flock a lot to think and pray about. If this story does become news, I fear that some in the media will misinterpret the facts to try to present this as a new challenge to the discipline of priestly celibacy in the Latin Church (for the ground of my fear, read this post). Clearly, Bishop Nicholas is not challenging the longstanding Latin tradition of clerical celibacy; he is merely affirming the Melkite tradition of ordaining both married and celibate men to the priesthood. I pray that Bishop Nicholas' intentions will be clearly understood, and I pray that all of his efforts to foster spiritual renewal will bear great fruit in the life of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church. AMDG.

A Jesuit philosopher reflects.

This story from the (New Orleans) Times-Picayune is two months old, but it's still relatively new to me as I discovered it last week on the U.S. Jesuit Assistancy news blog. In a profile marking his fiftieth year as a Jesuit, Loyola University New Orleans philosophy professor Father Stephen Rowntree, S.J. explains how he found his vocation:
The Rev. Stephen Rowntree was 17 when he joined the Society of Jesus in 1961. He saw it as a chance to seamlessly pair his faith with his desire to be a college professor.

"The thought was, I can do what I want, which is to be a college teacher, and I could be a priest, which is what God wants," he said. "My identity was set. I would reflect now that God wanted what I wanted most deeply, and that is why this has been such a charmed life for me."

Fifty years later, the Loyola University philosophy professor is celebrating a half-century as a Jesuit. Rowntree's teaching style has been driven by his engaging and energetic personality during his 35 years in the classroom. He said he likes to try to "rattle students' cages" a little bit, but he does so with a purpose.
I can relate to Father Rowntree's explanation of how he found his vocation, as my own discernment followed similar lines: I felt called to be both a priest and a professor, and I knew that life as a Jesuit offered an opportunity to combine those two callings. I was also attracted to the international dimension of the Society of Jesus, something that Father Rowntree has also experienced firsthand:
. . . From 1994 to 2001, [Rowntree] helped found Arrupe College, a four-year integrated philosophy, religious studies and humanities program for English-speaking African Jesuit scholars in Harare, Zimbabwe. Before that, he taught [Jesuit] seminarians at Loyola for 10 years.

"It was a great adventure. We started out with an empty field, and within a couple of years, we had a fully functioning campus," he said about his time at Arrupe College.

When he returned to Loyola, Rowntree gained an enhanced appreciation for free markets and the capitalist economic model. Many of his more recent writings have centered on law and economics focusing on the moral aspect of economics.

He said he hopes to continue teaching for many years. Although Rowntree, who was born in Massachusetts, has traveled the world and worked with students from every walk of life, he is struck by what people have in common.

"My overwhelming experience over the 35 years of teaching is that we're all human beings. We all have a similar developmental process of maybe maturing one day. I think the continuities have always struck me as being more obvious then the discontinuities," he said.
To read the rest of the profile, click here. To learn more about Arrupe College in Harare, visit the AC website. AMDG.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Die Karlskirche in Wien.

The Roman Catholic liturgy for today includes the commemoration of Saint Charles Borromeo, the Cardinal Archbishop of Milan who played a significant role in implementing the reforms of the Council of Trent, particularly in the realm of priestly formation. All Catholic seminarians owe something to this sixteenth-century cardinal, insofar as the academic structure that Borromeo and his contemporaries gave to priestly formation has essentially endured to the present day, albeit with adjustments and adaptations to account for the concrete needs of the Church in different historical periods and in diverse places.

Since my time in Austria this past summer, I can't hear the name of Charles Borromeo without thinking of the Karlskirche in Vienna. The Karlskirche was built as an act of thanksgiving for the end of an early eighteenth-century plague outbreak; construction of this massive Baroque church began in 1716 and was completed twenty-one years later. The church was dedicated to Saint Charles Borromeo both on account of his status as the patron saint of plague victims (Milan faced a major plague epidemic during his episcopate, and Borromeo spent a lot of time caring for the plague's victims) and for the very practical reason that Borromeo was the patron saint of the Habsburg emperor who commissioned the church, Charles VI.

In light of today's feast, I thought this might be a good time to post some photos of the Karlskirche. I took these pictures on a beautiful summer evening in mid-July - actually, it was the same evening that I attended an open-air performance of Don Giovanni at the TU Wien, which is next door to the Karlskirche. The large plaza in front of the Karlskirche (the Karlsplatz) provided an ideal place to mill around before the opera started.

The gold-lettered inscription above the entrance to the Karlskirche reads: Vota mea reddam in conspectu timentium Deum - "my vows I will pay before those who fear God" (Psalm 21:26 in the Latin Vulgate, numbered as 22:25 in most modern translations of the Bible).

Another view of the front of the Karlskirche; note the people sitting on the steps, enjoying evening at the Karlsplatz. The Karlsplatz is close to the center of Vienna, but I got the impression over the course of several repeat visits that this plaza has not been taken over by tourists in the way that, say, the Stephansplatz has been; the people gathered here on summer evenings seemed more often than not to be locals, with a good mix of university students chatting excitedly in small groups, teenagers skateboarding or playing basketball, and pensioners sitting quietly and watching the passing scene.

I saw and heard this quartet of female musicians playing opposite the Karlskirche; note the open case poised to accept donations. They were actually playing string transcriptions of '80s and '90s pop songs - sadly, I can't remember any of the specific tunes involved. (Ironically, I do remember wondering at the time whether or not I should make a note of what they were playing in order to remind myself later, but I dismissed the thought on the unwarranted assumption that I would easily remember the titles even if I didn't write them down!)

This is the view that the people sitting on the steps of the Karlskirche a couple of photos ago were enjoying: the reflecting pool in front of the church, with the sunset sky in the distance. I must say that it is photos like this one that most remind me of how much I want to go back to Vienna - a desire that I have consciously felt at least once a day since I left the city.

To end this post, I would like to return the focus to Saint Charles Borromeo by sharing an anecdote about him that Father Tim Finigan offered earlier today on his blog The Hermeneutic of Continuity:
I recall another incident from [Borromeo's] life, in which, having now been recognised as a no-nonsense reformer, he visited a religious house where the Fathers tried to put on a good show of keeping the rule and being obedient to the Council of Trent. At the close of his visit, they asked him for a memento. He said that he had left one in the chapel. After his departure, they went to the chapel and saw on the prie-dieu for the priest to prepare for Mass, that St Charles had signed his name in the dust.
May Saint Charles Borromeo continue to intercede for all priests and seminarians; by his prayers and good example, may we more faithfully live out our vocation of service. AMDG.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Dies irae, dies illa.

For your prayerful reflection on All Souls Day, here is the sequence traditionally associated with this feast, the Dies Irae from the Latin Requiem Mass. Attributed to the thirteenth-century Franciscan Thomas of Celano, the Dies Irae enjoys a very special place in Western musical culture thanks to the memorable settings of the Requiem text by composers ranging from Mozart to Verdi to Britten, among many others. For All Souls, I chose to avoid any 'classical' setting of the Dies Irae in favor of the one heard above, because some days only Gregorian chant will do.

If you're interested, below you can find the Latin text of the Dies Irae followed by my own English translation. I decided to translate the text myself out of a sense of dissatisfaction with the various translations that I found online, and perhaps also as a salutary spiritual exercise for All Souls' Day - and, finally, to practice my cobwebbed Latin! The translation was done hastily and could certainly be improved, so I welcome comments and criticism; my goal was to convey the sense of the original faithfully and in a style that flows well in English without trying to reproduce the poetic meter of the original. So here goes:

Dies irae! Dies illa
Solvet saeclum in favilla:
Teste David cum Sibylla!

Quantus tremor est futurus,
Quando iudex est venturus,
Cuncta stricte discussurus!

Tuba mirum spargens sonum
Per sepulchra regionum,
Coget omnes ante thronum.

Mors stupebit, et natura,
Cum resurget creatura,
Iudicanti responsura.

Liber scriptus proferetur,
In quo totum continetur,
Unde mundus iudicetur.

Iudex ergo cum sedebit,
Quidquid latet, apparebit:
Nil inultum remanebit.

Quid sum miser tunc dicturus?
Quem patronum rogaturus,
Cum vix iustus sit securus?

Rex tremendae maiestatis,
Qui salvandos salvas gratis,
Salva me, fons pietatis.

Recordare, Iesu pie,
Quod sum causa tuae viae:
Ne me perdas illa die.

Quaerens me, sedisti lassus:
Redemisti Crucem passus:
Tantus labor non sit cassus.

Iuste iudex ultionis,
Donum fac remissionis
Ante diem rationis.

Ingemisco, tamquam reus:
Culpa rubet vultus meus:
Supplicanti parce, Deus.

Qui Mariam absolvisti,
Et latronem exaudisti,
Mihi quoque spem dedisti.

Preces meae non sunt dignae:
Sed tu bonus fac benigne,
Ne perenni cremer igne.

Inter oves locum praesta,
Et ab haedis me sequestra,
Statuens in parte dextra.

Confutatis maledictis,
Flammis acribus addictis:
Voca me cum benedictis.

Oro supplex et acclinis,
Cor contritum quasi cinis:
Gere curam mei finis.

Lacrimosa dies illa,
qua resurget ex favilla
Judicandus homo reus.
Huic ergo parce, Deus:

Pie Iesu Domine,
dona eis requiem. Amen.


O day of wrath, that day
when the earth will be reduced to ashes,
as David and the Sibyl both testify!

What great fear there will be,
when the judge comes
to judge all things strictly.

A trumpet casts a wondrous sound
into the realm of the tombs,
calling all [to come] before the throne.

Death and nature will both marvel
as the [human] creature rises
to answer its judge.

A book will be brought forth
in which all things are recorded –
all that for which the world will be judged.

When, therefore, the judge appears,
all that is hidden will appear,
and no ills will remain unavenged.

As miserable as I am, what am I to say?
whose protection may I invoke,
when even the just lack security?

O most majestic King,
who freely saves those to be saved,
save me, source of mercy!

Remember, merciful Jesus,
that I am the one for whom you came:
may I not be lost on that day!

Seeking me, you sat down tired:
to redeem me, you suffered the Cross –
may your toil not be in vain!

Just and avenging judge,
may you grant remission [of sins]
before the day of reckoning.

Guilty, now I sigh,
my face red with shame:
save thy petitioner, o God!

Having absolved Mary [Magdalene],
and heard the plea of the thief,
may you give me hope as well.

Though my prayers are not worthy,
be kind to me, o Good One,
that I may be spared the eternal fire!

Place me among the sheep,
and separate me from the goats,
setting me at your right hand.

When the wicked are confounded
and given over to bitter flames:
call me among the blessed.

Meek and humble, I pray,
with a heart contrite as ashes:
Help me reach my final end.

How tearful that day will be,
when from the ashes will arise
the guilty man for judgment.
Therefore spare him, O God!

Merciful Lord Jesus,
grant them rest. Amen.

To some contemporary ears, I suspect that some of the above lines may seem a bit harsh; the familiarity of the Latin text and the beauty of its poetic form can easily distract us from the admonitory content of the Dies Irae. As stern as these words may be, though, they also remind us that God is merciful - indeed, the very source of mercy - and they call on us to pray: first for our beloved dead and for our own repentance, but also that we may offer to others the same mercy that we seek for ourselves. May all of us who celebrate this Feast of All Souls - including your sinful scribe - take these words in the right way, and take them to heart. AMDG.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

"We think that saints are very rare . . ."

This is an old photo of me with the late Father Tom King, which I post here in observance of All Saints' Day. Many who knew Tom during the forty-one years that he spent at Georgetown University would unhesitatingly describe him as a saint, precisely the kind of saint that this day is meant for: one who has not been formally raised to the dignity of the altar, one remembered chiefly by God and by those who knew him during his mortal life. "Not a bad public, that," as Robert Bolt had Thomas More say in A Man for All Seasons.

Thomas More is now a saint himself, in the 'official' sense of the word, but the sentiment that Bolt attributed to him is one that exalts all the unofficial saints - all those who, like Tom King, did great things for God in relative anonymity. On All Saints' Day, we remember these anonymous saints in a special way, asking them to intercede for us before the One who knows and has called each of them by name.

For another perspective on these anonymous saints, with particular attention paid to the saintliness of Father Tom King, I would like to share some reflections by my fellow Georgetown alumnus Joseph Grieboski, published not long after Tom's death in June 2009:
The term "saint" is used quite often these days, referring to a good person or a kind person or someone who pulled us out of a jam.

We think that saints are very rare and especially hard to find, especially in this day and age. In fact, there are many unrecognized men and women of holiness around us each day.

In recent days, we laid one such man to rest. A man who exemplified holiness, demonstrated an intimate love of God, and was a model for each of us to follow to salvation.
Grieboski summarizes some of the highlights of Father King's long career as an academic theologian and university professor, notes that he also offered the legendary 11:15 pm Mass in Dahlgren Chapel six nights a week for 40 years, and points out that Father King also lived 'on corridor' as a Jesuit-in-residence in student dormitories for 21 years. Grieboski then seeks to sum up the contribution that Father King made to the lives of generations of Hoyas - and others:
. . . Father King’s life was a guide for so many of us. His laughter, his brilliant and witty sense of humor, his ability to make both scholarship and divinity accessible to anyone and everyone, Tom was quiet and unassuming, friendly and disarming. All of which added to his ability to fulfill his mission of bringing Christ to every student, faculty, staff and person he met. Remaining faithful to that mission, for the past several years Father King would cross the Potomac on Monday evenings to offer Mass for inmates at the Arlington County jail.

In 1999, The Hoya, Georgetown's student newspaper, declared Father King "Georgetown's Man of the Century", noting that "no one has had a more significant presence on campus and effect on students than Father King."

Ten years later, that remains fundamentally true. Tom King’s impact was not just on Georgetown. The thousands of students whose lives he touched over the years are better men and women as a result. His inspiration and model led countless men to enter the priesthood and women to enter the convent; his love of scholarship and his approach to Truth provided a guide for countless students to become professors; his love for life and all God’s creations molded the worldviews of so many who became physicians; and his undaunted courage and strength for all that is just and right guided so many – me included – who fight for justice thanks to Tom.
On this Feast of All Saints, I pray that the anonymous saints that each of us remembers and cherishes may remember us in turn. AMDG.